Is it Getting Better for LGBT Students? Yes, Just Not Fast Enough.

Although schools remain a hostile environment for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, real progress has been made in providing greater support and resources. That’s the takeaway from the new 2013 National School Climate Survey, published by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Even though the survey shows that physical assault, verbal and physical harassment has trended down in the last 12 years, there is always room for improvement.  “Progress is being made in our nation’s schools, but when more than half of LGBT youth continue to report unsafe or even dangerous school climates, we all have a responsibility to act,” explained GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard.

Sixty-five percent of the LGBT students surveyed said that they often heard derogative slurs, and 55 percent said that they generally feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation – a fear that 30 percent said caused them to miss at least one day of school.

LGBT students are often the subject of harassment at school. Sixteen percent were physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon), 36 percent were physically assaulted by being pushed and shoved, and 49 percent were harassed on social media. An anonymous student reported, “I have been so hurt at that school. I have gotten beat up, almost killed, and no one there would do anything about it, except one teacher”

One of the biggest issues found was the lack of support provided LGBT students by faculty and staff in many schools.  Sixty-one percent of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response. Twenty-five percent of the students would not report anything at all because they believed doing so would only make the situation worse.

This victimization and harassment of LGBT students cuts through into students’ academic careers.

Source: 2013 GLSEN School Climate Survey

In addition to having lower grades, LGBT students were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month and were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue college.

The encouraging news in the survey is the increased availability and proven effectiveness of  many LGBT-related school resources.  LGBT students reported a lower incidence of homophobic remarks than ever before – from over 80 percent hearing these remarks regularly in 2001 to about 60 percent now. Half  of the students surveyed said that their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or similar club. According to the survey, students who had a GSA in their school were less likely to hear “gay” used in a negative way often and less likely to hear homophobic slurs.

An inclusive school curriculum can also make a major difference. While only  18.5 percent of LGBT students were taught positive representations about LGBT people and history, the vast majority (72 percent) reported that their peers were “accepting of LGBT people.” Only 40 percent of those LGBT students at schools without an illusive curriculum could say the same. Across the board, the availability of LGBT-related resources and supports was higher in 2013 than in all previous years.

“This most recent report shows that there has been progress in improving the school experience for LGBT students and that positive LGBT resources in school can make a difference in the lives of these youth,” said Dr. Joseph G. Kosciw, GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer.