While June was officially Pride Month, the importance of creating safe, supportive and inclusive school environments for all children including LGBTQA students must be a year-round effort. Evidence suggests that a school’s failure to provide a safe, supportive and non-discriminatory environment for transgender and gender non-conforming students can result in significant harm to the child.
LGBTQA Youth Are At Greater Risk Of Bullying Than Cis-Gendered Youth
The 2017 National School Climate Survey found that more than half of LGBTQA students (59.5%) reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 46.6% because of their gender expression and 35% because of their gender. 34.8% of LGBTQA students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. The report found that:
- 83.7% of transgender students were bullied/harassed at school because of their gender; and
- 69.9% of gender non-conforming students were bullied/harassed at school because of their gender.
LGBTQA Students Do Not Feel Comfortable Being Themselves
The 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report found that:
- Only 27% of LGBTQ youth can “definitely” be themselves in school as an LGBTQ person;
- 58% of youth reported that they don’t feel safe using the restroom or locker room that best reflects their gender; and
- 65% of responders said they try not to use the bathroom while at school altogether.
Being in an unwelcoming environment, being bullied, and not feeling safe on a daily basis can take its toll on a youth’s mental health. At times, mental health needs are so significant that they adversely impact educational performance.
So what can you do?
Know your rights!
Your child’s rights at school
ALL children have an equal opportunity to participate in school without regard to sex. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) bans discrimination on the basis of sex by public schools. Title IX does not define the term sex. In 2016, the United States Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance making it clear that the prohibition against sex discrimination covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. This guidance was based on and is “consistent with courts’ and other agencies’ interpretations of Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination.” Unfortunately, this guidance was withdrawn on February 22, 2017. This issue will continue to be litigated in the courts. Connecticut isn’t waiting for the federal courts.
What has Connecticut done to protect our LGBTQA Youth?
In 2011, Connecticut passed Public Act 11-55 (P.A. 11-55) that codified gender identity and expression as a protected class under the state’s anti-discrimination statutes. P.A. 11-55 defines gender identity or expression as:
“a person’s gender related identify, appearance or behavior, whether or not that identity, appearance, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth . . . .”
On February 23, 2017, the day after the Trump Administration rolled back the federal guidelines that protected transgender students in public schools, Governor Malloy signed Executive Order No. 56 ensuring that all children have an equal opportunity to participate in school without regard to their gender identity or expression. In addition, Governor Malloy and the State Department of Education (“SDE”) delivered a memo to every public school superintendent in the state, which outlined Connecticut’s discrimination laws and explained that additional more formal guidance would be forthcoming.
Can my LGBTQA Child Access Special Education Services?
Under the Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, schools must provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education. In order to qualify for special education services under IDEA, a student must have a disability that adversely affects educational performance and require specialized instruction.
While LGBTQA students would not qualify for special education services based solely on their gender identity or expression, they may be eligible if they have health or mental health needs that adversely impact educational performance. For some students, exposure to discrimination, bullying and harassment can result in anxiety, depression or other health related symptoms. When these symptoms impact educational performance, attendance, or behavior, this is a reason to request an evaluation to determine if the student qualifies for special education services.
For more information on the process for getting your child identified, check out this blog post. For more information on obtaining services for your child’s mental health needs, check out this blog post.
There are many online resources for training and education available for teachers and students. The following are just a few of those resources.
- The 2019 National School Climate Survey is currently underway. If you have a child who attended high school or middle school sometime during the last school year (2018-2019), identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and are at least 13 years old, they can fill out the anonymous survey here.
- Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools: This guide, written for administrators, teachers, parents, and other adults who work with youth, covers topics ranging from basic concepts of gender and the importance of affirming gender identity, to best practices for restroom access and working with unsupportive parents. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Gender Spectrum led the effort to produce the guide, joined by HRC Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Education Association (NEA).
- State Guidance for Districts Regarding Transgender Students: A memo from Governor Dannel Malloy and Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell regarding Transgender Students dated February 23, 2017.
- State Maps of Laws & Policies: View the laws and policies that affect the LGBTQA community and see where the states stand on important issues.
- Connecticut Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies: Federal and State laws regarding bullying and harassment provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education.
- Safe and Supportive Environments (Health Education): Resources on creating safe and supportive learning environments provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education.
- LGBT Youth Resources: Resources for LGBT youth and friends/supporters, resources for educators and school administrators and resources for parents, guardians and family members. Resources compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.