Know Your Rights, Maine LGBTQ+ Youth!
What are my rights as an LGBTQ+ student?
All Maine public school students have the right:
- To be safe in school without being bullied,
- 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 Maine 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 Genders/Sexualities or 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 Maine have an anti-bullying law that protects public school students?
Yes. In 2012 Maine passed a law, “An Act To Prohibit Bullying and Cyberbullying in Schools” (available at: PUBLIC Law, Chapter 659, An Act To Prohibit Bullying and Cyberbullying in Schools)
The Act defines bullying as any communication (written, oral or electronic) or physical act or gesture that:
- harms or seriously threatens you or your property;
- creates a hostile school environment; or
- interferes with your academic performance or ability to participate in school activities.
The law identifies certain characteristics that are often a target for bullying, including actual or perceived race sexual orientation or gender identity, and expression or association with another person with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.
By January 1, 2013, the Maine Department of Education must develop a model policy that must include:
- A requirement that school staff report bullying and procedures for school staff, students, parents, and others to report bullying;
- A procedure for promptly investigating and responding to incidents of bullying, including written documentation of incidents and the outcome of investigations;
- A process for communicating with the parent(s) of a student who has been bullied the measures taken to ensure the safety of the student and to prevent further acts of bullying;
- Each school’s anti-bullying policy must be as stringent as the model policy and must be widely published and disseminated in written form annually to all students, parents, and staff.
- Each school shall provide staff training in the best approaches to implementing the anti-bully policy.
Can schools regulate anti-bullying policies outside of school grounds?
Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court in Mahanoy Area School Dist. v B. L. in addition to concluding that students have broad speech and expression rights outside of school, also stated:
“Circumstances that may implicate a school’s regulatory interests [outside school] include serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students…”
Does Maine have guidance schools should follow to protect transgender students?
There is no statewide guidance, but numerous school districts have created policies on the rights, responsibilities, and best educational practices for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
Here is the policy of the Portland Maine schools for transgender and gender-expansive students: 1) foster a learning environment that is safe, affirming, and free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying for all students; and 2) assist in the educational and social integration and development of transgender and gender expansive students in our schools.
Does the Maine anti-discrimination law also protect students?
Yes. The state anti-discrimination law specifically protects students in public and private schools and post-secondary institutions or educational programs from discrimination based on sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression, in any academic, extracurricular, athletic, research, occupational training, or other program or activity. It also protects students during the admissions process and in obtaining financial aid. For more information about the Maine anti-discrimination law and how to file a discrimination complaint, see the “Discrimination” Issue Area.
Are any educational institutions exempt from the law?
Yes. Any educational facility owned, controlled, or operated by “a bona fide religious corporation, association or society” is exempt (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4602).
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: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html.
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 Maine Human Rights Commission 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 GLAD Answers or by phone at 800-455-4523 (GLAD) 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 Maine have a law that bans conversion therapy?
Yes, in 2019 Maine became the 17th state to pass a law, LD 1025 An Act to Prohibit the Provision of Conversion Therapy to Minors by Certain Licensed Professionals. It prohibits licensed professionals from advertising and administering so-called conversion therapy methodology to minors. Failure to follow the law can result in the revocation of the professional’s license.
State and national medical, mental health, and child welfare organizations all oppose the practice of conversion therapy, a practice that 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.
Existing Protections for LGBTQ+ Students in Maine:
LGBTQ+ School Resources: LGBTQ+ School Resources | Department of Education.
Creating Safe and Affirming Schools for LGBTQ+ Maine Youth: https://www.glad.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Creating-Safe-and-Inclusive-Schools-for-LGBTQI-Young-People_Federal-and-Maine-Law.pdf
Title IX Protects Students from Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: US Department of Education Confirms Title IX Protects Students from Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Legal Guidelines Regarding the Equal Access Act: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/groupsguide.doc.
FAQ About Equal Access Act: https://www.aclu-wa.org/sites/default/files/media-legacy/attachments/Equal%20Access%20Act%20FAQs.pdf
Maine Youth Organizations: https://ccsme.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Maine-Organizations-Working-with-LGBTQ-Youth.pdf
Cases & Advocacy
To see Youth cases or advocacy which GLAD has been directly involved with in Maine, go to: Cases and Advocacy – GLAD and under “By Issue” click on “Youth” and under “By Location” click on “Maine.”
News & Press Releases
To see news and press releases about Youth in Maine, go to: News & Press Releases – GLAD and under “By Issue” click on “Youth” and under “By Location” click on “Maine.”