A Gay In Every Classroom

Thu. October 7, 2004 12:00 AM by 365gay.com

New York City - A new poll shows that the number of LGBT young people coming out in high school is increasing but homophobia remains rampant.

The survey, conducted by Widmeyer Research and Polling in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates was taken for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN.

It shows that 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 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," said GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings.

The survey questioned students in the 9th to 12th grades across the country about sexual orientation, name-calling, and general attitudes towards lesbian and gay people in schools.

But, despite the higher visibility of gays in school systems nationwide 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.

GSLEN said 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 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."

GSLEN's 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 new poll also showed that nearly 75 percent 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.

But, there was some encouragement in the survey. 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 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."

©365Gay.com 2004

This article originally appeared on 365gay.com. Republished with permission.