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More than half of LGBT students have felt unsafe at school

Trying to make LGBT students feel welcome

Beethoven Elementary School Principal Cara Fields hosts a rally to support LGBT students for Bullying Prevention Month.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

The students of Beethoven Elementary School in Mar Vista faced an arch of purple balloons as they rallied against bullying. The event, held Thursday by the Los Angeles Unified School District, was part of GLAAD’s Spirit Day, an annual event to show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students that they have support from their schools and communities. 

GLAAD puts on Spirit Day events every October because it’s Bullying Prevention Month in the U.S., and one population that faces high rates of bullying and victimizations is LGBT students.

Across the country, more than half of LGBT students have felt unsafe at school, according to a national survey published in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. 

The feeling stems from a number of experiences. For example, homophobic language is common in schools — three-fourths of students surveyed said they hear the phrase “That’s so gay” often or frequently, meant in a negative way.

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Students also face much worse than overhearing negative phrases. They face higher rates of bullying than other students. They are verbally and physically harassed (“pushed or shoved,” as defined by this survey) and assaulted (“punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon,” as defined in the survey”).

 They face other kinds of harassment too.

LGBT students report fewer than half of these instances to family members or staff. One-third of LGBT students who didn’t report didn’t think staff would respond effectively, and one-quarter thought reporting to staff would worsen the situation. Of the students who did report, 62% said staff members either did nothing or merely told the student to ignore the bully.

It’s not just students who are making the school experience worse for their LGBT peers. Schools themselves discriminate against LGBT students through discipline and other policies. LGBT students reported that they were disciplined for actions that other students wouldn’t be punished for, such as showing public affection or attending a school dance with a date of the same gender.

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Almost 1 in 5 said they had been “prevented from wearing clothes of another gender” or clothes that express support for LGBT issues. Smaller numbers of students reported that they were prevented from forming Gay Straight Alliance clubs, using their preferred names, or writing about LGBT issues for class assignments and projects.

Bullying and discrimination led LGBT students to avoid spaces such as bathrooms or even hallways that are necessary to learning and thriving in school. 

As a result, LGBT students participate less in after-school activities, an important element of student success.

Students even miss school because they feel unsafe. Experts say missing just a few days of school a month can harm students down the line.

 

L.A. Unified does not collect data on bullying that LGBT students face within the school district, a spokeswoman said. LAUSD has tried to show its support in a number of ways in the last few years, through public statements of support for employees and students and through targeted activities such as providing purple lanyards for coaches to wear to show that they welcome LGBT athletes. 

Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli or by email at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com.

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