Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) youth experience bullying and are targeted with more intensity and frequency. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of existing studies or information regarding protective factors or risks for these youth. In this quantitative study, staff and faculty at Helix Charter High School in San Diego, California, were examined on their perceptions regarding Gay/Straight Alliance and the impact the club has on school climate and bullying. Gay Straight Alliance is known as “a student-run club in high school that brings together LGBTQ and straight students to support each other, provide a safe place to socialize, and create a platform for activism to fight homophobia and transphobia.” The study had 72 participants answer a 24-item, online survey that consisted of six areas including; Gay/Straight Alliances, Demographics, Bullying of LGBTQ Youth, LGBTQ Youth, Personal Experiences, and Closing. The findings of this study suggest that a majority of the participants lack a true understanding of the particular needs of LGBTQ youth, however, they are supportive of the Gay/Straight Alliance. In addition, the findings of this study suggest that although many participants felt confident about discussing LGBTQ issues in their classroom, 60% of them did not regularly do so. Future research might include expansion of the survey to other high schools in addition to surveying students to provide a side-by-side comparison of the student’s and faculty’s responses. (McGrath, 2013)
Statement of the Problem
Our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) adolescents are viewed to be the most likely to suffer from discrimination and bullying and to be the most vulnerable population. The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network suggests that Gay Straight Alliances have important benefits to our LGBTQ youth such as providing access to allies, providing a sense of belonging as well as a safer atmosphere. However, studies found that Gay Straight Alliances only exist in one sixth of all school districts. Gay Straight Alliance is known as “a student-run club in high school that brings together LGBTQ and straight students to support each other, provide a safe place to socialize, and create a platform for activism to fight homophobia and transphobia.” (McGrath, 2013)
Overview of Relevant Research (Literature Review)
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) youth are raised in a society that is distinguished by heterosexism and homophobia thus they are a population that is considered to be “at-risk”. As early as elementary school, LGBTQ youth believe that “being anything but heterosexual places them at risk for victimization and humiliation.” (McGrath, 2013) Due to several factors, there is little information to be found regarding LGBTQ youth. These factors include the difficulty in obtaining parental permission to carry out research, the difficulty in locating LGBTQ youth who have been willing to come “out” for research purposes, and the heterosexism that has prevented the expansion of knowledge by researchers. Moreover, there is existing research that portrays LGBTQ populations in a lens of deficit-based instead of a strengths-based perspective. Some research suggests that there are more risk factors than protective factors to report for LGBTQ youth. In fact, “LGBTQ youth scored significantly higher on the scale of depressive symptomatology. They were also more likely than heterosexual, non-transgendered youth to report suicidal ideation (30% vs. 6%) and self-harm (21% vs. 6%).” (McGrath, 2013) GLSEN, a group founded in 1990 advocating for LGBTQ students, developed and conducts a survey each year since 1999. Moreover, in 2005, GLSEN found that LGBTQ students were three times more likely as non-LGBTQ students to state that they did not feel safe at school. In addition, GLSEN found that 90% of LGBTQ students had been assaulted or harassed within the last year. (McGrath, 2013)
Research Questions and Hypotheses
To understand the impact Gay Straight Alliances can have on the climate of a high school and bullying, the study explored and examined the perceptions of staff and faculty at Helix Charter High School in San Diego, California. There is limited research and gaps in current findings. Therefore, this study attempts to further display the need for a clearer understanding of whether or not Gay Straight Alliances are perceived to have an impact on school climate and bullying, how to be more successful utilizing the alliance, and whether or not they are effective. (McGrath, 2013)
Participants were recruited from and within one school, Helix Charter High School. The inclusion criteria for each participant included: 1) being 18 years of age, 2) a staff or faculty member at Helix Charter High School, 3) speaking English. This sampling did not involve a random selection of participants, instead a non-probability availability sampling method was used. The final sampling size of this study included 72 Helix Charter High School staff and faculty members. The age range of participants was between 21 and 70-years-old. Just over 50% of the participants were between 30 and 49-years-old. Female participants made up 72% of the sample, while males were 28% of the sample. Moreover, 98% of the participants identified as straight and 3.8% as gay or other. Lastly, 94% of the participants hold a position at Helix Charter High School that requires them to supervise their students. (McGrath, 2013)
Instruments or Measures
The 24-item, online survey consisted of six sections including; Gay/Straight Alliances, Demographics, Bullying of LGBTQ Youth, LGBTQ Youth, Personal Experiences, and Closing. The survey used in the study took an average 15-20 minutes to complete. There were no standardized instruments that specifically matched to the particular study topic; therefore, the researcher developed all six sections of the survey. (McGrath, 2013)
This is a quantitative study that used a cross-sectional design to receive more information on Gay Straight Alliances and the impact the club has on bullying and the school climate. Moreover, the study was descriptive and not intentionally designed to create connections or causality between variables. (McGrath, 2013)
Prior to recruitment of participants at Helix Charter School, verbal and written permission was obtained from the executive director, Gay Straight Alliance liaison, and the social worker at the charter school. The Gay Straight Alliance liaison then presented the study during a staff meeting and provided flyers. In addition, the liaison provided a brief explanation of the study and provided the school staff directions to access the online survey through Survey Monkey along with a follow up and reminder email. The online survey was available to participants for 3 weeks. To look at the characteristics of the sample, the data from the survey was analyzed through the use of descriptive statistics. The data that was gathered created the characteristics through demographic data (nominal measurements) and remaining questions through the use of rating scales (ordinal measurements). Lastly, to organize the response into three qualitative questions, theme analysis was used. (McGrath, 2013)
- American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- McGrath, Meghan E., “Perceptions: a quantitative look at the impacts of GSAs on bullying and overall school climate” (2013). Theses, Dissertations, and Projects. 625
- Sheperis, C. J., Young, J. S., & Daniels, M. H. (2016). Counseling Research: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods. (2nd edition). Pearson.