Published on
The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Why Gay Students Don't Feel Safe

Deb Price

Imagine being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teen who loves singing in the school chorus.

Now imagine that experience being spoiled by a thoughtless, homophobic adult -- the music teacher who ought to be striving for harmony.

"My choir teacher constantly makes gay jokes," a 12th-grade Latino student reported in a new national study. "And he doesn't realize that he makes it so uncomfortable for us because it's choir. There's a large LGBT community in choir, and he sits there and cracks gay jokes all the time."

In its groundbreaking report, "Shared Differences," the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network captures what school feels like for America's LGBT youth of color.

The survey results paint a grim picture of kids so hardened to anti-gay remarks, shoving or worse that they don't even bother reporting the abusive incidents to a school official or parent.

These students rarely read about LGBT people in textbooks, nor do they learn about gay history or people in class.

What they too often learn firsthand is that school is a place where they can expect to be hurt -- emotionally or physically. The predictable but sad result is that many of these kids skip classes and see their grades drop.

GLSEN has found that the best antidote is to make sure schools have gay-straight student clubs, LGBT-supportive officials and textbooks, and anti-harassment policies that clearly include sexual orientation and gender identity.


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The report, available at, draws on data collected during the 2006-2007 school year on 2,130 GLBT students, ages 13 to 21, who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific islander or multiracial. In addition, researchers listened to small groups of students.

Key findings:

  • Biased barbs: More than 80 percent of LGBT youth of color often heard the phrase "that's so gay" or similar uses of "gay" at school to put people down. Two-thirds heard "faggot," "dyke" or other anti-gay name-calling.

In a particularly alarming finding, more than half of these students said they had heard teachers, principals or other adults at their school make homophobic remarks.

  • Ignored cries for help: Only about one-fifth of students reported that school officials "most of the time" or "always" stepped in when anti-gay remarks were made in their presence.

Report co-author Joseph Kosciw says some educators are sending the message that anti-gay remarks "aren't just tolerated in school but acceptable."

Only about one in 10 LGBT students of color said other students stepped in when they heard anti-gay comments.

  • Frightened: More than half of these students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; one-third said they felt unsafe because of how they express their gender.

Close to half of LGBT students said they had been physically harassed or assaulted in the past year in school because of their sexual orientation.

But this experience varied widely by race and ethnicity: 33 percent of LGBT African-Americans said they'd been subject to physical violence in school. Among LGBT American Indian students, the percentage was 54 percent.

  • Who am I?: Only 14 percent of LGBT students of color said their schoolbooks include information about gay issues, and only 11 percent said their schoolwork has included positive portrayals of gay people.

Our educators are failing America's LGBT kids of color. And that's certainly nothing to sing about.

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Deb Price of the Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

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