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What LGBTQ+ Families Should Know For Back-to-School Time

By |2022-08-29T12:59:50-04:00August 29th, 2022|National, News|

As school-related anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies continue to rise, what should LGBTQ+ parents know about recent moves and how to protect their families? Two experts from Family Equality shared their thoughts with me.
The number of legislative attempts to restrict school materials and discussion about LGBTQ+ identities (so-called “Don’t Say Gay/LGBTQ” bills) rose to 23 in 2022, up from five in 2021, per PEN America. Florida and Alabama became the fifth and sixth states to enact them into law. PEN America also reports that LGBTQ-inclusive books were banned in school districts in at least 26 states. The year has also seen a continued rise in anti-transgender legislation, much of it impacting children and youth in schools.
Family Equality’s Director of Education Law & Policy, Senior Policy Counsel Nikhil Vashee said, “First, know this: Your family has nothing to be ashamed of, and your children deserve the right to learn and grow in a classroom that affirms their family composition no matter what.”
They also emphasized, “Students and families still retain federal protection against discrimination based on sex and gender identity, and the Department of Education is working on new regulations that will codify these protections. In the meantime, if you or your family experience discrimination — whether you live in a state with a ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ law or not — you can and should file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.”
The new Department of Education regulations are updates to the landmark Title IX civil rights law. In June 2021, the department issued guidance stating that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Although a federal judge in Tennessee temporarily blocked the guidance in 20 states last month, arguing that it had not gone through a formal regulatory rulemaking process, Vashee said that they disagree with the decision and “it may ultimately be a moot point” since the Biden Administration in June initiated the rulemaking process for these changes.
President Biden also issued an executive order in June aimed at advancing LGBTQ+ equality, including developing policies “supporting LGBTQI+ students’ well-being and academic success” and ones to “promote safe and inclusive learning environments in which all LGBTQI+ students thrive and to address bullying of LGBTQI+ students.” All these moves “show the Administration’s clear commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ students and families from discrimination,” Vashee asserted.
On the state level, one positive move this year was Maryland’s Inclusive Schools Act, which requires public schools and publicly-funded private schools to have comprehensive nondiscrimination policies that include protections for LGBTQ+ students and families. Shelbi Day, chief policy officer for Family Equality, said, “Getting this law passed was a multi-year effort by Freestate Equality and others on the ground in Maryland.” She hopes other states will follow Maryland “by introducing laws that specifically protect LGBTQ+ students and students with LGBTQ+ families.” She explained, “With one in four students with LGBTQ+ parents reporting feeling mistreated in school (even before states began trying to pass ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bills), it’s imperative that we continue to pass laws and policies that allow young people to learn in safe, welcoming environments.”
Some courts, too, are seeing anti-LGBTQ bills for the discrimination they are. In two recent examples, the 3rd District Court of Utah on Aug. 19 halted enforcement of a state law barring transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on July 26 issued a preliminary injunction requiring that a 10-year-old trans girl be allowed to rejoin her school’s girls’ softball team.
Day said, however, that she expects the next legislative session will see more bills targeting LGBTQ+ kids and families in schools. She invites people to sign up for Family Equality’s e-newsletter at familyequality.org to receive action alerts about harmful bills in their states and opportunities for getting involved and speaking out.
Additionally, she said, “We encourage all families to reach out to their elected officials and share why it’s so important to have safe, affirming classrooms for LGBTQ+ families. She suggested finding or starting a group of other local parents to receive advocacy training and find ways to “mobilize the power and passion of parents in creating concrete change.”
She also observed that parents can have a “huge influence” by “[Getting] involved in your school community if you feel safe to do so.” She suggested, “Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher” and, if possible, “consider volunteering in your child’s classroom or taking on a leadership role with the PTA, diversity committee, or curriculum review committee. These are concrete ways you can make your voice heard!”
Vashee advised, too, that many children “have some understanding of what’s happening” via social media, news, or new classroom policies or programs. “Don’t be afraid to start honest, age-appropriate conversations with them about how the presence of these laws in their classroom makes them feel,” they recommended. Family Equality’s website, familyequality.org, has resources for having these conversations as well as for finding family groups and creating inclusive classrooms.
Day also urged LGBTQ+ parents with any school-age children, and the children themselves if they are 13 or older, to take the LGBTQ+ Families and Schools Study launched by Family Equality, GLSEN and COLAGE (glsen.org/familystudy). This will “help inform education policymakers and the public about what’s really going on in our nation’s schools for LGBTQ+ families” and be “an important tool for fighting anti-LGBTQ+ bias.”
“We know that being out and sharing your story isn’t always easy, especially in times like this,” she affirmed. “But it’s more important than ever. Putting a face to the work is essential in demonstrating just how impactful these harmful bills are and just how urgently we need to pass protections for our families.”

About the Author:

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents. Please join her on June 4 by posting on social media for #LGBTQFamiliesDay.