New Report: LGBTQ Students Suffer Harassment and Discrimination, But School-based Supports Can Make a Difference

GLSEN ReportU.S. middle and high schools remain hostile environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students, according to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey. However, the report, which documents school climate, its effects on student outcomes and the availability and benefits of school-based supports for LGBTQ students, also shows significant signs of improvement in these areas since 2001.

“This research provides further evidence for the positive effect of school-based supports – comprehensive anti-bullying policies, Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), supportive educators and LGBT-inclusive curriculum – on LGBTQ students’ experiences with harassment and discrimination and, ultimately, their educational outcomes,” said Dr. Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer. “Although many LGBTQ students still experience harassment and discrimination, these supports can be vital for transforming school climates and helping all students thrive.”

The biennial report, which began in 1999, includes a sample of 10,528 secondary students from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report shows:

  • Most LGBTQ students have experienced harassment and discrimination at school. Over eight in 10 (85 percent) experienced verbal harassment based on a personal characteristic, and nearly two thirds (66 percent) experienced LGBTQ-related discrimination at school. Due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, nearly a third (32 percent) of LGBTQ students missed at least one day of school in the last month, and over a third avoided bathrooms (39 percent) and locker rooms (38 percent).
  • Hostile school climates negatively affect LGBTQ students’ educational outcomes and mental health. LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization were twice as likely to report they do not plan to pursue post-secondary education. Also, LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization and discrimination had lower GPAs, lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression.
  • The majority of LGBTQ students report hearing biased remarks from school staff, and school staff often fail to intervene when they hear these remarks at school. Most LGBTQ students report that they’ve heard homophobic remarks (56 percent) and negative remarks about gender expression (64 percent) from school staff. There was also a decrease in school staff’s frequency of intervention in these types of remarks from 2013 to 2015.
  • School-based supports, often still lacking but generally growing in availability, have a positive effect on school climate. LGBTQ students in schools with a GSA or a comprehensive anti-bullying policy experienced lower levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization. Also, LGBTQ students with an LGBT-inclusive curriculum were more likely to report that their classmates were somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ students (76 percent vs. 42 percent). However, though it was the highest percentage ever recorded, only 22 percent of LGBTQ students were taught positive representations of LGBT topics in their classes.
  • School climates are slowly improving for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students reported a decrease in homophobic remarks compared to all prior years. The incidence of harassment and assault related to sexual orientation was also lower than in all prior years. Changes in harassment and assault based on gender expression were similar to those for sexual orientation.

For the first time, GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes insights on bisexual student experiences, school policies that specifically affect transgender students, and anti-bullying student education. The survey also asks students about discriminatory policies and practices around extracurricular activities and traditions like graduation, portraits, homecoming and prom.

Registration is open for a free webinar on the findings, to be held 3-4:30 EST on January 10.

An executive summary, the complete report and shareable infographics can be found at glsen.org/nscs.