Human Rights Watch: LGBTQ Students in US Still Face Discrimination and Hostile Environment

Education Week: Are Schools Safe Enough for LGBTQ Students?

Students Have the Right to Form LGBTQ Clubs

Teaching Tolerance: Creating an LGBTQ-Inclusive School Climate

UK Child Health Group Wants Healthy LGBTQ Relationships Taught in School

Two Gay Teachers: Shaping the Next Generation

Students Succeed When Diversity is Valued

TED Talk: Why We Need LGBTQ Education

Scotland Becomes First Country to Require LGBTQ Curriculum in Schools

Advocate: How Coming Out as a Gay Teacher Helped My Students

ACLU: What to Do if You Face Harassment as an LGBTQ High Schooler

Info: LGBTQ Bullying

Hostile Environment for LGBTQ Students


Bullying, Lack of Resources, and Bigotry Create Hostile Environments for LGBTQ Students in US Schools...

Many schools across the United States remain hostile environments for LGBTQ students despite significant progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years, Human Rights Watch said in a December 2016 report. Measures to improve student safety and inclusion are urgently needed at all levels of government.

The 106-page report from Human Rights Watch, Like Walking Through a Hailstorm: Discrimination Against LGBTQ Youth in US Schools, documents a range of problems facing LGBTQ students. The concerns include bullying and harassment, exclusion of LGBTQ topics from school curricula and resources, restrictions on LGBTQ student groups, and discrimination and bigotry from both classmates and school personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.


“Too many US schools are hostile environments for LGBTQ kids, and not only because they can’t use the appropriate bathrooms or locker room,” said Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in the LGBTQ Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “In every state we visited, we heard stories of students who were insulted, cyber-bullied or attacked, and teachers who allowed discrimination and harassment because they see it as normal behavior.”

Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth interviews and discussions with more than 350 students and 145 parents, teachers, administrators, and service providers in Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah. None of the five states examined have anti-bullying or anti-discrimination laws that expressly protect LGBTQ youth, and three of them (Alabama, Texas, Utah) have laws that deliberately restrict schools’ ability to include discussions of LGBTQ topics in classes and curricula. LGBTQ students described how these laws, often combined with harmful school policies, exposed them to harassment and violence, restricted their access to information and their freedom of expression, and singled them out for discriminatory treatment.

Human Rights Watch explored the many forms that anti-LGBTQ bullying takes, including physical violence, sexual assault, verbal harassment, cyberbullying, and exclusion. In many instances, teachers did not intervene, and in some cases educators participated in the harassment.

“My biology teacher my freshman year would bring in kids who were wearing short shorts or weird sweaters and say, ‘You’d better take that off, you’re going to look gay,’” said Bianca, a 16-year-old bisexual girl in Alabama. “But she’d say it in front of the whole class.” Names of students quoted in the report were changed for their protection.


In many schools, discriminatory policies and practices exacerbate the sense of exclusion students face. Human Rights Watch found that teachers are made to fear adverse employment consequences for identifying as LGBTQ or supporting LGBTQ students. Students in same-sex relationships are barred or discouraged from attending events as a couple, and transgender students are denied access to facilities, classes, and extracurricular activities because of their gender identity.

Many schools censor discussions about LGBTQ topics, even as LGBTQ people and issues have become increasingly visible in public life. Eight US states restrict discussions of LGBTQ topics in schools, and some school districts in other states impose their own restrictions. These laws and policies send a strong signal to students that being LGBTQ is abnormal or wrong.

“I remember in middle school, asking about same-sex relationships, and being totally shut down, and being pulled aside by an administrator and told that’s not something we talk about.” said Angela, a 17-year-old girl in Pennsylvania.

Students in many schools have responded to hostile environments by forming gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and other supportive groups. Human Rights Watch found, though, that students in many schools face significant obstacles when they form and operate these groups, despite clear protections under federal law. The students described being stonewalled, unable to find a faculty sponsor, or prohibited from operating on the same terms as other student organizations.

“People would pound on the GSA doors, people would join to make fun of us, we’d put up posters and they’d get written on and torn down,” said “Ethan,” a 16-year-old transgender boy in Texas. “We complained but the administration said they couldn’t do anything.”

Advocacy groups in the five states examined in the report emphasized that rejection by families and classmates leave students with no place to turn. “Too many of the LGBTQ youth in our community are subject to slurs and jokes, or even physical attacks, that make them feel alone," said Danielle Wilcox, a board member of the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls. "And as we've seen in our youth programming, having a supportive community and access to resources can make a huge difference.”


The Human Rights Watch findings illustrate why it is important for lawmakers across the US to continue working to make schools safer and more inclusive in the upcoming year. In 2016, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard set a positive example, vetoing a bill that would have restricted bathroom and locker room access for transgender students across the state.

