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Shining a light on the issues facing LGBTQIA+ students

  • Photo credit:
    Liam McGarry on Unsplash

June is Pride Month and we at LEE think that it’s an important time to bring attention to LGBTQIA+ students across America. It’s important for us to name that LGBTQIA+ students of color face greater systemic opression and interpersonal discrimination. 

The Trevor Project, a leading support organization for LGBTQIA+ students, finds that more than 10.5% of students age 13-18 identify as either lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer. As the LGBTQIA+ community has grown to include 1 in 10 American students, any discussion of educational equity must include this community. 

While the last two decades have brought significant political, economic, and cultural advancement for the LGBTQIA+ community, many LGBTQIA+ students are confronted by oppression daily. 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth say the communities within which they live are not supportive of lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer people. 

Schools have the potential to serve as a refuge for LGBTQIA+ who feel that they can’t be their true selves at home. However, many schools have struggled to fully eliminate bullying based on students sexual orientation or gender identity. In a survey conducted by the Williams Institute, 58% of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Individual schools, districts, and states have shown policy leadership in creating safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth. In 2019, Illinois became the fourth state to require the teaching of LGBT history in social studies classrooms. 

Still, there are no baseline federal requirements around the protection of LGBTQIA+ students. Furthermore, 5 states still have laws that prevent teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender expression.  

While the state and district policy landscape has trended towards expanding protections and support to LGBTQIA+ students, there is still substantial work to be done. According to the Trevor Project, the social distancing, economic downturn, and anxiety-caused uncertainty related to COVID-19 will have specific negative impacts on LGBTQ youth. LEE member Samantha Ellison recently wrote an op-ed that highlighted the adverse effects that COVID-19 is having on LGBTQIA+ youth.

LEE has also built an Equity Roadmap tool that includes more information about the challenges facing LGBTQIA+ students. If you haven’t yet, members can access the hub for information, questions, and resources on some of the most pressing education policy issues facing equity-minded leaders today.

Happy Pride! 


Mark Johnston is the Director of Early Career Supports at Leadership for Educational Equity, where he helps members lead equity-centered change in the policy and advocacy sectors. He joined Teach For America after college and taught 11th grade English for three years. Wanting to study the systems and the policies responsible for our country’s educational system, Mark attended graduate school at American University, earning joint M.Ed/MPP degrees. After graduate school, Mark worked at Matriculate - a New York based college access nonprofit. Mark then returned to the advocacy sector, serving as Director of Trainings at 50CAN.

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