Improving the School Experience for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Students (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Mar 8, 2010


Laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination against specific groups not only provide penalties for violators, but also dignify the existence of those groups and suggest that the climate is not sympathetic to people who express bigotry in even legally protected ways. There have been some government initiatives to protect the rights of lesbian and gay students (and sometimes teachers) in particular, a sampling of which is provided below. Some school districts and schools have developed specific policies, but local antidiscrimination legislation and policies that protect gays overall also protect gay students.

At the Federal level, activity has largely consisted of court decisions, which have generally been narrow, and apply only to districts in which the court is located. An early decision in Rhode Island (Fricke v. Lynch, 1980) can be considered one of the most radical: it allowed two men to attend their senior prom as a couple (Dutile, 1986).

A Wisconsin law, the first statewide legislation of its kind, mandates that every public school district adopt and disseminate a policy prohibiting bias, stereotyping, and harassment. Nevertheless, state support for lesbian and gay students has been limited to workshops for counselors and distribution of a pamphlet describing the policy and materials from private organizations.

Massachusetts has established the only statewide Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. Its first report reviewed the lives of Massachusetts lesbian and gay adolescents and presented a comprehensive set of recommendations that became the basis of the Massachusetts Department of Education's Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students, which includes workshops for school people and students (Governor's Commission, 1993).

One of the seven Los Angeles Unified School District commissions is devoted to gay and lesbian education. It makes recommendations to the Board of Education on meeting the needs of lesbian and gay students.


Urban schools around the country have implemented many different types of programs both to help lesbian and gay students feel included and respected and to educate other students about homosexuality and the achievements of gays throughout history.

Support Groups

Groups help lesbian and gay students, both those who are out and those who do not publicly acknowledge their orientation, overcome their fear and isolation, and encourage them to remain in school (Lipkin, 1992). Their services include counseling, peer support, health information (including safer sex), and referrals. Since some teens are estranged from their families, housing and legal services may also be provided. Some groups work with families and do antibias training with teachers. Groups can be funded by the government and/or private sources, and work city-wide (e.g., Hetrick-Martin Institute, New York; Project 10, Los Angeles; University of Minnesota Youth and AIDS Project, St. Paul) or in a single school (Project 10 East, Rindge and Latin School, Cambridge). The Bridges Project is a national network of groups serving lesbian and gay youth.

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