IN OCTOBER OF 2005, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) issued a survey on U.S. Secondary school climate, indicating that 65 percent of teens reported being harassed in the past year, with perceived or actual sexual orientation the second most commonly cited (33 percent) reason for harassment. Moreover, a majority of students (57 percent) indicated never reporting harassment they experienced, and 27 percent of LGBTQ students believed staff and faculty in their schools would take no action if harassment were reported.
These statistics provide an indication of the culture many high school students have when transitioning to college: experiences of LGBTQ students being harassed and straight students engaging in harassment or, at best, not intervening when witnessing it. Most disconcerting, these statistics illustrate a culture of non reporting among LGBTQ students. Thus, colleges need to work actively at overcoming that culture.
On campus, student affairs offices commonly have some staff committed to supporting LGBTQ students and encouraging LGBTQ students to report harassment. Indeed, many campuses have the appropriate processes and policies in place. But it can be particularly difficult for campus law enforcement to be seen as playing an equally supportive role.
That shouldn’t be a surprise: a history of distrustful relationships between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement has been well documented, and the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, celebrated as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, was a direct response to police harassment. Certainly, efforts to end distrust are occurring, but Amnesty International (AI) USA has detailed how problems persist: in a recent study on how law enforcement agencies throughout the United States interact with LGBTQ individuals, the AI report “confirms that in the United States, LGBTQ people continue to be targeted for human rights abuses by the police based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity”.
So, with all this information in mind, what can campus safety officials do to be supportive of LGBTQ students? Every student is entitled to a safe academic learning environment; one where students can learn and be themselves. Campus safety provides the mechanism for this to happen by being visible and enforcing campus policies and laws. The following list represents seven suggestions for campus climate unobstructed by harassment, violence, or other negative behaviors.
- CREATE AN LGBTQ LIAISON OFFICER Establishing an LGBTQ liaison officer is justifiable for two reasons: because of the history of police violence against LGBTQ people, and because the LGBTQ community is not always visible. For both reasons, it’s not always easy for law enforcement to engage in dialogue with the contacts with the LGBTQ community. Giving an openly LGBTQ officer responsibility for developing contacts with the LGBTQ campus community will help to overcome both of those challenges and encourage the community to collaborate with can trust campus safety
- ACTIVELY RECRUIT LGBTQ OFFICERS Even though it may be challenging to hire LGBTQ officers, taking steps to illustrate openness to hiring LGBTQ people can have a positive impact. One simple step may be working on job advertisements like :women, minorities, and LGBTQ people encouraged to apply.”
- BE VISIBLE AT LGBTQ EVENTS AND STUDENT ORGANIZATION MEETINGS This can be a particularly valuable use of time for a LGBTQ liaison officer. However, all members of the security force should be ale to interact comfortable with LGBTQ campus members, and feel comfortable in “gay” spaces. Examples: assign the LGBTQ liaison officer to security detail at LGBTQ student social events (if necessary); straight officers can provide workshops to LGBTQ student groups on “personal safety.”
- APPOINT AN LGBTQ PERSON TO THE CAMPUS SAFETY ADVISORY BOARD If your campus safety/police department doesn’t have an advisory board comprised of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, it probably should. And at least one visible “out” LGBTQ student (as well as representatives of other underrepresented groups) should be on that board. The purpose of the advisory board: to review policies and practices; to provide advice on how to deal with potentially challenging issues; and to work as liaisons between campus safety and the campus community
- INSTITUTE AN LGBTQ ISSUES TRAINING COMPONENT FOR CAMPUS SAFETY STAFF Certainly, personal anti-LGBTQ prejudices of officers can be an issue, but one of the most common reasons for difficulties between police and members of the LGBTQ community is a lack of training. Often, officers don’t know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and what to do with the information once they have it. Basic training can provide officers with the most common, appropriate language used to describe the LGBTQ community, discuss myths and misconceptions, and begin to work on an understanding of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and the barriers they create to reporting, investigating, and prosecuting violence against LGBTQ people.
- HARASSMENT REPORTING POLICIES AND PROCEDURES Policies should be clear, widely distributed, and explicit in encouraging LGBTQ students to report harassment. Procedures should be easily accessible, via Websites and multiple offices; they should offer anonymity, and a student advocate should be with the student during face-to-face meetings. Accurate figures of LGBTQ harassment incidents on campus should be public knowledge, discussed, and not downplayed because of concerns over campus image.
- TRANS ISSUES NEED SPECIAL ATTENTION Transgender members of the campus community have unique issues, of which campus safety officers need to be aware, largely because of issues non trans people may manifest. For example, the presence of a male-to-female (M-to-F) trans person In a female restroom or other sex-segregated facility does not inherently prove harassment of another female co-occupying that space. Thus, in responding, campus security officers should focus on the actual behavior of the trans person. Another important issue for trans people includes how officers may react when responding to reported violence against a trans person, and assisting with medical care – in such situations, campus security forces need to be advocates for victims, not part of the problem.