Earlier this week, our colleagues at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released the 2009 National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students across the country.
While the report did contain bright spots, such as the downward trend in the frequency of hearing homophobic remarks, it highlighted the daily challenges facing students who are (or are thought to be) LGBT in our nation’s schools. For example, nine of 10 reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and two-thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly one-third skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. Perhaps not surprisingly, locker rooms and bathrooms were locations of particular worry for LGBT students. Surely we as a country can and must do a better job of protecting these students and ensuring their rights to a first-class education free of fear of discrimination and harassment.
The report also included a list of factors in schools that have been shown to lead to better educational outcomes for LGBT students, as well as reductions in harassment, including the presence of supportive student clubs like GSAs, inclusive curriculum (a discussion of important LGBT figures in history, like Harvey Milk, for example), and supportive educators.
Despite the fact that LGBT students remain a particularly vulnerable population in schools, there is no explicit federal prohibition against discrimination and harassment of students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar protections already exist for students based on race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, and it is long overdue for Congress to act to protect LGBT students.
Fortunately, there is legislation currently pending in Congress — the Student Non-Discrimination Act — that would protect students from discrimination and harassment in public schools based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and would provide victims with legal remedies. And the bill includes protections against anti-LGBT harassment, which is particularly important in light of the findings in the latest National School Climate Survey.