It’s Not Your Imagination: LGBTQ Youth Are Disproportionately Punished in School
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are between 1.25 and 3 times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be subject to school sanctions.
Data shows what experience and common sense tell us – it’s not easy being an LGBTQ youth in school. When we discuss LGBTQ student issues, we often focus on bullying and harassment by peers. It is equally important to expand the conversation to include bullying and harassment by schools as institutions. Unequal and unjust treatment of LGBTQ students also happens at the systemic level.
More than 15% of students report being prevented from wearing clothing or items supporting LGBTQ issues.
LGBTQ students suffer school punishments that are disproportionate to their rates of engagement in transgressive behaviors. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are between 1.25 and 3 times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be subject to school sanctions. This is especially true for girls. Transgender and gender nonconforming students are more likely to be disciplined than cisgender and gender conforming students. Likewise, black and Latino/a youth are more likely to be disciplined than white and Asian/Pacific Islander youth.
More than one third of students say their schools have disciplined LGBTQ students for public affection that was not similarly disciplined among non-LGBTQ students, including 28.2% of LGBTQ youth who have been personally subject to such unequal treatment.
9% of students report being disciplined simply for identifying as LGBTQ.
LGBTQ students are particularly likely to be disciplined for their clothing and gender presentation. Dress codes with gender-based requirements disproportionately negatively impact LGBTQ students, and particularly gender non-conforming students of color. Nineteen percent of students have personally been prevented from wearing clothing deemed “inappropriate” based on their assigned gender. More than 15% of students report being prevented from wearing clothing or items supporting LGBTQ issues.
Most disturbingly, 9% of students report being disciplined simply for identifying as LGBTQ.
Rather than helping to protect LGBTQ students, zero-tolerance policies coupled with staff bias often lead to LGBTQ students being penalized when they become caught in an ongoing cycle of victimization and violence that the school allows to go unaddressed. Often all students involved in an incident of bullying or harassment are punishmed, including the targeted victim, particularly when the victim acts in self-defense.
Zero-tolerance policies fuel the school-to-prison pipeline that puts a disproportionate number of LGBTQ youth into the juvenile justice system. LGBTQ youth who experience discriminatory policies and practices at school are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to receive detention or be suspended or expelled and three times as likely to become involved with the criminal or juvenile justice system as a result of school-related infractions (3.1% vs. 1.1%).
We have a lot of work to do to ensure that LGBTQ youth are not only treated equally and justly in schools, but that they are supported and affirmed. GLAD continues to work toward our goal of equal justice under the law for all LGBTQ youth by supporting efforts to reform school policies and to increase data collection surrounding discipline of LGBTQ youth in schools.
Sources cited throughout:
- Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein and Hannah Bruckner, Criminal-Justice and School Sanctions Against Nonheterosexual Youth: A National Longitudinal Study, The American Academy of Pediatrics http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/12/06/peds.2009-2306.abstract.
- Joseph Kosciw et al., The 2013 National School Climate Survey, Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 2013 http://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/NSCS_ExecSumm_2013_DESIGN_FINAL.pdf.
- Hilary Burdge, Adela C. Licona, and Zami T. Hyemingway, LGBTQ Youth of Color: Discipline Disparities, School Push-Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, 2014 http://www.gsanetwork.org/files/aboutus/LGBTQ_brief_FINAL-web.pdf.
- Sarah McBride et al., We the People: Why Congress and U.S. States Must Pass Comprehensive LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections, Center for American Progress, 2014 https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/LGBT-WeThePeople-report-12.10.14.pdf.
- Angela Irvine, “We’ve had three of them: Addressing the invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and gender non-conforming youths in the juvenile justice system,” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 19, 2010 http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/content/weve-had-three-of-them.pdf.