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School a hostile place for LGBTQ students, study says, Missouri and Kansas included

In 2017, supporters rallied outside Olathe Northwest High School in response to taunts against LGBTQ students during a homecoming parade.
In 2017, supporters rallied outside Olathe Northwest High School in response to taunts against LGBTQ students during a homecoming parade. rsugg@kcstar.com

The vast majority of LGBTQ students in Missouri and Kansas face hostile environments in school, according to a report released Wednesday from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Among the many findings in the National Schools Climate Survey report was data showing that 85 percent of the LGBTQ students who responded to the survey in Missouri and 84 percent in Kansas “reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks in school.” In addition, 36 percent in Missouri and 27 percent in Kansas reported being physically harassed because of sexual orientation.

Nationally, high numbers of students reported hearing derogatory, anti-LGBTQ remarks, said Nhan Truong, a senior research associate. But overall, harassment is down from a decade ago, including verbal and physical harassment and assault. The report shows an increase in resources for LGBTQ students from 2001 to 2017, but says that progress has “slowed for the first time in years.”

Some of the worst news is that survey results “indicate that many schools have become even more hostile towards transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” Joseph Kosciw, the group’s chief research and strategy officer, said in a statement. The group cites the common problem of students referred to with pronouns that don’t match the gender they identify with.

The group, a leading national education organization that works to create safe schools for students, conducted its survey online from April through August 2017. A total of 23,001 students between the ages of 13 and 21 participated. The organization said special efforts were made to assure students of color and those living in rural communities were included.

“This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ well being,” said Eliza Byard, the group’s executive director. “Fortunately, the evidence continues to show that key interventions are working to improve students’ lives. We must continue to push to see them implemented in more schools, and support students who are organizing to improve their communities.”

While researchers cautioned against comparing states because the samplings were so varied, Truong did mention that states such as California, Massachusetts and New York provide more opportunities for students to connect with Gay Straight Alliance groups in their schools.

“Our Gay Straight Alliance goal is to register 10,000 GSA groups this year,” Truong said.

The group’s chapter in Kansas City is working to train educators on both sides of the state line, said David Alonzo, the local chair. The group has already held sessions to assist teachers and administrators on how to confront people who use derogatory language and how to intercede when a student is being bullied.

“I think that in the greater Kansas City area we are improving a little bit, particularly on dealing with harassment and bullying related to sexual orientation, but I think we have a ways to go when it comes to gender identity and expression,” Alonzo said.

That said, Alonzo acknowledged that some districts are making big efforts to improve resources and treatment for LGBTQ students, including the North Kansas City district, which last year decided to offer gender-neutral bathrooms at its schools

In Olathe, he said, district leaders are reviewing polices to make sure they consider the needs of all students, staff and faculty. The district, he said, is considering such issues as whether a teacher can continue in the classroom during a gender transition.

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