Rights for LGBTQ+ Students in Washington’s Schools

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School should be a safe, welcoming environment for every student. In Washington state, all students have the right to be treated consistent with their gender identity at school. Washington is one of only 19 states that explicitly protects LGBTQ+ students in public schools from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression,¹ and we have two separate civil rights laws that offer students these protections against discrimination.²

Discrimination Defined

Most often, discrimination refers to a person or a group of people being treated differently because they belong to a protected class. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are all protected classes under Washington law.³

Examples of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression could include:

  • Repeatedly misgendering a nonbinary student after being told their pronouns.
  • Not investigating and addressing verbal reports of homophobic slurs being directed at a student.
  • Requiring a transgender boy to use the single-stall restroom in the nurse’s office instead of the multi-stall boys’ restroom.
  • Refusing to allow a girl to compete on a girls’ athletic team because she is transgender.
  • Not allowing a same-sex couple to attend prom together.

Washington law also prohibits discriminatory harassment in public schools. Discriminatory harassment is bullying or harassing conduct that is based on a protected class and creates a hostile environment. A hostile environment is created when the conduct is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it limits a student’s ability to go to school or participate in school activities or programs.

Steps to Take if a Student Experiences Discrimination or Discriminatory Harassment at School

There are several options for a student or family member to take if a student experiences discrimination or discriminatory harassment at school. These steps range from telling a trusted teacher or counselor to filing a formal complaint with the school district. Every school district is also required to have a compliance coordinator⁴ who helps students and families resolve civil rights concerns, including those impacting LGBTQ+ students.

Once a school is on notice of possible discrimination or discriminatory harassment, it must promptly investigate and address it. If the investigation reveals that the discrimination or discriminatory harassment occurred, the school must act quickly to stop it, put an end to the hostile environment, prevent it from recurring, and remedy its effects.

How Inclusive Schools Impact Students

When schools intentionally and affirmatively support gender diversity, all students are empowered to live more authentically.

Learn More About These Rights and Protections

LGBTQ+ students and their families can always reach out to OSPI’s Equity and Civil Rights Office at 360–725–6162 or equity@k12.wa.us. While program staff are not allowed to provide specific legal advice, they are available to listen to concerns and to provide helpful resources and guidance. Students and families are also encouraged to visit the Equity and Civil Rights Office’s Gender-Inclusive Schools webpage for additional information specific to LGBTQ+ students’ rights.

References

¹Movement Advancement Project. “Equality Maps: Safe Schools Laws.” Accessed 06/21/2022.

²RCW 28A.642; RCW 49.60.

³Under Washington’s Equal Educational Opportunity Laws, protected classes are race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religion, creed, veteran or military status, disability, and use of a trained dog guide or service animal.

⁴Students and families can use the Equity and Civil Rights Office’s searchable database to identify and contact their district’s compliance coordinators.

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