– Days before the National Day of Silence
, the brutal bias-based attack by six Pueblo youth against a fellow Centennial High School student last week because of his sexual orientation highlights a troubling and far too common problem in our nation’s schools.
The six students drove past the 15-year-old several times as he walked home from school, yelling anti-gay slurs at him. Eventually, one of the students got out of the car and threw a Lysol can, breaking the 15-year-old’s nose and causing enough damage to require surgery.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim of this senseless attack, his family and the Pueblo community,” said GLSEN Founder and Executive Director Kevin Jennings. “As shocking as it is that we still live in an age where students would commit such heinous attacks, common sense solutions exist for schools to make their students as safe as possible. We urge all concerned Coloradans, in this school community, at the district level and in the Colorado legislature, to rally around solutions to the school climate problems that can give rise to this kind of horrific violence.”
Hundreds of thousands of secondary and college students will take a vow of silence on April 18 during GLSEN’s 11th annual National Day of Silence to protest and bring attention to the school climate issues that can lead to events like this. Students from 58 Colorado high schools – including South High School in Pueblo – have registered to participate at www.studentorganizing.org.
GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, recommends three simple steps schools and policy makers can take to address anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) bias and behavior in schools.
Implement comprehensive safe schools policies that include enumerated categories such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Statistics show comprehensive policies that include sexual orientation are much more effective than general ones, which are only slightly more effective than having no policy at all. Colorado has a generic policy.
Provide educator trainings to prepare teachers to respond in an effective and timely fashion to incidents of anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment and make their classrooms safer.
Support student efforts to improve school climate, including the creation of student clubs commonly known as Gay-Straight Alliances that improve school climate and help promote respect and tolerance. In Colorado, 85 such clubs have registered with GLSEN.
Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students (64%) said they feel unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, according to the 2005 National School Climate Survey. Additionally, four out of five LGBT students reported experiencing physical, verbal or sexual harassment at school during the past year.
From a non-LGBT student perspective, the top three reasons students say other students are harassed in school are physical appearance, actual or perceived sexual orientation and how masculine or feminine a student is, according to the 2005 Harris Interactive study,
From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America.
“LGBT students say this is a problem. Straight students say this is a problem,” Jennings said. “What more is it going to take before every school starts working proactively to do everything it can to make sure incidents like this never happen.”
GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. For more information on GLSEN’s educational resources, public policy agenda, student organizing programs, research, public education or development initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.