The Impact of School Environments on LGBTQ Youth

Abstract

The impact of negative school environments were examined on LGBTQ youth, focusing on the mental and academic areas. LGBTQ students who experienced higher rates of victimization experienced more frequent school and mental health problems. Students in supportive environments experienced less frequent school issues, especially if the school staff showed support and understanding. Studies show and support that negative school environments have long-lasting repercussions for LGBTQ students that influence later life choices such as higher education as well as reported self-esteem and depression.

The Impact of School Environments on LGBTQ Youth

In the United States, the majority of youth spend most of their time in the education system. In this environment students learn not only about math, social studies, and various other topics, but about how to interact with peer groups, form life-long social relationships, and learn about themselves, their identities, and their place in the world. While school is meant to be a mostly learning environment, the social aspects of the school experience cannot be ignored. Due to this social aspect of school, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth face special hardships due to their sexuality and gender that are not faced by their heterosexual and cisgender peers (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012). These hardships are not caused by peers alone but also from faculty and staff as well which creates an even more negative environment for LGBTQ youth.

This victimization takes many forms from vocal, to verbal, to sexual. Students face anti-queer sentiments from simply hearing their sexuality used as an insult (“That’s so gay”) to having laws and lawsuits placed against their needs such as using the correct restrooms in the case of transgender students (Biegel, 2010; Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, & Boesen, 2014). The harsher the responses and the source of the victimization have a direct connection with the response of the LGBTQ youth. The lack of support from faculty and staff in regards to peer issues leads to greater harm than students who face victimization but have the support of the school staff (Adelman & Woods, 2006).

These negative environments also lead to a decline in school attendance, lower GPA, mental health issues, and lack of goals for future education. The impact of the negative environment is harsh, taking its toll on not only on school based activities, but mental health as well. LGBTQ youth in unsupportive and negative school environments face lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression and even more suicidal ideations/thoughts that those whose environments are supportive of them (Adelman & Woods, 2006). This impact does not stop after the student leaves school but can leave lasting mental health issues that can lead to problems with substance abuse as well as problems with maintaining relationships later on in life (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011).

The key is not only to tackle the negative environment but to make sure that the students also have a support structure as well. This includes clubs like Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), on the books anti-bullying policies, as well as training for faculty and staff in dealing with the specific needs of LGBTQ students (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012). These support structures are crucial in taking the epidemic of problems faced by LGBTQ youth within the school system. Without these support structures, students have no way of creating an environment that is safe for them to grow, learn, and create lasting peer groups as well as positive self-esteem (Adelman & Woods, 2006; Biegel, 2010). Negative school environments lead to problems in school with attendance and GPA as well as mental health issues that last once the student leaves school. This paper will look over these negative school environments and these various impacts on LGBTQ students throughout their school careers.

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An Interview with Transgender Faith Leader Stephanie Mott

I first met Stephanie Mott in May, 2011. We were fighting for the Manhattan, Kansas commissioners to not repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance passed back in February that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. You read that right, only three months after passing the ordinance the new Manhattan commission was working on revoking the rights of queer Manhattan residents. The anti-discrimination ordinance had made Manhattan, Kansas the second place in Kansas to add not only sexual orientation but gender identity to protected classes of citizens with Lawrence, Kansas being the first. In three short months, we saw these rights being ripped from under us.

We heard arguments from both sides, watching as ministers and fellow residents saying the protection was unnecessary because they had never seen someone discriminated on these bases. These responses came after person after person recounted tales of discrimination based on their gender and their sexual orientation, one of those people being me and another being Stephanie Mott. I remember coming down from speaking, shaking like a leaf. I was red, scared, and nervous. Stephanie hugged me and told me I had done an amazing job and handed me the card for her organization, KSTEP (Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project).

This experience of being given rights and then watching them ripped out from under you and meeting Stephanie are experiences that have changed my life and have shaped many things in the years after. They are stories I recount often as the fight for basic protections continues across the United States and across the world. Stephanie, her kindness, and her story, and her dedication are something I look to frequently as something to strive towards.

What strikes me most about Stephanie is her unwavering faith. Stephanie is a Christian transsexual woman who frequently posts about her religion and its influence on her life. She even has a book titled God Doesn’t Have a Penis, and Other Writings by a Transsexual Christian Woman. She does not let those who question her identity and its intersection with her religion get in her way. This is most evident in her Trans Faith Tour she is currently doing across the country, talking about her experiences as a Christian trans woman.

I recently interviewed Stephanie about her Trans Faith Tour, KSTEP, and several other things.

