Leave this site safely

You can quickly leave this website by clicking the “X” in the top right or by pressing the Escape key twice.

To browse this site safely, be sure to regularly clear your browser history.

Top Ten Ways to Make Schools Safe


Students who are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) are often invisible to schoolteachers and administrators. As a result, their concerns and the issues they face daily–bullying, harassment, assault and worse–often pass unnoticed and unaddressed.

What You Should Know:

GLSEN conducts a biannual National School Climate Survey. Among the findings of the most recent version? Students who were or were perceived to be LGBTQ were less likely to plan to go to college, and more likely to have a lower GPA and lower self-esteem. In addition:

  • 59.5% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 44.6% because of their gender expression, and 35.0% because of their gender.
  • Almost all of LGBTQ students (98.5%) heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) at school; 70.0% heard these remarks often or frequently, and 91.8% reported that they felt distressed because of this language
  • 70.1% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) at school based on sexual orientation, 59.1% based on gender expression, and 53.2% based on gender.
  • 28.9% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year based on sexual orientation, 24.4% based on gender expression, and 22.8% because based on gender.
What You Can Do:

Visit GLSEN to view the most recent survey results, then visit StopBullying.gov, managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for additional safe-school resources.


Remember what Mom always said: “Use your words!” Choose them well and your words can heal; chosen in haste or ignorance, they can wound. That’s especially true when we’re talking to and about people who are LGBTQ loved ones.

What You Should Know:

Learning the right terminology can be frustrating, especially when there’s a lot of it and it often seems to change regularly. But the right words at the right time foster an atmosphere of respect and understanding, and go a long way toward letting a person who is nervous or apprehensive know that you understand and care.

What You Can Do:
  • Learn the terminology: visit the PFLAG National Glossary to get started
  • Remember that you and the person to whom you are speaking approach the same words from a different set of life experiences
  • When in doubt, ask
  • Remember that your approach can make all the difference in the world to a questioning young person


For LGBTQ youth, bullying, harassment, and discrimination in the classroom, hallways, locker rooms, and on the bus can be a daily fact of life. Besides the mental and emotional toll it takes, it’s dangerous and disruptive, interfering with learning and student safety. It’s incumbent on adults in the school community to be vigilant, and to stop bullying whenever and wherever it happens.

What You Should Know:

Left ignored or unchecked, discriminatory behavior will repeat itself; it must be addressed. If you’re afraid to take action, remember that inaction can endanger kids and lead to an unsafe learning environment. You don’t need to overreact to, embarrass, or put down the offender, but there are constructive steps you can take to make everyone safer.

What You Can Do:

Even casual comments that aren’t directed at anyone in particular or aren’t meant to be hurtful can be offensive. It’s not the intent, but the impact, that matters. That’s why it’s important to:

  • Deal with the situation immediately and privately
  • Find out exactly what happened from all involved before you act
  • Listen carefully, with respect for everyone’s feelings
  • Specify the nature of the behavior, and affirm that such behavior is hurtful, harmful, and will not be tolerated
  • Ensure that any consequences are consistent with school and classroom policy
  • If appropriate, use the incident as a teachable moment to model what is and is not acceptable


Designed and implemented correctly, a strong and inclusive anti-bullying policy protects students and the school alike. In order to be effective, however, these policies must be highly specific as to what constitutes bullying; must have concrete policies; and must back those policies with training, education and implementation for the entire school community.

What You Should Know:

School is a challenging environment to navigate under the best of circumstances, and for LGBTQ students, those circumstances can be hard to come by. In light of the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community generally, and by transgender and gender-expansive students particularly, the GLSEN and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) recently launched the first-ever resource aimed at making schools safer for transgender and gender expansive students.

Anti-bullying policies should enumerate, or spell out, each of the following to ensure that the policy is effective, fair and enforceable:

  •         A detailed definition of bullying, harassment and discrimination
  •         Clear guidelines on maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of all students
  •         Protections for students in gender-segregated areas and activities
  •         Protections for perceived, as well as actual, sexual orientation and gender identity
  •         Specific language to address school and district dress code policies
  •         Effective training for school officials, leading to proper implementation

The development and implementation of these policies should emerge through dialogue and engagement between educators and the student communities they serve. The results can be striking, since properly implemented comprehensive policies lead to fewer instances of homophobic and transphobic language, and better incident reporting.

What You Can Do:

An anti-bullying policy is only effective insofar as it’s comprehensive, inclusive, and highly specific. The aim is to better protect all students, not only vulnerable LGBTQ students. Using the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Model School Policy as a guideline, you can help your school send a clear message that LGBTQ bullying will not be tolerated, while also extending protection to all of the students in your community.


