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Survey: CO Schools Still "Hostile Environments" for LGBTQ Students

A new survey says in middle and high schools, 85 percent of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment and nearly two-thirds experienced discrimination. (Pixabay)
A new survey says in middle and high schools, 85 percent of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment and nearly two-thirds experienced discrimination. (Pixabay)
January 23, 2017

DENVER – Schools that take steps to reduce bullying and provide other supports for their LGBTQ students are seeing better education outcomes, but the nation's middle and high schools can still be described as "hostile environments," according to a new survey by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

David Danischewski, a GLSEN research assistant, says even homophobic comments can have profound effects.

"When students are experiencing these hostile environments, they're actually missing school more often,” he explains. "They tend to have lower GPAs, they report lower self-esteem, higher rates of depression, and they don't really have a strong sense of school belonging."

The survey found 85 percent of LGBTQ students were harassed verbally, nearly two-thirds experienced discrimination, and more than 1 in 10 was physically assaulted.

Schools with comprehensive anti-bullying policies and sanctioned Gay-Straight Alliances saw lower levels of victimization.

Mary McDonough, youth engagement coordinator with the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, says, beyond punitive anti-bullying programs, a cultural shift is needed to challenge perspectives that label some students as "outsiders."

"And I also think it takes curriculum,” she states. “It takes LGBTQ students being able to see themselves in lessons in history and in social studies. You know, they have a history, they have people who are like them that have made positive impacts."

The survey found only one in five schools taught classes featuring positive representations of LGBT topics.

More than half of respondents say they've heard homophobic remarks from school staff members, and the frequency of staff intervention in incidents decreased from the group's previous survey in 2013.

Danischewski stresses school administrators need to be held accountable, and ensure that teachers and other staff know how to handle bullying and harassment when it happens.

"We really recommend that there's an increase in professional development for teachers and other school administrative staff to really understand the issues at hand and, you know, the unique challenges that LGBTQ students might be facing," he states.

Danischewski says although many students still experience harassment and discrimination, the survey shows that when schools take steps to support these students, climates can be transformed so that all students can thrive.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO