Know Your Rights, MA Students!
IF YOU ARE A PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENT, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO
- Attend school safely, free of bullying, harassment or discrimination.
- Have your affirmed name and pronouns used.
- Dress and express yourself in a manner consistent with your gender identity.
- Use the bathroom and locker room consistent with your gender identity.
- Take a date of any gender to prom.
- Access information about LGBTQ issues and people at school.
- Participate in school sports & activities.
- Keep your school and medical records confidential.
- Ask your school to amend their records to reflect your current name and gender.
- Understand your school’s discipline procedures if you are being disciplined.
- For more resources, visit the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education or the MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth
Federal law also protects you from discrimination at school
You are protected from discrimination in public schools or other schools that receive federal funding because of Title IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights law, and it prohibits discrimination based on sex – including sexual orientation or gender identity – across the country.
Note: There are some exemptions for educational facilities owned or operated by religious corporations, associations, or societies.
Visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Resources for LGBTQI+ Students page for more information on what you can do if you experience discrimination
BULLYING AND HARASSMENT
Schools must keep LGBTQ youth safe from bullying, harassment, and violence by teachers and staff, or other students.
Bullying is defined as: an act (including an electronic one) directed against a student by another student or group of students that:
- is repeated over time
- is intended to ridicule, humiliate or intimidate; and substantially interferes with a student’s right to a safe education regardless of whether it happens on or off school grounds.
Harassment is defined as: verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct (including by electronic means) motivated by a student’s or a student’s family member’s actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability (which includes HIV status) that is intended to:
- substantially interfere with educational performance or access to school resources; or
- create an intimidating or hostile environment.
Schools must adopt anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, and each year students and parents must be given notice of those policies. This also applies to some private schools. For more details, visit the Massachusetts Department of Education’s page on Bullying Prevention and Intervention.
IF YOU EXPERIENCE BULLYING OR DISCRIMINATION
Contact GLAD Answers, our confidential legal information line.
- Talk to a trusted teacher or counselor.
- Look at your school’s policies (usually in a student handbook or online), find out who to notify, and file a report.
- Document any incidents you experience.
SCHOOL CLUBS AND GSAS:
In general, students have a right to form LGBTQ-related school clubs. This is because of the Equal Access Act, which can be read here.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS FOR SPEECH, EXPRESSION, DRESS, AND LEARNING
When a school system treats an LGBTQ student differently from others, that may constitute prohibited discrimination under existing law. In addition, the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression, academic freedom, and your right to learn. For example:
- The right to express yourself on issues relating to sexual orientation or gender identity and expression within constitutional limits;
- The right to learn about LGBTQ issues and have access to pedagogically and age-appropriate information and resources about LGBT issues and people
IF YOU ARE INVOLVED WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
You have the right to be treated with care and respect and to be affirmed for who you are.
You have the right to safe and appropriate placements in the child welfare system, free from discrimination and harassment based on your sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
You have the right to be free from harassment and abuse based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in foster care placements. This means that you should be protected from both physical and emotional harm in placements and should be placed with caretakers who will ensure your safety and wellbeing outside the home.
You have the right to be open about your sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
You have the right to be identified by the name and pronouns that accord with your gender identity and to wear clothing consistent with your gender identity.
Massachusetts law protects you from having a therapist try to change your sexual orientation or gender identity.
You have the right to equal treatment and to access appropriate services for your sexual orientation or gender identity or expression while in the child welfare system.
You must have access to appropriate medical or mental health care.
You should be treated equally to heterosexual and gender-conforming youth, including about age-appropriate displays of affection.
You should have access to supportive materials and resources, including GSAs at schools and community support groups.
You have the right to an attorney, and your attorney should affirm you and advocate for you. You also have the right to fire your attorney and request a new attorney.
You have resources
The Massachusetts DCF has an LGBTQ Guide that has information and resources.
There are LGBTQ liaisons at DCF who can help you find resources. To be connected with one, contact the State Co-Chair of LGBTQ Liaisons, Effie Molina.
The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth has resources, including a map of affirming providers: glad.org/youthcommission.
Contact the Child Advocate who can help you if you are having a problem in DCF care or custody
GET MORE INFORMATION AND LEGAL HELP
For more information about your rights and protections, and for referrals, you can contact GLAD Answers, GLAD’s free & confidential legal information line.