What does Title IX protect your family from?
Title IX prohibits school officials from treating you and your family differently based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also prevents schools from discriminating against students based on stereotypes of how a specific sex or gender should act.
Bullying and Harassment
Under Title IX, schools have a responsibility to prevent and address bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Harassment can consist of offensive comments, gestures, and physical acts by school staff or other students.
Misgendering a student, including repeated failure to use the student’s correct pronouns, can be a form of harassment.
If your school is aware that a student or students are experiencing bullying and/or harassment, they must take steps to prevent it. Failing to take steps to prevent harassment and bullying is a violation of Title IX.
Under Title IX, schools must take prompt and effective steps to eliminate hostile environments, prevent their recurrence, and remedy their effects.
A hostile environment occurs when there are behaviors or actions happening at school which are so “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that they effectively deny your family equal access to a school’s program.
The actions that cause a hostile environment do not necessarily have to be directed at you or members of your family. Examples of actions that can cause a hostile environment might be homophobic or transphobic jokes, excluding a student from a classroom activity because it might require them to discuss their LGBTQI+ parents, disciplining school staff or teachers for sharing movies which feature LGBTQI+ characters, or arbitrary removal of books from the school library which discuss LGBTQI+ related topics.
For more information, check out the Department of Education’s resource, “Confronting Anti-LGBTQI+ Harassment in Schools”.
What role does Title IX play in the anti-LGBTQ+ policies being applied in states and school districts?
Don’t Say Gay and Trans Bills
In 2022, Florida passed H.B. 1557, often referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay and Trans Bill.” This bill explicitly bans curricular instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in school. In the year since its passage, we’ve witnessed dozens of copycat bills crop up in states across the country. These bills have passed and become law in Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, and North Carolina.
While states and school districts have the ability to set curriculums and learning standards, excluding students with LGBTQ+ families and LGBTQ+ students from activities to avoid discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation would constitute discrimination under Title IX. Even with these laws in place, schools cannot use “Don’t Say Gay and Trans” bills to justify acts of discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment. These acts should still be reported as Title IX violations.
According to the American Library Association, the number of book bans attempted in the United States in 2022 reached its highest point in 20 years. Many books banned by states, counties, and school districts feature LGBTQ+ characters or discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity.
These bans, which specifically target LGBTQ+ characters, themes, and topics, negatively impact the ability of LGBTQ+ students and families to feel safe at school and can be considered violations of Title IX. In fact, the Department of Education recently found that a Georgia school district may have created a hostile environment for students by banning certain books from its libraries.
At the start of the 2023 school year, 23 states had banned transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. The Department of Education has proposed Title IX rules which would not allow these blanket bans. These rules are expected to be finalized in October of 2023, and this guide will be updated at that time. In the meantime, it is still important to file a Title IX complaint if you believe that your child is being excluded from a school sports program because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In short, schools must follow Title IX regardless of anti-LGBTQI+ state laws.
What should I do if my child experiences harassment, bullying, discrimination, or a hostile environment?
Alert your school about it as soon as possible. You can usually do this by contacting the school principal directly. Schools are also required to have a designated Title IX coordinator. The school is responsible for making this person’s contact information available to you.
Alerting someone does not necessarily mean you have to file a formal complaint, but it will get you on the record and allow you to see if your administration is willing to take steps to protect you and your child. Even without filing a formal complaint, you have the right to request support from your school to address the harms caused by discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment.
But know that if you decide to file a formal complaint, your school must have a written grievance procedure. This written procedure should explain the school’s timeline and processes for investigating the discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment your family faces.
For More Information
Retaliation is Prohibited
Speaking out against discrimination can be intimidating for a number of reasons. You might find yourself avoiding filing a complaint out of fear of retaliation. But it is a Title IX violation for a school to retaliate against you because you filed a Title IX complaint and stood up for your family’s rights.
How do I file a federal Title IX Complaint?
Anyone who believes there has been an act of discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment on the basis of sex may file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under Title IX. You are not required to file a complaint with your school district before filing a federal complaint. Additionally, the person filing the complaint does not need to be a victim of the alleged discrimination. But, if you are filing on behalf of someone else, you need to get written consent from that individual. This includes parents who are submitting on behalf of their child. Also, you need to file your complaint within 180 calendar days after the incident.
The Office for Civil Rights has instructions for filing complaints in English and numerous other languages. There are a few ways to submit a complaint:
- Submit your complaint online. You can submit your complaint either through the electronic submission of the pre-prepared OCR complaint form or by email.
- Submit your complaint through the mail. You may pick up a copy of the complaint form at your nearest OCR enforcement office.
Whether you file online or by mail, you will need to sign and submit a consent form to allow the OCR to process your complaint. The signed Consent Form may be submitted to the OCR by mail, fax, email (with a scanned attachment), or in person.
Note: The OCR may contact you and ask for further details. Your revisions must be submitted within 20 days of the OCR’s request.
You can also report a Title IX violation to the Department of Justice here.
For more information, check out the Department of Education’s guide, “How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.” If you need help, you can request legal help for Title IX issues from the National Women’s Law Center here.
What should I include in a Title IX Complaint?
Complaint letters should explain the following:
- Who experienced the discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment;
- Who committed the acts of discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment;
- When the incident or incidents took place;
- What harm resulted from the discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment;
- Who can be contacted for further information (including any witnesses);
- Name, address, and contact information of the school;
- Description of any prior attempts you have taken to resolve your complaint (including if you attempted to use the school grievance procedure);
- What you would like the school or program to do as a result of the complaint, including any costs that you want reimbursed;
- And as much background information as possible about the discriminatory act(s).
What should I include in a Title IX Complaint?
The OCR will promptly acknowledge receiving your complaint and contact you by letter, e-mail, or telephone to let you know whether they will proceed with an investigation.
If the investigation indicates that there has been a violation of Title IX, the OCR usually attempts to negotiate with the school to agree on how the school will remedy the harm and make sure that discrimination, harassment, and/or bullying will not happen again. If the OCR and the school cannot agree, they might refer the case to the Department of Justice to bring a lawsuit against the school or initiate administrative hearings to compel the school to remedy the situation.
For more information, check out the Department of Education’s “ How the Office for Civil Rights Handles Complaints.”
This information was prepared and distributed by Family Equality.
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Family Equality exists to create a world where everyone can experience the unconditional love, safety, and belonging of family. Our mission is to ensure that everyone has the freedom to find, form, and sustain their families by advancing equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community.
- The Department of Education is currently unable to enforce Title IX based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the following states due to an ongoing court case. This will be resolved when the Department finalizes their new Title IX rule in October of 2023, which will apply to all 50 states. This guide will be updated when that rule is finalized. In the meantime, if you live in the following states and your family experiences discrimination, bullying, and/or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, you can still file a Title IX complaint to get your story on record. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia