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March 21, 2017

Survey results released today by youth-led programs at the New York Civil Liberties Union indicate that most New York City public high school students have not received information about LGBT issues as part of sex education and are unaware that their school is mandated to have a coordinator who responds to identity-based bullying. The results come weeks after New York City issued new guidelines for protecting and supporting transgender students, and after the Trump administration rescinded federal guidance that had clarified the rights of transgender students under Title IX.

“New York City high schools still have a ways to go to ensure LGBTQ identities are a meaningful part of students’ instruction and support structure,” said NYCLU Organizer, Jake Martinez. “Especially now, given the Trump administration’s discriminatory policies, city schools need to be supportive places for all.”

The NYCLU’s peer educator and organizing programs for high school students, the Teen Activist Project and Youth Organizing Institute, distributed anonymous surveys in 2016 and 2017 to non-representative samples of their peers in New York City high schools. A survey about health and sex education was completed by 302 students from 25 schools, and a survey about familiarity with the Dignity for All Students Act, a state law designed to help make schools safe for all children, was completed by 278 students from 12 public schools across all New York City boroughs.

The surveys found that many students do not receive sex education until their senior year of high school, despite a requirement that sex education be taught within a required semester of health class in New York City public schools – both in middle school and high school. The survey also showed that LGBTQ identities and relationships are often unaddressed, with just 36 percent of students surveyed having learned about LGBTQ issues and relationships.

“So many people claim to support LGBTQ rights, but we feel excluded from the curriculum in our own schools,” said Marlon Rajan, a 16-year-old New York City high school student and Teen Activist Project member who administered the surveys. “Many of the LGBTQ students at my school don’t know what resources are available to them or who to talk to if they have a problem.”

The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) requires New York state schools to have at least one staff member trained to respond to bullying and harassment based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and sex. But many students are unable to identify the DASA coordinator at their school or are unfamiliar with the law itself. That confusion isn’t limited to students. When NYCLU staff called schools to check the names of coordinators, some schools did not know who their coordinator was. One coordinator did not know that they were assigned the role.

“With the rise in hate crimes after the election, LGBTQ students feel really scared,” said 15-year-old Odalys Diego, a New York City high school student and Teen Activist Project member who administered the surveys. “In my experience, nobody seems to take bullying very seriously.”

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