More LGBT Data Needed, Raising Concerns Over Privacy

(Photo: Tony Webster, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Tony Webster, Creative Commons)

An interesting legal decision will have to be addressed soon in the education arena, and it centers on the fact that researchers are asking the federal government to begin a new series of information collection concerning LGBT students. They explain that LGBT students' school experiences are needed to measure any disproportionate rates of expulsions and suspensions.

"When we fail to ask questions about youths' sexual orientation and gender identity, we fail to understand, support, and protect all students from discrimination in schools," wrote a group of researchers in a brief paper published Sunday by Indiana University's Equity Project.

This move, however beneficial it might be, is also filled with privacy concerns that go hand-in-hand with asking young people to declare their gender identities and sexual orientation. Doing so could put LGBT students at risk of losing family support or of experiencing rejection, negative mental health problems, and discrimination, reports Emma Brown for The Washington Post.

Researchers counter that argument by stating that LGBT students would, in the long run, profit from the more thorough data to explain how they are being treated in the country's schools. This knowledge, they say, is precisely the information needed to strengthen cases that are attempting to safeguard the civil rights of LGBT youth, as it has for other minority groups over the past 50 years.

Numerous studies have found that LGBT students are more likely to be harassed and bullied at school. New research has shown that they are also likelier to be expelled or suspended. Advocates of gaining this data from youngsters say this is the only way to understand and fix the issues faced by LGBT students at their schools.

The report, "Documenting Disparities for LGBT Students," proposes that two existing federal surveys be modified and anonymously administered by school districts to ask questions concerning gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Equity Project is also pushing Congress to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act introduced in 2015 to stop discrimination against LGBT students. Currently, there is no such law. Without governmental protection, according to the report, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students do not have "equal education opportunity."

The press release published on the Indiana University Bloomington website stated that the "School Crime Supplement" is one of the surveys that could be altered to include information regarding LGBT students. The other surveys that could be modified are the federal health surveys that are already used and are also anonymous.

Currently, because the federal government inaction, 19 states and the District of Columbia have created policies to prohibit bullying based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

"More LGBT students are coming out at school, and more studies are pointing to the challenges they face," said Stephen T. Russell, Regents' Professor of Child Development at the University of Texas at Austin. "Excluding questions about students' sexual orientation and gender identity leaves us in the dark about their well-being, so new approaches are needed."

Nicquel Terry of The Detroit News writes that the Equity Project is an adjunct to the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. It endeavors to provide information based on reliable evidence about issues which include school discipline, special education, school violence, and equality of educational opportunity for all students.

03 29, 2016
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