How to Make Your School Safer for LGBTQ Students
If you are a school administrator or educator, here's what you can do to make your school safer for LGBTQ youth.
Enact written policies. If you’re an administrator or policy-maker, advocate for, formulate and enact written policies specifically addressing and prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Train all employees. School districts can provide training to faculty and staff to help them recognize and respond to anti-LGBTQ harassment. Information on LGBTQ-inclusive training programs is available from organizations such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (www.glsen.org) and the Anti-Defamation League (www.adl.org). Make sure the program you use specifically addresses sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Protect employees from discrimination. The Constitution prohibits the government, including public schools, from discriminating based on anti-LGBTQ hostility or prejudice. In most states, statutes, regulations or executive orders provide additional protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. An increasing number of states include gender identity in these laws as well. School district policies that expressly prohibit discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity help ensure respect for employees’ legal rights. In addition, they help foster a climate of inclusion and acceptance and increase the possibility of LGBTQ students finding positive role models among faculty and staff.
Show your support. When staff members emphasize their support of LGBTQ people, this can have a substantial impact, both on students who experience mistreatment and on students who engage in it. If you're a staff member, you can display an “LGBTQ Safe Zone” sticker in offices and classrooms, for example, or participate in student-sponsored events like GLSEN’s Day of Silence. You can, when setting expectations for student conduct, specifically mention LGBTQ issues. In addition, you can:
- Adopt LGBTQ-inclusive curricula
- Support LGBTQ-supportive student groups, such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs)
- Remember and support the needs of transgender students
Remember the Internet. More peer abuse takes place online, but valuable online resources for students, especially LGBTQ students, are available on the Internet as well. Schools must be careful not to unduly restrict Internet access or to punish students for constitutionally protected speech. At the same time, schools must not tolerate abusive speech that disrupts the education, health and well-being of their students. Contact your state Department of Education, a local attorney or Lambda Legal’s Help Desk (1-866-542-8336 or visit www.lambdalegal.org/help) to help clarify these matters.
Don’t limit your policies to what’s required by law. Educational and related professional organizations, including the National Education Association, the American School Counselor Association and the American Psychological Association have issued codes of ethics or other official statements that provide important guidance on issues affecting LGBTQ youth and their allies. School officials and employees should inform themselves of their professional obligations, regardless of what the law provides for or requires.
Contact Lambda Legal if you have further questions about LGBTQ rights under the law (866-542-8336 or use our online email form at www.lambdalegal.com/help.)
An effective school district policy on discrimination and harassment should include:
- A clear prohibition of discrimination and harassment, applying to both staff and students.
- Enumeration of “actual or perceived,” “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” among the prohibited bases for discrimination and harassment.
- Procedures and guidelines for reporting harassment. Students suffering mistreatment should not be restricted to reporting harassment to any particular person, but there should be a procedure to ensure the information reaches the principal. And any staff member who witnesses or learns of discriminatory misconduct should have a clear duty set forth in the written policy to report that misconduct to designated staff members.
- A prohibition on retaliation against any person who reports harassment or discrimination.
- Information about the disciplinary consequences of violating the policy.
- A procedure for promptly investigating complaints.
- Requirements that the policy be displayed prominently at school, be distributed annually to students, parents, faculty and staff, and appear in school publications (including web pages) that set expectations for student or staff conduct.
- Procedures for regularly measuring and evaluating compliance with the policy by employees at all levels.
- Clear designation of supportive staff members with a responsibility to address discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence.
For information about these policy points or additional requirements that may exist under the law, contact Lambda Legal at 866-542-8336 or visit www.lambdalegal.org/help