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July 29, 2011

Situation is ‘bleak’ for Ohio LGBT students, report finds

Cleveland--Less than half of LGBT students in Ohio have access to queer information on their schools’ internet, while over ninety percent reported verbal harassment based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation according to data put out on July 14 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and its chapters in Cincinnati and Northeast Ohio.

The information in the research brief School Climate in Ohio came from the 2009 National School Climate Survey, the sixth biennial such study conducted by GLSEN.

The information in the study is, for lack of a better term, bleak. Less than one in ten LGBT students in Ohio was covered by a comprehensive bullying and harassment policy specifically covering sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, and a similarly small number had an LGBT-inclusive curriculum. Less than two-fifths said that they had access to LGBT-positive library resources at their school.

Over ninety percent of students reported hearing “gay” used as a pejorative, homophobic remarks, disparaging comments on gender expression and sexist remarks. Statements like “That’s so gay” clocked in with 98 percent of students reporting hearing them sometimes, often or frequently. Even with a margin of error of ±6 percent, that means over ninety percent of LGBT students were exposed to those statements.

Compared to only two-thirds of LGBT students who reported hearing racist remarks, it seems to indicate that schools do more to fight racism than sexism and homophobia.

While less than half of the students in the survey reported being physically harassed based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, and about a third on gender expression, over ninety percent reported verbal harassment based on sexual orientation and 70 percent based on gender expression.

Around 36 percent of the students were physically assaulted based either on their sexual orientation or gender expression, compared to 8 percent for race or ethnicity and 7 percent for disability.

Gene Ashley, the late chair of GLSEN Northeast Ohio, noted, “Students are clearly saying educators and policymakers are not doing enough to stop anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Ohio legislators should hear their calls and pass a bullying law that specifically includes anti-LGBT harassment.”

Ohio Reps. Nickie Antonio and Michael Stinziano, representing Cleveland and Columbus respectively, have introduced a bill doing exactly that, although its future is unclear in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

“The new research confirms the harassment we hear about from Ohio youth,” said Patrick Moloughney, co-chair of GLSEN Greater Cincinnati. “That is why we are working with both students and educators to improve the school climate in Southwest Ohio through our speakers bureau, Safe Space trainings and new youth group.”

A month before the school climate survey was released, the U.S. Education Department issued an advisory to schools across the nation, warning them that it was illegal to ban gay-straight alliances from meeting on campus.

“The [Equal Access] Act requires public secondary schools to treat all student-initiated groups equally, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters discussed at their meetings,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in the advisory. “Its protections apply to groups that address issues related to LGBT students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity, just as they apply to religious and other student groups.”

He also noted that, “It is important to remember . . . that the Equal Access Act’s requirements are a bare legal minimum. I invite and encourage you to go beyond what the law requires in order to increase students’ sense of belonging in the school and help students, teachers, and parents recognize the core values behind our principles of free speech.”

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