While the recent suicide of a young student at Rutgers brings up several policy issues, one relevant to this group is how K-12 schools and institutions of higher education deal with bullying, specifically bullying based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Although this student was in college, numerous court cases (the first of which, from 1996, has just been made into a documentary) with high school plaintiffs detailing extreme accounts of physical and verbal harassment indicate that this is a large problem in high schools, as well. GLSEN’s surveys make this point, too (although I am always bothered when newspaper articles generalize the rates at which LGBT youth are bullied from them because GLSEN does not use random samples).
I can’t even think of all the ways this constant bullying might impact kids. Some reports (like GLSEN’s) have indicated that rates of homelessness and suicide are higher for LGBT teens. Other studies (Pearson, Muller, & Wilkinson, 2007) indicate that at least gay male youth may suffer academically, possibly partially because of the prevalence of bullying.
So what are the different policy options here? While some states have included sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies for K-12 schools, many have not. Connecticut allows K-12 students or teachers to report incidents anonymously and requires the reporting of bullying incidents back to the state department — as a SPEA student, I have the tendency to believe that one of the first steps should be to put some of these data pieces in place. So what about institutions of higher education? Rutgers has proclaimed how proud it is of its diverse atmosphere, but others are saying that the climate for LGBT students isn’t as great as the University would make you believe. And what should Rutgers do to address incidents like this, that happened not in a classroom but in a dorm room?