“There was no place for discrimination in our state when this bill was proposed by a handful of legislators, and there’s certainly no place for this type of discrimination in our future,” said Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota. “Political leaders in South Dakota and beyond should follow the governor’s example and dismiss any efforts to single out already vulnerable transgender students for bullying, harassment, and discrimination.”

Federal, state, and local authorities should take steps to promote safety, well-being, and access to education in schools, Human Rights Watch said. States should pass laws expressly aimed at combating bullying against LGBTQ youth, repeal discriminatory laws that restrict teachers from discussing LGBTQ topics, and pass employment protections for LGBTQ teachers. Local school districts should revise policies to curb bullying and discrimination, provide resources and support for LGBTQ students, and foster environments in which all children feel included and are able to learn.

HRC Report: Children and Youth

GLSEN: National School Climate Survey

Info: LGBTQ Youth in Crisis

NEA: Report on Status of LGBTQ People in Education

Video: What LGBTQ Students Want You to Know

High School Seniors Attend First Queer Prom

Advocate: Anti-Gay Bullying Starts in Elementary School

HRW Report: Discrimination Against LGBTQ Youth in US Schools

WikiBooks: Diversity, Education and LGBTQ
Gay-Straight Alliance Tips

LA Times: How to Teach LGBTQ Issues in the First Grade

Info: LGBTQ Bullying

Teaching Lies: Voucher Schools Under Betsy DeVos


LGBTQ Students in the Classroom

Imagine this. Lindsey is sitting in her 4th grade class on the first day of school, and everyone is sharing stories about their families. When it’s Lindsey’s turn she tells the class that she has two moms because they are lesbians. The class is confused and Megan asks “What is a Lesbian?” What do you do as a teacher? Do you answer the question or ignore it and change the subject? How do you answer this without overstepping your ethical boundaries? When discussing the inclusion of LGBTQ it is important to understand the diversity in a classroom. There may be students in your class that are already struggling with understanding their own sexual orientation. One report indicated that LGBTQ students first come to realization of their sexual orientation at age 10. When you put that age into perspective, that child is in the 3rd or 4th grade. People fear the unknown. They fear what they are unfamiliar with. On the issue of homophobia, Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network states, “If you really want a long-term solution to homophobia, you’d better start when kids are young, and start teaching very early."


There are different reasons why incorporating LGBTQ issues in the classroom may come result in negative results rather than positive. It may not be the best to bring these issues up with children that are 8 or 9, even though some may already be experiencing a feeling of attraction towards the same sex, and not understand why they feel that way. Teachers could feel great discomfort in speaking about this subject in the classroom. Many parents feel that incorporating LGBTQ curriculum into the classroom, may cause their child to choose a gay lifestyle. When a teacher raises gay and lesbian issues in the classroom, some students respond with intellectual curiosity, but often the consequences are less positive. Some students become embarrassed and uncomfortable, become hostile, or even question the teacher's sexuality. A lot of times students tend to make homophobic accusations against other students in the class or against other students and staff within the school. Negative results could come about when LGBTQ issues are raised in the classroom.


NEA Today Article: Bullying! Does It Get Better?
Info: LGBTQ Bullying

Common Myths About Bullying
Students Protest Outdated Sex Ed Classes That Don't Include Gays

National Safe Schools Coalition
Gay-Straight Alliance Tips

Advocate: How Coming Out as a Gay Teacher Helped My Students

Students Succeed When Diversity is Valued

High School Seniors Attend First Queer Prom

The Trevor Project
Info: LGBTQ Youth in Crisis

It Gets Better Project

Creating a Safe Learning Environment

Everyone is entitled to a safe learning environment, regardless of one's sexual orientation or gender identity. It is important to let the LGBTQ students know that teachers care, and that they are not alone. It is the duty of a teacher to keep order and command respect from everyone in their classroom and to create a safer environment for LGBTQ students. These suggestions, compiled by Youth Pride, would help reduce homophobia in the classroom environment:

--Make no assumption about sexuality.
--Display something LGBTQ-related visible in your office or classroom.
--Support, normalize and validate student’s feelings about their sexuality.
--Do not pressure youth to come out to parents, family, and friends (Instead, encourage them to come out at a time and place that they are comfortable with).
--Guarantee confidentiality with students.
--Challenge homophobia.
--Combat heterosexism in your classroom.
--Learn about and refer LGBTQ students to community organizations, events, and activities.
--Encourage school administrators to adopt and enforce anti-discrimination policies for their schools or school systems which include sexual orientation and gender identity.
--Provide positive LGBTQ role models.

