Tuesday, September 1, 2009

GLSEN on Bullying of Gay Youths: Worse Where Education Levels Are Low

And last but not least today: the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has just issued a media release about an important GLSEN study showing that LGBT teens are more likely to experience hostility and harassment in schools in rural communities and those marked by poverty and low adult educational rates than in urban areas and communities with higher education levels.

I've noted previously on this blog that, in my view, gay activists in major urban areas need to pay more attention to the lives and experiences of those of us who do not live in places in which laws and social attitudes curb overt anti-gay hostility and discrimination. In my view, it's particularly imperative that the needs of gay young people in rural parts of the country receive more attention from gay leaders in the U.S.

I'm not in the least surprised to find that GLSEN has discovered a correlation between lack of high adult education levels in various communities, and the harassment that gay teens experience in the schools of those communities. To me, it seems intuitively obvious that much of the overt homophobia displayed towards gay family members, gay citizens, and--saddest of all--gay young people in some parts of the country has to do with lack of education. And where education levels are low, there's also likely to be poverty to compound the problem.

I've also noted on this blog my concern as an educator regarding the role colleges and universities need to be playing in educating students--and, in particular, teachers-to-be--to combat such discrimination when they enter the workforce. As it happens, many of the communities with the lowest levels of adult education and the highest levels of poverty in which gay teens experience significant harassment in schools also happen to be in my part of the nation, the bible belt of the American Southeast.

Many of the schools and colleges in my part of the nation are church-sponsored. And many of them have a deplorable track-record when it comes to educating students to understand and deal with issues of sexual difference. They are part of the problem and not part of the solution, vis-a-vis harassment of gay teens.

I've taught in colleges and universities in Florida, Arkansas, and North Carolina, and have seen manifest, ugly homophobia in the institutions in which I taught in these areas. In several of them, I saw people fired simply because they were gay or lesbian. And as I have noted, I myself was punished in a Methodist-owned university in Florida when I was asked to coordinate a program to compile resources for faculty and students engaged in social action projects, and when I added GLSEN to the list of resources. I was told that encouraging students and faculty of this Methodist school to look at issues of harassment of gay youth was putting my "lifestyle" in the face of the campus community.

And as long as the churches that sponsor these schools and the national and regional accrediting bodies that oversee them permit them to get away with overt discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation (often, while they claim religious exemption) and with using discriminatory norms in hiring and firing employees, not much is going to change. The Southern Association of Colleges and Universities (SACS) needs to be much more vigilant about discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation among the colleges and universities it oversees--including the many church-owned institutions in its bailiwick.

So does the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which, though it has rubrics forbidding discrimination among accredited teacher education schools, does little to enforce those rubrics. Until we come to terms with the role higher education plays in sustaining homophobia in some regions of this nation, we will not solve the problem of gay-bashing in our school system.

And it needs desperately to be solved.

(For those who have experienced discrimination at a SACS-accredited institution, a reminder that, as one of its schools comes up for re-accreditation, SACS invites formal third-party comments about the school. If you can document a school's discriminatory behavior or failure to conform to SACS accrediting standards in other areas, I encourage you to take advantage of your legal right to file a third-party statement here. I certainly intend to take advantage of my own legal right to do so, when the two SACS schools at which I experienced discrimination and saw flagrant violation of accrediting standards come up for re-accreditation.)

H/t to Pam's House Blend for information about the GLSEN study.