NEW YORK, Sept. 24, 2009 – Middle school LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students are significantly more likely to face hostile school climates than high school LGBT students, yet have less access to school resources and support, according to a new research brief from GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released as the New York Times Magazine publishes a cover story on students coming out in middle school.
The research brief, the first national research report to look specifically at the experiences of LGBT students in middle school, is based on data from 626 LGBT middle school students who participated in GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of 6,209 secondary school students.
“The findings should be a wake-up call to school officials and policymakers across the country that we can no longer ignore one of the biggest school climate issues facing middle school students, regardless of sexual orientation,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “GLSEN has worked for many years to provide educators/schools with evidence-based solutions that they can implement to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. For the sake of all of our students, schools must take action to address these issues in the critical middle grades.”
More than 9 out of 10 LGBT middle school students (91%) said they experienced harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, 59% experienced physical harassment and a startling 39% said they had been physically assaulted, nearly twice as many as in high school (20%).
More than 8 out of 10 LGBT middle school students (82%) reported hearing homophobic epithets (e.g., “faggot” or “dyke”) frequently or often from other students in school – a higher percentage than high school students (73%). Perhaps most shocking, 63% of LGBT middle school students had heard school staff make homophobic remarks.
The negative and hostile climate had a profound effect on student academic success. Half of LGBT middle school students (50%) had skipped at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe. Further, their grade point average was half a grade point lower than students who had not missed school due to safety concerns.
The full research brief can be found at http://www.glsen.org/binary-data/GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/file/000/001/1475-1.pdf.
Finding: Homophobic remarks and negative comments about someone’s gender expression were pervasive in middle schools
· 91% of LGBT middle school students said that they heard the word “gay” used in a negative or derogatory way often or frequently in school, such as the expression “that’s so gay.”
· 82% of LGBT middle school students reported hearing homophobic epithets (e.g., “faggot” or “dyke”) frequently or often from other students in school – a higher percentage than high school students (73%). In addition, 63% heard school staff make homophobic remarks.
· 66% of LGBT middle school students heard negative remarks about gender expression frequently or often from their peers – also a higher frequency than was reported by high school students (60%). Further, nearly two-thirds of LGBT middle school students also heard such remarks from school staff (62%).
Finding: The majority of LGBT middle school students experienced verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, and sizable percentages were physically harassed or assaulted based on these characteristics.
· 91% of LGBT middle school students were verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) in school because of their sexual orientation (compared to 86% of high school students), with 81% being regularly harassed (frequently, often or sometimes). Also, 72% reported having been verbally harassed in school because of their gender expression (compared to 66% of high school students).
· 59% of LGBT middle school students experienced physical harassment (e.g., pushed or shoved) in school because of their sexual orientation (compared to 43% of high school students), 41% were physically harassed because of how they expressed their gender (compared to 29% in high school).
· 39% of LGBT middle school students had been assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) in school because of their sexual orientation (compared to 20% of high school students) and 24% because of their gender expression (compared to 13% of high school students).
Finding: Harassment and absenteeism as a result of an unsafe school environment negatively affected LGBT middle school students’ academic performance and ability to attend school.
· 50% of LGBT middle school students reported missing at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe.
· LGBT middle school students who missed days of school because they felt unsafe had grade point averages (GPAs) about half a grade lower than students who did not miss school because of safety concerns – 2.4 vs. 2.9 (out of 4.0).
· LGBT middle school students who experienced high levels of harassment or assault because of their sexual orientation reported significantly lower GPAs than students who were never or rarely victimized in school for this reason. For example, the GPAs of students who experienced high levels of physical harassment because of their sexual orientation were almost half a grade lower than other students – 2.4 vs. 2.8
Finding: Many LGBT students in middle school did not have access to important resources and interventions that can improve school climate.
· Very few LGBT middle school students (4%) reported that their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar student club, and they were much less likely to have a GSA than students in high school (43%).
· 64% of LGBT middle school students reported having at least one teacher or other school staff person in school who they felt was supportive of LGBT students, but they were less likely than high school students (86%) to report having supportive school staff.
· When asked about the presence of school policies addressing harassment, 52% of LGBT middle school students reported that their school had some type of anti-harassment policy. However, only 17% of middle school students reported that the policy explicitly mentioned protections from harassment based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression.
About the National School Climate Survey
The National School Climate Survey is a biennial report examining the experiences of LGBT middle and high school students in U.S. schools. The report, which was first released in 1999 and is the only national survey of its kind, documents the anti-LGBT bias and behaviors that make schools unsafe for many of these youth. The full 2007 sample consisted of 6,209 LGBT secondary school students, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, between the ages of 13 and 21.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN’s research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org