A survey of 127 public and private Kentucky high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer concluded that the climate in Kentucky schools remained hostile toward them, an education group said. Eighty-four percent of students surveyed were from public schools.
On Jan. 11, the group GLSEN, also known The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released data for Kentucky gathered through its National School Climate Survey. GLSEN advocates for safe schools for all students regardless of sexual orientation.
Statewide, “the results of this survey mirror the stories we hear from so many (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) middle and high school students in Kentucky,” said Christopher Duckworth, co-chairman and treasurer of GLSEN Bluegrass. “Schools are still perceived as unsafe environments for so many of these students, and now more than ever they need our support.”
But in Fayette County, school district officials say they don’t tolerate bullying, discrimination and harassment; students interviewed at one Lexington school said the staff creates a safe atmosphere.
At Lafayette High School, Tyler Henry, a sophomore, and Lucy Morris, a senior, both members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, say their principal Bryne Jacobs and other staff members set a tone that keeps them safe from bullying and discrimination.
“Never from a staff member have I experienced any sort of discrimination,”said Tyler, who identifies as transgender.
“There’s been a couple of minor incidents with students, but never anything with staff here,” he said. “We have a really good environment. I don’t feel judged by anyone here, staff, students. Our school makes it really clear that harassment and bullying won’t be tolerated. A lot of students here feel comfortable with who they are.”
Lucy, who identifies as bisexual, said that “despite being so open about my sexuality, the school has kept me very safe from any sort of discrimination.”
“To hear that it’s going on a lot in the state...is very disheartening,” she said. “I couldn’t be more thankful to be at Lafayette because of how safe the staff keeps us from harassment.”
The statewide GSLEN report showed that of the small sample of students who responded in Kentucky in 2015:
▪ The vast majority said they regularly heard anti- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer remarks. Many said they regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks (28 percent) and negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender (40 percent).
▪ Most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer students said they had been victimized at school, including harassment and assault. Of those, half said they never reported the incidents to school staff. Only 33 percent of those students who reported incidents said it resulted in effective staff intervention.
▪ Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer students reported discriminatory policies or practices at their school. Nearly two-thirds of transgender students (64 percent) said they were unable to use the school restroom that aligned with their gender identity. Students said they experienced other forms of school discrimination, including not being unable to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenders issues in assignments, being unable to include those themes in extracurricular activities and being prevented or discouraged from playing school sports because they identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
▪ Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer students said they did not have access to support at school. Only 9 percent said they attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying or harassment policy; less than a quarter said they had access to a curriculum that included lesbian, gay or transgender issues; only half said they could identify six or more supportive school staff; and only 42 percent said they had access to a Gay-Straight Alliance organization or similar student club.
Duckworth said that compared to the same survey conducted in 2013 with 117 students, there was a lower percentage of students hearing the word “gay” used in a negative way, and a lower percentage of students hearing homophobic remarks. There was also an increase in the number of students who had supportive staff members at their school. But Duckworth said there was a slight increase from 2013 in negative remarks about transgender people and negative remarks about the way that people express their gender.
In response to the report, Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said, the department “is committed to working with districts and schools to ensure all students are able to learn and thrive in safe educational environments.”
Fayette County schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the district doesn’t have reports of specific acts of hostility against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer students.
The district does not have a policy dictating school restroom use at is relates to the gender identity of students. “As we do on a variety of issues dealing with our students, school counselors and administrators work with students and families on a case-by-case basis,” Deffendall said.
“We are committed to ensuring that each and every student, including our (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) students, feels comfortable and welcome in the school environment,” Deffendall said. “By establishing strong anti-harassment/discrimination and anti-bullying policies,” she said, the district had codified its intent to protect every student.
Deffendall described how the district sets out to protect students: Harassment and discrimination based on sex gender identity, and sexual orientation is prohibited. In addition to the district’s anti-harassment and discrimination and anti-bullying policies, there is a complaint process for students experiencing unlawful treatment. Fayette County students also receive education on bullying, harassment and discrimination.
“My students continue to face disparaging comments from classmates and even family members as to their choices regarding partners and gender preferences,” said Amber Faris, the teacher adviser for the Gay-Straight Alliance at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School “I’m not sure this will ever truly stop. However, we have a very inclusive, diverse school and community, and my students do continue to find accomplices and allies who stand beside them and fight for them.”
This past fall, Dunbar’s Gay-Straight Alliance participated in its first Gay-Straight Alliance picnic, which celebrated Gay-Straight Alliance clubs from all over Lexington. “These type of events give my students hope in seeing that their community is full of people who celebrate and embrace their uniqueness and are there for support and guidance, ” Faris said.