School Resources in Massachusetts
School Resources in Massachusetts
Schools are meant to be student-centered places where young people are safe and can learn what they need to succeed in life. Yet, extremist politicians and well-funded national groups are trying to make public schools and school libraries a site of attacks on LGBTQ+ people, especially youth, and families.
Youth in Massachusetts public schools still have rights, and our schools have a responsibility to ensure all students, including LGBTQ+ students, are safe, supported, and able to learn. GLAD and our partners are sharing these resources on your rights as a student, parent, and educator.
Know Your Rights
Nondiscrimination: Massachusetts General Laws prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, and perceived sexual orientation in Massachusetts public schools. You can read more under G.L. c. 76, sec. 5.
Anti-Bullying: 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.
Guidance for Schools: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has created guidance for schools on the rights, responsibilities, and best educational practices for transgender and gender non-conforming students. Learn more about this guidance here.
Learn more on the following Know Your Rights pages:
What to do if you or your child is experiencing bullying, discrimination, or mistreatment in school
If you as a student or your child is experiencing bullying because of an LGBTQ+ identity or a perceived LGBTQ+ identity, you can take steps under both state and federal law to remedy the situation. And you can pursue both avenues at the same time.
Massachusetts Anti-Bullying & Harassment Protections
First, it is important to understand what Massachusetts considers bullying or harassment. As the Attorney General summarizes,
The Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law (G.L. c. 71, § 37O) and Student Anti-Discrimination Act (G.L. c. 76, § 5) require schools to take steps to prevent bias-related bullying and harassment by students and respond effectively when it occurs. Bullying and harassment are similar, but not identical, types of misconduct.
- Bullying generally includes any repeated, targeted behavior that harms a student or disrupts the school environment. Although not all bullying is bias-related, bullying often stems from or involves bias, prejudice, or hate. The law specifically protects against bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, national origin, religion, disability, and age.
- Harassment is conduct that creates, or contributes to the creation of, an intimidating or hostile environment for a student because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
- Like bullying, harassment can take many forms, including verbal statements, online or social media activity, graffiti, and violent or threatening physical conduct. Unlike bullying, harassment does not have to be repeated or targeted at a particular victim. A single, severe hate incident may create an intimidating or hostile environment—so too may a series or pattern of incidents.
Second, consider whether you want to take action under the school’s anti-bullying or harassment policies, which should be available on the school website. If so, follow the steps from the school’s policies and keep copies/screenshots of emails and texts, as well as take notes of conversations with school staff, to show that you have done what you are supposed to and that the school is on notice of your concerns.
If the school is not investigating the bullying, press them to do so. The anti-bullying law expects schools to have a policy providing “clear procedures for promptly responding to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation.”
If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, consider contacting (1) the school district’s Superintendent (information on the school website) and/or (2) the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ+-related bullying. The Safe Schools Program is for LGBTQ+ students who need support and suggested strategies for dealing with the bullying. The Safe Schools program may be able to do an evaluation of the school and may offer trainings to administration and staff if they find it is not an LGBTQ+ safe environment. You can find the application for support here.
You may find more information about bullying laws from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office here. GLAD is among those who advocated for the anti-bullying law and have defended it in Court. Learn more about GLAD’s amicus brief in Doe v. Hopkinton Public Schools here.
US Harassment & Discrimination Protections for Students
Federal law is also a tool for addressing bullying and harassment. When these behaviors are ignored or inadequately addressed, this may add up to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, among other characteristics.
You can raise concerns about your or your child’s experience of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, harassment, or other discrimination by contacting contact the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in Boston to file a complaint. The OCR has the authority to investigate a complaint of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. Note that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are aspects of “sex” discrimination.
Harassment and bullying because of a person’s LGBTQ+ identities may also constitute sex discrimination under Title IX protections. Read more about the US Department of Education’s updated guidance on Title IX. If your school is unsupportive and not taking action to end the bullying, you can also contact GLAD Answers.
Finally, Fenway Health offers free mental health support to LGBTQ+ people who have experienced harassment and may be able to offer your child support.
If you have questions about the specific situation you are experiencing or questions that have not been answered above, please reach out to GLAD Answers.
Get involved in your local community
- Follow the issues that come up in your school committee and town/city council.
- Attend meetings when important issues are being discussed and even to participate in the public comment period in which School Board/Committee members listen to input from the public. It is important that they hear support for good work and good arguments for why LGBTQ+ and race-based restrictions are bad educational policy for all students.
- Follow education, curriculum, staffing, policy, library and other issues in school board and local elections, or run for office yourself.
- For support in talking about issues related to education and LGBTQ+ students, and more ways to take action, visit Campaign for Our Shared Future.
Organizations and Additional Resources
- GLAD is involved in youth-related cases and advocacy work across the country.
- In Massachusetts, GLAD filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Superintendents Association and GLAD in support of a Ludlow public school. Learn more about Foote v. Town of Ludlow.
- GLSEN Massachusetts is a grassroots initiative, working locally in our community to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- MassEquality works to ensure that everyone across Massachusetts can thrive each and every day without discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
- The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth advocates for effective policies, programs, and resources for LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.
- The Massachusetts GSA Student Leadership Council creates and informs policy, promotes inclusive learning environments for all students, supports the development of leadership skills, and fosters statewide collaboration among LGBTQ students and allies.
- PFLAG is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them.
For more youth-focused organizations, visit Youth Organizations | Massachusetts.
GLSEN | 2021 National School Climate Survey — Flagship report on the school experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in schools.
MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth | Report and Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2023 — An in-depth report of MA’s educational and legislative policies in relation to LGBTQ+ youth.
Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students | Teacher & Administrator Resources — The following documents outline various appropriate guidelines for teachers and administrators who are working with LGBTQ+ youth:
- Guidance for MA Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment
- 2021-2022 Commissioner letter to district and school leaders about the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students
- Guidance on Notifying Parents When a Student Has Been Bullied Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression
Want to learn more about LGBTQ+ Equality in Massachusetts? Visit the Movement Advancement Project’s Massachusetts Equality Profile.