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Discrimination and bigotry against transgender students took various forms, including restricting bathroom and locker room access, limiting participation in extracurricular activities, and curtailing other forms of expression—for example, dressing for the school day or special events like homecoming.
LGBT students also described persistent patterns of isolation, exclusion, and marginalization that made them feel unsafe or unwelcome at school.
The research focused on public schools, including public charter schools, rather than private schools that enjoy greater autonomy to act in accordance with their particular beliefs under US law. Whenever possible, interviews were conducted one-on-one in a private setting.
Researchers spoke with 358 current or former students and 145 teachers, administrators, parents, service providers, and advocates for LGBT youth. Researchers also spoke with interviewees in pairs, trios, or small groups when students asked to meet together or when time and space constraints required meeting with members of student organizations simultaneously.
“It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but eventually you bruise.” Comprehensive approaches are urgently needed to make school environments welcoming for LGBT students and staff, and to allow students to learn and socialize with peers without fearing exclusion, humiliation, or violence.
Above all: Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report between November 2015 and May 2016 in five US states: Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.
The report documented rampant bullying and discrimination against LGBT students in schools across the country, and urged policymakers and school officials to take concrete steps to respect and protect the rights of LGBT youth.Often, LGBT students also lacked teacher role models.In the absence of employment protections, many LGBT teachers said they feared backlash from parents or adverse employment consequences if they were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.As students and teachers describe in this report, they also chilled discussions of LGBT topics and themes in history, government, psychology, and English classes.Many LGBT youth have organized gay-straight alliances (GSAs), which can serve as important resources for students and as supportive spaces to counteract bullying and institutional silence about issues of importance to them.
Students described how hearing slurs, lacking resources relevant to their experience, being discouraged from having same-sex relationships, and being regularly misgendered made the school a hostile environment, which in turn can impact health and well-being.