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School Administrators’ Support for Educator Training on Students’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Is An Effective Way to Reduce Victimization for LGBT Students and Improve School Climates for All Students

Salvatore Ioverno, Meg D. Bishop, Stephen T. Russell

Introduction

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth report higher rates of victimization and hostile school climate than their non-LGBT peers. Professional development training for school personnel on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, known as SOGI training, is one strategy to improve the school experiences and school climate for LGBT youth, and potentially all youth. However, little is known about the impact of SOGI training on LGBT and non-LGBT youth’s experiences at school. 

Hundreds of studies document the importance of a positive school climate on students’ emotional and mental health and wellbeing, academic performance, attendance, self-esteem, and other desirable outcomes. A positive school climate includes students’ experiences of feeling safe at school, having positive relationships with adults at school, and opportunities for meaningful participation. As a consequence of discrimination and prejudice, LGBT students often perceive the climate in their schools as more negative compared to non-LGBT students. These more negative school climates can have severe consequences for LGBT students’ wellbeing and mental health.

Research also demonstrates that LGBT students experience more victimization than non-LGBT students. For example, 33% of LGB high school students in the United States reported being bullied at school compared to 17% of heterosexual youth. Victimization of LGBT youth has been shown to be associated with depression, suicidality, posttraumatic stress, alcohol use, and substance use. 

Supportive educators play a key role in reducing negative school experiences. When educators engage in LGBT-supportive practices, such as intervening when anti-LGBT harassment occurs, enforcing LGBT-supportive policies, and incorporating inclusive curricula, students and teachers report safer and more inclusive school climates.

School administrators’ support for SOGI training—that is, making SOGI training available or required for school personnel or encouraging their participation—can help to promote equitable learning contexts for LGBT youth. Those who receive SOGI training report more supportive attitudes toward LGBT youth and feel more confident in their ability to promote inclusiveness. In addition, SOGI training can benefit all students by improving the overall school climate. 

This brief reports on a recent study1 in which the authors used multiple sources of data from California schools to explore whether support for SOGI training at two time points—in 2004 and 2014—was associated with less victimization and a more positive school climate for LGBT and all students.

Key Findings

  • Compared to schools with later SOGI training (in 2014 only):
    • Students in schools with early (in 2004 only) and repeated (in 2004 and 2014) support of SOGI training experienced a more positive school climate.
    • LGBT students, in particular, were at lower risk for victimization when they attended schools with repeated SOGI training support.
  • School support for SOGI training may have long-term positive impacts on students; however, it can take time for this policy to have a widespread influence on the culture and practices of schools.

*Compared to schools that had SOGI training only in the later period (2014). Early training=SOGI training in 2004 only; repeated training=SOGI training in 2004 and 2014.

Policy Implications

It is hard to change school climate or victimization with one-time trainings. These results suggest that when sustained over time, SOGI training can make a difference for positive school climate and less victimization. Support for SOGI training by school administration is an effective way to reduce victimization of LGBT students and improve school climates for all students. In addition, this study provides evidence that policymakers can use to shift discussions and decision-making regarding school-based SOGI training from a focus on personal SOGI values or beliefs to a focus on student well-being.

Reference

1Ioverno, S., Bishop, M.D., Russell, S.T. (2022). Does a decade of school administrator support for educator training on students’ sexual and gender identity make a difference for students’ victimization and perceptions of school climate? Prevention Science 23:108-118. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-021-01276-x

Suggested Citation

Ioverno, S., Bishop, M.D., Russell, S.T. (2022). School administrators’ support for educator training on students’ sexual orientation and gender identity is an effective way to reduce victimization for LGBT students and improve school climates for all students. PRC Research Brief 7(4). DOI: 10.26153/tsw/40926. 

About the Authors

Salvatore Ioverno, salvatore.ioverno@uniroma3.it, is an Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology at the Department of Education of Roma Tre University; he was previously a postdoctoral fellow in the Population Research Center and Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Meg D. Bishop is a PhD student in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences and graduate research trainee in the PRC at UT Austin. Stephen T. Russell (stephen.russell@utexas.edu) is chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, director of the School of Human Ecology, and a faculty scholar in the PRC. At UT Austin, Russell holds the Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professorship in Child Development and Amy Johnson McLaughlin Administrative Chair in Human Ecology.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) (grant number 12V8120N). This study was also made possible with funding from two grants awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin (P2CHD042849 and T32HD007081) by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors acknowledge generous support from the Communities for Just Schools Fund, and for Russell from the Priscilla Pond Flawn Endowment at The University of Texas at Austin. Finally, two of the data sources used in this study were developed as follows: the California Healthy Kids Survey was developed by WestEd under contract with the California Department of Education and the Safe Schools Policy Survey was developed by the California Safe Schools Coalition with a grant from the California Endowment.


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