Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Urban Service Providers' Perspectives on School Responses to Gay, Lesbian, and Questioning Students: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Urban Service Providers' Perspectives on School Responses to Gay, Lesbian, and Questioning Students: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

Perspectives regarding bullying of gay, lesbian, and questioning (GLQ) students were obtained from 16 school and community service providers in this exploratory study. Insights were gained regarding in-school responses to homophobic bullying threats beyond traditional punishments (e.g., suspension). Barriers to developing safe schools for GLQ students included passive school personnel, a conservative religious climate, victim blaming, and blindness to GLQ students. Facilitators to improving school climate and preventing GLQ bullying also were identified.

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It is well documented that schools are often unsafe environments for students who identify as or who are perceived to be gay, lesbian, or questioning (D'Augelli, Pilkington, & Hershberger, 2002; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network [GLSEN], 2003, 2005; Williams, Connolly, Pepler, & Craig, 2003). Bullying of gay, lesbian, or questioning (GLQ) youth has been defined as repeated exposure to negative actions from one or more students, and it often takes the form of verbal and physical harassment (GLSEN, 2003, 2005). Due to frequent victimization, GLQ youth are at greater risk than their heterosexual peers for mental health issues such as depression (Galliher, Rostosky, & Hughes, 2004), anxiety (Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, & Gwadz, 2002), suicide (McFarland, 1998), use of alcohol and illicit substances (Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter, 2004), and risky sexual activity (Blake et al., 2001).

School personnel have begun to implement policies, procedures, and interventions addressing homophobic bullying and its impact on sexual minority youth. However, it is not clear if these efforts have been successful because systematic evaluation has been limited. One important gap in the literature is the lack of information about the perceptions of community and school professionals who provide services to GLQ students regarding GLQ bullying. The purpose of this article is to report the perceptions of urban service providers concerning school efforts to reduce the frequency and severity of sexual minority bullying.

The literature on students' perceptions of the occurrence of homophobic bullying has increased, but there still remains limited school support and resources for GLQ youth (GLSEN, 2005; Williams et al., 2003). Researchers have proposed recommendations regarding how to reduce sexual minority bullying in schools (Woodiel, Angermeier-Howard, & Hobson, 2003). Yet, few studies provide insight about the perceptions of adults who work with GLQ youth regarding which interventions reduce the frequency and severity of sexual minority bullying. School and community GLQ service providers have a range of experiences with sexual minority bullying because adults are the individuals who are ultimately responsible for keeping all youth safe in schools. Therefore, their perspectives and experiences could be useful in elucidating the nature of and responses to sexual minority bullying, the multiple barriers and facilitators that exist in schools, and interventions implemented to address homophobic bullying.

It is important to learn about the perspectives of school and community service providers because these groups have unique experiences working with GLQ youth. Interviews with school and community GLQ service providers were designed to conduct an exploratory investigation to address this gap in the current literature on GLQ bullying and to gain an in-depth understanding of one group of urban service providers' perceptions of school responses to sexual minority bullying, school barriers and facilitators, school and community resources, and school-based interventions.

METHOD

Community Context

This study was conducted in a major city in the Southeast (i.e., Atlanta). As of May 2007, public schools in metropolitan Atlanta had implemented 46 Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs; GLSEN, 2006), indicating the presence of sexual minority youth and their allies who are able to organize in an open manner. …

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