20 Years of Data Shows What Works for LGBTQ Students (2024)

Twenty years ago, students weren’t bullied or harassed in schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. At least, that’s what many educators said in the late ’90s when advocacy groups first began digging into the urgent problems reported by LGBTQ youth in America’s schools.

“We don’t have a problem here” and “Our school is fine” were typical responses, recalls Dr. Joseph Kosciw, director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Research Institute.

It wasn’t true. LGBTQ students were regularly subjected to verbal and physical harassment, but there was no national data about their school-based experiences, according to Kosciw. In fact, there was very little information about LGBTQ youth at all, outside of academic literature—most of which consisted of retrospective reports that were far removed from the real voices and experiences of students themselves.

“That was really what sparked the need,” says Kosciw. “There was no national evidence, and GLSEN realized we need to be able to demonstrate what’s going on across the country.”

Launched in 1999 and conducted every two years, the National School Climate Survey became the largest body of research about LGBTQ students in U.S. schools, providing a rich and detailed look into topics like school climate, ingrained cultural biases, and the indelible impact of hate speech and discrimination on children. Ultimately, the survey sketched the first tentative outlines of a formerly invisible population and tracked the well-being of LGBTQ students and the schools that educate them over the next two decades. It delivered a complex portrait that’s both cause for optimism—school-based supports do have a positive impact, for example—and a sobering glimpse into the acute and enduring crisis that still exists for LGBTQ kids in school.

The survey’s reach has steadily grown: What was a limited sample of about 1,000 students aged 13 to 21 is now closer to about 17,000 participants. The current population sample is broad and representative, according to Kosciw, but there’s a critical caveat: Only the young people who feel comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues are taking the survey, which means thousands upon thousands of kids still aren’t taking part. “There may be people who are not sure, questioning, or identify as LGBTQ only to themselves—but still don’t feel comfortable connecting even to an anonymous survey,” he explains. “Those might be the most isolated people and perhaps the most in need of support.”

I sat down with Dr. Kosciw to look at how the experiences of LGBTQ students have changed over the last 20 years. We discussed the challenges that schools still face in supporting these students, the availability and benefits of school-based supports, and how educators at all levels can help.

Paige Tutt: What were some of the early findings about the experiences of LGBTQ students when the survey began two decades ago?

Joseph Kosciw: In 2001, the vast majority of LGBTQ students were hearing hom*ophobic remarks in school, and high numbers were experiencing verbal and physical harassment, particularly around sexual orientation and gender expression.

Fewer students—although still a significant number—said they had supportive educators: an adult in their school who was supportive of LGBTQ students. At the same time, there were fewer Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs).

The negative indicators of climate—bullying, harassment, name-calling—were high, and there weren’t a lot of resources out there for LGBTQ students.

Tutt: Back then, there was a general feeling in schools that anti-gay harassment wasn’t an issue, that name-calling was a normal part of adolescence, and phrases like “That’s so gay” didn’t hurt anyone. Have these attitudes shifted?

Kosciw: To this day, there’s still this common wisdom in the United States that “kids will be kids” and name-calling is “just part of growing up.”

But in recent years, we’ve begun to see people paying more attention to the effects of bullying and harassment.

Some will say, “Well, they’re LGBTQ students; they’re going to say that’s why they’re bullied.” So we did a survey—From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America—with a national sample of secondary school teachers and students to get a sense of what they saw going on in school. We asked, who has the hardest time in school? Who is most at-risk in your school for bullying and harassment? Who faces the most negative climate?

Teachers and students both said: It’s the LGBTQ students. There is now an increased consciousness about the issue; that’s one thing that has changed in the last 20 years.

Tutt: You’ve tracked the emergence of terms like queer and asexual as they gradually moved into the mainstream, sometimes 10 to 15 years after they first appeared. How have the ways adolescents identify themselves regarding sexual orientation and gender identity changed in the last 20 years?

