The Human Rights Watch have released a lengthy report which shows that despite all the progress that’s been made in the US over the last couple of years, LGBT students still face discrimination and hostile environments at schools.
The report from HRW is rather lengthy, and is based on interviews with both current and former students, parents, teachers and administrators Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah. They examined in detail the challenges faced by LGBT people which includes bullying both in person and online, as well as the limitations placed on LGBT groups and even exclusion from curriculum topics.
Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in the nonprofit’s LGBT Rights Program, had this to say: “Too many US schools are hostile environments for LGBT kids, and not only because they can’t use the appropriate bathrooms or locker room. In every state we visited, we heard stories of students who were insulted, cyber-bullied or attacked, and teachers who allowed discrimination and harassment because they see it as normal behavior.”
The Human Rights Watch found, when looking at physical violence, sexual assault, verbal harassment, cyberbullying, and exclusion faced by LGBT people, that in many cases the teachers didn’t intervene and some even participated in the harassment.
Bianca L., a 16-year-old bisexual girl in Alabama, who participated in the report had this to say: “My biology teacher my freshman year would bring in kids who were wearing short shorts or weird sweaters and say, ‘You’d better take that off, you’re going to look gay,’. But she’d say it in front of the whole class.”
Thirty-one states, including those examined in the report, don’t have laws in place to protect against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. According to Thoreson, this can make it difficult for the teachers to crack down on such behaviour.
He said:”This makes it much more difficult for teachers to know how to intervene when they see that bullying happening, (and) for students to know that’s off-limits, that’s not OK. Only South Dakota and Missouri have laws … that prohibit school districts from putting their own protections.”
One of the recommendations made by the HRW’s report is sex education that “is medically and scientifically accurate, is inclusive of LGBT youth, and covers same-sex activity on equal footing with other sexual activity.”
However, they are definitely going to face opposition from state Representatives and politicians. For example, Jim Bolin, a Republican state representative in South Dakota, said this: “I do not accept the bifurcation of gender and sex. The notion that gender is different than sex I believe that’s a false belief.”
Another finding of the report is that schools and their policies have made teachers scared of backlash over coming out as LGBT or supporting their LGBT students.
Thoreson said: “There are certainly conservative leaders who have stood up for LGBT students, and our hope is that as we look at this from a purely pragmatic point of view, keeping LGBT kids safe, and keeping all students safe, shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
Many schools also censor the discussions about LGBT topics, even though LGBT people and topics are becoming more and more discussed in the public space. Eight US states restrict discussions of LGBT topics in schools, and some school districts in other states impose their own restrictions.
The full report can be read here, and it shows that despite the huge steps in progress, there is still a huge amount of work to be done in the United States and across the world.