Growing up isn't always easy- and even more seldom so for the nations 4 million k-12 students who identify a member of the LGBTQ community. Here are a few sobering statistics that illustrate some of the hardships that LGBTQ students face on a daily basis.
Bullying: The bullying of LGBTQ identifying students is rampant in the American public school system. According to GLSEN, middle and high school students report that being bullied or harassed because you are or are perceived to be a member of the LGBTQ community is the second most common reason why people are bullied (the first is looks or physical appearance).
- 84% of LGBTQ youth report being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identify.
- Students who are bullied are at an increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression. It is likely that these issues will persist into adulthood (stopbullying.gov)
Underperformance: Students who are victimized in school have poor educational outcomes and are discouraged from continuing with school.
- The GPA of students who are bullied for their gender expression or sexual orientation is significantly lower than that of students who are bullied less frequently. (2.4 vs. 2.8)
- 28% of LGBTQ youth drop out of school due to bullying and harassment
Homelessness: According to the UCLA School of Law, 40% of the country’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. This number is disproportionately high, especially considering the fact that queer youth represent only 7% of America’s population under the age of 18.
- 26% of LGBTQ youth are kicked out of their homes due to conflicts with their family pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity (Lambda Legal)
- 25-40% of youth who become homeless each year identify as LGBTQ (Lambda Legal)
Violence: identify as LGBTQ. This number is disproportionately high,
- 34% of LGBTQ youth report suffering physical violence at the hands of their parents as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity (GLSEN)
- 25% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students have been physically hurt by another students because of their sexual orientation.
- 55% of transgendered youth report being physically attacked because of their gender identity.
- In the US, more than one anti-trans murder is reported each month.
- Over the course of the last 10 years, 51 youth have been murdered in confirmed cases of anti-trans attacks. The actual number is likely much higher. (GenderPAC)
Suicide: LGBTQ youth are 14 times more likely to be at risk of suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers.
- Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth attempt suicide at four times the rate of their straight counterparts.
- Almost 50% of transgendered youth attempt suicide
- LGBTQ individuals account for 30% of all suicides each year (Lambda Legal)
In 2014, the suicide of an Ohio transgender teen garnered international attention. After enduring years of rejection from her conservative Christian parents, Leelah Alcorn walked into traffic in the early hours of December 28th. She posted a suicide note to her Tumblr account, wherein she made a plea for her death to start a dialogue about the societal abuse of the transgender community. To learn more about Leelah's heartbreaking story, watch this short video.
LGBTQ Invisibility in Teacher Education
I am in the process of finishing the final few classes of my undergraduate degree in AYA education at Miami University: an institution whose education program is nationally recognized for its excellence. Although I am very grateful for the education that I have received thus far and the dedicated instructors who have helped to shape the teacher that I will become, I can’t help but to ruminate over the fact that instruction surrounding one of the most fundamental elements of good teaching has been excluded from my education. What I’m referring to here is the inclusiveness of LGBTQ students.
The problem that I am addressing is not unique to Miami University. There is an overall lack of acknowledgement of queer issues in America’s teacher education programs- a reality that perpetuates the public school systems longstanding failure to act as an environment of inclusivity for the nation’s LGBTQ youth. Within most teacher education programs across the country, there is an area of practice called "multicultural education." Although the purpose of multicultural courses are to prepare future teachers to foster an environment of diversity and support within their classrooms, research has concluded that these courses take a vague and superficial approach to diversity. Correspondingly, pre service teachers graduate without being able to address or recognize and identify the inequities that often exist within an educational setting. Dr. Elizabeth Payne, founder and director of the Queering Education Institute, has investigated the farce that is multicultural education at length. In an article that she wrote for the Huffington Post about academia's half hearted approach to LGBTQ inclusion in schools she stated:
"The likelihood of LGBTQ identities being included in multicultural education courses varies by region of the country, accreditation requirements and the expertise and beliefs of the university education faculty teaching pre-service teachers. However, there is a limited number of textbooks utilized in courses aimed at teaching prospective teachers about diversity. Research on these textbooks found that many exclude LGBTQ content completely or reinforce negative or stereotypical representations of LGBTQ people. LGBTQ identities were often framed as pathologies — included in text sections on suicide, depression or sexually transmitted disease. LGBQ lives and relationships were measured against heterosexual relationships, transgender identities were often not addressed at all in these texts, and LGBTQ people were presented as predominantly white and monolithic. LGBTQ students were often portrayed as victims and described as social outsiders in need of protection rather than as students with much to contribute to the school community given a supportive environment."
