Education/Civil Rights Open Letter on the Rights of LGBTQ+ Students and Staff

View this letter as a PDF here. 

Education/Civil Rights Open Letter on the Rights of LGBTQ+ Students and Staff

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and two other cases that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people “necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.”[1] This decision affirmed what many civil rights and education advocates have long known: discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been and still is prohibited under federal civil rights law.

This landmark decision from the Court is a powerful tool for changing education environments, both at K-12 schools and in higher education, for the better by removing those barriers that are impeding LGBTQ+ students and educators — especially those who are also people of color — from being safe and affirmed in schools and college campuses across the country.

Historically, federal, state, and local policies have required or allowed for discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, educators, faculty, and staff, and created environments where they are not safe to learn or safe to work. When students are not safe at school, they are denied an education; and when educators do not feel safe at school, they cannot do their jobs.

Research conducted over the past thirty years consistently documents that LGBTQ+ students experience discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as intersecting identities that include race, disability, ethnicity, religion, color, and national origin. Discrimination creates barriers to short-term and long-term educational attainment and well-being for students based on who they are.

In 2017, most LGBTQ+ students in K-12 schools (62.2 percent) reported experiencing LGBTQ+-related discriminatory policies or practices at school. Some of the more common forms of discrimination were:

  • Disciplined for public displays of affection that were not disciplined among non-LGBTQ+ students: 31.3 percent.
  • Prevented from wearing clothes considered “inappropriate” based on their gender identity: 22.6 percent.
  • Prohibited from discussing or writing about LGBTQ+ topics in school assignments: 18.2 percent.
  • Prohibited from including LGBTQ+ topics in school extracurricular activities (for example, in school publications including yearbook or newspaper, and in events such as the annual Day of Silence).
  • Prevented from promoting GSAs (Gender Sexuality Alliances or Gay Straight Alliances): 17.6 percent.[2]

These experiences do not end when students graduate from high school but continue in higher education. The vast majority (65 percent) of undergraduate transgender and gender nonconforming students have reported experiencing harassment at their institution.[3] LGBTQ+ students experience uninviting college campuses that, in turn, can have a great negative impact on their personal academic success, a reality that this ruling has the potential to change.[4] According to the research literature, faculty can impact a student’s perceptions of the campus climate including negative classroom experiences that make them feel invisible and silenced[5]; a negative campus climate for LGBTQ+ students could also impact those students’ social networks and overall satisfaction with their college experience.[6]

LGBTQ+ teachers are more likely to engage in LGBTQ+-affirming and supportive teaching practices than teachers who are not LGBTQ+ (74.5 percent of LGBTQ+ teachers versus 49.0 percent of non-LGBTQ+ teachers).[7] However, when educators experience discrimination and do not feel safe at school themselves, it is less likely they will be able to support students in these ways. LGBTQ+ teachers were more likely than non-LGBTQ+ teachers to report experiencing backlash from administrators, parents, and communities. More than 1 in 10 LGBTQ+ teachers (11.1 percent) said that engaging in LGBTQ+-affirming and supportive teaching practices could jeopardize their employment.

In this moment of increased awareness of systemic racist police violence and the COVID-19 pandemic with its racially disproportionate harms, fairness and equal opportunity for students in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education should take on a new urgency. All civil rights and education advocates should highlight the opportunity that the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision represents to spur positive changes in policies and practices that will benefit LGBTQ+ students and staff in both K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. These positive changes will especially benefit students and staff who are multi-marginalized.

We urge all students, educators, and families to rally in community to advance inclusive and welcoming environments in all schools that celebrate and affirm LGBTQ+ students and staff. This is both a moral imperative and a legal necessity. Learning environments should be places of liberation, where every educator can teach and every student can thrive and reach their full potential, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex, religion, language, disability, immigration, or economic status.

