Public Release: 

Onus is on educators to protect students from anti-gay bullying

McGill doctoral student presents findings at American Educational Research Association

McGill University

Labels such as "fag" and "lesbian" remain popular weapons against students in Canadian and U.S. schools, according to McGill University researcher Elizabeth Meyer. "Students are being violently and repeatedly harassed in schools with anti-gay comments, jokes and behaviors," cautions Meyer, a doctoral student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education, who is among 80 McGill researchers presenting at the American Educational Research Association's (AERA) annual meeting in Montreal until April 15.

When students are victims of verbal or physical abuse, says Meyer, the onus for their protection falls on educators. "There needs to be a concerted effort by educators to create and offer teachers training that addresses the concerns of students who are targeted for this sort of harassment," says Meyer. "Educators need to set aside their personal prejudices and fears to effectively support and teach all students."

Yet educators still turn blind eyes and deaf ears to harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) and gender non-conforming students. "In many cases teachers are not intervening and that lack of intervention allows these behaviors to continue," says Meyer. "All students suffer when prejudices go unchecked. By accepting such antisocial behaviors, educators send the message prejudices are appropriate to our culture."

Meyer based her findings on 10 major studies completed in the past five years. At AERA, she will present a summary of groundbreaking legal cases, two in the U.S. and one in Canada, where students sued their school boards for not protecting them from undue harassment. Two of the students won and a third is under appeal. "It was the high price of those settlements that forced school boards to pay attention to the rights of sexual minorities in their schools," she says.

"Only 10 U.S. states currently have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation as a protected class," says Meyer. "Whereas all Canadian provinces and territories, except Nunavut, explicitly include sexual orientation in their human rights legislation and sexual orientation is a protected class under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Federal laws, as well as anti-harassment policies in schools, need to be upheld to be effective. "Policies are meaningless unless they are enforced," says Meyer. "Homophobic harassment is emotionally damaging to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or any student who is perceived to be different."

Despite an apparent increase in acceptance of homosexuals in North America, based on a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, Meyer found that boys are twice as likely as girls to report being called gay. Using data from the 2003 National School Climate Survey - prepared by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) - Meyer also found that:

  • 84 percent of glbt students report being verbally harassed
  • 64.3 percent report feeling unsafe at school
  • 39.1 percent report being physically harassed
  • 83 percent report teachers intervening rarely or never when homophobic remarks were made


Reporters seeking interviews with Elizabeth Meyer should call 514-398-6752. The GLSEN 2003 National School Climate Survey can be consulted at the following web site:

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