Today, GLSEN released the newest edition of our National School Climate Survey, at a time of tremendous uncertainty. This report documents continued progress in improving the lives of LGBTQ students across the United States, continued increases in the availability of LGBTQ-affirming supports, and further reductions in rates of harassment and assault faced by LGBTQ youth.
In short: It works. Sustained investment in increasing the presence of school-based interventions that promote inclusive and affirming learning environments, backed by official commitment to root out the institutional discrimination that compounds the challenges faced by at-risk youth, can shift the tide. All of us at GLSEN are proud of the decades of focused hard work – in good times and bad – that have made this possible. We are also grateful for the partnership of individual and institutional allies that are similarly committed to the well-being of all students, and to the bedrock principle of respect for all in our K-12 schools.
That being said, not all of the news is good. Overall rates of homophobic and transphobic harassment are still higher than anyone should be willing to accept. Institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people is widespread, with the majority of the students surveyed having faced such discrimination personally. Perhaps most troubling are the findings regarding adult behaviors in school. Reports of homophobic and transphobic remarks made by teachers increased in 2015, and reports of teacher intervention in response to anti-LGBTQ remarks were down. Furthermore, there has been a consistent decrease since 2011 in students’ assessments of teacher effectiveness in dealing with reports of anti-LGBTQ incidents. Our work is far from done.
Moreover, at this time of transition in our nation’s leadership, our challenge may well be greater than simply continuing to press to bring life-changing benefits to more schools across the United States. Today, we face the prospect of hostile official action at the federal level to abolish the governmental functions dedicated to advancing justice in K-12 education and to promote harmful and discredited practices, such as attempts to “cure” students of being LGBTQ. We are experiencing a deeply troubling wave of bias violence in schools nationwide in the wake of a divisive election, with no indication that the incoming administration is concerned about the trend.
At this unsettling moment, this report reminds us exactly what is possible, and what is at stake. As a network of educators, students, parents, and community leaders united on common ground, GLSEN has always managed to identify and seize opportunities for progress, even when confronting enormous opposition. We will mobilize around these findings to motivate all people of goodwill to act to defend LGBTQ youth from new attacks, to promote safe and healthy learning environments for all students, and advance the cause of equity and respect for all in our schools.
Eliza Byard is the Executive Director of GLSEN. This piece is adapted from the preface of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey.
Register for the free webinar on the report’s findings, to be held on January 10.