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Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students

To:Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and Charter School Leaders;
and Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
From:Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Date:December 1, 2020

Thank you for your commitment to providing a safe and supportive environment for all students, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students. We are proud that Massachusetts is a leader in this regard and that there have been significant improvements over the years in creating supportive school communities for LGBTQ students. Creating safe schools for all students is an important part of providing the Holistic Supports and Enrichment outlined in our "Our Way Forward Download Word Document" report, and is a core component of the Department's priority to support social-emotional learning, health, and safety Download PDF Document. We look forward to continuing this important work with you.

As you are well aware, the recent pandemic has created significant and unique challenges for students in general and especially for our LGBTQ students as they may no longer be able to access important support structures such as their school's GSA (which often stands for Gay-Straight or Gender-Sexuality Alliances). As noted in Addressing Inequities in Education: Considerations for LGBTQ+ Children and Youth in the Era of COVID-19 Download PDF Document the adversities LGBTQ youth face can be exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes even more essential the always important role schools can play in fostering resilience among LGBTQ youth. (Society for Research in Child Development. Sept 2020.) For example, if your local GSAs are not currently meeting virtually, I strongly encourage you to contact your GSA advisors to assist them in coordinating virtual meetings. This is a critical structure that our LGBTQ students count on to provide acceptance and support during a pandemic that may exacerbate feelings of isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness. For similar reasons, it is also important to prioritize the meeting of all identity-based groups such as Black Student Unions, racial affinity groups, etc. More information about the state GSA Leadership Council can be found in the third item below.

To assist you in your efforts to create safe and supportive school environments for LGBTQ students, the Department and the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth (Commission) offer the following:

  1. Information on Federal and State Laws and Policies regarding LGBTQ Students

    The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students webpage contains information about federal and state laws and policies regarding LGBTQ students, including information about the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law, the Regulations for the Student Anti-discrimination Law, the Guidance on Notifying Parents When a Student Has Been Bullied Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression, the Guidance on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity, and the Principles for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students.

    Additionally, as a reminder, in 2016 the Department added a third gender marker option in the Student Information Management System (SIMS), the Education Personnel Information Management System (EPIMS), and the School Safety and Discipline Report (SSDR). The change was made in response to a number of Massachusetts school districts expressing the need for an additional gender marker, to include a value of Non-Binary (N). This gender marker is in addition to Female (F) and Male (M). Non-binary represents individuals for whom female/male does not accurately reflect their identity.

  2. Training and Technical Assistance

    The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, an initiative of the Department and the Commission, provides districts with training and technical assistance. Topics that may be requested include building safe and supportive environments for LGBTQ students; meeting the needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming students; the implementation of associated prevention efforts related to suicide, violence, and bullying; and the reduction of health disparities for LGBTQ students. To submit requests for trainings and technical assistance, please complete the appropriate form.

    Additionally, the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students offers curricular materials to help schools provide LGBTQ-inclusive lessons. These resources range from hour-long to multi-day lessons, and help students value the contributions of LGBTQ people and understand their place in history, literature, and other fields. Currently, "Defending Democracy at Home: Advancing Constitutional Rights," an interdisciplinary Language Arts and Social Studies unit, is available on the Department's Model Curriculum Unit website. Additional curricular materials are available on the Commission's website.

  3. The Massachusetts Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Leadership Council

    Modeled on the State Student Advisory Council (SSAC) to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council informs policy, promotes inclusive learning environments, supports the development of leadership skills, and fosters statewide collaboration among middle and high school LGBTQ students and allies. The GSA Leadership Council consists of a state council and five regional councils. The State GSA Leadership Council is comprised of student leaders from across Massachusetts, who attend the annual GSA Leadership Summit in August (held virtually this past August). The regional GSA leadership councils consist of student leaders and adult advisors.

    This year, the GSA Leadership Council is meeting remotely. These meetings are an important way for students to connect and build community. As noted above, it is more critical than ever to continue to provide these leadership opportunities in a safe and accessible way. State and regional meetings are held bi-monthly, 10am–1pm over Zoom.

    We invite you to register a team of students and adult advisors to join other GSA student leaders and advisors for the regional council meetings. Because the state and regional council meetings occur during school time, we ask that you support student and advisor attendance with appropriate arrangements for excused absences. For additional information and a complete list of dates, see the Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council.

  4. Pronouns

    As you may have noticed, several Department staff include pronouns on our email signatures. We have learned that this is one way to acknowledge that we do not always know a person's pronouns, as to signal gender inclusivity. I encourage you to have a conversation about pronouns with your communities and that you consider making this option available to your staff. You may find this resource on pronouns from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network Download PDF Document (GLSEN) helpful.

  5. The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth

    The Commission advises state government agencies on effective policies, programs, and resources for LGBTQ youth. The 50-member Commission and its staff issue annual policy recommendations, work in partnership with 17 state agencies, and hold community events and listening sessions.

In closing, feel free to contact the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students for more information. And again, my heartfelt appreciation for all that you are doing to support students during this especially challenging time.

Last Updated: December 2, 2020

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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