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News - December 1996

Anti-gay harassment in schools documented

A ground-breaking student survey finds that 8% of all students and 34% of gay/lesbian/bisexual students have suffered anti-gay harassment at school.

3RD ANNUAL SAFE SCHOOLS COALITION ANTI-VIOLENCE REPORT documents suicide, drug use andschool performance impacts of anti-gay school violence on heterosexual and homosexual students.

STUDENT SURVEY finds that 9% of high school students consider themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or not sure of their sexual orientation.

For every gay, lesbian or bisexual youth who reported being the target of anti-gay school harassment, 4 heterosexual youth reported harassment or violence for being perceived as gay or lesbian.

1995-96 show significant increase in parents reporting harassment of their children, and Safe Schools Coalition calls for anti-violence education at the elementary level.

SAFE SCHOOLS ANTI-VIOLENCE DOCUMENTATION PROJECT THIRD ANNUAL REPORT The Safe Schools Coalition, a statewide coalition of youth and education organizations released its third report of ongoing statewide research examining anti-gay sexual harassment and violence in Washington schools this morning. Coalition members spoke of the devastating effect this harassment has on students in elementary, middle and high schools, and called for prevention and education starting as early as elementary school.

Beth Reis, educator consultant with the Seattle/King County Department of Public Health and principal investigator with the Safe Schools Anti-Violence Project, described the nature of this school harassment, based on in-depth interviews the Project has conducted with targeted students, school employees and parents regarding a total of 77 incidents. Reis said, These are a small fraction of all the incidents in Washington State schools, but they give us an accurate portrait of the nature of the problem. Incidents have been reported from 54 schools and have come from 25 different districts in seven different counties.

Reis cited that among the 77 cases reported have been seven gang rape incidents in which a total of nine children and teens were raped. In only one case were school authorities and police informed of the rape, but in many cases school personnel were aware of the harassment that preceded the rape.

There were fifteen other physical assaults with four of the assaulted children and teens treated in emergency rooms and one hospitalized. In twelve other physical and sexual assaults, students were spit at, things were thrown at them and, in some cases their clothing was pulled down or off. Thirty other cases of on-going verbal harassment has involved repeated public humiliation, vandalism, graffiti or the issuing of death threats.

Reis said that one incident was reported by a concerned mother who attended a pep rally at her child s school. The entertainment included a slapstick re-enactment of a gay-bashing. Many teachers, along with students, laughed and applauded. Reis said, However, we are encouraged that the parent who reported this incident is among a growing number of adults calling the Safe Schools Project to express their concern about the safety of children and teens.

This year the Safe Schools Project is also reporting on a large scale quantitative study conducted for the Reis said, This comprehensive survey administered to over 8,400 high school students confirmed what we have been finding in the Safe Schools Project reports.

One of the 99 items asked students their sexual preference/orientation. Five percent described themselves as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. About another four percent said they were not sure of their sexual orientation. The other ninety-one percent called themselves heterosexual. 34% of the students describing themselves as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual reported being harassed based on their sexual orientation. These students were 3 times as likely than their heterosexual peers to have been injured in a fight requiring medical attention, they were twice as likely as heterosexual youth to report having seriously considered suicide, and 75% more likely to report feeling unsafe at school.

6% of heterosexual students report experiencing anti-gay harassment at school, and they also show significantly higher risk for assault, suicidal thoughts, and diminished school performance than heterosexual youth who have not been harassed. Accoring to Reis, because there are so many more straight youth to begin with, this amounts to about four heterosexual youth bullied in this way for every gay youth.

Reis said, These are both landmark studies. We have never before had this level of evidence or depth of understanding about the problem of anti-gay sexual harassment and violence in schools. Now we know that harassment and assault is widespread, that it not just urban, that it starts in elementary school, that everybody is vulnerable . . . We know that those who are sexual minorities, or who are attacked because someone thinks they are sexual minorities, are at dramatically increased risk of missing school out of fear, of abusing alcohol or other drugs, and of considering or attempting suicide.

Tawney Collins-Feay, co-president of the Seattle chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and the mother of a gay son, said the harassment and violence reported today is the truth of too many ch ildren s stories. The bright, hopeful, innocent faces that they start out with become clouded with anxiety and fear as they start to realize that the names, the jokes, the mocking, might apply to them. She said, The difference for our gay children is that this is an officially sanctioned cruelty. Not from every classroom, but from too many: not on every playground, but on too many; not from every pulpit, but from too many -- we see the hopeful innocence fade into a self-hatred that is as fatal as it is inev itable. She asked that learning in an atmosphere of dignity and safety be the birthright for all children.

Tom Page, co-chair of the Safe Schools research team and a member of the King County Children and Family Commission, introduced film clips from It s Elementary, a film made by Academy Award-winner Deborah Chasnoff. According to Chasnoff, Most adults probably don t see why school should teach young children about gay people, and they can t imagine how teachers could possible present this subject in an age-appropriate way. We made this film to explore what does happen when experienced teachers talk about lesbians and gay men with their students.

In past years, the Safe Schools Coalition has recommended policy changes, staff training, and equitable discipline of offenders as ways to prevent anti-gay harassment in schools. This year their recommendations go further. Page said, In light of these research findings, we are now asking schools to teach about prejudice, to dispel stereotypes and to provide accurate information about gay and lesbian people. It s Elementary shows this can be done. The children need our help.

The Safe Schools Coalition works to make Washington schools safe for families, educators and children of all gender identifies and sexual orientations. They are online at http://members.tripod.com/~cla ytoly.safe


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