Options for Gay Youth

March 17, 2005 at 12:41 pm  •  Posted in Schools and Communities by  •  0 Comments

From “Equity,” The National Practice Update of NASW, August 2002; and Excerpted from “Making Schools Safe for GLBT Students,” Social Work Today Magazine, November 26, 2001

Promoting Positive School Environments for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students
Making Schools Safe for GLBT Students
Making Schools Safe Workshops

Promoting Positive School Environments for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students

Adolescence can be a challenging time for many young people. Recent studies confirm, however, that adolescence can be a particularly hard time for youths that either identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or are youths questioning their feelings of same-sex attraction or desire for same-sex behavior. Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youths experience health and mental concerns similar to their heterosexual peers, while also having to deal with the additional stress of being identified as a sexual minority youth (stress such as social isolation and stigma). Research has shown that, as a group, LGB youths appear to be at increased risk of a large number of health and mental health outcomes. For example,

  • The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health showed that youths who report same-sex attraction or behaviors also reported higher levels of emotional distress, greater use of alcohol and marijuana, and earlier sexual debut than their heterosexual peers.
  • The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2000, 49 percent of all new AIDS cases were identified among young men who have sex with men ages 13 to 24. For young women the same age, 45 percent of all AIDS cases reported were transmitted through sexual contract.
  • Research indicates that adolescent females who identify as lesbian, bisexual, or questioning are at an increased risk of unintended pregnancy.

NASW has supported the health and mental health needs of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth through ongoing advocacy for access to medical mental health, and community health services. To expand the profession’s response to the variety of health and mental concerns faced by adolescents, NASW entered into a formal collaborative relationship with the Healthy LGB Students Projects (HLGBSP). This project will enhance and build capabilities of social workers and other allied health/mental health care providers (school nurses, counselors, and psychologists) to serve LGB adolescents on topics of health and mental health through a coordinated school health model.

Making Schools Safe for GLBT Students

Another project designed to help gay, lesbian, and bisexual students is the Making Schools Safe program. It is a model training workshop, begun in California, designed for affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations interested in promoting school safety to help them work with educators to combat antigay harassment in local schools. The program is intended to be a resource that local groups can offer to school districts to help them stem harassment early—before they wind up facing litigation.

What this program can offer to schools is simple: a workshop that should be mandatory for all teachers and administrators to talk about how to create a safe and open environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. The workshop is not Gay 101. Instead, it is about safety, equal access, and equal protection. It is about making sure that all students feel that they can achieve their best in school in an environment free of hostility. And it is about taking proactive steps to prevent the antigay attitudes that may exist in a school from turning into harassment and escalating into violence.

Making Schools Safe Workshops

Offered in these materials is a straightforward, easy-to-follow model to make the workshops happen. The manual contains step-by-step guidance on pulling the program together, including sample agendas, pointers on locating the right people to participate, letters, talking points, and all the additional materials teachers and administrators will need to conduct a successful workshop. In the accompanying packets are lesson plans for the trainers, suggestions on preparing them for the workshops, and handouts and information to use at school. The ACLU offers the support and backup necessary to make the program a success.

The workshop ideally runs for 2½ hours and has three primary components. One is an interactive panel presentation by one or two of the students who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (preferably students who have graduated from that school), discussing their experiences. The second is a legal presentation by an attorney about the duties of educators to promote a safe environment and to end antigay harassment. The third is a series of exercises led by a local teacher designed to assist teachers in dealing with antigay attitudes and schools, including video clips and role-playing scenarios interspersed throughout the segments. Ultimately, it provides practical suggestions about how to address name-calling in classrooms and hallways and how to build support for a campus wide approach, making the environment safe for all students.

Organizing the workshop requires that a staff person or volunteer work closely with the school to create a tailor-made event that best addresses that school’s particular needs. It works best if it is mandatory for all teachers and administrators, in order to communicate that the school takes the issue very seriously. Mandatory attendance also ensures that the variety of perspectives and concerns that different staff members bring to the issue are represented. The ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project is available to help schools implement the program, providing backup support and guidance.

For more information about this program visit www.aclu.org/SafeSchools or call 212-549-2627.


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