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Respect for All

Policy Recommendations to Support LGBTQ Students

A Guide for District and School Leaders

Students paying attention to their teacher.

School and district leaders, educators, and school staff have a significant opportunity—and responsibility—to create learning environments in which all students can thrive and achieve their full educational potential.

Fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness in school are crucial for putting all students on a path to success.1 However, many LGBTQ students are left feeling unsupported in their schools. In order to ensure that school learning environments are supportive of all students, it is critical to implement specific policies and procedures that support LGBTQ youth, affirm their identities, promote safe and healthy learning environments, and advance equity and respect for all in our schools.2

This resource provides education policymakers and practitioners, particularly at the district and school levels, with concrete recommendations related to creating safe and affirming learning environments that uphold the dignity of all students. To meet this objective, districts and schools should:

1. Set and reinforce a vision and mission statement that is welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ students.
2. Assess, strengthen, and monitor school climate on a regular and ongoing basis.
3. Adopt and implement clear, consistent, and comprehensive non-discrimination policies that protect and affirm students’ sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression, among other characteristics (e.g., race, religion, etc.), and prohibit discrimination against students, families, and educators on those bases.
4. Ensure that anti-bullying and harassment policies enumerate and specifically include protections for LGBTQ students.
5. Ensure that discipline policies rely on positive and restorative approaches and do not disproportionately target LGBTQ youth, students of color, English Language Learners (ELL), or students with disabilities.
6. Ensure that district and school policies are designed and implemented to support transgender and gender nonconforming students, who face even more hostile school climates than other students in the LGBTQ community.3
7. Ensure that professional development and educator resources include a focus on creating inclusive learning environments in which all students, including LGBTQ students, feel safe and welcome.
8. Establish a welcoming and affirming environment for LGBTQ students and their allies.


Students are most likely to reach their full educational potential in positive learning environments that are safe, secure, welcoming, and where they feel a sense of belonging. Research demonstrates that an affirming school climate leads to improved behavioral, academic, and mental health outcomes for all students.4 Not surprisingly, schools promoting LGBTQ-inclusive and affirming learning environments have fewer student absences and greater improvements in academic achievement across grade levels.5

LGBTQ students disproportionately report being subject to unsafe school climates, and thereby are denied equal access to educational opportunity and the opportunity for healthy social and emotional development. GLSEN research shows that 59.5% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 44.6% felt unsafe because of their gender expression,6 and that LGBTQ students reported higher levels of peer victimization at school than other students – 89.4% of LGBTQ students reported victimization experiences versus 71.4% of other students.7

Student victimization and unsafe school climates have real consequences on both the personal health and academic outcomes of LGBTQ youth. Students who experienced victimization at school were almost three times more likely to have skipped school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable; to have demonstrated lower levels of academic achievement including lower GPAs; and to have had lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression when compared to students who did not experience victimization related to their sexual orientation and/ or gender expression.8 Similarly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 60.4% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students nationwide felt so sad or helpless in schools that they stopped participating in usual activities compared to 26.4% of heterosexual students.9

The good news is that through thoughtful development and implementation of policies and procedures, districts, schools, and educators can provide LGBTQ students with the inclusive and supportive environments they need to thrive in school and beyond.10

Indeed, many schools and districts across the country have implemented such policies, which have transformed the educational experience of LGBTQ students while avoiding any disruption or harm to the educational experience of other students. This resource provides some examples of state and district implementation to elevate positive approaches that might be considered for replication.



Each step that districts and schools take to improve school climate is an investment in better educational outcomes and healthy youth development. Below, we provide further examination of the eight policy recommendations, which includes suggested policy language, resources, and best practices to improve the educational experiences of LGBTQ students:

1. Set and reinforce a vision or mission statement that is welcoming  and  inclusive  of  LGBTQ students. Through a stated vision and mission statement, and in communications with students, families, educators, and community members, education leaders can set the tone and expectation for welcoming and inclusive school environments. An inclusive vison and mission statement should be visible to the entire school community, both displayed in the school building and on all related school materials, including the district/school strategic plan, school orientation events, family/community meetings, staff meetings, and all and appropriate school materials, such as student and faculty handbooks.


