LGBT Students Say Teachers Are Still Lax on Homophobia

The majority of students are still being bullied, and it isn’t getting much better for LGBT kids.
(Photo: Sigrid Olsson/Getty Images)
Sep 30, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Sophia Lepore is an editorial intern at TakePart.

Given the pressures of homework, tests, and puberty, the last thing middle and high school students should have to worry about is feeling safe at school. But as a report released on Wednesday reveals, the majority of American tweens and teens are victims of some form of bullying on campus.

For the report, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited, the Gay Lesbian, and Straight Education Network surveyed nearly 1,400 middle and high school students ages 13 to 18 and about 1,000 secondary school teachers. Nearly three-fourths of students said they’d been verbally or physically harassed in the past year, and about half of teachers said that bullying is a significant problem on campus. However, “students in 2015 reported lower incidence of all types of biased remarks, except racist remarks, than students in 2005,” the report’s authors wrote.

As for whether things have gotten better for LGBT youths, the results are mixed. A survey by GLSEN in 2005 found that nearly 62 percent of secondary students said kids at their school were bullied because of their sexual orientation. This latest survey, conducted in 2015, found that about half of youths said kids at their school were bullied for that reason.

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Greater cultural acceptance of the LGBT community, as well as the growing number of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools, may be responsible for that drop. But despite the decrease in student-to-student bullying, students in the latest survey reported low levels of teacher and school staff intervention when LGBT students were being harassed.

“Although the vast majority [of schools] say that teachers do have an obligation to ensure LGBT students are safe and supported, only about half are taking certain actions to ensure that happens,” Emily Greytak, GLSEN’s director of research, told TakePart.

“Teachers overall say they’re relatively comfortable intervening, but that comfort has decreased,” Greytak said. The discomfort is attributed to a lack of administrative and community support, as well as increased responsibility given to teachers and the pressures of standardized testing, she said.

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Educators and other school staff are sometimes the people making biased comments. About 15 percent of students “reported hearing school staff make homophobic remarks,” and nearly 26 percent said they’d heard “school staff make negative remarks related to students’ gender expression,” according to the report. Only about 28 percent of students said teachers and other school staff often or very often intervened when they heard a student make homophobic remarks.

Greytak said the lack of training provided to teachers regarding issues related to LGBT students is the main barrier preventing safer school climates. Results from the poll revealed that less than one-third of teachers had received training or professional development on working with lesbian, gay, or bisexual youths, and just one-fourth had received training or professional development on trans student issues.

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Teacher credentialing programs don’t spend enough time “training on bullying, on multicultural education or diversity issues, and certainly not on LGBT issues,” Greytak said. To that end, GLSEN has partnered with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Association of Teacher Education to provide more resources to new teachers. “We’ll be working with them to develop a policy of problematic initiative resources to help address that,” Greytak said. “It comes down to professional development and training for educators.”