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GLSEN reports anti-LGBT harassment throughout Illinois schools
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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If a recent Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) research brief has it right, nearly every Illinois student is hearing anti-gay language in school.

The June 27 brief, based on a 2009 national GLSEN survey, shows that 98 percent of Illinois students hear "gay" used in a negative way while 94 percent hear homophobic remarks. In addition, 88 percent of students reported hearing abusive remarks about gender expression.

"LGBT students face disturbing levels of victimization in Illinois," said Dr. Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN senior director of research, in a press release on the findings. "Students are clearly saying educators and policymakers are not doing enough to stop anti-LGBT bullying and harassment."

There is more in the report. While 34 percent of students said they had been physically assaulted because of their perceived sexual orientation (and 19 percent for their gender expression), fewer than one in five reported that their schools had an anti-harassment policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity.

Shannon Sullivan, the executive director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, said those numbers are not surprising.

"Schools for the most part are significantly hostile environments for these young people," she said. "That 94 percent [of students] are hearing homophobic remarks… that should alarm people, and the fact that it doesn't is a mystery."

Sullivan thinks that part of the problem is a lack of school leadership. She feels that who want to interrupt homophobia often hesitate because few other teachers do, and they worry that speaking up will make colleagues think they themselves are gay.

Still, the GLSEN report notes that 95 percent of Illinois students could identify at least one educator supportive of LGBT students. Sullivan thinks that is an encouraging number.

Overall, Sullivan said, Illinois does not differ greatly from other states when it comes to anti-LGBT bullying in schools. However, statistics specific to Illinois are useful when LGBT youth advocates lobby school boards for LGBT student protections and gay-straight alliances.

Illinois schools generally collect limited data about the experiences of LGBT students. Chicago Public Schools, for example, administers the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey to students (The Youth Risk Behavior Survey), which tracks everything from dietary habits to drug use. That survey has collected some data on LGBT students in Illinois over the past couple of years.

Sullivan said that the GLSEN survey offers a wider range of information on Illinois students. That information coupled with recent media attention has changed the playing field, she said.

"There has been an impact in awareness building," said Sullivan. Still, she added, that awareness has yet to significantly impact the day-to-day experiences of LGBT students, who continue to be bullied in school.

The GLSEN Illinois brief is at

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