GLSEN 2011 National School Climate Survey: Improvement, but still more progress needed

GLSEN released its 2011 National School Climate Survey today, and, while LGBT students are faring better than they have in the past, there is still a lot of room for improvement. This year showed the first significant decline in victimization based on sexual orientation, but over 80% of LGBT students still report being verbally harassed at school and over 70% have heard homophobic slurs used at school “frequently or often.” Transgender students faced the highest levels of harassment; just 4% of transgender students reported that they felt safe at school.

The impact of gender identity or sexual orientation-based harassment can be devastating for students. Nearly one third of LGBT students have reported skipping class or missing a full day of school at least once because of safety concerns. Students who are harassed at school are also more likely to report feeling depressed and have, on average, a slightly lower grade point average than their non-LGBT peers. Students also report that being out at school is a double edged sward; although being out means they do not have to endure the stress of hiding a part of who they are, students who openly acknowledge their sexual orientation or gender identity report they are more likely to face victimization from their peers and sometimes school faculty and staff, who may discriminate against LGBT people.

A number of sources of support were able to somewhat mitigate the negative impact of harassment and anti-LGBT policies. Students who attended schools with GSAs reported fewer incidents of harassment and heard fewer homophobic remarks while at school. Students at schools with LGBT-inclusive curricula were more likely to feel a sense of community, which led to them feeling safer at school. Schools with anti-bullying policies that specify protections for LGBT students were more likely to have teachers intervene on behalf of victimized students and had lower rates of harassment overall.

Unfortunately, still too few schools have GSAs, inclusive curricula, and enumerated anti-bullying policies that would serve to protect and support LGBT students. Especially lacking are anti-bullying policies; well under 10% of students surveyed attend a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.

GLSEN's Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard, states that her organization “has worked tirelessly for more than two decades to address endemic bias and violence directed at LGBT students in our schools. With this report, we are beginning to be able to discern real impact of our efforts.” She acknowledges that there is still “much work […] to be done to turn promising change into a concrete, sustainable reality, but those schools and districts that are taking action are beginning to make a real difference in improving the lives of students and providing better educational opportunity for all."

GLAAD applauds GLSEN for its work, and is pleased to see that victimization of LGBT students appears to be decreasing. We will continue to work with GLSEN and other support organizations until every LGBT student feels welcomed, supported, and safe at school.