National Runaway Safeline

NRS Has Back to School Safety Tips to Make This A Great School Year For All.

Back to School Safety Tips for LGBT Youth
Image from Indiana Youth Group (Flickr)

August is upon us and a new school year is about to begin. For many teenagers and young people, it’s an exciting time full of possibility. However, in the current social and political climate, LGBTQ youth may be anxious and fearful of experiencing intolerance or abuse from their peers.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the nation’s leading educational organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all, released a study in 2015 on anti-bullying policy efforts in states and school districts across the country. One of the key findings made was that most school districts had anti-bullying policies in place, but only a small portion of these included sexual orientation or gender identity, professional development, or stipulations for accountability.

Policies like these need to be addressed and updated to include protections for LGBTQ youth. However, there are skills and resources that youth can acquire to protect themselves and others around them right now. In order to help LGBTQ youth to prepare, we have compiled tips for back to school safety that can help them protect themselves and others.

Educate yourself. NRS has developed “Let’s Talk,” a free, 14 module, evidence-based and interactive runaway prevention curriculum designed to educate young people about alternatives to running away and develop life skills that allow youth to solve problems.

The module, “Sexuality and Sexual Orientation,” provides lessons for youth on the challenges of discovering your sexual identity during adolescence, and how peers can support those who need an ally. Exercises encourage youth to find a “common language,” in order to engender respectful and honest communication between youth.

This lesson can help engender a sense of respect and understanding within your school. Encourage your teachers to visit our site and download “Let’s Talk” for free today.

Educate those around you. You can become a leader among your peers and create the change you wish to see by joining our Youth Activist League (YAL).  NRS operates this network of young people across the country that responds to monthly ‘calls to action’ by NRS on their own social media pages.

NRS supplies our YAL members with valuable information and resources that allow them to educate their peers and help prevent youth from choosing to run away. These resources include information on LGBTQ youth and the unique challenges they experience. To get involved, you can contact NRS’ Community Engagement Specialist, Andrea Medina.

Protect against cyberbullying. Amy Williams wrote in her blog for NRS that “With their increased chance of being involved with cyberbullying – either as victim or perpetrator – LGBTQ teens both need and deserve additional protections from their community.”

Forms of cyberbullying include:

Texting. If a teen mentions their sexual orientation through a text message, it’s possible that message could be copied and spread around. In fact, they don’t even have to send the message themselves – the person bullying them could just write up a nasty message and encourage sending it to every student in school.

Sexting. With or without pictures, others may send unwanted sexts to teens, typically involving demeaning situations or crude commentary. These feel like intensely personal attacks – because that’s exactly what they are – and the feeling of not belonging is one of the major causes of the consequences identified above.

Predators. LGBTQ teens are significantly more likely than their peers to be physically attacked, and some teens are cruel enough to encourage this by effectively becoming predators. Online stalking is actually unlikely – in most cases, it’s more probable that the bullies would attempt to portray themselves as friends interested in having sex, then abuse their target when they show up. Once again, this is designed to crush the target’s feeling of belonging somewhere, and this particular situation is a major driver of suicidal behavior.

LGBTQ youth and students who may be suffering from online harassments can seek out safety from school or home.

Safe Environments: LGBTQ youth need to feel like they are safe and accepted in their home and school environments. Schools are legally obligated to investigate reports of bullying and take specific measures to stop it from happening in the future, while parents can get involved by monitoring their teen’s online activities, identifying problem spots, and empowering their child to take control of the situation.

Protecting Privacy: LGBTQ teens who announce their identity are significantly more at risk for being bullied. Most of them don’t want to keep quiet – they only do so out of fear. Depending on the situation, it may work better to get the teen involved in activities for those with non-heterosexual orientations, giving them a place they belong. Additionally, recommends that parents and communities avoid discussing LGBTQ issues where others can hear – identifying someone as anything other than heterosexual could make them a target, and the feeling of information being spread without their consent is what adults are supposed to prevent.

LGBTQ youth have every right to a safe place to learn and grow. However, ignorance and intolerance does exist. So it is important for youth to know they have resources available that can help, as well as LGBTQ youth allies. Communities must come together to protect all children, and ensure that their school year is a safe and productive time.

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