Ten things to know about GLSEN's 2013 report on school climate

Today, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) published their 8th biennial report on LGBT youth experiences in schools, the 2013 National School Climate Survey. Since 1999, this survey of over 7,000 students from all 50 states and Washington D.C. has consistently indicated that the availability of LGBT school-based resources and support directly impacts the safety of school climate. While a lot of progress has been made in the past fifteen years—verbal and physical harassment based on sexual orientation and gender expression were lower than in all prior years of the NSCS—there is a long way to go in making our schools safe spaces and positive learning environments for marginalized youth.

Check out some of the facts below to learn about how LGBT middle and high school students experience hearing biased language, harassment and assault, anti-LGBT discrimination at school, and the impact of supportive resources.

1) Language: 65% of LGBT students heard anti-LGBT remarks frequently or often—33% pertained specifically to transgender people. Specifically, 71.4% heard "gay" used in a negative way frequently or often, with 90.8% reporting they felt distressed because of this language.

2) Harassment: 36% of LGBT students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 23% because of their gender expression

3) Assault: 17% were physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 11% because of their gender expression.

4) Discriminatory policies: 56% of LGBT students reported personally experiencing LGBT-related discriminatory policies or practices at school, while 65% said other students at their school experienced such policies. 28% of those reporting cited being disciplined for public displays of affection that were not disciplined among non-LGBT students.

5) Staff support: LGBT students with 11 or more supportive staff at their school were less likely to feel unsafe than those with no supportive staff and had higher GPAs (3.3 vs. 2.8). Problematically, only 39% of students could identify 11 or more supportive staff.

6) Gender-segregated spaces: Over a third of those surveyed avoided gender-segregated spaces in school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable (bathrooms: 35.4%, locker rooms: 45.3%). 

7) Transgender students: 42.2% of transgender students had been prevented from using their preferred name (10.8% of LGBT students overall) while 31.6% were prevented from wearing clothes considered inappropriate based on their legal sex.

8) Absences: LGBT students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their sexual orientation or gender expression were more than 3 times more likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (61.1% vs 17.3% for sexual orientation, 58.6% vs 18.2% for gender expression).

9) Gay-straight alliances: Only half (50.3%) of students said that their school had a GSA or similar student club. Compared to LGBT students who did not have a GSA in their school, students who had access to one were less likely to hear anti-LGBT slurs often or frequently (57.4% vs 71.6%).

10) Inclusive curriculum: Only 18.5% of LGBT students were taught positive representations about LGBT people, history, or events in their schools; 14.8% had been taught negative content about LGBT topics. Those with LGBT-inclusive curriculum were more likely to report that their classmates were somewhat or very accepting of LGBT people (75.2% vs 39.6%), and felt more connected to their school community. 

Positive changes in indicators of hostile school climates emerged in the most recent report. For example, although the expression "that's so gay" remains the most common form of anti-LGBT language heard by LGBT students, its prevalence has declined consistently since 2001. Also, students experienced lower verbal and physical harassment based on sexual orientation than in all prior years, and higher numbers of GSAs, supportive educators, anti-bullying policies, and LGBT-related resources in schools.

For more information on school climate—including demographic and school characteristics comparisons, research methods and samples, trends over time, and a discussion of the data— read the full report here. Whether we work in or with schools ourselves, we are all responsible for making the space where our youth spend most of their time safe, inclusive spaces of growth and community.