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Rural LGBT Students Report More Fear than Urban, Suburban Peers

Rural lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students feel less safe at school than their peers in suburban and urban areas, according to a national study on LGBT students in rural and small town schools.

The study, "Strengths and Silences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Rural and Small Town Schools," was released last week by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and examines the experiences of more than 2,300 LGBT high school students in rural areas.

"These students are frequently the most isolated—both physically and in terms of access to critical resources and support—and our findings require us to both honor their resilience and respond to their needs," said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard in a press release.

The report highlighted a number of differences for LGBT students by locale. For example, 71 percent of rural students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, compared to 62 percent of suburban students and 58 percent of urban students.

Rural LGBT students also were more likely to hear biased language and experience discriminatory policies, and they were less comfortable talking about LGBT issues to school staff compared to urban and suburban students. In addition, the report found more rural LGBT students had missed class in the past month because they felt unsafe, compared to suburban and urban LGBT students.

The difficulties experienced by rural LGBT students can lead to worse grades, more absenteeism, and weakened post-secondary aspirations, according to the report.

"Anti-LGBT bullying is a problem in many areas of the country, but this report suggests that efforts to address anti-LGBT bullying may require particular attention in rural areas," according to the report.

The report offered a number of recommendations for rural schools and communities. Those include:


  • Schools should form partnerships to expand advocacy efforts for safe schools for LGBT students;

  • Communities should offer groups and programming for LGBT youth;

  • Schools should increase students' access to LGBT‑related resources through computers (so students can access information that might not otherwise be available at school);

  • Schools should place a greater emphasis on professional development for staff on LGBT student issues; and

  • Educators should consider sponsoring a club supportive of LGBT student issues.

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