Schools are tasked with the responsibility and privilege of being equalizers in the U.S. society given the difficulties that students face outside of the classroom. Although I feel that this task is very unrealistic, I do believe that there is a great deal within the school confines that teachers and administrators have a great deal of tangible control over. Turning a blind eye to anti-sentiments directed at persons or behavior that is not considered normative (nonconforming) or using unaccommodating language can leave Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/transexual, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students feeling lonely and unsafe in their school environment. Some regions or states in the United States continue to actively submit legislation that aims to remove rights for LGBTQ persons. Currently legislatures in Indiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, and South Dakota are actively considering or have introduced legislation that aims to restrict public bathroom use for persons who identify as transgender and have provisions that could require school officials and teachers to inspect student’s genitalia before being permitted to use the restroom (Lang, 2016 and Tribune Wire Report, 2015).
These legal and societal fights spill over into classrooms often due to negative and shameful views that nonconforming students can bring with them and negative non-affirming views of their peers, but also due to actions, or lack thereof, on the part of their teachers and administrators. There are currently transgender, transsexual, and nonconforming youth in our classrooms who are living their young lives, or afraid to, according to their gender or sexual identity and educators should be acutely aware. Students that identify themselves as being attracted to someone of the same sex often report feeling that their teachers do not respect them as individuals and report not achieving in school to the best of their ability (Schubotz & O’Hara, 2011). Male and transgender students report higher rates of LGBTQ victimization than their female counterparts overall, and prevalence and severity is increasing with deadlier outcomes and more monstrous behaviors (Russell, Ryan, Toomey, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2011).
When laws, or school policies, are enacted that make it more difficult for LGBTQ persons to simply exist, the school environment loses its ability to be an equalizer for these persons and often leads to victimization. Russell et al. (2011) documented that there are strong negative effects on young adult’s well-being as a result of victimization during adolescence. Often times, when students make homophobic statements, teachers or administrators are present but do not step in. Phoenix et al. (2006) calculated that 43.3% of surveyed youth reported that a faculty or staff member was always or most of the time present when homophobic remarks were made, but just 17.1% reported that the school officials intervened always or most of the time. In addition, an alarming 37.1% of those surveyed reported that school officials never intervened when homophobic remarks are made (Phoenix et al., 2006). These findings shed light on what is occurring in schools; lack of action or inconsistent action gives impression to perpetrating students that either there is nothing wrong with their behavior or that there are no repercussions for their behavior.
This lack of adult intervention leads to a very unsafe learning environment for LGBTQ students. Many do not attend school on a regular basis out of fear for what other students may say or do to them. LGBTQ youth drop out of school at higher rates than other students often due to victimization (Aragon, Poteat, Espelage, & Koenig, 2014) or feeling unsafe or unprotected because of their gender expression (Phoenix et al., 2006).
Enforcing a comprehensive non-discrimination policy is a step toward changing school culture. Reducing bullying and harassment can help prevent damage to self-esteem, minimize social isolation, and reduce other negative health effects for LGBT youth. Changing school climate will benefit all youth. Carrasco, Malik, Martos, & Williams (2012)
I believe that teachers and administrators have the ability to make a more positive impact on all students who feel different or face lowered societal expectations by simply creating a climate that dictates that they are welcome and will succeed. Further, as the guardians and providers of student’s educational experiences, and their futures, school teachers and administrators have an obligation to provide a safe and inclusive environment. Other students may be the active causation of in school victimizations that LGBTQ students endure, but the educators often allow these actions to take place. Through active dialogue with students, a better, and more inclusive, environment can be created for all students. Boske and McCormack (2011) assert that school leaders and teachers need to promote learning beyond mere tolerance of others. Dickson (2011) created a charity to go into classrooms to have dialogue with students and challenge students to stand up against antigay slurs and negative perceptions of homosexuality. This tactic gives students an active role in creating an atmosphere where all individuals on a school campus are working to eliminate homophobia and transphobia, alleviating the entire burden from teachers and administrators. Through greater understanding, all individuals can learn to respect each other and promote a great school environment.
Aragon, S. R., Poteat, V. P., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. W. (2014). The influence of peer victimization on educational outcomes for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ high school students. Journal of LGBT youth, 11(1), 1-19.
Boske, C. & McCormack, S. (2011). Building an understanding of the role of media literacy for Latino/a high school students. The High School Journal, 94(4), 167-186.
Carrasco, S., Malik, S., Martos, A., & Williams, J. (2012). Ensuring compliance and accountability will make schools safer for LGBT youth. UCLA: UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Retrieved from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9qt2w8xc
Dickson, S. (2011). Anti-gay slurs set me on a mission to fight prejudice in schools. The Times Educational Supplement, 4092, 9.
Lang, N. (2016, January 17). Indiana’s shameful trans bathroom bill. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/17/indiana-s-shameful-trans-bathroom-bill.html
Phoenix, T. L., Hall, W. J., Weiss, M. M., Kemp, J. M., Wells, R. E., & Chan, A. W. (2006). Homophobic language and verbal harassment in North Carolina high schools. Chapel Hill, NC: Safe Schools NC.
Russell, S. T., Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M. & Sanchez, J. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescent school victimization: Implications for young adult health and adjustment. The Journal of School Health, 81(5), 223-230.
Schubotz, D. & O’Hara, M. (2011). A shared future? Exclusion, stigmatization, and mental health of same-sex-attracted young people in Northern Ireland. Youth & Society, 43(2), 488-508.
Tribune Wire Reports. (2015, December 24). Indiana bills targets bathroom use by transgender people. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/17/indiana-s-shameful-trans-bathroom-bill.html