Know Your Rights, RI Students!
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 LGBTQ+ students from bullying 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 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 sources of protection for LGBTQ+ 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%20on%20Discrimi
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 Rhode Island have guidance schools should follow to protect transgender students?
Yes, in 2016, the Rhode Island Department of Education created guidance for schools to follow to protect the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students.
The model policy includes 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
For more details, see: Guidance for Rhode Island Schools on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students
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 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.
Do students have the right to form Genders & Sexualities or 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 Rhode Island have a law that bans conversion therapy?
Yes, in 2017 Rhode Island passed Section 23-94, Prevention of Conversion Therapy for Children, which prohibits any licensed mental health professional from performing conversion therapy on a minor.
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.
Under the law’s provisions, any licensed health professional who practices conversion therapy would be subject to discipline by the Rhode Island Department of Health.
RESOURCES FOR LGBTQ YOUTH:
More information about Rhode Island’s anti-bullying law: Safe School Act Statewide Bullying Policy
Rhode Island School Discipline Laws & Regulations:
Rhode Island School Discipline Laws & Regulations: Bullying, Harassment, or Hazing | National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE)
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: Legal Guidelines Regarding the Equal Access Act and the Recognition of Student-Led Non-Curricular Groups (MS Word).
FAQ About Equal Access Act: Equal Access Act FAQs.pdf
Rhode Island LGBTQ Youth Resources: Resources | Youth Pride, Inc.
Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) – LGBTQ Youth Services
LGBT National Youth Talkline (800) 246-PRIDE
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.