Bad reactions to Parkland put LGBTQ students in the line of fire

The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., like all school shootings, is a tragedy that has become far too common in the U.S. In the aftermath, school safety proposals have included overhauling Obama-era directives to address racial disparities in school discipline, potentially arming teachers and staff, and increasing policing on school campuses.

These proposals ignore the fact that LGBTQ students of color, especially black LGBTQ students, tend to be more harshly disciplined and punished than their peers, and that these disparities could potentially exacerbate the issue by increasing youth incarceration through the school-to-prison, bringing more guns into classrooms, and ultimately wasting valuable educational resources.

These proposals, especially arming teachers, will almost certainly result in a greater numbers of queer student deaths.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a national phenomenon that criminalizes student misbehaviors and then uses punitive consequences that tend to push youth out of schools and into the criminal justice systems. At its core, the school-to-prison pipeline reflects the failure of schools to address structural barriers and to meet the educational and social development needs of the youth they are charged with serving.

Zero tolerance policies, which require specific punishments for specific student misbehaviors and fail to account for the unique circumstances of an incident, are a primary contributor to the school-to-prison pipeline. Unfortunately, the youth who are most impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline are likely to be those who need the most support, including low-income students, black and non-black students of color, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities, with many students falling into more than one category.

According to the Center for American Progress:

LGB youth, particularly gender-nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their non-LGB counterparts.

As with racial disparities in school discipline, higher rates of punishment do not correlate with higher rates of misbehavior among LGBT youth.

LGB youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system; they make up just 5 percent to 7 percent of the overall youth population, but represent 15 percent of those in the juvenile justice system.

And while data does not exist specifically for LGBTQ youth, black youth and students with disabilities are often subject to violence in schools. They are disproportionately subject to corporal punishment, and according to research conducted by the Brookings Institute, are more as likely to be subject to corporal punishment.

A 2016 study of Denver Public Schools found that many teachers, especially young white women, are afraid of their black students, resulting in different punishments for black students who commit the same offenses as their white counterparts. This demonstrates how non-threating behavior by black youth is often perceived criminally, and how an object like a toy, or a candy bar, or cellphone becomes a gun when placed in their hands.

How well would these students fare in schools when teachers are on the lookout for potential shooters?

As these marginalized groups receive the brunt of state violence that pervades our schools, an increased pathway to violence by way of arming teachers means a greater added likelihood that these young people will come into contact with violence. Additionally, increased policing of schools means a greater likelihood that these students will have interactions with the criminal justice system.

LGBTQ youth of color, in many instances, already have it hard in schools. Heightened surveillance and policing in our educational settings make it even more difficult.

One of the most basic tenets of our social contract is to protect young people as they learn, but “protection” should not turn our most vulnerable students into victims.

Eric Paulk is an advocate working at the intersections of race, class, and sexuality. Follow him on Twitter @ EricPaulk.

This article originally appeared in Q magazine. Flip through the digital version below, and pick up a new issue each week.