February 20, 2013

ON CAMPUS: Gay teens fear PE, sports

New report focuses on locker room bullying and assaults on gays, something we all know happens sometimes. Apparently, it happens a lot, keeping many out of sports and miserable in PE.

A thought-provoking study released today says more than half of gay students report being bullied or harassed in P.E. classes because of their sexual orientation (52.8%). Many avoid or leave school sports for the same reason, but those that stay do better in life skills.

The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics, The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics, is the report by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. This particular study was prepared by advocates for the gay community, but even allowing for some level of bias, the reports by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT is the acronym) students are sobering:

One-third avoided attending P.E. classes. Nearly four in 10 avoided locker rooms. Almost a quarter (23%) avoided school athletics fields and facilities. Of those who participated in school sports, more than a quarter, 28 percent, say they were harassed or assaulted while on the team because of their sexual orientation.

This is kids being afraid to go to a required class, afraid to go to football games with their friends, afraid to join in the great things high school sports teams can offer kids.

The LGBT kids who did participate in school sports had higher grades, better physical health, self-esteem, and sense of connectedness to their schools, the study found -- the same benefits documented across the board for student athletes.

The report was based on responses from 8,584 secondary school students ages 13 to 20, from 3,224 unique school districts nationwide.

Here in Stanislaus County, where a "Choose Civility" initiative has been in place for three years, we can hope the numbers are better.

Today in Modesto there was an event on students making good choices, not labeling people and being supportive of each other. The Friend to Friend Conference sponsored by Kaiser Permanente taught about 550 7th through 12th-graders from the region about risks of sexual activity, binge drinking, using drugs and joining gangs. One breakout session talked about the three leading causes of teen deaths: 1. Vehicle accidents 2. Homicide 3. Suicide.

Students at the event said they learned more -- maybe listened better -- because it was all tied to real examples and younger presenters used street lingo they recognized.

Here's to wiser choices by teens all around. Because while grave risks for young people will always exist, dressing out for PE and joining a team don't belong on that list.

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