Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in Our Schools

August 10, 2015 Updated August 8, 2015

It is time for students to begin returning to school. What should be an exciting time for all is, for too many, a time of anxiety and fear; fear of how they will be treated because they are (or perceived as) lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Will they be bullied, laughed at, the target of slurs, or excluded? Will they have to hide or deny who they are in order to be a valued member of their school community?

The GLSEN  2013 National School Climate Survey concluded that, “Schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students, the overwhelming majority of whom routinely hear anti-LGBT language and experience victimization and discrimination at school.” The survey reported LGBT students frequently or often heard the following:

  • 71.4% “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”).
  • 90.8% reported that they felt distressed because of this language.
  • 64.5% other homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”).
  • 56.4% negative remarks about gender expression (not acting “masculine enough” or “feminine enough”).
  • 33.1% heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people, like “tranny” or “he/she”.

If asked, no one would disagree that schools should be a safe haven for ALL students. But for LGBT students the expectation for this haven may be at the cost of cloaking their authentic selves. In other words: Don’t ask—Don’t tell.  

Some believe the best solution is to not bring attention to yourself or your circumstances as to not invite problems. Simply put this approach is wrong. It is dismissing the emotional wellbeing of LGBT students for the sake of individuals whom at best are uninformed or uncomfortable or at worst homo/transphobic.

How inclusive of LGBT students is your school?:

  • Do the adults feel a responsibility in educating themselves to better understand LGBT individuals?
  • Do teachers/administrators take the lead in meeting the needs of LGBT students or wait until there is a district policy or law enforcing it?
  • Are “jokes” allowed or overlooked as long as no LGBT individuals hear it?
  • Do people immediately jump to the conclusion that every image with rainbow colors is promoting a “gay agenda"?
  • Are there individuals that take every available opportunity to express their personal anti-LGBT views?
  • Would staff confront and/or willingly report a fellow educator for harassing and/or discriminatory behavior toward LGBT individuals?

Most alarming:

  • Over 50% reported hearing homophobic or negative remarks about gender expression from their teachers or other school staff.
  • 61.6% who did reported an incident of harassment or assault said that school staff did nothing in response (http://www.glsen.org/research).

As educators it is our duty to advocate for all students. That means responding to and calling out behaviors that are negative toward ANY individual or group.

Silence condones.  

It is essential that we confront these behaviors in classrooms, hallways, locker rooms, fields, courts, cafeterias, teacher lounges, offices, or meetings—everywhere and always.      

Although, the focus of this writing has been on students, the reality is this is about all LGBT persons, including educators themselves. It is naive to believe that LGBT students will feel welcomed, accepted, and valued in schools if LGBT teachers remain cloaked and hidden. That is a loud and clear message: "You tolerate me because you have to. You do not value me."  

This is about human rights. Our public schools are built on the premise of equal rights for all. As educators we must honor the sanctity of human rights above all else. Not to do so is malpractice.  


This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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