Gay students often bullied in Pa. schools

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Gay and lesbian students are often bullied and harassed by their classmates in Pennsylvania schools, but less than half of them have reported the problem to school officials.

Those findings are in a report released yesterday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, which conducted a national survey of secondary school students and teachers.

"The main impact of bullying and harassment is that more students do less well at school," said Eliza Byard, deputy director of GLSEN in New York. "It means students aren't free to learn."

More than 80 percent of the Pennsylvania students involved in the study reported that they had heard various homophobic remarks. And 93 percent said they had heard the expressions "that's so gay" or "you're so gay" from other students at school.

Students in the survey said many teachers and other school staffers rarely or never intervened when homophobic, racist or sexist remarks were made in their presence.

A key finding in the national study shows that far fewer schools in Pennsylvania had student clubs to address gay and straight issues than in other parts of the country. Only 12 percent of Pennsylvania students reported that their schools had a gay-straight alliance versus 22 percent of students nationally who said their schools had one.

"We think this is notable because gay-straight alliances and other such student clubs have a demonstrable impact on student safety and sense of belonging at school," Ms. Byard said.

"Another important point is that half of the students we surveyed who experienced harassment or assaults never reported it," she said. "This underscores how important it is that teachers and other staff make it clear to students that they are there to help."

A total of 3,450 public and private school students nationwide and 218 from Pennsylvania were interviewed for the study last year between Jan. 13 and Jan. 31. The students interviewed were between the ages of 13 and 18.

According to the study, the top three reasons students were bullied or harassed at school was because of their physical appearance, whether they were perceived to be gay or lesbian, or whether they were masculine or feminine enough.

"We wanted to get a sense of how students perceive the issue of bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity," Ms. Byard said. "We found that students see these issues as a central problem in schools."

Tom Wyse, co-chairman of GLSEN's Pittsburgh chapter, said the local organization conducts workshops and training for students and teachers throughout the greater Pittsburgh area.

"We have a standing agreement with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Education where all future educators participate in workshops led by GLSEN trainers," Mr. Wyse said.

He said the organization's youth committee will host a workshop Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill for any students or teachers interested in starting a gay-straight alliance at their schools.


Tim Grant can be reached at tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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