A depressing new study shows that homophobic bullying is common on elementary school campuses. And teachers aren't doing enough to stop it.
Yesterday, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network released a report on elementary school bullying, based on a study of over 2,000 K-6 students and their teachers. The study found that kids are extremely likely to use the word "gay" as an insult — 45% of kids and 49% of teachers said they heard this regularly. Homophobic bullying is also common, though being thought of as gay isn't the most common reason kids are picked on — they're more likely to get shit for their size or looks, or being bad at sports. Gender-nonconforming students also have trouble — they're more likely than other kids to want to avoid school because they feel unsafe, and significantly more likely to get bullied. Teachers are aware of this problem — just 44% feel a gender-nonconforming boy would be be comfortable at their school, and 49% feel the same about a girl. But only 34% of teachers say they've made any effort to help gender-nonconforming students feel better.
That means a significant number of teachers know their school is a shitty environment for kids who don't conform to traditional notions of gender, but they're not doing anything about it. Some of them may not know how. Says the report, "A majority of teachers (85%) have received professional development on diversity or multicultural issues, but less than half of teachers have ever received specific professional development on gender issues (37%) or on families with LGBT parents (23%)." And just 41% of teachers said they'd be comfortable answering student questions about transgender people. Of course, training is available — GLSEN itself has produced a toolkit to help teachers deal with issues of gender and sexuality. But knowing how is only part of the battle — according to ABC, some teachers are afraid to step in to help LGBT or gender-nonconforming kids because they're worried about "push back" from their communities. So stopping homophobic bullying isn't just a matter of training teachers. It's a matter of teaching everyone — parents included — that all kids deserve to feel safe at school.
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