LGBTQ youth speak their truth in new school climate survey

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By Kate Snyder

Hate crimes have been on the rise across the country since Election Day. For educators who work with the LGBTQ student community, the results of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2017 National School Climate Survey can’t come soon enough. According to educators, this survey has been one of the most valuable tools in capturing and quantifying the experiences of LGBTQ youth in our schools.

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“There’s definitely something going on. We have seen a trend in use of the flag as a statement about not accepting LGBTQ students. Whether it is pasted on lockers or painted over pride symbols, it is meant to send a signal to LGBTQ students, and this survey may help us better understand how our students are experiencing it and help us advocate for them,” said Joe Bento, a teacher in Renton High School in Washington, Vice-President of his local and Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Advisor.

“These surveys help me, the counselors at my school, and GSA advisors across the region figure out what we’re missing. Because of these data, I know what to ask about at QSA meetings, I know what I need to focus on in my own work with the LGBTQ community, and I know how to help educate my colleagues on issues relating to LGBTQ students,” said Lindsay Ray, a teacher in West View High School in Oregon, GSA/QSA advisor and Board Member for the Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition.

The collective data from a decade of National School Climate Surveys has allowed the LGBTQ student voice to be instrumental in guiding educators, administrators and policy makers in shaping LGBTQ policies. By providing a picture of the challenges and opportunities in states, it has also paved the way for state legislation, professional development programs, and school policy guidelines.

“When students feel like they have a voice and can be heard in shaping their environment it is good for everyone. As a PE teacher and an advocate for LGBTQ students, when we got feedback from students that they found school sports spaces like locker rooms and gyms intimidating, we implemented GLSEN’s Changing the Game program and it helped create the climate where all students could participate in fitness activities, feel safe and respected,” said Amber Schweitzer, Retreat Manager at the Outdoor Education Center in Stone Canyon School District in Colorado, LGBTQ youth mentor and GSA Advisor.

NEA educators value the data that comes out of the School Climate Survey and are actively promoting it through their networks. Educators across the country, urban to rural and red to blue, highlighted the value of the student voice in their advocacy efforts.

“I’ve heard other teachers say, “Well, that doesn’t happen here” and other things to that effect. However, being able to present actual statistics and information from the LGBTQ survey to demonstrate that yes, these things are happening, helps to open people’s eyes to these issues. Not only is the national survey helpful, but the state surveys, which are even more specific, help to really point out the struggles facing the LGBTQ students in the area,” said Sheena Zadai, a teacher at North Ridgeville High School in Ridgeville, Ohio and GSA advisor.

The survey is available through July. Share it and help us understand the LGBTQ youth experience in our schools! Students 13 years and older who were enrolled in schools during all or any portion of the 2016-2017 school year are eligible to take the survey.

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