Non-State Schools are Safer for LGBT Kids – The Radical Center

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Every year GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network, surveys LGBT students. In 2011 they looked at harassment and assaults on LGBT students compared to the type of school attended: state school, private religious school, private secular school. Their data is important and excerpts are reprinted here without editor or comment on our part.

As with the general population of students in the United States. most of the LGBT students in our sample attended public schools. Nevertheless, we wanted to examine whether students’ experiences with biased language, victimization, and the availability LGBT-related resources and supports varied based on the type of school they attended — public, religious, or private non-religious schools.

Biased Language in School. Overall, students in private schools were least likely to hear biased language, whereas students in public schools were most likely to hear this type of language (see Figure 2.10).151 Specifically:

• Private school students heard the word “gay” in a negative way and other types of homophobic language (i.e. “fag,” “dyke”) less often than students in religious schools.

There were no significant differences between private and religious school students regarding the expression “no homo” or negative remarks about gender expression;

• Private school students heard all types of homophobic remarks and negative remarks about gender expression less often than public school students; and

• Public school students were more likely than religious school students to hear all types of homophobic remarks. They were not significantly different with regard to remarks about gender expression.

Experiences of Victimization. Similar to reports of biased language, students in private schools reported the lowest levels of victimization, while students in public schools reported the highest levels (see Figure 2.11).152 Specifically:

• Private school students experienced less verbal harassment, physical harassment, and physical assault based on sexual orientation and based on gender expression than public school students;

• Private school students experienced less verbal harassment based on sexual orientation than religious school students, although there were no differences regarding victimization based on gender expression; and

• Public school students experienced less verbal harassment based on sexual orientation than religious school students, but did not significantly differ on any other type of victimization.

School Resources and Supports. There were significant differences in the availability of LGBT related resources and supports by school type. Overall, students in private schools were most likely to have access to LGBT-related resources and supports (see Figure 2.12).153 Specifically, compared to students in other schools:

  • Students in private schools were more likely to have a GSA or similar club in their school;
  • Students in private schools were more likely to have curriculum that included positive information about LGBT people, history, or events;
  • Students in private schools were more likely to have access to LGBT-related information through the Internet using their school computers;
  • Students in private schools were more likely to have school staff and school administrations who were supportive of LGBT students; and
  • Students in private schools were more likely to have textbooks or assigned readings that contained LGBT-related information than students in public schools and marginally more likely than students in religious schools.

In contrast to the greater availability of resources and supports for students in private schools, as also shown in Figure 2.12, students in religious affiliated schools were less likely to have access to a number of LGBT-resources and supports. The greatest differences between religious and public schools were regarding availability of GSAs, supportive staff, and supportive administration. It is interesting to note that religious schools were not significantly different from public schools in regards to most LGBT-related curricular resources. The one exception is having LGBT-related information in their school libraries; students in religious schools were less likely to report having this type of information available in their libraries. However, given that religious schools tend to have fewer resources and less funding than public schools,154 the difference in LGBT-related library resources may be due to religious schools having fewer library resources in general.

We found that private schools were more positive environments for LGBT youth than public schools or religious schools. Not only were private school students less likely to hear anti-LGBT language and less likely to be victimized, but they also had greater access to LGBT-related resources and supports. Whereas LGBT students in religious schools were least likely to have these supports, they did not face the most hostile school climates (students in public schools reported greater frequencies of biased remarks and verbal harassment). Perhaps students in religious schools face stricter codes of conduct and/or harsher discipline for violating school rules, resulting in decreased rates of all types of undesirable behaviors. In addition, unlike public schools, both religious schools and private schools can select who attends their school and can more easily expel disruptive students compared to public schools.

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