LGBTQ students need to be protected and the best way to start that is by educating their classmates and peers on what it means to be LGBTQ. Opening these conversations with young children provides an opportunity to prevent prejudice, discrimination, and violence and to support the lives of all children.

An estimated 6 to 11 percent of school children have LGBTQ parents, and another 5 to 9 percent will at some point realize that they are LGBTQ. Even with these statistics, schools are still hesitant to include LGBTQ curriculum into the school. Society as a whole is beginning to be more tolerant of LGBTQ issues and talking about LGBTQ subjects no longer represent a taboo. Students are choosing to come out while still in school, and they are expecting to be accepted. Regardless of a students' sexual orientation or gender identity, they deserve to be able to come to school and feel like they are safe. It is of utmost importance that these students are treated with respect and equality.


LGBTQ Students' Bill of Rights

The right to fair and accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity in textbooks and other classroom materials.

The right to unbiased information about the historical and continuing contributions of LGBTQ people in all subject areas, including art, music, literature, science, sports, history, and social studies.

The right to positive role models, both in person and in the curriculum.  The right to accurate information about themselves, free of negative judgment, and delivered by trained adults who not only inform LGBTQ students but affirm them.

The right to attend schools free of verbal and physical harassment, where education, not survival, is the priority.

The right to attend schools where respect and dignity for all students, including LGBTQ students, is a standard set by the state superintendent of public instruction, supported by state and local boards of education, and enforced by every district superintendent, principal, and classroom teacher.

The right to be included in all support programs that exist to help teenagers deal with the difficulties of adolescence.

The right to legislators who guarantee and fight for their constitutional freedoms, rather than legislators who reinforce hatred and prejudice.

The right to a heritage free of crippling self-hate and unchallenged discrimination.

[Source: P.E.R.R.S.O.N. Project. Adapted by GLAAD/SFBA's Project 21 from Project 10 (Los Angeles Unified School District) and National Education Association's "Teaching and Counseling Gay & Lesbian Students Action Sheet"]

Human Rights Watch: LGBTQ Students in US Still Face Discrimination and Hostile Environment

Education Week: Are Schools Safe Enough for LGBTQ Students?

Info: LGBTQ Youth in Crisis

Students Have the Right to Form LGBTQ Clubs

High School Seniors Attend First Queer Prom

How to Start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Your School

Teaching Tolerance: Creating an LGBTQ-Inclusive School Climate

Students Succeed When Diversity is Valued

Info: LGBTQ Bullying

Video: What LGBTQ Students Want You to Know

ACLU: What to Do if You Face Harassment as an LGBTQ High Schooler


LGBTQ Concerns in the Classroom and On Campus


When schools and other institutions seek to convey to the public that they value diversity and embrace multiculturalism, oftentimes they tend to take a rather narrow approach. In making genuine efforts to create an open and affirming environment for all their students, they may define diversity in a manner that is sometimes too limiting. To foster a truly inclusive environment, schools and institutions must consider a broader definition of diversity and more all-encompassing view of multiculturalism.

Any diversity training with broad-based credibility must address a wide range of minorities and sub cultures.  while most programs include race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion, politics, ability, and personality, they should also include sexual orientation and gender identity. Any meaningful discussion of diversity issues should include the concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.



Teachers and instructors who seek to present a classroom curriculum that is balanced and objective might consider what blind spots or omissions their current lesson plans may have. In teaching such academic subject matter as history, social studies, politics, science, literature, music, and the arts, instructors may want to consider what bias has unwittingly been introduced into the curriculum by the omission of certain groups whose contributions have been ignored.

In a society that is disproportionately white, male, Christian, and heterosexual, there oftentimes must be a deliberate effort by teachers to present material from the non-white, female, non-Christian, and LGBTQ perspectives. By now, schools are very familiar with efforts, especially in history and literature coursework, to broaden classroom curriculum to include the contributions of African-Americans and women. Efforts have also been made to include Asian, Hispanic, and Native perspectives. Schools can be, and have been to some degree, instrumental in broadening the minds of students to appreciate elements of other cultures, religions, and lifestyles that differ from their own.

Students' education is greatly enhanced when they recognize the vast diversity of backgrounds from which major contributions have been made in areas of history, social studies, politics, science, literature, music, and the arts. Many important contributions have been made throughout society and down through history by people who are LGBTQ. To avoid bias and to expand learning, these various leaders, politicians, scientists, authors, artists, musicians, and poets should not omitted from the curriculum.


Identifying the roots and causes of bullying and eliminating bullying behavior has been a critical focal point for schools over the past several decades. Because it is a common occurrence among school aged children; and because of its impact on the victims; teachers, counselors, and administrators take very seriously their role in providing effective intervention.

