Safe Schools for All 

Subaru of America Foundation and PFLAG Work to Make Schools Safe Havens for LGBT Children

The last few years have been ones of striking advances for the LGBT community – legal recognition nationwide for same-sex marriage, and the positive receptions that transgender figures such as Caitlin Jenner have received. Yet old fears and prejudices, often born of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge, remain widespread.

Cultivating Respect

Helping to dispel those fears and prejudices is the mission of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The volunteer-driven organization has for decades served as a resource to help family members and loved ones understand and advocate for their gay children and friends, promoting changes in social attitudes toward homosexuality and transgender people in the process. Among PFLAG’s many programs is one that works with schools on behalf of families and educators alike to end the bullying of students who identify as LGBT or who may come from families that include LGBT people. Supported by a Subaru of America Foundation grant, the Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools for All initiative seeks to ensure that all children – regardless of their family background or personal identity – are welcomed and accepted at school.

Safe Schools for All Children

A 2013 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a PFLAG partner, found that more than 70 percent of LGBT students heard slurs, and more than two-thirds heard other homophobic remarks frequently. More than half reported negative remarks about sexual orientation, and more than 55 percent reported negative comments about gender expression, from teachers or other school staff. That sort of treatment takes a toll on learning. As PFLAG Deputy Executive Director Beth Kohm points out: Students who endured such mistreatment were three times as likely to miss school, had lower grade-point averages, and were twice as likely to not pursue education past high school. 

While Cultivating Respect originated from a concern for LGBT youths, it’s not limited simply to those students; Cultivating Respect’s mission is making schools safe and respectful for all children. “Our approach also allows us to talk about the larger negative learning environment that bullying creates for all students,” says Kohm. That helps draw in a broad coalition of support. “PFLAG members are often the fellow parents, teachers, and administrators in a community, and can engage with education stakeholders in a very different way.” Kohm says the organization is relentless in its effort to bring people together rather than seeing issues such as sexual orientation wedge them apart. “PFLAG’s values are America’s values. This is about fundamental fairness.”

Understanding, Inclusion, and Acceptance

For Kate, a transgender teenager in the Midwest, the lessons of PFLAG’s Cultivating Respect program made all the difference in the world, presenting information about the reality of the lives of transgender children to school officials at her middle school and later her high school. That helped foster an environment in which Kate felt safe, she says. When she started ninth grade, she was sufficiently comfortable with being open about it that she could even tell her story to the school paper and be accepted. The work of Cultivating Respect “just made the school more comfortable to me,” says Kate. “I think they’ve done an amazing job of making everyone overall more educated [about transgender children] in the environment I’m in.”

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