Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Building a Community of LGBTQ+ Allies to Improve School Climate: An Interview with Jennifer M. Cooper

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Building a Community of LGBTQ+ Allies to Improve School Climate: An Interview with Jennifer M. Cooper

Article excerpt

A national school climate study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT; NASP uses LGBTQ+ to encompass all sexual and gender populations; the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network's [GLSEN] research references LGBT, and we have maintained this distinction for accuracy purposes) youth revealed that 63% of LGBT youth described feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 82% had been verbally harassed, 38% physically harassed, and 18% physically assaulted while at school (Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, & Boesen, 2014). Sixty percent of students in the same survey did not report harassment due to a lack of trust that school staff would intervene. Among negative outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth are higher rates of poor peer relationships, absenteeism, academic difficulties, social isolation, psychological risk, and suicidality than their heterosexual counterparts (see Rivers & Noret, 2008). In this Q&A, convention presenter Jennifer Cooper discusses how school psychologists can utilize their skills as consultants and take action as leaders of systems-level change within schools to create safer school climates for LGBTQ+ students (NASP Practice Model Domains: 2, 4, & 6). She and Dr. Kisha Radliff (The Ohio State University) will provide direct instruction during their mini-skills session, MS219: Building a Community of LGBTQ+ Allies to Improve School Climate, Saturday, February 13, 2016, 10:00- 11:50 a.m.

Sexual minority youth are at increased risk for a variety of social-emotional and developmental outcomes due to bullying, harassment, and lack of support. What progress have you seen over recent years in interrupting this negative trajectory?

We've seen school climate improve somewhat in recent years, but schools remain hostile environments for many sexual minority youth. For example, according to the most recent biennial (Kosciw et al., 2014) survey conducted by GLSEN, the percentage of students hearing homophobic remarks had declined from more than 80% in 2001 to about 60% in 2013. Students also reported experiencing lower verbal and physical harassment based on sexual orientation and gender expression than in all prior years and fewer incidences of physical assault since 2007. The availability of LGBTQ+-related supports and resources has also improved in schools over recent years. In 2013, a higher percentage of students surveyed reported having supportive school staff and the presence of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in their school compared to all prior survey years (Kosciw et al., 2014). Although these trends indicate progress in the right direction, important work remains to be done in creating safe, welcoming, and affirming places for LGBTQ+ students. For example, LGBT students in rural school settings continue to report higher levels of victimization compared to students in urban and suburban schools (Kosciw et al., 2014).

What arguments are persuasive in helping school administrators understand the need for an improved school climate for LGBTQ+ students?

Administrators are undoubtedly busy people, so it's important to be direct, articulate your needs and desires, and have data prepared to inform the decision-making process. Below are a few tips paraphrased from GLSEN's (2013) Safe Space training kit that should help administrators understand the urgent need to improve school climate for sexual minority youth.

Show them why the change is necessary. "I think there is a need for a comprehensive antibullying/ harassment policy (or a training for all staff, etc.) in this school because...." If possible, use statistics from a GLSEN National School Climate Survey or Research Brief for your specific state (see www.glsen .org/research) or a school climate survey you have conducted in your school. If applicable, give them brief descriptions of the antiLGBTQ+ behavior you have witnessed in the school.

Put the focus on safety. All administrators have a responsibility to make sure their schools are safe (physically and emotionally) for the students who attend them. …

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