Kosciw: More and more adolescents are feeling like they don’t want to use terms. They don’t want to be boxed in; they don’t want to use gendered pronouns. Students are describing themselves, their sexual orientations, and their gender identities in an expansive way. As a result, that expands the population of youth that we’re talking about.

That’s why it’s important to look at things like differences in sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, we’ve historically found that schools can be unsafe for the majority of LGBTQ students—but it’s worse for trans and nonbinary students.

It’s important for us to understand the many ways that youth identify so that we can continue to understand how they’re seeing themselves and do the work necessary to include them. As the terms evolve, the need for professional development among educators must evolve too.

We know that professional development for school professionals on not just bullying and harassment in general, but on LGBTQ student issues more specifically, makes a difference to this population.

20 Years of Data Shows What Works for LGBTQ Students (1)

© Edutopia

Tutt: As more cisgender straight people hear terms like nonbinary, there’s often a reaction like, “These terms just came out of nowhere within the last few years.” In reality, a lot of terms have been used for some time now, and they’re constantly changing and evolving. What challenges do you see in how schools meet the changing needs of LGBTQ students?

Kosciw: Our whole culture is gendered, and schools are very gendered: public spaces with boys’ bathrooms, girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms. A good friend and colleague of mine from a school district said, “The teachers are great when a student is a trans girl or a trans boy. They know what to do.” Because it’s still in that gender binary framework. “Oh, a trans girl, well, you should use girls’ facilities because you’re a girl,” right? But they don’t know what to do with nonbinary students because schools aren’t set up to have people who exist outside of that binary.

Transgender youth who identify as male or female want access to the facilities that are aligned with their gender. Youth who identify as transgender or nonbinary want all-gender spaces. I think that’s something that we might be seeing differently as these terms evolve—changes in architecture and the building of new schools, creating more expansive, inclusive facilities that aren’t as gendered.

Tutt: Your research also looks at the experiences of LGBTQ youth of color and how they differ from the experiences of their White LGBTQ peers—why is this important?

Kosciw: It’s really important to point out that LGBTQ youth are not a monolith and that their experiences really do vary based on a lot of different things.

We did a series of reports last year exploring the experiences of AAPI, Black, Latinx, and Native and Indigenous LGBTQ youth.

We found that 40 percent of LGBTQ youth of color experience victimization in school because of their sexual orientation and their race/ethnicity. And that’s across all racial/ethnic groups. That’s important because we often think, well, you’re a student of color or you’re an LGBTQ student, right? We box people in to make sense of them.

It’s important to look at those intersections because students who report high levels of both types of victimization have the worst outcomes. If you’re experiencing high levels of racist victimization and anti-LGBTQ victimization, you are worse off and need the most support.

Tutt: That brings me to how teachers can help. Becoming isolated, grades dropping, frequent absences—these are all indicators that a student is struggling—whether they identify as LGBTQ or not. But beyond these red flags, what should teachers be focusing on?

Kosciw: It’s important to look for those signs, but preventative measures are even more important, and they need to happen early. We do find that youth in middle schools have a far worse time than in high schools. It’s important to think about all of these years, not just high school.

20 Years of Data Shows What Works for LGBTQ Students (2)

© Edutopia

You can interrupt negative events when they happen in school—hom*ophobic remarks, transphobic remarks, racist remarks—because when those things are not interrupted, that can be interpreted as the teachers “giving permission.”

But it’s also about creating an environment that embraces difference and diversity—and teaching an inclusive curriculum so kids connect to their learning. The “windows and mirrors” idea of being able to see yourself reflected, but then also seeing the experiences of other people and how you fit into that larger world of diversity inside your school.

Tutt: Are there other ways educators can support LGBTQ students?

Kosciw: Put up a safe space sticker. It’s something that indicates that a teacher is there as a support to LGBTQ students. Sometimes it’s hard for students to know who to talk to and who would be comfortable talking to them, especially if they’re coming out or questioning.

