Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students Feel “Unsafe” in School

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Credit: The Ad Council/GLSEN

Nearly 90 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) middle and high school students were verbally harassed at school during the past academic year, according to a survey released this week by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. More than 60 percent of the students reported feeling “unsafe” in school because of their sexual orientation and one-third reported skipping at least one day of school in the past month because of that feeling.

In contrast, most government agencies and anti-bullying programs cite studies placing the percentage of all U.S. students who report being bullied between 15 percent and 25 percent, and less than 5 percent of a national sample of secondary school students used by GLSEN for comparison purposes reported skipping school because they felt “unsafe.”

The survey shows that “the situation is still dire for many LGBT youth when it comes to school safety” and that “… our nation’s LGBT students are bullied and harassed at alarming rates,” GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings said in a statement issued with the report.

The 2007 National School Climate Survey of 6,209 students found that:

* In addition to verbal harassment, 44 percent of LGBT students reported being physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 22 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year for the same reason.

* Nearly three-quarters heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often at school.

* In addition to feeling unsafe due to sexual orientation, 38 percent felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

* The reported GPA of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.8 versus 2.4).

In his statement, Jennings said that actively engaged schools and educators can make a “drastic difference” in school climate. Students in schools with Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and supportive staff reported less harassment, telling school staff about more incidents and feeling safer and having a greater sense of belonging to their school community. They also had more days in school, greater academic achievement and higher educational aspirations.

Despite the potential positive effects on school climate, only about one-third of students reported having a GSA in their school or being able identify six or more supportive educators. In a 2007 companion survey by GLSEN of nearly 1,600 school principals, only one-third of secondary school principals said that a lesbian, gay or bisexual student would feel “very safe” in their school, and less than one-quarter said a transgender student would feel “very safe.”

Eleven states and the District of Columbia protect students from bullying based on sexual orientation, and seven states and the District protect students from bullying based on gender identity/expression.

The GLSEN survey was released in partnership with the launch of a multi-year national public education campaign by the Ad Council targeting anti-LGBT language among teenagers. The Ad Council is known for such successful public education campaigns as “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste” and “Take a Bite out of Crime.”

The campaign uses television ads, posters and radio public service announcements to address anti-gay language among teens, focusing on the use of the phrase “that’s so gay” to mean stupid, dumb or lame. While research shows that anti-gay slurs are often used unintentionally as common slang, the unintended consequences often carry over into more overt harassment.

The television ads feature comedian Wanda Sykes and actress Hilary Duff, who confront teens they hear using the phrase in public. After explaining that it’s hurtful to use “who people are” as a slur, the adults illustrate by using examples based on the characteristics of the teens with whom they are talking, asking in one ad, “How would it feel if I said something was ‘so 16-year-old boy with a cheesy moustache?’”

A companion website,, offers tips and resources to teens on how to speak up using a variety of tactics and how to take a stand against the use of anti-LGBT language in their schools and communities. Contact: GLSEN (212) 727-0135,