Anti-Discrimination Laws Protecting LGBTQ+ Students in Schools
A large number of LGBTQ+ students continue to feel unsafe at school due to high rates of discrimination and harassment. Often, schools have discriminatory policies or practices that directly affect LGBTQ+ students. These may relate to student groups with an LGBTQ+ focus, an on-campus dress code, the exclusive use of legal names over preferred, school dance policies, and discipline related to public displays of affection. These policies may affect LGBTQ+ students differently than their straight or cisgender peers as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Harassment includes not just in-person behavior but also cyberbullying.
Moreover, almost three-quarters of LGBTQ+ students have reported verbal harassment due to sexual orientation, while more than half have reported verbal harassment for gender expression. More than half of affected students do not report violence because they do not believe there will be an effective school response. Consequently, often nothing is done to remedy the matter.
Applicable Federal Laws
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. It applies to public and private elementary schools, secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities. The Department of Education has stated that it interprets Title IX to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (In 2022, a federal judge in Tennessee blocked the implementation of this interpretation against certain states. Proposed rules consolidating the interpretation were pending as of 2023.) Religious schools can apply for an exemption.
Under Title IX, all schools are required to investigate and resolve allegations of discrimination and physical or sexual abuse. All schools that receive federal financial assistance are required to designate an employee to coordinate their Title IX responsibilities and inform all students and employees of the Title IX coordinator’s contact information. Under Title IX, an institution cannot separate, deny benefits to, or exclude a person on the basis of sex, unless they are explicitly authorized to do so under Title IX or the implementing regulations.
Title IX is also meant to protect students from harassment. This may include name-calling, written statements, or humiliating actions. When harassment is so serious that it interferes with education and is tolerated, encouraged, or ignored by school employees, there may be a Title IX violation.
It is also a Title IX violation for a school to retaliate against you because you attempted to stand up for your rights.
Enforcement of Title IX
How is Title IX enforced? You can file a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or file a lawsuit in federal court. Time limits will apply. You should consult a lawyer about these options, particularly if the behavior is so egregious that you are considering filing a lawsuit.