Jason Cianciotto and Sean Cahill’s new book, LGBT Youth in America’s Schools, has been receiving glowing reviews from a variety of publications, including the School Library Journal, Instinct magazine, Gay Calgary Magazine, and This Week in Texas. The authors have also been very active in advocating their book’s themes, penning op-eds in the Rainbow Times and Boston Globe, conducting a Voice to Voice feature for the Huffington Post, and appearing on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Show.
“Young people are coming out at younger ages,” Cahill told Cardin’s audience. “Back in the 1980s, people came out maybe around age 20, 21. Today, we know that young gay, lesbian, bisexual people are coming out on average at age 15. We also know that our culture has changed a lot. There’s a lot more cultural representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people on television and elsewhere, and we also have technology that has created new venues, both for communication and positive things, but also for bullying.” Cahill noted that school administrators have struggled to keep up with these emergent forms of communication and cultural shifts and are often ill-equipped to deal with abuse.
Cianciotto added that studies show that “bullying is widespread.” “Large majorities of students who either identify as LGBT or are perceived to be gay or lesbian report that they are harassed both verbally and physically at school on a regular basis. We know from these studies that this contributes to a number of physical and mental health issues, as well as negative educational outcomes, both in the short and long term.”
The authors noted that 16 states have laws barring discrimination or intimidation based on the sexual orientation and gender identity of students. As of 2010 about 40% of the u.s. public school student population was protected by these inclusive laws. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of laws or regulations that protect youth,” Cahill said, “but we still have a long way to go.”
In their Boston Globe op-ed reflecting on the twenty years since Massachusetts’ Republican Governor William Weld formed the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth to assess the effects of discrimination on young LGBT people and looking ahead to the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth hearings on June 21, Cianciotto and Cahill noted once again that significant progress has been made but problems remain. “One the one hand, GLBT youth exhibit incredible creativity and resiliency,” they wrote. “Most do well in school, are healthy, and stay out of trouble. Many organize GSAs or Alliances for GLBT Youth, non-school-based support groups which provide essential services with minimal funding or staffing.
“But we also know that GLBT youth, both in Massachusetts and in other states, also experience striking disparities related to bullying, minority stress, and social isolation. ”
The authors urge, as they do in their book, passage of the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.