While visibility for LGBTQ students and issues is doubtless important, it’s equally important that a school’s commitment to a diverse and safe school population is no less visible. That visibility helps everyone from students to parents, teachers, and administrators to understand that the school is firmly committed to protecting its students, and to set realistic expectations to ensure that goal is met.

What You Should Know:

A wide spectrum of age-appropriate materials is available in nearly every medium, useful for education and sparking discussion. When that discussion takes place, let all voices – students and faculty alike – be heard and involved. In addition to planning age-appropriate school-wide activities, it’s helpful to remember that gender norms and stereotypes (the idea that boys and girls should act a certain way) should not impact your responses to students who are or are perceived to be LGBTQ. Keep your responses gender neutral, ensuring that the same standards apply to everyone. Any behavior your school would allow between a male and female student (whether it’s holding hands or a discreet peck on the cheek) is also appropriate for two male or two female students.

What You Can Do:
  • Your school’s librarian can educate you on the policy for acquiring and placing books, while the Safe Schools Coalition (www.safeschoolscoalition.org) can recommend books for every age. Films like It’s a Family (for elementary schools), Let’s Get Real (for middle schools), and Straightlaced (for high schools), available via www.groundspark.org
  • GLSEN offers programs like No Name Calling Week (www.nonamecallingweek.org) and the Day of Silence (www.dayofsilence.org), along with supporting materials, to help address the problem of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.
  • Teaching Tolerance has offered Mix It Up (www.mixitup.org) a program for students who want to cross the social boundaries that separate them from each other, since 2006.
  • National GSA Day (gsaday.org) honors Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) which have worked for decades to make their campuses safe places for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity by opening spaces for dialogue that improves student life for all students.


Having established the importance of a strong safe-schools policy, it must not stop there. Enumeration is just one piece of a larger puzzle. You and your colleagues each contribute a piece of your own to the larger picture, especially since that policy ceases to work if it’s simply left to gather dust.

What You Should Know:

Visibility matters. Visible support for diversity sends a clear message to all students that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated. It sends another, complementary, message: that a diverse population should be accepted and celebrated. Students, teachers, and parents alike will be reminded that stopping inappropriate behavior is a daily task, and that they have your support in that fight.

What You Can Do:

Coming out as an ally is a positive exercise in empathy. The same questions you’ll be asking yourself – like wondering what your friends, family and colleagues will think, what the impact might be on your career, and what it might do to your perception and place in the larger community – are the same questions, fears and struggles faced by LGBTQ individuals on a daily basis. Your courage can help someone else find theirs, whether it’s a colleague stepping up to become an ally, or a student being able to live their truth knowing they have an advocate in their corner.

The process doesn’t end with being “out,” of course. The “ally” label is one that must be earned and maintained. Simple steps like making sure that your library has LGBTQ friendly, age appropriate books and resources, taking advantage of teachable moments, and making it known that you’re willing to talk about and stand for diversity can be powerful statements. Those small steps, can empower and embolden you to take bigger steps, like establishing a task force to take on bullying and harassment, which can impact your students’ lives for the better.


The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyberbullying as the use of technology to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. Separate studies by Cox Communications found that 93% of youth in the U.S. are online and 73% have a cell phone, and that one consequence of this connectivity is that one in ten teens have been cyberbullied online or by text, while 16% have seen or heard of someone who had been bullied.

Findings by the Cyberbullying Research Center reveal that approximately 20% of young people reported experiencing cyber bullying in their lifetimes.

What You Should Know:

Cyber bullying takes many forms, including:

  • Sending mean or threatening emails, messages, or texts
  • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others
  • Sending or forwarding private messages to others
  • Sharing explicit pictures with others without consent
  • Starting rumors via text message or online
  • Creating fake online profiles on websites such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc. to make fun of people

The terminology surrounding this issue (see our glossary), including terms like flaming, cyberstalking, catfishing, flaming, and doxing is an important tool in your arsenal. Learn it, and stay up to date, since new technologies, trends, and platforms bring with them new slang and terminology.

What Students Should Know:
  • There can be consequences to actions you take online (schools, jobs, personal)
  • You do not always know who you are talking to
  • Your messages can be re-broadcast to others
  • Tell an adult immediately if you receive a threatening, harassing, or upsetting message
  • Never give out personal information online
  • Items that are posted online or texted can be traced to their original source
What You Can Do:

There are several steps you can encourage your school to take:

  • Add cyberbullying to existing anti-harassment or bullying policies
  • Provide training and education for students, teachers and parents
  • Let students know where they can report an incident or seek help
  • Take cyberbullying seriously
  • Take advantage of resources available through the National Crime Prevention Council (www.ncpc.org), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Cyber Bully Research Center.


