GLSEN releases first national study on homophobia, gender nonconformity in elementary schools

Staff Reports

Gender non-conforming students are at particular risk for bullying, and many teachers are unprepared to address issues relating to gender expression and LGBT families, according to a groundbreaking new study of bias, bullying and homophobia in grades kindergarten through sixth grade.

The report by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) — Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States — examines students’ and teachers’ experiences with biased remarks and bullying, and their attitudes about gender expression and family diversity.

“School climate and victimization can affect students’ educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard.

“Name-calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes toward people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition,” reports Byard.

“Students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like ‘retard’ and ‘that’s so gay,’ and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a “serious problem” among their students.

“Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school.

Key Findings from the report include:

  • The most common forms of biased language in elementary schools, heard regularly by both students and teachers, are the use of the word “gay” in a negative way, such as “that’s so gay,” Many also report regularly hearing students make homophobic remarks, such as “fag” or “lesbo.”
  • Approximately 75 percent of students reported that students at their school are called names, made fun of or bullied with at least some regularity.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 of elementary students in 3rd to 6th grade indicate that they do not always conform to traditional gender norms/roles – either they are boys who others sometimes think, act or look like a girl, or they are girls who others sometimes think, act or look like a boy.
  • Gender nonconforming students are less likely than other students to feel very safe at school (42% vs 61%), and are more likely than others to indicate they sometimes do not want to go to school because they feel unsafe or afraid there.
  • Only a third (34%) of teachers report having personally engaged in efforts to create a safe and supportive classroom environment for gender nonconforming students.
  • While an overwhelming majority of elementary school teachers say that they include representations of different families when the topic of families comes up in their classrooms (89%), less than a quarter of teachers report any representation of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents (21%) or transgender parents (8%).
  • Only a quarter (24%) of teachers report having personally engaged in efforts to create a safe and supportive classroom environment for families with LGBT parents.

“Over the past few years, there has been an increase in research on bullying in schools, including elementary schools,” said GLSEN Senior Director of Research & Strategic Initiatives Dr. Joseph Kosciw.

“However, our report is one of the few that examines bias-based bullying at the elementary school level and the first to examine incidence of homophobic remarks and the negative experiences of children who do not conform to societal standards in their gender expression from a national vantage point,” he said.

GLSEN also released Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit, an instructional resource developed to help educators address issues raised in Playgrounds and Prejudice, particularly teachers’ willingness to address but lack of understanding of biased language, LGBT-inclusive family diversity and gender nonconformity.

The report was based on national surveys of 1,065 elementary school students in 3rd to 6th grade and 1,099 elementary school teachers of K-6th grade, and were conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GLSEN during November and December 2010.

A copy of the complete Playgrounds and Prejudice report can be downloaded here (PDF).

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