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PPC, ICCSD release policy brief on LGBTQ student experiences

A chalkboard with a rainbow drawn in chalk.

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center (PPC) and the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) have released a policy brief about the perceptions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) students in the District’s schools. The policy brief will be presented by Sarah Bruch, director of the PPC’s Social and Education Policy Research Program, at the ICCSD Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, July 25.

The brief explains why it is important to understand the experiences of LGBTQ students, describes the experiences of LGBTQ students in the ICCSD, and details potential strategies the District could use in addressing the needs of LGBTQ students. It also makes preliminary recommendations for the District to consider. The brief will serve as the background for a multi-stakeholder task force which will provide feedback and prioritize the recommendations regarding how to support positive experiences and outcomes for LGBTQ students. 

Key findings about LGBTQ students in the ICCSD include:

  • LGBTQ students have lower trust in and comfort interacting with their teachers and counselors than non-LGBTQ students.

LGB and non-binary students are far less comfortable talking with teachers and counselors than non-LGB students. About half of LGB students feel comfortable, 54 percent with counselors and 50 percent with teachers, while only 38 percent of non-binary students reported being comfortable talking about problems with their teachers. 

  • LGBTQ students feel less respected and experience a lower sense of belonging in school than their non-LGBTQ peers.

While 83 percent of non-LGB students responded that they felt that they belong, only 62 percent of LGB and 48 percent of non-binary students felt the same way. Twenty percent fewer LGB students felt their contributions in class are valued compared to non-LGB students. Additionally, less than half of LGB and non-binary students reported that students at their school respect everyone’s differences. 

  • LGBTQ students feel significantly less safe in and around school than non-LGBTQ students.

Compared to 84 percent of non-LGB students, only two-thirds of LGB students feel that their school is welcoming and safe. Whereas about half of non-LGB students feel safe in their hallways and bathrooms, only 1 in 5 non-binary students feels safe in those areas. 

  • LGBTQ students do not get many opportunities to discuss topics relevant to their LGBTQ identities in class settings.

Under a third of LGB students reported having opportunities in class to discuss sexual orientation. Among non-binary students, 28 percent felt that there are opportunities to talk about transgender identity in class. 

  • Students with LGBTQ identities hear hurtful comments about gender and/ or sexual orientation at much higher rates than non-LGBTQ students.

Eighty-eight percent of LGB students reported hearing hurtful comments about sexual orientation.

Recommendations include:

  • ICCSD develops inclusive curriculum for all students in the District, by gradually integrating LGBTQ-inclusive material into existing curriculum and updating curriculum as needed.
  • ICCSD provides professional development opportunities for all ICCSD educators and student support staff on topics of LGBTQ identity, experiences, and inclusion.
  • ICCSD continues to support LGBTQ student groups, and fortify efforts to increase visibility.
  • ICCSD improves the visibility of its sexual orientation and gender identity-inclusive anti-bullying policy, its LGBTQ student groups, and its efforts to be inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ students.

"This report highlights a glaring disparity in our schools that needs to be addressed," said Kingsley Botchway, ICCSD Director of Equity and Engagement. "While it is important the questions were asked to highlight the need, we need to ensure we put the necessary steps in place in order to strive towards an inclusive environment for all students."

The policy brief is available here

The survey and policy brief are the product of a university-community partnership between researchers the UI Public Policy Center and the Director of Equity and Engagement at the ICCSD. Members of the research team are Austin Adams, Sean Finn and Tessa Heeren.