What Educators Should Know About LGBTQ+ Rights

As an educator, it is important to be aware of, and educate yourself on the civil rights laws that exist to protect yourself and your students. Federal laws exist that protect students and educators from discrimination on the basis of sex, including gender identity or sexual orientation. MEA is here to help you better understand those laws.

What protections do my students have?
Title IX prohibits discrimination against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Department of Justice recently published guidance on confronting anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and harassment in schools. Because of Title IX’s protections, schools cannot discriminate in:

  • Extracurricular Activities—Schools may not exclude students from school activities, including school clubs, student office, and field trips based on the students’ sexual orientation or transgender status.
  • School Sports—Schools may not prevent transgender students from participating in athletic contests on teams that match their gender identity. (Some states have passed laws banning transgender participation in school sports, but litigation challenging those laws has been successful so far.)
  • Dress Codes—Where schools have gender-specific dress codes, schools cannot prevent transgender students from following the dress code rules that match their gender identity. MEA urges school districts to adopt gender neutral and inclusive dress codes.
  • Bathrooms & Other Facilities— Schools may not prevent students from using the bathrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity.

Title IX also prohibits anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and bullying. Harassment can consist of offensive comments, gestures, and physical acts of a sexual nature, or can be non-sexual but related to sex (including sexual orientation or gender identity), by school staff or other students. Failure to treat students consistent with their gender identity, including repeated failure to use the student’s correct pronouns, can be a form of harassment.

If the school is aware that a student or students are experiencing harassment that is so frequent and severe that it prevents them from participating in school activities, the school is required by federal law to take steps to prevent it. Some of those steps are:

  1. You can report a Title IX violation to the Department of Justice.
  2. Students also have free speech rights at school. Generally, schools cannot censor student speech unless there is reason to think that it will substantially disrupt school activities or infringe on others’ rights. That means students should be allowed to wear or display Pride gear and speak out about LGBTQ+ Issues.
  3. Under the Equal Access Act, students in secondary schools also have the right to form GSAs (Gay Straight Alliances or Gender-Sexuality Alliances), so long as the school authorizes any other extracurricular student groups, and the group is student-initiated. Schools cannot single out GSAs for extra restrictions or prevent them from using school bulletin boards, making announcements, hosting fundraisers, or engaging in other activities that the school allows other extracurricular groups to do.

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