The Big Picture Behind Ford's Latest Grant to Make Schools Safer for LGBT Youth of Color

Even as attitudes change, the school years can still be hell for LGBT youth, and the Ford Foundation has made various grants over the years to address this problem. Ford views the challenge through a wide lens: It's not just about making school more bearable; ensuring safety from violence and harassment also advances economic fairness and empowerment. 

That's the logic behind Ford's recent grant of $250,000 to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network’s Racial and Economic Justice Project to expand its efforts to address school safety and improve educational outcomes for LGBT youth of color.

For more than a decade, national researchers have looked at the experiences of LGBT students in middle and high schools to determine the best ways to counter anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools. And while data from that research has helped improve the national school climate for the majority of LGBT students, LGBT students of color still experience severe levels of anti-gay harassment and bullying which causes them to miss school or class at least once a month, on average, and report lower grade-point averages. 

It's pretty simple, really: If you're terrified of going to school, you're less likely to go, or to fully focus when you're there. 

Work on school harassment is part of a larger effort that Ford has been deeply involved in for years, along with other top LGBT funders, to empower LGBT youth to advocate for inclusive policies that recognize their human, social, and economic rights, and to train educators and administrators to better spot and counter anti-LGBT bias in the classroom. And while that dedication translates to a diversified funding strategy, it includes improving the conditions for LGBT students of color who continue to disproportionately report instances of verbal and physical violence.

The GSA Network has long been at the forefront of efforts in schools. Since the late 1990s, it has fostered gay-straight alliance clubs (GSAs) in middle and high school schools to help students, both LGBT and not, advocate for safer and more inclusive school policies. Now the network, which spans 37 states and touts more than 30,000 members, is hoping to improve the experiences of LGBT students of color by making GSAs more racially inclusive, and by teaching educators to identify the subtle and overt linkages between anti-LGBT bias and racism.

From its extensive surveys of students, the GSA Network has the data to show just how big a problem harassment is for LGBT kids of color—and how it affects their performance in school. A recent GSA survey found:

  • More than a third of self-identified LGBT Native American students (37 percent) and 30 percent of self-identified LGBT Latino students reported missing at least one full day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. A quarter of self-identified LGBT Asian/Pacific Islander and 22 percent of self-identified LGBT African-American students said they missed at least one full day of school for the same reason.  
  • Among of students of color who were victimized in school, less than half said they felt safe enough to report it to a teacher or other school official. Furthermore, across all groups, less than half of students of color who did report incidents to school personnel said the situation was addressed effectively. 
  • Severe levels of harassment were related to more negative educational outcomes, particularly for students who were harassed because of multiple personal characteristics. For example, students of color who were severely harassed in school because of both their sexual orientation and race/ethnicity were more likely to miss school in the past month (57%) than those who were severely harassed based on sexual orientation only (43%), race/ethnicity only (39%), or those who did not experience high severities of either type of harassment (16%).

With kids of color already facing so many obstacles to their educational and economic success, you can see why a funder like Ford wants to remove this extra barrier faced by LGBT youth.