[Updated]Colorado’s patchwork of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are often celebrated as the most progressive in the nation. That includes a set of inclusive laws that protect LGBT students from bullying in the classroom.
But for many LGBT students, those laws mean little to nothing if their school leaders, teachers, and peers fail to create a safe environment that respects and honors different identities.
What’s more, three Colorado high school students who identify as gay or transgender told Chalkbeat, they’re sometimes more knowledgeable about the laws that protect them then their educators. And that needs to change, they said.
Chalkbeat interviewed the high schools students at Creating Change, the largest annual gathering of LGBT advocates, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force. More than 4,000 LGBT leaders gathered in Denver for the weeklong conference between Feb. 3 and Feb. 8 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Denver.
Chalkbeat asked the three students what are some of the barriers they experienced that prevented or hindered their learning. Listen to the clips below.
Jonathan Herbst is no stranger to the “big issues.” As his school’s only out-gay student, he’s not afraid to talk about his sexuality, gender neutral bathrooms, or bullying. But it’s the little things inside Lyons Middle-Senior High that are wearing him down as he nears the graduation line.
Choosing to express a gender other than the one assigned to you at birth is a battle against bureaucracy, said Fairview High School student Jake Snow. There’s little room to experiment inside a traditional public school that must follow decades-old rules.
When Xander Fager began to transition from female to male, the Smoky Hill High School administration was slow to adapt, he said. He was asked to use a gender neutral bathroom at first, instead of the boys bathroom. (Colorado schools, as public places, are required to allow individuals to use whichever restroom serves their self-selected gender.) While he said he was later given access to the boys restroom, Fager has opted to attend the Cherry Creek Option School, a home-school program.
A spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District said Fager was was never denied access to any restroom.
The experiences of Herbst, Snow, and Fager are not unique.
According to a 2013 nationwide school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 65 percent of LGBT students claimed to hear homophobic remarks in their schools often. Three out of every 10 students said they missed at least one day of school because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Nearly 90 percent said they were verbally harassed at least one during the previous year. And 19 percent of students said they were forbidden from wearing clothing that represented their chosen gender
The survey also found LGBT students who experienced higher levels of discrimination based on their identity had lower grade point averages than students who were less often harassed. And students who were harassed more often were less likely to go to college.
Updated: This article has been updated to include a statement from Cherry Creek School District. An official claims Fager was never denied access to the men’s bathroom.