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Gay Students Risk Truancy, Dropping Out

Bullying and intimidation from peers key factor in attendance and performance problems

by Tyler Miller

July 15, 2009 — Students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered are at significant risk of truancy, performing below their abilities, and dropping out entirely due to bullying and intimidation from peers, according to a new report by the National Education Association.

The report, “Stepping Out of the Closet, Into the Light,” highlights their struggle as well as that of GLBT school employees and offers concrete steps schools can take to improve their educational experience. It is NEA’s first publication that combines research on GLBT issues and outlines program work by the Association to better the lives of students and its members.

“It focuses on a group of students we often don’t think about in terms of academic achievement,” explains Linda Bacon, interim manager for NEA Human and Civil Rights. “If a student feels isolated or afraid, we really can’t expect them to focus on learning.”

The 90-page study notes the disparity between an increasingly progressive outlook from the public on GLBT issues—including civil rights for homosexuals—and the actual experience of GLBT persons in our nation’s schools. Pairing research and statistics with testimonials and vignettes, it offers a compelling portrait of today’s GLBT students, who are often subjected to arbitrary discrimination and harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It’s exciting that NEA has produced a document so rich in content, research, and the realities of GLBT youth in their own voices,” says Paul Sathrum, senior policy analyst for NEA Human and Civil Rights. “There’s a wealth of information that will help guide program development and research in the future.”

The report outlines intervention strategies and practical measures for school districts to improve the learning environment for not only GLBT students, but for all students whom public schools serve. It is intended to inform and equip NEA’s membership to deal effectively with GLBT concerns and ensure equal educational opportunities for students, but it also has the potential to influence policymakers and to serve as a resource for anyone who knows GLBT individuals.

“I would really encourage people to read it,” says Robert Kim, the study’s principal author and an NEA senior policy analyst. “The combination of the research and real-life stories drives home the fact that we’re not talking about a political issue—we’re talking about the health, well-being, and success of students in every school in the country.”

The report is NEA’s fifth in a series detailing the status of underserved populations in education. Its release comes one year after NEA hosted a national summit on GLBT education issues in Chicago, Illinois, where most of the content for the report was generated. Previous reports focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska natives, Hispanics, and Blacks.

Read the complete report here.


Safe Schools for Everyone: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Students

NEA believes that a great public school is a fundamental right of every child—free from intimidation and harassment, and safe for all students, including those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered.