Despite advances in LGBTQ rights in recent years, most Illinois middle and high school students who identify with that group report feeling unsafe in school, according to a survey released by a national advocacy group Wednesday.
The advocacy group GLSEN tied those results — 80 percent of Illinois LGBTQ students said they regularly heard homophobic comments and 72 percent reported being harassed — to a lack of school policies to protect students from bullying.
Just 16 percent of students surveyed said their school has a comprehensive anti-bullying policy. And only 1 in 4 said they were exposed to an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.
The survey of nearly 900 Illinois students is part of GLSEN's biennial National School Climate Survey, which began in 1999. Nationally, 23,000 LGBTQ students were polled this time.
Rodrigo Anzures, policy and advocacy manager with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, said the survey results reflect what he sees in the field. His organization advocates for the safety and support of LGBTQ students and helps school districts across the state develop anti-bullying policies.
“[The results are] also pretty consistent with the national climate, with other states, and the experiences of students in previous years,” he said.
Anzures says in theory every Illinois school should have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy. Illinois in 2014 updated its anti-bullying law to require all school districts to develop anti-bullying policies that include protections for LGBTQ and transgender students.
“What the data is telling us is that students aren’t seeing the effects of [these policies],” Anzures said. “Either the policies aren’t being executed well or students aren’t aware of them.”
The majority of students surveyed also said they’ve faced discrimination at school. Specifically, 28 percent of students surveyed said they were disciplined for public displays of affection and another 11 percent were weren’t allowed to wear LGBTQ-supportive clothing.
LGBTQ student experiences in Illinois mirror what’s happening to students in states across the country. LGBTQ students surveyed across the U.S. say they lack access to bathrooms that align with their preferred gender. Many transgender students also say they are prevented from using their preferred name or pronoun.
Anzures and other experts said districts across the state need to prioritize the well-being of all students through policies that include professional development for school staff to prepare them to meet the needs of LGBTQ students.