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Gender Conformity, Family Diversity and Bullying in Elementary School

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Elementary school kids can be ruthless in how they treat those who seem different, including those who are overweight, girls who do not like to play with dolls and boys who would rather not play sports. Kids who do not conform to gender norms, and those with family diversity have a greater risk of being bullied, according to Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, a report published last year by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

The survey of over a thousand children in grades three to six, and over a thousand elementary school teachers, revealed the following:

  • Nearly half of students and teachers regularly heard gay used in a derogatory manner
  • 75 percent of students witnessed bullying based on physical appearance, sports aptitude, schoolwork, gender norms or accusations of being homosexual
  • Gender nonconforming students felt less safe at school and were bullied more often
  • While 70 percent of students had learned about different kinds of families, less than 20 percent had lessons that included same-sex parents
  • While most teachers received diversity or multicultural training, fewer had professional development on gender issues (37 percent) or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families (23 percent)

This report highlights the need to address homophobia and nonconforming gender bias, along with discussion of same-sex family structures starting in kindergarten, so that all children have the freedom to be who they are without shame or fear. Ready, Set, Respect! is a GLSEN anti-bullying resource to help elementary educators foster a respectful, safe environment for all young students.

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