U.S. middle schools are unsafe for many LGBT students, with climates that are even more hostile than those experienced by LGBT high school students. Biased and derogatory language, especially homophobic language, was very common and middle school students heard biased remarks not only from their peers, but from school personnel as well. Middle school students also faced harassment in school, both verbal and physical in nature, with sexual orientation and gender expression being the characteristics most commonly targeted. These experiences led many middle school students to miss classes and entire days of school because they felt unsafe, and students who experienced high levels of harassment or assault were at risk of increased absenteeism. Students who were frequently harassed reported lower grade point averages, suggesting that a negative school climate may hinder students’ ability to succeed academically. Unfortunately, incidents of harassment and assault often went unreported to school authorities and when staff were notified, few students said they effectively intervened. Not only did middle school students experience more hostile school environments than those in high school, they also had much less access to school-based resources and supports that can help to create safer and more affirming schools, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, supportive school personnel, and inclusive curricular resources.
It is clear that there is a need for action to create safer school environments for LGBT middle school students. As discussed above, findings from GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey highlight the important role that educators and institutional supports can play in remedying the situation. However, few middle school students reported that they had access to these institutional supports in school. GLSEN’s work is devoted to addressing the urgent need to create safer and more affirming schools for all students. To this end, we recommend the following measures for middle school administrators, educators, education policymakers and others concerned with school safety and students’ experiences in our nation’s middle schools:
• Implement comprehensive anti-harassment policies that specifically enumerate sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected categories, and with clear and effective systems for reporting and addressing incidents that students experience;
• Support Gay-Straight Alliances and similar student-led clubs that address LGBT students’ issues and work to improve school climate;
• Provide training for middle school staff to improve rates of intervention and increase the number of supportive staff available to students; and
• Increase middle school students’ access to appropriate and accurate information regarding LGBT people, history, and events through inclusive curricula, library resources, and access to Internet resources through school computers.