Also, being a Gender-Sexuality Alliance advisor or helping to start a GSA in your school is another great way to demonstrate visibility.

Our research has shown that there are four major ways that schools can cultivate a safe and supportive environment: curriculum inclusion, having a number of teachers who are supportive, having a GSA, and LGBTQ-affirming school policies that prevent negative behaviors like bullying, harassment, and assault. All of those things really do make a huge difference in not just the well-being of students, but their psychological attachment to school: their performance in school, wanting to continue their education, and their educational aspirations.

Tutt: What continues to worry you?

Kosciw: The insidious ways in which anti-LGBTQ and racist attitudes can still manifest themselves in schools and school buildings. That’s where discrimination comes in: “Yes, you have a right to feel safe in school. You shouldn’t be called names. You shouldn’t be beat up. However, we are not going to let you be who you are, with full access to school life. You may not bring a date of the same gender to the prom. You may not use the locker room or bathroom that aligns with your gender identity.”

It’s not just about students feeling like they can go to school without getting beat up. Do they have full access to school life? Beyond safety, do they have the same access to education in the school building that other students do? There’s really more to school than just feeling like, “OK, I can go and not feel like my life is threatened by entering my school building.”

Tutt: And finally, Dr. Kosciw, what makes you hopeful?

Kosciw: I think we see that these preventative measures make a difference—and I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to see change in those areas. I’m also hopeful because people are talking more in schools about the diversity and intersections of identity, really trying to understand the needs of LGBTQ youth of color versus White youth. They’re looking at the racial composition of the school, assessing the needs of the students and where they are.

And we see an increase in Gender-Sexuality Alliances. Even if a student doesn't go, they know they can. It’s a safe space if they need it.

These changes that we’ve seen over time bring me joy, they give me hope—these things make a difference. But there’s a lot more work to do.

20 Years of Data Shows What Works for LGBTQ Students (2024)


Why is LGBTQ representation important in schools? ›

LGBTQ-inclusion supports a student's ability to empathize, connect, and collaborate with a diverse group of peers, and encourages respect for all. All students deserve to feel welcome at school, including students who identify as LGBTQ and come from LGBTQ-headed families.

What are the struggles of LGBTQ students at school? ›

LGBTQ students who are victimized at school are more likely than their peers to be absent, earn low grades, and suffer from low self-esteem and depression, the GLSEN survey found.

How to make LGBTQ students feel included? ›

5 Things You Can Do to Support Your LGBTQ Students
  1. Post Safe Space Signs.
  2. Start an LGBTQ Organization at Your School.
  3. Stand Up Against hom*ophobia.
  4. Integrate LGBTQ Topics into the Curriculum.
  5. Pursue Professional Development.

How do you create a safe environment for LGBTQ students? ›

Creating Safe, Welcoming Environments for LGBTQ Students
  1. Educate Yourself. The first step you can take to help students feel safe and welcome is to educate yourself. ...
  2. Plan Inclusive Activities. ...
  3. Take a Stand on Bullying. ...
  4. Be LGBTQ-Positive with Your Curriculum. ...
  5. Encourage Healthy Social Relationships. ...
  6. Practice Makes Perfect.

Why does representation matter in school? ›

Representing diverse groups helps improve the school culture and student outcomes. Research has shown that when students see representations of themselves, it shapes how they imagine their place in the world now and in the future.

Why is queer representation important in the classroom? ›

The presence of trans and queer representation in classrooms and schools is crucial for promoting inclusivity, normalizing diverse identities, and fostering understanding and respect among students.

What school is the most LGBTQ friendly? ›

These universities have also all been featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2021.
  • The Ohio State University. ...
  • University of Colorado at Boulder. ...
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. ...
  • University of Oregon. ...
  • University of Pennsylvania. ...
  • University of Washington. ...
  • Princeton University. ...
  • Pennsylvania State University.

