As gay youths become more open about their sexual orientation, they are being subject to more “visible” abuse in Washington, DC area schools, according to Linda Shevits, a Maryland education official to whom discrimination cases are reported. In response to this phenomenon, school districts are attempting to form comprehensive programs that include staff training and explicit policies and venues for handling anti-lesbian and gay discrimination.
Gay and lesbian students often face harassment and are occasionally physically assaulted. Rarely are these cases reported. Virtually no records of anti-gay and lesbian harassment are kept by school districts or gay and lesbian rights groups. Only six out of the 20 Washington-area school districts include sexual orientation as a classification for discrimination.
“We’re really starting to hear a lot more from kids about schools, that this is the place they feel most unsafe,” said Craig Bowman, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League. Due to this pressure, homosexual youths are at a higher risk for substance abuse and are four times as likely to have attempted suicide, said Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care and Counseling author Caitlin Ryan.
Montgomery county school officials hope to issue guidelines concerning verbal abuse and create sensitivity programs for educational staff, according to human relations director Oliver Lancaster.