LGBT students face harsher punishments, enter juvenile justice system

LGBT students, students of color, and students with disabilities are the most likely to be impacted by disciplinary action in schools and enter the juvenile justice system, according to a new report released by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The report outlines data on student discipline and suspensions, policy recommendations, and strategies for keeping students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. 

What is striking about the report are the statistics given on LGBT youth. LGBT students, especially gender non-conforming girls, are up to 3 times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment then their straight counterparts, based on a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. On top of this, LGBT youth comprise 13-15% of the juvenile justice population in the U.S., but only 5-7% of the overall youth population, according to the Center for American Progress.

Often facing punishment and suspension for defending themselves against taunting and bullying by peers, LGBT youth are met with increased time outside of school. Being removed from the classroom means less academic engagement, and it also means less time working on emotion regulation and building healthy peer relationships. This translates to more time outside of school getting involved with risky and criminal behaviors, a phenomenon that has been referred to as the "school to prison pipeline."

This phenomenon is not new. In fact, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) warned about the "school to prison pipeline" for LGBT youth earlier this year. LGBT youth are disproportionately targeted for bullying and harassment, and they get in trouble for fighting back to defend themselves. GLSEN recognized a bias, whereby school officials and police have been known to take harsher action against LGBT students than their straight counterparts.

With a multitude of documentation about the consequences of disciplinary action on students, especially LGBT and gender non-conforming youth, it is time for school officials to examine their biases and strive to make the school environment a safe space for all students.