Serving our LGBTQI students who face discrimination

Recent news has showcased LGBTQI school discrimination with Constance McMillen, a lesbian high school student who asked school administrators to take her girlfriend to prom. Her high school administration subsequently decided to cancel the prom altogether to prevent her and her girlfriend from attending.  Constance, like so many other LGBTQI students, faces discrimination from her peers for speaking out about her sexual orientation.  The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) found in the 2007 National School Climate Survey that “9 out of 10 LGBTQI students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and more than 30% report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety.”  These statistics demonstrate the need for educators to ensure their LGBTQI students feel safe in school.

Each year, activists from more than 8,000 schools across the nation organize with National Day of Silence (NDS) to combat anti-LGBTQI bullying in schools.  On a day designated by GLSEN, the national sponsor, students at participating schools “take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.” Last year the National Day of Silence was held to commemorate the death of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year-old Massachusetts boy who committed suicide after enduring harassment about his sexual orientation.  This came weeks after his mother pleaded with school administrators to address the problem.  The 14th National Day of Silence will be held on April 16th.

For students in elementary and middle school, GLSEN sponsors a No-Name Calling Week.  This event is designed to engage students in conversation about bullying and what they can do to eliminate it in their schools.  Educators can have a significant influence on how students perceive bullying and can teach students to treat their classmates with respect.  When teachers show that they care about these issues, students experiencing discrimination and bullying feel more comfortable talking to them about what is happening to them.

On the legislative front, Congresswoman Doris Matsui introduced a bill (H.R. 2262) called the Safe Schools Improvement act on May 5th, 2009.  This act would require schools to use grant money to report, educate, and prevent bullying and harassment based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.  It would also require a bullying and harassment category in their state mandated needs assessment.  The act has been submitted to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and is awaiting review.

Take a look at the following resources about LGBTQI discrimination in schools and how educators can help:

2007 National School Climate Survey
Damaging Language
Safe Space: Guide to Being an Ally

After examining the above resources, consider the following:

  1. Does your school have any policies regarding the safety of LGBTQI students? Why or Why not?
  2. What resources might you need to contribute to fighting against LGBTQI student discrimination?
  3. What can you do to show your students that you are an Ally to LGBTQI students?
  4. Does your school have a Gay Straight Alliance? Why or Why not? If not, how might they respond if one were created?
  5. How would your student population and/or school administration react to a group planning to participate in National Day of Silence?

Here are a few resources on how to integrate LGBTQI bullying and other issues into your classroom curriculum:

Elementary School Level
Middle School Level
High School Level
The Principal's Challenge: Learning from Gay and Lesbian Students

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