Past research has reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students experience emotional, social, and physical abuse in most learning institutions because of their gender expression (Russell & Horn, 2016). Such harassment has been the primary reason for their poor academic performances as well as adverse health outcomes, homelessness, suicide, teen pregnancies, and drug use. This situation has presented a need to create a socially inclusive and safe learning environment for all LGBTQ high school learners through the requisite training of school administrators and educators (Gonzalez, 2017). The main topics discussed in this literature review that support the topic of ensuring a socially inclusive and safe learning environment for all LGBTQ high school students include a conceptual framework, an overview of LGBTQ high school students, and the school challenges they face form teachers, administrators and fellow students. Other topics include LGBTQ student support and inclusiveness training for administrators and educators.
The number of LGBTQ students is rising in schools. School administrators and educators need to increase awareness of these learners and work to make them feel included and welcomed in a safe learning environment that is free from offensive practices and languages (Wimberly, 2015). Thus, this literature review focuses on the professional development for school administrators and educators in support of LGBTQ youth in high schools. The review espouses the idea that the inclusivity and support of LGBTQ students by their teachers and administrators is a crucial aspect of their academic performance.
Overview of LGBTQ High School Students
According to Gonzalez (2017), LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. This acronym is often employed as an umbrella term for people with diverse sexual orientations or genders. LGBTQ youths are frequently grouped together, but these people have unique needs. Gender and sexual orientation are essential elements of a person's identity. Russell and Horn (2016) assert that exploring and expressing gender identity, gender roles, and sexual orientation is part of adolescent development. Mainly, this process is distinctive to each person and is not a one-time event. As Carrillo and Houston (2015) record, personal, family, cultural, and social aspects may affect how one expresses their gender identity and sexual orientation.
LGBTQ youth face various challenges, both individual and environmental, that shape how they perceive themselves and their view of how others see them. In particular, how others respond to their gender identity or sexual orientation. A major challenge arises when LGBTQ youth try to come out. According to Gonzalez (2017), coming out is the term used to describe the process through which an individual realizes that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and starts to disclose their gender identity and sexual orientation to others. Additionally, the process involves developing a positive identity as an LGBTQ person. Based on research findings by Farrell (2014), the level of support available to high school LGBTQ youth from family, educators, school administrators, and friends is a vital determinant of how easy or difficult it is for them to navigate this process. Russell and Horn (2016) also established that the period between the first awareness of one's gender identity or sexual orientation and coming out was mainly experienced as difficult, traumatic, and daunting. Most of the respondents linked this to fear of rejection, isolation, and harassment in school.
Another challenge identified by Subhrajit (2014) is that LGBTQ youth experience multiple forms of marginalization and social exclusion. Moreover, the stigma attached to gender identity and sexual orientation or expression that fall outside the expected heterosexual, non-transgender norm relegates many LGBTQ youths to the margin of society. Often, this marginalization excludes LGBTQ youth from numerous support initiatives, frequently encompassing their families, which leaves them with little access to services such as medical care, education, justice, and legal services. Such marginalization often begins with the family into which they were born. According to a study by Kosciw, Palmer, and Kull (2015), family members because of their gender identity or sexual orientation had physically abused approximately 30% of LGBTQ youth in the United States. Thus, to avoid such challenges, Subhrajit (2014) established that most LGBTQ youths opted to remain closeted.
The main challenge that LGBTQ students face in schools is harassment (Wimberly, 2015). Being a teenager is tough enough without fearing harassment in a place one is supposed to feel safe. Nationwide, LGBTQ students get harassed daily in school. Learners who may be just perceived as being LGBTQ also get harassed. Studies done by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) showed that approximately nine out of 10 students face harassment (Subhrajit, 2014). Consequently, they opt to miss class or even a day of school because of feeling unsafe. Notably, if learners skip class, they cannot learn and their grades start to reflect it. According to Wimberly (2015), the reported grade point average of learners who were more frequently harassed due to their gender expression or sexual orientation was almost half a grade lower than for learners who were less often harassed.
The study by GLSEN also established that although most learning institutions have anti-bullying policies, less than 50% of the policies encompass gender identity or sexual orientation (Subhrajit, 2014). Numerous principals do not acknowledge or are unaware of the extent of LGBTQ learner harassment happening in their schools (Szalacha, 2004). For many youths, high school is the center of life and culture. However, it may be the most homophobic institution in American society. For high schools' culture that does not tolerate sexual minorities, LGBTQ's coming out may be extremely dangerous. Sadly, school culture is often viewed as a mirror of the society (Wimberly, 2015). With such thoughts in mind, it is no wonder that school curriculum and extracurricular activities reflect this heterosexual discrimination. This reinforces negative attitudes and stereotypes of any sexual orientation apart from heterosexual (Taylor, 2018).
