This week, the Department of Education announced plans to collect data on LGBT bullying and harassment, an important step in understanding the experiences of LGBT youth in schools. Starting in the upcoming 2013–2014 school year, the biennial Civil Rights Data Collection will require schools to report instances of harassment based on perceived sexual orientation and religion along with harassment based on race, sex, and disability.
Additionally, the National Center for Education Statistics is working to develop questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, and school experiences for inclusion in two of their large studies, the High School Longitudinal Study and the National Crime Victimization Survey’s School Crime Supplement.
Seth Galanter, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, said these efforts were spurred in large part by the testimony of LGBT youth who met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last year. These latest efforts to address bullying are a follow up to anti-bullying guidance issued by the Department in the wake of numerous high-profile LGBT suicides in 2010.
The majority of LGBT students experience verbal or physical harassment in school, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey, which has serious consequences for their educational attainment and overall well-being. LGBT bullying is a serious and pervasive issue, and the Department of Education’s new data collection initiatives are a much-needed step toward creating safe school environments where all students can thrive.
Yet bullying is just one aspect of the experiences of LGBT students in schools. LGBT youth are also up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their heterosexual peers.
Studies show that this bias in school discipline perpetuates a “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which LGBT youth are disproportionately pushed out of schools and into the juvenile justice system, which results in unfair criminalization and unnecessary contact with law enforcement.
Fourteen percent of youth in juvenile correctional facilities identify as non-heterosexual, more than twice the rate reported in the general population. All evidence suggests that their experiences in schools directly relate to these high incarceration rates, so it is critical that government agencies also prioritize LGBT-inclusive data collection on school discipline and criminalization alongside these new measures of bullying and harassment.