GLSEN recognizes the school-to-prison pipeline (STTP) as an issue that, like bullying, threatens the ability of LGBT youth to receive a quality education (read more here). Below, guest blogger Preston Mitchum, coauthor of the recent Center for American Progress report "Beyond Bullying," highlights current knowledge about LGBT youth and their experiences related to school discipline.
The school-to-prison pipeline is the cycle of funneling students out of school and into the criminal justice system. Last spring, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released data highlighting racial disparities related to this disturbing trend, generally resulting from harsh discipline policies. The data revealed that students of color and students with disabilities receive disproportionate punishment, often leading to suspensions and expulsions. These disparities overcriminalize youth and perpetuate a school-to-prison pipeline that emphasizes incarceration over education.
DISPARITIES AMONG LGBT YOUTH
“Beyond Bullying,” a report recently released by the Center for American Progress, examines harsh school discipline policies and how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are affected. As President Obama recently announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative aimed at youth of color, it is also important to include LGBT youth in this discourse. As conversations addressing how young men of color are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison are unfolding, it is also necessary to consider factors exacerbating similar inequalities for LGBT youth, especially for Black and Latino LGBT youth.
Hostile school climates pave the way for LGBT youth to spend less time in school and more time on the streets. These hostile climates are not just the result of peer-on-peer bullying but the way adults interact with students. GLSEN’s research suggests that discriminatory practices may also unfairly target LGBT students, resulting in potential push out or drop out of school. As the report highlights, hostile school climates – including harsh school discipline policies – lead to the overcriminalization of LGBT youth:
- LGB youth, particularly gender-nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their non-LGB counterparts.
- As with racial disparities in school discipline, higher rates of punishment do not appear to be attributable to higher rates of misbehavior among LGB youth.
- LGB youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system; they make up just 5 percent to 7 percent of the overall youth population, but represent 15 percent of those in the juvenile justice system.
- Many LGBT youth report significant distrust of school administrators and often do not believe that school officials do enough to foster safe and welcoming school climates.
ALTERNATIVES TO A DISCIPLINE APPROACH
These statistics illustrate a growing problem with the criminalization of LGBT youth, often for minor infractions, such as violating dress code policies that create clothing designations based on gender. Several new reforms have been proposed over the past year to allow students to stay in the classroom and out of the criminal justice system. The “Beyond Bullying” report includes information on a federal action that offers guidance for harsh discipline policies. These strategies - the Supportive School Discipline Initiative and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports - could help prevent LGBT youth from being funneled into prison.
The Supportive School Discipline Initiative, or SSDI, is a joint effort between the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, whose aim is to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The initiative ensures that schools are equipped with alternative strategies - such as positive interventions and supports - to harsh school discipline policies, and emphasizes policies that reduce discrimination in punishment. Although SSDI is fairly new, the initiative has already released guidance to schools on discipline policies. However, although the initiative aims to be far-reaching, more work is needed to make SSDI’s more inclusive of LGBT youth.
A potential alternative strategy schools should consider is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. PBIS is a general education initiative in which positive interventions are used for behavioral change. It emphasizes reducing harmful behavior, while rewarding positive behavior for students. By teaching social and emotional learning practices, students develop empathy and compassion for peers and teachers. These supportive approaches can help address the root causes of student misbehavior as opposed to just punishing those acts, thereby helping keep students in the educational system rather than being thrust into the juvenile justice system.
Throughout the country, schools should focus on strategies that properly value education over incarceration. The school-to-prison pipeline is an unsettling trend that can be changed if school officials and policymakers focus on alternative strategies to harsh school discipline polices. When students, including LGBT youth, drop out or are pushed out of school, they face an increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Examining alternatives to current school discipline practices is one way to ensure LGBT youth can excel in safe, welcome, and affirming school environments.
Preston Mitchum was a former Policy Analyst with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. He is a civil rights advocate and legal writing professor in Washington, DC who has written for The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Role Reboot, theGrio, EBONY, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonMitchum.
As a senior in high school and president of my high school’s GSA, I feel graduation coming with a mix of sadness and excitement. I’m excited to see what my future holds and what future activism I’ll be able to do with all the skills I’ve learned so far, but I’m sad to be leaving my GSA behind.
