Poll: 5% of US High Schoolers Identify as Gay

Thu. October 7, 2004 12:00 AM by U.S. NewsWire

New York, NY - The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, today announced results from a new national poll on students' attitudes on sexual orientation. Based on results from the poll, approximately 5 percent of America's high school students identify as lesbian or gay, 16 percent of America's students have a gay or lesbian family member, and 72 percent know someone who is gay or lesbian.

The national poll conducted by Widmeyer Research and Polling in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc., asked questions of 9th - 12th grade students across the country about sexual orientation, name-calling, and general attitudes towards lesbian and gay people in schools.

"The findings suggest that, on average, every classroom in America has at least one student who identifies as lesbian or gay and that a majority of those students know at least one gay or lesbian person, whether it be a teacher, a classmate or a family member," noted GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings.

Key findings from the national poll include:

Anti-gay language is rampant. 66 percent of students report using homophobic language, such as "that's so gay" to describe something that is wrong, bad or stupid; 81 percent report hearing homophobic language in their schools frequently or often.

Nearly 3/4 of high school students know a gay or lesbian person. 48 percent of students know a lesbian or gay classmate; 30 percent have a close lesbian or gay friend; 11 percent know a lesbian or gay teacher.

Parents, friends and family influence students' attitudes most. 65 percent of students identify their personal experiences with gay people as an important factor in shaping their attitudes about gay people; 58 percent note the important role their parents play while 28 percent acknowledge the important role of television with gay characters.

The new poll, along with GLSEN's 2003 National School Climate Survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, documents the widespread problem of anti-LGBT language, name-calling, bullying and harassment in America's schools. The research demonstrates a disturbing gap between how LGBT and straight students perceive and are affected by the pervasive language.

"It is probably shocking to many adults how many of their children are using offensive homophobic language day in and day out in our nation's high schools," said Marty McGough, Director for Widmeyer Research and Polling. "What the research also gives us is an indication on the large population of LGBT students who have to listen to it."

The 2003 National School Climate Survey found that 4 out of 5 LGBT students report hearing homophobic remarks often in their school and that 82.9 percent of the time faculty or staff never or rarely intervene when such language is used. Nearly 1 out of 3 LGBT students report skipping at least one day of school in the last month because they are simply too afraid to go.

"The important thing here is how widespread name-calling and homophobic remarks are in high schools. Straight and LGBT students are telling us the same thing," noted Mark Penn, President of Penn, Schoen & Berland. "They hear these slurs all the time."

The poll also found that teachers, parents and peers are the most influential in shaping students attitudes toward gay and lesbian people. 79 percent of students were somewhat or very likely to listen to a respected teacher about why anti-gay language is harmful and inappropriate and 69 percent said that knowing a gay or lesbian classmate is likely to make students more tolerant.

"Students spend their days in classrooms where 'faggot' is heard more often than the morning announcements. 39.1 percent of the LGBT students report being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation," said Kevin Jennings. "We know from the data that visibility and personal experience with gay and lesbian people are important first steps in making name-calling, bullying and harassment unacceptable in America's schools. However what is most important are parents, friends, and school communities taking a stand for respect and acceptance of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

More detailed results are available in tables from the report by visiting www.glsen.org or contacting Riley Snorton at rsnorton(At)glsen.org. The 2004 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by the Mass Department of Education and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is consistent with the national poll, finding that 4-6 percent of students in Massachusetts identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.