Youth | Schools | Rhode Island
What are my rights as an LGBTQ+ student?
All Rhode Island public school students have the right:
- To be safe in school without being bullied,
- To be protected from discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation,
gender identity or HIV status.
- To access information about LGBTQ subjects including educational websites,
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 Rhode Island public and many private school students have the right:
- 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.
Are there any laws protecting LGBT students in Rhode Island?
Yes. In 2011, Rhode Island passed the “Safe Schools Act” that applies to all school districts, charter schools, career and technical schools and approved private day or residential schools in Rhode Island.
It defines “bullying” as written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student by one or more students that:
- causes or places the student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to the student’s property,
- creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or abusive educational environment,
- infringes on the rights of the student to participate in school activities, or
- disrupts the educational process or orderly operation of the school (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-33(a)(1)).
The law identifies characteristics that may be reasonably perceived to have motivated the act of “bullying” as including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-33(a)(1)(v)).
The law goes on to define “cyber-bullying” as bullying through the use of technology or electronic communication (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-33(a)(2)).
The law charges the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE) to prescribe a statewide bullying policy that must be adopted by all the schools by June 30, 2012. The policy must include:
- procedures for students, staff, parents and others to report bullying,
- procedures for promptly responding to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation,
- the range of disciplinary actions that may be taken,
- a parental engagement strategy,
- procedures for restoring a sense of safety for the student,
- strategies for protecting a person who reports bullying or assists in the investigation,
- procedures for promptly notifying the parents of both the perpetrator and victim,
procedures for providing appropriate counseling for the victim, perpetrator and others affected by the bullying (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-34).
Are there other laws in Rhode Island that protect students from discrimination and harassment?
Yes. First, state law says that students, staff members and teachers all have the right to attend or work at a safe school, whether elementary, secondary or post-secondary (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-2-17 and § 16-81-1). These provisions empower schools to suspend or expel disruptive students.
The Rhode Island Department of Education’s guidance and model policies on bullying, teen dating violence and sexual violence explicitly acknowledge the role that sexual orientation, sex, disability, appearance, and clothing may play in bullying, and make clear the applicability of provisions relating to dating and sexual violence to students regardless of sexual orientation (see Guidance on Developing Required Policies Against Bullying, available at http://www.ripin.org/pdfs/ride_bully_policy_for_schools.pdf ; Guide to Preventing Bullying, Teen Dating Violence, and Sexual Violence, available at www.ricdsv.org/images/GuidePreventingBullyingTDVSVRhodeIslandSchools_4-1-2008.pdf).
Are there other sources of protection for LGBT students in Rhode Island?
Yes. A Board of Regents Policy adopted in 1997 and revised in 2010 provides in part as follows:
. . .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.
Therefore, it is the Policy of the Board of Regents that no student shall be excluded from any educational program or activity or discriminated against, bullied, or harassed in any public educational setting based upon actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. . . This policy shall include but is not limited to admissions, guidance services, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
Each local school district is urged to review programs, services and activities to assure that such offerings are conducted in a manner that is free of inadvertent or intentional bias based upon sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. Each local school district is required by law to address harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression through the development and enforcement of appropriate student and staff behavior and disciplinary policies. . .
The Board of Regents policy can be found at: http://www.thriveri.org/documents/RIDE%20Policy%20Statement%
What kinds of conduct does the law and policy cover?
Technically, the policy covers exclusion from a public school or discrimination in taking advantage of school programs. A school may not be so bold as to say, “Don’t come here,” or “You can’t take track,” but if they fail to redress pervasive harassment against you at school or in a particular class or activity, they may have said so in effect. It does not provide any mechanism for court or administrative enforcement of the policy.
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, see:
How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
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.
If all of these steps fail, you may also wish to consider legal action. Contact GLAD Answers for attorney referrals.
What can I do if I’m being discriminated against or bullied 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 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 with at least the date and time. Once you meet with the right officials, write yourself notes about 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.
If this fails, you may also wish to consider legal action against the town by contacting the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
This is a complicated area of law as well as being emotionally challenging. Contact GLAD Answers by filling out the email form at GLAD Answers to discuss options.
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