It’s Pride Month, and while celebrations look different this year, it’s an important time to appreciate the role schools and college campuses play in the lives of LGBTQI+* students.
While it is difficult to determine the total number of LGBTQI+ students nationwide, a recent national survey estimates 1.3 million high-schoolers across the country identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Studies show these students experience more bullying, depression and homelessness, as a result of their identities. The CDC’s resource page on LGBT youth stresses the importance of safe schools and homes specifically for these students and their overall health and success.
In recent years, states have been setting policies that support LGBTQI+ students, foster safe school environments and promote tolerance and acceptance in school curricula. Policies that support LGBTQI+ students increase not only their chance of academic success — including participation and overall health — but also the well-being of other students around them, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
For example, at least three states in the past year enacted legislation addressing the rights of transgender students in school environments. California enacted A.B. 711 that requires a school district or charter school to revise records to include a student’s updated name and/or gender identity. Virginia’s S.B. 161/H.B. 145 requires the department of education to develop model policies — including information, guidance and procedures — regarding transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools. The model policies must address topics like safe and supportive learning environments, maintenance of student records, the confidentiality of sensitive information and student participation in sex-specific school activities and events. Washington enacted S.B. 5689 requiring school districts to develop policies and procedures to respond to the bullying and harassment of transgender students.
Some states also enacted legislation to expand knowledge of the LGBTQI+ community by incorporating information into required school curricula. In 2019, Colorado, Illinois and New Jersey enacted legislation to include LGBT history in curricula requirements. In addition, Oregon enacted H.B. 2023 to require LGBT topics in school curriculum in various subjects, not just related to history and LGBT history. Oregon’s policies will go into effect in 2026, and the department of education will be required to provide professional development to teachers and administrators on the curriculum standards.
Although LGBTQI+ youth still face difficulties in schools, many states have taken steps to ensure schools play an important role in all students’ lives. We continue to track legislation as states respond to the issues facing LGBTQI+ students: Click on the “LGBT Students” sub-issue in our legislative tracking tool to find out more.
*For this blog post, we are using the acronym LGBTQI+ to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community. This acronym does not intend to exclude any other groups or individuals who identify themselves as part of this community.
As a policy analyst, Damion provides research and analysis on a diverse set of state-level education issues. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Damion worked as a senior policy analyst with Legislative Council at the Colorado General Assembly. Damion is dedicated to the idea that a nonpartisan perspective can enhance the discussion and understanding of state education issues from early learning to workforce development.