[Op-Ed} The Need To Support LGBT Youth in Schools

[Op-Ed] Why We Need To Support LGBT Youth in Schools

Written by Lauren Mims, Assistant Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

For too many youth, the most memorable moments of their school day are not about what they learned in class, but rather the obstacles they face including anxiety in class, fear upon entering a bathroom (a female student in Delaware was recently killed in a bathroom fight), or loneliness, generally.

Millions of students are victims of bullying each school year. Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are more likely to be targets of bullying. A 2013 GLSEN National School Climate Survey documenting the experiences of LGBT youth found that over half of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, with 74.1% of LGBT students reporting that they were verbally harassed and 36.2% reporting they were physically harassed in the past year. Almost half of LGBT students experienced cyberbullying. The experiences of LGBT youth of color are compounded by race and include discipline disparities, marginalization, and victim blaming.

Students thrive when they feel safe, supported, and engaged. LGBT students perform better in school and report greater happiness when they can identify at least one caring and concerned adult who they can turn to, a student alliance they can belong to, and curriculum that is meaningful and relevant to their lives.

The best way to imagine a student’s school day is to ask them to describe it. Then, listen learn, and support—not to correct or judge. If a young person describes being bullied or harassed, work with youth to connect them with resources and supports such as psychological counseling, supplemental academic support services, or additional adult supervision in areas where harassment occurs to ensure the unique needs of your child are met.

As caring and concerned adults, it us up to us to disrupt bullying and isolation in schools and to ensure that when students describe the most memorable part of their day, they remember the many ways caring and concerned adults affirm they are loved and are equipped with the skills they need to be successful in school and in life. We can all be the adult that makes a difference in the lives of youth.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (Initiative) the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and the National Education Association (NEA) are excited to partner with Black Enterprise to celebrate and honor unapologetic black LGBTQ/SGL historymakers, as well as highlighting promising and proven strategies to provide safe and supportive environments in which African American LGBTQ/SGL self-identified youth can learn and develop. The Initiative, NBJC and NEA will co-host the White House Summit to Support African American LGBTQ Youth in June. To learn more about the Summit visit www.ed.gov/AfAmEducation.