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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Celebrate Pride and support our LGBTQ+ students
Equity Corner by Michael Tapia and Adonai Mack
May 17, 2021
Across America and in many countries in the world, June is Pride Month, during which most of the LGBTQ+ community celebrates LGBTQ+ pride. Whether viewed as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots of June 1969 or the legalization of same sex marriage across the U.S. in June 2015, Pride Month is a time in which LGBTQ+ people not only celebrate the freedom to be their true selves but also reflect on the impact LGBTQ+ people have had on history locally, nationally and internationally.
In non-COVID times, June is filled with pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts attracting millions of participants around the world. However, in spite of the progress that the LGBTQ+ community has made over time, there are still too many doors closed to our LGBTQ+ adults and youth with much work still to be done. At the time of this writing, according to the ACLU, 32 states are in some phase of developing or passing anti-transgender legislation, much of it affecting transgender youth.
Every two years, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, better known as GLSEN, has been conducting biannual surveys of students who identify as LGBTQ+ across the United States. In 1999, noting that LGBTQ youth were nearly absent from national studies of adolescents, GLSEN launched the first National School Climate Survey that documented the unique challenges LGBTQ students face and identified interventions improving school climate.
The GLSEN 2019 National School Climate Survey results were released in October 2020 and the responses from the roughly 17,000 students who participated are troubling, to say the least. Consider some of the data provided in the 2019 survey’s Summary of Findings:
  • Nearly 60 percent of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 42 percent because of their gender expression, and 37 percent because of their gender.
  • Nearly 99 percent of students reported hearing “gay” in a negative way; 75 percent heard these remarks frequently or often.
  • Nearly 70 percent experienced verbal harassment (called names or threatened) based on sexual orientation.
  • Close to 60 percent of LGBTQ students who were harassed or assaulted in school didn’t report it because they doubted an effective intervention would occur; 60 percent of those students who did report an incident said staff did nothing or they were told to ignore it.
  • Only 19 percent of LGBTQ students were taught positive representation of LGBTQ people.
In a report published in September 2020, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law noted that there are roughly 244,000 LGBTQ+ youth in California between the ages of 13 and 17 and, presumably, most of these children attend our schools. You are probably aware that California has some of the most progressive laws intended to result in welcoming and inclusive school learning environments for our LGBTQ+ students. However, looking at the survey data from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s California LGBTQ Youth Report published in 2017, the data is not encouraging:
  • Only 32 percent of LGBTQ students say they can be themselves at school.
  • Only 32 percent of LGBTQ students say they always feel safe in the classroom.
  • More than 78 percent of LGBTQ students felt depressed in the last week with 45% indicating feelings of hopelessness within the last week.
  • Only 10 percent of LGBTQ youth say all of their school staff are supportive of LGBTQ students.
Using the 2017-2019 Biennial California Healthy Kids Survey with data randomly collected from roughly 45,000 students in grades 7, 9, and 11, some of the information comparing LGB (transgender data was not included for this report) student data with non-LGB students is also worrisome. When asked if they had experienced harassment or bullying, across all three grade levels, LGB students had these experiences more often than their straight peers by a 2-to-1 margin. In one of the most discouraging items asking if students had considered suicide in the past 12 months, the results are very disturbing; across all three grade levels, roughly four times as many LGB students (roughly 50 percent) had considered suicide compared to their straight schoolmates.

In August 2020, The Trevor Project produced an important report, “How COVID-19 is Impacting LGBTQ Youth.” The Trevor Project surveyed both LGBTQ and straight cisgender youth including Black LGBTQ and Black straight cisgender youth. Total youth surveyed was 1,571. Some of the results:
  • LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely than straight youth to exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety or both.
  • LGBTQ youth are less likely to have access to mental health care than their peers.
  • Black LGBTQ youth were 4 times less likely than Black straight youth to report they have not been able to receive mental health care.
  • LGBTQ youth are 2.4 times more likely to report not being able to be themselves at home than straight youth.
In spite of the challenges that LGBTQ students face in school settings, COVID-based separations from supportive peers and extracurricular activities or being in a home where parents and other family members do not recognize or support their LGBTQ identities could raise student anxiety and increase the potential for abuse or self-harm, based on information provided in another Trevor Project document, “Implications of COVID-19 for LGBTQ Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.” The report highly recommends providing virtual access to activities (like GSAs) and supportive individuals (like teachers and health professionals) at school.
This data only goes to reinforce the need for ACSA to continue its commitment to equity and equitable outcomes for students and school leaders. From a policy standpoint, ACSA supports legislation regarding equity, diversity and inclusion as a foundation to ensuring all students are afforded the opportunity to a well-rounded education. ACSA applies an equity-focused lens on policies and continues to advocate for equity-focused policies and practices that engage all student groups to fulfill their highest potential, and empower underserved and underrepresented groups with additional resources.
This includes promoting policies that support the protection of LGBTQ+ individuals and a commitment to enacting legislation that supports the prohibition of discrimination in public schools. One such piece of legislation is the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act implemented by Senate Bill 48 (2020), which prescribes inclusion of the contributions of groups previously excluded in the history of California and the U.S. This act previously only included men and women and numerous ethnic groups but has not been expanded to require inclusion of the contributions of LGBT Americans to California and U.S. history, as well as their roles in contemporary society. ACSA supported and participated in the California Department of Education’s collection of resources to support the implementation of this act. These resources include changes to the History and Social Science Framework and the Health Education Framework. These resources are available at
Impacting legislative policy is just one avenue that we can address as an association. As part of ACSA’s commitment to equity, we are striving to create a continuum of learning to address the needs for our LGBTQ+ students and support our LGBTQ+ school leaders. This will include the opportunity for networking for school leaders in an effort to learn from each other.
We also plan to design an online certification program to train school leaders on LGBTQ+ policy and support issues such as strategies to create gender-inclusive schools. Lastly, ACSA will utilize our conferences as environments to educate participants by having workshops that address the needs of our LGBTQ+ students and providing a one-day institute focused specifically on supporting LGBTQ+ students.
As we move into June to celebrate Pride Month, ACSA believes this is a wonderful opportunity to open doors, open arms and embrace and celebrate our California LGBTQ+ students and leaders.
Michael Tapia is a retired principal from Ventura. Adonai Mack is ACSA’s Senior Director of Equity and Diversity.
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