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Transgender Rights | Students | Massachusetts

Massachusetts Students Q&A

What Massachusetts laws exist to protect transgender students?

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.

Schools are also required to take certain steps to prevent the harassment of LGBT students, per the Code of Massachusetts Regulations 603 CMR 26.00, Access to Equal Educational Opportunity (www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr26.html?section=01). 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.

In May 2010, Massachusetts implemented one of the strongest anti-bullying laws (Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010.  See http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2010/Chapter92) 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;
  • 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 this law, see GLAD’s publication, Massachusetts Students:  What To Do If You’re Being Bullied.

What protections exist for transgender students in Massachusetts?

Discrimination against transgender students is prohibited in Massachusetts public schools. Chapter 76, Section 5 of the Massachusetts General Laws prohibits discrimination in public schools based on gender identity, as do the revised Access to Equal Education Opportunity Regulations, 603 CMR 26.00, and Charter School Regulations, 603 CMR 1.00.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a set of guidelines for public schools on the equal treatment of transgender students (see Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (February 15, 2013), available at http://www.doe.mass.edu/ssce/GenderIdentity.pdf). The guidelines included 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.

In 2016, the Obama administration issued a federal directive on the equal treatment of transgender public school students that largely mirrored the DESE’s guidelines (see Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students, U.S. Department of Justice/U.S. Department of Education, available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf).

What can I do if I’m being discriminated against 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’s 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. Once you meet with the right officials, make a note of 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.

At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may want to file a complaint with the Problem Resolution System of the Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education at (781) 338-3700. They will investigate and examine whether or not the school should consider taking further actions.

If the above methods fail to stop the discrimination, you may also wish to consider legal action. Contact GLAD for attorney referrals.

Does Massachusetts have a law to protect public school students from bullying?

Yes. In May 2010, Massachusetts implemented one of the strongest anti-bullying laws (Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010.  See http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2010/Chapter92) 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;
  • 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 this law, see GLAD’s publication, Massachusetts Students:  What To Do If You’re Being Bullied.

Where else can I get support if I’m having a problem?

In addition to the resources listed above, you may wish to contact the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth, (617) 624-5485; or the Violence Recovery Program, 1-800-834-3242.