03/12/2013

Teaching Tolerance guide provides educators with steps for creating welcoming schools for LGBT students

Though lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are harassed at twice the rate of other students, a few purposeful steps can help transform a school into a safer place for all students, according to a guide released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project. 

Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate offers advice ranging from ensuring that a school’s anti-bullying policy explicitly prohibits anti-LGBT bullying to recognizing staff members who promote an inclusive school environment.

The guide also offers advice regarding dress codes, gay-straight alliances and ensuring that LGBT students are not excluded from school events.

“This best practices guide is about creating schools where all students feel safe and supported,” Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello said. “Every student has a right to attend school without harassment. This guide shows how a few steps can make all the difference.”

Studies have shown that creating a supportive environment for LGBT students improves educational outcomes for all students. A recent Human Rights Campaign survey also underscored how the failure to create an inclusive environment harms LGBT students. These students reported being harassed at school – verbally and physically – at twice the rate of non-LGBT youth.

LGBT students also cited trouble at school/bullying as one of the most difficult problems they currently face, according to the survey. They reported hearing negative messages about being LGBT most often at school and from peers. LGBT students also were more likely to report that they do not have an adult they can talk to about personal problems.

The best practices guide is being released a year after the SPLC reached a settlement agreement to address rampant anti-LGBT bullying in Minnesota’s largest school district, the Anoka-Hennepin School District. A key issue in the SPLC lawsuit was a district policy that required staff to be neutral on issues relating to sexual orientation – hampering effective responses to bullying. That policy is no longer in effect.

“As the Anoka-Hennepin case demonstrates, educators and school policies set the tone,” said Sam Wolfe, an SPLC attorney representing the students in the case. “Through relatively simple measures, whether you’re a superintendent, teacher or serve lunches, you can make a real difference toward a better school climate..