Report: Despite legal protections, gay students in Colorado overwhelmingly bullied

In Colorado, nearly all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students polled this year by national anti-bullying organization GSLEN said they regularly heard homophobic remarks and slurs at their schools. Half of them reported being pushed and shoved around for being queer. And nearly a third of them said they were kicked or punched or hit. That news comes despite the fact that legislators have accepted school bullying as a serious problem to address since the tragic Columbine school shootings of 1999.

“This research shows that many Colorado students are not safe at school,” said Tracy Phariss, co-chair of the GLSEN Colorado chapter, which brought out its “School Climate in Colorado (pdf)” report Wednesday. “Our young people are clearly saying that educators need to be doing more to implement our laws and policies.”

GSLEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, conducts a national survey every two years of self-identifying GLBT students aged 13 to 21. The data for the latest report was collected in 2009. The national group surveyed more than 7,000 students. The Colorado report is based on information from the national surveys and from surveys done with more than 100 students in the state. The Colorado chapter reports a margin of error of +/- 9 percent.

For comparison, 5 percent of kids surveyed said they were assaulted based on their race or ethnicity, whereas 30 percent reported being assaulted based on their sexual orientation.

Linda Kanan, director of the Department of Public Safety’s School Safety Resource Center, told the Colorado Independent in December that roughly 37 percent of gay and transgender kids avoid school for fear of bullying.

This past spring, the state legislature passed school-bullying prevention House Bill 1254 (pdf). The bill revises anti-bullying guidelines and establishes a board within the state Department of Education to revise rules of conduct and reporting and to raise money to pay for anti-bullying research and programs.

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Representatives Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, who told the press they were looking to act preemptively to head off a “sensational suicide” in Colorado, the kind that made headlines last year but that occur with numbing regularity among LGBT youth.

Schafer and Priola’s bill passed with solid support after hearings marked by emotional testimony detailing harassment and alienation endured by young people in the state. In general, Colorado has been a leader in the fight to make schools safe places for all the state’s students. The year after Columbine, the legislature passed anti-bullying laws and statutes that outlined procedures and training programs to guard against harassment and in 2008 the legislature set up Kanan’s four-person division within the state’s Public Safety Department to direct attention to the issue in a sustained and comprehensive way.

Supporters of HB 1254 this year said the bill puts an increased share of the responsibility on adults to directly work to solve the problem of school harassment.