Illinois Safe Schools Alliance forum addresses LGBT bullying codes in schools

School administrators were taught how they can better handle lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying and discrimination at a public forum held Monday evening at Parkland College. East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, a subdivision of Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, sponsored the event, and the panel consisted of LGBT students, teachers and administrators.

“There are very few schools that actually teach their teachers how to intervene when there’s gay bullying going on or even how to talk about it with students,” said Sarah Schriber, policy director for the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. “That’s what we’re really focusing on.”

Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch addressed the crowd of about 300 people on how schools need to be doing more to create a safe and comfortable learning environment for LGBT students.

“The Illinois State Board of Education is committed to the success of its students: academically, socially and emotionally,” he said.

“But in order to succeed in these ways, students must feel emotionally and physically safe in school and must feel that school personnel will do everything necessary to keep them safe.”

He said that the Illinois State Board of Education is supporting a bill that will strengthen schools’ anti-bullying codes by helping them implement prevention and intervention programs to address all types of bullying.

Steven Aragon, U of I researcher and professor, said he learned in his own research that LGBT students and students who question their sexuality frequently report more suicidal thoughts, depression and alcohol and drug use. He added that LGBT students are seven times more likely to drop out of high school.

“They know the environment is set up for them,” he said. “They don’t feel that they can succeed in it.”

Several LGBT students spoke about their experiences in high school and middle school. Their stories described the difficult situations in which they dealt with their peers, parents and teachers.

Those students said that many of their teachers and administrators failed to make their school a place where they could feel safe and free to be themselves.

While schools can adopt stronger anti-bullying codes, some argued that attitudes regarding stereotypes about LGBT people also need to be changed.

“That’s the type of transformation needed in schools,” said Aragon. “Policies are policies, but until people change their mind sets, the policies will have very minimal effect.”