More than 80 percent of LGBTQ students said they felt unsafe at school last year, according to an annual report from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), as instances of discriminatory remarks from their peers increased and classroom access to LGBTQ-related books and internet resources shrank over the previous school year.
Nearly 82 percent of LGBTQ students ages 13 – 21 reported feeling unsafe while at school last year, according to GLSEN’s 2021 National School Climate Study published Tuesday. Sixty-eight percent said they felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
The GLSEN report details a nationwide learning environment that has become increasingly hostile toward LGBTQ students. Nearly 80 percent said they avoided after school functions or extracurricular activities because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and more than 32 percent said they missed at least one full day of school over concerns for their safety. Another 11 percent said they missed four or more days.
Across the country, state legislators have introduced measures that would restrict how public schools can address LGBTQ issues and identities, which LGBTQ advocacy and free speech groups have said will further isolate queer students.
With 17 laws passed last year that negatively affect LGBTQ people, 2021 was declared by the Human Rights Campaign to be the worst year in modern history for “state legislative attacks” on the LGBTQ community.
Tuesday’s GLSEN report found that the number of LGBTQ-related resources in schools last year declined over the previous year. Less than half of students with internet access reported being able to access LGBTQ-related information online and under 20 percent of students said their textbooks included any information about LGBTQ people or issues.
At the same time, LGBTQ students reported experiencing increased verbal and physical harassment from their peers, according to the report. More than 75 percent said they had experienced in-person verbal harassment related to their sexual orientation or gender identity while at school at some point over the last year.
Just over 31 percent said they were physically harassed, and 12 percent said they were physically assaulted – punched, kicked or injured with a weapon – in the past year. Over half of LGBTQ students in the GLSEN report said they had been sexually assaulted at school.
GLSEN on Tuesday said the report’s results reflect that “now more than ever, students need us.”
Transgender students according to the group’s report are experiencing elevated levels of harassment at school, consistent with findings from organizations like The Trevor Project which earlier this year found that just half of transgender students believe their school is a gender-affirming space.
More than 75 percent of transgender students surveyed by GLSEN said they felt unsafe at school over the last year, and over 83 percent of LGBTQ students overall said they heard negative remarks from their peers about transgender people.
GLSEN in its report said it’s clear there is an urgent need to create safe and affirming learning environments for all students. The group recommended that schools improve access to accurate information regarding LGBTQ people and history and implement nondiscrimination policies that protect LGBTQ students.
“Instituting these measures can move us toward a future in which all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed in school, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” GLSEN wrote in the report. “Especially given the decline in LGBTQ+ supports in schools that we found in this year’s report, it is imperative that all who are committed to ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students intensify their efforts in policy, advocacy, and classroom practices.”