Back-to-school time for LGBTQ+ students can be full of anticipation–and anxiety.
This is especially true right now, during a push by many school boards and states to limit LGBTQ+ student rights. We don’t claim to know all the details for all public schools across the country: we’re not lawyers, and the laws are changing very quickly. But we can talk about your rights at school. NOTE: This discussion is limited to public schools that receive federal money.
Your Constitutional Rights
You do not give up your constitutional rights when you are a student at a public school. The school and the state, however, can regulate the environment and protect the right of all students to receive an education.
KEY POINT: Students in private schools only have the rights explicitly granted to them by the school.
For Public School Students:
You have the right to free speech and free expression.
You do not have the right to disrupt the learning environment. You can do so, but it might get you into trouble. You also have the right for your learning environment to be protected.
KEY POINT: “disrupting the learning environment” can be challenging to define. Schools may use this argument to try to restrict your behavior and speech.
The school cannot punish you for expressing an opinion that a teacher, staff person, or administration does not agree with. They can’t single you out for a slogan tee shirt if other people are allowed to wear slogan tee shirts.
NOTE: they can prohibit references to illegal substances or activities and the use of derogatory or discriminatory language.
You have the right to protest and walk out. You may be penalized for missed time, but they cannot prevent you from joining a political protest.
What you write or say when not on school property, during official school events, or standard school hours – and if not about a school – is your business, not the school’s.
You have the right to privacy.
Your deadname and assigned sex at birth are private information, and schools do not have the right to tell someone what they are without your permission.
Your school also shouldn’t out you to your adults. This is a topic of legislation in several states right now.
TITLE IX RIGHTS
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education.
The past several years have seen a lot of change in whether or not Title IX protects LGBTQ+ students. The Departments of Education and Justice issued directives that LGBTQ+ students were included in Title IX in 2016. Then TFG (the was-president) took those directives back and excluded LGBTQ+ students in 2017.
Several court cases have held that this applies to all forms of sex discrimination, including gender identity and sexual orientation. The current administration has proposed formally adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the law.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
Under TITLE IX, you have the right to:
- Equal access to education and educational programs.
- Wear clothing that matches your gender
- Have your name and pronouns respected and used
- Have access to single-sex spaces and activities that align with your gender
Under TITLE IX, you have the right to be protected from:
- Bullying or harassment based on sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual characteristics
- Discrimination based on the above
Equal Access to Education:
You have the right to a safe learning environment. This doesn’t mean that some people aren’t awful. However, if there are horrible people at your school who target you for using the restroom or hurl slurs at you in the halls, and you report them/the instances of harassment or abuse to the administration, your school has a federal obligation to protect you. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that your school will protect you. But if they don’t, they are breaking federal law, and you can choose to report the school and potentially sue.
If your school allows clubs that aren’t specifically about classwork, they have to allow LGBTQ+ clubs, too.
Yourr school can’t require you to wear a skirt based on their perception of your sex or gender. They also can’t prohibit you from wearing a skirt based on their perception of your sex or gender. You have the right to wear clothing that aligns with your gender and gender expression. This includes formal events like prom and graduation.
The ACLU’s fact sheets on dress code rights and LGBTQ+ student rights.
Because laws are changing, and LGBTQ+ youth are targeted in several states, it’s best to know your local laws.
Find out what your school policies are. They may be posted on a website for your school. If your school has a GSA or Pride club, the teacher advisor for that club may be the first person to contact.
Find out what your school district policies are.
Find out your city, county, and state laws around discrimination. Your area may grant you more rights and protections than federal law requires.
Places to Learn More:
ACLU Youth Issues
Lambda Legal Know Your Rights For Youth
Lambda Legal Legal Help Desk
GLSEN’s student resources
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights LGBT
Know Your IX
QueerDoc’s articles on supporting youth:
Affirming Care and Supportive Actions Benefit LGBTQ+ Youth
How Does Social Media Help and Hurt Trans Youth?
5 Great Online Resources for Trans Teens
Next week, we’ll write about being a student in less-than-affirming states.