PFLAG Releases Survey Results: the Nation's Educators are Unresponsive to LGBTQ Needs and Concerns

On January 5th, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) released the results of its National School Assessment. The report focuses on the response of the education system to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Overall, PFLAG found that awareness of LGBTQ youth safety issues is on the rise, however, there is still a dangerous lack of support or policies in the education system.

The survey, which was launched in January 2004 included students, educators, and school administrators in 39 states. Professional educators, who made up the majority of the respondents (65%), evaluated their own school systems on how well resources and policies supported LGBTQ youth.1 The results showed that 95% of school counseling services had little or no gay, lesbian, or bisexual resources and 99% lacked transgender resources.2 The nation's schools also have few resources for parents and staff: 84% had little or no resources for parents about LGBTQ issues and 70% had no training for educators on how to stop LGBTQ bullying.3

"Our findings help explain why so many people still hold on to damaging old fictions and profound misunderstandings about our GLBT family members and friends," explained Ron Schlittler, executive director of PFLAG. "Misinformation goes unchallenged because accurate information is virtually banned in our schools, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and abusive behavior goes largely unchecked."4

One of the many policies that may cause LGBTQ students to feel unwelcome or unsafe is the promotion of heterosexual marriage by federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Respondents to PFLAG's survey report that when LGBTQ issues are addressed in school curricula, it occurs most often in health class.5 Health classes that adopt strict abstinence-only-until-marriage approaches threaten to make LGBTQ issues invisible altogether.

This issue garnered national attention in November of 2004, when Texas abstinence-only-until-marriage supporters demanded that health textbooks include language that many felt was discriminatory. During the approval process of health textbooks one member of the Texas Board of Education argued that textbooks must define marriage as a "lifelong union between a husband and a wife," because "neutral words in the book[s] such as 'couples' and 'partners' are inclusive to same-sex marriages and mislead students."6 As a result, two of the four textbooks up for approval made changes to include this limited definition of acceptable relationships and replaced words like "people" and "individuals" with "a man and a woman."7

In contrast, a few states ban this type of discriminatory language from their sexuality education curriculums. For example, California's sexuality education law demands that "instruction and materials shall be appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and pupils with disabilities."8

PFLAG and other organizations working for safe environments for LGBTQ youth hope that this sort of legislation will be adopted across the country. Schlittler explains, "for the sake of all of our kids and our communities, it is time to face up to this problem with honesty and compassion and address it through anti-harassment policies, accurate resources and training for staff and faculty. It is simply the right thing to do."9

References

  1. PFLAG Safe Schools Initiative National Survey 2004, (District of Columbia: Parents, Familes, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), 2005), 5, accessed 11 January 2005.
  2. Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, "Nation's Schools Leave Many Behind: PFLAG Study Finds Gay Students' Needs Largely Ignored," Press Release published on 5 January 2005, accessed 11 January 2005.
  3. PFLAG National Survey 2004, 30, 33.
  4. PFLAG, "Nation's Schools Leave Many Behind."
  5. PFLAG National Survey 2004, 28.
  6. Melissa Mixon, "Health books' changes adopted," The Daily Texan, 8 November 2004, accessed 22 November 2004.
  7. Ibid.
  8. California Education Code Sections 51933, 51934.
  9. PFLAG, "Nation's Schools Leave Many Behind."

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