Story at a glance
- Openly LGBTQ+ people account for just 0.1 percent of all school board members in the U.S., despite accounting for more than 7 percent of the adult population, according to a new report from the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
- Most openly LGBTQ+ school board members are cisgender, gay men and about a third are cisgender women. There are just two transgender women, two transgender men and two nonbinary people serving on school boards.
- Nearly 50 percent of respondents in a survey distributed to all 90 known LGBTQ+ school board members said they faced verbal attacks while running for the position, and 51 percent said they were subjected to similar attacks after they were elected to the board.
LGBTQ+ people are acutely underrepresented on school boards, new research shows, accounting for less than 1 percent of board members nationwide.
Of the roughly 90,000 school board members in the U.S., 90 are openly LGBTQ+, according to a report published Wednesday by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, a partner organization of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee working to elect more openly LGBTQ+ people to public office.
Put another way, openly LGBTQ+ people make up just 0.1 percent of all school board members across the country, despite accounting for more than 7 percent of the U.S. adult population. Roughly 6,000 LGBTQ+ school board members would need to be elected to close the representation gap, the Victory Institute estimated.
Demographically, most openly LGBTQ+ school board members are gay, cisgender men. Cisgender women account for roughly a third of LGBTQ+ school board members, and just two transgender women, two transgender men and two nonbinary people serve on school boards in the U.S., according to the report. Less than 20 percent of school board members are lesbian.
This year alone, hundreds of bills have been introduced in state legislatures that will restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people in schools, doctor’s offices and on playing fields. In more than a dozen states, restrictive curriculum bills have been introduced — and, in some cases, signed into law — that limit how sexual orientation or gender identity may be talked about in school.
“From ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills to bans on trans kids in sports, our schools have been ground zero for anti-LGBTQ vitriol this year,” Annise Parker, the president and chief executive of the Victory Institute, said Wednesday in a statement. “In many cases, school boards have the power to determine the rights LGBTQ kids do – and don’t – have.”
But serving on a school board as an openly LGBTQ+ person comes with its own set of difficulties. In much of the country, there is just one LGBTQ+ school board member per state.
In a survey distributed to all 90 known LGBTQ+ school board members, 47 percent of those who responded said they had been the target of anti-LGBTQ+ verbal attacks while running for a seat on the board, according to the Victory Institute report. More than half of respondents said they were subjected to similar attacks after they were elected.
Physical danger was also a concern, and more than a third of respondents said they faced threats to their safety and 6.5 percent said they received death threats as a school board candidate or member.
N.J. Akbar, the board of education president for Akron Public Schools in Ohio, told Changing America that he has been singled out and targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in the past because of his sexual orientation.
“One of the biggest tropes out there about being gay and being connected to a school is that you’re a pedophile,” he said. “To me, that’s hurtful, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Akbar said similar tactics have been used in school board elections across the country to make voters question whether LGBTQ+ people have children’s best interests at heart.
“But there are never any questions about the ways in which you serve,” he said. “They can never address you on those issues, so they bring up the gay thing.”
Like a majority of respondents to the Victory Institute survey (87 percent), Akbar has introduced and backed pro-LGBTQ+ policies since he was elected to the school board in 2019.
One of the policies, which would ensure accurate name and pronoun usage for transgender students, has been stalled for almost a year. Most pushback has come from within the administration itself, Akbar said, and parents and other school board members have not voiced much opposition.
According to the Victory Institute, more than two-thirds of openly LGBTQ+ school board members said supporting LGBTQ+ students was among what motivated them to run for a position.
With a growing number of young people identifying as LGBTQ+, Akbar said it’s important to have diversity in leadership and have elected officials better represent the communities they serve.
“It brings more people to the table,” he said. “It gets more voices out there.”