Bullies prey on classmates they perceive to be weaker or different. They target other students because of a myriad of stereotypical features that they view as odd related to physique, physical appearance, clothing, and behavior. Many times, students who are perceived to be LGBTQ, or who are effeminate or "butch," or who act "sissy" or "tomboyish" become the victims of naming-calling, harassment, and violence.

Counselors and administrators seeking to put a stop to bullying might consider how often LGBTQ students are targeted by bullies and implement programs that include sensitivity to that segment of the student population.



Harassment, like bullying, creates a hostile environment whereby the balance of power is disproportionate. Victims of harassment are often subjected to inappropriate behavior simply because they are in the minority role in a particular setting. Perhaps a woman finds herself alone in an all-male setting. Or perhaps an African-American finds himself the lone exception in a classroom of white students. Or perhaps a Buddhist student is the only one of his kind in a classroom of Christians.

Likewise, an LGBTQ person is an easy target for insensitive heterosexuals who might unwittingly, or even intentionally, create a hostile or harassing environment through their ongoing homophobic or heterosexist behavior. Any sensitivity training conducted for staff or students must surely include the LGBTQ perspective to be effective.


Ethics are at the heart of all professional behavior. Adherence to ethical standards is expected from any counselor, teacher or administrator who is regarded as a professional.

Unethical behavior on the part of the practitioner usually impacts negatively on the clients, students and consumers of the services provided. Therefore, any effort to focus on the necessity of ethical standards is also a sincere act of advocacy on behalf of the individuals who might otherwise be affected.

Most statements of professional ethics include admonitions to practitioners who violate confidentiality, engage in inappropriate relationships, and who are insensitive to the cultural concerns of their clients. Any understanding of ethical behavior, therefore, must include the expectation of the professional to avoid insensitive or derogatory behavior towards LGBTQ people.


Equal opportunity in any setting means that no acts of bias will take place based on factors related to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, or ability.  Any discrimination policy that hopes to be inclusive, or to have any long term credibility with all members of society, must also include sexual orientation and gender identity. The rights of all members of society must be protected, and LGBTQ individuals should be included in that protection.



HRC Report: Children and Youth

GLSEN: National School Climate Survey

Info: LGBTQ Bullying

Advocate: How Coming Out as a Gay Teacher Helped My Students

Students Succeed When Diversity is Valued

NEA: Report on Status of LGBT People in Education

HRW Report: Discrimination Against LGBTQ Youth in US Schools

Advocate: Anti-Gay Bullying Starts in Elementary School

Scotland Becomes First Country to Require LGBTQ Curriculum in Schools

Gay-Straight Alliance Tips

James Corden: Teaching Children About Gay Relationships

WikiBooks: Diversity, Education and LGBTQ
LA Times: How to Teach LGBTQ Issues in the First Grade

Info: LGBTQ Youth in Crisis


Understanding Diversity: Culturally Relevant Teaching

As an effective teacher in the 21st century it is important for educators to have a conceptual understanding of diversity. This understanding must go beyond just clarifying differences and begin to develop into a layered, social justice-oriented multicultural perspective.

This can only be achieved thorough exploration of historical/political/socio-cultural factors that contribute to America's various ways of learning and living. Teachers must understand the roles of power, privilege and oppression and the complicated fashion in which they permeate our society.

Teachers should process this information with great care and reflection so that they can make appropriate and socially just classroom decisions (both curricular and non-curricular). Teachers who acknowledge the relevancy of various cultural contributions instill cultural pride in their students and a sense of personal connection to curriculum.

[Source: Dr. Barb Beyerbach & Thurman D. Nassoiy]


It's Elementary: Talking About LGBTQ Issues in School


Video Series: Part One

Video Series: Part Two

Video Series: Part Three

Video Series: Part Four

Video Series: Part Five


LGBTQ Bullying in Middle School

Sean has felt since the age of 2 or 3 that he was a boy in a girl's body. Telling his parents at age 11 was difficult but coming out as transgender among his seventh-grade classmates was like walking into a lion's den. When Sean first shared his sexuality with his mother, "She didn't take it well," he said. "She cried for about a week, but then went on the Internet and understood it better."

About a month before Sarah's "transition" to Sean, his mother informed school officials, but no one told teachers or students. "One day I was Sarah with female pronouns and Monday I was Sean with male pronouns, without any explanation," said Sean, a pseudonym for the central New Jersey teen who wants a fresh start in high school this fall. "I was bullied every day, shoved into lockers, beaten up and made fun of," said the 14-year-old. "The teachers were standing right there, saying nothing or just not aware of it."

