Last week, a coalition of LGBT organizations and allies sent a letter to the Senate HELP Committee expressing “great concern” and “a lack of support” for the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act, due to its lack of LGBT inclusion. These organizations and allies are to be commended for holding members of Congress accountable and pushing for the passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Sage Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). But it is becoming very clear that SNDA and SSIA face a long uphill political battle that will hopefully result in their passage sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, outside of advocating for their passage, we should push for the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools all across this country, especially in schools with a predominantly black population. The creation of GSAs will help promote a more inclusive and safer educational environment for LGBT youth across this country until federal legislation is passed. In fact, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), schools that have GSAs positively impact LGBT youth because these schools have fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization, less absenteeism, and greater sense of belonging. Considering that in 2009, 84 percent of LGBT students have been verbally harassed, 40 percent have been physically harassed, and 18 percent have been physically assaulted, it is imperative to tackle LGBT bullying and harassment. Establishing GSAs is an effective way to do that.
Combating LGBT bullying and harassment is especially important in schools with a predominantly black student body because black LGBT students face some of the most hostile treatment in our nation’s schools. Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress released an article that explored the plight of black LGBT youth in America’s schools. This article presented research that showed that black LGBT youth fare better academically and socially in schools with GSAs. Unfortunately, many predominantly black schools do not have GSAs because of the commonly accepted notion that being LGBT is a “white issue” and because the issue is rarely discussed in many black communities.
Yes, it will be a challenge to establish GSAs in schools where LGBT students are seen but rarely talked about in a positive manner. But that is the exact reason we should advocate hard to have them. Regardless if you are a parent, educator, or community member, your support is needed to make these GSAs a reality. LGBT students cannot do the work alone; providing them with assistance and support can be the difference between having a GSA or not and providing a safe environment for education. More importantly, GSAs benefit both LGBT students and non-LGBT students by creating an environment where it is okay for all students to express who they are.
The creation of GSAs will not completely solve the problem of bullying and harassment for LGBT youth; only federal legislation can lay the groundwork for that to be accomplished. Nevertheless, their creation can place schools on the road to not only being more inclusive but to providing a safe educational environment that will help all students. We owe that much to our LGBT youth, to ensure that school does not become a place of dread because of consistent fear of violence and rejection.
So while our elected representatives work out the politics, we can help lead our nation’s schools to being more inclusive to our LGBT youth through the creation of GSAs. Together we create a very powerful voice, one that cannot be ignored and will not go away until equality is given to LGBT youth.
Jerome Hunt is a Ph.D. candidate at Howard University and a research associate with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The views expressed in this article are his own. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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