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December 5, 2015
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The LGBT Factor

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) kids are prime targets for bullying. Eight out of 10 reported being verbally or physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to the 2011 National School Climate survey of 6thto 12thgrade students.

“Eighteen percent of kids said they had been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation—literally being punched, kicked or injured with a weapon,” says Robert McGarry, Ed.D., director of education for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Many kids reported feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation, especially in locker rooms, bathrooms and gym class. Nearly a third said they skipped a day of school in the previous month because of fears for their safety. The survey showed a continued decline in anti-LGBT behaviors in the last few years, as well as improvements in school-based resources and support; however, a great deal of harassment and prejudices remain. “I think we’re at a turning point—not just in schools, but the country—as it relates to anti-LGBT bias,” says McGarry. “And if we truly want to reduce bullying in schools, then addressing anti-LGBT bullying is a really important thing because it’s much more pervasive than other forms of bullying that are currently out there.” More than 80 percent of students reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. Biased language is so widespread that when McGarry surveyed teachers at a single high school, they came up with more than 50 homophobic slurs and phrases. One of the most frequently used expressions is “that’s so gay” to refer to something that is bad or worthless. “Faggot,” “lesbo” and “dyke” are also commonly used, but most of the other words are too explicit for print.

“[Anti-gay language] is everywhere,” says Michael DeVoll, M.Ed., licensed professional counselor and former president of the Texas Association for LGBT Issues in Counseling. “The sad thing is it happens in classrooms and sometimes doesn’t get addressed by the adult who’s in charge because it’s so pervasive.”

To create a safer, more supportive environment for LGBT kids, DeVoll encourages parents and teachers to take action when they hear inappropriate language.“If an adult hears teenagers make some homophobic or anti-gay comment publicly, it has to be called out publicly and corrected publicly,” says DeVoll. “Otherwise, everybody who knows that teacher or adult was present assumes that teacher condones the behavior, and that means it’s okay in this community.” The survey found that four key factors help promote a safer, more welcoming school environment for students: gay-straight alliances, supportive teachers, anti-bullying policies and a curriculum that includes positive representation of LGBT people, events and history.

Story \\ Angela Ambrose

 

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