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Report finds many North Dakota schools fall short on support for LGBTQ students

According to the report, the majority of North Dakota school districts who responded to a recent survey said there is no requirement for teachers to undergo LGBTQ cultural competency training nor are teachers encouraged to integrate LGBTQ topics in the classroom.

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June is recognized as LGBTQ Month in the United States. (Dickinson Press File Photo)

Editor's note: If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To access additional resources for LGBTQ youth, go to thetrevorproject.org.

BISMARCK — LGBTQ middle and high school students in North Dakota have thoughts of suicide and experience bullying and discrimination more often than the state's cisgender heterosexual students, according to a recent report from the Community Uplift Program.

The North Dakota LGBTQ+ School Climate Report, created through the Fargo-based Community Uplift Program, combines data from national and North Dakota-specific surveys, as well as a self-conducted survey of responses from 38 North Dakota school districts, to illustrate the environment for LGBTQ students in school and the existing school policies for these students, or lack thereof.

North Dakota is not an outlier in terms of its LGBTQ students reporting worse mental health outcomes compared to cisgender heterosexual students, but the report says many of the state's school districts lack policies and procedures to specifically support LGBTQ students.

According to the report, more than 60% of queer youth in North Dakota said they have seriously considered attempting suicide, making them 222% more likely to consider suicide than their cisgender straight peers. Nearly 60% said they have been bullied on school property.

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The report says its goal is to address areas in which North Dakota schools can improve.

Researchers sent a survey to 199 North Dakota school districts inquiring about the kinds of LGBTQ staff training, policies and school resources that exist within the district. Only 38 schools responded, according to the report, but the vast majority of respondents said there is no requirement for teachers to undergo LGBTQ cultural competency training, and teachers are not encouraged to integrate LGBTQ topics in the classroom.

More than 80% of the school districts who responded to the survey said they don't have a "procedure that specifically addresses the needs of transgender and non-binary students," according to the report. However, 63% of responding schools have "comprehensive LGBTQ+ anti-bully policies."

The school climate report was authored by Faye Seidler, who said in an opening letter that she wants to see North Dakota LGBTQ students to grow up in a more welcoming environment that allows young people to accept themselves.

"I want the youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, or anything else to be able to find support, be happy, and dream for a better tomorrow," Seidler said in the report. "As a North Dakotan, I understand this state has significant cultural and religious barriers to helping our queer population. ... I want to believe we can put aside all of our differences and work to make sure these kids have a future."

The report also has a section specifically addressing misconceptions about transgender youth that gives advice for how parents can be supportive of their children who identify as transgender.

According to the report, the "most effective and cost-efficient" way for districts to support LGBTQ youth is to publicly say they are committed to being inclusive.

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"We know that we don't have all the answers here, but this (report) is the start to a conversation that is intended to be a dialogue with this entire state, because we can’t afford that this report simply be in someone's email or sit on someone's desk," the report states. "We can’t afford that people read through this, think it’s a real shame, and move on with their day. Our queer youth desperately need people to take action."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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