If you’re a parent, one of the foremost thoughts in your mind is the safety and well-being of your children as they experience the trials of adolescence. Every teen goes through challenges. But when you factor in coming out as an LGBTQIA teen, these challenges can multiply dramatically—especially at school, the place where your kids spend most of their time outside the home.
For most LGBTQ+ youth, some type of bullying—whether verbal, physical, or cyber—is a part of their experience. A recent National School Climate Survey from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that schools are a hostile environment for a large number of LGBTQ+ students. As many as 74% of LGBT students are verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. As many as 36% also report physical harassment.
Any bullying can make for a tough school experience. The level of bullying faced by many LGBTQ+ youth can make their school lives extremely difficult. In spite of this, many schools do not have policies in place to keep these students safe. Some schools even have policies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ students, especially in terms of gender expression and public displays of affection between students of the same gender (while male-female displays are allowed).
This lack of safety and equality can have a powerful negative effect on LGBTQ+ students. Many choose to skip school and/or turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Some even consider suicide.
It is no surprise that these effects extend to academic performance. According to the same GLSEN study, kids who are exposed to violence, bullying, and harassment are reported as having a 15% lower GPA.
Whether or not your child identifies as LGBTQ+, creating an environment where all teens feel respected and safe is a move in the right direction.
But hope is on the horizon. Many school climates are beginning to improve. There is a growing movement in schools across the nation to provide youth with access to LGBTQ+ resources and supports. As schools begin to actively address discrimination and bullying among students, and as awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and causes continues to increase, we can reasonably expect an increase in the psychological and educational well-being of all adolescents.
It is important for parents to encourage implementation of these positive and supportive policies. Whether or not your child identifies as LGBTQ+, helping create an environment at your child’s school where all feel respected and safe is a move in the right direction.
Here are four steps you can take to help your child’s school become more supportive and affirming:
- Check to see if the school has a no-tolerance policy in place. Such policies create an environment of respect for all students by prohibiting all forms of bullying, violence, and harassment. They can also help empower LGBTQ+ teens to feel safe enough to come forward and report problems affecting them personally.
- Check to see if the school provides a “safe space” for LGBTQ+ students. Safe places are important because they can help teens trying to understand themselves or find communities connect to adults who are trained to offer support and help to gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, or questioning kids. Having an administrator, counselor, teacher, or staff member who understands what teens are going through can foster a system of support to address the needs of teens who feel out of place in a hetero-centric environment.
- Encourage the development of school clubs that are welcoming to all. It’s important to have clubs created and run by LGBTQ+ youth, where students can feel safe, develop connections, and build a community. But it’s also important for all school organizations to welcome and support students of all sexual orientations and gender expressions.
- Ask if your child’s school works to help develop connections to community-based services. These services can provide additional layers of psychological and social support. If kids don’t have support from their families, they may find support from sources like community and school.
By taking an active role in helping develop a safe environment for LGBTQ+ teens at your child’s school, you will not only be assisting your teen but countless others who may not feel able to speak up for themselves.
Kosciw, J., Greytak, E., Palmer, N., & Boesen, M. (2013).The 2013 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Retrieved from http://www.glsen.org/nscs
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