ACLU and Statewide Coalition Announce Largest Ever Study of Anti-Gay Harassment in Schools, Showing Strong Need and Proven Solutions

Study Providing That Schools Can Take Steps To Improve Student Safety Has National Implications for Addressing Harassment on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

LOS ANGELES - Despite an anti-harassment law that took effect four years ago this month, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation remain persistent and pervasive in California schools. 7.5% of California's middle and high school students, more than 200,000 students every year, are targets of harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to a study released by the California Safe Schools Coalition, a statewide coalition of experts and advocates of which the ACLU is a leading member. The Coalition is working to implement the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in California schools. The Safe Place to Learn study found that widespread bullying has dangerous academic, health and safety consequences for students - but it also found that such bullying is preventable.

"We've just completed the largest ever study of the problem of anti-gay harassment in schools," said Christopher Calhoun of the ACLU of Southern California, a member organization of the California Safe Schools Coalition, "and the numbers paint a stark picture. For most students targeted on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, California's groundbreaking school nondiscrimination law is still an empty promise."

"It's time for school districts and the state to wake up to a health epidemic of shocking proportions and with serious consequences," said Calhoun. "This problem cannot be trivialized or denied. Fortunately, our research also demonstrates that schools can take clear steps to prevent this problem."

Among the findings in the Safe Place to Learn Study are:

Data from the CHKS show that these 200,000 students harassed on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation are

' three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe,

' more than twice as likely to be depressed, to consider suicide, or to make a plan for suicide.

' more likely to have low grades, use drugs, smoke, drink alcohol, or be victims of violence.

' more likely to report weaker connections to peers, community, teachers and other adults - critical safety nets for any young person.

The in-depth companion survey found that school campuses in California are hostile climates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and gender non-conforming students.

' Two in every three LGBT students reported harassment based on sexual orientation, and 47% of LGBT students experienced repeated harassment.

' Almost half of their peers agree that their school is not safe for LGBT students.

' 91% of all students report hearing their peers use slurs about sexual orientation.

' More than 40% reported hearing teachers making such negative comments or slurs.

' In addition, 27% of students reported being harassed because they weren't "masculine enough" or "feminine enough," and more than half of all students said their schools are unsafe for boys who aren't as masculine as other boys.

The Safe Place to Learn study proves the effectiveness of several specific steps schools can take including posting and enforcing anti-harassment policies that specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity, training teachers and staff to intervene when slurs are used, and supporting efforts to establish Gay Straight Alliance clubs on campus. These steps result in reducing harassment and name-calling, improving students' feelings of safety, and strengthening their connections to community and adults.

"Students deserve to learn in an environment that helps them reach their full potential," said Molly O'Shaughnessy, the Director of the California Safe Schools Coalition. "This study proves that schools can take these specific steps to reach that goal."

California is among nine states with laws against discrimination or harassment in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"As more and more states pass nondiscrimination laws, and as lawsuits proliferate, schools are beginning to realize they need solutions," said Calhoun. "Our report provides research-based solutions to this national epidemic and can help schools comply with the law and create a safe place to learn for all students."

The Safe Place to Learn study, which analyzes survey responses from more than 237,000 students who took the California Healthy Kids Survey, it includes 26-times more respondents than any other survey on the issue in the nation. It is also the first comprehensive statewide analysis of harassment based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity in California, where more than one-in-eight of the nation's children are growing up.

The report analyzes data from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), a broad-based state survey, and an independent companion survey conducted by the California Safe Schools Coalition measuring the effectiveness of school anti-harassment practices. The data were analyzed by the California Safe Schools Coalition and researchers at UC Davis' 4-H Center for Youth Development.

Members of the California Safe Schools Coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; Anti-Defamation League; California Teachers Association; Equality California; Gay-Straight Alliance Network; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; Human Rights Watch; L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; National Center for Lesbian Rights; Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays; San Diego LGBT Community Center; Transgender Law Center; and Women's Educational Media.