It isn't difficult to conclude that the state of teacher education is, in some ways, shamefully behind the times. If the culture of silence surrounding LGBTQ issues in our publics schools is going to be interrupted- it is imperative that pre-service teachers be given a comprehensive education when it comes to matters of queer inclusivity.
Considering the fact that there are over 4 million students who identify as LGBTQ in America’s k-12 public school system, teacher preparation programs and their systemic failure to recognize queer issues is disconcerting to say the least. It is a negligence that has done a gross disservice to pre-service teachers- a group of well meaning young professionals who are entering the field either underprepared or unwilling to take on and queer issues within their classrooms and careers.
Where to Begin
LGBTQ inclusivity in our schools must start from the ground up. It can not be reasonably expected that public schools act as institutions of absolute inclusivity if pre-service teachers are denied the opportunity to develop the skill sets and dispositions necessary to uplift LGBTQ youth. Teacher education programs must start recognizing LGBTQ issues as a fundamental element of their curriculum. There must be required courses that address LGBTQ issues in education, as well as courses that give pre service teachers an understanding of their students' experiences. Fluency in the language of inclusivity is critical. An understanding of heteronormativity, cisnormativity, and the far reaching effects of systemic oppression is essential.
Getting everyone on board is an absolute must. Ideological or social perspectives aside, it is imperative that all pre-service teachers become enthusiastically invested in the concept of LGBTQ inclusivity. Ideally, a comprehensive teacher education program would convey to pre service teachers of all backgrounds that the necessity for LGBTQ inclusivity transcends any personal beliefs or preconceived notions that one may have about gender and sexuality. According to GLSEN, studies show that schools with multiple teachers who are identified by students as being LGBTQ supportive are the same schools who are making systemic changes to improve school climate. If universities nation wide provided pre services teachers with the knowledge necessary to support their LGBTQ students, the world would be one step closer to achieving equality.
An over haul of the nation's pre service teacher education programs will yield an influx of progressive teachers into the American public school system. As this begins to happen, public schools will slowly but surely begin to rebuild their culture of inclusivity from the inside out.
Rebuilding K-12 School Culture: What will it take?
- An inclusive curriculum
- A vigilantly policed, school wide zero tolerance policy for bullying, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
- On going professional development for faculty and staff (pertaining to issues of LGBTQ sensitivity and inclusivity)
- Safe spaces (bathrooms, classrooms, etc.)
1. An Inclusive Curriculum
A school’s curriculum should reflect and respect all students. The focus of an LBGTQ inclusive curriculum is to interrupt the education system’s traditionally heteronormative narrative through the integration of non heteronormative and cisnormative instruction.
o As teachers of English and language arts, one of the biggest ways that we can foster an environment of inclusivity in our classrooms is through literature. With every book that we assign our students, we are sending them subtle yet powerful messages about who is valued within our society and who isn't. It is no secret that the public school system is characterized by the ubiquitous notion of white, straight, cis, able-bodied male privilege. On second thought... maybe it is a bit of a secret. After all, I doubt that many teachers set out to create a curriculum that perpetuates institutional oppression. Right? Right. Whiteness, heteronormaivity, cisnormativity, monoculturalism, etc. Those things are the status quo, but by not interrupting these sets of values within our own curriculum, we are allowing them to remain so. Additionally, it is important to focus on issues in literature surrounding miss-representation or inequitable representation. A novel about a homosexual teenager, no matter how well intending the author, can still be problematic depending on how the character is represented. A disproportionate amount of LGBTQ characters in YA literature are white males. This is a phenomenon that leaves the even further marginalized LBGTQ population feeling without a voice.
o Furthermore, inclusive English teachers take care to ensure that they are not assigning a disproportionate number of novels authored by cis, white males. It is important that the authors present in our classrooms reflect the entire spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity.
o Lessons on the correct use of inclusive pronouns (what they are and why it’s important that they be used correctly)
o Introducing students to LGBTQ inclusive vocabulary
o Giving students opportunities to write about their personal identity.
o Creating a safe space for students to fully disclose about their lives within their writer’s notebooks.
Health and Science
· A comprehensive sex education
o Teach about sexual orientation and gender identity by using the very easy to understand “genderbread person.” Doing so will help students who are struggling to grapple with their identity.
o Ensure that students of all sexual orientations and gender identities have the knowledge that they need in order to ensure a safe sex life.
