This chapter considers the body of research in the last decade on the school experiences of sexual and gender diverse (SGD) students (Russell and Horn, 2016; Wimberly, 2015). Most research in this area has focused on school experiences in middle schools and high schools, but we note examples where research has extended to elementary schools and higher education. Much of the research has focused on experiences of bullying and victimization (NASEM, 2016), yet there is a growing body of research that identifies educational policies and practices that are associated with positive experiences for SGD students, whether through reducing bullying and victimization or improving school climates. As discussed in Chapter 8, SGD youth are coming out at younger ages and are therefore encountering unique experiences in schools with peer groups based on their sexual orientation and gender identity at earlier stages.
Experiences that SGD students have in school are important because school has historically been a primary institution that has socialized cisnormativity and heteronormativity in the lives of children and youth (McNeill, 2013; Pascoe, 2011). Furthermore, negative experiences in school not only undermine personal well-being but also affect educational attainment and, ultimately, occupational attainment and socioeconomic status. In addition, SGD issues in education extend beyond the experiences of individual students. Research on lesbian and gay parents and their children has illuminated the issues that parents navigate in their children’s schools, as well as the experiences of their children as students.
Before considering the research findings, it is important to describe the range of methodological approaches that researchers have used in the study of SGD issues in education. The earliest studies were based on community (often called “convenience”) samples of self-identified gay and lesbian students. These studies, both qualitative (e.g., interviews and ethnographies) and quantitative (e.g., survey questionnaires), were not intended to be representative but rather to highlight the unique experiences of SGD students in schools. Other studies documented the culture and climate of schools. For example, Pascoe’s (2011) ethnographic study of a U.S. high school illuminated ways that rigid rules of masculinity undergird school climates characterized by heteronormativity and homophobia.
In the past 20 years, surveys have become central to understanding the experiences of SGD students as new ways to reach SGD youth populations were identified, and SGD measures began to be included on youth surveys. In 1999 the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (now known as GLSEN) introduced its biennial National School Climate Survey. The survey was created to capture the experiences of SGD students and thus included multiple measures relevant to their experiences (e.g., whether they are “out” at school) that would otherwise not be feasible to include in general population school surveys. Although not a population-based or representative sample, the survey has provided a valuable source of information about SGD students and their experiences in schools.
Also in the 1990s, several states included questions about sexual identity or same-sex sexual behavior in their Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS). These studies were the first to provide population-based estimates of health-related risk behaviors for gay and lesbian youth, as well as youth with a history of same-sex sexual behavior. Most of the early focus was on health and risk behaviors, rather than school experiences. Also over the past two decades, measures of same-sex sexual behavior, sexual identity, and gender identity have been included in multiple local, state, and federal education and health monitoring systems, making population-based estimates possible. Although most of these studies exclude questions specific to the experiences of SGD students in schools, several include questions about SGD discrimination, such as being bullied “because you are gay or lesbian or someone thought you were” (Russell et al., 2012, p. 144).
Most research attention has been on the experiences of sexual minority students (students who report LGB identities) or has combined sexual and gender minority youth into global measures of SGD students. Recently, however, 10 states and 9 urban school districts that participated in the 2017 YRBS included a measure of transgender identity. Results from the YRBS are reported at various points in this chapter.
Bullying, Victimization, and Well-Being
Early research identified victimization and bullying as significant issues in the lives of what was then termed gay youth (Hunter and Schaecher, 1987; Rofes, 1993), a theme that has continued to this day. Findings from the 2015 YRBS showed that 34 percent of LGB students reported being bullied on school property, compared with 19 percent of heterosexual students (Kann et al., 2016). In 2017, the YRBS included a measure of transgender identity in some states and localities; results showed that 35 percent of transgender students reported being bullied at school (Johns et al., 2019b). A recent consensus study by the National Academies (2016) highlighted bullying as a significant social problem in schools and identified both that LGBTQ students are a population at higher risk for being bullied and that discriminatory bullying often takes the form of homophobic or transphobic bullying. Although most research has focused on secondary schools, similar patterns of discriminatory behavior have been documented for sexual minority and transgender students in higher education (Beemyn, 2012; Rankin, 2005). Several recent studies have examined school restroom and locker room access for transgender and other gender diverse students, showing in one case that transgender students who were restricted from using restroom and locker rooms that matched their gender identity were at higher risk for assault (Murchison et al., 2019). Another study found that transgender and gender-nonconforming students who felt unsafe in bathrooms reported lower quality of life and more anxiety (Weinhardt et al., 2017).
