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Youth | Discrimination | Massachusetts

Massachusetts Discrimination Q&A

Does Massachusetts have an anti-discrimination law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination?

Yes. Since 1990, Massachusetts has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in public and private employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and services (see generally Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151B). Other areas of the law (e.g. education and insurance) also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Recently, these laws have been extended to protect transgender people. In 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed a historic executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression in state employment (Mass. Exec. Order. No. 526 (Feb. 17, 2011), MA Executive Order 526). In 2012, Massachusetts amended its anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public and private employment, housing, credit, education, and services—but not public accommodations. Finally, in 2016, Massachusetts passed the long-awaited transgender public accommodations bill, protecting transgender people from discrimination in restaurants, libraries, hotels, malls, public transportation, and beyond (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 272, secs. 92A, 98). For further information about the bill, see GLAD’s MA Public Accommodations Q&A, at

Do the laws also protect people perceived to be LGBT?

Yes. Massachusetts non-discrimination law defines “sexual orientation” as “having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality” (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151B, sec. 3(6)). This language has been interpreted to include discrimination based on perception. For example, if a person is fired because they are perceived to be gay, they may invoke the protection of the anti-discrimination law regardless of their actual orientation.

Similarly, the law defines “gender identity” as:

[A] person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth… (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 4, sec. 7(59) (emphasis added)).

What Massachusetts laws exist to protect LGBT 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 ( 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 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.

Are there other laws which may protect me from discrimination and harassment because of my sexual orientation?

Possibly. Federal law prohibits sex discrimination in public schools that receive federal funding. Depending on the situation, harassment of LGBT students may be actionable as sex discrimination (See, e.g., Ray v. Antioch Unified School District, 107 F. Supp. 2d 1165 (N.D. Cal. 2000) (stating that attacks based on a student’s perceived sexuality constitute sex discrimination)). Harassment of transgender students in particular is actionable. Several federal courts have held that the federal anti-discrimination law, Title IX, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity (See, e.g., Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 Bd. of Educ., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 9362 (7th Cir. 2017); cf. Bd. of Educ. v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131474 (S.D. Ohio 2016)).

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 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.

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.