Parents, students, elected officials, school boards and advocacy groups are at odds over the level of accommodations on school campuses for the queer community. The debate has spilled over to gender pronouns, the way people choose to refer to themselves that reflects their gender identity. Some people don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Rather than the he/she binary, these individuals identify as nonbinary and prefer using the pronoun “they.”
LGBTQ+ activists say gender non-conforming individuals face harassment and discrimination. A recent study by the Williams Institute found that the number of youth between the ages of 13 and 17 who identify as trans has doubled from 2017 to 2022 to about 300,000. Research and statistics suggest LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk for depression and suicide due to social ostracization.
“I’ve been shoved into lockers, and sometimes people will just push up on me to check if I have boobs,” said Kevin I., a 17-year-old transgender boy in Utah. He added that school administrators dismissed his complaints of verbal and physical abuse, blaming him for being “so open about it.”
Advocates for LGBTQ+ acceptance say inclusivity and acceptance especially at school helps mitigate this, but finding this acceptance at school is often a tough hill to climb.
Dr. Laura Kuper, a pediatric psychologist at Children's Health, said “Lack of support and affirmation, particularly from parents or other family members, impacts mental health. Lack of support outside the family such as school also has an impact.”
A 2015 national school climate study found that 85% of these students have experienced verbal harassment and 66% have been discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ students are more likely to experience school bullying.
But there is still hope.
“Just because there are higher rates of mental health concerns among LGBTQ youth doesn't mean they can't be reduced. Community support is so important and helpful,” Kuper said.
Students need a safe space to express who they are and their interests. That safe space often takes the form of different clubs and affinity spaces at school. An affinity space is a place where students with common interests get together and discuss such interests. The Wallace Foundation reported that over 66% of students are part of a club or affinity group.
“Even if not every queer student joins Pride+ Club, it is important they know there's a space for them where they will be accepted for who they are,” Melanie Bunticai, leader of the Pride Club at Roosevelt Middle School said. “Our doors are open to all who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or an ally. It's important to consistently have a space for students, so we meet weekly. Most meetings are for social purposes and building connections. ”
Pride Clubs at different schools often organize events to raise awareness about homophobia. At Roosevelt Middle School, the school is dedicating a whole week to raising awareness. They are organizing different events for every day of the week. Such events include bake sales, movies, games, making videos and more.
“Joining Pride Club gave me a place to feel safe and accepted for who I am,” Eleanor Davis, a Roosevelt Middle School student said. “It was also a fun way to make new friends in 6th Grade.” After hosting these events the school saw a significant decrease in homophobia and an increase in overall safety.
Edited by Nykeya Woods