About 5% of America's high school students identify as gay or lesbian, and nearly 40% of them report being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation, according to a new poll conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
"The findings suggest that, on average, every classroom in America has at least one student who identifies as lesbian or gay and that a majority of those students know at least one gay or lesbian person, whether it be a teacher, a classmate, or a family member," noted GLSEN executive director Kevin Jennings.
The national poll asked questions of 9th- to 12th-grade students across the country about sexual orientation, name-calling, and general attitudes toward lesbian and gay people in schools. The group said the findings are important because they underscore the widespread problems that arise when students use antigay language, name-calling, bullying, and harassment in America's schools.
"The research demonstrates a disturbing gap between how LGBT and straight students perceive and are affected by the pervasive language," the group determined. "It is probably shocking to many adults how many of their children are using offensive homophobic language day in and day out in our nation's high schools," said Marty McGough, director for Widmeyer Research and Polling. "What the research also gives us is an indication of the large population of LGBT students who have to listen to it."
Other key findings include:
--Antigay language is rampant. Sixty-six percent of students report using homophobic language, such as "that's so gay" to describe something that is wrong, bad, or stupid; 81% report hearing homophobic language in their schools frequently or often.
--Nearly three quarters of high school students know a gay or lesbian person; 48% of students know a lesbian or gay classmate; 30% have a close lesbian or gay friend; 11% know a lesbian or gay teacher.
--Parents, friends, and family influence students' attitudes most. Sixty-five percent of students identify their personal experiences with gay people as an important factor in shaping their attitudes about gay people, 58% note the important role their parents play, and 28% acknowledge the important role of television with gay characters.