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As students and teachers describe in this report, they also chilled discussions of LGBT topics and themes in history, government, psychology, and English classes.Many LGBT youth have organized gay-straight alliances (GSAs), which can serve as important resources for students and as supportive spaces to counteract bullying and institutional silence about issues of importance to them.

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When GSAs were allowed to form, some students said they were subject to more stringent requirements than other clubs, were left out of school-wide activities, or had their advertising defaced or destroyed.In some districts, this silence was exacerbated by state law.In Alabama, Texas, Utah, and five other US states, antiquated states laws restrict discussions of homosexuality in schools.Discrimination and bigotry against transgender students took various forms, including restricting bathroom and locker room access, limiting participation in extracurricular activities, and curtailing other forms of expression—for example, dressing for the school day or special events like homecoming.LGBT students also described persistent patterns of isolation, exclusion, and marginalization that made them feel unsafe or unwelcome at school.The sites were chosen as a regionally diverse sample of states that, at time of writing, lacked enumerated statewide protections against bullying and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Human Rights Watch contacted potential interviewees through nongovernmental organizations, LGBT organizations in high schools and middle schools, and LGBT organizations in post-secondary institutions where recent graduates reflected on their high school experiences.

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but eventually you bruise.” Comprehensive approaches are urgently needed to make school environments welcoming for LGBT students and staff, and to allow students to learn and socialize with peers without fearing exclusion, humiliation, or violence.

Above all: Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report between November 2015 and May 2016 in five US states: Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.

Social pressures are part of the school experience of many students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But the experience can be particularly difficult for LGBT students, who often struggle to make sense of their identities, lack support from family and friends, and encounter negative messaging about LGBT people at school and in their community.

The research focused on public schools, including public charter schools, rather than private schools that enjoy greater autonomy to act in accordance with their particular beliefs under US law. Whenever possible, interviews were conducted one-on-one in a private setting.