Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Resource: Small Town & Rural LGBT Students

The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), recently released a report that looked at the experiences of LGBT students in small town or rural schools.  In their 2011 School Climate Survey, GLSEN found that for LGBT students across the country, overall levels of harassment are beginning to decline, while support and resources in schools for these students is on the increase (source: www.glsen.org).  However, as you read these reports every two years, you wonder how the experiences for students differ based on geographical location or locale.  Their latest report, Strengths and Silences, gives us this snapshot, with a focus on those students who live in smaller, more isolated communities.  Some key findings:


  • 87% of rural LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 45% reported being physically harassed and 22% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.  
  • 68% of rural LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 31% reported being physically harassed and 16% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.  
  • Rural LGBT students who experienced higher levels of victimization were less likely to plan to attend college than students who experienced lower levels of victimization (85% vs 93%).  
  • 27% of rural students reported having a GSA at school, compared to 55% of suburban students and 53% of urban students. But when there was a GSA at school, rural students were more likely to attend than urban and suburban students.  
  • Rural LGBT students reported feeling less safe than students in suburban and urban areas and rural students living in the South and Midwest were more likely to feel unsafe based on sexual orientation than were students in rural areas of the Northeast or West.  
  • Rural LGBT students were more likely to feel unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation (71% vs. 62% of suburban and 58% of urban school students) and gender expression (49% of rural students vs. 42% of suburban and 42% of urban students).  
  • 36% of rural LGBT students had missed class and/or a day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe, compared to 30% of suburban LGBT students and 30% of urban LGBT students. (source: www.glsen.org)
Overall, our LGBT students in rural and small communities need additional supports and resources.  One of the more interesting findings of this report, however, is with regards to school counselors.  52% of rural students felt that they would be comfortable talking to a school counselor about LGBT issues, higher than any other school personnel, including teachers, administrators, and other support staff.  In fact, even in suburban and urban districts, students felt that school counselors were the go-to people with regards to conversations about LGBT issues.  However, as the report discusses, students in reality are bringing up LGBT topics most with teachers, not with counselors (source: www.glsen.org).  

This information, I believe, tells us two things.  First, that we as school counselors need to be trained in working with LGBT students and families:  What Is Your LGBT IQ?  LGBT students across the board feel that we are the people they are most able to seek out to talk about these issues.  If you are a counselor at a small or rural school, seek out trainings at local, state, or national conventions.  Many school counseling conferences now feature sessions on working with LGBT students and families.  You can also look at webinars on LGBT topics sponsored both by ASCA as well as GLSEN.  Secondly, we need to consider ways to let students know that we are a safe-space for them to have these conversations.  This can be done by sponsoring or making a visit to your school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or by posting a Safe-Space sticker somewhere in your office.  As the data in this report tells us, this is an issue of academic performance, post-secondary outcomes, school safety, and attendance.  By addressing this issue, you are helping to remove barriers to academic success for all students.

Read the full report here or view the webinar.

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