Understanding the Issue
Sometimes called sexism or discrimination, gender bias is defined as an unfair difference in the way boys and girls are treated. Generally speaking, it’s not that schools or teachers intentionally favor one gender over another. Biases like these tend to be ingrained such that people don't realize they are treating one gender unfairly. What’s more, those being subjected to these biases are sometimes unsure whether they actually have been treated differently or not. But, to begin to change anything, first people must become aware of their own attitudes and behaviors. Awareness and then action to correct those attitudes and behaviors can start to turn these situations around.
Schools have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to provide equal access to education and equal protection under the law for all students. For many sexual minority students, however, schools are unsafe and survival, not education, is the priority. Indeed, these students are among the most vulnerable students in middle level and high schools. They face the same social and developmental challenges as their peers but often do so with the added burden of extreme social isolation, self doubt and fear. Great understanding is required by all involved in education to assure that we create a climate where all children can be successful. (Source: National Association of School Psychologists)
The resources below are designed to increase the educational community’s understanding of the challenges our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth face in school.
- What does gender bias look like in schools?In short, it's not just about teachers. Even when teachers became aware of their ingrained, automatic behaviors and took conscientious steps to change them, they had to take a new look at the texts and materials and even storybooks they were using in their classrooms. Many of the materials have gender biased wording and overall tone interwoven throughout.
An important 2000 study analyzed videotapes of teachers while they taught in their classrooms. They then had the teachers watch themselves on video, while pointing out gender-biased attitudes, language and behavior. Most teachers were surprised to see how much attention they gave one gender over the other and the unintentional gender bias in the classroom.
Typically in public schools, girls receive more attention, encouragement and higher grades in elementary school. By the time the same kids have reached high school, boys are receiving the lion’s share of all the attention and encouragement, while girls are subliminally taught to behave in ways that are acceptable for feminine behavior. This encourages girls to be more passive and silent instead of encouraging them to achieve goals and shine.
The researchers recommended methods for teachers to achieve more gender equity in their classrooms. These included targeted activities to lessen stereotypical thinking by students. Teachers were also encouraged to use worksheets to evaluate themselves and their own progress in reducing language, materials and lessons that inadvertently encouraged gender bias.
- How many kids in my community might be LGBTQ? Of those, how many might be at risk for suicide?Statistics from multiple studies show that 4.5% of youth identify as LGBTQ in high school and an additional 4.5% identify as Questioning. So, we’re looking at about 9% (this number may be low due to issues with self reporting).
Other studies have shown that 20-40% of LGBTQ youth report having suicidal thoughts (average of 45%) and/or attempts (average of 35%).
(Source: Youth Suicide Prevention Program)
- How can our schools support LGBTQ students?Safe schools are an important protective factor for LGBTQ youth, but safety levels vary. LGBTQ students are victimized and often faculty and staff do not intervene.
Strategies could include some or all of the following: Specialized training for faculty, staff and students; establishment of clear school policies; hiring of LGBTQ faculty and staff, and including LGBTQ content in the curriculum.
(Source: Youth Suicide Prevention Program)
PFLAG National created the Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools For All initiative, which seeks to provide support, education, and advocacy to students, parents, families, friends, and educators to help them create a learning environment that is conducive to the educational success of all students.
A report about the importance of creating a supportive and nurturing environment in schools regardless of gender.
Bullying, harassment, or discrimination against transgender or gender nonconforming students is covered by Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools.