January 22, 2010

>20 Years Later, Youth Have Room to Grow in Accepting Gay and Lesbian Peers

>We mentioned a few weeks ago that the Girl Scout Research Institute released a report on teen beliefs and values. GLSEN Research Assistant Mark Barkiewicz looked a little deeper at some of the findings and wants to share a little about what he found. From Mark:

According to research findings in Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today [PDF], a recent report from the Girl Scout Research Institute, 59% of youth in grades 7-12 agree with the statement “Gay or lesbian relationships are okay, if that is a person’s choice,” in contrast to only 31% who agreed with this in a 1989 study.

Furthermore, the study also highlights that 48% of 7th to 12th graders today say that if they found out one of their same-sex friends was involved in a gay or lesbian relationship, the friendship would continue and not change at all, compared to only 12% in 1989.

These positive changes should not come as a surprise as the American public in general has grown more tolerant of gay and lesbian issues throughout the years.

In doing safe schools work, it is important to consider how attitudes can vary across different groups and populations. Gender plays an interesting role with regard to these findings. Girls are more likely than boys to accept gay or lesbian relationships (65% vs. 54%) and continue a friendship with a same-sex friend involved in a gay or lesbian relationship (59% vs. 38%).

In trying to understand these gender differences, it is worthwhile to consider the role that masculinity can play in boys’ development, such that being gay can be seen as contradictory to being ‘masculine’ and tolerance of gay people somehow can be seen as being less ‘masculine.’ Nevertheless, while these findings show that girls are, in general, more accepting of their gay and lesbian peers, the question remains as to why four-tenths of girls would end a friendship with a same-sex friend involved in a gay or lesbian relationship.

Given these findings, many LGBT students may have a difficult time finding allies among their peers. In the nearly 20 years since the initial study was done, GLSEN has been working to develop school communities in which every member is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Through GLSEN’s effort in providing professional development to educators, efforts to create policies that protect LGBT students, and support of Gay-Straight Alliances, an increasing number of students across the country have had the opportunity to experience a more positive school atmosphere.

In further developing a better learning environment for all students, it is important that youth become more tolerant of their peers, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or how they express their gender. Resources such as Gay-Straight Alliances can be helpful in fostering supportive peers for LGBT students and increasing tolerance and respect for diversity.

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