LGBT Youth in Schools: Risk Factors and Support
With the growing demographics of the LGBTQ+ community, are schools readily providing a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ youth? Since the beginning of the American LGBTQ+ movement in the 1940s, the nation became more aware of the obstacles faced by this oppressed minority. Laws and policies have been established to combat this problem, like the few anti-bullying laws that support both the racial minority and the LGBTQ+ minority. But, have these efforts worked in schools? Yes and no. While schools are growing their support and inclusiveness for the LGBTQ+ community, most schools continue to provide a hostile environment for the LGBTQ+ youth due to the deep-rooted stigma of homosexuality and the lack of awareness for the community.
Centuries of backlash towards the LGBTQ+ community has embedded recurrent disapproval towards the LGBTQ+ youth in school. Consequently, many LGBTQ+ students experience prejudice, discrimination, and victimization for their sexuality and gender identity. In 2017, Dr. Joseph G. Kosciw and other co-authors have conducted GLCEN’s National School Climate Survey that examines the experiences of LGBTQ+ students to comprehend the issues faced by these students. Statistically speaking, “59.5% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 44.6% because of their gender expression, and 35.0% because of their gender” (Kosciw). These statistics define that discrimination towards these students or this stigma to identify as LGBTQ+ is still prevalent in today’s schools. In that case, school is seemingly not a safe community for LGBTQ+ if over half believe so. The stigma of the community, to be more specific, causes other students to harass the LGBTQ+ youth and utilize homophobic remarks at school. Of the LGBTQ+ students, about a massive 98.5% have heard the word “gay” used in a derogatory manner and about 70.1% have been verbally harassed with this type of language in 2017 (Kosciw). As shown, the usage of homophobic language, whether it is towards an LGBTQ+ student or not, enforces the stigma of LGBTQ+ and allows for the normalcy of homophobic ridicule. Evidently, an environment based on a recurring anti-LGBTQ+ atmosphere threatens the safety and freedom of LGBTQ+ students.
Furthermore, ignorance and disregard also contribute to an unsafe school environment for LGBTQ+ students. For one, many schools do not have an LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum. In 2017, 64.8% of LGBTQ+ students have reported that there were no LGBTQ+ topics covered in the school curriculum (Kosciw). With a large number of schools not implementing LGBTQ+ into their teachings, both students and teachers are less likely to understand the history and struggles for the community and its youth, contributing to less support for them. For this reason, many LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe in this situation. Another key point to note is that ignorance towards LGBTQ+ starts young. As young as kindergarten, children are informed by others their age that “gay is bad” without knowing what being gay actually means (hrcmedia). If this ignorant perception of “gay” persists, especially among many other children, this destructive mindset can remain throughout their school career and their life, meaning that they could intentionally or unintentionally hurt those around them who identify as LGBTQ+. Not only does this leave a negative impression on the LGBTQ+ community but also allows others, both children and teenagers, to create a toxic climate for LGBTQ+ in an educational setting.
Nevertheless, it is valid to argue that schools have provided efforts for the safety and equality for all students, especially the LGBTQ+ youth. While there are LGBTQ+ support clubs, such as the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), there is still hesitation among LGBTQ+ students to enlist in these organizations due to the thought of the subsequent oppression from other students. As an educator, Kevin J. Graziano speaks about the experiences of gays and lesbians in his school. In one of his segments, he points out that some of them, mostly those who are closeted, are not in any LGBTQ+ related clubs due to the fear of rejection and bullying when others find out about their involvement with the club (Graziano). From this, the LGBTQ+ youth still cannot fully enjoy the opportunities that school offers when the environment of the school seems unpromising. These worries prove that school continues to be unsafe for LGBTQ+. Additionally, the schools’ administration and academic personnel may not provide the right amount of support and assistance needed for these students, especially when they face bullying, harassment, and victimization. While Egemen Hanımoğlu explains how school psychologists can reduce homophobia within schools, he also addresses how schools need them because the “LGBT youth in school are subjected to constant bullying and discrimination from students, teachers, and the school’s administration who often fail to defend them against this” (Hanımoğlu). Without the right guidance from teachers and administrators, injustice against the LGBTQ+ youth among the faculty, staff, and students will prevail, constituting an unfavorable setting for LGBTQ+ students. Therefore, amidst the efforts to reform the school system is the continuous cycle of hostility towards the students of LGBTQ+.
Whether the issue lies within the school curriculum or the students at school, the lives and the freedom of the LGBTQ+ youth are susceptible to the school’s destructive environment where the stigma of homosexuality and the neglect of the community continue to linger. To combat this, every school should implement laws and policies that address these situations as it provides the basis of equality for all students. It is also imperative to require training for teachers and administrators to enforce these mandates and an LGBTQ+ curriculum for students, no matter the age, to understand the history of and fairness for the LGBTQ+ community. If schools can provide these fundamentals to their staff and students, the rate of discrimination against LGBTQ+ will significantly decrease and will resolve the causes of their injustices. When that day comes, the fear that tortures the vulnerable minds of the LGBTQ+ youth will be consigned to oblivion.