Things got so bad for Sean that he dropped out of middle school, and his mother home-schooled him for the remainder of the year.

Like Sean, an increasing number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer children are "coming out" earlier than high school because of greater cultural acceptance. But in the immature and sometimes predatory world of middle school, Jason's experience is not uncommon, according to advocacy groups.

Taunting and bullying often go unnoticed by teachers, and administrators have few policies in place to handle it. Only 11 states have enacted laws to protect schoolchildren from being bullied specifically because of sexual orientation. At Sean's school there wasn't even a sex education program, according to his mother.

More Teasing in Middle School

In a 2005 study conducted by Harris Polling, From Teasing to Torment, teachers reported that middle school students were 30 percent more likely to be teased about their sexual orientation than high school students. "There seems to be something about the onset of puberty that makes those years different," said Kevin Jennings, founder and executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. "Moving from small to larger schools, cliques and social pecking order are a bigger deal."

Most children are aware of their sexuality between the ages of 8 and 11, according to Jennings, but are told they are "too young" to know their orientation. "That makes it even harder for them," he said. "People don't believe them."

In the last year, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network has seen a "huge surge of interest" in addressing anti-LGBT bullying in middle schools. Much of it has been a reaction to the February killing of openly gay student Lawrence King. The 15-year-old was shot twice in the head by a classmate in California.

In 2007, students from 520 middle schools participated in a Day of Silence to raise awareness about sexual orientation. After King's 2008 murder, 1,046 middle schools participated in a vigil.

Today, the network sponsors about 110 gay-straight alliances (or GSA clubs to support LGBTQ students) nationwide. But that number, compared with 3,000 such clubs at the high school level, may still not be enough.

Josh Rivero enrolled in a virtual high school after he was repeatedly threatened at his Brevard County, Florida, middle school after trying to start a GSA club. "The conversation about his sexuality started in eighth grade, but since elementary school he'd been called a fag," said his mother, Lisa Rivero.


Cyber-Bullies Threaten

By middle school, Josh's grades began to drop and his stress level soared. One classmate bullied Josh in cyberspace, sending homophobic messages and calling him names on the school's social media page. "The school did nothing," said Lisa Rivero, who sought help and later began a local chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) where she now serves as president.

The threats soon became physical and Josh's mother, at the suggestion of the school's principal, reluctantly filed a temporary restraining order against her son's tormentor. "He had a right to go to school and get an education without being bullied," she said. "We had no issues with him being gay. What we had the most difficulty with was accepting our fear that we knew our son would be a target."

Rivero said students need support, but teachers also need training. "It starts with teachers in the classroom," she said. "A lot of them stepped up and intervened, but there were other teachers who looked up at him and said, 'What do you want me to do?'" The Riveros lobbied unsuccessfully for a Florida law to outlaw sexual orientation bullying. As his mother sought support, so did Josh, now 16 and in high school, forming a GSA at his school.

Students 'Take Control'

Josh "took control" of the situation, his mom says. Indeed, it is the students themselves who are emboldened to make their schools more comfortable for all those with differences.

Leah Matz of St. Peter, Minn., first came out as a lesbian at the age of 12 in the seventh grade where she says gay issues were talked about in "hushed tones." The taunts began after she pioneered the first GSA. "The harassment started right away," said Leah, now 15. "They were hollering derogatory terms, then it escalated to physical harassment. I was tripped, pushed and spit on by both boys and girls."

The GSA grew in numbers, but so did the taunts. Her breaking point came when she found the words "Dykes Suck" painted on her locker. Club members organized a rally against bullying and homophobia, selling t-shirts that read "Stop hate, just love." Leah called the press and got television and newspaper coverage of the event.

Not all reaction was positive: Leah was criticized in a letter to the editor in the local newspaper for "recruiting" students into the "gay lifestyle." But she says this is a school safety issue, and most of the members of her GSA are not gay, but "straight allies." "Students feel more comfortable now in schools because of GSA," said Matz. "Because of our efforts we are stronger people and face our adversaries."

Leah's mother, Kathy Chalhoub, had no problem with her daughter's sexuality. "I feel really fortunate to have a child who felt free to come to me," she said. "My fear was for her. There's always a blessing in every curse and what Leah has gone through has had such good come from it."

But experts say many middle school administrators have no policies in place when it comes to sexual orientation bullying. "I never dealt with this as a middle school principal in the 1990s," said John Norig, director of program development for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which is beginning to address the issue. But even progressive schools with strong anti-gay harassment policies said coming out is particularly hard in middle school.