Values Statement of Inclusion and Respect  is a national call to action issued by nine leading education organizations that affirms the right of all students to attend school in an environment free from fear, violence, and intimidation, including students of color, undocumented, LGBTQ, Muslim, and/or living with disabilities.

2. Assess, strengthen, and monitor school climate on an ongoing basis. To advance educational equity for all students, regularly assess the school climate and student experience in schools.

  • Conduct school climate surveys. Have a process for schools to use data to better understand the landscape of student experiences, including instances of bias, bullying, harassment, discrimination, relationships with teachers and peers, and school connectedness. This data can also be used to assess the needs of the school or district and to track progress and effectiveness of efforts to improve school climate;
  • Include questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender  expression, along with other demographic identities (e.g. race, ethnicity, sex at birth, ELL, etc.);
  • Monitor disparities in school climate for LGBTQ students by disaggregating relevant data by sexual orientation and gender, including transgender identity. Data sources could include school climate surveys, discipline data, and bullying and harassment incident reports, among others. For transparency, we encourage publicly reporting the data unless the sample size is too small, so as not to reveal personally-identifiable information of a student;
  • Include measures of school climate, discipline data, and measures of incidents of bullying   and harassment in any diagnostic reviews, including needs assessments for school improvement, disaggregated by sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, along with race, ethnicity, disability status, and ELL status.


3. Adopt and implement clear, consistent, and comprehensive non-discrimination policies that protect and affirm students’ sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression, among other characteristics (e.g., race, ethnicity, religion, etc.), and prohibit discrimination against students, families, and educators on those bases.

These nondiscrimination policies should:

  • Ensure that none of the district/school policies and practices discriminate on such bases, including policies related to clothing/dress code, school-sponsored activities, athletics, and access to restrooms and other school facilities;
  • Ensure that information on any relevant state laws addressing discrimination that apply to LGBTQ students are widely known and understood by educators, school staff students, and families;

Adopt LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections at the district level.



Dallas Independent School District in Texas has a district-wide policy that offers protections for students and staff on the basis “of race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or gender expression” from discrimination, harassment, and bullying.

4. Ensure that anti-bullying and harassment policies enumerate protections for LGBTQ students.

Anti-bullying and harassment policies that do not explicitly name or enumerate both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression often fail to provide a sufficient level of protection in practice for LGBTQ students.11 Therefore, anti-bullying and harassment policies should:

  • Prohibit bullying and harassment of students on any basis and expressly enumerate the characteristics of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as well as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion;
  • Have clear and timely procedures of action regarding responsibilities for investigation and timeline for addressing reported incidents;
  • Ensure that all school staff address bullying incidents fairly by curbing unnecessary discretion and intervene effectively in ways that do not blame LGBTQ students, or any student, for their own victimization; and
  • Have a clear parental notification  process  for reporting incidents of bullying and harassment at the school that does not risk “outing” a student or placing a student in an unsafe home situation.



Massachusetts “Guidance on Notifying Parents When a Student Has Been Bullied Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression” states that school officials should use their discretion with parents or family members when discussing incidents of bullying and harassment, and avoid sharing information that might endanger the mental or physical health and safety of the student.

5. Ensure that discipline policies rely on positive and restorative approaches to justice and do not disproportionately target LGBTQ youth, students of color, English Language Learners (ELL), or students with disabilities. Studies show LGBTQ youth are disproportionately subject to

harsh forms of discipline, thus depriving them of educational opportunities.12 In particular, exclusionary practices that result in the removal of students from the classroom have led to student push-out and increased youth involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice system, often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”13 Adopting restorative approaches has shown to be effective in reducing school discipline overall and can positively impact all students, including LGBTQ students.

Discipline policies should:

  • Not include zero-tolerance policies, which mandate harsh disciplinary practices like suspension or expulsion regardless of the severity of the offense;
  • Ensure that schools have practices in place to guard against inequitable enforcement of discipline policies;
  • Employ graduated approaches that take into account the seriousness of the offense in order to keep students in school whenever possible;
  • Implement restorative practices that focus on resolving conflicts, repairing relationships, and building community. Consider bringing in external partners or technical assistance to train administrators and educators in this practice; and
  • Ensure that any School Resource Officers (SROs) or other types of security personnel are properly trained to interact positively with all students, including LGBTQ students, especially LGBTQ students of color. Make sure that there is a clear memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the school and law enforcement about the SROs’ role, responsibilities, and jurisdiction.