· Teach about the historical contributions of the LGBTQ community.
o Bringing as much complexity to history as possible is instrumental in providing an accurate and well-rounded k-12 education. Ex: Have you ever heard of Bayard Rustin? Probably not, but guess what? He was an out-of-the-closet gay man who also happened to be Dr. Martin Luther King’s right hand man during the African American civil rights movement. Conservative whites tried to scare him into silence using homophobic tactics, but because he was the best man for the job, fellow leaders of the movement stood behind him and empowered him to continue on with his role in the fight for equality. He was the organizer of the very famous 1963 march on Washington and is pictured with Dr. King in the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
· Giving students the option to take elective classes will help them to claim ownership of their identity. Because all systems of oppression are intersectional, any of the following classes could be very beneficial to marginalized and non-marginalized students alike. In addition to being empowering, they have the potential to instill within students a sense of empathy, understanding, and knowledge.
o Women and Gender Studies
o Queer Studies
o Disability Studies
o Minority Studies
2. Professional Development
Of the nations k-12 public school staff, 90% have never received training on how to support their LGBTQ students (The Guardian). Here are a few suggestions that the Human Rights Campaign has for Professional Development in schools surrounding LGBTQ issues.
- Hold staff meetings that expound upon the benefits of creating a culture of inclusion for students and their families.
- Provide professional development that informs staff members about the nature of bias, the prevention of bullying, and the most effective ways to foster emotional well-being for all students.
- Hold trainings to ensure that staff is well prepared to handle issues related to bullying and harassment.
- Design professional development sessions to ensure that all staff members are well versed in the school’s anti-harassment policy.
3. Safe Spaces
- Gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms as well as a policy granting students the permission to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
- Clubs that address LGBTG Student Issues (Gay Straight Alliance).
- Safe Zone stickers on every classroom door.
4. Zero Tolerance
- According to a recent survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, students who identify as LBGTQ report being harassed at school (physically and verbally) twice as frequently as their cis/hetero peers.
- Middle school and high school students report that being bullied or harassed because “you are or are perceived to be a member of the LGBTQ community” is one of the top reasons why people are bullied.
- According to GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), homophobic remarks are the most common type of bias language remarks heard in schools.
- 85% of students report being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Over two thirds of LGBTQ students report feeling unsafe in school. Nearly 1/3 of those students have missed at least 1 class in the past month as a result.
- Two in five students have been physically harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and one in five have been physically assaulted.
In order to have schools that are LGBTQ safe and inclusive, it is crucial that a stringent anti-harassment policy be put in place. Furthermore, all faculty and staff must be vigilant in their mission to enforce this policy. When a teacher sits idly by as one of his or her students uses a homophobic slur in the classroom or in the hallway, it sends a very clear message to LGBTQ students about the value (or lack there of) that the school places on their safety and worth. School climate should be characterized by a level of accountability so unmistakable that it borders on being palpable. The consequences for bullying must be discouraging enough to keep potential offender in line.
Bullies are a reflection of a brokenness within a system. Ideally, as teacher education programs address LGBTQ issues within their curriculum, there will be a corresponding decline in the amount of LGBTQ harassment that takes place within the public school system.
The Far Reaching Benefits and Implications of LGBTQ Inclusive Schools: Increased quality of life for LGBTQ students and a more understanding and accepting cis and hetero population.
The integration and implementation of queer inclusive principles, practices and pedagogy will instill in cis and straight students an increased level of understanding and empathy for their LBGTQ identifying peers. By creating understanding allies within our schools, we create future agents for change within our communities. Doing so brings us one step closer to dismantling the heteronormative, cisnormative, and patriarchal values that have governed our society for far too long.
1. The safezoneproject.com gives teachers a number of wonderful approaches to teaching LGBTQ inclusivity in the classroom. This resource is especially useful for the information that it gives about teaching about the complex nature of gender identity.
Another great resouce for teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom can be found at itspronouncedmetrosexual.com.
2. The Human Rights Campaign has a page of their website that is dedicated to suggestions about professional development on inclusivity.
3. This is the link to the article written by Dr. Elizabeth Payne in the Huffington Post. It is about the dire state of LGBTQ inclusivity training for pre service teachers.
4. This is a doctoral dissertation written by Olivia Jo Murray of Portland State University. It is called "'Outing' Queer Issues in Teacher Preperation Programs: How Pre-Service Teachers Experience Sexual and Gender Diversity in Their Field Placements." In addition to being an excellent and informative read, it is where I got much of the inspiration for this page.