"I still don't believe it's safe for 11-to-14-year olds to come out without support," Alison Boggs, principal at Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colo., told ABC News. She has seen one or two students a year come out. "About 98 percent of the kids are questioning at this age," she said. "Many are not coming out right away and some are not gay." But for those few who feel strong enough to come out, the school sends them to a counselor so they feel "supported and accepted" at the school.


Doing 'Whatever It Takes

The Boulder school starts each year explaining to students that all categories of harassment are forbidden. When incidents occur, they are dealt with swiftly and individually. "We do whatever it takes," said Boggs. "We can't let it go and assume we did it in class and everyone heard it."

"Like other forms of sexual harassment, once they are educated, kids do pretty well and will stop if we make it clear," said Boggs. "In this age group, they are still forming their identity, and they may be sure, but not all that sure," she said. "But they are feeling safer to express themselves."

Jody Huckaby, national president of PFLAG, agrees, but said, "There's so much more work to be done to create a safe environment for these kids." Even in families with parental acceptance, there is a great need for support and education and information for other family members, neighbors and the community, said parents and advocates. And now, many children who have been raised in same-sex families are entering elementary and middle school. "When Bobby shows up with two mommies, sexual orientation presents itself at earlier and earlier ages," said Huckaby. "The work to develop curricula has to be done earlier. "It's a reality that gay people exist and it's easier and easier for kids to develop a language around the fact that they are different."

[Source: Susan Donaldson James, ABC News Internet Ventures, 2008]

NEA Today Article: Bullying! Does It Get Better?
Common Myths About Bullying
Info: LGBTQ Youth in Crisis

National Safe Schools Coalition
The Trevor Project
It Gets Better Project


Gays and Lesbians in Your Schools


It is important to look at prejudice broadly, not just at prejudice directed towards race and gender. Any study of multiculturalism must include the LGBTQ community.

All forms of prejudice are based on ignorance and misconceptions and there are many misconceptions and much ignorance about LGBTQ people. If we are to ever effectively eradicate the pain caused by discrimination, we must recognize that we perpetuate prejudice by only addressing those issues that are familiar, like race, ethnicity, gender, and sometimes disability. In so doing, we are effectively saying that discrimination is in fact acceptable and it is only certain groups that are to be protected. The deafening silence that pervades the issues facing LGBTQ children and adolescents results in leaving these children to fend for themselves in a hostile and brutalizing environment.



Imagine waking up one morning and living in a world where everywhere you look, you see no one like you... a world where your family is not like you... where the relationships are not like yours... where what you see in movies, books, and magazines is not reflective of your life... where if you speak about yourself you are subject to being brutalized verbally and physically...  where on Sunday mornings, many spend much of their time listening to respected ministers ranting and raving about what a moral pervert you are...  where the country to which you pledge allegiance denies you the same equal treatment that is enjoyed by your neighbors.

And if that isn't enough, imagine dearly loving someone else and having to keep it totally secret because if you don't you will be punished -- cast out of your home by your family, ostracized by your friends, perhaps losing your job. This is the world of the lesbian and gay young person.


The suicide rate for these kids is 30% higher than for any other group of youngsters. Not acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ students puts educators at risk of having to live with the question of whether or not they contributed to a young person's suicide or murder. Educators are in the position of speaking out in ways that give children and adolescents messages of support. Every time they hear a derogatory comment about LGBTQ people and let it go unchallenged, they give a message of non-support. Many LGBTQ adults have stated that they are alive today because one teacher stood up for them or took an interest in them. One person can make a difference. In the words of Ellie Weisel, "Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented" (Weisel, 1988).

According to the Kinsey report in 1948 (Kinsey, 1948) approximately 10% of 5300 males reported being more or less homosexual. In 1953 Kinsey et al (Kinsey, 1953) found that in a study of 5,940 white women, 2 to 6% reported being more or less exclusively lesbian. In 1970 a Psychology Today study of 20,000 readers found that 37% of the males and 12% of the females had had some same gender contact. Many other studies continue to find that anywhere from 2 to 35% of men and 3 to 12% of women have had some homosexual contact.

From these studies it seems clear that all communities in this country have LGBTQ people in their midst. It is likewise reasonable to assume that every school district in the country has LGBTQ students, teachers, administrators and other school personnel. Furthermore, there is a growing number of LGBTQ parents whose children attend our schools. The bottom line is that it is impossible for school administrators to know how many LGBTQ people are in their schools. Given this impossibility, a reasonable, statistical assumption for the purposes of planning would be to assume that about 10% of your students, parents, teachers and staff are LGBTQ.