LGBTQ Student Support
Students who identify as LGBTQ often have varying needs of support. Kuczik (2016) unearthed that, it is good practice to ascertain what supports they require on an individual level, and, where possible, to negotiate those supports between the learner, their family, and the learning institution. This is in an effort to reach an agreement that is respectful and fair to all. Similarly, based on a research by Farrell (2014), it is essential to understand that simply being LGBTQ does not put a high school student at risk. Moreover, like any vulnerable group, not all LGBTQ youth are at a high risk. Nevertheless, while it is crucial to be aware of the potential risks, people must avoid assuming that all LGBTQ youth are at risk. Furthermore, the same protective aspects that lead to a positive youth development apply to LGBTQ youth, including being in a safe and supportive environment and having supportive family and peers. Fetner and Elafros (2015) add that there are essential protective factors that enhance the well being and resiliency of LGBTQ youth. Numerous studies have established policies, programs, and practices that assist promote safe and supportive environments for LGBTQ youth (Asakura, 2016; Stufft, 2011).
Recent progress in school support programs for LGBTQ youth has been encouraging. This arose after unprecedented national attention to anti-LGBT bullying in schools occurred after some students committed suicide in September 2010 (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012). All the victims were often bullied and harassed because of their real or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation. In response to the demand to protect LGBTQ youth in schools, some teachers, administrators, parents, and students are developing ways to protect and support LGBTQ learners. The main interventions include nondiscrimination policies, gay-straight alliances (GSA), safe school initiatives, and curricula structures to avail positive and inclusive examples of the contributions made by LGBT people to American and world culture.
According to Loverno, Belser, Baiocco, Grossman, and Russell (2016), GSAs are student-led, school-based clubs open to all students regardless of sexual orientation. These clubs advocate for improved school climate by challenging homophobia. Mainly, GSAs enhance respect for the larger school community; educate students and faculty concerning LGBT issues, and avail support for LGBTQ students (Fetner & Elafros, 2015). Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, Villenas, and Danischewski (2016) established that heterosexual adolescents who had a gay or lesbian friend were more likely to condemn harassment and exclusion of their LGBT peers than learners who merely had contact with LGBT individuals. Such research supports the establishment of GSAs in high schools since these entities assist adolescents to gain sufficient knowledge and experience to form less biased and more tolerant attitudes towards their LGBTQ peers.
Similarly, when asked about their level of comfort talking one-on-one with various school personnel concerning LGBTQ-related issues, learners reported that they would be most comfortable talking with school counselors (Mims, Hof, Dinsmore, & Wielechowski). Thus, it should be no surprise that Jackson (2017) unearthed that more than half high school counselors reported having experience working with questioning or self-identified gay or lesbian students in their institutions. Certainly, school counselors, with their developmental training, commitment to diversity, and systems perspective, are distinctively positioned to be leaders in advocating for LGBTQ learners. This is through supporting learner empowerment, enhancing change in school policies and curriculum, advocating for and availing staff development, and establishing collaboration with community resources (Mims et al.). Jackson (2017) recorded that school counselors can serve as an epicenter or catalytic change not only with individual students but also within the whole school and community systems.
In support of this, Taylor (2018) adds that LGBTQ youth who experience family acceptance and attend learning institutions with supportive educators and teachers, gay-straight alliance clubs, and anti-bullying policies are less likely to be victimized, skip classes, engage in substance abuse, or attempt suicide. A study by Macapagal, Greene, Andrews, and Mustanski (2016) found less sexual risk-taking among respondents who experienced an HIV/Aids curriculum inclusive of LGBTQ youth. According to Kosciw et al. (2016), programs can support LGBTQ youth by being responsive to and inclusive of their needs, aiding LGBTQ youth to connect to caring family members and adults and nurturing safe and supportive environments that do not tolerate discrimination or bullying. LGBTQ inclusivity in schools means the degree to which school programs are sensitive toward, responsive to, and do not exclude the different experiences and needs of LGBTQ youth. Farrell (2014) established that inclusivity is best visualized on a spectrum. On one end, at the most fundamental level is an inclusive initiative, one that has made efforts to include LGBTQ youth. On the other end is an affirming initiative that validates, supports,...
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