In 1999, GLSEN completed the first National School Climate Survey that looked at intolerance toward LGBT students in school. In 2001, GLSEN completed a second survey that also examined the experiences of LGBT students regarding intolerance and harassment because of race/ethnicity, gender and gender expression in addition to sexual orientation. Results from the national survey have helped advocate for LGBT students at the national and local levels.
Click on the DOWNLOAD PDF icon for the School Climate Survey instrument
What is the Local School Climate Survey?
Since the first national survey, GLSEN has heard from members of local GLSEN chapters and from school GSA members that they want to do the GLSEN survey in their local community or their school. Because of this, GLSEN created the Local School Climate Survey. It is similar to the national survey except it is a survey that can be given to all students, not just LGBT students. This version, the Community-Based version, is appropriate when assessing multiple schools or assessing the experiences of LGBT youth in a particular city or town. The School-Based Version is appropriate when assessing school climate in a single school, e.g., a GSA wants to assess the climate in their particular school, and is also available from the GLSEN website (www.glsen.org).
Why should we do the survey?
GLSEN recently completed its 2001 National School Climate Survey which provides a nationwide picture of the school-related experiences of LGBT youth. These national statistics can be used at the local level to advocate for better laws and policies protecting LGBT youth in school. However, there are instances when local activists are faced with policymakers, school district administrators or school personnel who don't believe that the national statistics apply to their own state, locality, school district or individual school. For this reason, it is sometimes helpful to have school climate statistics from a specific location. Results from a local survey may at times be more beneficial in advocating for better state, local and school district policies and for educational events for students about LGBT issues. The survey will tell you how often students are hearing homophobic, racist and sexist remarks in their schools and where these remarks are heard most often. It will also tell you whether students feel unsafe in school because of personal characteristics Ė sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, religion, etc. and whether they have experienced school-based harassment and assault. With this information, you will be able to demonstrate how common intolerance is in your school and how unsafe school can be for some students.
How do we do it?
First, you have to decide who you want to do the survey. In order to get a sense of the experiences of youth in your community, you would want to make sure you have a representative sample of youth. If you only survey youth in one high school, for example, your numbers won't be representative of all the youth. It is possible that the youth from that one high school have a more extreme experience (good or bad) than the youth from other high schools. There are many different ways to obtain a good sample and you may want to enlist help from local researchers. The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS) is committed to connecting scholars with the people who need access to research findings and has created a directory of experts working in policy-related areas of interest to the LGBT community in general. This directory, the Gay Directory of Authoritative Studies (GayDAR), is available from the IGLSS website (www.iglss.org). You may want to consult this directory for researchers in your area.
Here are some issues you will want to consider when thinking about how to get participants for the survey:
- Do you want only LGBT youth or all youth?
GLSEN's LSCS is designed to assess experiences of racism and sexism in addition to homophobia. Thus, it is appropriate for all youth. You will need to decide what you plan to do with the information that you get from the survey. If you are only interested in the experiences of LGBT youth, then it is appropriate to seek out only LGBT youth to participate in the survey. However, you cannot assume that the experiences of the LGBT youth with regard to racism or sexism would be the same as other youth. For example, you cannot make any statements about racism in your area schools based solely on the information you received from LGBT youth because the LGBT youth of color may have different experiences with racism than non-LGBT youth of color.
- Do you want to go through schools or through community organizations?
Because the LSCS assesses school climate, it makes sense to do the survey in your area schools. However, if you are planning on doing the survey in schools, you will need to get permission from the school, such as the principal or the PTA. In addition to getting permission from the school, you may also need to get permission from someone in the school district, such as the school district superintendent. If you plan to conduct the survey in schools, we recommend that the survey be given to all students in the school. But you can survey just the senior class or even just the students in your math class. However, the smaller the scope, the less representative your survey is of all the students in your school. For example, if you survey only those students who take French, those students may have different experiences than those students who take Spanish or German. Therefore, you canít make generalizations about all students in your school if you only asked students who take French.
Instead of going through local schools, you could also find youth to participate from local community organizations, for example, the local Boys Club, Girls Inc. or 4-H group. If you plan only to survey LGBT youth, then you might be better off contacting your local LGBT community center or LGBT youth group. You will need to contact the persons in charge of a community group to get permission.
Once you have decided on your sample (what youth you are planning to get to do the survey), there are other important issues for you to consider:
Anonymity. The survey should be kept completely anonymous. The students should be told that they should not put their name anywhere on the survey.
Partner with other groups. When talking about school climate and tolerance, it is important to remember that we are not just talking about homophobia and LGBT-related harassment, we are also talking about racism and sexism and sexual harassment. There may be other organizations in your area that may be interested in making your school a safer, more tolerant place for all students and you may want to think about other groups that could help you advocate for the survey and help with getting the survey done.
Parental permission. When doing surveys with minors (those under 18 years of age), it is important to consider issues of parental consent. If you are doing the survey in a school, the school administrators may decide that you need to have parents give permission for their children to participate. There are two types of permission that may be required: active consent and passive consent. Active consent means that a parent must sign permission before their child can participate (similar to getting a permission slip signed for a trip). Passive consent is when the parents are notified that the survey is going to happen and they must notify the school if they do not want their child to participate. If you are not doing the schools but are collaborating with community organizations, you will need to talk to the head of the organization about this issue -- some organizations have policies about doing research.
What do we do with the surveys that are completed?
Tally up the results. There is no magic formula. For each question, count the number of students who responded to each answer, divide it by the total number of students and you get the percentage. It might be easiest to put the information in a table or use a spreadsheet program like Excel. For example, let's say High School X had 100 students complete the survey. For the question "How often do you heard other homophobic remarks in our school?," 53 students checked "Frequently," 27 students checked "Often," 10 checked "Sometimes," 7 checked "Rarely" and 3 check "Never."
Question: How often do you hear other homophobic remarks in our school?
| Answer || Number of Students || Total Students Who Answered the Question || Number of Students Divided by Total Students |
| Frequently ||53||100||53% |
| Often ||27||100 ||27%|
| Sometimes ||10||100||10% |
| Rarely ||7||100||7% |
| Never ||3||100||3% |
As mentioned above, there also may be professional researchers in a local area who are conducting research on the experiences of LGBT and they may be able to help you with conducting the Local School Climate Survey and with looking at and making sense of the data that you've collected.