COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Equality, the Palmetto State’s LGBT education and political advocacy organization, has released a landmark survey of 1,000 LGBT residents. The survey exposes several needs and challenges currently facing the state’s estimated 117,000 LGBT citizens, advocates say, particularly among LGBT youth in the state’s public schools.
Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents indicated they’d experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in South Carolina’s public education.
“The survey clearly shows that S.C.’s gay and transgender youth experience more than twice the average amount of bullying and harassment,” SC Equality Director Christine Johnson said in a release. “2010 saw a rash of teen suicides as a direct result of bullying. We should be more motivated than ever to enact legislation that promotes safe learning environments for all our children. We look to our elected officials to lead the charge against bullying.”
The results of the survey are being distributed to all Palmetto State elected officials, including those in the legislature and the governor’s office.
Johnson told Columbia TV news station WACH she’s had some conversations with legislators already. She’s hoping to make some movement on amending anti-bullying legislation.
Adopting an LGBT-inclusive law could prove difficult even as some state agencies show support for LGBT-inclusion in South Carolina’s K-12 public education.
In 2009, a bill designed to instruct students on the dangers of dating violence was amended to specifically exclude lessons for LGBT students in same-sex relationships. State Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester) advocated for the change, insisting “dating partner” be defined in the bill as “a person involved in a heterosexual dating relationship with another.”
Despite the intense public debate at the time, South Carolina’s Department of Education partnered with the statewide Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to present dating violence trainings in several school districts across the state, including Aiken, Charleston and Greenville Counties, among others.
Yvonne McBride, director of the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of Youth Services, at the time told qnotes their new dating violence curriculum, unlike the Delleney’s anti-LGBT legislation, would not purposefully exclude the relationships of gay and lesbian students although she did not know the specifics of the training.
Rebecca Williams-Agee, communications director for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said her organization’s trainings made no distinction between opposite-sex or same-sex relationships.
“Our programs are about healthy relationships in general and there is no distinction made between either [gay or straight relationships],” she said, adding the group’s curriculum does, at times, recognize the unique “dynamics in society and communities with gay and lesbian youth and individuals.”
Though the anti-dating violence bill passed the House in January 2010, with the anti-LGBT measure intact, it was referred to committee in the Senate where, after a handful of hearings, it died at the end of the legislature’s session.
Survey ‘defines’ S.C. LGBTs
Though Johnson’s legislative work might focus on anti-bullying measures in the near-term, SC Equality’s survey also revealed other interesting facts.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents also indicated they’ve been verbally harassed and 30 percent say they’ve experienced discrimination in employment.
The survey also found participants had a significant commitment to faith. Eighty-six percent of respondents were raised Protestant; most were raised in the Baptist faith.
“Our faith leaders have a tremendous opportunity to preach tolerance and kindness rather than disdain and hostility,” Johnson said. “So many families are torn apart because faith leaders give ultimatums rather than opportunity. The circle of community should be wide and loving, not narrow and hateful.”
The survey also found a high rate of philanthropic and volunteer service among LGBT community members. Seven in 10 survey respondents had lived in South Carolina for more than 10 years. More than half have called the state home for more than 20 years.
“This state-wide survey has invited gay and transgender South Carolinians to define themselves, rather than being defined by others,” Johnson said. “It has allowed them to make a collective statement about the importance of family, faith and community in their lives. It has also highlighted areas of great concern with regard to bullying, homophobia and discrimination.”
Conducted last summer, SC Equality’s survey garnered participation online through email and social networking. The survey was also distributed via mail and at the statewide SC Pride festival in September. The 1,000 respondents represented people living in 44 of the state’s 46 counties.