National survey reports Colorado schools remain “hostile environments” for LGBTQ youth

A national school climate survey shows that despite some progress, Colorado high schools remain “hostile environments” for the many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer youth who continue to hear biased language and experience harassment, discrimination and assault.

The report, released Wednesday by GLSEN — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — includes the results of a 2015 school survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ youth from all 50 states. The survey shows that rates of harassment and assault have decreased, and that schools nationwide have increased various support systems for queer and transgender youth. Still, the report says, “overall rates of homophobic and transphobic harassment are still higher than anyone should be willing to accept.”

Mary McDonough, the youth program engagement coordinator for an LGBTQ “safe space” in Denver called Rainbow Alley, says the survey results are not surprising, because reports of bullying, harassment and homophobic and transphobic comments are “something we hear from the youth.”

Rainbow Alley offers outreach programs to staff and students at area schools and provides a place for LGBTQ youth to gather. “We try to create that brave and empowering space for youth to be able to catch their breath, and be able to take that nourishment into those [less empowering] spaces that they have to be educated in,” McDonough told The Colorado Independent.

In Colorado, all but a quarter of the 223 LGBTQ students surveyed said that they at least sometimes hear homophobic remarks, and 60 percent said they hear transphobic comments. 70 percent of gay and trans students report being verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, more than twice the rate of verbal harassment reported due to race or ethnicity. More than one in 10 students said they have experienced sexual assault for being gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. LGBTQ students also reported facing disciplinary action for public displays of affection at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers.

Though the majority of students said they have access to supportive educators and a school gay-straight alliance, only 10 percent attend schools with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

The report found that students at schools with such resources experience lower rates of victimization and higher educational achievement. It recommends that more schools implement such anti-bullying policies, provide professional development for staff on LGBTQ issues and increase student access to inclusive resources.

McDonough says that there is a “pretty complex shift” happening when it comes to public understanding of queer and trans issues. Although increased media portrayals of queer and trans people have led to heightened public awareness, McDonough says “a lot of people will assume that they understand everything about trans or queer issues without doing any kind of investigating.”

An important step going forward, McDonough says, is for schools to promote cultures of inclusion and understanding, which means incorporating more LGBTQ history into their curriculums. Anti-bullying policies are useful and necessary, McDonough says, but “policy only works if the culture of the school adheres to it.”


Photo credit: jglsongs, Creative Commons, Flickr