LGBT student safety is focus of Pittsburgh summit
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents are more likely to become targets of bullying in school and attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
But in 93 percent of anti-bullying policies in Allegheny County school districts, there is no mention of sexual orientation, gender identification or sexual preference.
"It seems that while bullying efforts continue to make an impact and we make progress against some types of bullying for some students, they remain largely ineffective in addressing the LGBT student," said Betty Hill, executive director of the Persad Center.
This disconnect prompted Ms. Hill's organization to team with the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to host a Safe Schools Summit last week.
The aim of the meeting, which attracted more than 200 people to PNC Park's Lexus Club, was to gather allies in a growing movement to make schools safer for LGBT students and raise awareness to their daily struggles.
A study by Duquesne University researchers Laura Crothers and Jered Kolbert found that one reason adolescents continue to target LGBT students is because they don't see it as bullying.
"We can have all the anti-bullying programs in the world, but if kids and adults don't say this is bullying and say it's wrong, nothing will change," Ms. Hill said.
She said she became exhausted listening to stories she heard at the Persad Center from kids saying that every day was lousy because of bullying. Instead of constantly reacting to the problem, she started the Safe Schools Project in an effort to stop bullying of LGBT students by changing the culture at schools, beginning with educators.
The summit was the first of three parts in the two-year project. At the request of three groups, Ms. Crothers and Mr. Kolbert will embark on the next step of surveying LGBT students, their parents and Allegheny County teachers by March in an effort to better understand the local culture.
The researchers will analyze the data from 300 participants in the 40-question survey and provide a report to the organizations next fall with recommendations on how to address bullying in county schools.
"What we're trying to do is get an understanding of lived experience," Ms. Crothers said.
Robert McGarry, director of education at GLSEN National and a speaker at the summit, said he hopes the local research will serve as a call to action for the community.
"It's taken local leaders to really put this on the agenda," said Mr. McGarry. "There's power in a coalition of groups. To have the mayor come here and speak is a big deal."
In his brief remarks, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl touted his administration's efforts to reach out to Pittsburgh's LGBT youth and pledged to continue.
The final step of the project is to gather focus groups made up of participants and leaders of the first summit to analyze the findings and develop solutions and accountability measures to take to school districts for implementation.
"One supportive adult can save a life. Six or more can change a culture," said Mr. McGarry. "We know what to do about this, we just have to do what we know."
First Published January 21, 2013 12:00 am