Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday November 26th, 2014, 11:10am

Survey: Many Illinois LGBT Youth Face Combative School Environments

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) middle and high school students in Illinois face hostile school environments and lack access to important educational resources, according to state-level data from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) "2013 National School Climate Survey."

The survey, taken in 2013 and released this October, included 7,989 LGBT students, including 279 from Illinois.

The 2013 snapshot for Illinois shows most LGBT students surveyed in the state have faced some form of victimization at school, with 7 in 10 students saying they have been verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation in the past year. Another 56 percent of Illinois respondents said they have faced verbal harassment at school due to their gender expression. 

About 30 percent of the Illinois LGBT students reported having been physically harassed, while 15 percent say they were assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation.

At the national level, the majority of LGBT youth surveyed reported unsafe or even dangerous school climates, which can negatively impact their academic success and mental health, according to the report.

Additionally, an overwhelming number of LGBT students in Illinois secondary schools hear anti-LGBT remarks on a regular basis, according to the report:

  • More than 9 in 10 heard 'gay' used in a negative way (e.g., 'that's so gay') and more than 8 in 10 heard other  homophobic remarks (e.g., 'fag' or 'dyke') at school regularly (i.e., sometimes, often, or frequently.)
  • 8 in 10 regularly heard other students in their school make negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender, such as comments about someone not acting 'feminine' or 'masculine' enough
  • More than 5 in 10 regularly heard negative remarks about transgender people
  • Students also heard anti-LGBT language from school staff.  Twenty-five percent regularly heard staff make negative remarks about someone's gender expression, and 17 percent regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks.

"The large number of students who reported hearing anti-LGBT language and who continue to experience verbal and physical harassment in Illinois schools is unacceptable," GLSEN's Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a statement. "GLSEN calls on everyone in Illinois 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."

Among other findings, the report showed just 11 percent of LGBT Illinois youth went to a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy with protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

And when it comes to educational supports, "Many did not have LGBT-inclusive curricular resources: only 22 percent were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history, and events, and nearly half, 45 percent, could not access information about LGBT communities on school Internet," the report reads.

GLSEN has several recommendations for Illinois policy makers, educators and others to improve school climates for LGBT students:

  • Implement comprehensive school anti-bullying/harassment policies
  • Support Gay-Straight Alliances
  • Provide professional development for school staff on LGBT student issues
  • Increase student access to LGBT-inclusive curricular resources

"Our research tells us that policymakers and education leaders in Illinois must do more to create safer and more affirming schools for LGBT students," added Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN's chief research and strategy officer. "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 all can improve school climate for all students in Illinois."

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