"My parents saved my life by choosing to homeschool me. I would have committed suicide if they hadn't."
These are the words of 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard, an awesome youngster who is championing equality in his middle school. At a very young age Marcel had the foresight to remove himself from a toxic school situation, an action that may have saved his life. Bullying of LGBT youth is literally a matter of life or death, as teenage suicides from bullying continue to make headlines.
Students are consistently told that "it gets better" by older LGBT individuals who survived high school. Inherent in this moniker is the idea that school is psychological warfare and that it'll be over eventually. Unfortunately, that's just not the case. A recent study found that bullied children may be more prone to serious mental and physical health problems as adults. Moreover, they may be less likely to develop meaningful relationships or hold steady jobs. On top of this, in most states LGBT individuals are legally second-class citizens. It gets better? Hardly.
Common sense says that when students are bullied or don't feel safe in school, they cannot perform their best or simply don't come, and indeed, higher rates of truancy and lower GPAs have been documented among LGBT students. We know the challenges for our nation's LGBT youth, but we don't currently have a national dialogue to solve this problem. Frankly, it's time that the LGBT achievement gap gets out of the closet so that we can actually do something to fix it.
No matter what your thoughts on standardized tests may be, our country currently demands them of our students. After the tests, data analysts spend hours disaggregating the data to notice trends and report how different groups of students are performing. For nearly every school we know how different disenfranchised subgroups score on the exam. We can easily spot math differences by race, but no district could say a word about how our LGBT kids score.
Data may be difficult to come by, and the numbers will likely be small for out LGBT youth in grades K-12, but that shouldn't prohibit us from making sure that the LGBT community is actively involved in education reform. At the very least, data regarding bullying witnessed by teachers or reported to the administration should be available for the outside community to view. Communities would likely hold these schools accountable for a more inclusive environment, which might give LGBT kids a more equal playing ground.
If we truly want to work to ensure that all students receive a quality education, then all voices need to be heard. It's time for data to be collected about bullying of LGBT kids and policies enacted to improve things. One day it will get better, but that day will only come when we have an open, honest, and data-driven conversation about the state of this nation's LGBT young people.