LGBTQ students in Baltimore City Public Schools benefit from the district’s recognition in the effectiveness of restorative practices and other progressive disciplinary measures that build positive relationships. The policy outlines categories designed to guide teachers and administrators in using progressive interventions and responses at all grade levels to teach and motivate students to exhibit positive behaviors.

6. Ensure that district and school policies are designed and implemented to support transgender and gender nonconforming students, who face even more hostile school climates than other students in the LGBTQ community. Transgender students too often encounter school experiences that can have life-long mental health, social, emotional, and socio-economic consequences – not because they are transgender, but because of how they are treated because they are transgender.14 A school policy that sets forth principles and procedures for supporting transgender and gender nonconforming students can provide clear expectations for the school community and avoid invasion of privacy and other harms.15

District and school policies should:

  • Accept the gender identity that each student asserts. There is no medical or mental health diagnosis or treatment threshold that students must meet in order to have their gender identity recognized and respected. The assertion may be evidenced by an expressed desire to be consistently recognized as the sex consistent with their gender identity;
  • Allow students to use their chosen name and gender. School staff should privately ask transgender or gender nonconforming students how they want to be addressed in class, and in school communication with the student’s parents or guardians, with whom the student may not have shared their gender identity;
  • Ensure equal access to all school facilities according to a student’s gender identity. Schools may maintain separate restroom, locker room or changing facilities for male and female students, provided that they allow all students equal access to facilities that are consistent with their gender identity. In addition to transgender boys and girls, there are students who do not identify as male or female. When gender-neutral options are not available, these students may need to make an individual determination about which facility is safest and most comfortable for them;
  • Allow all students to participate in physical education classes and intramural sports in a manner consistent with their gender identity. All students should be permitted to participate in interscholastic athletics in a manner consistent with their gender identity, under the guidelines established by the state interscholastic association;
  • Evaluate all gender-based activities, rules, policies, and practices including classroom activities, school ceremonies, and school photos, and maintain gender-segregated policies only when absolutely necessary;
  • Ensure that dress codes are gender-neutral. Any policies that are based on gender differences must permit students to dress in compliance with the school’s dress code consistent with their gender identity and expression;
  • Ensure that all personally identifiable and medical information relating to transgender and gender nonconforming students, like all students, is kept confidential. School staff should not disclose any information that may reveal a student’s transgender status to others, including parents or guardians and other school staff, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure.



New York State Public High School Athletic Association states that once a member school has rendered a determination of eligibility to try out for an interscholastic sports team which corresponds to the student’s gender identity, the eligibility is granted for the duration of the student’s participation in interscholastic athletics.


The Kansas City Public School’s nondiscrimination policy states that in situations where school staff or administrators are required by law to use or report a transgender or gender nonconforming student’s legal name or gender, such as for purposes of standardized testing, school staff and administrators shall adopt practices to avoid the inadvertent disclosure of such confidential information.


Atherton High School in Jefferson County, Kentucky, issued a policy (page 31) that offers examples of accommodations to address any student’s request for increased privacy: “use of a private area within the public area of the locker room facility (e.g. nearby restroom stall with a door or an area separated by a curtain); use of a nearby private area (e.g. nearby restroom); or a separate changing schedule.”

7. Ensure professional development and educator resources focus on creating inclusive learning environments in which all students feel safe and welcome. This type of learning is valuable for all staff members in the school or district, not just educators.

  • Address strategies to create safe and inclusive schools in professional learning. These include effective strategies to prevent bullying and to stop such behaviors once they have begun, implementing restorative justice practices, and empowering educators to use and create LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum;
  • Ensure that professional learning is inclusive of LGBTQ students with multiple intersecting identities, for example, LGBTQ students of color, undocumented LGBTQ students, or LGBTQ students with disabilities, as these students often endure additional forms of discrimination and stigma.
  • Ensure that staff are skilled and confident in their abilities to implement learning opportunities, such as cultural competency training or safe space training, which increase awareness of issues impacting LGBTQ students and the effective strategies for improving their educational experiences. It is critical that these opportunities include modeling and practice of effective behaviors;16
  • Include such professional development focused on establishing safe and inclusive learning environments in district- and school-level professional development plans, including district Title II plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and ensure the funding and resources to implement this effectively.


