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Volume 20, Number 2
March/April 2004

Anti-Gay Harassment Linked to Academic Risks


In September/October 2001, HEL reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students faced widespread harassment in U.S. middle and high schools, according to a survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN's latest survey has resulted in similar findings—and has found possible links between this kind of harassment and academic risks.

In the latest survey, conducted in 2003 among 884 LGBT youth from 48 states and the District of Columbia, 84 percent of those polled said they were verbally harassed at school for reasons associated with their sexual orientation—the same percentage as in 2001. In addition, more than 90 percent said they frequently heard anti-LGBT remarks (such as "faggot," "dyke," and "that's so gay") in their schools.

The most recent survey, however, included some new questions that shed light on the way this kind of harassment might affect students academically. GLSEN reports that the students who experienced anti-LGBT harassment frequently had GPAs that were more than 10 percent lower, on average, than those who did not (2.9 vs. 3.3). And, those harassed frequently were twice as likely not to plan to attend college, the survey showed.

"For the first time, we examined how school climate was related to school performance, grade-point average, and college aspirations for LGBT students," note GLSEN researchers in a summary of the study's key findings. "School performance and college aspirations are significantly diminished for LGBT students who experience harassment."

The GLSEN survey also suggests a lack of response on the part of many teachers to anti-LGBT language and harassment. Nearly 83 percent of the students polled said their teachers either never intervened or intervened "only some of the time" when they heard homophobic remarks.

Other key findings:

  • 39 percent of the LGBT students surveyed reported being physically harassed at school (being pushed or shoved).
  • Physical harassment was reported most widely among transgender students (those whose identify as not conforming to societal gender norms or expectations), 55 percent of whom reported such victimization.
  • LGBT students who could identify supportive teachers or staff in their schools had higher college aspirations and higher GPAs.

GLSEN research analyst Joe Kosciw acknowledges that the study does not represent a random sampling of youth from across the U.S., which he says is virtually impossible to gather due to the controversial nature of LGBT issues across the country. Still, its findings are remarkably consistent with GLSEN's earlier surveys and are supported by a number of larger statewide studies, including one released in January by the California Safe Schools Coalition (CSSC) and analyzed by researchers at the University of California-Davis. That study also showed strong associations between anti-LGBT harassment and academic risk.

"So it's not just schoolyard bullying, kids being kids," Kosciw says. "They [LGBT youth who are harassed] report doing more poorly in classes and feel like they don't want to continue their educations. That has real-life implications for them, not just in school but for their future."

For Further Information

For Further Information

California Safe Schools Coalition and 4-H Center for Youth Development, University of California–Davis. “Safe Place to Learn: Consequences of Harassment Based on Actual or Perceived Sexual Orientation and Gender Non-Conformity and Steps for Making Schools Safer.”

Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “The 2003 National School Climate Survey” (key findings).

M. Sadowski. “Sexual Minority Students Benefit from School-Based Support—Where It Exists.” Harvard Education Letter 17, no. 5 (September/October 2001): 1–5.