GLSEN Releases New Study on Bias & Bullying in K-6


The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a new report this week that focuses on school climate, biased remarks and bullying in elementary schools across the US.

The report, called Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, is based on national surveys documenting the experiences of 1,065 elementary school students in 3rd to 6th grade, and 1,009 elementary school teachers of K-6th grade. The surveys, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GLSEN during November and December 2010, allow a snapshot of students’ and teachers’ experiences with bias, bullying, and their attitudes about gender expression and family diversity.

The survey found that the most commonly heard forms of biased language in elementary schools are the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative, reported by 45% of students and 49% of teachers, and comments like “spaz” or “retard”, reported by 51% of students and 45% of teachers. Other homophobic remarks were heard quite frequently, such as “fag” or “lesbo,” while negative comments about race/ethnicity were also frequently heard (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).

In addition to this, 75% of students report that students at their school are called names, made fun of or are bullied regularly because of a students’ looks or body size (67%), not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%).

The report also examined the experiences of gender non-conforming students. It found that nearly 1 in 10 elementary students in 3rd to 6th grade, about 8%, indicated that they do not always conform to traditional gender norms/roles. These children are less likely to feel safe while at school (41% vs 61%) and reported an increased level of wanting to stay home from school because they feel unsafe or are afraid (35% vs 15%). Gender nonconforming children are also more likely to be called names, made fun of or bullied, with a margin of 56% of gender nonconforming children verses 33% of those who do conform to traditional roles reporting such incidents.

In terms of family diversity, 72% if children say they’ve been taught that there are many different kinds of families, but only 2 in 10 (18%) reported they had learned about families that have two dads or two moms. Further to this, 89% of elementary school teachers say they include representations of different families when the topic of families comes up in their classrooms, but less than a quarter of teachers report any representation of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents (21%) or transgender parents (8%), and only around 24% have said they have engaged in efforts to create welcoming classroom environments for families with LGBT parents.

The study, attempting to address how empowered teachers feel on these subjects, also examined teacher preparedness. The report tells that a eight in 10 teachers would feel comfortable addressing name-calling, bullying or harassment of students because a student is perceived to be gay, lesbian or bisexual (81%) or is gender nonconforming (81%). However, only 48% felt comfortable responding to questions from their students about gay, lesbian or bisexual people, and an even lower level of comfort about responding to questions concerning transgender people (41%).

In addition to this, the study found that while 85% of teachers said they received professional development on diversity or multicultural issues, less than half of teachers have ever received specific professional development on gender issues (37%) or on families with LGBT parents (23%).

The GLSEN says that while it is encouraging that more and more teachers are grappling with these issues, teachers need more support in this area in order to be truly effective.

From the GLSEN press release:

“School climate and victimization can affect students’ educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. “Playgrounds and Prejudice offers invaluable insights into biased remarks and bullying in America’s elementary schools. The report also shows the need for elementary schools to do more to address issues of homophobia, gender expression and family diversity.”


“Over the past few years, there has been an increase in research on bullying in schools, including elementary schools,” said GLSEN Senior Director of Research & Strategic Initiatives Dr. Joseph Kosciw. “However, our report is one of the few that examines bias-based bullying at the elementary school level and the first to examine incidence of homophobic remarks and the negative experiences of children who do not conform to societal standards in their gender expression from a national vantage point.”

Playgrounds and Prejudice articulates a desire among elementary educators to create optimal learning environments for all students, but there is a larger need to provide educational tools and resources that enhance their understanding of gender nonconforming students and families with LGBT parents,” said Byard. “Providing this kind of support to teachers and school staff serving our nation’s youngest students will build a lasting foundation of learning and development for all elementary school students.”

As such, GLSEN has released a Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit. This kit is an instructional resource to help educators address the issues raised in Playgrounds and Prejudice.

You can read more about the report, including the surveys’ methodology, and the Ready, Set, Respect toolkit here.

Related Reading:

Eighth Graders Speak Up For Gay Rights (VIDEO)
Teachers Against District’s ‘Controversial’ Topics Ban
Franken Wants You to Make it Better for LGBT Youth (VIDEO)

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to Working Word.


Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg6 years ago

Every person needs to feel acceptable exactly as he/she is. Every person's family should be respected as well. Any behavior which goes against these basic needs should not be tolerated. However- and this is a big however- the textbooks are written from a white, middle-class, heterosexual perspective, so most of the teaching we do around this must come from other sources. THEN there is the problem of some parents objecting to the teaching about all kinds of people and all kinds of families. You have to be willing to risk being fired, but it's worth it to have all the kids in your class feel OK and accepted.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago


Lauren F.
Lauren F6 years ago

thanks for the info.

Christine Stewart

Bullying is such a pointless and cruel activity, and a terrible emotional strain on the victim- please stop all bullying, no matter if it's because of race, religion, or sexual orientation- so many young people are killing themselves because of some a--hole who is getting away with being a bully!

jayasri amma
jayasri amma6 years ago

thanks for the info

Kathryn Edwards
Kathryn Edwards6 years ago

I was bullied and I'm ashamed to say that I also did some bulling also. I found out it hurt when it happened to me and never did it again.
The teachers didn't care and I went to a Catholic school from 1st to 12th grade. The teachers never said a thing to us about hurting someone's feelings or what damage we were doing to another person.
I as a parent I made sure that my child understood that people were different and all were to be respected.
I still remember who I bullied; it still bothers me. I hate to think that I did that to another person.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

thanks for the info

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

What are we teaching our children? We need to educate adults about bullying first and make sure that schools have zero tolerance for bullying. Bullying affects a child for the rest of their life!

Ian Fletcher
Ian Fletcher6 years ago

No more bullying please!
I was bullied as a ten year old, in an English school. I told my headmaster about it, the very next day, the older boy was stripped of his prefect priviledges and never bothered me again.
Don't stand for bullying, it makes no sense to try to hold on, or not be a sneak. Be a sneak, the bully will benefit aswell before he gets into bigger problems.
This goes for politics too!
cheers! Barcelona Catalunya (next independant EU state after Scotland)

pam w.
pam w6 years ago

THIS IS SO SAD! The lives of these children can be warped....forever.....

Someone please STOP this!