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Conscious Efforts Needed to Support LGBT Students, GLSEN Director Says

New Jersey passed legislation this month mandating boards of education ensure their curriculum and instructional material include an accurate portrayal of the social, economic and political contributions made by LGBT people and individuals with disabilities.

The bill was proposed by GLSEN, a national LGBT advocacy organization that works with students and educators at the local, state and federal levels to create safe and inclusive K-12 schools.

Representing the organization and leading a session on the subject at the AASA national conference on Saturday was Becca Mui, an education manager for GLSEN.

“Schools cannot definitively say they don’t have LGBT youth who exist and are suffering in their schools,” said Mui. “That’s why in 1999 we established a research department to better inform educators and policymakers.”

According to Mui, 60 percent of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 45 percent feel the same way because of their gender expression. What’s more, 90 percent of LGBT students report victimized experiences.

These statistics cannot be ignored, Mui said. When students feel unsafe in school, there are real consequences. Academic performance, extracurricular involvement, mental health and physical well-being suffer as the result of student victimization.

Additionally, students may stop going to school altogether. Schools that lack a safe LGBT environment see higher rates of absenteeism among students.

To combat these issues, GLSEN leverages statistical findings like these to create initiatives, programs and legislation to support LGBT students.

Lessons that promote respect and appreciation for diversity address bullying and harassment experienced by LGBT students, Mui said citing GLSEN research. To meet that end, the organization provides educational resources and professional development for school officials. More information can be found on their website.

Creating and implementing policies at the school, district and state levels are of paramount importance, but “even the little things matter,” said Mui.

GLSEN sells stickers that educators can display declaring the classroom is a “safe place.” Moreover, Mui emphasized the importance of having educators engage in open and empathetic conversations with both students and parents.

“A simple conversation that acknowledges and validates peoples’ experiences can be so helpful when handling any pushback,” an audience member said in response to Mui’s presentation.

At the end of the session, Mui thanked the handful of attendees and hoped for a future opportunity to reach a larger audience at an AASA conference.

(Christian Balderas is a senior major in communication at UCLA and an intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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