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William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

School Safety Remains A Concern for LGBT Students

Research-based options for policymakers available to take corrective action through school policies and legislation

EAST LANSING, Mich. (May 23, 2013) – All students in the United States have the right to be free of abuse, harassment, or attack at school – yet many students still face school safety issues because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Therefore, it is imperative that schools create healthy, welcoming environments, conducive to learning for all students. A new brief summarizes recent education policy research and offers suggestions to policymakers for addressing school environment and safety issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) youth.

The ninth in a series of two- and three-page briefs summarizing relevant findings in education policy research provides recommendations about school climate, curriculum, and legislation. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), prepared the brief Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Addressing School Environment and Safety for LGBT Students.

According to the brief, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found widespread harassment of LGBT youth in 2011. The survey found 81.9% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 38.3% reported being physically harassed, and 18.3% reported being physically assaulted. These are significant and troubling numbers but the good news is that the harassment and discrimination numbers are on the decline.

Nevertheless, "Scholarship focusing on gay and gender-non-conforming youth consistently finds that large percentages of LGBT students in K-12 public schools are continuing to experience ongoing challenges above and beyond those of the typical adolescent, such as negative self-image."

The majority of the harassed students did not report their abuse to school officials, believing they would take no action or it would make the situation worse.

Citing well-settled legal mandates, the brief makes it clear that school district employees must provide a safe and supporting learning environment for all students. The brief highlights a previous legislative brief authored by Stuart Biegel and Sheila James Kuehl, a collaboration between the National Education Policy Center and the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, with financial support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Citing research by Biegel and Kuehl, Mathis spells out a series of affirmative steps in guiding principles and policy recommendations to ensure schools are welcoming and safe for LGBT students.

Addressing school environment and safety requires advances in three key areas of school policy: school climate, curriculum and pedagogy, and school sports.

Specific policy recommendations include:

  • Ending discriminatory disciplinary practices and the inappropriate referral of LGBT students to special education.
  • Developing and implementing LGBT-related professional development, locally determined and agreed upon by faculty and staff, for all school-site personnel.
  • Encouraging student-athletes to participate in targeted programs such as initiatives addressing bullying and hate violence, as well as gay-straight alliances, safe zones, and wellness programs.

Find this brief on the Great Lakes Center website:

Addressing School Environment and Safety for LGBT Students is part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues and identifies policies supported by research. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produced this brief with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

This brief is also found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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