Education around LGBTQ issues can be difficult since students and educators alike may feel like they are in uncharted waters. Educators may feel uncomfortable, or ill-equipped, when faced with unfamiliar situations, and students may feel that they’re on uncertain ground reporting or addressing instances of bullying or harassment.

What You Should Know:

There are simple steps each person can take toward a safer school environment:

  • Begin with a school survey as an opportunity for faculty to review the school environment and gives administrators an important perspective on what is happening in their school community
  • Let’s Get Real, a national safe schools curriculum created by Groundspark as part of the film by the same name, provides an effective, simple survey for use in schools
  • Ready, Set, Respect is GLSEN’s elementary school toolkit designed to prepare teachers for teaching about respect, bullying, LGBTQ families and gender identity
What You Can Do:

After evaluating the school environment, administrators should develop and implement a training that meets the concerns raised by the survey. Remember that most harassment and bullying do not take place in classrooms, but rather in the hallway, cafeteria, playground or locker room. Adults who supervise these areas must be included in trainings in order to effectively address the reality students are encountering every day. 

There are many locally-based organizations that can provide trainings. Contact us and let us help you find one.


In order to eradicate bullying, harassment, and discrimination, we have to start with root causes, and one of the most prevalent is ignorance arising from an incomplete or inaccurate education. Part of a comprehensive and LGBTQ-inclusive education involves representation across multiple disciplines, but just as importantly it must include age-appropriate health education to ensure that youth have a clear understanding of their bodies to foster respect for themselves and their classmates.

What You Should Know:

In the educational arena, it’s especially important to realize the dangers of abstinence-only education. It excludes LGBTQ youth from important information. Abstinence-only education funding is contingent on teaching that marriage is strictly defined as a union between one man and one woman, leaving LGBTQ youth feeling isolated and excluded. Just as importantly, all students are typically given misleading or inaccurate information that can lead to guilt, self-destructive behavior, and other negative consequences.

Thankfully, there is a trend toward full inclusion. An appropriate, comprehensive education curriculum should:

  • Be comprehensive and accurate
  • Include age-appropriate information
  • Include information on consent and healthy relationships
  • Include the full spectrum of families
  • Provide students with accurate information about sexual health and STD prevention
  • Provide historical facts about LGBTQ people
  • Include the rich perspectives of underrepresented groups of people, including LGBTQ communities

Remember when developing your curriculum that parents overwhelmingly support teaching about sexual orientation at school. Three out of four parents feel comfortable speaking to their children about sexual orientation, but are unlikely to raise the topic on their own.

What You Can Do:

Curriculum supervisors and teachers should remember that parents overwhelmingly support the teaching of sexual orientation in school, and that three out of four parents are willing to speak to their kids about sexual orientation, but aren’t likely to raise the topic on their own. There are many resources on and offline that can help with everything from starting conversations to curriculum development. One book we’ve found to be especially useful is What Does Gay Mean: How to Talk with Kids about Sexual Orientation (San Francisco, CA: Horizons Foundation, 2001).

Plentiful online resources are also at your fingertips. The GSA Network is an organization dedicated to proving schools with tools aimed at helping schools start and maintain Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) and other inclusive youth led clubs. They have also developed lessons and other resources designed for teachers and educators. Visit www.gsanetwork.org/fair for more information. Not in California? Find a lesson plan you can share with your schools and communities. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) provides education and information about sexuality and sexual and reproductive health.


All of these steps, pointers and resources may seem intimidating, especially if it’s your first time seeing them. Having said that, just the same as your students can’t do this alone – and we certainly don’t expect you to go it alone – PFLAG National is fortunate in that we aren’t alone in this either.

What You Should Know:

Not only do we have the support and input of our chapters, we are but one of a network of LGBTQ organizations making information and resources available to schools and their personnel as they address issues surrounding harassment, bullying, safe spaces and LGBTQ youth. Those organizations, ranging from GLSEN to The Trevor Project, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the ADL, Lambda Legal, COLAGE and FIERCE, have been our trusted allies as we provide support to LGBTQ youth and their allies.

What You Can Do:

View our comprehensive list of resources for safe schools, legal assistance, curriculum support, information on cyberbullying, and support for transgender and gender-expansive students. Contact PFLAG National, or reach out to your local chapter, for the information and support you need.