Metro Weekly

National equality organizations launch anti-bullying website to support LGBTQ youth and parents

Website explains steps parents and students can take to protect LGBTQ youth from discrimination and harassment at school,

Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, via Unsplash.

Four of the nation’s top LGBTQ organizations have launched an anti-bullying website designed to serve as a resource for students and parents so they can ensure schools are fostering safe environments for LGBTQ youth.

The website, “Safe Schools for All,” is based on guidance from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education.

It contains sections for LGBTQ youth and parents on knowing their rights, steps to take to combat anti-LGBTQ bullying or harassment, how to approach administrators responsible for curtailing such harassment, and directions on where and how to file a complaint with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. It also contains links to other resources that students, educators, and parents can utilize to make schools welcoming.

“Safe Schools for All” is a project of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, GLSEN, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and PFLAG National, and launches as LGBTQ youth find themselves the target not only of bullying, harassment, and sometimes even physical assault at the hands of peers, but by larger political movements that seek to either erase evidence of LGBTQ people’s existence or intimidate LGBTQ youth into remaining silent about their true identity.

Examples of such actions include, but are not limited to: efforts to ban LGBTQ content or books from classrooms or libraries, bar transgender children from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, deny transgender students the ability to change their name or gender on their school records or transcripts, the refusal to use students’ proper names and pronouns, and restrict LGBTQ students from accessing bathrooms or locker rooms.

Advocates warn that these politically-charged movements, begun by adults with anti-LGBTQ views, do have a trickle-down effect when it comes to how LGBTQ youth are treated by their peers.

“When adults act badly by bullying school board officials and staff, kids take note and continue the behavior in the classroom. This is a trend PFLAG families across the country have been working to end,” Brian Bond, the executive director of PFLAG National, said in a statement. “Until LGBTQI+ people are fully protected from discrimination by federal law, resources like ‘Safe Schools for All’ are necessary and useful tools to protect our LGBTQI+ loved ones.”

According to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, 86% of LGBTQ students reported being harassed or assaulted due to their sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. Of that majority, 57% of students did not report the incident to school staff because of doubt that school administrators would respond effectively, or fear that the bullying or harassment would worsen if they reported it.

“Study after study has shown that bullying and harassment in schools has long-lasting and dangerous repercussions for the mental health and well-being of students — particularly LGBTQI+ youth,” Imani Rupert-Gordon, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “By working with our partners to create the ‘Safe Schools for All’ resource website, it is our hope that we can work with administrators, teachers, staff, students and their families to create learning environments that are free of harassment and discrimination, and promote the personal safety of every student in every school in the United States.”

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Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the interim executive director of GLSEN, noted that bullying and harassment have negative effects that go far beyond physical injuries they may suffer or feelings of isolation that can result when youth feel they have no one to turn to for support.

“We know that bullying leads to lower GPAs, increased absences, and higher levels of depression, so it is imperative to show support and create safe and inclusive school environments,” Willingham-Jaggers said in a statement. “With positive support and resources like ‘Safe Schools for All’ available, our goal is for all LGBTQI+ students to have a thriving educational experience while feeling safe sharing their identity without judgment or harassment.”

Earlier this year, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a public notice clarifying that LGBTQ students are protected under provisions within Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, a federal law intended to combat sex-based discrimination. That means that the department will treat instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination as a form of sex-based discrimination, and investigate claims of such violations in any educational program or activity offered by schools that accept federal dollars.

“Schools have a responsibility to investigate claims of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, made by students who face hostility because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, or transgender status,” Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, said in a statement.

“It’s the law. It’s also an essential step in improving school climate for all students. We hope that ‘Safe Schools for All’ will be an accessible tool for both families and administrators in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all students.”

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