Know Your Rights, MA Students!
(Português) (Kreyòl ayisyen) (普通话)
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 a law to protect students from bullying?
Yes. Massachusetts has one of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country. It has strict requirements that schools must follow to protect students from a wide variety of bullying, be it physical, verbal, or online. Many of these requirements apply to all schools, whether public, private, or charter. Some of the key provisions of the law include:
- Every school, with the exception of some private schools, must have in place a comprehensive anti-bullying policy;
- Each plan shall recognize that certain students may be more vulnerable to becoming a target of bullying or harassment based on actual or perceived differentiating characteristics, including gender identity or expression and sexual orientation or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics. The plan shall include the specific steps that each school district, charter school, non-public school, approved private day or residential school and collaborative school shall take to support vulnerable students and to provide all students with the skills, knowledge and strategies needed to prevent or respond to bullying or harassment.
- A student’s parents or guardians must be notified if the school learns that they have been bullied;
- Teachers and other school staff must receive training on how to handle bullying and are required to report bullying to the administration;
- Each school must teach students about bullying.
For detailed information about the requirements for the anti-bullying plan each school must have, visit the Department of Education’s website.
Does Massachusetts have guidance schools should follow to protect transgender students?
Yes, Massachusetts has created guidance for schools on the rights, responsibilities and best educational practices for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
The guidelines include the following:
- Schools should respect a transgender student’s name and pronouns;
- Schools should respect transgender students’ privacy regarding any medical information, previous names, etc.;
- The name and gender on a student’s records should conform to the student’s gender identity;
- Transgender students should be able to use the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that accord with their gender identity;
- In any sex-segregated activities (including athletics), transgender students should be able to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity.
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 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 Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination or 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 GLADAnswers.org or by phone at 800-455-GLAD (4523) to discuss options.
Do students have the right to form Gay/Straight Alliances in their schools?
Yes, as to high school students; probably, as to middle school students. A federal law known as the “Equal Access Act” requires that all federally funded secondary schools provide equal access to extra-curricular clubs. So long as a school has at least one student-led extra-curricular club, it must allow additional clubs to organize, and must provide them with equal access to meeting spaces, facilities, and funding without discriminating based on a club’s purpose, be that purpose religious, philosophical, political, or otherwise (20 U.S.C. § 4071).
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.
Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies | StopBullying.gov
Children’s Issues Series: Anti-Bullying Laws | Mass Legal Services
Bullying Prevention and Intervention | Massachusetts Department of Education
Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students | Mass.gov
Title IX Protects Students from Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity | U.S. Department of Education
Legal Guidelines Regarding the Equal Access Act | U.S. Department of Education (this link will download a Word document to your computer)
FAQ About Equal Access Act | ACLU of Washington
Massachusetts Youth Resources:
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.
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.
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 and confidential legal information line.
Updated May 2022