With heated debate over the rights of transgender students bubbling in Pasco, Sarasota and other counties, GLSEN has issued its annual student climate survey that indicates many Florida LGBTQ students have felt harassed, victimized and discriminated against in their schools.
GLSEN is an activist group that works to protect LGBTQ students and to create inclusive environments in schools.
Many Tampa Bay area schools have made progress in this regard, said Gregg Coldiron, co-chairman of GLSEN-Tampa Bay. But problems still exist, and require more action from school leaders and teachers.
"The message is two things," Coldiron said. "Create a safe space where somebody in the school is known that anyone can go talk to about their situation. That's an important factor for students. Second, absolutely make sure there are written policies, written and enforced."
The concern is that LGBTQ students are treated poorly, and often get no support. The GLSEN climate survey, in its 20th year, indicated:
– 86% of Florida LGBTQ students reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks in school, and 74% reported regularly hearing negative remarks about transgender people.
– 74% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment at school based on sexual orientation, and 61% experienced verbal harassment at school based on gender expression.
– Most LGBTQ students never reported incidents of school victimization to school staff (59%) and only 25% of those who reported incidents said it resulted in effective staff intervention.
– Only 8% of LGBTQ students attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy that included specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
LGBTQ supporters have pointed to research that says the students who don't have adequate supports are among the most likely to harm themselves. As in Pasco County, they have urged district leaders to create or maintain rules that permit the students to be themselves without fear.
They face opposition, though — often moreso from some parents, community organizations and outside entities than from other students — that argue against such things as the "false use of gender pronouns" or the teaching of materials that include LGBTQ information.
The Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious rights legal aid group, has offered to help Pasco County schools, for instance, write more restrictive policies relating to transgender student rights.
GLSEN seeks to push back against such efforts, and create an atmosphere that accommodates LGBTQ youth.
"GLSEN can help," Coldiron said.