  • Safe Space Kit is a guide for how to support and be an ally to LGBTQ youth by assessing the school’s climate, policies, and practices.
  • Ready, Set, Respect! An Elementary Toolkit provides tools to support elementary school educators, including lesson plans on teachable moments such as respect and name-calling, and other bullying prevention programs.
  • Pronouns: A Resource for Educators: A tool for supporting transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) educators and students.
  • Local GLSEN Chapters offer professional development for K-12 schools. Connect with a GLSEN chapter near you.
  • GLSEN Educator Network helps educators stay connected to new resources, lesson plans, educational opportunities, and programming to create more inclusive schools.


Guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education holds that school districts shall ensure that school counselors are knowledgeable regarding issues and concerns relevant to transgender students, students facing other gender identity issues, or students who may be transitioning. In addition, the policy recommends that student leaders and school personnel, particularly school administrators, become familiar with applicable law, regulations, guidance, and related resources, and that they communicate and model respect for the gender identity of all students.


The School District of Palm Beach County established the Office of African American, Latino, and Gender Studies, which assists district, faculty, and staff to incorporate gender sensitivity into K-12 curriculum in an age-appropriate manner, including a resource for teachers titled “We’re All In.”

8. Establish a welcoming and affirming environment for LGBTQ students and their allies. There are many steps that education leaders and educators can take to ensure that the school environment fosters a sense of belonging and is safe and affirming for LGBTQ students and families. These include both creating opportunities for and removing barriers to inclusion. For example:

  • Allow students to participate fully in LGBTQ- supportive extracurricular activities. This includes support for LGBTQ-inclusive and student-led clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs). Students attending schools with a GSA report hearing fewer homophobic remarks and fewer negative remarks about gender expression and transgender people, were less likely to feel unsafe and miss school for safety reasons, and report a greater sense of belonging to their school community.17
  • Adopt and implement a curriculum that is LGBTQ-inclusive. LGBTQ students who reported that their classroom curriculum included positive representations of LGBTQ people and topics had higher GPAs, higher educational aspirations, and were more likely to have classmates who were accepting of LGBTQ people.18 Some states and school districts have integrated LGBTQ-specific content into their subject requirements through LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum policies;19
  • Encourage the visibility of LGBTQ-supportive educators by allowing them to display stickers and other signs of support, including GLSEN’s Safe Space stickers, Safe Space poster, and Ally lanyards in their classrooms. When educators display LGBTQ-affirming stickers and posters in their classrooms, there are a variety of positive effects for LGBTQ students. For example, LGBTQ students who had seen a GLSEN Safe Space sticker or poster in their school were more likely to identify school staff who were supportive of LGBTQ students and more likely to feel comfortable talking with school staff about LGBTQ issues;20 and
  • Activities or initiatives that establish positive school conditions for learning for all students must include LGBTQ students, and engage LGBTQ students in the stakeholder consultation and needs assessment process to inform those activities. Title IV, Part A under the Every Student Succeeds Act provides federal funding to states to award to districts. Districts must spend at least twenty percent of these funds on activities to support safe and healthy students, and must engage in consultation with stakeholders to inform the district’s application. This provides districts and schools with an additional funding source to help implement the types of activities directly related to fostering a safe and inclusive school environment, and a mechanism to engage LGBTQ students and consider school climate in the needs assessment.



California’s Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIREducation Act “ensures that the historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are accurately and fairly portrayed in instructional materials by adding LGBT people to the existing list of under-represented cultural and ethnic groups already included in the state’s inclusionary education requirements.”


District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) developed a plan to ensure LGBTQ students, teachers, staff, and families are safe, happy, welcomed, and respected in schools: “Through administrator capacity building as well as capacity building of school-based staff, DCPS [created] a group of adults in every building who understand the needs of LGBTQ students and families to establish an inclusive school culture.”



