What’s It Really Like Being Openly LGBT at School?

GLSEN's report tells us how things are getting better - and what still needs to change

GLSEN‘s 2011 National School Climate Survey is an eye opener. It’s the only national study that has examined the experiences of LGBT students in America’s schools for the past decade. And while there’s been a decline in anti-gay language over the years, the survey of thousands of students from all 50 states and the District of Colombia found that the majority of LGBT students are faced with many obstacles in school that can impact both academic performance and personal well being.

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In fact, eight out of 10 LGBT students say they have experienced harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, and three-fifths admit they have felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third admit they’ve skipped at least a day of school because of safety concerns. We’ve summarized some of the progress and trouble spots.

Here’s the good news:

  • The percentage of students hearing homophobic remarks, such as “dyke” or “faggot” frequently or often has seen a major decline since 2001.
  • In 2011, there was a significant decrease in harassment and assault based on sexual orientation compared to findings released from previous years.
  • There was a small increase in portion of students who reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school.
  • Students reported a significant increase of positive representations of LGBT-related topics in their curriculum.
  • There was a small increase in portion of students who reported having access to LGBT-related Internet resources through their school computers.

Here are the facts:

  • 81.9% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.9% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed.
  • 27.1% reported being physically harassed.
  • 84.9% of LGBT students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) and 71.3% heard homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently or often at school.
  • LGBT students reported feeling unsafe in specific school spaces, most commonly locker rooms (39.0%), bathrooms (38.8%) and physical education/gym class (32.5%).
  • Transgender students experienced more hostile school climates than their non-transgender peers – 80% of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression.
  • Nearly one third of LGBT students (29.8%) reported skipping a class at least once and 31.8% missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.
  • The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.2).
  • 60.4% of LGBT students never reported an incident of harassment or assault to school personnel.
  • A considerable number of students reported discriminatory policies or practices against LGBT people by their school or school personnel. Students indicated the most common discriminatory policy or practice was related to treatment of LGBT relationships (e.g., related to dates for school dances and public display of affection).
  • Do you have a story to share about being openly LGBT at school? Talk to us: nmcdonald@phillymag.com