Persad Center

Strengthening the Region’s LGBTQ Communities and Their Allies

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Strengthening the Region’s LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS-impacted Communities

Perception vs. Reality: LGBTQ Bullying in Allegheny County’s Schools

Duquesne University Completes Study Commissioned by PERSAD CENTER’S Safe Schools Project

When it comes to tackling any problem, it helps if all of the concerned parties are on the same page. A new study recently completed by Duquesne University principal investigators Jered Kolbert and Laura Crothers (pictured below), finds that parents, students and educators have very different perceptions about LGBTQ bullying, prevention and awareness in our region’s schools. The study “Bullying Experiences of LGBTQ Students in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania” should offer helpful insights to everyone concerned about addressing bullying and making schools safer.

“We’ve seen national studies by GLSEN and other organizations about bullying around the U.S., and now we see parallel results right here in Allegheny County. Armed with the information in the Duquesne study, we can be more effective in working with regional stakeholders to end the problem of bullying in our schools”, says PERSAD CENTER Executive Director Betty Hill. The research represents a core component of a regional Safe Schools Project initiated by PERSAD CENTER and representatives from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays), PaTTAN (Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network), Dreams of Hope and Duquesne University.

Key Findings

As part of its ongoing Safe Schools Project, PERSAD CENTER worked with the Duquesne researchers to review local school policies regarding bullying of LGBTQ students and conduct a survey about perceptions of the bullying experienced by LGBTQ students, as well as perceptions of support for these students by school personnel. Three separate surveys were administered to LGBTQ students and their allies; parents of LGBTQ students; and educators in Allegheny County. Notable findings of the research report reveal that 50% of LGBTQ youth and their allies believe that LGBTQ adolescents are bullied at an elevated frequency in comparison to their non-LGBTQ peers, with nearly 1/3 of those surveyed reporting that LGBTQ students were “rarely” or “never” supported by school staff.

Contradictory to students’ perceptions, a majority of teacher respondents (85.6%) reported good levels of support for LGBTQ students in their schools – despite the fact that only 7% of local schools include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sexual preference in their bullying policies. Nevertheless, 95% of teachers still reported hearing the use of derogatory terms toward LGBTQ youth on a regular basis and 36.7% identified a lack of sufficient or consistent peer support for LGBTQ students. 

Parents’ perceptions were more closely aligned with the student sample, however, with 63.7% indicating that their LGBTQ children are bullied “more” to “much more” than their non-LGBTQ peers.  Moreover, 18.2% of parent participants “strongly disagreed” that their children’s schools took sufficient action to prevent bullying of LGBTQ youth. 

Interest in the results of this research project is rapidly building. Drs. Kolbert and Crothers have been invited to present their findings at the annual meeting of the Association of School Psychologists of Pennsylvania in State College, PA this October, while Safe Schools committee member and school counselor at Hartwood Elementary School, Janet Fazzini, will discuss the research results at the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association conference in Seven Springs, PA in December.

Although it is disheartening to know that many LGBTQ youth in western Pennsylvania are struggling in their schools, the results of this research project will help PERSAD CENTER and the Safe Schools Project to impact the local school system with knowledge and awareness of issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and bullying, and advocate for anti-bullying policies that specifically protect LGBTQ youth.