Policies that target LGBTQ+ families in schools will be back in 2023. Family Equality is gearing up to fight them.
LGBTQ+ parents have many of the same worries and anxieties that any parent faces when their child goes to school. They are worried about their children’s ability to reconnect with their learning after COVID-19-related school closures. They are concerned about teacher shortages, funding shortfalls in public education, and scary news of classroom bullying and violence. All of this would be enough to cause stress for any parent, but LGBTQ+ parents and their children face additional hurdles that threaten their children’s ability to thrive in school.
Don’t Say Gay or Trans bills
In 2022, Alabama and Florida passed bills that prohibit teachers, students, and educators from discussing LGBTQ+ people and topics in school. 18 other states introduced similar bills last year. These “parental rights” bills, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans Bills” actually threaten to erase LGBTQ+ families from schools. They also limit the right of LGBTQ+ parents to participate in their children’s education. Additionally, lawmakers promoted bills banning books with LGBTQ+ characters and school curricula mentioning LGBTQ+ people and their history.
Family Equality’s work in schools
For over 40 years, Family Equality has been the leading voice for LGBTQ+ families, fighting to ensure that everyone has the freedom to find, form, and sustain their families. We have heard from LGBTQ+ parents that the atmosphere of anti-LGBTQ+ animus perpetuated by legislation and dangerous rhetoric is hurting their children. In fact, even before these “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bills, our joint study with GLSEN and COLAGE found that 1 in 4 youth with LGBTQ+ parents already report feeling unsafe in school. While there are many excellent advocacy organizations fighting for LGBTQ+ youth in schools, students with LGBTQ+ parents are often not the primary focus of that advocacy, despite the discrimination they face and the impact that recent policies have on them. As a result, school equity is a key strategic pillar for Family Equality’s policy work. We are determined to ensure that the fight for safe and inclusive schools includes the voices of LGBTQ+ parents and their children. This is why we submitted comments to the Biden administration regarding upcoming rules banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. We also submitted a letter highlighting the critical areas of improvement that would bring much-needed protection to LGBTQ+ families.
The road ahead
We saw dozens of anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting schools and classrooms in 2022. Unfortunately, this year is looking no different from last. The legislative session has barely gotten started, and yet Texas and Missouri already filed bills that are nearly identical to the ones Alabama and Florida passed last year. The majority of Americans oppose these bills. But, some have concluded that preying on the fears and vulnerabilities of parents is a winning political strategy.
Rest assured: Family Equality will continue to fight these harmful bills. By lifting up the voices of LGBTQ+ parents, we will show that legislation attacking our families in schools hurts all students and should never be passed. Specifically, we will…
- Work with state leaders to stop these harmful bills, bringing the lived experience of LGBTQ+ parents and their children to the forefront of the fight.
- Ensure that new policies passed by the Department of Education and other federal agencies will protect students with LGBTQ+ parents from discrimination, harassment, and bullying.
- Continue our partnership with LGBTQ+ movement friends, GLSEN and COLAGE, to release a report about the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth and families in schools, so that policymakers understand what’s at stake.
- Equip parents and educators with the tools they need to advocate for themselves with back-to-school resources all about creating safe, welcoming schools for all students.
We’re all in this together
It is important to remember that despite the attacks on LGBTQ+ families in schools, the defense against those attacks has been strong. So many of the Don’t Say Gay or Trans Bills were defeated because of the work of advocates, students, parents, and allies who stepped up to share their stories. We hope that LGBTQ+ parents feel empowered to make their voices heard when it comes to the education of their children.
We also hope that no matter what happens in the months ahead, parents hold tight to pride + joy. These crucial years, where children are learning to be open and curious about the world, are as joyous as they are stressful. Let’s fight to make sure that joy is available to all students, all parents, and all families.
Director of Education Law and Policy, Senior Policy Counsel
Nikhil Vashee is the Director of Education Law and Policy and Senior Policy Counsel for Family Equality since August 2022. In this role, they work to promote local, state, and federal policy solutions to ensure that LGBTQ+ families have access to quality education in a loving and supportive environment. They also manage litigation, amicus curiae briefs, and other legal work related to combating discriminatory practices against LGBTQ+ families in education.