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Harassment Affects Gay Kids' Schoolwork

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The level of harassment faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students appears to play a role in their academic performance and aspirations for college, a survey released today suggests.

The biennial survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that students who reported occasional or frequent verbal harassment targeting their sexual orientation had an average grade-point average of 2.9 vs. 3.3 for those who reported rare or no harassment. Frequently harassed students were more than twice as likely to report they did not plan to attend college. The survey, which drew 887 respondents from mail and the Internet, is the third by GLSEN.

Many factors besides harassment can affect student grades and college plans, but the numbers tell the survey authors that such harassment takes a toll.

The survey shows ''how this kind of climate impedes student learning,'' says Kevin Jennings, executive director of GLSEN and a former high school teacher.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation in schools. Students whose schools did not have such policies were 40% more likely to skip school, he says.

Along with policies protecting students, the most important thing is to train teachers to intervene properly when harassment occurs, GLSEN officials say. They were pleased to see a small yet significant increase in the number of students aware of support resources such as library materials, Internet sites and gay-straight student alliances at their disposal since the 2001 survey. The survey also found a slight decrease in overall harassment.

''The vast majority of people in education are well intentioned,'' Jennings says. ''They want to know how they can help students learn, and they want to know what things prevent students from learning.''

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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