Tennessee school climate data: LGBT youth at risk

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Tennessee middle and high schools are hostile places for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, according to a new research brief released by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and its East Tennessee Chapter and newly formed Middle Tennessee Chapter.

School Climate in Tennessee shows that Tennessee students face physical and verbal assaults because of their sexual orientation or gender expression and regularly hear anti-gay slurs from students and staff. The findings are based on the Tennessee students who participated in GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey. The survey also found that while most could identify at least one supportive educator, very few had access to any LGBT-inclusive resources or curriculum at school.

“LGBT students face disturbing levels of victimization in Tennessee. We hope this new research will be a wake-up call to Tennessee leaders that more needs to be done to ensure that LGBT students are safe and have an equal opportunity to learn,” said Karyn Storts-Brinks, Co-Chair of the GLSEN East Tennessee Chapter. “Students are clearly saying educators and policymakers are not doing enough to stop anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.”

Research highlights from School Climate in Tennessee:

  • 98% of LGBT students regularly heard homophobic remarks (e.g., “fag” or “dyke”);
  • 47% of LGBT students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) because of their sexual orientation;
  • 24% of LGBT students were physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation.

The organization cites recent legislation including the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (SB49) and the override of local anti-discrimination measures (HB600) as further proof that educational resources and dedicated leadership are key for all youth.

“Our youth are left wondering why our state’s policymakers feel the need to write, endorse and sign into law legislation that allows discrimination against them. This research draws attention to the problems faced by LGBT youth in our schools, which has only been heightened by negativity in our state legislature,” said Brad Palmertree, Co-Chair of the GLSEN Middle Tennessee Chapter.

For information on GLSEN’s research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.