September 29, 2009

>Eliza Byard on HuffPost: "Colliding Realities in America's Middle Schools"

>The online news site The Huffington Post published a blog post yesterday authored by GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, lamenting the hardships that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) middle school students face when confronted by their peers who bully and harass them.

The article mentions two developments in the past few weeks--Senator Tom Colburn's chief of staff, Michael Schwartz, arguing that 10-year-old boys had a "good instinct" by speaking badly about homosexuality, and the recently published article in the New York Times Magazine chronicling the experiences of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual middle school students. Dr. Byard urges the reader to "[i]magine the clash of those two realities--10-year-olds intolerant of gay people and 10-year-olds realizing they are gay--playing out in both hidden and public ways every day in school hallways."
As GLSEN's newly released research brief on the experiences of LBGT middle school students* demonstrates, the consequences of these "colliding realities" are often dire. Drawing from the research brief, Dr. Byard mentions some startling facts:
  • 63% of LGBT middle school students had heard homophobic remarks made by school staff
  • About 2 in 5 LGBT middle school students had been assaulted (punched, kicked, or threatened with a weapon) in school, twice the number of LGBT high school students
  • Fewer LGBT middle school students could identify supportive faculty members than their high school peers, and very few had access to supportive student groups like a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA)
Because so many LGBT middle school students face such a hostile school environment, many skip school for fear of their safety and see their grades drop. While acknowledging that noteworthy advances have been made in creating a safer and more welcoming school climate for LGBT students "in those schools that haven't shied away from this issue and have taken action," Dr. Byard stresses that there is still much to be done. "As schools heed [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's] call to address gaps in achievement and turn around our lowest-performing schools," she argues, "they must not lose sight of the fact that there are some very basic steps to be taken in the middle grades before that can become part of middle school reality."
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*The research brief is based on data collected from middle school students who participated in the 2007 National School Climate Survey.

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