May 17 is the International day against Homophobia (IDAHO) and this seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on what the current realities are for students and educators working in schools. I've blogged about this a lot here - it is one of the main themes of this space. But for some context, you can read some of my earlier posts such as:
To keep you updated on the latest information available, I wanted to write about two new studies that describe the experiences of students in schools in the USA and Canada that offer really valuable information for families, educators, and advocates working to improve school safety and respect for diversity. I'm also including the twitter usernames of some of these organizations so you can follow them there if you are interested in getting more regular information.
A Decade of Data from Schools in the USA
The first study was conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (@GLSEN). They have been conducting school climate surveys in the US since 1999 and this year reported on results that look back over the past decade of data they have collected from youth across the country. They presented these findings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (@AERA_EdResearch) in New Orleans, LA last month. Some key findings they reported include:
The situation has gotten worse in some areas:
Some improvements, then backsliding:
It is getting better! (in some ways):
I find the data reported here really compelling. This review of the past decade demonstrates that although school climates in the U.S. continue to be hostile for BGLQT youth and anyone perceived to be BGLQT, the efforts of activists and educators to make improvements is measurable: more GSAs, more library resources, more supportive staff in schools and less harassment.
First study on homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Schools
The second study was conducted by researchers at the University of Winnipeg in conjunction with Egale Canada (@myGSA). This study provides the first comprehensive overview of the realities in Canadian schools and is disheartening. Although Canada has more comprehensive human rights protections and legal recognitions for bisexuals, gay men and lesbians, (such as the right to openly serve in the military, to right to marry, and adopt) the hostile climate in schools is still a reality.
Homophobic and transphobic harassment are prevalent:
Sexual harassment is worse for trans students, students with LGBTQ parents, and bisexual students:
Inclusive policies have a positive impact:
Supportive student groups make a difference:
It is important to note that the social environment and the school climate are directly linked to life and death issues for youth. In a recent article published in Pediatrics, Hatzenbuehler found that bisexual, gay, and lesbian youth were more likely to attempt suicide that heterosexual youth (21.5% vs. 4.2%). What is even more interesting in this study is that a positive social environment (having a GSA, having school policies that protect from harassment based on sexual orientation) was related to fewer suicide attempts.
Although there are some discouraging trends in looking at this information, progress has been made in some areas. These studies indicate that although there have been many advances in the areas of equality rights for bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, questioning and transgender people, these policy changes in the adult world haven't translated into a more inclusive and supportive climate in schools. Providing safe and inclusive spaces for all youth is about saving lives and protecting the interests of some of the most vulnerable, and most resilient, students in our schools.
IDAHO as a teachable moment
The International Day Against Homophobia is a wonderful teachable moment for parents and educators. Consider using this day as an opportunity to start a conversation with your kids, or integrate a lesson related to your curriculum about homophobia.
Conversation starters for teens:
Conversation starters for younger kids:
Secondary School curriculum suggestions:
For a listing of events around the world please see: http://www.homophobiaday.org/default.aspx?scheme=3282
Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2011). The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth. Pediatrics, 127(5), 896-903.
Kosciw, J. G., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Greytak, E. A., & Diaz, E. M. (2011). A Decade of Data: School Climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth from 1999 to 2009. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans, LA.
Taylor, C. P., T., with McMinn, T.L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., Paquin, S., & Schachter, K. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.