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LGBTQ Student Rights in Higher Education FAQ

Welcome to FindLaw's FAQ about LGBTQ students' rights in higher education. This guide is for all college students, especially those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ). We'll talk about important topics like sexual orientation and gender identity and how these topics intersect with civil rights. We want to help LGBTQ students know their rights and where to find help on campus.

Let's explore some commonly asked questions about the rights of LGBTQ students in higher education.

What rights do LGBTQ students have in higher education?

In higher education, LGBTQ students have rights that ensure they're treated fairly and respectfully. Federal law protects these students against discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. This means colleges and universities must give equal access to all educational programs and activities, regardless of a student's LGBT status.

Institutions also must address issues like sexual harassment. Schools must provide a safe environment for all students. Besides legal protections, many colleges offer specific resources and support for LGBTQ students. This may include counseling services and LGBTQ-inclusive policies. It also may include student organizations that advocate for a positive campus climate. These rights and resources work together. They create a more inclusive and supportive educational experience for LGBTQ students.

What classifies as discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX") is a keystone federal law. Under Title IX, discrimination is an exclusion. It can also include the denial of benefits or differential treatment. This must be based on sex, which includes gender identity and sexual orientation.

Gender identity is a person's sense of gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth. Someone may identify as male, female, transgender, non-binary, or another identity. Sexual orientation is about who a person is attracted to emotionally, romantically, or sexually. It's also about whether a person identifies as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another orientation. It is separate and distinct from a person's gender identity.

Discrimination can manifest in various ways in the context of higher education. Examples include refusing admission to a student because of their LGBTQ status. It could mean providing unequal access to academic programs that support LGBTQ students. It can also include unequal treatment in extracurricular activities that support LGBTQ students. It could also mean allowing harassment or bullying due to gender identity or sexual orientation. It can also be failing to provide accommodations for a transgender student's needs, such as in the use of restrooms or dormitories.

Title IX also covers sexual harassment and assault. It ensures that all students, regardless of their LGBTQ status, have the right to learn in a safe environment. This environment should be free from these forms of discrimination. Schools must address and remedy any reported incidents promptly and effectively. They must do so to follow Title IX.

Does Title IX protect transgender students?

Yes. Title IX protects transgender students. This federal law bans sex discrimination in any education program or activity getting federal financial aid. Courts have interpreted this law to include discrimination based on gender identity. This interpretation means that transgender students have the same rights and protections as other students under Title IX. They have the right to equal treatment according to their gender identity in all aspects of campus life.

Schools must address and prevent harassment against transgender students. They must ensure these students have equal opportunities in academic and extracurricular activities. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance. This guidance aims to help educational institutions understand and follow these requirements. This reinforces the commitment to protect transgender students under Title IX.

What legal cases apply to LGBTQ students in higher education?

Several U.S. Supreme Court cases have helped shape the rights of LGBTQ people enrolled in higher education programs. Several key cases have significantly affected the rights of LGBTQ students in higher education. These include:

  1. Bostock v. Clayton County (2020): This is a critical case. In this case, the Court ruled discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. So, it is illegal under federal civil rights laws.
  2. Obergefell v. Hodges (2015): This is a landmark equality case. This case legalized same-sex marriages nationwide. This ruling influences how educational institutions treat LGBTQ students and their families.
  3. Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. (2017): This case was not decisively concluded in the Supreme Court. This case is about a transgender student's bathroom rights and gained significant attention. It highlights the struggles of transgender youth and the importance of upholding their rights under Title IX.
  4. Department of Education and Department of Justice's 2016 GuidanceThis, known as the Dear Colleague Letter, is not a court case. This joint guidance clarified that Title IX protections extend to transgender students. This included their rights to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identity. The court has since withdrawn the Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students.

These cases and directives are collectively important. Together, they underscore the rights and protections of LGBTQ students in the educational sphere.

Can LGBTQ students choose their dorms?

LGBTQ students have the right to choose their dormitories in many higher education institutions. A growing number of colleges offer gender-inclusive housing options. These schools recognize the importance of respecting a student's gender identity and sexual orientation in housing decisions. Colleges increasingly offer gender-inclusive housing options, like Georgia State University and a current list of about 60 or more schools.

These options allow students to choose living arrangements that best suit their identity and comfort. This can include the option for transgender students to live in dorms that align with their gender identity. It can also include the ability for any student to opt for gender-neutral housing.

