Over the past decade, the American school environment has become slightly more receptive towards students who identify as being either lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer (LGBQ). This is, in part, thanks to the changing attitudes of teachers, who have a substantial influence on school culture. In a new study published in Springer's journal Social Psychology of Education, William Hall and Grayson Rodgers of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the US, document the attitudes of American teachers nationwide towards the LGBQ community.
A young person's experience of school plays an important role in their development and can influence well-being and educational success. This holds especially true for the 10 per cent of American school students who identify as LGBQ. However, many LGBQ students face hostile school environments during this important time in their physical, cognitive, socio-emotional and educational development.
For this study, the researchers obtained data from the General Social Survey. This cross-sectional survey was repeated at two-year intervals between 2006 and 2014, and includes nationally representative samples of American adults. In particular, Hall and Rodgers focused on information provided by a group of 305 teachers from a wide range of teaching settings aged between 20 and 89.
The results indicate that, in line with Americans in general, teachers have become more acceptant of homosexuality in recent years. However, many educators still see homosexuality negatively, and the profession is sharply divided on the morality of same-sex sexual relations. Just under half of teachers in the sample held at least one negative LGBQ-related attitude.
Hall and Rodgers found that a teacher's political orientation was the strongest force influencing their attitude. The results correspond with the historic tendency for political liberals to be more supportive of LGBQ rights, and conservatives to oppose them. An educator's age and take on religion also played a role. Those with fundamentalist religious orientations tended to view homosexuality much more negatively than those with more progressive religious views. Interestingly, teachers of color, older teachers and those working in the South, Midwest, and mountain regions had generally more conservative attitudes towards LGBQ students.
"The proportion of religious congregations who are accepting of LGBQ people has grown recently, so we should not assume that religious Americans possess negative and static views of LGBQ people, or that people of color uniformly possess negative attitudes," warns Hall.
"Regardless of personal beliefs, teachers have an ethical responsibility to provide all students with a quality education in a safe learning environment, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender," emphasizes Rodgers.
The researchers call for more interventions to address teachers' negative attitudes towards LGBQ students, and to cultivate positive positions. This could, for instance, be done by incorporating more sexual orientation diversity topics into preservice teacher education programs, and by using evidence-informed interventions.
Reference: Hall, W. J. & Rodgers, G. K. (2018). Teachers' Attitudes Toward Homosexuality and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer Community in the United States, Social Psychology of Education DOI: 10.1007/s11218-018-9463-9