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Survey of Nevada LGBTQ+ teens: 40 percent don’t feel secure in school

Silver State Equality advocates for implementation of anti-bullying policies, expansion of mental health resources and training for school staff.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education

Growing up as a gay teen in Las Vegas, Zachary Billot said he felt encouraged to see gay-straight alliance clubs on school campuses, which signaled that those schools were welcoming environments. He has continued to see that support at UNLV, which has similar clubs and resources for LGBTQ+ students. 

Despite those displays of solidarity, Nevada’s anti-bullying laws that bar discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and Nevada’s high rankings for LGBTQ+ rights legislation by groups such as the Movement Advancement Project think tank, Billot said rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community from outside the school or inside by peers and world events can still make students feel unsafe — even in a state considered relatively progressive on gay rights. 

“Even if it's not necessarily in your school, just knowing that forms of hate or discrimination exist and are popping up around the country, it can make it feel like the environment here can suddenly, sort of overnight, become very threatening,” he said. 

A recent survey from Silver State Equality, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community, found that about 40 percent of the Nevada youth who responded say they don’t feel secure at school. 

The survey was born from the work of the organization’s LGBTQ+ Student Advisory Council, which was formed in 2022. The group is composed of 12 Nevada high school and college students, including Billot, who hail from across the state and are supported by adult mentors. 

Last year, the council set out to learn about their peers’ experiences in school through a listening campaign and an online survey. The survey includes responses from 76 students who identify as LGBTQ+ from Clark, Washoe, Douglas, Elko, Lincoln and Nye counties, ranging from seventh through 12th grade.  

Among the findings: 

  • Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they have experienced discrimination in school because of their LGBTQ+ identity by an authority figure
  • Sixty percent of respondents reported being teased by peers within the past six months for being LGBTQ+
  • About 40 percent of respondents reported never learning about the LGBTQ+ history, being assigned books by authors or hearing LGBTQ+ stories or people referenced in class. 
  • About 32 percent of respondents reported being prevented from using their chosen name at school 
  • About 20 percent reported being prevented from wearing clothing that aligned with their gender identity

The survey also found that transgender students in rural schools experienced higher rates of discrimination on campus and were less likely to see themselves reflected in curricula compared with their urban counterparts. 

“We wanted to pull those things out to put an emphasis on how much of the population is really dealing with this,” Jessica Munger, a program manager at the nonprofit, said.

Younger generations are more likely to describe themselves as part of the LGBTQ+ community. In Nevada, 5.5 percent of adults identify as LGBTQ+, according to data from the Williams Institute, a think tank based in the University of California Los Angeles’s law school. But a recent report by Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit which conducts research at the intersection of religion, politics, and culture, found that 28 percent of Generation Z adults in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ — a higher rate than all other living generations.

Over the past year, Silver State Equality has been concerned about a nationwide surge of bills, policies and rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking more than 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country this year. The bills include requirements for schools to notify parents of their child using a name or a pronoun that’s not listed on their school records and bans on participation of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, activities or policies by governmental entities. 

But as states across the country advanced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, Nevada moved in the opposite direction during the 2023 legislative session by passing bills centered on increasing access to treatment for gender dysphoria (a condition in which an individual experiences discomfort or distress because of a mismatch between gender identity and sex assigned at birth) and housing for transgender prisoners that corresponds with their gender identity. 

Despite legislative gains, Silver State Equality is concerned about cultural shifts targeting LGBTQ+ students, particularly in rural Nevada. Last year, the Douglas County School Board proposed a policy that would block transgender students from bathroom, locker rooms and sport teams that align with their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth. In Washoe County, there was a push last year to remove books with LGBTQ+ themes from libraries as well as protests against Drag Queen Story Hour events. 

“While it’s true Nevada leads the nation in providing legal protections for its LGBTQ+ citizens, especially transgender youth, there are groups right here in Nevada whose goal is to drive LGBTQ+ Americans back into the closet and erase transgender people from all aspects of daily life,” said André Wade, the organization’s state director. 

Last year, Moms for Liberty — a conservative “parental rights” group that has gained national influence for its efforts to influence school curriculum and classroom learning — expanded into Clark County. The Moms for Liberty Clark County chapter said in an email it is concerned about materials the group believes are inappropriate being accessible in school libraries and added that parents within their group believe they are being intimidated into supporting a progressive agenda. 

“The climate has changed here in Nevada and nationally, and so we are here to continuously let people know that there are students in school systems in Nevada that are struggling and they need support and resources,” Wade said. 

Douglas County School Board President Doug Englekirk and Trustee Susan Jansen did not respond to a request for comment. 

Next steps

The report recommends state and local governments invest funding in programs that will expand LGBTQ+ youths’ access to mental health providers. 

Silver State Equality is also working to investigate whether school districts have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training in place for school staff, and whether they are actually implementing state laws on inclusive instructional materials and bullying against LGBTQ+ students and if their existing policies are aligned with provisions recommended by GLSEN, a national nonprofit that works to end discrimination, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. 

Harmful physical acts and gestures based on a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the definition of bullying under state law, and at least some Nevada school districts include targeted anti-discrimination language. 

The Washoe County School District, for example, has policies in place that prohibit the harassment, discrimination and bullying and cyberbullying against LGBTQ+ students based upon actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation. The district stated it has DEI training and initiatives for staff in place and is working on incorporating inclusive and equitable instructional materials for its schools.

The Clark County School District said in a Thursday statement that it provides professional development and training concerning the rights and needs of students with diverse gender identities or expressions on an annual basis for all district employees as part of its commitment to providing a safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment for all students, including those identifying as LGBTQ+. The district’s anti-bullying policy falls in line with the state statute. 

The Nevada Department of Education and the Elko County School District did not respond to requests for comment on the survey’s findings or their efforts toward LGBTQ student safety and inclusive education.

GLSEN recommends school districts adopt enumerated bullying and harassment prevention policies that specifically protect LGBTQ+ students who often have multiple intersecting marginalized identities, including race, ethnicity, ability, and immigration status. The policy should cover conduct that takes place in schools, on school properties, school sponsored events and activities, on school buses, vehicles and at bus stops.

Munger said strong anti-bullying policies could help to prevent tragedies such as the recent death of an Oklahoma nonbinary teen, Nex Benedict, who reported facing bullying because of their gender identity.

“That is the inevitable consequence of what is happening, and that could so easily happen in one of these schools in Nevada,” Munger said. “I think that we need to take this really seriously and address the violence and bullying that these students are really facing — it has real consequences.”

But Billot questions whether all the issues LGBTQ+ students are facing can be fixed through legislation. 

“I think the experience of a lot of people is that it's very difficult to legislate culture, and a lot of the problems that I think we're experiencing are beyond the reach of policy, and fall into cultural and social domains that are much harder to legislate,” he said. 

For state Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), a member of the legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus who serves on Silver State Equality’s board and is gay, the survey’s findings are an indication that there’s more to be done to ensure that the state’s laws on the rights of the LGBTQ+ communities are being properly implemented in school districts. 

“I think the results of the survey clearly indicate there's more work to do, and I don't think we can ever really rest until every student, like 100 percent of them and no less than that, feel safe at school … especially as they are coming into who they are and who they're going to be,” she said in an interview. 


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