Monday, February 4, 2013

Know Your Rights: GLAD's Youth Initiative

GLAD is expanding our Youth Initiative with the goals of both fighting for additional rights and protections for LGBTQ youth and, of equal importance, empowering LGBTQ youth through knowledge of the many rights and protections that currently exist in New England.  Knowledge is power. If you know your rights, you’ll know when they are being violated. GLAD can work with you to make sure that you are treated justly both in and out of school.

Let’s start in school. 

LGBTQ students are a high risk group to be the victims of bullying and harassment.  The good news is that the six New England states have some of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country.  All of these laws require that, if school staff see bullying, they must report it; the school must investigate it, and, if the investigation determines that bullying occurred, the school must take appropriate action to keep the victim of bullying safe and to prevent future incidences of bullying.  Schools are required to make sure that both students and parents are aware of the school’s anti-bullying policies and have access to copies of those policies. 

All of the New England states except Massachusetts list sexual orientation, gender identity and disability (which includes HIV status) as specific characteristics that can motivate bullying, along with other characteristics like race.  The anti-bullying laws of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont apply to all public and some private school students, while the laws of Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire only apply to public school students. 

GLAD has a chart that details the various features of each New England state’s anti-bullying laws.

If you find yourself being harassed, bullied or discriminated against you should:
·         Tell somebody.  If you have understanding friends, parents, or counselors, use them as a support system.
·         Keep notes on what is happening (and record who, when, where, and how).
·         Get a copy of your school’s policies on student conduct and discipline.  It might be in your student handbook or on the school website.  You can also talk with your guidance counselor or school administrator.
·         Report it to the person designated in your school’s policy.  Make your report in writing so that you can prove you made it. 

All public school students also have the right to:
·         Form a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) that gets treated the same as every other non-curricular group, including equal funding, access to facilities, and the ability to choose your group’s name (private school students whose schools receive federal funding also have this right);
·         Access information about LGBTQ subjects, including educational websites;
·         Free speech and expression, including the right to express ideas respectfully that may offend others, and to disagree with others;
·         Dress and present yourself in a manner that is consistent with your gender identity.
·         Be protected from discrimination or harassment based on gender or HIV status (private school students whose schools receive federal funding also have this right).

What about outside school?

In all six New England states there are laws protecting you from discrimination based on your actual or perceived sexual orientation, HIV status or sex in employment, housing and public accommodations (like restaurants or stores).  There are also explicit protections for gender identity with the exceptions of New Hampshire and Massachusetts (in Massachusetts only public accommodations are not explicitly covered).  However, in many cases, even where there is not explicit gender identity protection, it is possible to be protected using a different characteristic like sex, sexual orientation or disability.  Never assume you are NOT protected.  Contact GLAD to know your rights.

You also have the right to be tested for HIV without obtaining your parent’s permission. But, in some states your doctor may report the test results to your parents, so make sure you have a discussion with the doctor about the confidentiality of your test results.

You have the right to report to the police anyone in or out of school who physically harms you, threatens you or vandalizes your property.

GLAD has prepared colorful, easy to read LGBTQ Student Rights brochures for each of the New England states which tell you about the rights students have in your state.  You can see these brochures online or contact the Legal InfoLine and we would be glad to mail you a hard copy.  We will gladly send copies to GSAs or other youth groups, just contact us.

If your rights are not being respected, or if you have any legal question, EMAIL GLAD’s Legal InfoLine anytime at,


work one-on-one with a trained volunteer Monday-Friday, 1:30-4:30 p.m. either by LIVE CHAT at or by PHONE: 800-455-GLAD (4523).

GLAD’s Legal InfoLine is free and confidential and can provide you with additional information about your rights—and resources that can help you fight for them.

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