Dealing with LGBTQ+ Bullying in MA

If you as a student or your child is experiencing bullying because of an LGBTQ+ identity or a perceived LGBTQ+ identity, you can take steps under both state and federal law to remedy the situation.  And you can pursue both avenues at the same time.

If you as a student or your child is experiencing bullying because of an LGBTQ+ identity or a perceived LGBTQ+ identity, you can take steps under both state and federal law to remedy the situation.  And you can pursue both avenues at the same time.

Massachusetts Anti-Bullying & Harassment Protections

First it is important to understand what constitutes bullying or harassment  in Massachusetts. As the Attorney General summarizes,

The Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law (G.L. c. 71, § 37O) and Student Anti-Discrimination Act (G.L. c. 76, § 5) require schools to take steps to prevent bias-related bullying and harassment by students and respond effectively when it occurs. Bullying and harassment are similar, but not identical, types of misconduct.

  • Bullying generally includes any repeated, targeted behavior that harms a student or disrupts the school environment. Although not all bullying is bias-related, bullying often stems from or involves bias, prejudice, or hate. The law specifically protects against bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, national origin, religion, disability, and age.
  • Harassment is conduct that creates, or contributes to the creation of, an intimidating or hostile environment for a student because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
  • Like bullying, harassment can take many forms, including verbal statements, online or social media activity, graffiti, and violent or threatening physical conduct. Unlike bullying, harassment does not have to be repeated or targeted at a particular victim. A single, severe hate incident may create an intimidating or hostile environment—so too may a series or pattern of incidents. 

You can the full laws at G.L. c. 71, sec. 37O (e) and G.L. c. 76, sec. 5.

Second, consider whether you want to take action under the school’s anti-bullying or harassment policies, which should be available on the school website.  If so, follow the steps from the school’s policies and keep copies/screenshots of emails and texts as well as take notes of conversations with school staff to show that you have done what you are supposed to and that the school is on notice of your concerns. 

Note that if the school is not investigating the bullying, press them to do so. The anti-bullying law expects schools to have a policy providing “clear procedures for promptly responding to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation.”

If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, consider contacting (1) the school district’s Superintendent (information on school website) and/or (2) the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ+-related bullying.  The Safe Schools Program is for LGBTQ+ students who need support and suggested strategies for dealing with the bullying. Learn more about the Safe Schools Program here. The Safe Schools program may be able to do an evaluation of the school and may offer trainings to administration and staff if they find it is not an LGBTQ+ safe environment. You can find the application for support here.

You may find more information about bullying laws from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office here. GLAD is among those who advocated for the anti-bullying law and have defended it in Court. Learn more about GLAD’s amicus brief in Doe v. Hopkinton Public Schools here.

US Harassment & Discrimination Protections for Students

Federal law is also a tool for addressing bullying and harassment.  When these behaviors are ignored or inadequately addressed, this may add up to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, among other characteristics. 

You can raise concerns about your or your child’s experience of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, harassment, or other discrimination by contacting contact the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in Boston to file a complaint. The OCR has the authority to investigate a complaint of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age.  Note that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are aspects of “sex” discrimination. 

To contact the Office of Civil Rights click here.

Harassment and bullying because of a person’s LGBTQ+ identities may also constitute sex discrimination under Title IX protections. Read more about the US Department of Education’s updated guidance on Title IX. If your school is unsupportive and not taking action to end the bullying, you can also contact GLAD Answers.

Finally, Fenway Health offers free mental health support to LGBTQ+ people who have experienced harassment and may be able to offer your child support.

If you have questions about the specific situation you are experiencing or questions that have not been answered above, please reach out to GLAD Answers. You can find GLAD Answer’s contact information here.