LGBTQ people face unacceptably high rates of discrimination, harassment, and violence in schools and beyond — research indicates that nearly half of all transgender people and bisexual women experience sexual violence during their lifetime.
Title IX protects LGBTQ survivors, too — and it also provides important protections to LGBTQ students who face widespread bullying and harassment that can impede their access to education. Seventy-seven percent of K-12 students who were out as (or perceived to be) transgender experienced at least one significant form of discrimination, such as being verbally harassed by peers, disciplined more harshly than cis-gender (not transgender) peers, or even being physically or sexually assaulted because others believed they were transgender. Harassment can force LGBTQ students to avoid classes or extracurriculars, stay home from school, or even leave school entirely.
LGBTQ Survivors’ Title IX Rights
Title IX protects all students who experience sexual violence, irrespective of the gender of the survivor or the alleged perpetrator(s). This includes instances of sexual assault or harassment where the perpetrator and survivor are of the same gender.
LGBTQ survivors have the same rights under Title IX to accommodations, a prompt and equitable complaint process, and to be free from retaliation. Likewise, schools’ obligations to appropriately respond to sexual violence and support a survivor’s continued access to education are the same regardless of the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender presentation of a complainant or respondent; this remains true when incidents of sexual violence may be partly based on a survivor’s (actual or perceived) sexual orientation or gender identity. Schools must investigate and remedy instances sexual violence against LGBTQ students using the same policies and procedures used in all complaints of sexual violence.
For more information about the rights of all survivors of sexual violence, see our resources on: Title IX, sexual violence in high school, and the Clery Act. For more information on how Title IX applies to LGBTQ survivors, see page 5 of the Office for Civil Rights’ 2014 Frequently Asked Questions on Title IX and Sexual Violence.
Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students’ Title IX Rights
In May 2016, at the request of educators and school administrators, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued landmark guidance clarifying the rights that hundreds of thousands of transgender students have under Title IX — and schools obligations to respect them. In 2017, the Trump administration withdrew the guidance, leaving many students, parents, and educators unsure about transgender students’ rights under the law.
The Department of Education’s guidance didn’t “create” new rights for transgender students; rather, it clarified transgender students’ rights under Title IX, an existing federal civil rights law. Although the 2016 guidance has been withdrawn, the law hasn’t changed. Transgender students are still protected by Title IX, which ensures that they have the right to equal access to educational opportunities, including access to single-sex spaces and activities consistent with their gender identity.
Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. As many courts, including four federal appeals courts, have recognized, laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex prohibit discrimination against transgender people — meaning that transgender students have a right to equal access to educational opportunities under Title IX. Among other things, the law requires schools to respect transgender students’ gender identity with regards to dress codes, names, pronouns, and access to single-sex facilities (including restrooms).
For more information on trans students’ Title IX rights, please see the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Frequently Asked Questions on the withdrawal of federal guidance on transgender students.
Title IX also protects transgender and gender nonconforming students from gender-based harassment and bullying — that is, harassment or bullying a student experiences because they do not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. For examples of prohibited harassment, please see the National Women’s Law Center’s Fact Sheet on anti-LGBT bullying and Title IX.
The guidance gave schools an important framework to ensure they were complying with Title IX’s protections for transgender and gender nonconforming students. But with or without it, transgender students’ rights under Title IX remain in place.
In addition to Title IX, state and local policies may protect transgender students from harassment and discrimination. Know Your IX strongly supports policies at all levels of government that guarantee transgender young people have equal access to education and are treated with dignity in school. For more information on our why and how you can take action to help, please see our page on anti-transgender discrimination.
If you are an LGBT survivor or student seeking legal advice, we encourage you to contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk, the National Women’s Law Center, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Rights Project.