LGBTQ rights have come a long way in the U.S. But the community still faces threats in the form of legalization, discrimination and even violence.
For students and teachers who want to curb bullying at their schools, one solution could be establishing a Gay-Straight Alliance.
The presence of a GSA at school is associated with decreased levels of bullying of students for their weight, gender, religion, disability and sexuality, according to a study released Monday by researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
GSAs are student-run clubs that traditionally served as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in middle and high schools, but they’ve also emerged as vehicles for social change related to racial, gender and educational justice.
“By bringing together LGBTQ youth and supportive non-LGBTQ peers, GSAs provide a unique opportunity to foster social inclusion and acceptance,” postdoctoral fellow and lead author Leah Lessard told USA TODAY.
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Ninety-one percent of LGBTQ teens report at least one experience of bias-based bullying, according to the study. More, 73% of teens surveyed reported experiences of bias-based bullying for reasons beyond their sexual or gender identities.
But Joe Kosciw, director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network Research Institute, told USA TODAY that “the presence of a GSA raises awareness of LGBTQ issues, as well as demonstrates to LGBTQ students that they have allies in their schools, thereby contributing to a more respectful student body.”
A 2014 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found only 38% of high schools nationwide had an active GSA, the absence of which can lead to increased bullying and increased stress among LGBTQ students. The Rudd Center study reported that LGBTQ youth have a heightened risk of suicide, depression, sleep troubles and eating disorders.
“GSAs represent a promising avenue to support healthy outcomes for LGBTQ teens,” Lessard said, noting that GSAs not only deter bullying in the first place but act as a social resource to reduce health consequences of bullying.
“It’s important the youth have allies and friends that they can rely on to stick up for them, and also hold other peers accountable for exclusionary behaviors and attitudes,” she added.
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A 2016 study out of the University of California, Berkeley reported that LGBTQ students at schools with GSAs were 36% less likely to be fearful for their own safety.
More, according to Lessard’s study, multiple forms of bias-based bullying were lower at schools with GSAs, which decreased adverse health outcomes.
Sarah Milianta-Laffin, a STEM teacher at Ilima Intermediate School in Hawaii and supervisor for the school’s GSA, said her campus just hosting one has “served to inoculate the student body against some identity bullying,” pointing to studies that show having a GSA can reduce suicide attempts for all students.
“Every school should have a GSA, and districts need to create professional development spaces to help GSAs network and thrive,” Milianta-Laffin said.
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