For additional information or to add your organization to this open letter please see the resources included below or contact Aaron Ridings at GLSEN at [email protected], CJ Powell at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at [email protected], or Debbie Ojeda-Leitner at the National Center for Transgender Equality at [email protected].


National Organizations:

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

ADL (Anti-Defamation League)

Alliance for Excellent Education

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Atheists

American Civil Liberties Union

American Federation of Teachers

American School Counselor Association

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO

Athlete Ally

Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation

Autistic Reality

Break the Cycle

Center for American Progress

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues


Committee for Children

Council of Administrators of Special Education

EDGE Consulting Partners

Educators for Excellence

End Rape On Campus

Equal Rights Advocates

Family Equality

Feminist Majority Foundation


Girls Inc.

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality


Hispanic Federation

Human Rights Campaign

IDRA (Intercultural Development Research Association)

interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth

Interfaith Alliance


Know Your IX, a Project of Advocates for Youth

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Lawyers for Good Government

Learning Heroes

Modern Military Association of America


National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)

National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

National Association of School Psychologists

National Association of Secondary School Principals

National Black Child Development Institute, Inc.

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Council on Independent Living

National Education Association

National Equality Action Team (NEAT)

National Immigration Law Center (NILC)

National Indian Education Association (NIEA)

National LGBTQ Task Force

National PTA

National Organization for Women

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

New America

New Leaders



PowerOn, a program of LGBT Technology Institute

Public Citizen

Safe School Action Network

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Southern Poverty Law Center

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools

Teach For America

The Advocacy Institute

The Education Trust

The Fenway Institute

The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS)

The Trevor Project


True Colors United

Union for Reform Judaism

WCJC Digital Broadcasting Company

Whitman-Walker Institute

Young Invincibles

Youth Justice Project – Southern Coalition for Social Justice


State & Local Organizations:

Applied Research Consultants

Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence

California Women’s Law Center

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Coalition of Rainbow Alliances

Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Day One

Education Law Center-PA

Equality California

Equality North Carolina

Georgia Equality

Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault

Girls for Gender Equity

Girls Inc. of Bay County

Girls Inc. of Central Alabama

Girls Inc. of Pinellas

Girls Inc. of Santa Fe

Girls Inc. of Hamblen

Girls Inc. of Central Alabama

Girls Inc. of Chattanooga

Girls Inc. of Greater Houston

Girls Inc. of Greater Los Angeles

Girls Inc. of New Hampshire

Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey

Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara

Girls Inc. of Jacksonville

Girls Inc. of Kingsport

Girls Inc. of Long Island

Girls Inc. of Metro Denver

Girls Inc. of Omaha

Girls Inc. of Orange County

Girls Inc. of San Antonio

Girls Inc. of Shelbyville & Shelby County

Girls Inc. of Sioux City

Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest

Girls Inc. of the Valley

Girls Inc. of TN Valley

Girls Inc. of Washington County

Girls Inc. of Wayne County

Girls Inc. of Westchester

Girls Inc. of Sioux City

GLSEN Albuquerque, New Mexico

GLSEN Arkansas

GLSEN Austin, Texas

GLSEN Bluegrass — Kentucky

GLSEN Bucks County, Pennsylvania

GLSEN Central New Jersey

GLSEN Central Ohio

GLSEN Connecticut

GLSEN Greater Cincinnati, Ohio

GLSEN Greater Fort Wayne, Indiana

GLSEN Greater Huntsville, Alabama

GLSEN Greater Kansas City, Missouri

GLSEN Greater Tulsa, Oklahoma

GLSEN Green Bay, Wisconsin

GLSEN Hawaii

GLSEN Kansas

GLSEN Los Angeles, California

GLSEN Lower Hudson Valley, New York

GLSEN Maryland

GLSEN Massachusetts

GLSEN Merced, California

GLSEN Mid-Hudson
GLSEN New Hampshire

GLSEN Northeast Ohio

GLSEN Northern New Jersey

GLSEN Northern Utah

GLSEN Northern Virginia

GLSEN Northwest Ohio

GLSEN Omaha, Nebraska

GLSEN Oregon

GLSEN Philly

GLSEN Phoenix, Arizona

GLSEN Richmond, Virginia

GLSEN San Diego, California

GLSEN Southeast Michigan

GLSEN Southern Maine

GLSEN Southern New Jersey

GLSEN Springfield, Missouri

GLSEN Tampa Bay, Florida

GLSEN Tennessee

GLSEN Upstate New York

GLSEN Washington State

GLSEN Yuma, Arizona

Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Kansas-Oklahoma Conference United Church of Christ

Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs

LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County

Mazzoni Center

Michigan Teacher of the Year Network

Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault

North Carolina Justice Center

Oasis Legal Services

Out in the Open

PFLAG, Akron

PFLAG, Belleville

PFLAG, Birmingham, Alabama

PFLAG, Bloomington

PFLAG, Bucks County

PFLAG, Chautauqua

PFLAG, Charleston, Illinois

PFLAG, Collingswood

PFLAG, Danville, Pennsylvania

PFLAG, Danville-San Ramon Valley

PFLAG, East Texas

PFLAG, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey

PFLAG, Franklin, Tennessee

PFLAG, Grand Island

PFLAG, Greater Providence

PFLAG, Greensboro, North Carolina

PFLAG, Greensburg

PFLAG, Hampton Roads

PFLAG, Hastings

PFLAG, Holland/Lakeshore

PFLAG, Indianapolis

PFLAG, Jersey City

PFLAG, Jersey Shore

PFLAG, Johns Creek

PFLAG, Juneau

PFLAG, Kansas City

PFLAG, Kings Tulare Counties

PFLAG, Kingston

PFLAG, Long Island

PFLAG, Los Angeles

PFLAG, Manhattan Beach, Beach Cities


PFLAG, Mount Pleasant

PFLAG, Nashville

PFLAG, New Hampshire

PFLAG, North Atlantic Region

PFLAG, Philadelphia

PFLAG, Princeton

PFLAG, Rochester

PFLAG, Sacramento

PFLAG, Salisbury

PFLAG, San Diego County

PFLAG, Siouxland

PFLAG, Skagit

PFLAG, South Miami

PFLAG, Spartanburg

PFLAG, Stillwater

PFLAG, Wilmington/Northern Delaware

PFLAG, Holland Lakeshore

PGLAG, Saginaw, Michigan

Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus (PGMC)

Prism DMV

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

Silver State Equality-Nevada

Texas Appleseed

The Black Student Movement at UNC Chapel Hill

Voices for Vermont’s Children

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

Women’s Law Project

Youth Pride, Inc.

YWCA Kalamazoo

YWCA Nashville & Middle TN





[1] Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., 140 S.Ct. 1731, 1747 (2020).

[2] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools: New York: GLSEN. Available at

[3] Postsecondary National Policy Institute. Fact Sheet on LGBTQ Students in Higher Education. (Updated June 2020). Available at

[4] Linley, J. L., Nguyen, D., Brazelton, G. B., Becker, B., Renn, K., & Woodford, M. (2016). Faculty as sources of support for LGBTQ college students. College Teaching, 64(2), 55–63.

[5] Linley, J. L., & Nguyen, D. J. (2015). LGBTQ experiences in curricular contexts. In D. Stewart, K. A. Renn, & G. B. Brazelton (Eds.), New directions for student services, no. 152: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer students in higher education: An appreciative inquiry (pp. 25–39). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[6] Garvey, J. C., Squire, D. D., Stachler, B., & Rankin, S. R. (2018). The impact of campus climate on queer-spectrum student academic success. Journal of LGBT Youth, 15(2), 89–105.

[7] Greytak, E.A., Kosciw, J.G., Villenas, C. & Giga, N.M. (2016). From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited, A Survey of U.S. Secondary School Students and Teachers. New York: GLSEN. Available at