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Gaming in Color: An Interview with Director and Producer Philip Jones

“Prepare to have your assumptions and comforts challenged a bit, and remember that queer people are a part of your human experience,” Philip told me when I asked them what they wanted their non-queer viewers of Gaming in Color to take from the film. Of course the film, which focuses on the experiences of queer gamers in video games, from developers to simple fans, is meant to be about educating others. Philip wanted there to be an easy to consume resource for those who may not be able to influence every gamer they meet to understand the issues queer gamers face.

“Your gaming tendencies will probably feel a bit poked at and criticized, maybe even deconstructed in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. But that’s often how queer people feel just getting past the hurdle of even turning on a game, assumptions are made and questions are asked and you’re never allowed to just exist in a culture that is hostile or at best neutral but aloof to you.” As Philip states here, gaming is not always perfect when it comes to dealing with queer characters, let alone dealing with queer people within gaming experiences. However, not everything is negative when it comes to the intersections of identity and gaming.

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How to Form a Sincere Apology

I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people throw their entire apologies to the wind through one mistake. While some of these apologies are sincere, others are non-apologies meant to try and appease those they’ve upset as opposed to actually learn from their mistakes. So, here is a little guide to help write a sincere apology and avoid those tropes and pot holes that may make your apology, no matter how sincere, bunk. This is aimed at more mass apologies as opposed to personal ones between one or a few people however that does not mean certain key points here are not applicable.

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Short and Long-Term Effects of Family Rejection on LGBTQ Youth

A family’s most basic functions include support, both emotional and financial. Our family are the first relationships we develop and are usually the ones that we hold onto the longest, from birth to death. These bonds are not only meant to integrate us into society but prepare us for our own families when the time or choice comes (Hammond & Cheney, 2009). What happens when these family units do not fulfill their most basic functions and cast out their family members for things that are often not a choice, such as gender or sexual orientation?

Family rejection can happen for a number of reasons from personal differences, religious problems, alcohol/drug use, arguments, and so forth. However, many times families can settle their differences and still continue to act as a unit, even if they do not necessarily get along. However there are occasions where this rejection is lifelong from the moment it happens. This can lead to short and long-term health effects, both mentally and physically, regardless of age. The impact is most significant if this rejection happens during youth and is over things that cannot be changed, such as gender or sexuality (Lowrey, 2010).

These effects can range from homelessness, increased depression, increased suicidal thoughts and tendencies, to higher accounts of HIV/AIDS and drug use/alcoholism (Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010). This rejection can also lead to being in and out of the criminal justice system due to the criminalization of homelessness as well as survival tactics such as the survival sex trade (Valentino, 2011). These problems are also affected by experiencing racism, transmisogyny (misogyny directed specifically at trans women), as well as sexism, heterosexism, and other institutional oppressions. For example, a Black trans women will face more problems on the streets than a White cisgender (meaning non-transgender) gay male (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011). These impacts are both short and long-term, impacting a person’s life from the moment the rejection happens and beyond.

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The Tokenization of Relationships

“But I have Black friends!” “My cousin is gay.” “That’s not true! My uncle is transgender!” We’ve all seen it before, the tokenization of relationships in order to prove a fact. Someone with friends, relatives, or ever partners who belong to a marginalized community cannot be against that community or hold ideas that are oppressive against them, right? Of course they can. The tokenization of relationships to prove a point even solidifies this point. How?

 

We’re all the same.

By saying you are friends, related to, partners with, etc. X marginalized group and thus cannot hold beliefs that harm other members of the group, you are saying that all members of the group are like your friend, family member, partner, etc. This is erasive and simplification of the complexity and variance of the group. In order for you to be supportive of the entire group, you are saying their identities and lives are just like that of the person you know.

Get Out of Jail Free Card

This tokenization also uses said relationship as an object, proving that there is nothing you can do or say that would be problematic because you have some relationship to this marginalized group and they have never said anything. This goes back to the fact that it holds the idea that these groups are all the same and cannot hold varying, let alone conflicting ideas or beliefs. If one person of a group believes something, all other beliefs must be incorrect. Interesting how this only applies to the ones who agree with the person who is defending their actions, beliefs, thoughts, etc.

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We Are Failing Our Queer Youth

For many, the most difficult times of our lives are high school, or even middle school. Years of turmoil for everyone, no matter who they are. Emotions run high and wild. Puberty blossoms and devastates. Youth struggle between homework, friendships, and their own budding senses of self. It is due to this, among many other reasons, that we often fail queer youth and their power, their bravery, their courage, and their strength. This bravery does not come for free though.

Queer youth are four to seven times more likely to try and commit suicide. They face extreme family rejection as well as peer rejection. They face mockery from student and staff alike in an environment that is supposed to protect, nurture, and educate. They suffer. They suffer during one of the most difficult times during a person’s life. So why, why do we never praise them for their strength and their courage? In fact, we tell them to shut up. We tell them to take it. Programs like the It Gets Better and Day of Silence campaigns promises queer youth that if they just suffer through, it gets better, do not fight. Do not challenge. Silently suffer.

Why do we not support our queer youth more? Whether they are in the closet or living open and proud, with a target on their backs or even their foreheads? Why do we not support their choices? Why do we not fight for them to be open and proud, without the risk of being driven from school or their homes? Why do we not address the hostile environments that make 20-40% of youth on the streets queer? Why? Why are we failing our children so horribly?
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Speak Out, Act Up

“Just ignore them, they will stop”, “Don’t give them attention”, “They’re wrong. People won’t believe that stuff”, are a few of the things I hear when someone in the media does something to spread misinformation about a group I happen to be associated with. Why do we tell each other to ignore this? Why are we forced to ignore potentially harmful information?

I have a feeling it plays into the idea that we most be a model at all times. We must always be on our best behavior and that we must always play the game with a smile and a nod. Yes, we see you being problematic, but don’t worry, we wouldn’t dare call you out in case we lose an ally! This is of course, extremely harmful, dangerous, and can be potentially deadly.

Take for example one of the most recent the Regular Guys show on Atlanta 1005FM. They had a caller call in about Karen Adell Scot, a teacher who recently came out as a transgender woman and will be attending classes from now on as the woman she is. They took this segment to pull the “think about the children” card as well as repeatedly call her transmisogynistic slurs, and violently misgender her.

This comes not too long after the one year anniversary of Lucy Meadows, another trans teacher who was harassed by the Daily Mail and other media outlets to the point she committed suicide. A year after, we are experiencing the same issues of misgendering, transmisogyny, transphobia, and blatant disrespect for the mental well being of another human.

 

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Compliments and Intent

Listen up cis people, I want to talk to you today about intent. However, not in the intent isn’t magic sort of deal. Well, that might be a lie. I want to focus on compliments though, especially the one that goes a little bit like, “I would never have guessed!”. I get it. I understand the intent. It’s meant to be a compliment. Now, I want to address that this is my opinion on the subject. It may not be shared by you, and that is ok! I just want people to know that there are many people who take offense to statements like this and other statements like it.

By telling someone you would have never guessed they are trans*, you tell them they are passing. That’s great! Many people want to hear that. However, you are also implying that being visibly trans* is a bad thing. That to be visibly trans* is not how that person wants to be seen. That being visibly trans* is something that no one wants. You also enforce the idea that cis is the norm and the default for people. There is another companion to this quote, one just as well intentioned (insert quote about Hell and good intentions), but infinitely worse.

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Where Academia Fails: Trans Inclusion/Education

“Transgender people are usually men.” This is how my Crisis Intervention text book started it’s only paragraph on trans* people. Despite the constant use of LGBT or just gay as a general term, they denote one definition and one paragraph to trans* people and perpetuate constant myths and stereotypes. In reality, the number of binary trans* people (thus, the stereotypical MtF and FtM) are equal.  Non-binary trans* people are almost never mentioned and are often referred to as pre-op transgender (or transsexual) people because many texts uphold the idea that all trans* people medically transition.

The paragraph continues to go on referring to trans women with male pronouns and even has scare quotes. “He may then choose to identify himself as a ‘she’ in society and even on legal documents”, is a prime example of this. This plays into the idea that trans* people and their identities are fake, constructed, and for the purpose of deceiving others. The scare quotes denote the fact that this is the incorrect gender of this person. The tone of the sentence is also problematic as it holds an air of holding trans* people as freaks, mentally ill, and so on. Did I mention that this was the textbook for my crisis intervention class?

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No Obligation in Education

There seems to be a trend among those who are interested or uneducated in feminism and other social justice movements. This need almost always comes from those who are from the majority (thus, generally white, straight, cis men) who feel that they can demand education from those who are knowledgeable in the subject. They get angry or upset when someone refuses to educate them or does not want to answer their many questions.

Often, the questions that are asked are easily answered via Google. There are many, many 101 courses that people have written to cover these questions. Many people have to answer the same questions, repeatedly, and it can get quite annoying. For example, I often get asked what the asterisk in trans* stands for or what does queer mean. These questions are easily entered into Google with hundreds of resources for people to look into.

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Trans Media Guide

Please note this is an ever changing article. This means I will continue to update it as more problems/information arises. Please leave a comment with feedback or use my contact the author page!

 

The news media has a huge problem when it comes to reporting on trans* people. This problem spans across a wide variety of arenas, it is not localized to one specific issue that can be addressed simply. The news media needs an overhaul, a make-over if you will, on how it reports trans* people. While I understand there are articles and guides out there that cover how to do this, I’ve noticed very few explain exactly why in some form of depth. I want this to be a basic guideline, a stepping stone of dos and don’ts, organized by the trans* community and their voices. A guide from and by trans* people about trans* people. There are no better teachers than ourselves.

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