Such policies aim to create a safe, inclusive, and supportive living environment for all students. This recognizes the diverse needs of the LGBTQ community. But, the availability of these options can vary by institution. Students need to ask about specific housing policies and accommodations available to them.

Can my college tell my parents about my LGBTQ status?

No. Colleges usually can't tell your parents about your LGBTQ status without your permission. There are privacy laws that protect student information. Only in some rare cases, like safety issues, might a college share this private information.

Can religious colleges discriminate against LGBTQ applicants?

Religious colleges occupy a unique position in the admission of LGBT people. Federal law generally prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But, some religious institutions may claim exemptions based on their religious beliefs. These exemptions can allow religious colleges to set different policies. These policies might not align with the broader non-discrimination mandates. They may opt out of federal funding as a result.

The extent to which such exemptions apply can vary. Many religious institutions choose to adopt inclusive policies voluntarily. LGBTQ applicants must research these specific policies. They should be familiar with the campus climate of any college they consider.

Can my college shut down my LGBTQ student organization?

Generally, no. Schools must treat student organizations, including those for LGBTQ students, like other groups. Colleges can't shut down these groups just because they are for LGBTQ students. This is part of being fair and supporting student experiences.

The Supreme Court's landmark case on student organizations, Healy v. James (1972), set standards for schools and student organizations. Students have rights to free association and free speech. As a result, there are only three circumstances in which a university could deny permission for students to form a student organization. Schools must allow student organizations when:

  1. Students adhere to university conduct policies
  2. Students do not create a substantial disruption on campus
  3. Students are not engaged in illegal activities

Colleges can't stop these groups from meeting just because they support LGBTQ people. This would be discriminatory.

Are there scholarships for LGBTQ students?

Yes. There are many scholarships designed explicitly for LGBTQ students. These scholarships help support their educational journeys. These scholarships aim to recognize and help students who are part of the LGBTQ community. They often consider their academic achievements and community involvement. They may also consider personal experiences related to their LGBTQ identity. Organizations such as the Point Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and various other LGBTQ advocacy groups offer such financial aid.

What resources are there for LGBTQ students?

There are many resources for LGBTQ students on college campuses. Look for LGBTQ-inclusive policies, safe zones, and student organizations. These resources can help with mental health, leadership development, and making friends. Groups like Campus Pride also offer support. Several national and regional organizations aim to help provide safe environments for LGBT students through organization, education, and advocacy programs.

Schools may also maintain an Allies and Safe Zones Program. This and similar programs provide students with designated faculty and staff who have received training on LGBT issues and are willing to provide counsel and support to LGBT students. Groups of this sort frequently display a logo or symbol identifying "Allies" and "Safe Zones."

Also, schools may have LGBT organizations and Gay-Straight Alliance organizations. These organizations provide support and community to LGBT students. Many schools also have LGBT study programs. These programs offer support and help to LGBT students experiencing difficulties. Some schools have developed LGBT-friendly communities as a campus housing option. Many also offer gender-neutral bathroom locations across campus. There are also training programs and social events available to students. They can attend conferences, apply for scholarships, and subscribe to newsletters.

Another essential resource is the American Bar Association's Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. This commission explicitly supports LGBTQI+ students enrolled in law school.

How do I report a college for LGBTQ discrimination?

Reporting a college for LGBTQ discrimination is a crucial step in ensuring the protection of your rights or the rights of others. If you believe you or someone else has faced discrimination, follow these steps:

  1. Document the incident. Keep a detailed record of the discriminatory incident. Include the date, time, and place. Also, include the names of any witnesses or people involved.
  2. Report the incident to the college. Contact your college's Title IX coordinator. Or contact the office responsible for handling discrimination complaints. File a formal complaint detailing the incident.
  3. Seek support services. Use campus resources available to you. This can include counseling centers or LGBTQ student organizations. It can also involve seeking legal aid for support and advice.
  4. File a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). If the college does not adequately address the issue, you can file a complaint with the OCR of the U.S. Department of Education. This office enforces Title IX.
  5. Consider legal action. As a last resort, consider legal options. Consult an attorney who specializes in civil rights or education law.

Remember, every student has the right to an education free from discrimination. Colleges must address and prevent such issues under federal law, including Title IX.

Getting Legal Help With a Discrimination Claim

If you're facing discrimination, consider getting legal help. You can talk to a school counselor or a legal expert. If your school refuses to recognize or support LGBT student groups, you should speak with a civil rights attorney who can help protect your rights. Remember, you have the right to a fair and supportive college experience.

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