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Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ students

The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students is a joint program of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). It was founded in 1993 to address concerns of bullying and suicide risk that faced LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts public schools. Today, the Safe Schools Program remains an important part of implementing the state’s anti-bullying law and protecting the health and safety of students.

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Training and technical assistance

The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students provides training and technical assistance relating to LGBTQ students and staff. This includes addressing bullying, understanding sexual orientation and gender identity, and improving school climate. The Safe Schools Program conducts training and technical assistance in public schools all across the state, including public preschools, charter schools, magnet schools, vocational/tech schools, and Chapter 766-approved special education schools.

Submit requests for trainings and technical assistance here. Technical assistance can include phone or in-person meetings to help you answer specific questions or workshop issues your school is addressing. We aim to respond to all requests within 5 business days.

Improving school climate is an excellent way to improve student outcomes and thus close the achieve gap; as such, schools with high proportions of students of color and/or low-income students are highly encouraged to request trainings. Schools that have not had a Safe Schools Program training within the past two years are also given priority.

 Training sessions can be tailored to specific audiences, such as school nurses, counselors, health and physical education teachers. The majority of sessions, however, provide a general introduction to topics relating the LGBTQ students, and are based on the following format:

“An Act Relative to Gender Identity, which became effective in 2012, protects students from discrimination based on gender identity, as well as sexual orientation. This session will review the laws, policies, resources, and best practices for supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students.

“By the end of this workshop, participants will:

  • Be able to articulate and use correct LGBTQ terms and definitions;
  • Understand the experiences of LGBTQ students and families;
  • Have reviewed ESE policy guidance as it relates to students, families and staff;
  • Be aware of the factors that promote resilience and positive outcomes for LGBTQ students; and
  • Have a plan to use the content learned.”

Submit a request today or contact us at the number or email listed below if you have questions.

Inclusive Curriculum Materials

The Regulations for the Massachusetts Student Rights Law (MGL Ch. 76, Sec. 5) state that “all public school systems shall, through their curricula, encourage respect for the human and civil rights of all individuals regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.”

The Safe Schools Program is proud to offer newly-created curricula materials to help schools provide for LGBTQ-inclusive lessons. These resources range from hour-long discussions to multi-day lessons, and will help students value the contributions of LGBTQ people and understand their place in history, literature, and other fields.

Currently, one unit is available from DESE’s Model Curriculum Unit website: “Defending Democracy at Home: Advancing Constitutional Rights,” which is a Language Arts or Social Studies unit for Grades 11-12.

Additionally, the following curriculum materials are available for educators by completing this request form:

  • From Shepard to Obergefell and Beyond: LGBTQ Issues in the Present Day
  • Is Nick Carraway Gay? A Hidden Gay Voice in the American Classic
  • The Experience of LGBTQ People in the Holocaust
  • Jazz Poetry of Langston Hughes: A Reflection of African-American and Queer Identity During the Harlem Renaissance
  • Leslea Newman: an Influential American Writer and an Authentic Voice of the LGBTQ Experience in Literature
  • The Lavender Scare
  • Policing ‘Normal’: Gender, Sexuality, and Foucault’s Panopticon
  • Queering Willa Cather: Tommy the Unsentimental and Paul’s Case
  • The LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement
  • Why We Can’t Wait: Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Sylvia Rivera, and the Voices of Equal Rights, 1963, 1986, 2002

Finally, librarians may find our LGBTQ-inclusive reading list brochure a useful resource in making sure they have diversity-focused books in school, public, and university libraries. It is available as a PDF or accessible Word document.

GSA Leadership Council

The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students manages the statewide network of school GSAs. GSA can stand for Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender and Sexuality Alliance. These are school groups designed to support LGBTQ students and their allies. The Safe Schools Program helps to organize and support these important groups.

A key part of our work with the GSAs is the Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council. The GSA Student Leadership Council is modeled on the Student Advisory Council to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It provides networking and skill-building opportunities for GSA student leaders and advisors to promote student leadership and improve school climate. The Leadership Council consists of a state council and six regional councils. State and regional council meetings take place bimonthly. The Leadership Council also has a yearly summit that takes place in August in Amherst. 

To learn more about the GSA Leadership Council, including viewing the meeting calendar and registering for meetings, please visit the GSA Leadership Council webpage.

Resources

The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ students provides many resources for students, families, and education professionals. Some key resources include:

  • Commissioner’s Letters
    • An annual letter from the Commission of Elementary and Secondary Education that explains the services provided by the Safe Schools Program.
  • Gender Identity Guidance
    • Formal guidance issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. This guidance tells schools and districts how to respectfully support transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
  • Safe and Supportive Learning Principles
    • A guide from the Safe Schools Program on how to create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ students.
  • Overview of Laws and Policies
    • A summary of the laws and policies relevant to LGBTQ students, as compiled by the Safe Schools Program.
  • Resource Map
    • A statewide map of resources for LGBTQ youth, including many of the state’s GSAs.
  • Nonbinary Student ID Marker FAQs
    • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education policy allows students to use a nonbinary “X” marker instead of an “M” for male or “F” for female; this document answers some common questions on how to ensure access to this option.
  • LGBTQ-inclusive Curricula Materials
    • See description in section above on this page for more information.
  • Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Gender Identity Policy
    • The Safe Schools Program has supported the MIAA in making an athletic policy that is inclusive of transgender and gender nonbinary students.
  • LGBTQ-inclusive “Welcome” Sticker
    • In addition to downloading the image for printing above, you can also contact us at the number or email listed below to request a sticker for your school.

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