Not surprisingly, bullying and lack of safety at school have been consistently linked to the compromised mental, behavioral, and academic well-being of SGD students. Population-based studies have documented the association between bullying at school and mental health problems (e.g., depressive symptoms and suicidality) and risk behaviors (e.g., substance use) for sexual minority students (Russell et al., 2012), and recent studies document similar patterns for transgender students (Day et al., 2017; Perez-Brumer et al., 2017). For LGBT college students, perceived discrimination is associated with both adjustment at college and indecision regarding vocation (Schmidt, Miles, and Welsh, 2011). In one of the few studies of the school experiences of adults with intersex traits, an online survey of more than 200 Australians, many respondents reported school bullying, and many dropped out of school before receiving a high school certification (Jones, 2016).
The association of bullying with mental health and risk behaviors is strong and consistent across studies. Some studies have found a similar pat-
tern in the link between bullying and poor academic achievement (Poteat, Scheer, and Mereish, 2014), but the evidence is less consistent. Other studies have found a bimodal distribution in attainment: some SGD youth reported higher attainment than their non-SGD peers, and others reported lower attainment (Watson and Russell, 2016). Since many LGBT students reported negative peer experiences, such as victimization and associated mental health challenges, as well as higher rates of suspension or expulsion (Poteat, Scheer, and Chong, 2016), those experiences may undermine academic focus and achievement or prompt disengagement at school. Yet the higher educational attainment reported by some SGD students may be due to their focus on academic achievement (Pachankis and Hatzenbuehler, 2013). Negative experiences at school might induce some students to align their interests with academics and the adult achievement values of their schools while withdrawing from peer settings where they are at risk for victimization (Watson and Russell, 2016).
Differential Treatment in Schools
SGD students interact extensively with school personnel, and there is evidence that LGBTQ students may be treated differently than other students. One study that used data from a school survey of nearly 900 LGBQ students matched with comparison heterosexual youth found that the LGBQ students reported more school suspensions and more juvenile justice system involvement and that the differences were not explained by different rates of punishable behavior at school (Poteat, Scheer, and Chong, 2016). These results parallel well-documented racial disparities in exclusionary discipline that have shown that Black and Latinx youth are much more likely to be suspended or expelled from schools than white youth (Gregory, Skiba, and Noguera, 2010). Recent studies have also documented the intersections of race with sexual and gender diversity, such as the ways that LGBTQ youth of color are overrepresented in exclusionary discipline in schools (Chmielewski et al., 2016). Qualitative studies have documented the ways that gender, race, and sexuality intersect to disadvantage youth who are gender nonconforming: for example, Latinx girls whose gender expression is masculine may be perceived by teachers as threatening, while Black boys whose gender expression is feminine may be disciplined for their dress, behavior, or expression (Snapp et al., 2015a).
Economic opportunities are considered in the next chapter, yet education shapes the economic opportunities available to LGBT people, and education itself reflects a measure of socioeconomic status. The research on
attainment provides support for different hypotheses. Due to experiences of discrimination or victimization at school, SGD students may skip school, drop out, not plan to attend college, and have lower academic achievement. Lack of family support might hinder enrollment in higher education enrollment. In contrast, however, sexual and gender minorities might invest more in education to compensate for the psychological and economic effects of stigma (Pachankis and Hatzenbuehler, 2013). Moreover, individuals expecting to partner with someone of the same sex might make different educational investments because of variation in expectations of having children or the need to contribute earnings to their families (Carpenter, 2009).