How can I be more LGBTQ inclusive in the classroom? ›

Avoid using words like "ladies and gentlemen" or "boys and girls" when referring to your class. Use more inclusive language like "folks" "everybody" or "people". 5. Weave LGBTQ content and materials throughout course curriculum.

What are the experiences of LGBTQ students in the Philippines? ›

But in the Philippines, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) too often find that their schooling experience is marred by bullying, discrimination, lack of access to LGBT-related information, and in some cases, physical or sexual assault.

What is out to innovate for LGBTQ? ›

Out to Innovate™ / NOGLSTP Mission Statement:

We empower LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM by providing education, advocacy, professional development, networking, and peer support. We educate all communities regarding scientific, technological, and medical concerns of LGBTQ+ people.

How many LGBTQ students feel safe at school? ›

Few LGBTQ students report feeling that their schools have fostered safe, inclusive environments, with just 27 percent who say they can "definitely" be themselves at school.

What are safe spaces for queer? ›

Queer safe spaces, then, usually refer to spaces that allow members of the queer and LGBT+ communities to be protected for purposes such as being and learning, performing and producing queer identifications.

How do you create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ? ›

Create a welcoming environment using posters, books, magazines, TV shows or movies, or through generally LGBTQ-affirming comments, which can communicate that your home (for parents/care providers) is a safe space. 2. Do not make assumptions regarding a foster child's sexual orientation or gender identity.

How to recognize and support queer students from rural areas? ›

In addition to GSAs, rural students can find online support via organizations like the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network, Campus Pride, and The Trevor Project. Peer support is essential for queer students and they want opportunities to meet other people like them.

Why is lack of diversity in schools a problem? ›

The Importance of Diversity in the Classroom

More diversity in the classroom is a given. Developing a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance is where teachers make the difference. Without inclusion, students in the minority can feel left out. In the worst-case scenarios, they may become the victims of bullying.

What is the lack of black representation in schools? ›

There is a clear lack of black representation in school personnel. According to a 2016 Department of Education report, in 2011-12, only 10 percent of public school principals were black, compared to 80 percent white. Eighty-two percent of public school educators are white, compared to 18 percent teachers of color.

Why grades are not a good representation of learning? ›

Grades force students to memorize those details necessary to pass a test, often disregarding true comprehension of the subject matter. In this process, the student's personal development is becoming a footnote, overshadowed by the imperative significance of grades.

What is queer theory in school? ›

Queer theory asks educators to consider desire as a force that compels us to acquire knowledge and engage with others.

Why is LGBTQ inclusion important in the workplace? ›

Inclusion covers a range of practices that ensure LGBTQIA+ workers feel they belong in your organization. The goal of an inclusive workplace is to ensure that all employees feel: They have a voice. They belong.

What is the importance of LGBTQ teachers? ›

LGBTQ teachers are crucial positive representations for students of every sexuality and gender identity. Being an incredible teacher is about more than communicating curriculum. It's about connecting with students and giving them the tools—including confidence and compassion—they need to succeed.

Is Washington and Lee LGBTQ friendly? ›


The center provides an open, diverse and safe environment in which all members of the W&L community may explore sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and it serves as a focal point for campus LGBTQ resources, services and programs.

Is Colby LGBTQ friendly? ›

Colby-Sawyer offers a welcoming and inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender expansive community members.

Is Stanford LGBTQ friendly? ›

Stanford is committed to welcoming students of all sexual and gender identities, as well as all religious and non-religious traditions.

How do you create a gender neutral classroom? ›

Tips for Your Classroom
  1. Avoid asking kids to line up as boys or girls or separating them by gender. ...
  2. Whenever possible, avoid using phrases such as “boys & girls,” “you guys,” “ladies and gentlemen,” and similarly gendered expressions to address whole groups of students.

Why do teachers ask for pronouns? ›

There is a lot of discussion around gender pronouns that can make the topic feel fraught – but it's actually pretty simple. Using a pronoun that matches someone's gender identity is a way to make them feel included and respected.

