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The Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Discussion at School on School Safety as Associated with Frequency and Supportiveness of Discussion, Sexual Orientation, and Current Ballot Initiatives Stephen T. Russell, Joel A. Muraco, & Melissa A. Curran Abstract A number of studies have examined how anti-LGBT legislation affects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; however, work has yet to examine how such legislation affects LGBT adolescents. In the present study (N = 570) we examine how school safety, in light of the frequency of same-sex marriage discussion at school, varies depending on supportiveness of discussion, sexual orientation of the adolescent, and whether the school is located in a state with a current ballot initiative to define marriage between one man and one woman. Significant associations were only found in ballot states. Specifically in ballot states, (1) LGBT students who reported infrequent, supportive discussions for same-sex marriage felt significantly more unsafe than straight students who reported infrequent, supportive discussions; and (2) LGBT students who reported frequent, supportive discussions felt significantly safer than LGBT students who report frequent, unsupportive discussions. We conclude with a discussion concerning possible health outcomes as a result of sustained feelings of stress associated with decreased feelings of safety at school.



Meyer (2003) posits that in addition to general stressors, minority individuals also face stressors caused by their minority status. Specifically, Meyer’s (2003) model includes stressors resulting from circumstances in the environment. Such environmental circumstances include advantages and disadvantages in the wider environment, ongoing situations, personal dispositions, biological background, and appraisal and coping. Schools have been shown to be among the most homophobic institutions in American (GLSEN, 2009). According to the 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of LGBT adolescents reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation A negative campus climate, fostered by political campaign advertising in the greater community and signaled by frequent negative discussion of same-sex marriage at school, could lead to harassment and victimization of sexual minority youth. Negative campus climates can serve as permission, both explicitly and implicitly, for such harassment and victimization (Walls, Kane, & Wisneski, 2010). Additionally, a negative campus climate could promote an environment where LGBT adolescents experience higher levels of chronic fear and anxiety (Evans, 2001; Evans & Broido, 1999; Rhoads, 1995). Given these distinctions, we hypothesize the following: (H1) For adolescents who live in states without a ballot initiative, we do not expect to find significant differences on school safety depending upon frequency, supportiveness of discussion about same-sex marriage, or whether the adolescent is LGBT or straight. (H2) For adolescents who live in sates with ballot initiatives, however, we expect changes in school safety given more frequent and support discussions for same-sex marriage at school for LGBT students compared to their straight peers (regardless of frequency or supportiveness of discussion), and also compared to their LGBT peers who report frequent and unsupportive discussions.

Participants A total of 570 6th-12th grade students from 40 states and the District of Columbia participated in the Survey on Marriage Rights and School Safety administered online in the fall of 2005 (October 15-December 15) by the California Safe Schools Coalition. Information about and links to the survey website were distributed through electronic networks of national and state LGBT and related youth organizations. Students were recruited to participate in the survey through email listservs; most of the students learned about the survey through their participation in GayStraight Alliance clubs. Half (n = 284, 49.8%) were in states with ballot initiatives defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.


Conclusions and Implications

(1) LGBT students who reported infrequent, supportive discussions for same-sex marriage felt significantly more unsafe than straight students who reported infrequent, supportive discussions (t (275) = 2.07, p < .05); and (2) LGBT students who reported frequent, supportive discussions felt significantly safer than LGBT students who report frequent, unsupportive discussions (t (275) = 2.70, p < .01).

Acknowledgements The authors thank the California Safe Schools Coalition for access to the data, and the students who participated in the study. The authors acknowledge funding from the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families.

Frequency: Supportiveness: Ballot: School Safety:

“What is your sexual orientation?” 1 (gay/lesbian), 2 (straight/heterosexual), 3 (bisexual), 4 (queer), or 5 (questioning) “Has marriage for same-sex couples been discussed at your school?” 1 (never) to 5 (very often) scale “Is the discussion of marriage for same-sex couples” 1 (always in opposition) to 5 (always in support) scale Participant identified state of resident was recoded 0 (non-ballot state) or 1 (ballot state) “For the following statement mark whether you agree or disagree: I feel safe at my school” 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree) point scale

In instances of same-sex marriage initiatives, researchers have documented Figure 1. Results of 3-Way For States With Ballots: Frequency of Discussion how LGBT adults experience heightened minority stress as a result of negative as Associated With School Safety, as Moderated by Supportiveness of propaganda (Rostosky, Riggle, Horne, & Miller, 2009). Our study adds to the Discussion and Sexual Orientation. literature examining the affects of anti-LGBT legislations by identifying the impact Ballot States of same-sex marriage discussions on feelings of school safety for adolescents. 4 Our findings are important, as feeling unsafe has been found to be associated 3.5 with health risk behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use (Dowdell, 2006). Further, chronic stress, which can result from feeling unsafe, has been found to (1) High Support 3 present itself through elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders & LGBT 2.5 (2) High Support (Riggle, Thomas, & Rostosky, 2005). & Straight Additionally, our focus on frequency and supportiveness of discussion is 2 (3) Low Support important given research that has documented that experiences with & LGBT 1.5 discrimination, especially experiences with hate speech and hate crimes, contribute (4) Low Support to long-term stress and negative health (Riggle, Thomas, & Rostosky, 2005). Our 1 & Straight findings support such findings as LGBT students who reported frequent, support 0.5 discussions for same-sex marriage at school felt safer at school than did LGBT students who reported frequent, low support discussions. LGBT students who 0 reported frequent, low support discussions are at higher risk for stress and the Low Frequency High Frequency negative health outcomes previously documented. School Safety

As hypothesized, our 4-way interaction (Frequency X Supportiveness X GLBT X Ballot) was significant (p = .02). Additionally, as hypothesized, the 4-way interaction was driven by the presence of a statistically significant 3-way interaction for adolescents living in ballot states (p = .01), but not for the adolescents living in non-ballot states (p = .62). We examined all pairs of slopes using methods by Dawson and Richter (2006). These tests of slopes revealed two significant differences between pairs of slopes. Inspection of Figure 1 shows that:

Measures Sexual Orientation: