Are LGBT Youth Safer in School This Year?

LGBT stock photo - Clay Duda, JJIE.orgIt gets better. That’s the message many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have heard since last fall when multiple cases received high-profile media attention concerning teens being bullied and/or committing suicide for being gay, or perceived to be gay. But is it safer for LGBT students entering school this year?

Some LGBT leaders are doubtful, despite the positive changes that are occurring, according to an article by the Keen News Service.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, acknowledges that more schools are aware of what to do and more resources exist, but she told a reporter for the news service that there is still "a lot of work to be done."

“LGBT students still experience bullying and harassment at an alarming rate," said David McFarland of The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT and questioning youth.

In June 2011, JJIE reported that LGBT youth are more likely to experience abuse and bullying.  JJIE also told the story of a transgender youth who experienced bullying while in school.

What is being done?

On the federal level several actions have been taken, including an anti-bullying conference hosted by the While House in March 2011 and a number of letters issued to educators by the U.S. Department of Education.

On the state level, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut and Rhode Island have enacted anti-bullying legislation that explicitly prohibits bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently, 14 states have similar laws.

Georgia passed a new anti-bullying law in 2010. Starting last month, schools must begin notifying parents when their child is bullied or bullies another.

What needs to be done?

"Schools and communities need to take concrete steps, creating safe spaces where youth can receive support from caring adults,” McFarland said.

Both the Trevor Project and GLSEN are among the organizations that provide training to help them do so, according to the article.

Why aren’t changes happening faster?

The economy and state budget cuts are one reason why changes aren’t happening fast enough for LGBT youth, as pointed out in the article.

Byard said federal anti-bullying legislation "would make an enormous difference." Right now, three pairs of bills in the U.S. House and Senate would address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools and universities but seem unlikely to pass.

Ty Cobb who serves as legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s LGBT civil rights organization, wrote  an opinion for JJIE about one of these bills, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which is still pending in the House and Senate.

Even though there’s still room for improvement, things are better.

“For the first time, the challenges of LGBT youth are no longer invisible on a local, state, or national level," McFarland told the reporter.

JJIE has resources about bullying and a regularly updated Tumblr blog focused on the bullying of LGBT youth.