I love my GSA and as the school year winds down, we are going to be electing next year’s officers so we have a foundation to lay the club onto. I have nothing but confidence in the candidates, but I don’t want to leave them behind. They’re like a family to me and I want to be with them to lead the way to greatness.
Already this year, we’ve made a major change to the school culture. For our school’s annual Sadie’s dance, the rally that goes along with it is Battle of the Sexes, something that winds up being incredibly sexist with insults being thrown, specifically from the guys at the girls. Girls are expected to dress in pink and white and boys in blue and black. Last year, before I came out as transgender, the decision of what colors to wear was hard and one that caused me a lot of stress.
With that experience under my belt and knowing countless girls, including my younger sister, who are made uncomfortable by the sexist comments at the rally, we decided to change it for the better as a club. We started out by proposing an alternative to the setup at the rally -- instead of boys vs. girls, students would be seated by underclassmen vs. upperclassmen. No way for sexist comments to appear if the layout is changed. This idea was struck down by a vote in the leadership class, with people voting towards tradition instead of change.
But the good news is that we were able to implement a third color into the mix: purple. The idea of purple was that anyone who didn’t feel comfortable identifying with a side could wear the color and sit wherever they’d like. It also created an opportunity for allies to show their support and give other students an outlet to protest the rally while participating in the required event.
And it went well! The rally was still full of sexist comments, some even worse than previous years full of “Make me a sandwich!” But the purple was implemented without issue and the rally emcees did a great job at shutting down disrespectful chants. There was an incident where a friend of mine was wearing purple and told by a teacher she was not allowed to sit on the boys' side because she was obviously a girl and that’s where she belonged. Threats were made to get the principal involved and she eventually slipped away and joined me on the boys’ side where she was more than a little peeved. Luckily, this was the only staff member who seemed to have forgotten to read his email and didn’t understand. He’s since been talked to.
The group of underclassmen who made this happen are my hope for the future of our school and club. I know that these young people who are so full of passion will be able to lead our club forward and do great things. I can’t wait to elect a new great activist to hurl our school into the respectful place that it deserves to be. Who knows -- maybe next year we won’t have a Battle of the Sexes Rally at all.
Kane Tajnai is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Just over a week ago, youth across the United States and around the world came together in a non-violent protest with a 19-year history. What once started as a class project has become an international movement in which students take a vow of silence in order to highlight the experiences of LGBT youth and to call on their school educators, administrators, and decision makers to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Read more below about how the Day of Silence came to be, and join the hundreds of thousands of students who have come together to rise up and make a difference.
Thank you for helping us make the Day of Silence what it is today!
Visit dayofsilence.org to learn more.
Last week, Breitbart Texas, a website that provides news services made available by Breitbart News Network launched a transphobic attack on a Texas substitute teacher who was suspended because of her gender identity.
On April 8, Lumberton Independent School District suspended Laura Jane Klug, who worked as a fifth grade substitute teacher, after parents complained to school officials about Klug's gender identity.
Breitbart Texas released the story on April 9, using scare quotes to mock Klug's gender identity and touted that Klung is "an emotionally disturbed and confused older man.”
In letters to members of Lumberton Independent School District’s Board of Trustees, the GLSEN Houston chapter and the board chairs of Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation yesterday called for the reinstatement of Klug and ask that they take appropriate measures to ensure that school personnel have access to professional development that fosters a culture of inclusion and respect for all people in schools.
We are proud to say that the because of the hard work by local community members and GLSEN Houston in supporting our educators and students, Laura Klug was reinstated and will be returning to work this week. Because of dedicated leaders at GLSEN Houston and Equality Texas, we are beginning to see positive change in our communities.
I am a transgender student in California and this is my senior year of high school. During the summer, I was out to close friends and family, but no one older than my parents knew. It was hard to even imagine coming out at school.
It wasn’t until GLSEN’s Media Summit that I even thought I had the courage to come out to my grandparents and shortly after I had come home, I had heard about the Safe Schools and Opportunities Act, or simply AB 1266, being signed by California Governor Jerry Brown. This was the final push that I needed to come out, so I did.
In short, AB 1266 simply said that transgender students were allowed to use gender-segregated facilities (locker rooms and bathrooms), activities (PE classes), and sports teams that aligned with their gender identity.
I came out at school and even though the law didn’t go into effect until January 1, my school treated me like they would have to under the law. I was put into PE and allowed to use the boys’ locker rooms and bathrooms. It felt wonderful.
