Elementary Schools and Bullying: What Students Really Face

This week, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a report from a study examining the elementary school climate. The report, Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States is the first of its kind to examine the incidence of anti-LGBT name calling and harassment. The findings show that derogatory remarks about the LGBT community are among the most common used by elementary school students, with nearly half of all students hearing anti-gay epithets regularly and 75% of students report being harassed on a regular basis.

The findings are of no surprise to current students because they hear it all of the time. Phrases like “that’s so gay” and the casual use of anti-gay epithets aimed at fellow students regardless of their orientation or gender identity are all too common. "Words like 'sissy,' 'fairy,' 'f**got' and 'dike' are weapons of choice for children who want to hurt their peers," said GLSEN's executive director Eliza Byard in an interview with ABC. "Learning words can wound someone and turn into patterns of bullying,” Byard continues, “It can be painful and limiting for children who are outside some artificial norm."

The ABC article “Homophobia Starts in Elementary School; Teachers Do Little” featured a Nebraska family, giving voice to statistics in the report on the inclusion of LGBT families at school.  8-year-old Clare had been taunted at school for having more than one mom. In this instance, the teacher was able to address the name-calling with the students, and their behaviors have since changed. Of the teachable moments, one of Clare’s moms said, "It's important for kids to see that they need to take care of each other and help each other out, rather than take each other down."

Gail Connolly, executive director for the National Association of Elementary School Principals couldn’t agree more. "Elementary principals are painfully aware of the impact that name-calling, bullying and bias have not only on an individual student's development, but also in disrupting a positive school culture that nurtures the whole child," Connolly said in an interview with MSNBC.

"Our latest research on bias-based remarks and bullying in America' s elementary schools provides new understanding of the experiences facing our youngest students," Byard said in remarks included in the MSNBC piece “What kids hear on the playground; ‘Your so gay!’” In conjunction with the report, GLSEN released a toolkit for elementary schools to more successfully create safe and welcoming climates for all students and the families they come from.

GLAAD applauds news coverage from outlets like MSNBC, ABC, the Huffington Post, and The Advocate for shedding a light on the important findings of GLSEN’s elementary school climate report. We encourage the media to continue to seek out and lift up the stories of students and families, like Clare and her moms, who can share their experience and build support for creating welcoming schools for all students.