As the education system enters the “Don’t Say Gay era,” the fraction of school board members who say they are part of the LGBTQ+ community is tiny. But the level of verbal attacks and physical threats they are enduring is not, according to a survey by the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
There are about 90,000 school board members serving in the U.S. but only 0.1%–that’s just 90 people–identified as LGBTQ despite LGBTQ people making up 7.1% of the adult population, the survey found. Among those 90 school board members–many of whom sought office to support LGBTQ students–more than one-third reported receiving physical threats and 6% received death threats while running for office or after winning an election. The survey also found:
- 47% of these board members were the target of anti-LGBTQ verbal attacks as a candidate
- 51% experienced anti-LGBTQ verbal attacks as a school board member
- 87% have put forward pro-LGBTQ policies during their time on the school board
- One-third reported that candidates running for their school board are championing an anti-LGBTQ platform
- Out of 90 known LGBTQ school board members, six are trans and two are non-binary
- Known LGBTQ school board members serve in just 28 states, with the majority of those only having one LGBTQ school board member
At a time when state lawmakers and school boards are banning discussions of LGBTQ topics in classrooms, removing books from libraries and barring transgender students from sports, most of the survey respondents said supporting LGBTQ students was the main reason they ran for school board.
“Our schools have been ground zero for anti-LGBTQ vitriol this year,” says Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute and the former mayor of Houston, Texas. “This survey reveals that LGBTQ people are seriously underrepresented on school boards nationally. Those that do serve face attacks for showing up as their authentic selves and standing up for LGBTQ kids.”
Voters would have to elect over 6,000 LGBTQ people to school boards to close the representation gap, the study says. California has the most LGBTQ school board members with 22, followed by Michigan with nine, and Ohio and Pennsylvania, with seven each. The biggest representation gap is in the South, where just 13% of school board members identified as LGBTQ though the region comprises 38% of the nation’s population, the report says.
On a positive note, LGBTQ school board members are far more racially and ethnically diverse than LGBTQ elected officials in other governmental agencies. Half of LGBTQ school board members are people of color, compared to 28% of LGBTQ elected officials, the report says.