Research Shows Progress for LGBTQ Students Has Slowed

For the first time in a decade, school climates for LGBTQ students are getting worse which negatively impacts student’s mental health and their education.

Research Shows Progress for LGBTQ Students Has Slowed

GLSEN, the leading education organization working to create safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ students, announced today new findings from the 2017 National School Climate Survey, showing for the first time in a decade that victimization of LGBTQ youth is not decreasing at rates previously seen — and has, in fact, gotten worse for transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

Begun in 1999, the biennial National School Climate Survey has become the largest body of research on the experiences of LGBTQ youth in schools in the U.S., and examines indicators of negative school climate (biased remarks, victimization, and discrimination), the effects of school climate on student outcomes, and the availability and benefits of key school-based support shown to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth.

The 2017 National School Climate Survey is the largest and most geographically inclusive research sample ever of LGBTQ between 13 and 21 years of age, from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories, with 23,001 total survey respondents.

“We’ve seen great progress on dismantling homophobia and transphobia over the past decade, and increasing access to LGBTQ-inclusive supports in K-12 schools. Unfortunately, in 2017, that continued progress has slowed, and in some cases, we see no change at all. Worse still, our findings indicate that many schools have become even more hostile towards transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” said Dr. Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN Chief Research & Strategy Officer. “The good news we continue to see is that LGBTQ youth have better mental health and academic outcomes in schools with supportive and inclusive policies, educators, curriculum, and student-led GSA clubs.”

Among the many findings within the 2017 National School Climate Survey, are:

  • Overall in 2017, we see homophobic remarks and victimization leveling off, after years of measured improvements. Worse, we have seen a steady increase in youth reporting negative remarks about transgender people, and a recent upward trend in the frequency of staff making negative remarks about gender expression.
  • The vast majority of LGBTQ students (87.3%) experienced harassment or assault based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender expression, gender, religion, race and ethnicity, and disability. Seven in ten LGBTQ students (70.1%) experienced verbal harassment at school based on sexual orientation, more than half based on gender expression (59.1%) or gender (53.2%).
  • More than a third of LGBTQ students (34.8 %) missed at least one day of school in the last month because of feeling unsafe at school, and at least two in five students avoided bathrooms (42.7%) and locker rooms (40.6%).
  • The frequency of verbal harassment based on sexual orientation did not change from 2015 to 2017; however, physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation did continue to decline in 2017.
  • The frequency of verbal harassment based on gender expression increased from 2015 to 2017, after years of decline, and there were no improvements in reports of physical harassment and assault based on gender expression from 2015 to 2017.
  • Hostile school climates negatively affect LGBTQ students’ mental health and educational outcomes. LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization were nearly twice as likely to report they do not plan to pursue post-secondary education. Also, LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization and discrimination had lower GPAs, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression.
  • School-based supports continue to have a positive effect on school climate. School staff supportive of LGBTQ students, GSAs, LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, and comprehensive and supportive policies are all related to safer schools and better educational outcomes. Yet LGBTQ students report that most of these supports are not available to them.

GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey provides additional insights on the youth-led safe schools movement growing in the U.S. today, and specifically, the prevalence of social-political activism of LGBTQ youth, including participation in GSAs and GLSEN programs, like the Day of Silence, No Name-Calling Week, and Ally Week.

The vast majority of LGBTQ students (80.2%) have engaged in social-political activism, such as advocating for safe schools online or policy change at school. LGBTQ students who participate in their student-led GSA at school are more likely to engage in activism than those who do not (91.0% vs. 74.7%).

“This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ wellbeing,” said Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director. “Fortunately, the evidence continues to show that key interventions are working to improve students’ lives. We must continue to push to see them implemented in more schools, and support students who are organizing to improve their communities. LGBTQ-affirming supports in our schools reduce violence, improve academic achievement, and help save lives. Who wouldn’t want LGBTQ youth to feel safe and do better in schools?”

For the first time, GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes insights on student activism, parent advocacy, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and inclusive sex education.

The 2017 National School Climate Survey full report and executive summary, along with related infographics, can be downloaded from

About GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey

2017 National School Climate Survey was conducted online from April through August 2017. To obtain a representative national sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth, outreach was conducted through national, regional, and local organizations that provide services to or advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth, and advertised and promoted on social networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. To ensure representation of transgender youth, youth of color, and youth in rural communities, special efforts were made to notify groups and organizations that work predominantly with these populations.

The final sample consisted of a total of 23,001 students between the ages of 13 and 21. Students were from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and 5 U.S. territories. About two-thirds of the sample (67.5%) was White, a third (34.1%) was cisgender female, and 4 in 10 identified as gay or lesbian (41.6%). The average age of students in the sample was 15.6 years and they were in grades 6 to 12, with the largest numbers in grades 9, 10, and 11.

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