Letter: Gay students deserve our support
Re: Ingrid Jacques’s March 15 Editor’s Note “Special favors for LGBT students?”: My priority is to improve learning and life outcomes for all our school children. Creating conditions in our schools so LGBTQ students aren’t ostracized or afraid, and can focus on learning and succeed academically, is not a “special favor.” Rather it is these children’s right, and our duty.
To improve flagging student achievement in Michigan we must focus on closing gaps among all underperforming and at-risk populations. That is why we are making a priority of closing the big achievement gap among our Latino students, who make up 6 percent of our school population. We have a large scale state initiative focused on improving academic outcomes for the 8 percent of our students who are African-American males — the most at-risk for academic failure. No one questions the importance of these efforts.
The even greater number of Michigan’s LGBTQ students are also suffering academically. Worse, they are at greater risk of ending their lives. Research shows that, absent a school environment that welcomes and supports them, the 8.4 percent of our Michigan school children who say they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (and the as yet uncounted but growing number of transgender students) won’t get the education they too deserve. 12 percent of these students did not go to school in the past year, because they felt unsafe—twice the rate of straight students. Forty-six percent had grades that consisted mostly of C’s, D’s and F’s, again nearly double the number of heterosexual students with similarly poor academic performance. Twenty-nine percent of LGB students have attempted suicide in the last year, 4.5 times the rate for non-LGB students.
Research shows that if our schools acknowledge and support these students, their academic and mental health numbers are the same as other teenagers. There are simple, tangible things schools can do — from faculty and staff getting educated on what these young people are experiencing and need, to having LGBTQ support groups available, to making sure there is a bathroom they can use. This is what is in the State Board’s proposed guidance to schools.
For us to be an academic top 10 state again we have to improve learning outcomes for all our children, whether white, black, brown, male, female, gay or straight. And there are important, powerful and common sense things to do to improve outcomes for Michigan’s significant number of LGBTQ youth.
John Austin, President
Michigan State Board of Education