Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning (LGBTQ+) youth face unique issues in connection with going to school, interacting with their heterosexual peers, participating in sports, using shared restrooms, and other areas where they often face harassment on a daily basis. Young people who identify as LGBTQ+ have the right to be open and free from discrimination related to their sexual orientation or gender identity at school and in other settings.
Discrimination and Bullying
LGBTQ+ youth most often face discrimination and bullying at school or in connection with activities such as sports. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits schools from treating LGBTQ+ students any differently than other students. This means that LGBTQ+ students deserve the same protection against harassment and bullying that other students, bullied for other reasons, receive.
Additionally, schools that receive federal funding are governed by Title IX, which prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is considered prohibited sex discrimination according to a Department of Education interpretation released in 2021. A federal court in Tennessee blocked the implementation of this interpretation against certain states in 2022, and new rules consolidating the interpretation were pending as of 2023.
Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression extends to freedom of gender expression.
Schools sometimes unduly restrict the free expression rights of LGBTQ+ students under the guise of protecting them from harassment or animosity from other students. This is illegal. The First Amendment gives LGBTQ+ youth the right to free expression, free speech and the right to associate. Students are entitled to wear T-shirts with messages and symbols related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. They are also entitled to organize in non-curricular groups to the same extent as other students. They are permitted to take same-sex dates to prom and other school events.
Unfortunately LGBTQ+ youth also face challenges within their families. Some families' lack of acceptance leads to LGBTQ+ youth being forced into conversion therapy, which can cause psychiatric and emotional problems. States across the country, including California and New Jersey, have begun to pass laws prohibiting licensed therapists from engaging in this harmful practice.
Right of Privacy
LGBTQ+ youth have rights of privacy, including not just the individual right to bodily autonomy, but also the right to control the release of highly personal information. This includes the right not to be outed against their will. Government agencies, public officials, doctors, lawyers, child welfare care providers, and schools must all respect your right to privacy, including any decision not to be out or not to be out to your family.
Schools Cannot Out You
It is illegal for school officials to disclose information about sexual orientation or gender identity to a student's parents, peers, or other parties. Doing so can lead to family conflict, physical abuse, and homelessness.
Homelessness, Foster Care, and the Juvenile Justice System
A lack of family acceptance leads to a higher incidence of homelessness in the LGBTQ+ youth population and the possibility of foster care. Forced into activities that are necessary to survive on the streets, some LGBTQ+ youth wind up in the juvenile justice system. LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care or juvenile justice systems have the right to be safe from abuse and harassment, and to have their medical and mental health care needs addressed. Transgender youth, for example, have the right to be provided with medical care related to transitioning.