PFLAG launched a comprehensive, community-based safe schools program earlier today to address a growing epidemic of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) animus in the nation's schools. The program, entitled Cultivating Respect, includes training seminars for local parents and allies, empowering PFLAG supporters at the local level to work directly with their community leaders and school administrators to protect LGBT students. PFLAG plans trainings across the country in 2009, following initial training sessions held earlier this year in Ohio and Tennessee.
"Too many students attend school in fear, and too few school administrators and leaders understand just how damaging a hostile learning environment can be for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people," said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG's executive director. "Cultivating Respect is the very first program designed to identify and mobilize a grassroots network of parents and allies to take an active role in combating anti-gay behavior, policies, information and environments in their local schools. When children do not feel safe, they cannot learn, and their school experience becomes fraught with the long-lasting effects of unchecked hostility. By working with local parents and local administrators, Cultivating Respect addresses community and school-specific concerns. This is a significant step forward in making our classrooms, hallways and locker rooms safer for every student."
The PFLAG training, which builds on the organization's prior work in schools across the country, includes insights on fostering on-going dialogues with local school leaders; approaching administrators about implementing safe schools policies; skills building seminars on language, policy and problem solving in schools; identifying and leveraging access points within the school community; and training on three specific programs that can be implemented in local schools. The program is also designed to counter harmful, anti-gay campaigns by conservative advocacy groups, including attempts to infiltrate libraries with anti-gay literature and information on so-called "reparative therapy" practices, which have been condemned by medical experts. A workbook on LGBT school issues, titled The Top 10 Ways to Make Schools Safer for All Students, was also released today in conjunction with the training and outreach program.
"It is critically important that students, teachers, parents and administrators have accurate, inclusive information and materials about sexual orientation and gender identity," said Huckaby. "Anti-family advocates are pushing an extreme, anti-gay agenda that seeks to mislead adults and ultimately undermine the well-being of the countless LGBT young people who deserve a healthy learning environment, too. This new program asks those responsible for the well-being of our children to listen, think, act and be respectful of every member of our families."
According to statistics compiled by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 73.6% of LGBT students hears derogatory remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke" frequently or often at school. More than half (60.8%) reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (38.4%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression. An overwhelming 86.2% of students reported being verbally harassed.
"Hostile classrooms and campuses impact every member of the school community." Huckaby concluded, "From LGBT students, to those perceived to be, and even young people who are denied the opportunity to learn because of the distractions presented by anti-gay behavior, the consequences of not dealing with these issues reach far and wide. Now, at last, parents have the tools they need to work directly with their local leaders to stand up for every young person, including those who are LGBT or are impacted by these behaviors."
For more information on Cultivating Respect, including .pdf copies of The Top 10 Ways to Make Schools Safer for All Students, visit www.pflag.org.