GLSEN has released a new research brief based on data collected for its 2009 school climate survey, which found that 9 out of 10 LGBT students had felt unsafe in school at some point because of their identity. The new report (aptly titled “Teaching Respect”) examines the impact when a school offers a curriculum that is LGBT-inclusive — that is, that it includes positive representations of LGBT people, history, and events. Resoundingly, such curricula can greatly reduce the levels of anti-LGBT victimization while improving levels of peer acceptance. In addition, students with such programs feel safer coming to school and are more comfortable talking to their teachers about LGBT issues. Here are a few of the effects an inclusive classroom has on students:
- They are half as likely to experience high levels of victimization based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- They are 20 percent less likely to feel unsafe in school because of their identities.
- They are half as likely to miss school because they don’t feel safe attending.
- They are 20 percent more likely to feel comfortable discussing LGBT issues with a teacher.
- They are 24 percent more likely to report that their classmates are accepting of LGBT people, and are thus less likely to hear homophobic language.
- They are twice as likely to report that their peers intervene when they hear homophobic remarks.
In 2009, only 13 percent of students reported that they had an inclusive curriculum in their school. Surely, the passage of California’s FAIR Education Act last year could help increase this number, but proposed “don’t say gay” measures in Tennessee and Missouri threaten threaten to make classrooms even less welcoming for students.
Students’ physical and mental health hang in the balance. Negative community attitudes, bullying, stigma, and victimization can lead to depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thinking that can last a lifetime. In contrast, students who are supported when they come out experience significant emotional benefits, and gay-straight alliances in schools can enhance the effect. Conservatives insist that young people must be “protected” from homosexual indoctrination, but the research is clear that acknowledging and supporting LGBT students is what’s best for them.