The research on educational attainment supports both hypotheses: most national samples of LGB people find higher-than-average levels of education, but lower levels for transgender people, while surveys of younger cohorts of people in the United States suggest that educational attainment is lower for LGBT people. It appears that, since SGD people from younger cohorts have been coming out earlier, they have greater likelihoods of exposure to risk factors for poor educational attainment, such as victimization in schools or loss of parental support. In national surveys that cut across age cohorts for adults, most (but not all) found higher average levels of education for self-identified LGB people or for people in same-sex couples (Black, Sanders, and Taylor, 2007; Gates, 2014).
Transgender people’s relative education level also varies across surveys. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found higher levels of educational attainment among transgender and gender-nonconforming adults in comparison with the general population of adults in the United States (James et al., 2016). However, transgender people in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System reported significantly lower average levels of education than cisgender people (Carpenter, Eppink, and Gonzales, 2020).
The range of experiences in the population—and the different times they went through the education system—makes it difficult to know why average education levels might be higher for LGB people, and few analyses of educational outcomes have drawn on these broad datasets. An important perspective comes from several studies that compared educational attainment of relatively recent cohorts of young people in longitudinal studies. Those studies found evidence of lower educational attainment for LGBT young people. One recent study using data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (Sansone, 2019) found that LGB people were almost 2 percent less likely to graduate from high school and 3 percent less likely to attend college than heterosexual people 7 years later, after holding constant demographic, family, school, and state characteristics. Transgender people had similar differences that were not statistically significant. A set of studies analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health also found lower levels of education among young sexual
minority women, who were less likely to graduate from high school or to enroll in and complete college than heterosexual women (Pearson and Wilkinson, 2017; Ueno, Roach, and Peña-Talamantes, 2013). In contrast, most men with same-sex attraction, identity, or behavior had similar educational levels as heterosexual men in their age group. However, the “late bloomers”—those who first reported same-sex attractions or behavior in adulthood—were more likely than heterosexual men to finish high school and college. Both women and men who identified as bisexual in adulthood were less likely to complete high school or to enroll in college than non-bisexual people, although the difference was only statistically significant for bisexual women (Mollborn and Everett, 2015).
Little is known about whether sexual orientation and gender identity influence students’ choice of college majors. An analysis of data from the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates found that women in same-sex couples were more likely than other women to report college majors that had higher percentages of men (Black, Sanders, and Taylor, 2007). Conversely, men in same-sex couples were more likely to have majors with higher proportions of women. A recent study replicates this finding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors: sexual minority men who entered college wanting to be a STEM major are less likely than heterosexual men to actually end up with a STEM major four years later, while sexual minority women who entered with STEM interests are more likely than similar heterosexual women to be in a STEM major (Hughes, 2018).
There is now clear evidence that state and local K–12 education policies that are inclusive of SGD students—that enumerate status characteristics—provide a context for positive school climate and student well-being and success. Enumerated policies list status characteristics that may be the basis of bullying or discrimination and typically mandate protection for them; in some cases, policies identify strategies to promote school safety and reduce bullying.
There is no federal law pertaining to nondiscrimination in education based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or intersex characteristics. In the absence of federal law or policy, many states and school districts have responded by outlining such protections. As of the writing of this report, every state had an anti-bullying law or policy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018), but only 21 states, 1 territory, and the District of Columbia had laws that prohibit bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; 24 states and 1 territory had no laws protecting SGD students; 5 states and 1 territory had no laws but had
school regulations or teacher codes that prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity (Movement Advancement Project, 2020).
Federal and state agencies provide guidance for interpretation of applicable laws and policies. Although there had not been explicit protection for transgender students in federal law, in 2016 the White House issued guidance to schools to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities, citing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects students from sex discrimination. However, in early 2017, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice reversed that guidance, pointing to the role of states to establish educational policy, effectively removing protection for transgender students under Title IX. A 2019 report revealed that, although transgender students were overrepresented in Title IX complaints and that harassment was the most frequent form of Title IX complaint, dramatically fewer LGBTQ-related complaints resulted in corrective action following the 2017 reversal (Mirza and Bewkes, 2019).
