Researchers are calling on the federal government to begin collecting information about LGBT students’ experiences at the nation’s schools, arguing that such data collection is necessary to protect against disproportionate rates of suspension and expulsion.
“When we fail to ask questions about youths’ sexual orientation and gender identity, we fail to understand, support, and protect all students from discrimination in schools,” wrote a group of researchers in a brief paper published Sunday by Indiana University’s Equity Project.
Embedded in that argument, though, is a call to begin asking students to declare their gender identity and sexual orientation at school — a move that the Equity Project acknowledges is fraught with privacy concerns.
“Disclosing one’s LGBT identity, or ‘coming out’ to others, could create unique stressors for LGBT youth,” the project’s paper says. “Such action may place LGBT students at risk for rejection, discrimination, negative mental health outcomes, or lack of support from family.”
But the authors argue that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students would, on balance, benefit from more comprehensive data about how they are faring in the nation’s schools. It’s just that kind of information, they argue, that has undergirded battles to protect the civil rights of other minorities during the past half-century.
The federal government, for example, regularly collects information about suspensions and expulsions at schools nationwide and then separates that information by students’ race and disability status. Those numbers — part of the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection — have shown that black and disabled students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled than white or non-disabled students, forcing officials at every level of government to reckon with whether school discipline systems are fair.
But the federal government doesn’t track such statistics by gender identity or sexual orientation.
Study after study has shown that LGBT students are also more likely than other students to be bullied and harassed at school, and new research also has shown that these students are more likely to be suspended and expelled.
But advocates say that without a more comprehensive effort to gather data about LGBT students, there is no way to fully understand — or remedy — the harms that such students face at school.
“Because schools and districts are not required to collect data on sexual orientation or gender identity, researchers, advocates, and the general public cannot fully understand the extent to which LGBT students are differentially harassed or disciplined,” the Equity Project says. “The absence of such data also limits our ability to monitor the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the harms that LGBT students experience.”
The federal government already administers health surveys in which students are asked to anonymously report their sexual orientation; the Equity Project suggests that those surveys begin incorporating questions about school discipline. Similarly, existing surveys on school climate and safety could ask students to report anonymously their sexual orientation.
The Education Department could also begin asking schools to report on suspension and expulsion of LGBT students for its national Civil Rights Data Collection, a move researchers said would be more likely if Congress passed legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.