1.2 School issues for LGBTQIA students
LGBTQIA (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual) students face specific issues when trying to live true to their lives and beliefs while in school. By North Carolina law, public school students are protected against bullying and harassment based on perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity and the First Amendment protects students’ rights to meet together as an organization and to dress as they desire. Other school issues, such as participating in the Day of Silence, are more complicated; however, students may choose to participate without fear of expulsion as long as they do not disrupt the learning process. Finally, pursuing a college degree can be extra work when a student is gay and lacks parental support, but scholarships and emergency funds for LGBTQIA students can help pay for tuition and living expenses.
- School harassment
- Forming a Gay-Straight Alliance(GSA)
- Bathroom and Locker Room Issues
- Participation in National LGBTQIA Calendar Events
- Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Legal Matters Surrounding Students’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
- ACLU’s Students! Know Your Rights: A Guide for Public High School Students
Schools are legally obligated to provide a safe school environment to all students. Students can’t learn if they worry about taunts, name-calling, or physical violence by their classmates or teachers. Most school administrators and teachers will help students who are being teased or bullied, but you must first tell them of the harassment. If you feel uncomfortable talking to school officials alone, there are other possibilities. You may e-mail school officials, for example. Also, Safe Schools NC board members are willing to go with you or speak for you. School administrators are legally obligated to protect students. If you feel that your requests for help are being ignored, there are organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina or Lambda Legal Defense, that can back you up in court.
Since the early 1980s, lesbian and gay couples have sought and won the right to attend the prom together while other students desire to dress according to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. Laws support same sex couples attending the prom and students’ gender expression despite administrative and parental disapproval. In recent years, gay prom dates have received a great deal of media coverage after schools have cancelled proms and parents paid for private proms excluding gay couples. Private proms may be offensive, but they are completely legal and within the rights of parents. Focus on having a safe, school-sponsored prom for all couples. The ACLU can assist you if your school administration presents challenges to your dream prom night.
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) LGBT Youth and Schools: Prom Resources
- Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): Prom Resource Kit
- Lambda Legal: Proms, Dances, and Dating
- Safe Schools Coalition: Prom Resources
Forming a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA)
School administrators and school boards have used many tactics to avoid approving LGBT-oriented school organizations: labeling them as sex clubs, claiming that it will disrupt the school environment, and cancelling all non-curricular organizations. Court rulings state that if public schools allow non-curricular organizations at their school, then they must approve Gay-Straight Alliances as well. If you want to create a Gay-Straight Alliance in North Carolina and face resistance, contact the ACLU of North Carolina or Safe Schools NC. Once you have a teacher faculty sponsor, administrative approval, and officers, the work begins. Contact other GSAs and look online for meeting activities and topics. See also our more detailed advice for GSA advisers and for students in GSAs.
Students can use their clothing as a form of silent expression. Like all expression, schools can prohibit certain clothes if it disrupts the “learning environment.” Courts have ruled that dress codes must balance students’ rights to dress as they wish against the school’s interest in maintaining a safe and orderly environment. A school can ban “indecent” messages such as vulgar language, sexual innuendo, or messages that promote suicide or illegal behaviors, but they cannot forbid clothing because they simply disagree with a t-shirt’s philosophical message. If you are concerned that your clothes or political buttons might get you in trouble, check to see if your school has a dress code and if employees actively enforce it.
Transgender students have the right to wear clothing that matches their gender identity. This falls under guarantee of the Freedom of Expression. In Doe v. Yunits, the judge rejected a school’s justification that a male-to-female student wearing “female” clothing was disruptive and made other students uncomfortable, holding that this excuse was not sufficient to overcome the student’s freedom to dress consistently with her gender identity.
Bathroom and Locker Room Issues
Many LGBTQIA students find bathrooms and locker rooms a war zone fraught with anti-LGBTQIA slurs and physical abuse. If you are having difficulties using the restroom or locker room, report the troublemakers to your school administrator and request an increase in security in the problematic areas reminding them you are the target, are not breaking any school rules, and this behavior is creating an unsafe learning environment. Although students have the legal right to access bathrooms and locker rooms, some school administrators seek alternatives to providing increased security. As a result, some school administrations offer LGBTQIA students the use of the employee single stall restroom.
Participation in National LGBTQIA Calendar Events
Many schools have challenged students’ ability to participate in LGBTQIA calendar events, such as the National Coming Out Day and the Day of Silence (DoS). Administrators are legitimately concerned that student participation will disrupt their schools’ learning environment. Teachers also have the right to demand students to respond to their questions. Fortunately, many teachers respect their students’ actions and avoid calling on DoS participants. Furthermore, students have the right to civilly protest any of these observances.
National LGBTQIA Calendar Events
- April: Day of Silence
- June: LGBT Pride Month
- June 28: Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots
- September 23: Bi Visibility Day
- October: LGBT History Month
- October 11: National Coming Out Day
- November: Transgender Day of Remembrance
- December 1: World AIDS Day
- Next: LGBTQIA vocabulary