Research from several countries, U.S. states, and multiple local communities has found that the existence of nondiscrimination policies is associated with positive school climate and with more positive experiences for SGD and, indeed, all students (Black, Fedewa, and Gonzalez, 2012; Russell et al., 2010; Kull et al., 2016). As noted above, research to date on inclusive and enumerated policies has focused primarily on secondary education (middle and high schools). In schools that have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, students not only reported feeling safer, but they also reported hearing fewer homophobic remarks and seeing less bullying (Kosciw et al., 2016; Kull et al., 2016); better school attendance (Greytak, Kosciw, and Boesen, 2013); higher self-esteem (Kosciw et al., 2013), fewer mental health problems (Goodenow, Szalacha, and Westheimer, 2006; Hatzenbuehler, 2011; Hatzenbuehler et al., 2014), including lower risk for suicidal behaviors (Meyer et al., 2019); and lower substance use (Konishi et al., 2013). Moreover, in schools with such policies, teachers are seen as being more supportive of LGBT students (Swanson and Gettinger, 2016) and are more likely to intervene in bullying (Kosciw et al., 2016), and students are less likely to report homophobic attitudes toward LGBT peers (Horn and Szalacha, 2009).
In the past decade there has been a dramatic advance in research on school practices and programs that are associated with safe and supportive school climates for all students and with positive adjustment and well-being for SGD students (NASEM, 2019). These strategies include education or training for teachers, administrators, and other school personnel; school clubs that support students’ needs and interests; and explicit inclusion of
SGD topics in school curricula or in other school resources (e.g., libraries, posters or visual images, and designated safe spaces) (Day, Ioverno, and Russell, 2019; Gower et al., 2018; Johns et al., 2019a). Although a number of studies have documented prejudice and harassment of SGD students on college campuses (Rankin and Garvey, 2015; Rankin and Reason, 2006), most of the research has been focused on secondary schooling.
Professional Education and Training
Teachers play a defining role in the lives of all students, and support from teachers has been identified as a critical factor in the well-being of SGD students (Russell, Seif, and Truong, 2001). When SGD students view school personnel as supportive, they feel safer, have better attendance, and show better school performance (Greytak, Kosciw, and Boesen, 2013; Kosciw et al., 2016; Seelman et al., 2012). Teacher support may come in the form of proactive, SGD-affirming relationships between students and their teachers or may be as basic as intervention in bullying and harassment when it takes place. In one study based in a large U.S. urban area, students said that teachers were less likely to intervene when they heard homophobic remarks than racist or sexist remarks (Kosciw et al., 2016). In fact, some students have reported that school personnel use homophobic language: in a national survey of LGBT students, 56 percent reported hearing homophobic remarks from school personnel (Kosciw et al., 2016). Thus, preventing bullying—especially bullying motivated by prejudice or bias—is a vexing challenge (NASEM, 2016). Many teachers and other school personnel are not professionally prepared to intervene in bullying or victimization or to promote school safety for SGD students.
Of course, there are many SGD teachers who themselves navigate school climate that may be hostile to SGD people. One of the few wide-scale surveys of LGBT teachers found that, although the majority reported feeling comfortable being out at school, the majority also reported hearing homophobic remarks at school with little intervention by their peers; furthermore, one-third reported hearing homophobic marks in the presence of administrators, the majority of which went unchecked (Wright and Smith, 2015). In addition, state laws and school district policies vary in nondiscrimination protections for students as well as teachers: some school communities do not support teachers to be assertive about promoting the well-being of SGD students, and many teachers lack employment protection based on their SGD status (Graves, 2018; see also Chapters 5 and 6).
