Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Advocacy for and with Lgbt Students: An Examination of High School Counselor Experiences

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Advocacy for and with Lgbt Students: An Examination of High School Counselor Experiences

Article excerpt

Scholarship has suggested that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students continue to experience a hostile school climate (Birkett, Espelage, & Koenig, 2009; Dragowski, McCabe, & Rubinson, 2016), despite social and political efforts to foster safer and more inclusive schools (Black, Fedewa, & Gonzalez, 2012). According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) most recent National School Climate Survey (Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, Villenas, & Danischewski, 2016) of more than 10,000 students, roughly 66% of respondents experienced discrimination at school related to their sexual orientation or gender expression. Findings also indicated that LGBT students are more likely to feel unsafe at school and often miss school as a result of safety concerns. Perhaps most significant, this data revealed that school personnel do not consistently intervene when anti-LGBT bullying or harassment occurs, which further isolates LGBT students. Such findings are in accordance with previous research that found that higher rates of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment are partly the result of school personnel "looking the other way" during such incidences (Singh, Orpinas, & Horne, 2010), often because they lack the training and skills to adequately address anti-LGBT bias (Dragowski et al., 2016).

Conversely, the GLSEN study (Kosciw et al., 2016) also found that school-based supports-including the existence of an LGBT-friendly club such as a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), LGBT-inclusive curriculum, and comMaru prehensive anti-bullying and harassment policies contribute to a more positive school climate and safer learning environment, a finding consistent with previous research (Graybill, Varjas, Meyers, & Watson, 2009; Griffin & Ouellett, 2002; Kull, Greytak, Kosciw, & Villenas, 2016). Such findings demonstrate the need for school counselors and other educators to serve as advocates and agents for systemic change within their schools and larger communities. The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of high school counselors who have advocated for and with LGBT students in the southeastern United States

School Counselor Advocacy and LGBT Students

The school counseling profession has embraced a more proactive, advocacy-focused approach over the past decade-one that calls upon school counselors to be social justice advocates and agents for systemic change (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2012; Gonzalez, 2016; Singh, Urbano, Haston, & McMahon, 2010). To that end, the American Counseling Association (ACA) Advocacy Competencies (Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2002) were designed for use within the counseling profession as a guideline for effective advocacy at the individual, school/community, and public arena levels both with and on behalf of students and clients. Specifically, the ACA Advocacy Competencies provide an outline for tackling broader systemic issues-including discrimination based on sexual orientation and/ or gender identity-while addressing individual concerns and encouraging self-advocacy.

Despite the call for school counselor advocacy, few studies have explored the phenomenon of school counselor advocacy in general (Field, 2004; Holmberg-Abel, 2012; Singh, Urbano et al., 2010) and even fewer have investigated school counselor advocacy as it relates specifically to LGBT students (Gonzalez, 2016; McCabe, Rubinson, Dragowski, & ElizaldeUtnick, 2013). Research on LGBT students is also limited, though this is changing as more scholars (Gonzalez, 2016; Gonzalez & McNulty, 2010; Goodrich, Harper, Luke, & Singh, 2013) emphasize the need for school counselor advocacy with LGBT students. To this end, the specific research question guiding this qualitative study was: What are the lived experiences of high school counselors in the southeastern U.S. who advocate for and with LGBT students?


A phenomenological research tradition was used for this study. …

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