Creating Safer Schools for LGBTQ Youth

August 28, 2019

Gender and Sexuality Alliance / Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs

By Isaias Guzman

 

Isaias Guzman, LGBTQ Organizer at the California LGBTQ Health & Human Services Network

In high school, my stomach would turn every time I heard anti-LGBTQ slurs and bullying. Words like, “fag,” and “that’s so gay,” would dig into me each time they were casually thrown out by students. Stories of my friends being bullied would break me down even further: from being called names in the hallway or during lunch to having food and drinks thrown at them while walking home from school. Bullies would find other ways to spread their hate too. Affirming LGBTQ resources posted around school by the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club like event fliers, rainbow stickers, and other materials would be written over and torn apart. In one incident, a student’s locker was found spray painted with a homophobic slur. Experiences of anti-LGBTQ bullying were a common occurrence for us and school staff or administrators often failed to intervene.

However, these are not isolated experiences of LGBTQ harassment in schools. Nationally, over 70% of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment in their schools (GLSEN 2017 National School Climate Survey). Unsafe classrooms and a toxic school climate for LGBTQ youth can lead students to depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Bullying and harassment also increases the likelihood of LGBTQ youth dropping out of school and, due to the high rates of family rejection and homelessness, engage in sexually risky behavior for survival.

These statistics do NOT have to be the reality for LGBTQ students in your classroom or at your school. Over the next year, I will be sharing recommendations for how you can support and affirm LGBTQ students, create safer schools, and promote LGBTQ health and wellbeing.

Today, I’m going to talk about how you can help create safer schools for LGBTQ youth by supporting a school GSA club.

 

Supporting Gender and Sexuality Alliance Clubs (GSAs)

 

GSA Clubs offer leadership opportunities for LGBTQ youth and help create a more welcoming and safer school. Research has shown that LGBTQ youth report less bullying and harassment in schools with GSA Clubs than those without (GLSEN 2017 National School Climate). It was supportive teachers, friends, mentors, and the existence of a GSA Club at my school that helped nourish and ignite my own activism to create safer schools for LGBTQ youth.

Our GSA:

  • Took direct action and led an anti-bullying campaign to address LGBTQ bullying and harassment at my school.
  • Worked with my school administration to create a complaint form for students to report harassment and discrimination.
  • Educated the wider student population by setting up posters around our school campus addressing issues of bullying and name-calling.
  • Organized annual awareness events to highlight LGBTQ issues: Day of Silence, LGBTQ History Month, Ally Week, and Transgender Day of Remembrance.
  • Participated in many social events including LA Pride, GLAAD Media Awards, LGBT Prom, and Models of Pride to foster a more fun and social space for LGBTQ students.

How School Staff Can Support a GSA:

  • If your school does not have a one, you can work with students interested in creating a GSA Club by helping them through the administrative process and becoming the club advisor.
  • If a GSA Club already exists, you can attend their meetings and work with the current GSA advisor to find opportunities to support the work that the students are doing.

These are only a few ways that we can help create safer schools for LGBTQ youth. There are more resources listed below, which can further help you improve your school climate and find resources to support LGBTQ youth.

Resources

ACLU of NorCal

ACLU of SoCal

CA Safe Schools Coalition

GLSEN

GSA Network

Trevor Project