UH Psychology Professor Offers Expertise on the Bullying of LGBT Students

Expert Q&A With Thomas Schanding, Dept. of Educational Psychology

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance to educators nationwide, clarifying that certain forms of bullying violate federal education anti-discrimination laws. The guidance does not outline new laws, but clarifies that the harassment of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) students based on gender stereotypes is considered harassment and a violation of Title IX. In extreme cases, the department posed the possibility of pulling education funding from schools failing to comply with the standards - while that option has existed, it has never been done.

Professor Thomas Schanding, assistant professor in the department of educational psychology at the University of Houston, is currently conducting research on the interplay of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity and how that impacts a student's academic achievement and psycho-social functioning - such as their self-esteem and parental relationships. Because many school districts do not allow such data collection, Schanding is working with local and national advocacy organizations, including the Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals (HATCH) and Gay-Straight Alliances registered with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Prof. Schanding recently shared insight into topic of bullying in schools, anti-bullying advice for educators and resources for students and parents.

Q: What is the latest data on bullying of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or questioning (LGBT or LGBTQ) students?

A: There hasn't been a whole lot of research done on LGBT students in public schools. Schools are reticent to talk about these issues given the sensitive nature of this. Many districts have policies that forbid any research that looks at gay and lesbian issues within their school district, so it's difficult to get into school settings.

One of the few reports we have is provided by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). They have been conducting a study for the past 10 years, and they collect new data every two years. The latest report came out in August 2010, and it is a national school climate survey. GLSEN surveyed about 7,000 students across the United States to get information regarding students' experiences of victimization, harassment or bullying in the schools. It shows that we are still at a high level of having students who hear homophobic remarks, are being physically assaulted or harassed in school.

Q: What type of bullying or victimization did the report find?

Bullying can include being pushed in the hallway, being called a bad name, having been beaten up outside of school , name calling, threats, cyber bullying - any of those types of things are a lot of the experiences students talk about.

Of these students interviewed in the report for GLSEN, over half of those students, or 62 percent, didn't report the bullying to any teachers or administrator within the district. Of the ones who did, 33 percent said the schools didn't do anything.

Q: Bullying has been a high profile topic for many years, why is more progress not being made in this area?

A: We are trying to work to promote tolerance and diversity within schools, however this is one area that just doesn't seem to catch on with some educators, given the stigma that might be associated with this group of students. There is also sometimes a lack of visibility of these students not coming out in the schools, educators not being trained in how to deal with these types of issues, or not being comfortable dealing with these types of issues.

One way parents and educators can work to help out these students is they can push for more clear and comprehensive policies in dealing with bullying or any homophobic remarks within their schools. Currently, only 15 states and the District of Columbia have any type of policy that addresses sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. Working for advocacy at the legislative level within your state could really help out these students.

What resources or rights do LGBT students and parents have in addressing victimization in school?

A: For parents that want to do something for their children, they need to know that they do have rights. Children need to be safe in school. They should be working with their administrators and teachers. If they don't get satisfaction, they should try to work with an advocate organization.

Here at the University of Houston I have been partnering with several organizations, one of those being the Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals (HATCH). HATCH is a drop-in support group for any student that identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, or any ally of LGBT students. They can find out those resources within their city to try to get support. Within certain schools there are also gay straight alliances (GSA), and many of those are through the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). These are groups of students with an educator-facilitator to try and promote tolerance within schools. Any student can request that a school district support and charter those types of clubs in the school, which has been found to create more of a safe environment for students in those schools.

The National Center for Lesbian Research and GLSEN provide information about case laws and some state laws that you may need to know for what protections you have as a student and what administrators must do to protect you in the schools.

What should schools be doing to better address bullying based on sexual identity or orientation?

Schools can have in-service training for teachers to address how to handle instances of bullying. Educators need to intervene and have things they can do to make sure the individual that's being victimized by the bullying is protected. Educators need work with the bully themselves to say "this not appropriate in our school. We will not tolerate those things."

Other resources we try to pitch to schools are being more inclusive in their curriculum of LGBT issues. For example, include examples of writers who have LGBT themes in their works or include the gay and lesbian civil rights movement in the context of the civil rights movement in social studies classes. Students in these schools feel the school is more accepting of them, so it's not as foreign or stigmatized in the school district itself.


Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals (HATCH) HATCH is dedicated to empowering Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (GLBTQ) adolescents, ages 13-20, to become responsible citizens and positive contributors to society.
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students.
National Center for Lesbian Rights The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
Department of Education Resources Last year, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services joined forces with four other departments to create a federal task force on bullying. 
The Trevor Project The Trevor Project is determined to end suicide among LBGTQ youth by providing resources and a nationwide, 24 hour hotline. If you are considering suicide or need help, call: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).
BullyingInfo.org BullyingInfo.org is a project of the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP) focused on providing tools and resources for youth, parents, teachers and mental health providers to prevent and address bullying.
ItGetsBetterProject.com President Obama's video is just one of thousands of videos submitted by people across the country to inspire and encourage LGBT youth who are struggling. You can watch more videos at ItGetsBetterProject.com.


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