What can schools do to be more inclusive? ›

How Parents Can Teach Their Kids to Be More Inclusive
  • Teach Children How Exclusion Is Bullying. Students may know how using hurtful words or aggression can be bullying. ...
  • Model Inclusive Behavior. ...
  • Show How Difference Is a Good Thing. ...
  • Encourage Respectful Language. ...
  • Expose Your Child to Diverse Groups. ...
  • Teach Them to Take a Stand.
Sep 15, 2021

What do the letters in Lgbtqia+ stand for? ›

LGBTIQA+ 'LGBTIQA+' is an evolving acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual. Many other terms (such as non-binary and pansexual) that people use to describe their experiences of their gender, sexuality and physiological sex characteristics.

What do Filipinos take pride in? ›

Filipinos take pride in their families

So whether you are part of the immediate family or you belong to the third or fourth generation, you are treated as a family member.

What is the full form of Lgbtqia+? ›

LGBTQIA+: An acronym used to signify Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual people collectively.

What is they used for LGBTQ? ›

They/them/theirs (“Shea ate their food because they were hungry.”) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. Singular “they” is not a new concept to English speakers – singular they is often used if we do not know the person we are talking about (“Who called you?

What is queer modernity? ›

As a working definition, we might say provisionally that “queer modernism” delineates the sexually transgressive and gender deviant energies that help fuel modernism's desire to thwart normative aesthetics, knowledge, geographies, and temporalities.

How can companies support LGBTQ? ›

Authentic representation is a simple, effective way to build a more inclusive work environment. Go beyond showing LGBTQ community members during Pride Month and extend that visibility year-round. It's also important to make sure your representation is authentic and avoids tokenism or stereotypes.

Is the new school LGBTQ friendly? ›

At the New School, all students, staff, and faculty are free to use facilities that align with their gender identity.

What percent of kids feel safe at school? ›

Regardless of their perceptions of the level of crime in their home neighborhoods and school neighborhoods, at least 95 percent of students agreed that they felt safe at school for all school locales (figure 1).

What percentage of students don t feel safe at school? ›

Students' Perceptions of Personal Safety at School and Away From School. This indicator also appears under School Crime and Safety. In 2019, about 5 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that they had been afraid of attack or harm at school during the school year.

What is a feminist safe space? ›

A safe space is defined as a formal or informal space where women feel physically and emotionally safe. The term 'safe' refers to the absence of trauma, excessive stress, violence (or the fear of violence) or abuse,2 where women have the freedom to express themselves without fear of judgment or harm.

What makes a space queer? ›

A queer space can be simply put as a space or strategy that intrinsically connects or ties in architecture with a person's sexuality and gender identity.

What is a queer counterpublic? ›

ENDNOTES. 1. I use the term 'queer counterpublics' as a broad category to refer to the counterpublics engaged by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and other groups of gender and sexual minority individuals. 2.

What are 3 methods to increase LGBTQ inclusivity into your practice? ›

Find recommended standards of practice with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender patients and additional resources to assist making your practice LGBTQ-friendly.
  1. Provide a welcoming environment.
  2. Meet a standard of practice.
  3. List your practice.

How do you address an LGBTQ patient? ›

Include members of the LGBTQ community as part of your staff and train your staff to refer to patients by their name and chosen descriptive pronoun (Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.) Maintain an open mind and avoid judgment regarding sexual orientation and practices.

How do you celebrate LGBTQ at work? ›

Incentivize Pride celebrations
  1. Post a Pride swag selfie.
  2. Attend a company-sponsored Pride event.
  3. Add their pronouns or ally message to email.
  4. Support an LGBTQ+ business.

How do you make LGBTQ students feel safe? ›

5 Things You Can Do to Support Your LGBTQ Students
  1. Post Safe Space Signs.
  2. Start an LGBTQ Organization at Your School.
  3. Stand Up Against hom*ophobia.
  4. Integrate LGBTQ Topics into the Curriculum.
  5. Pursue Professional Development.

