Counteracting Bullying and Mistreatment of LGBTQI Identified Youth

January 22 2018


  • Leslie Wiser, Founding Member, North Bay LGBTQI Families
    Leslie Wiser
    Founding Member, North Bay LGBTQI Families

As a parent, advocate and community builder for LGBTQI families, part of my work within my community is ensuring safe and welcoming schools for children of LGBTQI parents and families like mine. However, as my own children have entered kindergarten and 1st grade, I see the opportunities for my work having a profound impact on all children with differences, but most especially LGBTQI youth who don’t have family acceptance or a strong parent advocate at home.

The importance of family acceptance for queer youth can be a matter of life or death. LGBTQ-identified youth are more likely to experience bullying, teasing, harassment, physical assault, and rejection than their non-LGBTQ-identified peers. Parents and caregivers may convey an attitude of indifference by avoiding the subject. Or worse, their silence may convey an unspoken acceptance of the bullying. As a result, LGBTQ youth are at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors and report higher rates of risky sexual behavior and substance abuse. The Family Acceptance Project's research has demonstrated that "parental acceptance, and even neutrality, with regard to a child's sexual orientation" can bring down the attempted suicide rate.

According to data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), of surveyed LGB students:

  • 10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
  • 34% were bullied on school property
  • 28% were bullied electronically
  • 23% of LGB students who had dated or went out with someone during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year
  • 18% of LGB students had experienced physical dating violence
  • 18% of LGB students had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.

These statistics show that too many of our LGBTQ youth face abuse, exclusion and mistreatment at schools that can and should be a safe haven. What can we do, as a strong parent advocate, to create a climate of safety and joy in schools? To create a true home away from home for ALL students?

First, LGBTQ parents, and allies, can ensure their children’s schools have a diversity and inclusion statement, an anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policy, and clear procedures to address complaints of harassment and bullying. All families should be aware of these policies and procedures upon enrollment so the parents can work with their children on acceptable social behavior. Know your legal rights, advocate and be the voice for students whose own voice may be oppressed at home and at school.

Secondly, if you live in the State of California, parents can talk with their children’s teachers to ensure they incorporate the tenants of the FAIR Education Act into their lessons. The FAIR Education Act requires California K-12 schools provide Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful representations of people with disabilities and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in history and social studies curriculum. This also includes the role and contributions of members of underrepresented racial, ethnic and cultural groups to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States. This means schools can not adopt learning materials with a discriminatory bias or negative stereotypes based on gender, sexual orientation or disability. Studies have proven the correlation of supportive LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum on student safety. According the GSANetwork Safe Schools Research Brief 14, all students who learned about LGBTQ people or issues as part of a classroom lesson were more likely to feel safer, more likely to report a stronger sense of school belonging, and less likely to report being harassed based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, positive representation of LGBTQ issues created a positive affect on the school climate as a whole.

Thirdly, if your school does not have a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or Safe Space, bring this up with your child’s teacher and urge the school administration to encourage LGBTQ youth to form one. Research has shown that the presence of a GSA is associated with fewer homophobic comments from peers, less victimization related to sexual orientation and gender expression, greater school safety and school connectedness, and more instances of teacher intervention in homophobic harassment. Children feel less fearful to attend school and there are fewer absences when LGBTQ youth know there is a safe adult at their school. Finally, a few studies have documented that the presence of a GSA is associated with reduced suicide risk for sexual minority youths.

Finally, schools can take that extra step to create a safe learning environment for LGBTQ youth from the inside out by implementing student bystander training like Safe School Ambassadors, which empowers student leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to safely intervene when they witness mistreatment among their peers. An entire school climate can be changed with this and restorative justice practices. Other things you, as a LGBTQI parent, can do is start parent education and support groups, donate LGBTQ books to school libraries, volunteer, be visible in the classroom, and financially support schools that do practice these inclusive values and strive for joyful and safe classrooms.

LGBTQ parents are in schools every day and have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the overall school climate and safety for ALL students, not just our own. We were all once those vulnerable queer youth, some of us without voice, but we made it through and stand today when there were many who were not as lucky. We can now give back and fight for safe and joyful learning environments for our children, LGBTQ youth, and any child with differences.

Leslie Wiser is a proud queer single parent of color to a kindergartener and 1st grader and Founding Member of North Bay LGBTQI Families in Santa Rosa, California. Leslie is the Lead Organizer for the LGBTQI Family Formation Symposium, a day of education and community building for LGBTQI parents, their children, and prospective parents. The January 28, 2018 Symposium will be held at Social Advocates for Youth in Santa Rosa, California.
The day is split into 3 blocks:

BUILD: Family formation options for prospective parents or existing families wanting to expand

PROTECT: Legal considerations for both existing and prospective families

ADVOCATE: Open to the General Public - Being a strong advocate to create safe and welcoming schools for our children and LGBTQI youth
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