Teaching positive values regarding homosexuality is not about teaching sex.  One of the most common beliefs about the LGBTQ community is that it is all about sex. This is reflected in the focus on the bedroom of LGBTQ people by media, politicians, and religious groups. Even members of the LGBTQ community will say that they don't talk about their personal lives because what they do in the privacy of their home is nobody else's business, implying that their lives are only about their sexual behavior. Talking about sex and sexuality is controversial at best in our schools. This commonly held attitude that homosexuality is about sex puts it into a hotly debated controversy in terms of its appropriateness for school discussions.

One of the practical implications of this attitude is that often when presentations about LGBTQ topics are proposed for school-aged young people, principals will say they have to get permission from parents for children to attend the sessions. The principals' perception is that a sex lecture will be given. Asking parental permission to discuss homosexuality with their children reflects and perpetuates the attitude that it is about sexuality and usually guarantees that children will not hear the information they need.

Even in schools where the presentations are allowed, they most often are confined to high school-aged adolescents. If you believe that homosexuality is about sex, then you don't have to concern yourself with it until the children reach puberty. The implication of this is that children before the age of 12 or 13 receive no education or supportive messages about homosexuality. To focus only on sex among LGBTQ people is to ignore the wide range of cultural and emotional elements in the LGBTQ community. As with other cultural groups LGBTQ people have their own literature, poetry, music and art, as well as other aspects of any cultural community.


LGBTQ teachers and administrators and school personnel must be provided a safe environment in which to come out of the closet.

The attitude in our school system which requires LGBTQ school personnel to be closeted affects their effectiveness, not only with LGBTQ youth but with all youth. If for no other reason, everyone should be concerned about teachers' effectiveness.

This attitude also means that LGBTQ young people have no mentors. LGBTQ students will often "suspect" that some teacher is one of them but the teacher's silence and lack of acknowledgment of their gender orientation leaves the student totally without role models or mentors. Furthermore, the message communicated is that being LGBTQ is so bad that one must keep totally hidden. Taking this one step further, LGBTQ students are often treated badly by their LGBTQ teachers who reject any attempts the student may make, in desperation, to reach out for some understanding.

Many teachers will often explain their decision to be closeted by saying they need to maintain the "respect" of the parents, administrators, and other teachers.  Rather than create bridges with the accepting members of their school community to form some safety and protection, they instead shun those people and court the "respect" of their avowed enemies. This behavior was well documented in early Nazi Germany when many Jewish people believed that the way for them to be safe was for them to be invisible or to attempt to join their enemies. Now, like then, there was no safety for the German Jews and there will be no safety for American LGBTQ teachers unless they begin the long and frightening process of "coming out."

This implies that non-LGBTQ teachers and administrators must do their part to make it safe for LGBTQ teachers and administrators to be out. They must actively work to make the school system a safe community for everyone.



Just as they have learned to not accept racial, ethnic, or gender slurs, all educators must speak up when LGBTQ people are maligned or discriminated against.

All too often people sit in small groups and remain silent when they hear racial, ethnic, anti-women, or homophobic jokes. By this behavior they participate in some of the most reprehensible forms of discrimination. Even if they are uncomfortable, frequently listeners will remain silent or even participate in the conversation in order to fit in. This most often occurs in small groups where there is no obvious member of the targeted group present. Because LGBTQ people so often choose to remain invisible, they are frequently members of a small group where anti-homosexual remarks are made. To speak out against the homophobic jokes or comments is tantamount to admitting one belongs to the community. LGBTQ people who choose to remain in the closet are often terrified of being found out. To sit silently means participating in their own bashing in order to hide. For non-LGBTQ people, the risk of speaking out is of being believed to be something that has been labeled perverted, abnormal, evil, and sinful.

Teachers have learned to address issues which have to do with race or gender discrimination. The skills needed are the same. The only difference is the fear that if they address homophobic remarks they will be "suspect." Clearly only someone who is LGBTQ would speak out against "gay bashing" comments. These fears must be overcome so that teachers may respond in an educative way to homophobic behaviors, just as they respond to racist and sexist behaviors.


Schools must make a conscious effort to teach the whole truth, including information about and by LGBTQ people.

It is consistently amazing that when college-aged people are asked to identify major figures in history who were LGBTQ, they draw a complete blank even though they have studied these figures in high school. A stunning example of this is that although students know that James Baldwin was African American, they do not know that he was gay and that a major reason Baldwin left the United States to live in Europe was because he felt so uncomfortable living in the US as a gay man. For any high school teacher to teach Baldwin and not to talk about the issues he faced as a gay man is as unprofessional as it would be to not mention that he was African American.

This type of distorted teaching is perhaps one of the most insidious aspects of the prejudice against the gay and lesbian community that infects the professionalism of education. Leaving LGBTQ issues out of education distorts history, much as leaving out women and various racial or ethnic groups has distorted history to the detriment of the whole society.