How do you make LGBTQ students feel safe in the classroom? ›

Creating Safe, Welcoming Environments for LGBTQ Students
  1. Educate Yourself. The first step you can take to help students feel safe and welcome is to educate yourself. ...
  2. Plan Inclusive Activities. ...
  3. Take a Stand on Bullying. ...
  4. Be LGBTQ-Positive with Your Curriculum. ...
  5. Encourage Healthy Social Relationships. ...
  6. Practice Makes Perfect.

How can I make my workplace more LGBT friendly? ›

  1. Ensure that your policies are fully inclusive of LGBT people. ...
  2. Reward those involved in your LGBT network group. ...
  3. Decide upon a clear strategy and tactics. ...
  4. Engage staff members who don't identify as LGBT. ...
  5. Ensure senior support. ...
  6. Speak to your staff. ...
  7. Understand your staff. ...
  8. Celebrate your successes.
Jan 18, 2017

Why is it important to be inclusive of LGBTQ? ›

A LGBTQI+ inclusive education can help to reduce the risk of mental health issues among children and young people. The risk of anxiety, depression and suicide is extremely high for individuals who identify as LGBTQI+.

Why is LGBT representation in books important? ›

Having LGBTQ+ literature available for students increases their feeling of belonging and self-worth and helps them feel more connected to their community. LGBTQ+ books benefit all students by providing them with meaningful messages of acceptance and encouragement.

Why is gender inclusive education important? ›

A gender inclusive school also makes the diversity of gender visible in books, hallway displays, and everyday conversation. While the topic of gender is often raised in the context of students who are transgender or gender-expansive, cisgender students also benefit from inclusive policies and practices.

Why do we need gender inclusion? ›

Gender equality prevents violence against women and girls. It's essential for economic prosperity. Societies that value women and men as equal are safer and healthier. Gender equality is a human right.

Why does being inclusive matter? ›

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is more than policies, programs, or headcounts. Equitable employers outpace their competitors by respecting the unique needs, perspectives and potential of all their team members. As a result, diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees.

Why was gender queer written? ›

Kobabe said e wrote the book specifically because from 11 to 13, “I was wanting to come out as nonbinary to my friends and family and community, and I was having a really hard time explaining what gender means to me in conversation, and in particular to my parents.

What are the benefits of representation in books? ›

Reading books with accurate representation helps us to understand how we see the world and why we see the world the way we do. It allows us to see the world through the eyes of somebody else. This creates a community where we acknowledge our shared humanity and our experiences and respect our differences.

Why is representation in books important for children? ›

Children's representation in literature and media plays a significant role in child development and growth because it helps children to understand the reality they live in or to discover other cultures, giving them the opportunity to develop empathy and respect for cultural differences.

Why is it important to have both male and female teachers? ›

Having both male and female teachers gives students the chance to learn from others they perceive as similar. This can foster a sense of belonging and reduce instances of disruptive behavior.

What are the benefits of gender responsive pedagogy? ›

Students are more active learners. They are not intimidated to interact with their fellow students, or their teachers and they assume more confident roles in class. - There are increased levels of gender interaction and awareness raising in classroom settings.

What percentage of teachers are LGBT? ›

In 2021, women earned 95% of what men earned. 9% of all elementary school teachers are LGBT. Elementary school teachers are 93% more likely to work at education companies in comparison to private companies.

Why is gender diversity important in workplace? ›

Gender Diversity in the workplace means that employees are more likely to have various abilities and experiences. Employees in a company with greater gender diversity will have access to multiple views, which is highly useful for outlining and accomplishing a business strategy.

How can you promote LGBTQ diversity in the workplace? ›

Utilize niche job sites that are LGBTQ+-friendly to actively recruit individuals from all gender identities and orientations. Sponsor pride events or advertise your organization with LGBTQ+ community events. Review your job postings to ensure gender-neutral language.


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