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The Problems Faced by LGBTQ+ Youth of Color in Our Schools

Education leadership must create safe, supportive environments for vulnerable youth.

More than 71% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed said they feel unsafe in U.S. schools, Dr. Sheila T. Gregory, a contributing faculty member in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University, told teachers, school counselors, social workers, and administrators during a professional development session.

In fact, a biennial survey of 16,713 LGBTQ+ students found U.S. schools are “hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBTQ students,” with bullying, harassment, and violence causing serious damage to students’ mental health and academic prospects.1

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The GLSEN 2019 National School Climate Survey, which assesses the experiences of LGBTQ+ students in U.S. schools, revealed that:1

  • 59.1% of LGBTQ+ students said they felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation, 42.5% because of their gender expression, and 37.4% because of their gender.
  • 68.7% of LGBTQ+ students experienced verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) at school based on sexual orientation, 56.9% based on gender expression, and 53.7% based on gender.
  • 25.7% of LGBTQ+ students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year based on sexual orientation, 21.8% based on gender expression, and 22.2% based on gender. 
  • 11% of LGBTQ+ students were physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) in the past year based on sexual orientation, 9.5% based on gender expression, and 9.3% based on gender.
  • Most reported avoiding school functions (77.6%) and extracurricular activities (71.8%) because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
  • Almost all of the surveyed LGBTQ+ students (98.8%) said they’d heard “gay” used in a negative way at school.  

The effects of these and other actions can be devastating to LGBTQ+ students, who may also be experiencing rejection from members of their family and community. Dr. Gregory said LGBTQ+ students “who are members of multiple groups, e.g., African American and gay, Latina and lesbian, veteran and transgender” face compounded levels of aggression and risk.

As a result of school bullying and harassment, LGBTQ+ students may experience:

  • Higher dropout rates
  • Lower rates of persistence and graduation
  • Increased rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide 
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Homelessness  

Schools are responsible for creating safe learning environments for LGBTQ+ youth and are required to do so by law. Dr. Gregory discussed legal protections for students and said educators should know that:

  • It is considered harassment to allow or make offensive remarks about a person’s sex or expressed identity. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent that it creates a hostile or offensive school environment and/or shocks the moral conscience.
  • Schools cannot ignore harassment based on a student’s appearance or behavior. Officials may be held legally responsible for not protecting students. This includes failure to protect against cyberbullying.
  • Students have the right to enjoy the constitutional freedom from religious-based discrimination (to include the overemphasis of certain religious views, as well as the portrayal of LGBTQ+ people in negative light).
  • The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution prohibits public schools from promoting, endorsing, or inhibiting religion, or attempting to impose particular religious beliefs. 
  • Discrimination against an individual because of their gender identity is grounds for a sex discrimination lawsuit.
  • In public schools, dress codes are allowed; however, under federal law, dress codes cannot treat students differently based on their gender, force students to conform to gender stereotypes, or censor particular viewpoints.
  • All students must be allowed to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity and expression.
  • If a school permits noncurricular clubs, then it must allow students to form a gay-straight alliance or LGBTQ-themed club, and the school cannot treat the clubs differently from other clubs and must provide the same resources enjoyed by other school clubs.  

“We must do our part,” Dr. Gregory said. “It is our job as educators, administrators, social workers, and school counselors to safeguard our students. We particularly must be sensitive to microaggressions and implicit biases.”

Expand Your Influence With an Education Degree

In her role as a Walden contributing faculty member, Dr. Gregory leads and inspires Doctor of Education (EdD) candidates who are ready to become transformational leaders. In Walden’s online doctoral program, you can choose from 13 specializations to tailor your EdD degree to your career goals. The Educational Administration and Leadership (for Administrators) specialization is designed to give K–12 administrators the skills to build collaborative organizations that help all students thrive.

You can also follow a path to leadership by earning Walden’s online MS in Education (MSEd) degree. This MSEd program offers 15 specializations including an Educational Leadership and Administration (Principal Licensure Preparation) specialization which is designed to give you the management, leadership, and instructional skills you need to lead inspirationally and effectively.

When you choose Walden for your degree, you’re joining a university that’s been accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Walden’s college of education earned CAEP accreditation by meeting rigorous national standards and demonstrating excellence in the areas of content and pedagogy, clinical experiences, selectivity, program impact, and capacity for continuous improvement.

And when you earn an education degree online, you can complete your coursework where and when it’s most convenient for you—giving you the time to stay active in your career and personal life. As the Educator of Educators®, Walden can help you achieve your education goals and show you how to create positive social change that makes your school or institution a beacon of safety, inclusion, and academic achievement.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online MS in Education and Doctor of Education (EdD) degree programs with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


1Source: www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/NSCS-2019-Executive-Summary-English_1.pdf

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

Walden University is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) for a period of seven years, from April 2019 through June 2026. This accreditation covers initial teacher preparation programs and advanced educator preparation programs. CAEP is the only recognized national accreditor for educator preparation, promoting excellence in educator preparation through quality assurance and continuous improvement. Walden University earned CAEP accreditation by meeting rigorous national standards and demonstrating excellence in the areas of content and pedagogy, clinical experiences, selectivity, program impact, and capacity for continuous improvement.

CAEP accreditation is based on a review of The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership’s initial teacher preparation programs—the BS in Elementary Education and the Master of Arts in Teaching with a specialization in Special Education (K–Age 21)—and advanced educator preparation programs—the EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration and the MS in Education with a specialization in Educational Leadership and Administration. Three of these programs were reviewed by Specialized Professional Associations (SPAs), which define content-area standards for programs, and achieved national recognition: Master of Arts in Teaching with a specialization in Special Education (K–Age 21), EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration, and MS in Education with a specialization in Educational Leadership and Administration.

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to www.WaldenU.edu/educlicensure.

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