But not much later did the opposition come rolling in. Privacy for All Students joined the fight in getting a referendum put on the ballot. The plan was to put the voters to a test and get them to overturn the bill.
That was when I got active. I started getting interviewed in the local news, the Wall Street Journal, smaller newspapers in the area, and more, just to tell my simple story of what it was like to be treated as if the law was in place. I wrote articles for my school paper about what this law meant and I was consistently trying to better my interview techniques, something I found out I needed. So, now that the referendum attempt has failed, the opposition having failed to get the amount of signatures required (though they are now protesting that they got plenty and valid signatures were thrown out), I have learned a few things since this all started:
In the case of media, always focus on the positives of what you’re trying to do. Even if it’s only for a question or two that you talk about the negatives, they may focus on that instead of what you want to get across.
The media still isn’t sure how to report on transgender people, from being misgendered to having publications use wrong or odd terminology. Despite that, they’re trying.
People will lie and phrase things oddly in order to get you to sign a petition, as in the case of my AP Government teacher who was told the petition for the referendum was to stop harassment in the bathroom.
People will listen to your story, especially if you have a stake in it. At my dad’s work, someone was working to get signatures and by telling them about me, his son, many of his coworkers refused to sign.
Teachers, even with guidelines like AB 1266, still need help in figuring out how to implement these practices, especially from students like me.
Lastly, activism is hard, no matter how fun it is to get interviewed for TV.
With such an important bill on the books and the activism that students like me did around the state in order to keep this bill in place, it’s obvious that young people are making a difference in the world. While it’s tiring and hard to keep track of all your talking points, the work being done really does matter. I am sure about that.
Kane Tajnai is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Hundreds of thousands of participants across the country have taken a vow of silence today to highlight the impacts of anti-LGBT bullying & harassment on youth. As the day comes to a close, we wanted to suggest some actions you can take to break the silence in the coming days, weeks and months.
If you have a minute:
If you have an hour:
If you have an afternoon:
After over 11 hours of impassioned debate led by mostly Republicans on the House Floor this week, the state of Minnesota became the 16th state to pass a comprehensive and enumerated bullying prevention law that protects students who are most vulnerable to being bullied or harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity or gender expression. As we come together to celebrate this victory with our partners including OutFront Minnesota, we are excited to share GLSEN’s safe schools work over the past decade to secure LGBT-inclusive bullying prevention bills in 20 states.
In Minnesota, our investment in this long-term process included helping to form and support the Minnesota Safe Schools for All Coalition, a group of more than 120 education, LGBT, and youth-serving organizations who support passage of comprehensive legislation to strengthen policies against bullying and harassment in Minnesota schools. We have supported the coalition by providing model language and drafting legislation; providing Minnesota state-level school climate "snapshots" for use by local advocates; mobilizing support from corporate, government, and legislative partners as well as other national organizations positioned to assist.
Recently, GLSENs Office of Public Policy was a major sponsor of Minnesota’s Youth Summit and visited the state on several occasions when suicides in Anoka Hennepin schools called attention to a crisis among LGBT youth there.
The ground-breaking work in Minnesota highlights a great example of GLSENs long-term work in partnership with Equality Federations and advocacy groups across the nation to create a safe and supportive school climate for all students to learn and succeed.
Minnesota is one step closer to becoming the 17th state to enact a comprehensive anti-bullying law that explicitly protects students from bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Thanks in large part to GLSEN supporters in Minnesota and the local statewide of OutFront Minnesota, the Minnesota Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act passed the Senate floor last night with a vote of 36-31. Fifteen amendments were considered during the five-hour floor vote. The coalition of lawmakers supporting the bill held strong and passed a comprehensive bill that would make all students safer in Minnesota.
GLSEN will continue our work with the Safe Students for All Coalition in Minnesota, a coalition group we helped form 10 years ago, to ensure that an LGBT-inclusive bill will also pass the House, with a vote likely early next week, and eventually become law.
GLSEN’s Day of Silence has always been a powerful event for me. Since I was 12, I felt as if there was knowledge to spread. My brother has high-functioning Autism and I created a support group for those siblings who needed someone to talk to. From there it expanded to teen violence, racism towards biracial people, like myself, and beyond. I had always wanted to raise awareness of the troubling issues that diverse communities face.
