Overwhelming majority of LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe in school, report finds

More than 80 per cent of LGBTQ+ students reported feeling unsafe at school last year

More than 80 per cent of LGBTQ+ students across the United States reported feeling unsafe at school in the last year, a new survey has found.

An annual report from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that 81.8 per cent of LGBTQ+ students surveyed felt unsafe at school because of “at least one of their actual or perceived personal characteristics”, with nearly a fifth of these students (16.2 per cent) reporting that these feelings led them to change schools.

The study, published on Tuesday (18 October), also found 32 per cent of LGBTQ+ students across the US had missed at least one full day of school over concerns for their safety.

Disturbingly, LGBTQ+ students reported experiencing increased high levels of verbal and physical harassment from their peers in the past year, with more than 75 per cent reporting in-person verbal harassment at school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and a horrific 12 per cent saying they were physically assaulted in the last year.

GLSEN said the findings indicate “specific school-based supports” including “an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum and supportive student clubs” are sorely needed in the country.

The organisation’s chief of staff Aaron Ridings said findings come at a time when students have reported “a decline in school resources” to tackle LGBTQ+ discrimination, as well as “the COVID-19 pandemic [creating] a period of mass disruption and trauma”.

The research comes as students across the US face waves of discrimination in the form of homophobic and transphobic laws from the government. Alabama has banned gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth and several states have banned trans students from playing sports at school.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also pushed through the much-criticised Don’t Say Gay bill in March, restricting schools from discussing LGBTQ+ issues in classrooms.

Some Republican politicians now want to roll that bill out across all of the US.

Teachers in Florida have spoken out about the damaging implications of the bill, with educators fearing “legal action” if they defy the bill to teach children about LGBTQ+ families.

Cory Bernaert, a Florida elementary school teacher, told PinkNews at the time of the bill’s passing that it was hurtful both “personally and professionally”.

“I do feel that teachers are going to be mindful because it is now law, and the last thing that an educator wants to worry about is any sort of legal action taken against them,” he said.

“The fear is there… I don’t blame them. It feels as if we have been bullied.”

Ensure ‘safe and affirming schools’

GLSEN wrote that despite this, an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, supportive educators, and LGBTQ+ clubs is a way forward to ensure queer youth feel safe in a school environment. 

“Instituting these measures can move us toward a future in which all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed in school, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” GLSEN wrote.

“Especially given the decline in LGBTQ+ supports in schools that we found in this year’s report, it is imperative that all who are committed to ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students intensify their efforts in policy, advocacy, and classroom practices.”