Almost three years ago, I was part of an AREA-sponsored meeting on LGBT issues in education. A portion of that meeting was spent on building better data infrastructures including the USDOE’s various databases. At the time, I observed:
Yesterday, one of the sessions was beyond depressing. John Easton came in from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences where he is the Director. A good chunk of the session was spent discussing data infrastructure needs (building large datasets). Most of this would be a snoozer for me since methodologically I’m a historian. But when Dr. Easton was pushed to include a mere few questions regarding a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity on the survey behind the database, he quickly slapped down that suggestion. Furthermore, the entire manner in which that idea was throttled was incredibly condescending. Various scholars brought up the issue of the high rate of suicide with queer youth and just getting a baseline number of “how many” would be helpful. Second, it would end arguments that, “we really don’t have any queer kids in our district or state.”
Of course, the larger issue was and is one of federal recognition. As I later noted:
The Institute for Education Science’s refusal to even consider including queer identities as student indicators on their national surveys makes US queer kids officially invisible, non-entities, non-people. This is a conscious moral choice by the federal government to devalue young American queers. Historically, in the US, if you are important, you get counted, if you’re not important, well, you’re invisible, voiceless–you literally don’t exist. This lack of federal recognition means that some school district and state leaders can claim “we don’t have any” queer kids (much like Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). In turn, educational researchers are denied critical information like the actual number of self-identified queer kids in the US and their experiences within public schools. Without federal data, it makes it extremely hard to make informed policy judgments from the federal department of education to your local public school.
So, imagine my stunned delight when I received the following missive from GLSEN this morning.
For those who have not heard yet, we got word last month from the U.S. Dept of Education that they are planning on collecting LGBT-related data on three of their data collection systems – which is HUGE news. The three are:
- Dept of Ed Office of Civil Rights Data Collection: the mandatory questionnaire completed from all school districts about incidents of bullying will now include questions about bullying/harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation (it already includes similar questions about victimization based on race, gender, and specifically including gender stereotyping and gender nonconformity)
- High School Longitudinal Survey: adding sexual orientation and gender identity/trans status items (note: glad to hear they will be doing their standard testing process to see best ways to ask these items with this population for this survey and the school crime supplement below)
- School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey: adding sexual orientation and gender identity/trans status items
Now, this is just a start, a critical start. But the horrible intransigence from 3 years ago is now GONE!
Thanks to ALL of the queer educational activists and scholars, and our allies, who have worked so heroically (especially the folks at GLSEN) to see that the feds *ARE* counting everyone.