On May 19th, 1994, I spoke at Leslie College in Cambridge about bullying in schools and my work advocating for the Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Law, which banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Massachusetts public schools.
The new law took effect in March. It prevents discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation among existing protected classes of people. Now every public school in the Commonwealth has the moral and legal obligation to make schools safe and harassment-free for all students, regardless of whether they are lesbian, straight, transgender, gay, bisexual, sexually undefined, or questioning their sexuality.
This law is very important for all students. It can be used in two way. The most obvious way that the law can be used is if students are harassed because of their sexual identity. They can now take legal action against a school system that refuses to protect them.
The other farther reaching way that this law can be used is as a preventative measure. Now students, parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and community leaders have legal leverage to do the following:
Start school based Gay-Straight Alliances. Now it is no longer necessary for students or teachers to go through a principal or school board to start a group. People don’t have to worry as much about a backlash against these groups, because there is a law that backs them.
Administrators now have the legal obligation to amend current school discrimination and harassment policies to include issues dealing with sexual orientation harassment and discrimination.
Organizers have more backing to hold mandatory trainings like these for teachers, administrators, counselors, and school staff to be better equipped to deal with homophobia.
Same sex couples now have the legal right to attend the prom and other school functions.
There is legal backing towards amending school diversity and human awareness programs to include sexual minorities.
There is now a legal framework to get groups like the Boy Scouts and the Military Recruiters who openly discriminate against gays and lesbians off of school grounds and out of student records.
This law can also be use to take accreditation points away from schools that refuse to protect lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender students and reward schools that do make the learning environment a safe place for all.
Hopefully, the greatest effect of this law will be to empower students to be creative about using this law. In addition to the preventative and punitive uses, this law acknowledges the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and sends out a very direct message that we are valued as individuals and welcomed in school.