As LGBT youth approach a new school year, they will wonder what opportunities and challenges to expect. One of these challenges is whether they will face bullying and, if so, if they can turn to teachers and administration for support.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently reported findings on LGBT protections in “From Statehouse to Schoolhouse: Anti-Bullying Policy Efforts in U.S. and State School Districts.” Findings reveal LGBT students are at increased risk of being bullied and harassed in schools and often encounter “in-school victimization that negatively impacts their academic experiences.” However, findings also reveal that specific LGBT protections in district and state anti-bullying policies may help alleviate victimization and create a more positive school environment. Such policies include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. LGBT-inclusive policies are especially important because youth may not be able to confide in family members and, thus, rely on teachers and administration for confidentiality as well as expertise in addressing LGBT-related issues.
“I was bullied and called a dyke at my old middle school,” a 13-year-old Manatee County teen, who we won’t name, says. “I didn’t feel like there was any protection for LGBT youth specifically. I went to the administration about a non-LGBT related bullying issue and all the staff did was have us sit down and talk to each other.”
Findings reveal 95.8% of Florida’s districts contain anti-bullying policies. Among these districts, 19.4% were identified as having LGBT-inclusive protections. Among the higher percentages of LGBT-inclusive states were Iowa, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Hawaii.
However, despite LGBT protections in anti-bullying policies or lack thereof, the degree to which students receive advocacy may vary from school to school. The aforementioned youth says she is now at a different middle school and feels much more protected, despite her district not having LGBT anti-bullying protections.
“I had to calculate how to come out so I wouldn’t get beaten up,” says 17-year-old Manatee County teen. “But I know there were some teachers at my school that would stand up for the LGBT community.”
In extreme cases, students report that they have encountered bullying from both students and teachers: “I was the first openly gay kid at my school,” says 13-year-old Charlotte County student. “I got a lot of support from the kids, but when I did have an LGBT-related bullying incident, I would tell a teacher and they would say I was overreacting every time.
“I give people hugs, it’s my normal thing,” she says. “When I would come up to guys and give them a hug, it was no big deal, but when I would give girls a hug, I would get yelled at, written up, and told I was being inappropriate. I was even told by a teacher that I shouldn’t have come out if I didn’t want to deal with this problem. They said they were anti-bullying, but they bullied students! I feel like they stereotyped me into thinking that every time I walked up to a girl, I was trying to sexually assault her.”
Broward, Orange, and Miami-Dade are among Florida school districts known for having LGBT protections in their anti-bullying policies.