#DrewsViews: A brief how-to guide for fighting discrimination in your school

by Drew Adams

The classroom should be for learning. In order to learn, students need to feel safe and valued. For queer youth, schools are even more important. Schools can serve as safe havens for LGBTQ students, especially for those who don’t have supportive families. Unfortunately, thousands and thousands of students across the country face discrimination in their classrooms because of their sexuality or gender identity. If you are one of these students, here are some things you can do to fight back against a discriminatory policy in your school!

Engaging with the school if you have concerns about any policy:

  • Request copies of relevant policies — review them and keep them on file for your own records
  • Conduct as much communication as possible in writing (email) and save all communications
  • Request meetings with school admins if you think the policy violates civil rights — ask them to please explain how the policy came to be, what process was followed to put it in place, what other policies they considered, etc.
  • Come prepared to meetings: be prompt, dress nicely and bring resources to support the policy change you’re asking for (studies, educational materials, guidelines, relevant case law, example policies from other districts, etc)
  • TAKE NOTES during meetings. Take note of the meeting date and write down any key comments people say regarding the policy, how it came about, how they defend it, etc.
  • Send emails after the meetings to the people in the meetings to recap what was said and what the next steps are
  • Continue up the chain if the lower level staffers can’t help you — meet with district officials, attend school board meetings. Bring resources and questions with you each time
  • If the policy is good but someone is violating it (teacher, staff member, etc), DOCUMENT those violations with time, place, what happened and who saw/heard it, and take your complaints to the administration. Ask them to investigate the violation(s) of policy and address them
  • Always be polite and professional — don’t lose your cool if you can help it!

Pursuing outside help (if the school will not talk to you or help you)

  • If you think your civil rights are being violated either by a bad policy or by a staffer who isn’t following policy (and the admins won’t help you), you can file an OCR complaint. The current administration is not investigating bathroom complaints made by trans students, but it never hurts to file one anyway
  • If a policy is getting media coverage, you can write a Letter to the Editor or an Op-Ed for one of the local papers to express your feelings on the topic

Legal Options

  • If your civil rights are still being violated and you’ve exhausted your options with the administration of the school and district, you can contact ACLU, Lambda Legal, TLC, NCLR or other legal action nonprofits for guidance
  • Keep all emails and other correspondence you had with the school and district
  • Keep meeting notes from meetings with district (make sure meeting dates are noted and notes are clear)
  • Stay organized — it’s important to know what emails were exchanged, what resources you brought to the meetings, what was said between you and the school admins, etc.
  • If a legal org agrees to represent you, be completely honest with them about everything they ask (they don’t judge, they just need the info)
  • BE PATIENT. The legal process can take a long time
  • Be prepared to lose — The legal route doesn’t always get the outcome you want (look at the history of the Civil Rights movement), but progress still happens over time

In the Meantime

  • Get involved in other ways. Join your school’s GSA, or start one if there isn’t one!
  • Surround yourself with as many supportive friends and family as possible
  • Practice self-care
  • Use social media for positive growth and personal affirmation — follow accounts like The Trevor Project
  • Help make the world better (and improve yourself) by volunteering for a good cause, holding a supplies drive, taking a free online class in social justice or activism, etc. (see some online courses below)
  • Keep out of trouble — do your best not to be late to class, avoid breaking rules/laws, and generally be a model citizen

Keep your head up! At the very worst, high school isn’t forever. You will get through this.

About the Author:

Drew Adams is a transgender high school senior from Ponte Vedra, FL, who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. He serves as his high school GSA’s president and raises money for Northeast Florida’s LGBTQ youth outreach, JASMYN, to which he also donates food, toiletries and school supplies. Nationally, Drew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Drew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff.

Additionally, Drew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Drew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.