Nearly thirty percent of all students in grades 6-12 experience bullying. While that percentage is unacceptably high, it pales in comparison to the percentage of LGBT students who are bullied. According to GLSEN’s School Climate Survey, nearly seventy five percent—fully three quarters of all LGBT students— reported being verbally bullied (the most common form of bullying). LGBT students also experience higher rates of other types of bullying than their peers due to their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. An astonishing thirty to forty percent of LGBT students have attempted suicide.
Although school should be a safe place for all students, over half of LGBT students experienced not only bullying, but also discriminatory school policies and practices. The majority of LGBT students who were harassed in school did not report it, and of those who did, only one third said that staff effectively addressed the issue.
The problem is clear: LGBT students feel physically and emotionally unsafe at school. The solution, however, is multifaceted. Schools must understand the issues facing LGBT students, including the increased risk of verbal harassment, physical assault, and other forms of bullying, such as cyberbullying. They need to ensure all of their policies and practices are inclusive and do not discriminate against LGBT students. Their anti-bullying policies should specifically prohibit bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual identity or gender expression. All staff must know how to respond immediately and effectively when bullying does take place or when an LGBT appears to be struggling.
Additionally, schools need to take steps to cultivate a welcome and inclusive environment. This includes things such as utilizing curricula that are inclusive of LGBT-related topics and that teach positive representations of LGBT people and events, encouraging and supporting a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) for LGBT students and straight allies, and participating in events such as Ally Week and No Name-Calling Week to affirm acceptance of and support for all students.
The newly released Bullying Prevention Book of Lists by Dr. Kenneth Shore includes a chapter on bullying of LGBT students. It offers strategies and resources for preventing bullying and protecting LGBT students, and creating a positive and inclusive school climate.
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