Is Your School Meeting Its Legal Obligations?

This information applies to public schools and in some cases private schools that receive federal funding, throughout New England. Download our checklist for schools for more information, and contact us if you have questions.


  • Does your anti-bullying policy enumerate categories including gender identity and sexual orientation?
  • Is the procedure for reporting bullying clear to students?
  • Every New England state has an anti-bullying law. Find information about your state’s law here.
  • Do school administrators provide leadership on how to address anti-LGBTQ bullying, such as telling teachers how to respond to comments like “That’s so gay” or anti-LGBTQ slurs?
    • All school employees should report bullying if they see it or know it is happening.
    • If you are not certain whether something is bullying, keep in mind that if it is mean, you should intervene.
  • Does your school respond effectively to reports of bullying behavior?
  • Do you have a plan in place for addressing off-campus conduct that interferes with a student’s education, including cyberbullying?

Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs)/LGBTQ Clubs

  • Does your school have a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or other LGBTQ club?
    • The Federal Equal Access Act says that schools must allow GSAs or other LGBTQ clubs to form and operate on the same basis as other extra-curricular clubs.
  • If you are a GSA/LGBTQ club advisor, are you treated equally to other club advisors?
  • Does your school apply the same rules to the GSA/LGBTQ club as to other clubs?
  • Tip: You must permit the GSA/LGBTQ club to advertise events in the same ways available to other clubs.

First Amendment/Expression

  • Are LGBTQ students free to discuss their identities, including dating and romantic interests, on the same terms as other students?
  • Are LGBTQ students free to engage in displays of affection on the same terms as other students?
  • Prom/Dances:
    • Can LGBTQ students attend school dances on the same basis as other students?
    • Can they dress according to their gender identity?
    • Can they bring a date of their choosing on the same terms as other students, regardless of gender?
  • Teachers’ Speech Rights
  • At school, students have greater speech rights than teachers because students attend school as private citizens. So if an issue needs to be raised, it could be better for a student to raise it. A teacher in the classroom or at work can be seen to speak for the district when he or she teaches, so the district has an interest in determining the content of the message delivered (there are limits on districts, however). The boundaries of this area of law are not precise and you should seek legal help if you feel your school might be infringing your speech. When a teacher is acting as a private citizen, he or she has all the free speech rights of every other United States citizen.
  • Have you verified that your school’s internet filtering program does not filter positive LGBTQ sites?

Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming Students

Check to see if your school has the following policies. Specific guidance has been established in Connecticut and Massachusetts for the safe and respectful treatment of transgender students. If you live in another state, you can still ask your school to read this guidance in considering their policies.

  • Do you have a policy for ensuring that transgender students are referred to by their preferred name and pronoun?
  • Do you have a policy for ensuring the confidentiality of school and medical records?
  • Are students able to dress in a way that fits their gender identity?
  • Are transgender students able to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity?
  • Does your school avoid gender-differentiated graduation gowns?
    • Tip: gender-differentiated gowns can be distressing for transgender students; consider using one color robe for all students.
  • Are transgender students able to participate in extracurricular activities – including athletics – according to their gender identity?


  • Does your non-discrimination policy include gender identity and sexual orientation?
  • Is positive information about LGBTQ subjects and people available in the library and included in school curriculum where appropriate?  Does your health and sexual education curriculum offer information that is inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities?
  • It is not permissable for any public school in New England to discriminate against staff on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • It is not permissable for any public school in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island or Vermont to discriminate against staff on the basis of gender identity. Federal law also prohibits discrimination based on sex or HIV status, and in many cases, protection against sex discrimination can protect against discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
  • The law also prohibits retaliation against someone who reports discrimination.
  • Are your nurses trained to work with LGBTQ youth?
  • Are your forms up-to-date and inclusive?

Beyond the Basics: How Welcoming is Your School?

  • Do you cultivate a safe and affirming enviornment for all students?
  • Does your school participate in the annual Day of Silence?