A pilot program developed and launched two years ago by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) with community partners to help make schools safer for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) students, has proven so successful -- with students, teachers and administrators -- that it's being adopted by school districts throughout the country with the support of the Center and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network), reaching millions of students.
"Despite increased public acceptance of LGBT people in general, many school campuses remain toxic environments for LGBTQ students, contributing to higher rates of suicide, depression, homelessness and HIV infection," said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. "We approached the LAUSD about developing this program to create visible adult allies throughout the entire school system, helping LGBTQ youth feel safe and supported while helping to deter would-be bullies. Now, wherever students look, they're sure to see adults who proudly identify themselves as LGBTQ allies for students."
Since the OUT for Safe Schools™ initiative was launched in the nation's second largest school district in October 2013, more than 30,000 LAUSD teachers and other staffers have been wearing rainbow badges that proudly identify themselves as LGBTQ allies and protectors of students who are LGBTQ. Now, nine other school districts throughout the country -- in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Duval County (Florida), and Washington, D.C. -- are adopting the program, reaching more than 2.5 million students (grades K-12).
A 2014 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that:
¥ 65% of LGBT students heard homophobic remarks frequently or often
¥ 56% of LGBT students reported personally experiencing LGBT-related discriminatory policies or practices at school
¥ 33% of LGBT students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation
The GLSEN study also illustrates the value and importance of having visible adult allies on school campuses. LGBT students with 11 or more supportive staff at their school were much less likely to feel unsafe than students with no supportive staff (36% vs. 74%) and had higher GPAs (3.3 vs. 2.8). Unfortunately, only 39% of those surveyed could identify 11 or more supportive staff at their school.
"Since its launch, OUT for Safe Schools™ has enriched the lives of both students and staff members in the Los Angeles Unified School District," said LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer. "A whopping 30,000 of our employees -- representing one-third of LAUSD's entire staff -- pledged to be visible allies of LGBT students by wearing the rainbow-designed badges. I have worn mine every day; there is nothing I am more proud to wear. I applaud my district for stepping up to the plate and keeping all of our schools a safer space. No child should ever be bullied, taunted or harassed simply because they're different."
Soon after the Center and LAUSD launched the Out for Safe Schools™ program, the Center began fielding requests from school districts throughout the country that were interested in the initiative-including some in states in which teachers could be fired for being "out." So this National Coming Out Day, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and GSA Network are giving 50,000 teachers and other staff in participating districts a new way to "come out" as supportive LGBTQ allies with plans to support as many school districts as are interested in the program.
In addition to receiving the badges, staff in all participating districts will be trained by GSA Network staff, with funding from a grant, to improve the campus climate for LGBT students.
Geoffrey Winder, Co-Executive Director of GSA Network, said, "We've seen over and again how vitally important it is for trans and queer youth, particularly low-income trans and queer youth of color, to have supportive adults engaged with them, helping to create safe and supportive learning environments. Safe school climates and supportive adults are key to keeping LGBTQ youth in schools and out of the juvenile justice system. Trans and queer youth who feel valued, important, and supported by out teachers, administrators, and staff are more likely to feel personally connected to school, invested in their own education and, ultimately, to reach out for help if they may need it."
Noah Jenkins is an 18-year-old self-identified genderqueer graduate of a school in South Los Angeles that participated in the OUT for Safe Schools™ program.
"It was incredibly comforting to see so many teachers and other staff wearing the badges, because I never expected to feel welcomed, especially in an inner-city high school like mine," said Jenkins. "In classes where I had to write papers and essays, having teachers who wore the badges made me feel like I could be more open about myself, knowing that someone had my back. School is already so stressful; it's such a huge comfort to not have to worry that my safety was at-risk because of who I am."
Since 1969 the Los Angeles LGBT Center has cared for, championed and celebrated LGBT individuals and families in Los Angeles and beyond. Today the Center's more than 500 employees and 3,000 volunteers provide services for more LGBT people than any other organization in the world, offering programs, services and global advocacy that span four broad categories: Health, Social Services and Housing, Culture and Education, Leadership and Advocacy. We are an unstoppable force in the fight against bigotry and the struggle to build a better world; a world in which LGBT people can be healthy, equal and complete members of society.
For more information, visit http://lalgbtcenter.org.