NOTE: This blog post is a collaboration between Campaign for Southern Equality’s Abby Shuler and Craig White.
LGBTQ+ students are returning to school this fall with clearer and stronger anti-discrimination protections than ever before.
Back-to-school news stories about the return of in-person learning and debates over mask mandates have left another piece of important news to go largely unmarked: For the first time, the US Department of Education is directly and clearly communicating that LGBTQ+ students are protected from discrimination under federal law.
The story tracks back to the 2020 Supreme Court Bostock decision, an employment discrimination case which found that ‘protection from discrimination on the basis of sex’ includes protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order stating that Bostock’s reasoning would apply to other federal agencies, including immigration, housing, and education.
In June 2021, the US Department of Education followed up with a statement of interpretation of this decision, confirming its relation to Title IX protections in educational settings. Although parents and advocates have argued for years that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, also protects LGBTQ+ students, this is the first time that the Department has formally confirmed those legal protections.
The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Justice, has also developed a number of resources for families and schools on how to support LGBTQ+ students, including:
- A letter to educators about Title IX that clearly states the Office of Civil Rights “will fully enforce Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education programs and activities that receive federal funds.”
- A tip sheet on how schools can support transgender students, including ways to create gender affirming school cultures, policies, and student organizations.
- A guide for parents and students on confronting anti-LGBTQI+ harassment in school, with examples of the kinds of harassment that the Office of Civil Rights can investigate, and directions for filing a complaint.
- These and other resources for LGBTQ+ students are available on the Department of Education website.
The Supportive Schools team at the Campaign for Southern Equality is excited about the work of the Office of Civil Rights, and we also know that a lot of work remains to be done. Openly discriminatory laws and policies remain on the books in both states and school districts across the South. Student information systems and records are set up in ways that are still more likely to violate than protect the privacy of a student who has a name or gender marker different from what they were assigned at birth. School cultures that have tolerated bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students will not change overnight. And some Southern legislatures are already gearing up to propose new anti-trans legislation next year.
As always, we will stand with LGBTQ+ youth as they face these challenges – and this time, the Department of Education is standing with them too.
What you can do:
- Watch and share the Back-to-School Message for Transgender Students from the US Department of Justice, Department of Education, and Department of Health and Human Services.
- Know your rights and advocate for the rights of all students to receive an education free from discrimination.
- Help spread the word, and share this information with educators and administrators, to be sure they are up to date on their Title IX compliance.