“For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new research and prevention page regarding the bullying of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual) adolescents in U.S. schools.
But the new research shows this is not the case for many LGBT youth in the U.S. According to an online survey conducted in 2009, nearly one in three responding LGBT teens admitted skipping at least one school day in the previous month due to concerns for their safety.
The new CDC resources are a “nice tie between public health and education,” said Brenda Z. Greene, director of NSBA’s school health programs.
“When students are disengaged or bullied, they don’t feel safe and they’re not going to do as well in schoolif they show up at all,” Greene said.
LGBT adolescents face tremendous stresses, which increase their risk for mental health problems and substance abuse. A national study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual 7th through 12th graders found that these youth were twice more likely than their straight classmates to have attempted suicide.
As a result, school board members and administrators are being called to take a stand against the bullying epidemic.
“This is a good time to be proactive,” said Roberta Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs, at a Feb. 7 presentation on digital bullying at the Federal Relations Network conference. “You don’t want to be the one to be [negatively] highlighted.”
The CDC recommends enforcing “clear policies, procedures and activities designed to prevent bullying.” Additionally, an atmosphere with supportive staff, psychological “safe spaces” and the development of student run organizations such as the Gay Straight Alliance can help LGBT youth flourish.
To improve sexual education, schools can use “inclusive terminology” and cover issues relevant to LGBT youth. Information about community resources for HIV and other sexually transmitted disease testing should also be provided by schools.
“When people are talking about an important issue as if you’re not there, you’re not going to pay attention,” said Greene. Ignoring same-sex couple issues “disenfranchises” LGBT teens, who have a lower chance of engaging in “high risk” health behaviors if included in curricula.
NSBA’s 2011 annual conference, held April 9 to 11 in San Francisco, will include a presentation about “Welcoming Schools”, a Human Rights Campaign initiative to help public schools create a healthy and productive climate for all students.
These changes will help create “positive, supportive, and healthy environments,” which “promote acceptance and respect and help youth feel valued,” according to the CDC. But in order to succeed, Greene said, school employees must also have a “commitment to kids and a commitment to doing the right thing.”
-Melissa Major, publications intern