The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, includes accounts of harm and hostility from 24 North Carolina students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
Today the Campaign for Southern Equality filed a Title IX complaint against the North Carolina State Board of Education (SBE) and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The complaint alleges that North Carolina’s public schools are systematically marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students in violation of Title IX. In doing so, they violate civil rights protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and North Carolina schools’ obligation to provide every student with a safe school environment free from discrimination.
The complaint is the latest action from the Campaign for Southern Equality against S.B. 49, the so-called “Parent’s Bill of Rights” that is also known as North Carolina’s “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” law, and H.B.574, which prohibits participation in school sports by transgender athletes. Since the August 2023 passage of S.B 49, CSE and other advocates have asserted that the law, and the state’s enforcement of it, creates a hostile educational environment for LGBTQ+ students and those from LGBTQ+ families in violation of Title IX.
The complaint is based on information provided by over 100 individuals reporting on the consequences of S.B. 49 through testimony to school boards, an online submission form, email communications, and personal interviews. Of these, 24 individuals – including parents, students, educators, administrators, and school board members, agreed to be quoted directly and consented to speak with OCR investigators upon request.
The complaint, prepared by Christopher A. Brook of Patterson Harkavy, LLP, and Em Seawell, consulting attorney for the Campaign for Southern Equality, details a variety of ways that North Carolina schools are implementing policies and practices that discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. They include:
- LGBTQ-affirming materials – and even books that simply have LGBTQ+ characters – are being removed from schools.
- School officials are outing LGBTQ+ students to their parents and peers. This has resulted in hardships at home for several students who submitted testimony.
- LGBTQ+ students are facing new barriers in accessing health and mental health support.
- LGBTQ+ students are being walled off from supportive educators.
- Transgender students are being barred from participating in athletics.
Testimonials in the complaint underline the harmful consequences of the law. Testimonials include these anecdotes:
- One district pulled out of a partnership with the local library that provided universal access to library cards for all district students, because the library privileges could allow students access to books that may include LGBTQ+ themes.
- Administrators have attempted to prohibit schools from participating in Banned Books Week and other academic explorations.
- In one school, discussion about puberty – including discussions about menstruation – have been pushed back to fifth grade rather than fourth grade, so as to comply with S.B. 49, despite some female students receiving their first period in fourth grade.
- An advisor of a Gender and Sexuality Alliance feels forced to leave the room during meetings when conversation turns to students’ personal identities so that the advisor does not learn about a student’s LGBTQ+ identity and be required to “out” them.
- Overall, school staff have flagged that S.B. 49 has had a chilling effect on any actions at all about transgender students.
CSE requests the following remedial actions:
- The U.S. Department of Education and/or Department of Justice should issue a determination to SBE and DPI that provisions of S.B. 49 and H.B.574 violate Title IX.
- SBE and DPI must convey this determination of their Title IX responsibilities to each of North Carolina’s 115 public school districts and over 200 public charter schools, provide training to school districts’ and charter schools’ Title IX coordinators on the legal protections afforded to LGBTQ students, and take steps to ensure compliance with the law.
- The federal executive branch should request that SBE and DPI appoint a liaison from their ranks to oversee and coordinate statewide compliance with Title IX.
- SBE and DPI should encourage all North Carolina public school systems to adopt the measures recommended by the United States Department of Education for supporting gender non-conforming students
One student quoted in the complaint said:
“I am a transgender student, and I have been out at school for 2 years (since 8th grade). My parents are not accepting of me and have not allowed me to use my name in the classroom. I came out secretly to my teachers in 9th grade, and this made me feel a lot safer at school. This new “Parents’ Bill of Rights” has made it mandatory for my teachers to tell my parents the fact that I use a different name and pronouns. My parents disapproved, of course, and it was a fight for me to be able to be who I am in a place that I’m in almost every day. I already suffer from mental health issues like depression, gender dysphoria, and anxiety, and the ongoing battle of trans rights (MY rights) aren’t making it any better. Although I can ‘freely’ use my name and pronouns in the classroom now (my parents still disapprove), the idea that transgender students have to be forcefully outed, even if school personnel are against it, is ludicrous. The NC state legislature should be ashamed of the harm they are inadvertently causing trans kids like me.”
Craig White (he/they pronouns), Supportive Schools Director for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said today:
“When S.B. 49 passed we imagined all of the ways that students, parents, educators, and the North Carolina school system at large would be damaged. This complaint shows that those harms are actually happening right now in schools across North Carolina – endangering and marginalizing LGBTQ+ students and students from LGBTQ+ families. The state’s public education system is now clouded by fear, discrimination, and censorship that interferes with students’ ability to learn. It is time for school districts to stop implementing S.B. 49 – because the anti-LGBTQ+ policies that this law requires are patently incompatible with the Title IX protections to which every LGBTQ+ student is entitled.”
Since the passage of S.B. 49 the Campaign for Southern Equality has maintained that school districts cannot both follow S.B. 49 and remain in compliance with Title IX. We have recommended that compliance with S.B. 49 be postponed or suspended until the Department of Public Instruction has had a chance to address the Title IX issues prompted by S.B. 49. Unfortunately, many districts have taken steps to implement S.B. 49 – but local actions have not been monolithic: Just this month, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board voted unanimously that it would not require school staff to notify parents if a student’s name or pronouns change, and it would not ban instruction about gender identity before fifth grade.