LGBT Educators' Perceptions of School Climate: Administrators' Attitudes and District Policies Can Make Significant Contributions to Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Educators

Article excerpt

Effective school leaders strive to maintainsafety within their schools (Lezotte 1997). Bucher and Manning (2005) and Edmondson and her colleagues (2007) described a safe school as one in which all faculty, staff, and students interact in a positive, nonthreatening manner that promotes education while fostering positive relationships and personal growth and protecting all from harm. The school leader must gauge how safe students feel in the school, since they must feel safe and accepted in order to take the important risks associated with academic and social development (Bluestein 2000; Merrow 2004).

Educators also need to feel safe and accepted in order to provide the best education for students. Leithwood and McAdie (2007) found that teachers who felt safe had a higher level of efficacy. School leaders are obligated to provide, support, mandate, and encourage safe environments for all students and staff members. Historically and currently, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and staff have felt unsafe in many school environments because of their sexual and gender orientations (Markow and Fein 2005).

In the past decade, educators have increasingly included LGBT issues into teaching and learning about diverse populations (Rottman 2006). This focus has helped many schools create safer climates for all students and staff, including LGBT students and staff. In addition, organizations, like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), have surveyed students and staff not only to understand the school experiences of LGBT students and staff, but also to understand what supports positive school experiences for these populations (Markow and Fein 2005).

Despite this progress, schools continue to struggle with how to improve experiences for LGBT students. School leaders struggle more with acknowledging and improving the experiences of LGBT educators. Most of the research on this population revolves around three themes: the history of LGBT educators, the climates they have faced and currently face in schools, and the individual experiences of LGBT educators or preservice educators. Most of these studies used qualitative methods and focused on one LGBT educator or a small group of LGBT educators. Before this study, only one comprehensive quantitative study (Juul and Repa 1993) had been published that examined factors influencing LGBT educators' job satisfaction. However, these results are over 15 years old.

The next important step was to consider the "who cares" factor. Why would anyone other than LGBT educators care about this topic? School leaders should care because they have become increasingly more accountable for creating safe schools during the past decade. Research exists that shows that safe schools are positively associated with teacher efficacy, which may influence student achievement.

MAJOR FINDINGS

The data set contained 514 educators who self-identified as being LGBT. Seven findings emerged:

#1. Homophobia was experienced equally across all groups.

About 75% of respondents reported experiencing some homophobia, but no group perceived a significantly higher level of homophobia. These analyses supported the research of Jackson (2007), whose participants indicated that they experienced difficulties due to heteronormativity, which means that only heterosexuality is assumed and believed to be normal.

#2. Younger LGBT educators report greater support from principals.

LGBT educators ages 18-25 and ages 34-42 felt more supported by their principals than respondents between ages 43-50. This could be because the older LGBT educators lived through times when LGBT people suffered more overt discrimination and never felt confident in a superior's support. Blount (2000) and Tulin (2006) discussed the discrimination felt by LGBT individuals. Harbeck (1997) reviewed the backlash to gains by LGBT educators in Florida and other states during the 1970s, which could have had an impact on those older participants. …