Protecting LGBTQ+ Students

Creating Safe and Inclusive Schools Together 

All students deserve to feel safe and included at school and have an educational environment that welcomes and affirms their full identities.

Research demonstrates that such positive school climates are necessary for all youth to learn and thrive. For many LGBTQ+ students, this journey includes sharing their identity with their friends or a trusted teacher before they’re ready to do so at home. While most youth want to and do come out to their family in their own time, some are losing that choice. Far-right legal groups are challenging these positive school policies, and some states are enacting laws that would force faculty to contact students’ homes before the students are ready, under the guise of “parents’ rights.”  

The past few years of intense political scrutiny and legislative attacks have taken a toll on young people’s mental health and led to trans and LGBQ youth experiencing increased harassment. And so-called “parents’ rights” bills have made it less safe for young people who can’t be their authentic selves with their families. Teachers care about their students and know that generally, kids do better when they can talk to their parents. But sadly, that’s not an option for some youth, leading them to feel isolated both at home and school. But we are fighting to protect all youth, whether they cannot come out at home or need support to discuss their identities with their parents when they are ready. 

These “forced outing” bills directly contradict schools’ responsibility to create a supportive educational environment. Federal constitutional protections and many state-based laws are in place to safeguard the rights of LGBTQ+ students. Nevertheless, even in states with explicit obligations to protect LGBTQ+ youth, a vocal minority is attempting to deny young people the autonomy to choose when and how to share their identities with their families.

In September, The First Circuit Court of Appeals heard Foote v. Town of Ludlow, which centers on this issue. We submitted a friend-of-the-court brief with the Massachusetts Superintendent’s Association, sharing research that shows positive school climates and trusted relationships with adults are critical to academic success for all students.

“When teachers and other educators acknowledge and respect students, including their requested names and pronouns, that creates the safety that allows brain development and learning to flourish while also meeting the requirement of equal educational opportunity,” said Mary Bonauto, Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies, at the filing.  

GLAD is committed to protecting students and ensuring schools can create positive, inclusive learning environments. But parents and allies can make an impact too.

In addition to supporting GLAD in this crucial work, you can advocate for the LGBTQ+ youth in your life by checking out our website’s school resources page. You’ll find information on LGBTQ+ student rights, bullying protections, and guidance for schools in every New England state and across the country. We’ve also included resources from our partners on inclusion for transgender students in school sports and all areas of academic life, how to advocate for positive school climates, resources for educators, and more. 

Familiarizing yourself with these resources can help you advocate for youth and encourage schools to meet their responsibility to ensure equal education and safety for all students. Public schools and many private schools are legally obligated to act when students face bullying and other kinds of mistreatment or harassment so that all students can learn and thrive.

If you need further support, GLAD Answers can provide free and confidential legal information and assistance.   

This story was originally published in the Fall 2023 GLAD Briefs Newsletter. Read more.