What are my rights as an LGBTQ+ student?

All Massachusetts public school students have the right:

  • To be safe in school without being bullied,
  • To access information about LGBTQ subjects including educational website,
  • To dress and present yourself in a manner consistent with your gender identity,
  • To free speech and expression. This means you have the right to express ideas that may offend other people and you have the right to disagree with others, as long as you express those ideas in a respectful way.

All Massachusetts public and many private school students have the right:

  • To be protected from discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or HIV status,
  • To form a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) that gets treated the same as every other non-curricular group.  This means equal funding, access to facilities, and the ability to choose your group’s name.

Outside of school you have the right:

  • To be protected from discrimination based on your actual or perceived sexual orientation, HIV status, or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations (like restaurants or stores).
  • To give your own consent to get tested for HIV without your parents’ permission. For more specific information, see the “HIV/AIDS” Issue Area.
  • To report to the police anyone in or out of school who physically harms you, threatens you, or vandalizes your property.

Does Massachusetts have an anti-discrimination law protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination?

Yes. Since 1990, Massachusetts has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in public and private employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and services (visit generally Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151B). Other areas of the law (e.g. education and insurance) also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Do the laws also protect people perceived to be LGBTQ+?

Yes. Massachusetts non-discrimination law defines “sexual orientation” as “having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality” (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151B, sec. 3(6)). This language has been interpreted to include discrimination based on perception. For example, if a person is fired because they are perceived to be gay, they may invoke the protection of the anti-discrimination law regardless of their actual orientation.

Similarly, the law defines “gender identity” as:

[A] person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth… (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 4, sec. 7(59) (emphasis added)).

Does the Massachusetts have anti-discrimination laws that protect students?

Yes, Chapter 76, Section 5 of the Massachusetts General Laws prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, and perceived sexual orientation in all Massachusetts schools which accept students from the general public, regardless of whether the discrimination comes from students or employees.

Similarly, Chapter 151C, which defines fair educational practices, prohibits sexual harassment by public school teachers, staff, or other students. Violations of this law can be brought to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), a state agency that does not require the parties to have a lawyer. For more information on Massachusetts anti-discrimination law and how to file a discrimination complaint, see the “Discrimination” Issue Area.

Schools are also required to take certain steps to prevent the harassment of LGBTQ students, per the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, 603 CMR 26.00, Access to Equal Educational Opportunity. In particular, the Code requires that schools have policies in place to ensure discrimination and harassment complaints are investigated promptly and also requires schools to educate staff annually on harassment prevention and appropriate methods of responding to harassment in a school environment.

Are there federal laws that protect students?

Yes, Title IX prohibits discrimination against students based on sex in any school or college that receives federal funds. In light of the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are forms of sex discrimination, the federal Department of Education, which enforces Title IX, has stated that it will interpret any sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination.

To file a complaint with the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, visit their webpage.

Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to:

Office of Civil Rights
The U.S. Department of Education
John W. McCormack Post Office & Courthouse, Room 222
Post Office Square
Boston, MA 02109

Additionally, some kinds of discrimination and harassment may violate a student’s constitutional rights.

What can I do if I’m being discriminated against at school?

There are many ways to approach the issue. One is to ask for support from a friend, teacher, or counselor, and talk to the people who are bothering you. That is not an option, however, if you don’t feel safe doing so.

Take a look at your school’s policies and notify whoever is supposed to be notified – usually a vice principal or Title IX coordinator. You should document any incidents of harassment or discrimination in writing. Once you meet with the right officials, make a note of what you told them and on what date, and ask when they will be getting back to you with a response. If they don’t help you or don’t follow through, you may wish to write to the principal and superintendent and ask for them to end the discrimination.

At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may want to file a complaint with the Problem Resolution System of the Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education at (781) 338-3700. They will investigate and examine whether or not the school should consider taking further actions.

If the above methods fail to stop the discrimination, you may also wish to consider legal action. Contact GLAD Answers for attorney referrals.

Where else can I get support if I’m having a problem?

In addition to the resources listed above, you may wish to contact the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, (617) 624-5485; or the Violence Recovery Program, 1-800-834-3242.

Does Massachusetts have a law that bans conversion therapy?

Yes, in 2019 Massachusetts passed a law banning any practice by a health care provider that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

State and national medical, mental health, and child welfare organizations all oppose the practice of conversion therapy, a practice which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Extensive professional literature shows the practice to be both ineffective in changing sexual orientation or gender identity and harmful to youth. Young people who have been subjected to conversion therapy are at increased risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, and illegal drug use.

Under the law’s provisions, a health care provider who violates this section shall be subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing board. Such discipline may include suspension or revocation of their license.