Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ Students in Schools

Grace Randall, Middle School Writer

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How often do you say that something is ‘gay’ if you dislike it, or use the word ‘f*ggot’ to tell off a friend? How often do you hear this language and do nothing? This type of homophobic language runs rampant throughout our school and many schools across the country. On top of this, the discrimination faced by students who are LGBTQ+ (which, if you didn’t already know, stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and more) is everywhere, and is constantly perpetuated by peers, with casual homophobia in their words and actions. It is further perpetuated by teachers and school administrations, through inaction and negligence towards this discrimination. They display carelessness towards LGBTQ+ students, who are in desperate need of support, whether it be in transitioning to their true gender or in coming out to a less-than-accepting family. The discrimination against queer students in schools everywhere needs to come to an end.

Nationally, there are approximately 1.3 million LGBTQ+ high school students, which is 8% of high school students total. A 2015 report by the CDC found that, of these students, 34% reported that they were bullied in school. That same report found that 60% of LGBTQ+ students feel sad and/or hopeless in school. This is twice that of straight students. The worst statistic of all is that 40% – 40% of queer students considered suicide in the year of the survey, and 30% attempted to kill themselves. This should infuriate everyone, not just the students affected. The fact that hundreds of thousands of teenagers feel like their only way out of the discrimination they face for being themselves, being human, but somehow not fitting society’s picture of “normal” – the fact that these young people are driven to take their own lives over something they cannot control, something that is a part of them that they should never have to hide – that is unacceptable and inexcusable. To think that all of this could be prevented if peers and teachers and principals of queer youth created a community that was accepting and welcoming and compassionate, and to think that that hasn’t happened yet, will, should, and cannot be tolerated.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a transgender student who attends school here at Obama. For his safety, he remains anonymous. I asked him about his general experiences at Obama with being out. He told me that the administration, while being able to change his name and pronouns in the school files, still made him and other trans students feel “weird.” Around some of his peers, he is teased and belittled, called slurs and deadnamed. This is when a transgender person who has changed their name is called the name they were given at birth. This student found that teachers, while accepting the basics, like name and pronoun changes, still had trouble remembering these things and putting them into use. He said that he is unable to talk to most of his teachers about the problems he is and was having regarding his transition, and that the school overall was doing very little to help him. Now, most of this data is very negative, but the student I interviewed also gave me a few ideas about what could be done to fix these issues. He said that the school must recognize the number of LGBTQ+ students that are feeling this way within Obama, and needs to make sure that they feel respected. Another suggestion was an assembly similar to the one given at the beginning of the year on bullying, but, instead, on respecting queer identities within the school. I think that these are both things that the school can put into place quite easily.

If you haven’t already made a guess based on my passion for this, I myself am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I am bisexual, and to answer the questions that have inevitably entered your mind, yes, I’m sure, no, this doesn’t make me any more likely to cheat on a partner, no, I’m not implying that there are only two genders by using the term ‘bisexual’, yes, there are more than two genders, no, I don’t have to choose a side, and no, it doesn’t mean that I just want to “get with” more people. My version of bisexuality is liking someone for who they are, and not, for lack of a better term, for what’s in their pants. I previously attended the Environmental Charter School. The school was always supportive of queer students, even beginning a middle school GSA (Gay Straight Alliance). Recently, I started here at Obama for my eighth-grade year. While I haven’t faced any glaring examples of discrimination towards myself (yet), I have witnessed overt, general, casual homophobia at almost every turn. Barely a class passes where I don’t hear ‘gay’ being used to insult a peer. There isn’t a day that goes by without hearing ‘f*ggot’ yelled across the cafeteria, or mumbled in the hallway, or sighed dismissively in a classroom. I used to consider all of these places as havens, as the walls within which I could be myself, and in all honesty, that hasn’t changed. I have learned to love my bisexuality for what it is: a natural, beautiful part of me. I am living proof that an accepting, welcoming, compassionate environment fosters young people who are able to be themselves, fight for what is right, and love one another. But so many of the young LGBTQ+ people at this school, and in many other schools, have no idea that this environment can exist because all they have seen is blatant, careless homophobia, seemingly ignored by teachers and administrators. No wonder only 8% of teens identify as LGBTQ+ – so many queer voices have been silenced that those who are questioning are afraid to open their mouths.

Some may say that with ‘only’ 8% of teens being LGBTQ+, their voices do not matter, that in the grand scheme, 8% is nothing. But I invite, I implore you to wonder – what do you think would happen if every middle and high school student in the nation had every speck of internalized hatred, bigotry, transphobia, and homophobia wiped from their brains and replaced with education on LGBTQ+ identities? What if this happened and they finally realized a part of themselves that society told them to ignore, and went on with their lives? They wouldn’t have changed as people, they would just know more about themselves, so what would be the issue with it? To any who try to find an issue, I raise you this: This is the sort of thing that happens in an accepting, welcoming, and compassionate society. This is the society that we need to create for all people. This is a better world. And we can create it! Starting here, at Obama. Starting right now.

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