6 Jan 2015

School culture crucial for LGBT students

3:21 pm on 6 January 2015

New research has shown lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students' mental health outcomes are affected by the environment of the school they attend.

The study gathered information at 96 high schools around New Zealand.

The study gathered information at 96 high schools around New Zealand. Photo: 123RF

The Auckland University study was the first in the world to compare teachers' ratings of their school's support for LGBT students with the wellbeing and experiences of those students.

Its author, Associate Professor Simon Denny, said the study used information gathered from more than 9,000 students and 3,000 teachers from 96 high schools around New Zealand.

Dr Denny said supportive school environments made a clear difference to students' mental health.

"Supportive school environments were associated with less depression among sexual minority students and also less suicide attempts which is really important, because this really speaks to those poor statistics. And the fact we can actually, if we change the school environment, we can protect these young people from poor outcomes."

Dr Denny said the results applied only to male students.

"We didn't find the same stuff for female students. Not sure why that is, but it may be something around culture of boys and boys in secondary schools."

Dr Denny said the number of LGBT students in schools was constant around the country at four percent, regardless of demographics, ethnicity, and when comparing rural schools to urban areas.

"That means these young people are always in the minority, if you like. They're always facing an environment that they're not the norm. And so I think it is a struggle especially you know if they're also facing on top of that discrimination, hostility and homophobia."

Dr Denny said in some schools surveyed, senior management and teachers were unaware there were sexual minority students in their school.

He said schools could do a lot to create supportive environments for LGBT students, such as setting up gay straight alliance groups and have celebration days for gay students.