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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
There is more work to do
Looking at the data to make schools safer and more inclusive of LGBTQIA+ students
By Michael Tapia | May | June 2023
Research shows that relationships with caring adults are key to young people’s well-being. Providing this support and creating an inclusive, affirming, and safe learning environment can help mitigate the challenges that LGBTQ youth face. — Understanding the Experiences of LGBTQ Students in California, WestEd
The biennial Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey, first conducted in 1999, released its 2021 edition in October 2022 based on the responses of 22,000 students from all 50 states, D.C., and U.S. territories. There were some disturbing findings:
  • Three-quarters of students experienced in-person verbal harassment based on sexual orientation, gender expression or gender.
  • The percentage of students who have a GSA available dropped significantly since 2019; access to LGBTQ+ books and resources and supportive school personnel also decreased.
  • Only 16 percent of students were taught positive representations about LGBTQ+ people, history or events in their schools. Fewer students had access to inclusive books and resources.
  • LGBTQ+ students of color were more likely to experience multiple forms of victimization compared to white LGBTQ+ students.
The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S., also provides research and reports containing important data related to the well-being and mental health of young people identifying as LGBTQ+. The Trevor Project 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health provides data collected from 34,000 youth from September 2021 through December 2021. In their report with disaggregated data for California LGBTQ+ youth, here are some of their findings:
  • 44 percent of youth seriously considered suicide in the past year (54 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth).
  • 14 percent attempted suicide in the past year (19 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth).
  • 58 percent of youth reported experiencing symptoms of depression (65 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth).
  • 70 percent experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
WestEd’s Understanding the Experiences of LGBTQ Students in California provides an analysis of the California Healthy Kids Survey results from 2017-19 involving 2,749 secondary schools and approximately 800,000 students in grades 7, 9 and 11. Some of the key findings as reported in this document’s executive summary:
  • Students who identified as LGBTQ reported significantly fewer positive perceptions of and experience at school and their own well-being than their non-transgender and straight peers.
  • LGBT students were:
– Less likely than their straight peers to report the presence of key school supports, to be engaged in school, or to report a high grade-point average. – More likely to report being the target of physical and verbal victimization at school by their peers than straight peers. – Less likely than their peers to report feeling safe at school. – More likely than their straight peers to report experiencing sadness and contemplating suicide.
In addition to these student-based surveys, another survey from the Equality California Institute, the 2022 Safe and Supportive Schools Report Card, provides an opportunity for California school districts (only unified school districts at this point) to self-review district progress as it pertains to LGBTQ+ students based on five key areas: school climate, cultural competency training for school staff members, curriculum, issues specific to transgender and gender non-conforming students, and suicide prevention.
In the 2019 survey, 130 unified school districts responded to the survey. In the 2022 edition, 118 districts responded. Here are some of the findings of the 2022 survey as they relate to the five key areas:
School climate
  • 34 percent of districts with districtwide dress code policies require schools to permit students to wear attire that corresponds with the student’s gender identity or gender expression.
  • 52 percent of districts have GSAs in at least half of their middle schools; 32 percent have them in all of their middle schools.
Cultural competency
  • 78 percent of districts offer training on anti-bias, diversity and inclusion to their school staff members.
Transgender and gender nonconforming students
  • 84 percent of districts have policies that allow students to use locker rooms and restrooms based on their gender identity.
  • 53 percent of districts have at least one gender-neutral restroom facility available for students that is easily accessible and not in a nurse’s office or faculty lounge.
  • 52 percent of districts have adopted LGBTQ+ inclusive social science textbooks at the high school level.
  • 76 percent of districts offer LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual health education.
Suicide prevention
  • 75 percent of school districts have suicide prevention policies that specifically mention the needs of LGBTQ+ kids, teens and young adults.
  • 74 percent of districts require their staff members to complete suicide awareness and prevention training.
What educators can do
The sample data shared from the four surveys cited in this article provide a snapshot of the information available to inform our efforts that, hopefully, result in school environments becoming more welcoming and inclusive for our LGBTQIA+ students. As site and district leaders, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure each and every student feels valued, respected, motivated and supported to become successful and reach their potential. What are some steps that may be taken to develop more inclusive experiences for our LGBTQ+ students? Here are some suggestions:
Match your actions with your messaging. Most schools and school districts have vision/mission statements, mottos, etc. that promote positive experiences for all. But do your actions match your words? Do you model inclusive actions for all staff and students? Do your staff and you respond to student or staff anti-LGBTQIA+ remarks with the same conviction given to racist/ethnic or other put-downs? Have you established the same level of behavioral expectations from staff-to-staff as you have for staff-to-students? Is positive messaging posted throughout your school LGBTQIA+ inclusive?
Provide and participate in LGBTQIA+ training. Have your staff and you spent adequate time to learn about correct LGBTQIA+ terminology? Have you reviewed the training offered by various organizations like CDE-approved Gender Spectrum, Trevor Project or others to see what they may provide? Consider training both certificated and classified staff, especially those who come in contact more frequently with students. Beyond teachers and administrators, counselors, office staff, psychologists, non-teacher coaches, paraeducators, custodians, food service staff, playground/security staff and bus drivers are among those who interact with students regularly.
