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Religious Tolerance logo

Challenges LGBT students experience

Harassment of LGBT students, 1996-2001.
Incidence data. Proactive activities

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When discrimination against a minority group is condoned by a religion, government or society, then serious forms of hatred are released. We have seen this in recent decades in its most extreme form of genocide, rape and "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, in Rwanda and other countries. We also see hatred in our own public schools, directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). Some school administrations ignore the problem; they are, in effect, declaring open season on sexual minorities.

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Incidence of anti-gay harassment:

The Safe Schools Anti-Violence Project issued their third annual report in late 1996. It included the results of a survey of over 8,400 students in the state of Washington:

bullet 95% of the students described themselves as heterosexual; 5% as homosexual or bisexual, and 4% as uncertain.
bullet Among the gay/lesbian/bisexual students:
bullet 34% had been harassed because of their sexual orientation.
bullet They were 3 times as likely to have been injured in a fight requiring medical attention than their heterosexual contemporaries.
bullet They were twice as likely to have seriously considered suicide.
bullet They were 75% more likely to report feeling unsafe at school.
bullet 6% of heterosexual youth reported being the victim of homophobic harassment.

It is somewhat ironic that among students harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation, about 75% were actually heterosexual. Thus, heterosexuals are the main victims of homophobic harassment.

A 1999 survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) friendly youth organizations by the Gay Lesbian & Straight Educational Network (GLSEN) found that:

bullet 91% sometimes or frequently hear anti-gay comments such as 'faggot' and 'dyke' in school.
bullet 61% report verbal harassment

bullet Of those who reported verbal harassment, 46% reported that the experienced it daily.

bullet 47% report sexual harassment
bullet 28% report physical attacked.
bullet 38% did not feel comfortable speaking to school staff about LGBT issues.

58% say that they do not feel safe in school. 1

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Proactive activities:

Lawsuits appear to be most successful if the student and parent carefully document every incident of harassment and every meeting with school officials.

It is sad that some school boards will be motivated to protect their students more out of fear than a sense of decency and fairness. But at least school districts will eventually be forced to protect all of their students. They will find that an early enforcement of anti-discrimination policies will nip harassment of gays and lesbians in the bud when it is at the name-calling stage, before the situation degenerates into violence. Court cases present school districts with only two options: to protect all of their students against harassment, or to face bankruptcy.

Some school districts are taking a pro-active stance over homophobic and other forms of harassment. Others at least are monitoring the magnitude of the problem. 2,3,4,5 In early 1995, the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community Services Center of Colorado had supplied a poster to the schools. It urged students with concerns about their sexuality to phone the center. That poster was criticized by a fundamentalist Christian organization, Focus on the Family, from nearby Colorado Springs. They felt that the poster promoted the homosexual "lifestyle." They were also disturbed that the poster seemed to recommend that students contact an outside agency instead of seeking support from their parents. (Since a substantial percentage of youth who reveal their gay or lesbian orientation to their parents get thrown out of the house, the poster's recommendations may be quite reasonable).

The Denver school system organized a program in early 1996 which included a new poster which urges students to talk to school counselors about harassment based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Counselors were given special training. Principals and governing committees implemented the program at each school. Lawrence Burtoft, a policy analyst from Focus on the Family was still unhappy: "To include homosexuality along with such characteristics as race, ethnicity and gender is to accept an understanding of homosexuality which is not grounded in fact."

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References used:

The following information sources were used during them mid to late 1990s to create the above essay. Due to attrition, few are still online today.

  1. Gay Lesbian & Straight Educational Network at: The results of their 1999 survey are at: 
  2. Arkansas family wins historic victory involving anti-gay harassment at high school," at:
  3. "School district agrees to deter harassment...," Washington Blade article at:
  4. Brian Weber, School Program Fights Biases - Posters to be Put up Stressing Impropriety of Slurs, Harassment," Rocky Mountain News, Denver, CO, 1995-NOV-26. See:
  5. "Creating Safe Schools for Lesbian and Gay Students: A resource guide for school staff" is at:

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Challenges > here

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Copyright © 1999, 2001, & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2010-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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