Our focus on the well-being of LGBT high school students is certainly warranted, but a groundbreaking report just-released by GLSEN shows that elementary schools are just as in need of our attention.
The report, released on Wednesday and entitled Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, finds that many teachers are unprepared to address gender non-conforming students as well as same-sex parents.
Major bullet points from the report include:
Key Findings on Biased Language, Name-Calling and Bullying
- The most common forms of biased language in elementary schools, heard regularly (i.e., sometimes, often or all the time) by both students and teachers, are the use of the word "gay" in a negative way, such as "that's so gay," (students: 45%, teachers: 49%) and comments like "spaz" or "retard" (51% of students, 45% of teachers). Many also report regularly hearing students make homophobic remarks, such as "fag" or "lesbo" (students: 26%, teachers: 26%) and negative comments about race/ethnicity (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).
- Three-fourths of students (75%) report that students at their school are called names, made fun of or bullied with at least some regularity. Most commonly this is because of students' looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they're gay (21%).
Key Findings on Gender Non-Conforming Students
- Nearly 1 in 10 of elementary students in 3rd to 6th grade (8%) indicate that they do not always conform to traditional gender norms/roles - either they are boys who others sometimes think, act or look like a girl, or they are girls who others sometimes think, act or look like a boy.
- Gender nonconforming students are less likely than other students to feel very safe at school (42% vs 61%), and are more likely than others to indicate they sometimes do not want to go to school because they feel unsafe or afraid there (35% vs 15%). Gender nonconforming students are also more likely than others to be called names, made fun of or bullied at least sometimes at school (56% vs 33%).
- Less than half of teachers believe that a gender nonconforming student would feel comfortable at their school (male student who acts or looks traditionally feminine: 44%, female student who acts or looks traditionally masculine: 49%)
- Only a third (34%) of teachers report having personally engaged in efforts to create a safe and supportive classroom environment for gender nonconforming students.
Key Findings on Family Diversity
- Seven in ten students (72%) say they have been taught that there are many different kinds of families. However, less than 2 in 10 (18%) have learned about families with gay or lesbian parents (families that have two dads or two moms).
- While an overwhelming majority of elementary school teachers say that they include representations of different families when the topic of families comes up in their classrooms (89%), less than a quarter of teachers report any representation of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents (21%) or transgender parents (8%).
- Only a quarter (24%) of teachers report having personally engaged in efforts to create a safe and supportive classroom environment for families with LGBT parents.
Key Findings on Teacher Preparedness
- A majority of elementary school teachers believe they are obligated to ensure a safe learning environment for gender nonconforming students (83%) and students with LGBT parents (70%). Eight in 10 teachers would feel comfortable addressing name-calling, bullying or harassment of students because a student is perceived to be gay, lesbian or bisexual (81%) or is gender nonconforming (81%).
- Less than half of teachers (48%) indicate that they feel comfortable responding to questions from their students about gay, lesbian or bisexual people. There was a lower level of comfort found among teachers (41%) responding to questions from their students about transgender people.
- A majority of teachers (85%) have received professional development on diversity or multicultural issues, but less than half of teachers have ever received specific professional development on gender issues (37%) or on families with LGBT parents (23%).
"School climate and victimization can affect students' educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level," said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. "Playgrounds and Prejudice offers invaluable insights into biased remarks and bullying in America's elementary schools. The report also shows the need for elementary schools to do more to address issues of homophobia, gender expression and family diversity."
"Playgrounds and Prejudice articulates a desire among elementary educators to create optimal learning environments for all students, but there is a larger need to provide educational tools and resources that enhance their understanding of gender nonconforming students and families with LGBT parents," Byard added. "Providing this kind of support to teachers and school staff serving our nation's youngest students will build a lasting foundation of learning and development for all elementary school students."
GLSEN has responded to its findings by launching its popular LGBT-sensitivity toolkits for the elementary school level, a resource that will help educators adress issues revealed in the report.
For the full report (PDF), click here.