Review and use student data to inform staff development needs. It’s relatively easy to obtain data related to race/ethnicity, socioeconomic, language, etc. but not so for LGBTQIA+. Not only does the CHKS provide data related to how students identify, much more data related to their experiences is provided by this survey. If you want more detailed information related to the challenges LGBTQIA+ students encounter, consider using the CHKS Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation-Based Harassment Module for grades 9 and 11. Site, district and state reports are available for all CHKS surveys. Your CHKS data is aligned with LCAP requirements, another reason to administer the survey. Use the data from some of the surveys included in this article to provide ideas and consider using the survey template provided by GLSEN on their website to develop a custom survey for your own site or district. Track bullying incidents based on sexual orientation and gender identity and review these data regularly.
Participate in the Equality California Institute’s Safe and Supportive Schools Report Card Survey. Though responding to surveys may be time consuming, isn’t it worth the time to find out how your school(s) are doing related to the well-being of your LGBTQIA+ students? There is a good chance the next iteration of the survey will be shorter but will maintain the same five areas of focus to assist you as you self-assess your policies and actions affecting your students. If you’ve already been participating in this survey, thank you, and, please continue to do so. Again, these data may serve to guide you as you strive to improve your LGBTQ+ students’ experiences in school.
Enforce laws and policies. At this point in time, all staff should be very aware of laws and policies specifically supporting the rights of LGBTQIA+ students. SB 48, also known as the FAIR Act, has been in effect since 2012 and requires the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people (among many other marginalized groups) to be included in H/SS instruction and materials. A sampling of other important laws include: AB 9 (Seth’s Law) an anti-bullying measure that includes perceived sexual orientation and gender-expression-based bullying; AB 1266 School Success and Opportunity Act, requiring all K-12 students access to school facilities and programs in accordance with their gender identity; AB 329 California Healthy Youth Act requires sexual health education be LGBTQIA+ inclusive and HIV education to be evidence-based; AB 2246 Suicide Prevention Policies in Schools requires schools adopt suicide prevention policies for grades 7-12 that specifically address the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth and other high-risk groups; AB 493 Safe and Supportive Schools Act created a CDE-hosted website with LGBTQIA+ focused resources for school districts. Also, be aware of the federal provisions of Title IX and Family Educational Rights and Rights Privacy Act. For more information and laws, please go to the CDE or ACLU websites.
As site and district leaders, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure each and every student feels valued, respected, motivated and supported to become successful and reach their potential.
Provide GSAs for middle and high school students. In its study using data from 2015, 2019 and 2020 that relates to LGBTQ+ students, GLSEN found that GSAs provide feelings of well-being, emotional support, greater feeling of belonging, less hostile school climate and additional opportunities to learn about LGBTQ+ topics. Other studies have shown that participation in GSAs also has a positive impact on academic aspects of LGBTQ+ students’ lives. GSAs empower students as they engage in their site GSA; students develop voice as well as personal agency.
Ensure that staff have access to and are using materials and resources that are LGBTQIA+ focused and/or inclusive to support instruction. There are myriad LGBTQIA+ related resources and materials currently available, and it’s imperative that staff not only are aware of them but that they be integrated in daily use and instruction. For example, for class and school libraries, you may review books from Welcoming Schools, ALA Rainbow Book Lists, Stonewall Children’s and YA Literature Lists along with many others. For lesson plans across the curriculum, many of them CCSS aligned, go to the websites for such organizations as ADL, Facing History and Ourselves, GLSEN, Learning for Justice, Our Family Coalition and Welcoming Schools.
Consider allowing students access to LGBTQIA+ resources for academic and mental health needs. Most school districts have filters in place to disallow students (and sometimes, staff) access to websites due to their LGBTQIA+ affiliation. For example, for students in crisis, having access to The Trevor Project would be very important. For students planning to write a report related to LGBTQIA+ history, several organizations like Facing History and Ourselves and GLSEN either provide that type of information themselves or may direct the user to other resources. With some critical review and preparation, schools should be able to provide students access to these resources.
Provide access to parent resources to help them better support their LGBTQIA+ child. If you have LGBTQ+ students who are out to their parents but whose parents are struggling to better understand what their child is experiencing, how to accept their child, etc., organizations like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Family Acceptance Project provide numerous resources to meet these needs. Also, you may have additional local LGBTQIA+ organizations offering this type of support that you may find by going online. Some of these organizations also provide support in multiple languages.
Editor’s note: For resources mentioned in this article along with many others, please look for the author’s LGBTQIA+ Resource Guide on the ACSA Resource Hub.
Bloomfield, Veronica E. and Marni E. Fisher, LGBTQ Voices in Education – Changing the Culture of Schooling, 2016
DeWitt, Peter, Dignity for All – Safeguarding LGBT Students, 2012
Equality California Institute, 2022 Safe and Supportive Schools Report Card, 2022 GLSEN, 2021 National School Climate Survey, October 2022
Hanson, Thomas, et al, Understanding the Experiences of LGBTQ Students in California, 2019, (WestEd)
Shane, Kryss, The Educator Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, 2020
Trevor Project, 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health – California, 2022

Michael Tapia is a retired principal from the Ventura Unified School District.
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