A survey of 2,500 teachers and students found that teachers were less comfortable intervening with bullying surrounding a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity than they were bullying based on race, ability and religion. Although 83% of teachers responded affirmatively to supporting the creation of safe environments for their LGBTQ+ students, many feel undereducated and ill-prepared regarding the correct terminologies and appropriate ways to interact.
Much of the discomfort surrounding appropriate engagement hinges on the lack of representation in U.S. school curriculum. As of 2021, fewer than 20% of U.S. students learned positively about LGBTQ+ history in school and only five U.S. states have mandates for curriculum to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Although many educators advocate inclusion, they often face pushback from district administrators. Even with the mandates in place, there is little evidence to suggest that the curriculum is included.
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prior to the Covid-19 pandemic found that LGBTQ+ students were more likely to experience bullying, use addictive substances, miss more days of school, and were five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
Although the social advocacy for all demographics intensified during the pandemic, many members of the LGBTQ+ community faced challenges unique to their non-LGBTQ+ classmates. According to a report by the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, almost 50% of LGBTQ students who moved home as a result of the pandemic were not out to their families about their gender identity or sexual orientation. This in turn led to increased rates of stress, physical discomfort, strained relationships with family and friends, and left many feeling incapable of focusing during remote instruction.
Fortunately, the availability of resources for educators with LGBTQ+ students has never been greater. Downloadable documents like those supplied by The Intercultural Development Research Association, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, and The Center of Education Equity offer teachers and administrators valuable insight into the LGBTQ+ experience, provide definitions for key terms, and list additional references for further information. In addition to continual education, school leaders are encouraged to allow students to express their own gender identities as young adults and as children.
While support from educators and faculty have proven crucial, the creation of safe school environments for LGBTQ+ students is contingent on support from their peers. A report conducted by Vanderbuilt University surveying the responses of 63,000 high school students found that the creation of student-led gay-straight alliances on campuses significantly improved the LGBTQ+ student experience. Students attending schools with gay-straight alliances were 52% less likely to hear homophobic remarks at school, 36% less likely to fear for their safety, and 30% less likely to experience homophobic victimization.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced the world to pause and assess issues of social justice and equality more than ever before. As we move forward in both physical and digital spaces, it’s important that everyone’s voices remain heard. ConexED is passionate about democratizing student support for all individuals regardless of background, ethnicity, gender or orientation. We applaud the implementation of gay-straight alliances nationwide and look forward to further connecting LGBTQ+ students with one another and their invaluable support systems.