Research has demonstrated the positive impact that safe and inclusive learning environments can have on student success. Research has also shown that LGBTQ students experience unsafe school climates at a higher rate than their peers, leading to greater risk of missed school days, lower GPAs, and higher dropout rates. Schools and districts have a significant opportunity – and responsibility–   to ensure policies and practices that create safe and inclusive learning environments for all students. From setting an inclusive vision, monitoring school climates, adopting comprehensive non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, to creating restorative approaches to discipline, these recommendations seek to move toward a future education system in which all students, including and particularly LGBTQ students, have the opportunity to learn and succeed in school.

If any terms were unknown, please visit our “Glossary of Terms” on the GLSEN website.



Many thanks to partners that provided valuable input in the content of this resources.

  • The School Superintendents Association (AASA)
  • Education Counsel
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
  • National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)



GLSEN works to create safe and inclusive schools for all. We envision a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people,regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach millions of students and educators in K-12 schools across the United States, and our network of 39 community-led chapters in 27 states brings GLSEN’s expertise to local communities. GLSEN’s progress and impact have won support for inclusive schools at all levels of education in the United States and sparked an international movement to ensure equality for LGBTQ students and respect for all in K-12 education.

For additional questions about the resource, contact GLSENs Public Policy department at or 202-347-7780.



1 Cantor, P., Osher D., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T., (2018) Malleability, Plasticity, and Individuality: How children learn and develop in context, Applied Developmental Science; Osher, D., Cantor, P., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T., (2018) Drivers of human development: How relationships and context shape learning and development. Applied Developmental Science. Jones, S.M., & Kahn, J. (2017).

The evidence base for how we learn: Supporting students’ social, emotional and academic development. Consensus statement of evidence from the Council of Distinguished Scientists. The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development. 9-13-17. Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research, 83, 357-385. Cohen, J., McCabe, E.M, Michelli, N.M. & Pickeral, T. (2009). School Climate: Research, Policy, Teacher Education and Practice. Teachers College Record, Volume 111: Issue 1: pp. 180-213.

2 Greytak, E. A., Kosciw, J.G., Villenas, C., & Giga, N. M. (2016). From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited, A Survey of U.S. Secondary Students and Teachers. New York: GLSEN. American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

3 Reisner, S.L., Greytak, E.A., Parsons, J.T., & Ybarra, M.L. (2014). Gender minority social stress in adolescence: Disparities in adolescent bullying and substance use by gender identity. The Journal of Sex Research.

4 Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research, 83, 357-385.

5 Kosciw, J. G., Palmer, N. A., Greytak, E. A., & Kull, R. M. (2013). The effect of negative school climate on academic outcomes for LGBT youth and the role of in-school supports. Journal of School Violence,12, 45-63.

6 Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

7 Greytak, E.A., Kosciw, J.G., Villenas, C. & Giga, N.M. (2016). From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited, A Survey of U.S. Secondary School Students and Teachers. New York: GLSEN.

8 Greytak et al., 2018.

9 Kann L, Olsen EO, McManus T, et al. Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2016;65(No. SS-9):1-202.

10 Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

11 Ibid.

12 Poteat, V. P., Scheer, J. R., & Chong, E. S. K. (2015). Sexual orientation-based disparities in school and juvenile justice discipline: A multiple group comparison of contributing factors; Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(2). Snapp, S., Hoenig, J., Fields, A., & Russell, S.T. (2015). Messy, butch, and queer: LGBTQ youth and the school to-prison pipeline. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30, 57–82.

13 Redfield, Sarah E. and Nance, Jason P. (2016). American Bar Association Joint Task Force on Reversing School to Prison Pipeline.

14 Amicus brief filed by National PTA, GLSEN, and other education organizations in support of respondent in U.S. Supreme Court case Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. Available at

15 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students (May 2016).

16 Greytak, E.A., Kosciw, J.G. & Boesen, M.J. (2013). Educating the educator: Creating supportive school personnel through professional development. Journal of School Violence 12, 80-97.

17 Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

18 Ibid.

19 Saint Paul Public school policy on Multicultural, Intersectional, Nonracist, Non-sex-Biased, Gender, and Disability Fair education programs/602.01Multicultural_gender_and_disab_6-17-08_Former_617.00.pdf.

20 GLSEN (2015). Evaluation of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit. The Utility of an Educator Resource for Improving School Climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. New York: GLSEN.