Michigan school districts need to provide a welcoming environment for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students) and protect them from harassment, violence and discrimination.
That's the goal of a set of practices and policies that the State Board of Education discussed today and is expected to vote on in May, after a period of public comment.
"It's about no child being left behind in terms of their life chances and education," said Board President John Austin. "And we want that to be true of LGBT youth all across Michigan."
According to Austin, a safe environment in school is essential for a student to learn successfully, and without one, LGBTQ students are more likely to feel stigmatized and afraid, and to skip school, drop out, or underperform academically.
"We want our schools to work, and we want these kids to learn," said Austin. "And there are 150,000 of them – almost 10% of our student body self-reports as lesbian, gay, or bisexual."
According to a 2015 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey, about 40% of LGBTQ students report being bullied at school and are 4.5 times more likely than non-gay students to attempt suicide.
Suggestions to school districts outlined in the proposed policies and guidelines include:
- Adopting and enforcing policies to protect students from harassment, violence, and discrimination based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression,
- Providing professional-development opportunities to district staff and board members about issues affecting LGBTQ students,
- Supporting the formation of extra-curricular student-led clubs, such as gay-straight alliances
- Designating a trusted school staff member who is knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues for students to go to for information or support.
The guidelines also contain recommendations to support transgender and gender nonconforming students with specific suggestions in areas such as student names and pronouns, restrooms, student records, dress codes and sports.