One of the fastest growing areas in publishing is in queer studies. Fortunately that means there are a growing number of books for teachers, young people, and their families. Every school should begin to look at this material and start the process of placing age appropriate material in school libraries. Teachers should make sure that they encourage pupils to include them in their reports.



A major objection that lies behind many educators' reluctance to discuss LGBTQ issues with their students is the belief that young people may be "recruited" into a lesbian and gay lifestyle. This reluctance rests on the belief that people make a choice to be gay or lesbian and that children are vulnerable to being swayed into being homosexual.

Until very recently, the focus of the research on homosexuality has been to determine "how did they get that way?" Unfortunately the driving force behind the research was that after first determining the cause, the cure would soon follow. This research direction in the 1940's and 50's created an atmosphere of pathology when viewing the homosexual community that still remains today in many quarters of our society. Fortunately, beginning in the 1950's with the evolution of organizations like the Mattachine Society, the Society of One, and the Daughters of Bilitis, many lesbians and gays challenged that view (Blumenfeld, 1989; Legg, 1994). They were successful in convincing people like the psychologist Evelyn Hooker (Hooker, 1965) and others (Marmor, 1980; Bayer, 1981), to reevaluate the nature of the research that was being conducted. This reevaluation successfully rejected the earlier theories of emotional pathology in homosexual men (early research was focused exclusively on gay males). However, it did not answer the question of "cause."

Today the question of "cause" remains an open question but it clearly seems that we are moving closer to the answers. The most recent research by LeVay (1993) and others has opened the door to the issues of biology and genetics as major contributors to the ideas of gender orientation in both the homosexual and heterosexual communities. While we don't have the "real" answer to this question it has become increasingly clear that neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is entirely about sexual behavior and certainly is no more about choice than, for example, height or gender.

Continuing to believe in the idea of "choice" leads to continuing to debate the issues of free will, sin, and morality with groups which see it as a "choice", and wastes time which could be spent in more productive discussions.

Continuing to believe in the idea of "choice" leads to the perpetuation of pain, guilt, and anger that parents of LGBTQ young people often feel. They are told that they are responsible and they may be told to get little Johnny involved in sports to stop his interest in ballet dancing. The implication is that they can do something about this or could have done something, and that it is their fault. Educators have many opportunities to help parents understand that having a child who is LGBTQ is not a result of the parents having done something wrong.

Continuing to believe in the idea of "choice" implies that children or adolescents who are LGBTQ decide to be "that way," perhaps having heard a presentation about homosexuality or perhaps wanting to "get" their parents somehow. They decide this knowing that they will place themselves in the most frightening situation imaginable. The prejudice and discrimination against lesbians and gays that children and adolescents are exposed to frequently results in school drop outs, adjustment problems in school and home, homelessness, a variety of other emotional difficulties, and all too often suicide. The idea that someone would freely choose this is obviously ludicrous when you stop to reflect. LGBTQ romantic attractions occur in the same way as opposite gender attractions occur in straight youth, through normal maturation of the sexual development of the human body. There are NO differences except in the object of those attractions. In other words, LGBTQ people and non-LGBTQ people are much more similar than they are different. The one difference is the gender to which they are attracted.

Regardless of how LGBTQ people get here, we need to consistently focus on the fact that they are here and we have to realign the school curriculum to include them in a positive way.

While the question of "cause" will continue to be open for discussion, it essentially should only remain in the realm of the pursuit of knowledge and should have no bearing on the issues we address here. John Boswell (1980) in his ground breaking text on Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, states that "the issue of who is "black" or "colored" or "mulatto" is only vexing to societies affected by racial prejudice; such differentiations, if present, are much looser in cultures not concerned to categorize people by skin color." It is easy to translate this comment of Boswell's into today's struggle to determine the "cause" of homosexuality.


In summary, these children are your students and the adults are their parents and your colleagues. They are the class clown, the high school star athlete, the class valedictorian, the ordinary kid next door, your neighbor, your sibling, your child, your principal, your teaching partner. Unfortunately, because of the invisibility, it is often virtually impossible to identify the LGBTQ community in your school. Tragically this invisibility has led to our collective ability to ignore the problem and failure to design a curriculum that will address these issues similar to the curriculum that has been developed to address the issues of other at-risk communities such as ethnic, racial, female or disabled groups.

Each child that dies by their own hand is a child with loved ones who are left behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Each child that dies by their own hand could have become that adult who found the cure for cancer. Each child that dies by their own hand could have been that adult that made world peace possible. Each child that dies by their own hand may have been that invisible child in your school.

[Source: Wiggsy D. Sivertsen, L.C.S.W. and Terri B. Thames, Ph,D.]


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