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U.S. school districts should do more to protect LGBT students from bullying, report says

Student Ashley Terry, a senior at Cristo Rey Kansas City, held her anti-abuse sign during a Unity Rally in May. Cristo Rey Kansas City students staged a Unity Walk for Justice from their high school to the Liberty Memorial, where they participated in a rally calling for peace, eliminating bigotry, bullying and bias. As part of a year-long process, Cristo Rey Kansas City has achieved a No Place For Hate designation from the Anti-Defamation League.
Student Ashley Terry, a senior at Cristo Rey Kansas City, held her anti-abuse sign during a Unity Rally in May. Cristo Rey Kansas City students staged a Unity Walk for Justice from their high school to the Liberty Memorial, where they participated in a rally calling for peace, eliminating bigotry, bullying and bias. As part of a year-long process, Cristo Rey Kansas City has achieved a No Place For Hate designation from the Anti-Defamation League. The Kansas City Star

Ahead of classes beginning next month for the 2015-2016 school year, GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Network, released a report showing that school districts overall in the United States don’t have anti-bullying policies to protect gay and lesbian students.

The report, “From Statehouse to Schoolhouse: Anti-Bullying Policy Efforts in U.S. States and School Districts,” was released earlier this month. It examined anti-bullying policies in 13,181 school districts nationwide and the effects of state law. The report found that only one in 10 school districts has a policy that explicitly protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Nearly three in 10 have no anti-bullying policy at all.

That’s not good particularly as the country is changing, doing away with the don’t ask don’t policy of gays in the military and enabling same-sex couples to be legally married. The openness encourages more people of all ages to come out of the closet, but in schools bullying remains an unprotected reality for LGBT students willing to be open about their sexual orientation.

The report also found that in states with anti-bullying laws that protect students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, 38.7 percent of the school districts failed to include sexual orientation, and 60.3 percent failed to include gender identity/expression. LGBT students in school districts with LGBT-inclusive policies report a greater sense of safety and lower rates of victimization.

The report noted that only two in 10 school districts required professional development for educators on bullying, and only two in 10 require accountability for reporting of bullying incidents.

“Districts in the Northeast were most likely to have anti-bullying policies, to have LGBT-inclusive policies and to have policies that included professional development requirements,” the report said. “Districts in the South were least likely to enumerate protections for LGBT students in their policies.”

The West was “least likely to have districts enumerating protections to any group of students in their anti-bullying policies,” the report said. “Research on regional differences among the general student population has been less common, but GLSEN’s research has repeatedly demonstrated that LGBT students in the South and Midwest experience more hostile school climates than those in the Northeast and West.”

The report also said, “Rural districts were least likely to have anti-bullying policies in general, to enumerate protections to any group of students, to have policies that were LGBT inclusive and to include professional development requirements.”

State law and guidance strongly influence school district policies increasing the likelihood that a district will have an anti-bullying policy.

The report recommendations include states adopting anti-bullying laws with protections for LGBT students. It also said people should advocate for funding for state anti-bullying laws and regulations to enable school districts to implement state mandates.

The report says professional staff development is needed to identify and prevent bullying. School boards and state education associations also should develop model policies.

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