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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 03
GLSEN reports on bias, bullying, and homophobia in grades K-6
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GLSEN reports on bias, bullying, and homophobia in grades K-6

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has released a new report on school climate, biased remarks, and bullying, 'Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States.' The report, based on national surveys of 1,065 elementary school students in 3rd to 6th grade and 1,099 elementary school teachers of K-6th grade, examines students' and teachers' experiences with biased remarks and bullying, and their attitudes about gender expression and family diversity.

Harris Interactive conducted the surveys on behalf of GLSEN during November and December 2010.

'School climate and victimization can affect students' educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level,' said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. 'Playgrounds and Prejudice' offers invaluable insights into biased remarks and bullying in America's elementary schools. The report also shows the need for elementary schools to do more to address issues of homophobia, gender expression and family diversity.'

In addition, GLSEN also released 'Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN's Elementary School Toolkit,' an instructional resource developed to help educators address issues raised in 'Playgrounds and Prejudice,' particularly biased language, LGBT-inclusive family diversity, and gender nonconformity.

'Over the past few years, there has been an increase in research on bullying in schools, including elementary schools,' said GLSEN Senior Director of Research & Strategic Initiatives Dr. Joseph Kosciw. 'However, our report is one of the few that examines bias-based bullying at the elementary school level and the first to examine incidence of homophobic remarks and the negative experiences of children who do not conform to societal standards in their gender expression from a national vantage point.'

The most common forms of biased language in elementary schools heard regularly (i.e., sometimes, often, or all the time) by both students and teachers are the use of the word 'Gay' in a negative way, such as 'that's so Gay,' (students: 45%, teachers: 49%) and comments like 'spaz' or 'retard' (51% of students, 45% of teachers). Many also report regularly hearing students make homophobic remarks, such as 'fag' or 'Lesbo' (students: 26%, teachers: 26%) and negative comments about race/ethnicity (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).

Three-fourths of students (75%) report that students at their school are called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity. Most commonly this is because of students' looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%), or because other people think they're Gay (21%).

Nearly one in 10 of elementary students in 3rd to 6th grade (8%) indicate that they do not always conform to traditional gender norms/roles - either they are boys whom others sometimes think, act, or look like a girl, or they are girls whom others sometimes think, act, or look like a boy.

Gender-nonconforming students are less likely than other students to feel very safe at school (42% vs. 61%), and are more likely than others to indicate they sometimes do not want to go to school because they feel unsafe or afraid there (35% vs. 15%). Gender-nonconforming students are also more likely than others to be called names, made fun of, or bullied at least sometimes at school (56% vs. 33%).

Less than half of teachers believe that a gender-nonconforming student would feel comfortable at their school (male student who acts or looks traditionally feminine: 44%, female student who acts or looks traditionally masculine: 49%), and only a third (34%) of teachers report having personally engaged in efforts to create a safe and supportive classroom environment for gender-nonconforming students.

Seven in 10 students (72%) say they have been taught that there are many different kinds of families. However, less than two in 10 (18%) have learned about families with Gay or Lesbian parents (families that have two dads or two moms).

While an overwhelming majority of elementary school teachers say that they include representations of different families when the topic of families comes up in their classrooms (89%), less than a quarter of teachers report any representation of Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual parents (21%) or Transgender parents (8%).

Only about a quarter (24%) of teachers report having personally engaged in efforts to create a safe and supportive classroom environment for families with LGBT parents.

A majority of elementary school teachers believe they are obligated to ensure a safe learning environment for gender-nonconforming students (83%) and students with LGBT parents (70%). Eight in 10 teachers would feel comfortable addressing name-calling, bullying, or harassment of students because a student is perceived to be Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual (81%) or is gender-nonconforming (81%).

Less than half of teachers (48%) indicate that they feel comfortable responding to questions from their students about Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual people. There was a lower level of comfort found among teachers (41%) responding to questions from their students about Transgender people.

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%).

'Playgrounds and Prejudice' articulates a desire among elementary educators to create optimal learning environments for all students, but there is a larger need to provide educational tools and resources that enhance their understanding of gender-nonconforming students and families with LGBT parents,' said Byard. 'Providing this kind of support to teachers and school staff serving our nation's youngest students will build a lasting foundation of learning and development for all elementary school students.'

Findings in 'Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States' came from online surveys conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GLSEN. The national sample was drawn primarily from the Harris Poll Online (HPOL) opt-in panel and supplemented with sample from trusted partner panels. All respondents were invited to participate through password-protected emails. Interviews for students averaged 15 minutes in length and were conducted between November 3 and November 29, 2010. Interviews for teachers averaged 20 minutes in length and were conducted between November 11 and December 7, 2010. The data were weighted to key demographic variables to align with the national population of the respective groups. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. In addition, an online strategy session was conducted on June 14, 2010, among a group of 20 elementary school teachers of grades ranging from Kindergarten to 6th grade to inform the development of the survey. Key informants (e.g., elementary school teachers, administrators, students, and teacher educators) reviewed the student and teacher surveys to assess for comprehension and face validity.

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