All Students Deserve Safe and Affirming Schools

Supporting LGBTQ Youth

LGTBQ students face unique challenges in our schools. They are more likely to face bullying and harassment leading to poor grades, higher dropout rates and homelessness. Safe and affirming schools are a core element of student success.

School Climate Surveys Help Schools Develop LGBTQ Policies

With hate crimes on the rise across the country since Election Day 2016, the collective data from a decade of National School Climate Surveys has allowed LGBTQ student voices to be instrumental in guiding educators, administrators and policy makers in shaping LGBTQ policies. By providing a picture of the challenges and opportunities in states, they have also paved the way for state legislation, professional development programs, and school policy guidelines.

“I’ve heard other teachers say, ‘Well, that doesn’t happen here’ and other things to that effect. However, being able to present actual statistics and information from the LGBTQ survey to demonstrate that yes, these things are happening, helps to open people’s eyes to these issues. Not only is the national survey helpful, but the state surveys, which are even more specific, help to really point out the struggles facing the LGBTQ students in the area,” said Sheena Zadai, a teacher at North Ridgeville High School in Ridgeville, Ohio and GSA advisor.

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A 2015 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that “LGBTQ students experience pervasive harassment and discrimination, but school-based supports can make a difference.” The results of GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey will be released in Fall 2018.

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Educators Shape LGBTQ-Inclusive Textbooks

With the passage of the California FAIR Education Act in 2011, educators laid the groundwork for an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. In the summer of 2017, NEA members who advocated for the passage of FAIR were among the select group of committee members who reviewed and decided whether publishers made the grade for LGBTQ inclusive content in their textbooks.

“The whole idea was to make sure that LGBTQ kids see themselves in the social science books. People just like them made history. It’s good for them, it’s normalizing and reduces bullying. It’s really good for everyone,” said C. Scott Miller, California Teachers Association (CTA) member and liaison to the Equality California Board.

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California is the first and only state to mandate that students be taught about the contributions of LGBTQ people in social sciences classes. That means the educators in the state will play a vital role in driving the creation of LGBTQ curricula for K-12 classes in California and potentially around the country.

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Students Mobilize in Support of Transgender Rights Policy

In 2015, the biennial “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) drew attention to the alarming number of LGBTQ students who had contemplated and made a plan for suicide. The suicide numbers were even higher for transgender students, although the CDC did not separately survey transgender students.

In Frederick County, Maryland, the survey sparked a student-led movement that resulted in the Frederick County School Board convening a meeting to discuss the issue. A number of transgender students told their stories and shared their experiences. The student movement led to the implementation of the school district’s first-ever comprehensive transgender rights policy — Policy 443: Creating Welcoming and Affirming Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.

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Legal Guidance on Transgender Student Rights

What legal rights do transgender students have?

  • The right not to be disciplined or be treated differently because they are transgender or gender non-conforming.
  • The right to be treated with respect and not harassed or bullied because they are transgender.
  • The right to equal educational opportunities, including the right to use locker rooms and restrooms that are consistent with a student’s gender identity, and to participate equally in athletic or extracurricular activities and other school events.
  • The right to transition at school, which means that students have the right to express their transitioned gender.
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Which laws protect transgender students?

  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
  • The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution
  • The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
  • The Due Process Clause of the U. S. Constitution
  • State and local laws

Read more in NEA’s comprehensive guide: “Legal Guidance on Transgender Students’ Rights.”

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Take Action

Building Power in Our Communities

Ready to get active and be the superhero our students deserve in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education? Then join the NEA EdJustice League!

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Resources

What Do You Say?

What do you say to "That's so gay" and other anti-LGBTQ comments? What can caring adults do? Stop it, don't ignore it, educate, and be pro-active!

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Support Trans Students

"Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools" offers recommendations and resources based on research and best practices that have been tested in the field.

View the Guide

Jump Start Your GSA

Learn how to establish or re-establish a Gay-Straight Alliance, identify your mission and goals, and assess your school's climate. Jump start your GSA to create safer schools for all!

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