Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth

Background

Many educators and administrators in school districts throughout Michigan have requested information and technical assistance to help them create school environments that are physically and emotionally safe for all students, including sexual minority students (e.g., gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning).  Schools throughout Michigan and the nation have struggled to develop policies and train staff and students to support safe and “bully-free” environments that are conducive to students learning.  This project was initiated as a direct response to school district requests.

Sexual minority youth often face harassment, abuse, and violence in school settings that put them at greater risk for serious problems, such as substance abuse, HIV, and suicide, as well as school failure and dropout.  The long-term effects of the harassment and violence have been documented in numerous national, state, and local reports.

In Michigan, 8.7% of students identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and/or have engaged in same sex sexual behavior.  The students are:

  • 3.0X more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (18% versus 6%);

  • 2.7X more likely to not go to school because they felt unsafe (16% versus 6%); and

  • 4.6X more likely than other students to actually attempt suicide (32% versus 7%).

    Source: 2013 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Workshops for School Personnel

Since 2000, the Michigan Department of Education has partnered with Regional School Health Coordinators, typically housed at Intermediate School Districts, to implement a 101-level workshop, A Silent Crisis:  Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth for school staff.  This workshop is designed to help educators understand, assess, and improve school climate and safety for all youth, especially those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ).  Participants receive a copy of an in-depth resource guide (see below), which includes practical tools and strategies for providing safe, respectful, and supportive learning environments for all students.  As of July 2015, 56 workshops have been implemented to reach more than 2100 participants in 314 Michigan school districts.

In 2014-15, Michigan developed a 201-level workshop.  Planning for Action: Next Steps for Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth is specifically designed for individuals who have participated in the “101-level” workshop above.  Building on lessons learned, the workshop goes into greater depth on issues pertaining to privilege, gender identity and expression, and supports for transgender and gender-expansive students.

Resource Guide

The A Silent Crisis:  Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth resource guide includes a wealth of information for teachers, counselors, administrators, and others who want to learn more about creating conditions for learning that are physically and emotionally safe for all students, including those who are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ).  With over 55 new resources, the 6th Edition contains many practical tools and strate­gies for providing safe, respectful, and supportive learning environments, including model policies, guidance from the U.S. Office on Civil Rights, and materials from nationally-renowned organizations and individuals.  As of March 2015, over 3,500 copies have been distributed in Michigan and across the United States.

Sections included in the resource-packed guide include:

  • Overview

  • Definitions and Identities

  • Transgender & Gender Expansive Youth

  • Law & Policy

  • Administrators, Boards & Policymakers

  • Mental Health Professionals

  • Educators & Youth Workers

  • Parents

  • Action Steps

  • State and National Resources

History of Project

The A Silent Crisis:  Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth resource guide was developed from documents originally compiled by Calhoun Intermediate School District, with subsequent revisions lead by the Michigan Department of Education and supported by Detroit Public Schools.  The Michigan Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth statewide workgroup also provided important guidance.

The 101-level training design was developed by the Michigan Department of Education under cooperative agreements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health (CDC/DASH), with consultation from national and Michigan experts and stakeholders.  The 201-level training design was developed under a new cooperative agreement from CDC/DASH, with additional resources leveraged from Michigan’s Safe and Supportive Schools grant from the United States Department of Education. 

For more information about this initiative and/or upcoming workshop opportunities, please contact Laurie Bechhofer, HIV/STD Education Consultant, at BechhoferL@michigan.gov.

The training designs and resource guide were developed under cooperative agreements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health.  National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STDs, and TB Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia. The contents of these resources are the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Education, and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.