Georgia schools not safe for LGBT students

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LGBT students across Georgia say they regularly hear homophobic remarks from classmates and school staff, face verbal and physical harassment that goes unreported and attend classes in districts that don't offer LGBT supportive resources and harassment policies.

That's the distressing takeaway from a new survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which released its 2013 National School Climate report last week.

Findings in Georgia include:

• Nearly all LGBT students heard “gay” used in a negative way and 90 percent heard other homophobic remarks regularly at school. Some 77 percent heard other students make negative remarks about gender expression and 61 percent regularly heard negative remarks about transgender people. Some 27 percent heard anti-LGBT language from school staff.

• 80 percent experienced verbal harassment based on sexual orientation, while 50 percent faced physical assault or harassment. For gender expression 56 percent of students said they experienced verbal harassment, while 33 percent said it rose to physical harassment or assault.

• Just 4 percent of LGBT students said they attend a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policy that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Some 20 percent attended a school with a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar student club. A slim 8 percent were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history and events.

The results in Georgia mirror what GLSEN found across the U.S., including that school climate for LGBT students remains hostile for large numbers of LGBT students, the anti-LGBT environment impacts the academic success and mental health of students, and LGBT resources and support systems improve school experiences and academic success for gay students.

Other findings from the national survey:

• 71.4 percent of LGBT students head “gay” used in a negative way frequently or often at school; 64.5 percent heard other homophobic remarks frequently or often, including “dyke” or “faggot.”

• 51.4 percent of LGBT students reported hearing homophobic remarks from teachers or other school staff, while 55.5 percent reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression.

• More than half – 56.4 percent – heard negative remarks about gender expression frequently or often, including not acting “masculine enough” or “feminine enough.”

• 55.5 percent of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; nearly 38 percent because of their gender expression.

• LGBT students reported being harassed in large numbers. More than 74 percent said they were verbally harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 56 percent because of their gender expression. Some 36 percent were physically assaulted in the past year because of their sexual orientation and nearly 23 percent because of their gender expression. Nearly 17 percent were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation; 11 percent over their gender expression. Some 49 percent were victims of cyberbullying.

• When LGBT students were harassed at school, nearly 57 percent did not report the incident to school staff; nearly 62 percent who did report it said school staff did nothing in response.

• 30.3 percent of LGBT students missed at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe; nearly 11 percent missed four or more days in the past month.

• More than one-third of students avoided gender-segregated spaces in school, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

• Only half of students – 50.3 percent – said their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar club at their school. And where schools did have that option, 32 percent of students said they did not participate.

“The large number of students who reported hearing anti-LGBT language and who continue to experience verbal and physical harassment in schools in these states is unacceptable,” Dr. Eliza Bard, GLSEN’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. “GLSEN calls on everyone in these states and across the country to join us in ensuring students and educators are given the resources and supports to create safe and affirming school environments. All members of the school community need to feel empowered to intervene when others are undermining these efforts.”

In Georgia, GLSEN says school districts can help LGBT students by putting in place comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policies, supporting Gay-Straight Alliances, providing training for school staff on LGBT student issues and increasing student access to LGBT-inclusive curricular resource.

“Training and empowering educators to create supportive environments, supporting Gay-Straight Alliances and increasing access to accurate and positive information about LGBT people, history and events and inclusive policies can improve school climate for all students,” Joseph G. Kosciw, GLSEN’s research and strategy Officer, said in a prepared statement.

Some 7,898 LGBT students from across the country, including 242 in Georgia, took part in GLSEN's National School Climate Survey. The survey results in Georgia have a margin of error of 6 percent. GLSEN released snapshots of the school climate for LGBT students in 29 states, including Georgia.

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