Committing to Social Justice: The Behavioral Intention of School Psychology and Education Trainees to Advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Youth

Article excerpt

Abstract. The current study explored how graduate students in education, school psychology, and counseling are being prepared to help ensure an equal and safe learning environment for youth identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered (LGBT). Focus groups were conducted with graduate students in a school of education that has made social justice a cornerstone of its conceptual framework. Focus group questions directed students to reflect on their knowledge and behaviors in addressing social justice issues in schools, and more specifically on issues pertaining to LGBT youth, such as antigay harassment and expression of sexual orientation for youth in schools. Responses were transcribed and organized using the constant comparative process. Broad response themes were organized using the framework of the theory of planned behavior (TPB). TPB postulates that our attitudes, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control predict behavioral intention and our subsequent behaviors. Results indicated that although the graduate students had strong positive attitudes to overall themes of social justice, such as race, class, or language, they revealed inadequate attitudes and knowledge of issues faced by LGBT youth. They reported an indifferent or unsympathetic subjective norm in reference to their school colleagues, and barriers to engaging in LGBT advocacy, including lack of administrative support. The TPB model provided a useful organizational framework with which to examine graduate students' preparation and intention for proactive behavior change in schools.

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The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) position statement on sexual minority youth calls for equal access to education and mental health services and the creation of safe schools. The statement calls for establishing nondiscrimination policies that apply to all students, educating students and staff, direct intervention with perpetrators of harassment, and support for those students who are targeted (NASP, 2004). Furthermore, the NASP (2000) Professional Conduct Manual indicates that school psychologists "do not engage in or condone practices that discriminate against children, other clients, or employees based on race, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, economic status, or native language ... and avoid any action that could violate or diminish the civil and legal rights of children and other clients" (p. 22). With similar intent, the American Psychological Association (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct states that psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation (APA, 2002).

Despite these recommendations, statistics show that harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) youth in schools remains a significant problem. LGBT youth are almost three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to have been assaulted or involved in a fight in school (Human Rights Watch, 2001). An online survey of LGBT teenagers indicated that over 90% reported being verbally or physically harassed or assaulted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, appearance, gender, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability, or religion, as compared to 62% of non-LGBT teens (Harris Interactive & Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network [GLSEN], 2005). This survey further indicated that LGBT students are three times more likely to feel unsafe at school compared to non-LGBT students.

This situation has not gone unnoticed by school administrators. In a recent survey, only one-third of secondary school principals believed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students would feel safe in their school, and only one-quarter believed transgendered students would feel safe. Further, although 90% of principals have heard antigay slurs in their school, only 21% have engaged in efforts to specifically foster a safer school environment for LGBT students (GLSEN & Harris Interactive, 2008). …