Story at a glance

  • GLSEN released the findings of its biennial National School Climate Survey, conducted in 2019.
  • The survey found several indicators of a negative school climate for LGBTQ+ students, including homophobic remarks and harrassment.
  • While some conditions have improved, American public schools are still hostile places for some LGBTQ+ students.

Two decades have passed since the GLSEN began conducting its biennial national school climate survey and almost all LGBTQ+ students are still hearing comments like "that's so gay" and "no homo."

Almost all of more than 16,000 LGBTQ+ students surveyed in 2019 have heard "gay" used in a negative way at school, and 95 percent of them heard other homophobic slurs, according to the 2019 survey. But less than one fifth of students reported that school staff intervened most of the times or always when overhearing such remarks. 

“We’ve seen significant improvement in the lives of LGBTQ students over the past twenty years, but progress has slowed,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard in a release. 


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There are still some signs of progress. After transphobic language spiked in schools between 2013 and 2017, the survey found that students heard negative remarks about transgender people less often in 2019. More students have a Gay Straight Alliance at their school than the survey has ever reported before, and those that do report “more supportive school staff, more accepting peers, and felt greater belonging to their school community.” 

But GLSEN says that isn't enough, recommending professional development for staff to offer support and effective intervention as well as more inclusive school policies and curricula. More than half of LGBTQ+ students surveyed reported personally experiencing LGBTQ-related discriminatory policies or practices at school.

“Our research over the past two decades points to clear actions that schools can take to protect students who are facing anti-LGBTQ harassment and other forms of discrimination,” said Joseph Kosciw, Director of GLSEN Research Institute. “It’s time for each and every school leader to understand the barriers that LGBTQ students face and to commit to making the changes necessary to protect all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” 


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Harassment and other forms of discrimination have serious consequences for its victims, who are more likely to have been disciplined at school or missed school than other LGBTQ+ students. Some even reported considering dropping out of school entirely, 30.1 percent of whom said their decision was related to the hostile climate created by gendered school policies and practices.

“I love learning but most days I just hate school. I can’t deal with the comments and the inability for people to just be kind to LGBTQIA+ students," said one student in the survey. 

Students between the ages of 13 and 21 were surveyed online from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Guam for the 2019 National School Climate Survey. A little more than two-thirds of the students (69.2 percent) were white, two-fifths (41.6 percent) were cisgender female and 40.4 percent identified as gay or lesbian. 

Not all LGBTQ+ students reported equal discrimination. Middle school students reported more hostile school experiences and less resources than their high school counterparts. Indigenous students were most likely to be victims of harassment or discrimination, while Black students were most likely to feel unsafe about their race on top of their LGBTQ+ identity. 


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Published on Oct 13, 2020