May 20, 2014

GLBT Health

Recently there was a Sexual Health Grant meeting at my school, I wasn't able to attend because I had another meeting, but they sent a survey ahead of time and asked us to respond. I was invited as the former Gay Straight Alliance advisor. We have since broadened the definition of the club to build interest (unsuccessfully). Currently the GSA is under a larger umbrella of Friends of Rachel and is focusing on GLBT issues as well as other forms of community outreach. Even with that branching out I have 3 consistent members and two of them are seniors. Many students participate in events like the Day of Silence that occur during school hours, but few kids are staying after school for the club.

We have a generally open and accepting environment at the school and I get the sense that most students don't need a GSA as a safe space as they are able to be out at school. I also know that NAGLY (a local group for gay and lesbian youth that meets outside of school) is well attended. But I would still like to have a functional club that works on some of the issues presented in the questionnaire as well as other awareness campaigns. While things are better for the GLBT community than they have been in recent history, things still aren't good. The rates of suicide and depression in GLBT teens are scary and most don't feel like they have an adult they can talk to.

Some questions in the survey:

Do you have a comprehensive and clearly focused school anti-bullying policy, with training for students and staff?
We worked on that last year, but I'm not sure that new teachers or freshman got any training. This needs to be ongoing.

Are there protections for gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and staff from harassment?
We are lucky enough to have a conflict resolution person on staff along with a slew of counselors and administrators and a police officer who works with the school. When harassment is reported it is taken seriously. However, I'm not sure how often it is reported. Are kids hiding their comments from teachers? Are teachers aware of the derogatory terms used against LGBT students? How often do you here students say "That's so gay!"?

Is there a plan for education that meets the needs of students who are diverse in terms of ethnicity, language, gender expression and sexual orientation?
Our health teachers are pretty aware and supportive, but I don't know the curriculum precisely. We'd talked about having a GSA meeting where we bring in a nurse to answer any questions students might have but wouldn't be comfortable asking in health class. But that hasn't happened (yet?).

Does your district have partnerships with youth-friendly community organizations that provide sexual health services including LGBT supportive services?
Yup! NAGLY is awesome and all the guidance counselors and nurses at the very least know about it and refer kids. They also send some representatives to our annual health fair.

Does your district have safe space policies in place that support: LGBT youth?
One thing my club did accomplish was making Expect Respect stickers for every classroom and office door. I don't know about policies though.

Is there administrative support for addressing the health and psychological needs of LGBT youth?

Is there community support for addressing the health and psychological needs of LGBT youth?
Yes. We are lucky that Salem is a very diverse town. After the witch trials were declared the terrible thing that they were, the city became a mecca for Wiccans. And then all sorts of eclectic people. Combined with the diversity inherent in a seaport and we have a funky city that's accepting of everyone. We even have a pride parade which I think is unusual for such a small city.

Are district staff comfortable and willing to address the health and psychological needs of LGBT youth?
I'd say willing but uninformed. Recently a teacher asked me how to help a transgendered kid who is thinking about dropping out of school as he transitions. I just remembered we had a really great training for the staff at a school I worked at before, I should email the school to get their contact info.

How does your school address the physical and emotional health and wellness of GLBT students? Any ideas on events the GSA should have or how to improve student involvement?

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