For queer youth, school can be a uniquely challenging environment.
Bullying, harassment and discomfort at school are a near universal experience. According to the 2019 National School Climate Survey, ”[GLSEN’s] flagship report on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools" a majority of respondents felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Even higher numbers report regularly hearing anti-LGBTQ language, both generally in the school environment and directed at them personally.
While the survey reports some areas of improvement over the course of its two decades of data collection, other areas show stagnation — or even worsening. Middle school students, in particular, reported higher levels of harassment compared to high school respondents. The challenges queer youth face in public schools are magnified for doubly marginalized LGBTQ kids: students with disabilities, students of color and non-native speakers of English.
The consequences of homophobia and transphobia are stark in terms of the measurable, negative outcomes: Many young adults report skipping school, avoiding same-sex spaces such as locker rooms, and limiting participation in extracurricular activities.
Worse, according to the respondents, incidents of harassment or assault in school go significantly unreported and, in the case where a student does make a report, often no meaningful action is taken. The education foundation, Edutopia, concurs: Schools are under-resourced when it comes to offering protections to ensure student well-being and prevent victimization; many teachers want to help LGBTQ students but do not know how.
With anti-lgbtq legislation on the rise across the United States, schools have become one of the most intensive battlegrounds, making the resources and support provided by advocacy organizations such as GLSEN, the Trevor Project, and the Human Rights Campaign more important than ever.
According to the CDC, the discrimination faced by LGBTQ youth — whether it manifests as verbal harassment, disapproval from family members, social rejection, or physical violence — spills beyond the walls of the school building and leads to increased risk for certain negative health outcomes including:
Compared to their heterosexual, cisgendered peers, studies show higher rates of mental health issues (i.e. depression and anxiety), substance abuse and lower self-esteem among young people identifying as LGBTQ+. Housing instability and homelessness — which impacts 28% of LGBTQ people during their youth — is a major risk factor that increases the chances of negative health outcomes.
From K-12 all the way through to higher education, LGBTQ students often have to devote additional energy to get what they need out of their education, let alone to thrive. What challenges do LGBTQ students face as they work to feel comfortable in their school environment?
As an inclusive community that strives to provide a holistic, flexible, challenging, interest-driven education for all young people, Prisma recognizes the specific challenges LGBTQ students face. In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss some of the ways in which non-traditional school options, such as homeschooling and online school, can eliminate — or minimize — some of these challenges.
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