Safe Schools For All: How Georgia Fails to Protect LGBTQ+ Students
On January 21, 2022, a student at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens had their artwork, which featured a pride flag, removed after a parent complained and compared the artwork to hanging a Nazi flag. This local incident is reflective of the issues LGBTQ+ students face across the state and the nation. LGBTQ+ students in Georgia are not protected from discrimination and harassment at their schools because anti-discrimination policies frequently exclude sexual orientation and gender identity as protected groups. Without these protections, LGBTQ+ students in Georgia cannot feel safe, which will have a negative impact on their education experience.
Georgia schools are not currently safe for LGBTQ+ students because of the lack of protections and resources. According to a 2019 report from GLSEN, more than 2 in 3 LGBTQ+ students in Georgia experienced at least one form of anti-LGBTQ discrimination at school. The discriminations that these students experienced included being prevented from using their chosen name and/or pronouns, being barred from forming a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and being unable to wear LGBTQ-supportive apparel. Additionally, the report found that only 5% of LGBTQ+ students in Georgia attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy with specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The lack of LGBTQ+ inclusive anti-discrimination policies in Georgia schools creates an environment where LGBTQ+ discrimination goes unpenalized, and this can have negative impacts on LGBTQ+ students who face discrimination and bullying.
Removing discrimination and harassment in schools is important because it creates an environment where all students are safe and can focus on their school work. Overall, students who identify as LGBTQ+ have a 50% higher probability of being bullied, cyberbullied or skipping school for safety concerns and a lower grade point average than those who do not. However, policies can be implemented that improve the educational experience and achievements of LGBTQ+ students. The 2019 National School Climate Survey found that students at schools with LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and resources report more positive school experiences, are absent less often and have higher academic achievements. However, as mentioned earlier, only 5% of LGBTQ+ students in Georgia attend schools with these policies, raising concerns about safety and academic performance here in Georgia.
Georgia does not have a state-wide school non-discrimination law that includes LGBTQ+ students nor do they have an inclusive anti-bullying law. Currently, there are 17 states with LGBTQ+ inclusive school non-discrimination laws and 21 states with LGBTQ+ inclusive anti-bullying laws. If Georgia implemented these comprehensive policies, they would go a long way towards making schools safer for LGBTQ+ students. A 2021 study found that students in states with LGBTQ-specific equity laws were less likely to be bullied in their schools. Additionally, research has found that these statewide anti-bullying policies can diffuse down to the district level, so it is important for the state of Georgia to set the standard for their individual school districts. Overall, Georgia should implement state-wide non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected groups so that LGBTQ+ students do not have to fear bullying and harassment and can focus on their education.