I moved to San Diego from Ventura County in 7th grade and transferred out of public school to be homeschooled afterwards while my mom was going through her breast cancer treatment. During this time, my classmates from Ventura were part of this thing called a Gay-Straight Alliance and participating in something called the Day of Silence. I didn't know anything about the LGBT community except from the occasional poorly-portrayed gay character on TV. All I knew was I had to be a part of this day.
I read the info on the event invite and decided to put it in motion. Only problem? The projected audience was a school, and I wasn't in public school. So I took it to the next level and brought the Day of Silence out to the community.
My mom and I were running errands and started off with the overcrowded post office. At the time, I didn't have the resources that GLSEN provides. Instead, I improvised. I wrote up some information about tragic events that occurred around the nation, including the murder of Matthew Shepard, and explained my reasons for taking a symbolic vow of silence. I would carry this note around with me all day.
At the post office, a woman attempted small talk with me and I took out my note. She tilted her head to the side as she read the note. Then came the gasp, and her hand covered her mouth. She apologized and thanked me. I put my hand on her shoulder and nodded.
The day was filled with shock from passersby and by the end of it, I felt accomplished. I took the Day of Silence beyond school and brought it to the community. And by doing so, I raised awareness of anti-LGBT harassment that takes place every day.
Ari Segla is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Maybe you had a really great Day of Silence experience in high school and you want to keep it up. Maybe you're an educator looking to support your students. Maybe you wish you'd heard of the Day of Silence when you were in school and you're making up for lost time.
Whatever your reasons, there are plenty of ways to honor GLSEN's Day of Silence on April 11, even if you aren't currently a student. Here are our favorite things you can do.
9. Write your Senators and Representatives about the Safe Schools Improvement Act. SSIA, GLSEN's signature legislation, would require all public K-12 schools to enact an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with other categories like race and religion. SSIA currently has more cosponsors than ever before. Contact your local legislators asking them to support the bill so they know just how many people support safe schools.
8. Connect with a local GLSEN chapter to learn how you can support their work on the ground. GLSEN's 38 local chapters carry out GLSEN's mission with schools and communities across the United States. Contact the chapter closest to you and ask how you can help.
7. Donate to GLSEN. We rely on donations from compassionate adults who are committed to making schools safer for students everywhere. Even if you can't participate in the Day of Silence, your donation will help us provide resources to students who can.
6. Change your profile picture on social media. Official Day of Silence graphics are available on our Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and at the Day of Silence website. Choose your favorite graphic and make it your profile picture or cover photo to show others you support the Day of Silence, even if you're unable to participate yourself.
5. Take a Selfie for Silence. Print out a Selfies for Silence sign and fill in your reason for supporting LGBT youth and their allies on the Day of Silence. Snap a photo of yourself holding the sign and share it on Facebook and other social media. If you can, hang up the sign at work, school or anywhere else it might spark conversation about the Day of Silence.
4. Wear an official Day of Silence t-shirt. Whether or not you're silent, wearing Day of Silence gear communicates to students and others that you're committed to safe schools for all students. Buy an official GLSEN Day of Silence shirt in our online store, make your own Day of Silence shirt, or simply wear the official Day of Silence colors -- black and red.
3. Donate an LGBT-themed book to a local library. Silencing occurs in school and local libraries when LGBT-related books are deliberately excluded from the shelves. Find a book that addresses LGBT issues in a way that's suitable for elementary, middle school or high school readers (we have a few suggestions to get you started). Look for a copy at a used bookstore near you, or bear to part with your own beloved copy.
2. Vow to be silent on social media. If your workplace or other responsibilities don't allow you to be silent for the day, post a status update Thursday night explaining that you will refrain from posting on social media all day to show your solidarity through "social silence." It may not have the same effect as being silent for the day at school, but you'll still be taking a vow of silence!
1. Share your story. If you participated in the Day of Silence, joined a Gay-Straight Alliance, or experienced bullying when you were in school, chances are LGBT youth could learn from your story. Write a blog post or editorial or record a short video about your experiences, then share it on social media or with a local newspaper or website. (You're also welcome to send us your blog post for publication!) In addition, if you're in contact with LGBT youth, invite them to have a conversation before or after the Day of Silence about what they've gone through and how it may relate to your own experiences.
Any other ideas? Drop us a line and let us know!