The Experiences of Rural LGBT Youth

This past spring, Lenoir City High School, a school in rural Tennessee, featured a section of short articles on student life in its yearbook. One article, entitled "It's OK to be Gay," profiled openly gay student Zac Mitchell. Apparently, as far as Lenoir City School Board is concerned, it is not OK to be gay -- or at least not OK to talk about it. Although the yearbook's student staff and faculty advisors felt the article was a perfectly legitimate and inclusive depiction of life at the school, members of the school board were vocal in their opposition. "I don't think that that type of material has any place in a yearbook," said Board member Glenn McNish. Board Vice Chairman Rick Chadwick added, "It should not have been put in the yearbook, and it split our community, and we are going to straighten it out." The story highlights the challenges facing many LGBT students who attend schools in rural and small town areas, but also points to a resiliency and determination to use the resources available to them to make their schools safer for everyone. It is this complex reality that we see reflected in GLSEN's new report on rural and small-town LGBT students. Strengths and Silences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Rural and Small Town Schools underscores the need for educators and policymakers to do more to address the safety risks for LGBT students in rural and small town schools. Rural LGBT students are far less likely to have access to LGBT-related resources at school. Nonetheless, they benefit substantially when such resources are present. GLSEN will continue to do all we can to bring those critical in-school supports to every community in the country. As familiar as this call may now be, it will continue until all students, in every type of school and of every demographic, have access to the school-based supports that can transform the LGBT student experience and enable every student to thrive.