A new study released today by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) takes an in-depth look at the climate of elementary schools in relation to bullying. The results demonstrate how important it is to be talking with young people about LGBT issues, as homophobia is clearly already playing a big role for the 3rd-6th graders who were surveyed. It’s also clear that teachers need to be better empowered to speak about LGBT issues and same-sex families so they are prepared to interrupt bullying.
Here are some of the key results from the survey:
- 45 percent of students and 49 percent of teachers hear “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” used negatively sometimes, often, or all the time. This was trumped only by anti-ability comments like “retard” and “spaz,” which were heard more often by students (51 percent).
- 48 percent of teachers hear students make sexist remarks at least sometimes at school, such as comments about what a boy or girl should do or wear.
- 26 percent of students and teachers hear “fag” or “lesbo” at least sometimes.
- 75 percent of students report that students in their school are called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity, with 36 percent saying they have been the target.
Bullying has a big impact on students’ experiences in the schools:
- They are less likely to say that they get good grades (57 percent vs. 71 percent).
- They are less likely to say they’re happy in school this year (34 percent vs. 69 percent).
- They are four times as likely to not want to go to school for safety reasons (33 percent vs. 8 percent).
- They are less likely to get along with their parents (61 percent vs. 75 percent).
- They are less likely to say they have a lot of friends (33 percent vs. 57 percent).
- They are three times as likely to say they feel stressed (15 percent vs. 4 percent).
Less than half of teachers feel comfortable responding to questions about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (48 percent) or transgender people (41 percent). Only 37 percent of teachers have received professional development on gender issues and even less (23 percent) have been trained to talk about families with LGBT parents.
Anti-LGBT bullying is clearly underway among students as young as 3rd grade, even if they do not fully understand the terms they are using. Stemming the bullying epidemic and its many negative consequences requires intervention at a young age, and any attempt to censor LGBT issues — such as Tennessee’s proposed “Don’t Say Gay” bill or Anoka-Hennepin’s “neutrality” policy — would only exacerbate the harm.