It should go without saying that every student should feel safe at school. Yet, for many, they face harassment, bullying, and intimidation. This is especially true for LGBTQ students.
According to GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey, “Oregon schools were not safe for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) secondary school students.” Eighty percent (80%) of transgender students (K–12) reported feeling unsafe in school, and more than sixty percent (60%) of gay male and lesbian students felt unsafe. Meanwhile, forty-five percent (45%) of gay males and thirty-five percent (35%) of lesbians said they were harassed based on gender expression. We know that this finding is nothing new; many of our own donors, volunteers, and scholars have felt similar experiences or know someone they care about who has faced related circumstances.
Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition (OSSCC) is one organization that is working diligently and collaboratively to ensure that all schools in Oregon are adhering to the laws stated in the Oregon Safe Schools Act. House Bill 2599 was passed into law in 2009. It requires school districts to protect students whose health and academic achievement is at risk due to bullying, harassment, and violence at school. However it wasn’t until 2012, that Senate Bill 1555 was passed, which further amended the statute to require anti-bullying trainings and mandatory reporting of bullying incidents by school employees.
OSSCC Co-Chair, Glenn Goodfellow, sees the findings as an urgent call to act:
The fact that most LGBT students in Oregon had been victimized at school (and) that the majority of those incidents were not reported to adult authorities is a real clarion call to organizations like Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition. Our non-profit sees these results as a potent reminder to continue working with schools and districts to implement the anti-bullying laws that are already in place.
And that is just what OSSCC did. OSSCC released their own report, which was modeled after the work of GLSEN and in collaboration with multiple community partners. In the report they rate school districts using a gold, silver, and bronze star. In 2013 after the passing of the updated Safe Schools Act, OSSCC worked with the Oregon Public Health Division (OPHD), Q Center, and OGALLA (The LGBT Bar Association of Oregon), to conduct the follow-up research together, and found the fruits of their labor to be quite sweet. One hundred and twenty seven schools from districts across the state received gold and silver ratings; a thirty-seven (37%) percent increase from the previous years’ reports. Up-to-date school district policies that list “gender identity,” as recommended in the revised safe school model policy, were eligible to receive a “Gold Star”.
While many schools are working toward creating a more equitable and just climate for all students, OSSCC will continue to work hard to make that happen. Their future plans include publishing their report to help monitor school district anti-bullying policy adoption and full implementation of the law. They will also continue to organize an annual Safe Schools Awards event to recognize those who are leading the way in providing safe schools for all students. Additionally as they move the needle forward, they are looking to other states like Iowa to build a partnership with their Safe School Certification Program, with the hopes of bringing the program to Oregon.
Pride Foundation has always valued education; we know the future of our movement lies in the hands of the hundreds of LGBT and allied scholars, community leaders, and organizations like the Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition who are making a huge difference in keeping our kids safe. As we enter into the 21st year of our scholarship program, having invested in scholars across the Northwest, we know that the work to keep all students safe, valued, and cared for is far from over. It’s why we, as a community, need to be vigilant in our support of such efforts.
Jett is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Jett.