School can be a tough environment for anyone, but for LGBTQ youth, facing harassment, bullying, and abuse can make a serious impact in both their short- and long-term health. And according to recent data from the Human Rights Watch, state-run schools are failing LGBTQ youth in the United States by not doing something that should be a requirement: Keeping them safe. Safety is integral to having a healthy and happy learning experience, and when schools fail to keep their students safe, they're fundamentally failing in their mission.
The HRW's report brings up some seriously concerning points: Many schools do not have policies that explicitly protect LGBTQ youth from bullying or abuse on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, making it easier for harassment to occur without appropriate punishment. And this report was no small sample size, either: The HRW surveyed 500 students, teachers, and administrators, and parents, from across the country, including Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.
The HRW's survey makes another concerning discovery in a similar vein. Eight states actually have laws forbidding teachers and staff from talking about LGBTQ issues at school. This correlates with the GLSEN data which suggests that few students learn about LGBTQ issues or LGBTQ-identified people in the classroom.
Why does this matter? Talking about LGBTQ issues normalizes them and better educates both queer and non-queer students, creating a culture of more understanding and acceptance. Explicitly including LGBTQ students in policies ultimately protects them and sets a precedent that bullying and harassment are not OK.
Of course, if you don't work in education, you may feel like there is nothing you can do to help. That's not the case! Everyone can help LGBTQ youth, even if you aren't a teacher or a parent. I've broken down five ways you can help LGBTQ youth below.