Maryland high schools unsafe for LGBT students, study says

High school students in Maryland who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender constantly hear derogatory remarks and are often verbally, physically and sexually harassed and assaulted by their classmates.

Fewer than half report the abuse.


Those were the key findings of a survey of LGBT secondary students in the state conducted in 2013 and released Thursday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN.

The "state snapshot" is part of the organization's annual, nationwide assessment of how LGBT students are faring in school environments, which was also released this week.


Beyond peer harassment, the Maryland study found many LGBT students in Maryland lacked supportive faculty, did not have access to educational materials on LGBT "people, history, and events," and did not have LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies protecting them -- all things that improve school climates for such students when in place.

The results mirror those found in schools across the country in the national report. They are also similar to the findings in a separate report released by local LGBT youth advocates in Baltimore this summer, which found LGBT kids are marginalized and bullied in schools, in foster care and in the juvenile justice system in the state.

The result of such discrimination, GLSEN's national report found, is that LGBT students at times miss school out of fear for their safety, and generally suffer academically.

"Schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students, the overwhelming majority of whom routinely hear anti-LGBT language and experience victimization and discrimination at school," the national report concluded. "As a result, many LGBT students avoid school activities or miss school entirely."

In Maryland, where LGBT students often face disparate situations depending on where they live, the numbers were stark.

Nearly 90 percent of surveyed students had heard "gay" used in a negative way, and more than 80 percent had heard words like "fag" and "dyke." About 80 percent had heard negative remarks from other students about their or someone else's gender expression.

Nearly 20 percent of students "regularly heard school staff make negative remarks about someone's gender expression," and 12 percent heard staff make homophobic remarks, the study found.

Based on sexual orientation, nearly 70 percent had experienced verbal harassment, 20 percent had experienced physical harassment and 10 percent had been physically assaulted. Based on gender expression, nearly 50 percent had experienced verbal harassment, 12 percent had experienced physical harassment and 5 percent had been physically assaulted.

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About 56 percent of students said they had been sexually assaulted. More than 80 percent said they had felt deliberately excluded or "left out" of activities by peers, and nearly 70 percent said they had mean rumors or lies told about them.

Nearly 35 percent reported having property deliberately damaged or stolen.

Of all the students who had been harassed or assaulted in school, fewer than half reported the incidents to school officials or family members. And, among the students who did report the abuse, only 35 percent said doing so "resulted in effective intervention by staff."

Only 14 percent of Maryland students attended a school with a "comprehensive" anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the study found. Less than 30 percent received positive LGBT-related lessons, and only 55 percent could access information on LGBT topics on school computers.

While nearly all students could identify at least one supportive staff member, fewer than 75 percent could identify six or more supportive staff members.

In light of the findings, GLSEN called on Maryland school officials to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies that explicitly protect students based on their sexual orientation and gender expression, support Gay-Straight Alliances in all schools, provide professional development for staff on LGBT student issues, and increase student access to extracurricular activities that are LGBT inclusive.


"These actions can move us toward a future in which all students in Maryland will have the opportunity to learn and succeed in school, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression," the study said.