Gender Nonconformity and LGBT-Affirmative Climates, Part 2
Earlier I wrote about gender nonconformity and sexual prejudice. This week, I’ll highlight the importance of LGBT-sensitive, school policies. A new research brief involving over 400 Tucson middle and high school students reveals that youth are most often bullied because of their sexual orientation and weight . Previous research  indicates that LGBT students, including gender nonconforming students, attend class less regularly because of threats, attacks, or intimidation.
The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that transgender and gender nonconforming youth are especially vulnerable to peer violence and bullying, and that teachers are too often indifferent, even complicit in this victimization. Social environments impact youths’ beliefs and bullying behaviors, and this is why public policies that are LGBT or diversity-affirming are essential. Currently there exist evidence-based practices that not only enhance the general, academic-social environment, but also improve the lives of LGBT youth [3,4].
The first practice is to take action: Adopt safe-school policies. Public policies have a teaching effect; school policies that are silent about or condone LGBT discrimination reinforce the social belief that there is something wrong with being different. The general reduction of stigma and prejudice is one of the mechanisms that reduce LGBT school bullying. Schools that adopt such policies send the message that fairness, equality, and human rights are important . Dr. Stacey Horn, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggests that affirming polices may have more of an influence on students’ attitudes about the treatment of their LGBT peers, than on their own beliefs about homosexuality . LGBT-affirming policies are not detrimental to heterosexual youth. In fact, they likely enhance the social climate for all youth.
Safe-school policies also imply that acceptance of diversity is vital and that students belong. In addition, such policies reduce sexual prejudice by fostering higher quality intergroup interactions [4,5]. If youth can be themselves without worrying about being bullied, then with time more authentic interactions (i.e., opportunities that build mutual trust and understanding) among students can occur .
The second practice is for adults (parents, teachers, mentors, etc.) to enforce these policies. Enforcement means that school personnel must not only be trained on sexual-orientation and gender identity concerns, but they must also cultivate their own willingness to continue to learn about diversity. Cultural competency is a life-long learning process. While implementation and enforcement of these policies may appear burdensome, research indicates that they are essential. When school personnel or adult role models actively stop harassment when it occurs, and refrain from participating in it—LGBT youth report feeling safer and more supported [3, 4].
In short, a research-informed perspective suggests that one of the best antidotes to LGBT and gender–nonconforming bullying is increasing youths’ overall feelings of safety and belonging [3,4]. LGBT-affirming public policies serve this function.
For an interactive look at gender non-conformity, check out our Gender Identities & Expressions Map.
- Watson, R. J., Snapp, S. D., Licona, A. C., Russell, S. T., & the Crossroads Collaborative. (2012). Bullying in Tucson public schools: Rates, reasons, prevention programs, and recommendations. Crossroads Connections, 1(1), 1-4. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona.
- Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., and Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
- McGuire, J., Anderson, C., Toomey, R., & Russell, S. (2010). School climate for transgender youth: A mixed method investigation of student experiences and school responses. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(10), 1175-1188. doi: 10.1007/s10964-010-9540-7
- Horn, S. S., & Romeo, K. E. (2010). Peer contexts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students: Reducing stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. The Prevention Researcher, 17(4), 7-10.
- Horn, S. S., & Szalacha, L. A. (2009). School differences in heterosexual students’ attitudes about homosexuality and prejudice based on sexual orientation. European Journal of Developmental Science, 3(1), 64-79.