Making LGBTQIA+ Youth Rights Mandatory: Strengthen Title IX Enforcement

In a time where the COVID-19 pandemic has caused difficulties in our lives, we are finally reopening our world and navigating this new normal. For many youths who come from poverty impacted communities, many are returning to their schools with added anxiety and uncertainty in the fall. However, students of color and the LGBTQIA+ community will face

these stressors and more as many return to unstable school environments that do not always advocate for their best interests. In a report issued by Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Hispanic Federation, and UNIDOSUS, the authors write about how queer students of color are at a higher rate of experiencing harassment and discrimination. Students of color who identify within the LGBTQIA+ community have a harder time navigating through school with multiple marginalized identities. Many of these youth have intersectional identities that allow them to become easy targets for persistent bullying and harassment, many students must balance identities that reflect their immigration status, socioeconomic situations, their physical and mental appearances, as well their sexuality and gender. In a statement given by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, OCR, a survey they investigated reported that 78 percent of transgender and nonbinary students said their mental health was “poor” almost always during the pandemic compared to 61 percent of cisgender youth. Exacerbated by COVID-19, these circumstances must be focused on and prioritized by the Department of Education and all schools, so that these students may return to what is essentially life support for some. The consequences of not doing so may be irreversible and could continue to deepen the divide between students and school staff resulting in damaged relationships with no trust between the students and their communities.

In my own professional experience in the Fairfax County Public School system, I have personally seen the results of Title IX failing students who identify with a low-income, LGBTQIA+, disabled, undocumented, or other marginalized backgrounds. A student who felt her high school wasn’t doing enough to protect student survivors from sexual harassment and assault, created a social media account on Instagram to discuss the culture of sexual harassment and assault that had been taking place regularly on campus. On the account, there were incidents reported on and off school grounds, yet these reports were often not believed or perceived as harmfu[BA1] l. The school’s “boys will be boys” culture and tendency to shame what students wear had pushed them to take matters into their own hands by creating these social media accounts as an outlet for survivors. These outlets serve to tell their stories and for students to hold their administrators, counselors, teachers, and attackers accountable, while also empowering other students to come forward as allies and demand change. I read stories that wrote about date-based violence, sexual harassment by students and teachers, sexual assault by students, and yet I had never read a comment that said the matter had been addressed or resolved. There were over fifty screenshots worth of stories that were submitted to this one Instagram account which does not account for the additional Facebook page that was created to expose students and teachers across the county. Among many of these posts were the words, “I never reported it because they wouldn’t believe me.” If all my cisgender and heterosexual identifying students were struggling to trust their school’s administration, what were their LGBTQIA+ friends and fellow students at the school experiencing? Although the President has emphasized the rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ students, enforcement inside of the school needs to be looked at more. While school officials are mandatory reporters, some teachers have been able to get away without reporting. Human Rights Watch reports on students who had their complaints dismissed, shamed, and blamed for their own mistreatment.

Now that President Biden has ensured that the rights of LGBTQIA+ youth be protected by federal law and with schools reopening, students will need all the access they can receive for resources that aid them in their personal lives such as counseling services, housing assistance, food assistance, education assistance, language assistance, etc. In a time where there are increased crimes made against the AAPI community, the Black and Brown community, and women, students must feel safe in their schools. We should be encouraging students to come forward and acknowledge the rise in cases as work to be addressed and change to be implemented. There should also be support for students after reporting, as it can be assumed that many times students are afraid of being a “whistleblower” which is why it is critical to reduce hesitation when reporting. These students should not have to fear being outcasted at school by other teachers or students. Every student has the right to learn freely without fear of being harassed or attacked and having to sit in a classroom with their attacker. Every student deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and should not have to worry about whether or not they will be believed or blamed. Every student deserves to grow and learn in an environment that prioritizes their mental and physical health. As we re-enter society, it is time for us to be more strategic on providing LGBTQIA+ youth with the resources necessary to receive a more equitable education, chance at playing sports, and live without fear of being discriminated against when others aren’t watching. We must urge our state legislators to strengthen relationships with our communities, to hear the voices and the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth everywhere in a way that promotes their safety, happiness, and chances of succeeding in their professional and private lives.[MK2] 

Katherine Trejo, President’s Office Intern

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