Schools are meant to be student-centered places where young people are safe and can learn what they need to succeed in life. Yet, extremist politicians and well-funded national groups are trying to make public schools and school libraries a site of attacks on LGBTQ+ people, especially youth, and families. 

Youth in Rhode Island public schools still have rights, and our schools have a responsibility to ensure all students, including LGBTQ+ students, are safe, supported, and able to learn. GLAD and our partners are sharing these resources on your rights as a student, parent, and educator.

Find national resources and organizations here.

Rhode Island Resources

Know Your Rights

Nondiscrimination: Rhode Island General Laws prohibit discrimination in educational programs, opportunities and other matters based on gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, and perceived sexual orientation in Rhode Island public schools.  You can read more under R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-38-1.1 

Anti-Bullying: Rhode Island has strong anti-bullying laws. It has strict requirements that schools must follow to protect students from a wide variety of bullying, be it physical, verbal, or online.  

Guidance for Schools: The Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has created guidance in 2016 for schools on the rights, responsibilities, and best educational practices for transgender and gender non-conforming students. Learn more about the guidance and contact the Department of Education for more information.

Learn more about youth rights in Rhode Island on the following Know Your Rights pages

What to do if you or your child is experiencing bullying, discrimination, or mistreatment in school

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

Rhode Island Anti-Bullying & Harassment Protections 

First, it is important to understand what Rhode Island considers bullying or harassment.  

Rhode Island anti-bullying laws include the following definitions of bullying: “Bullying” means the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student that: 

  • Causes physical or emotional harm to the student or damage to the student’s property; 
  • Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself or of damage to his/her property; 
  • Creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile, or abusive educational environment for the student; 
  • Infringes on the rights of the student to participate in school activities; or 
  • Materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. The expression, physical act or gesture may include, but is not limited to, an incident or incidents that may be reasonably perceived as being motivated by characteristics such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or mental, physical, or sensory disability, intellectual ability or by any other distinguishing characteristic. 

Read more from FAQ

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, keep copies/screenshots of emails and texts, and 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.

If the school is not investigating the bullying, press them to do so. Rhode Island’s Safe School Act Statewide Bullying Policy “recognizes that the bullying of a student creates a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the student’s health and negatively affect learning. Bullying undermines the safe learning environment that students need to achieve their full potential.  The purpose of the Policy is to ensure a consistent and unified statewide approach to the prohibition of bullying at school.” See the full policy from 2012 here, and information Rhode Island Kid’s Count Bullying Prevention Brief from 2016 here. 

If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, consider contacting the school district’s Superintendent (information on the school website). 

If working with the administration and superintendent is not helpful, the RI Department of Education is the next place to turn.  You can contact Thrive, a part of the State government devoted to healthy and safe learning environments.

Under a Board of Regents Policy adopted in 1997 and revised in 2010, all students, without exception, have the right to attend a school in which they feel safe and able to express their identity without fear… certain students, because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, have been subject to discrimination through abuse, harassment, bullying and/or exclusion from full participation in educational activities. You can find more information here and here.

You may also choose to file a discrimination complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. Find out more.

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 or the denial of education opportunities 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.  

Contact the Office of Civil Rights. 

Harassment and bullying because of a person’s LGBTQ+ status may also constitute sex discrimination under Title IX protections. Read more about the US Department of Education’s updated guidance on Title IX.  

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

Get involved in your local community

  • Follow the issues that come up in your school committee and town/city council
  • Attend meetings when important issues are being discussed and even to participate in the public comment period in which School Board/Committee members listen to input from the public.  It is important that they hear support for good work and good arguments for why LGBTQ+ and race-based restrictions are bad educational policy for all students.
  • Follow education, curriculum, staffing, policy, library and other issues in school board and local elections, or run for office yourself
  • For support in talking about issues related to education and LGBTQ+ students, and more ways to take action, visit Campaign for Our Shared Future.

Organizations and Additional Resources


For more youth-focused organizations, visit Youth Organizations | Rhode Island

Additional Resources

LGBTQ+ Youth Resource Lists:

Want to learn more about LGBTQ+ Equality in Rhode Island? Visit the Movement Advancement Project’s Rhode Island Equality Profile.

GLAD Answers

Still have questions? Contact GLAD Answers for free and confidential legal information, assistance, and referrals. Complete the online intake form at, email, or leave a voicemail at 800-455-GLAD.