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The Kids Are Not Alright: The Plight of African American LGBT Youth in America’s Schools

Posted: April 17, 2012

For some children the beginning of a new school year is marked with anticipation and excitement. But if you’re a student who is (or is perceived to be) gay or gender nonconforming, that excitement turns to fear and anxiety because of the bullying you will endure day in and day out for the next nine months.

In the past year or so, media attention rose surrounding the suicides of youth who were or were perceived to be gay or transgender, many of the youth who died were bullied and harassed in their schools. The media attention peaked about a year ago, when within a three-week period, five gay or gender-nonconforming teens died by suicide, each case adding to a sense of urgency around the problem of bullying in our nation’s schools. What was just as disconcerting, however, was whom the media was primarily covering: white youth. In fact, several African American students took their lives around the highly publicized time—most notably Carl Hoover Walker, who was only 11 years old. Unfortunately, the stories of African American youth didn’t make the news cycle despite the fact that research shows it is African American gay or gender-nonconforming youth who face some of the most hostile treatment in our nation’s schools.

According to new research conducted by the American Sociology Association, being consistently bullied also significantly lowers academic performance for high-achieving black and Latino students. The study found that black students—who had 3.5 GPAs in 9th grade and were bullied in 10th grade—experienced a .3 point decrease in their GPAs by senior year. This achievement gap is even wider for LGBT youth of color who are bullied. One report found that they have GPAs a half (.5) point lower than students who do not experience harassment in school.

Schools are supposed to be environments where students feel safe and gain the skills necessary for success. But for black gay and gender-nonconforming youth, this is frequently not the case. These students often choose to miss school to avoid the harassment and violence they face on a nearly daily basis. In fact, about a quarter of black LGBT students have missed at least one full day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, compared to just 6.3 percent of all black youth and 3.5 percent of all white youth. 

The school climate is a top predictor for academic performance and the health and wellness of students. But black LGBT students, particularly those in schools where the student population is predominantly black, are less likely to attend schools that have affirming policies and programs such as Gay-Straight Alliances, or GSAs, which provide safe havens and buffers to antigay and antitransgender bias and bullying. 

Read more on the Center for American Progress website.



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