"Wow, they care right?" Making Schools Safe(r) for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth

Schools contribute heavily to the feelings of isolation and stigmatization that many gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth experience. Research demonstrates that the climate of US middle and high schools are generally unsupportive and unsafe for many of these youth who are often susceptible to harassment, discrimination, and other negative events, often specifically related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or how they express their gender. The research reports that in order to create safe schools for students who identify as LGBTQ, school districts must have 4 components in place: nondiscrimination policy specifically addressing sexual orientation and gender identity; inclusive curriculum; support groups for students; and staff development for teachers and support staff.San Leandro High School has a safe schools program which consists of the 4 components. This mixed methods study sought to analyze the program through an analysis of the school policies, programs and practices by answering the question, How is the Safe Schools work at San Leandro High School impacting the climate for students who identify as LGBTQ? Quantitative data was collected through the GLSEN Local School Climate survey. Qualitative data was collected through focus group interviews with staff members, heterosexual students, and LGBTQ students.Major findings of the study include the following: 1.) prevalent use of homophobic language; 2.) discomfort of staff regarding LGBTQ issues; 3.) limitations of the Safe Schools curriculum; 4.) the positive influence of Club Rainbow; 5.) fewer boys "out" than girls; and 6.) additional 9th grade campus support needed. Recommendations made are: 1.) yearly program evaluation; 2.) reviewing and revising the Safe Schools curriculum; 3.) ongoing staff development and support for staff; 4.) continued support to the club rainbow advisor; 5.) outreach to gay boys as well as other gay students that are not "out"; and 6.) additional 9th grade campus support.This study supports the research that schools that implement the 4 components--nondiscrimination policy, inclusive curriculum, support groups, and staff development--do have safe(r) school climates for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning. These findings may help educators to better understand LGBTQ students and how to better support them in school; provide information to schools that don't have "safe schools" programs about how to start them; as well as make recommendations to schools that have existing programs in place as to how to strengthen them.