What to Do When Harassment/Discrimination Occurs

What to Do When Harassment/Discrimination Occurs

If you are a school administrator or educator, here is what you should do to protect the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth.

Respond swiftly. School employees at every level should react quickly when they witness or hear reports of anti-LGBTQ slurs, name-calling or other harassment. In addition to taking action, school employees can offer support to the targeted student and/or alert guidance counselors and other supportive staff to the problem.

The targeted person is NOT the problem. Sometimes when a student is harassed or bullied, school officials may respond by physically isolating a student who is experiencing harassment, providing the student with an “escort” or suggesting that the student change her or his behavior to avoid mistreatment. Escorts and physical separation might have temporary value when there is a serious, imminent threat to a student’s safety. But typically, such measures only give school officials a false sense of having solved the problem while failing to improve the environment for students in a meaningful or sustainable way. In addition, such responses can isolate and stigmatize the student targeted for harassment.

Discipline is NOT the only possible remedy. School officials sometimes assume that once they’ve disciplined an offender, they’ve adequately addressed the problem. They may also assume that if they’re unable to discipline an offender (for example, because they do not know her or his identity), there is no way to respond to the problem. There are many ways to respond to harassment beyond discipline, including:

• written policies, counseling and trainings for staff and/or students

• making statements to students and staff reaffirming your school’s commitment to a safe environment

• monitoring troublesome areas within the school

• providing institutional support for gay-straight alliances and similar groups (read about GSAs here), as well as for days of action like GLSEN's National Day of Silence.

Don't use confidentiality and anonymity as excuses not to act. School officials often mistakenly assume that if the student is unwilling or unable to identify a perpetrator, or requests confidentiality or anonymity, there is no way to respond to harassment. Many of the individual and institutional remedies discussed in this resource can be implemented even without knowing the identity of individual harassers and without compromising requests for confidentiality.

Help is available. If you need further guidance, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or visit www.lambdalegal.org/help.