Making a difference
Schools are meant to be safe spaces for young people to learn and grow. Too often, that isn't the case for young people who are LGBTQ+.
LGBTQ+ students experience alarmingly high levels of stigma and discrimination. 85.2% of LGBTQ+ students report being subject to verbal harassment at school. A whopping 98.1% report having heard the word "gay" used in a negative fashion. These negative comments aren't just from peers but come from staff and teachers as well (Johns, et al. p.2).
Studies show that LGBTQ+ students also experience high levels of physical harassment, including bullying and being threatened or injured with a weapon. Not surprisingly, many LGBTQ+ students report skipping school out of concern for their safety.
The effects of these experiences are far-reaching, especially since young people spend such a high percentage of their time in school--the average student in the U.S. is in school 6.6 hours a day, 180 days a year. Stigma and discrimination, such as LGBTQ+ students experience, have been linked to well-documented health disparities, including higher incidences of depression, suicide attempts and substance abuse among young people. One recent study found that 29.4% of LGB (lesbian, gay or bisexual) high school students had attempted suicide, vs. 6.4% of straight students, and statistics for transgender students, as well as LGBTQ+ students of color, trend even higher (Johns, et al. pp. 1-2).
These are sobering statistics. But there is also reason for hope. Researchers have identified protective factors that improve LGBTQ+ young people's well-being and reduce the negative effects of risk factors, such as stigma and discrimination. Some of these protective factors are individual characteristics, such as personality traits or individual skill sets that help bolster health and wellness. But studies also show that external factors, such as supportive relationships with family and friends and access to medical services, significantly bolster resistance and improve the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth (Johns, et al. p. 2)
Recently, researchers have turned to schools to identify programs and practices that create supportive climates for LGBTQ+ students, increasing their well-being and decreasing the impact of bias and discrimination. While more studies are needed, including research on combatting multiple risk factors faced by LGBTQ+ youth of color, initial findings suggest that schools can become sources of strength and support for LGBTQ+ students. Following an in-depth symposium examining schools and LGBTQ+ youth well-being, experts reported, "Formative research on the role of protective factors such as school connectedness, supportive educators, anti-bullying policies and inclusive curricula highlights promising avenues to improve health and well-being" in LGBTQ+ youth (Johns, et al. p.2).
Schools do make a difference. When it comes to LGBTQ+ students, the only question is, what kind of difference will schools make?
Learn about the risks faced by LGBTQ+ students in school — and a student who nearly lost her life because of bullying.
Learn more about protective factors and the ways teachers and schools can make a positive difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth.
Higgins, M. (2016, October 18). LBGT students are not safe at school. Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/school-is-still-not-safe-for-lgbt-students/504368/
Johns, Michelle M., et al. (2019, May 1). Strengthening Our Schools to Promote Resilience and Health Among LGBTQ Youth: Emerging Evidence and Research Priorities from The State of LGBTQ Youth Health and Well-Being Symposium. LGBT Health, Volume 6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333531186_Strengthening_Our_Schools_to_Promote_Resilience_a...