Given these findings, professional education for teachers, administrators, and other personnel (e.g., bus drivers, cafeteria workers) has been identified as a key strategy to improve school experiences and promote
positive school climates for all students. According to the nationwide 2018 School Health Profiles, a national survey of principals and school health teachers, 55.6–95.7 percent of schools reported that staff were “encouraged to attend professional development on safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity” (CDC, 2019, p. 40). Several studies have documented the efficacy of training school personnel to understand and support SGD students (Gower et al., 2018; Greytak et al., 2016; Swanson and Gettinger, 2016). For example, in a national sample of secondary school teachers (Greytak et al., 2016), teachers who had professional development regarding LGBT issues were more likely to intervene when they heard homophobic remarks; however, general professional development on bullying was not associated with intervention in homophobic remarks.
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs, sometimes known as gender-sexuality alliances) are student-led clubs that aim to create a safe, welcoming school climate for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The percentage of U.S. schools with GSAs had grown from less than 25 percent of schools in 2008 to nearly 40 percent of schools in 2018 (CDC, 2019). However, there is significant variability in access to GSAs across the nation. In 2018, the percentage of high schools with GSAs ranged from 14.5 percent in Mississippi to 71.9 percent in Rhode Island (median, 36.8 percent) (CDC, 2019). Participating in a GSA has been linked to academic performance (i.e., higher grade point average) (Walls, Kane, and Wisneski, 2010), school belonging (Toomey, McGuire, and Russell, 2012), school safety (Ioverno et al., 2016), and a number of indicators of civic involvement or participation (Poteat et al., 2019, 2020).
Several early studies described the “whiteness” of GSAs (Herdt et al., 2006; McCready, 2004), and several recent studies have investigated differences in participation in and support from GSAs for students, showing differences by race and ethnicity as well as by sexual and gender identity. In one study, racial and ethnic minority GSA members reported less frequent GSA attendance and receiving less peer support (Poteat et al., 2015) and less engagement in their GSA than white youth (Poteat et al., 2015). At the same time, transgender and genderqueer students reported greater involvement in their GSAs, and sexual minority students reported more support and engagement in GSAs than other students (Poteat et al., 2016).
The benefits of GSAs are not limited to participants. Several studies have found that the presence of a GSA at a school (regardless of a student’s membership) is linked to positive outcomes for both LGBT students
(Chesir-Teran and Hughes, 2009; Goodenow, Szalacha, and Westheimer, 2006; Kosciw et al., 2016; Lee, 2002; O’Shaughnessy et al., 2004; Szalacha, 2003; Walls, Kane, and Wisneski, 2010) and heterosexual students (Poteat et al., 2013; Saewyc et al., 2014; Szalacha, 2003). Students who attended schools with GSAs reported hearing less homophobic language, seeing less bullying, and feeling more belonging (Kosciw et al., 2016).
In addition, having a GSA has been linked to better health and health behaviors for LGBT students, including lower risk behaviors (Heck et al., 2014; Poteat et al., 2013) and better mental health (Goodenow, Szalacha, and Westheimer, 2006; McCormick, Schmidt, and Clifton, 2015; Saewyc et al., 2014; Toomey et al., 2011; Walls, Freedenthal, and Wisneski, 2008; Walls, Wisneski, and Kane, 2013). A recent meta-analysis showed that, across studies, LGBT students with GSAs in their schools were less likely to be victimized and more likely to feel safe than LGBT students in schools without GSAs (Marx and Kettrey, 2016). In one longitudinal study, having a GSA was linked with less bullying and more safety the following school year (Ioverno et al., 2016). Another recent study showed that having a well-functioning GSA was associated with less homophobic bullying, especially in schools with a negative climate overall, and especially for transgender students (Ioverno and Russell, 2020).
School Resources and Inclusive Curricula
A growing body of research has identified the ways that resources and inclusive curricula in schools contribute to positive school climates and SGD student well-being (Black, Fedewa, and Gonzalez, 2012; Russell et al., 2010). In a national study of LGBTQ students (Kosciw et al., 2016), those who had access to supportive information felt safer at school. Another study showed that students with access to LGBTQ-related resources were more likely to believe that adults cared about them and that teachers were fair (O’Shaughnessy et al., 2004). “Safe spaces” or “safe zones,” designated school personnel, classrooms, and student organizations where SGD students can receive support, have emerged in K–12 schools in recent years. Across states, data from the School Health Profiles indicate that safe spaces are now present in between 44.2 and 95.2 percent of schools (CDC, 2019). There is as yet little empirical evaluation of the efficacy of safe spaces for SGD students in K–12 education, but several studies show that the presence of safe zones contributes to feelings of safety and greater connectedness for SGD students in college (Evans, 2002; Katz et al., 2016).
