Harassment Of Lesbian And Gay Students Common

Arizona’s gay and lesbian students need better protection against harassment, a national study says.
That study, titled “From Teasing to Torment: a Report on School Climate in Arizona,” is the cornerstone of a local symposium that begins today on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth in Arizona schools.
Scholars, attorneys and community members will gather for the two-day event, said University of Arizona Associate Professor Stephen Russell, with the hope of creating progressive social policy from a foundation of academic research.
“What are the possibilities of thinking about system-level changes in schools and school policy?” Russell asked. “Having said that, there are great examples in Arizona, mostly in Tucson, of inclusive, nondiscriminatory and anti-harassment policies.”
In 2004, the Tucson Unified School District adopted a policy that strictly prohibits harassment based on “real or perceived race, color, religion (creed), national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or on the basis of association with others identified by these categories.”
The report is authored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national education network and nonprofit organization focused on school safety for gay and lesbian students. It is based on interviews with 3,450 students across the country. Released in June, the national study also focused on 12 states, including Arizona.
“Given that only half of Arizona students reported being protected by comprehensive anti-harassment policies in their schools, it is imperative that lawmakers and school officials create state-level safe-school legislation that offers explicit protection to students who are targets of bullying, harassment and assault based on personal characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender identity/expression,” the report’s summary and recommendation states.
GayThe report also found that “biased language, especially homophobic and sexist remarks, were commonly heard among students and often overlooked by teachers and other school staff. Biased language was even heard from some teachers and school staff.”
There were 154 respondents from Arizona. More than half identified themselves as Anglo students and more than a quarter as Latino. A majority were male students at public schools in urban or suburban areas and 9 percent identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, higher than the national average of 6 percent.
The study found fewer than half of the students surveyed reported feeling very safe at school, 44 percent reported bullying, name-calling and harassment and more than 60 percent reported peers being harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, their looks or body size and gender expression.
Fifty-two percent of the surveyed students said they were protected by a comprehensive anti-harassment policy that specifically mentioned sexual orientation or gender identity. About a third of surveyed students reported hearing school personnel make sexist comments while more than 20 percent reported homophobic comments from school staffers.
Students said teachers or staffers were never or rarely present when racist or homophobic language was used, but nearly half noted that teachers and school staffers rarely or never corrected or criticized homophobic remarks made in their presence.
“Having students feel they belong in their school is an indicator of success,” said Joe Kosciw, research director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
If students don’t feel safe, attendance could drop, grades will suffer and aspirations will sink, Kosciw said, explaining the need for policies to establish a comfortable, safe atmosphere.
from The Arizona Daily Star

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