Saturday, June 12, 2010
Gay Pride is celebrated in the month of June to commemorate the Stonewall Resistance of June 1969. The Stonewall was a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York. It was repeatedly raided by the police, and patrons were routinely arrested for no other reason than simply being gay. On June 28 the crowd turned on the police and there were several nights of rioting. Once the situation calmed down gay residents of Greenwich organized into activist groups and the modern gay rights movement was born.
Some forty-two years later the gay community has a come a long way in overcoming social stigma, harassment, and discrimination, though we are not “there” yet.
In American schools today Gay, Lesbian Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (GLTBQ) students continue to face a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey of self discovery. In classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, and buses these students frequently feel unsafe. Homophobic remarks, emotional harassment, physical threats and violence, and other forms of victimization are rampant. GLTBQ students are more likely to commit suicide, run away from home, become homeless, or be placed in foster care than their straight classmates.
A 2007 National School Climate Survey by the Gay Straight Lesbian Educators Network revealed that:
- 73.6% heard derogatory remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke" frequently or often at school.
- More than half (60.8%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (38.4%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
- 31.7% of LGBT students missed a class and 32.7% missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, compared to only 5.5% and 45%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
- The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.8 versus 2.4).
The ACLU suggests that school social workers can act as advocates for their GLTBQ students to effect change in attitude, behavior, and policy within their schools and districts. On the individual level, social workers can help students to accept their sexuality and foster positive self esteem. Social workers should not act shocked when a student comes out to them. Never be judgmental! Your student has taken a great risk in coming out to you. He or she trusts you a lot. It is important to be comfortable when a student discusses aspects of their sexuality that may be foreign to the social worker. Never assume a student’s sexual orientation, either gay or straight. GLTBQ students should not automatically be referred to a gay social worker or counselor. You do not have to be gay or lesbian yourself to counsel a GLTBQ student. After all gay social workers have been working with students for decades. It is all in the relationship.
Make your office a “Safe Place”. Many GLTBQ organizations give away or sell Safe Place Stickers. By placing one on your office door, you are letting GLTBQ students that you are a “Go To” person. You are non judgmental, rather you are empathic and supportive and your office is a safe place to be.
On the school wide basis, social workers can present trainings to all school personnel on GLTBQ issues. Homophobic remarks should be addressed immediately. “That Is So Gay” is not to be tolerated. A student getting called Fag should not be ignored. Social worker can encourage libraries to have GLTBQ books and publications available to students and staff. The formation and support of Gay Straight Alliances needs to be supported.
District wide policies should contain sexual orientation verbiage in antidiscrimination and antiharassment policies. School boards and top administrators would greatly benefit from training on GLTBQ issues. They need to be cognizant of their legal obligations, and commit resources to these concerns. Social workers can advocate on behalf of their GLTBQ students.
In the infamous Kinsey report of the 1940’s it was estimated that 10% of the overall population is gay. With that in mind, how many students in your school are gay? Do the math.
Doug Spohn, MSS/ACSW
School Social Worker
Saint Petersburg High School
Saint Petersburg FL