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Improving the School Experience for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Students

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

Interest in meeting the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth is growing, largely as a result of three general trends: (1) acknowledgment by educators that all identifiable groups of students need support unique to their situation; (2) the increasing number of students declaring their homosexuality; and (3) increasing victimization of lesbians and gays. Among the supporting arguments is that educators have a social responsibility to provide an environment that supports the ability of all students--including lesbians and gays--to learn and that is free from physical and psychological abuse (Sears, 1987).

Lesbian and gay student initiatives to date have been in urban areas, where these students feel most free to be visible and to request services, and where opposition to support is least likely. Also, cities have gay and lesbian service organizations for adults that include youth programs or that lobby boards of education to implement programs.

Barriers to Education

Studies have shown that gay and lesbian students are far more likely to have been abused or otherwise victimized, abuse substances, prostitute themselves, attempt suicide, and be homeless, than straight youth (Uribe & Harbeck, 1992). Many fear violence and harassment from their peers, and constant anxiety inhibits their ability to learn. Some try to make themselves invisible in school so their homosexuality will not be detected, and as a result, limit their learning experiences. Even gay students without such severe problems have a more difficult adolescence than straight students because they feel even more confined by the pressure to conform, and believe that an essential part of them is being dismissed, despised or deleted from school life (Khayatt, 1994).

Although these factors may cause poor school performance and high dropout rates, lesbian and gay students "are perhaps the most underserved students in the entire educational system...discrimination often interfere[s] with their personal and academic development" (Uribe, 1994, p. 112).

Homophobia also negatively affects straight students' education in ways that transcend simply the effects of hating. Fear of being considered gay can drive them to embrace narrowly defined and limiting sex roles. The decision about whether to participate in sports--real guys must; real girls won't--is a prime example (Grayson, 1987).

Opposition to Education Initiatives

Many policy makers oppose presenting homosexuality in a positive way, or even mentioning it at all, in school. Locally, groups have been quite effective in stopping school efforts to teach positively about homosexuality, or even to provide information about it. The most publicized example is the successful campaign against the New York City Rainbow Curriculum for elementary grades. Around the country, an increasing number of school board candidates are emphasizing their opposition to education on homosexuality in their campaigns.

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