There is strong evidence that curricula that are inclusive of sexual and gender diversity contribute to school safety for all students (Burdge et al.,
2013; Snapp et al., 2015b). Although many studies have documented the affirming role of inclusive curricula, there are few examples of standard curriculum modules that are publicly available: see Box 9-1 for a model example. Some states have laws that require nonpejorative descriptions of SGD people in curricula, yet laws that prohibit the discussion or positive portrayal of homosexuality in instruction, often specifically related to HIV education (and sometimes called “no promo homo laws”), remain in place in six U.S. states. Thus, for SGD youth, there are important geographic differences in the degree to which sexual and gender diversity is included in school curricula.
Multiple studies have found that students who learn about SGD issues at school report less bullying (Greytak, Kosciw, and Boesen, 2013; Russell et al., 2006; Snapp et al., 2015a), more safety (Szalacha, 2003; Toomey, McGuire, and Russell, 2012), and better attendance (Greytak, Kosciw, and Boesen, 2013; Kosciw et al., 2016). A study of over 1,200 students from 154 middle schools and high schools in California found that SGD curricular materials were most common in sexuality education or health education classes (40%), followed by English and social studies classes (27%); mathematics, science, music, art, drama, and physical education were the least likely subjects to include inclusive lessons (Snapp et al., 2015b). The pattern of findings in that study, which compared student-level as well as school-level differences, showed that students who reported using inclusive curricular materials were more likely than students in the same school who did not use inclusive materials to report being bullied; however, at the school level, inclusive curricula were associated with greater feelings of safety. The results suggest that students who may be targets of homophobic bullying may seek out classes that have inclusive curricula, or they may be more attuned to perceive and report bullying.
Finally, there has been growing attention to the inclusion of SGD issues in sexuality education in schools (Meadows, 2018). Inclusive and accurate school-based sexuality education can provide access to information that may not be available to SGD youth in other community settings (Elia et al., 2015). Yet sexuality education programs have historically excluded information about SGD attraction, identities, relationships, or healthy sexual expression (Kubicek et al., 2010; McNeill, 2013; Meadows, 2018), and this silence has directly or indirectly communicated messages of fear, shame, and prejudice to SGD people (Bishop et al., 2020). In the absence of school-based inclusive sexuality education, there are encouraging new models for sexuality education to reach SGD youth; the evaluation of an online sexual health promotion program for LGBT youth found gains across multiple outcomes, including self-acceptance, relationship skills, and safer sex knowledge (Mustanski et al., 2015).
In adulthood, many SGD people have significant interaction with schools in their roles as parents. Several factors have prompted scholarly interest in these experiences, given the recognized importance of strong relationships between K–12 schools and parents. Several studies, though based on small samples of same-sex couple families, have shown that parents may experience homophobia expressed by teachers (Gartrell et al., 2005) and that teachers may exclude those parents from activities or events (Goldberg, 2014). In addition to these explicit forms of exclusion, heteronormative practices in schools (such as parent forms that have spaces only for mother and father) implicitly exclude many SGD parents (Goldberg, 2014; Leland, 2019).
There has been interest in whether and how SGD parents “come out” in the context of their children’s schools. In a nationwide study of more than 500 LGBT parents, two-thirds had self-identified to their children’s teachers (Kosciw and Diaz, 2008). In contrast, a study of 50 transgender parents’ experiences with their children’s school found that disclosure was much less common (Haines, Ajayi, and Boyd, 2014). For some SGD parents, disclosure may be part of the process of school selection; some parents reported disclosing their identities to ensure that they chose a safe and inclusive school for their children (Goldberg, 2014; Leland, 2019). There is emerging research on the degree to which parents explicitly disclose or
conceal their sexual or gender identities at their children’s schools and whether those decisions change over the course of child development: parents’ diversity status appears more salient as children get older (Goldberg et al., 2017b).
