The majority of students with LGBTQ+ parents face bullying, harassment, and exclusion at school, according to a new report from GLSEN, COLAGE, and Family Equality. The report, which surveyed the experiences of students with LGBTQ+ parents and caregivers in grades K-12, found that young people overwhelmingly experience hostile school environments due to prejudices against their families.
The report surveyed middle and high school students with at least one LGBTQ+ parent or guardian over the summer of 2022, asking young people about their experiences with associational discrimination, which is defined as discrimination against someone “due to their association with someone who is part of a marginalized identity.”
Are we not doing our students a grave disservice by withholding a diversity of worldviews, perspectives, and positions on the issues?
“Associational discrimination is an issue very few are looking at,” GLSEN’s Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers told LGBTQ Nation. “In this report, GLSEN, COLAGE, and Family Equality aim to address a significant gap in our understanding of school climate by focusing on the experiences of harassment, bullying, discrimination, and/or hostile school climates for students who have LGBTQ+ parents or caregivers.”
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More than 80% of students who responded to the survey reported hearing negative comments about LGBTQ+ parents or their own parents in particular during the 2021-2022 school year, while over 68% said they were discouraged by school staff from talking about their parents.
One unnamed student cited in the report said they were mocked and excluded for revealing that they have two moms during a classroom activity that involved sharing information about their family. “The students made fun of me, and the teacher told me that I couldn’t participate in this activity anymore because I ‘spread propaganda,’” they said.
The study also found that around two-thirds of respondents reported experiencing verbal harassment because they have LGBTQ+ parents, with nearly 65% experiencing physical harassment, like shoving and pushing. In addition, 62% of students said they were physically assaulted at some point during the school year, having reported being kicked, punched, or injured with a weapon for having LGBTQ+ parents.
LGBTQ+ parents and caregivers were also surveyed and asked about their child’s experiences in school. More than half reported that their child informed them of the bullying they were facing at school.
Overall, students with at least one transgender parent were more likely to report higher rates of discrimination than those with cisgender parents.
During the time period in which the study was conducted, more than 350 anti-LGBTQ+ bills had been introduced in state legislatures across the country, including Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which was signed into law in March 2022. That number has only increased this year.
“We conducted these surveys in summer 2022 and our concern is that these experiences have become worse with the recent spike in anti-LGBTQ legislation,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “This new data shows that students are experiencing hostile school climates or exclusion from school adults because of their family structures.”
While the targets of these bills are mostly LGBTQ+ youth, the effect that this legislation and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments can have on the children of LGBTQ+ people is seldom discussed, according to COLAGE’s Executive Director Jordan Budd.
Budd says that there are certainly children of LGBTQ+ parents who are queer or trans themselves and are therefore “doubly impacted” by this mistreatment, but notes that associational discrimination negatively affects people regardless of their personal identity.
“It was really disheartening but also affirming to see that our anecdotal evidence is representative of what these folks are experiencing,” Budd told LGBTQ Nation, adding that it’s “alarming the degree to which” this harassment is getting physical. “That is definitely scary and something that I think people really need to be paying attention to when they’re talking about anti-LGBTQ bias in schools. This is a population that is erased in those discussions.”
“While nothing surprised us because we knew from lived experience of our communities that this was happening in school, it does feel validating to have the data,” Willingham-Jaggers added.
Although there is little research on the impact this specific type of associational discrimination can have on students’ grades and mental health, studies have found that discrimination in general can contribute to distress and negative mental health outcomes and even have a negative effect on academic performance.
Speaking anecdotally, Budd says it is “very clear” that bullying and discrimination against students with LGBTQ+ parents is “having a negative mental health impact” based on what he’s seeing and hearing from kids in this community through his work at COLAGE. “We are seeing more and more folks who are reaching out for that kind of support,” he said.
According to Willingham-Jaggers, there are a few steps that state and local education agencies can take to help students experiencing harassment and discrimination because they have LGBTQ+ parents, like specifying “LGBTQ+ families in their guidance and policies that monitor bullying, discrimination, and harassment of students in schools.”
The report recommends that school districts adopt “clear guidelines” that prohibit discrimination for both LGBTQ+ youth and students with LGBTQ+ parents. Another solution involves updating school forms, curricula, and activities to be more inclusive of students with LGBTQ+ parents.
The report also calls on the Department of Education to publish guidance stating that Title IX protections also prohibit discrimination against students with LGBTQ+ parents and provide guidelines to school districts outlining Title IX hostile environment regulations to
“prevent school districts from enforcing book bans, curriculum bans, and other anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in a way that creates a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ children and their families.”
In addition to these resources and solutions, Budd says it’s important for allies of LGBTQ+ families to “step up” by getting involved locally and joining their schools’ PTAs, noting that “it’s just not safe” for some LGBTQ+ families to “advocate for themselves” at times.
“We have to do what our opposition is doing and really get involved and make the case that these are also parents and these parents also have rights. Parents’ rights can’t just be the domain of conservative folks that are uncomfortable with how the world is changing,” he said. “Our families are here. They deserve to go to school peacefully and exist peacefully.”