The experiences that SGD parents have navigating their children’s schools have implications for their involvement. Studies of parental involvement in schooling clearly show gendered patterns, with mothers being more involved in schools than fathers. In contrast, recent studies of same-sex couples or lesbian and gay parents have shown greater involvement in early education classrooms by gay male fathers than by heterosexual fathers (Goldberg et al., 2017a). Other studies of lesbian and gay parents’ school involvement have reported that involvement is more common among parents who perceive their communities as more homophobic but who also perceive less exclusion from other parents (Goldberg and Smith, 2014). Overall, SGD parents may feel the need to be more active if they perceive a potentially hostile context for their children, yet they are understandably more involved when they feel included with networks of other parents. However, these findings are based on small samples, and further research is needed.
A few studies have investigated the academic or school adjustment of students with SGD parents, focusing on secondary school samples. In a large, geographically diverse sample that included LGBT as well as non-LGBT students, adolescents who identified as LGBT reported that their schools were less safe for students with LGBT parents (Russell et al., 2008). Among all students, those who reported that they had learned about LGBT issues in the school curriculum or who had teachers who intervened in homophobic harassment reported that their schools were safer for students with LGBT parents (Russell et al., 2008). A survey of more than 3,700 Canadian students found that students with an LGBT parent were more likely to report victimization at school and to have skipped school in the past year because they felt unsafe (Peter, Tayor, and Edkins, 2016).
Much of the existing research on sexual and gender diversity in education has focused on experiences of bullying and victimization; however, there is a growing body of research that identifies educational policies and practices associated with positive experiences for SGD students, whether through reducing bullying and victimization or improving school climates. Experiences that SGD students have in school are important not only because negative experiences undermine personal well-being but also because school experiences set the groundwork for educational attainment, future occupational achievement, and socioeconomic status. Because SGD youth are coming out at younger ages, research on school experiences that extends
to elementary schools and continues through higher education could help researchers gain a clearer understanding of the way these experiences affect students over their life course.
LGBTQ students are at risk for being victimized by homophobic bullying or by experiencing a hostile campus climate. Although most research has focused on secondary schools, similar patterns of discriminatory behavior have been documented for sexual minority and transgender students in higher education. The majority of LGBT students who experience bullying report negative peer experiences such as victimization, as well as higher rates of suspension or expulsion, which can undermine academic focus and achievement or lead to disengagement at school.
Although no federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination in education based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or intersex characteristics, federal courts and agencies have found that such discrimination may be covered under the federal ban on sex discrimination. State and local K–12 education policies that are inclusive of SGD students and that clearly enumerate characteristics of students who have historically been targets of bullying in the language regarding protection from bullying and discrimination (including sexual orientation and gender identity) are associated with positive school climates and with students’ well-being and success. In schools with such policies, teachers are also seen as being more supportive of LGBT students and are more likely to intervene in bullying.
When SGD students view school personnel as supportive, they feel safer, have better attendance, and show better school performance. Many teachers and other school personnel are not professionally prepared to intervene in bullying or victimization or to promote school safety for SGD students; furthermore, many teachers work in communities where laws or policies may not support them being assertive about promoting the well-being of SGD students. Schools can use such strategies as professional edu-
cation and training for teachers, administrators, and other personnel (e.g., bus drivers, cafeteria workers) to improve school experiences and promote a positive school climate for all students.
The presence of a gay-straight alliance at school (regardless of a student’s membership) is linked to positive outcomes for LGBT students, and students with access to LGBTQ-related resources are more likely to believe that adults care about them and that teachers are fair.
Research on lesbian and gay parents and their children has illuminated the issues that parents encounter in their children’s schools, as well as the experiences of their children as students. Several small studies of same-sex couple families have shown that they may experience homophobia expressed by teachers and that teachers may exclude those parents from activities or events.
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