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Know Your Rights as an LGBTQ+ Youth in School

Being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning youth in school can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean the law isn’t on your side when things go wrong. Here is some information about common issues LGBTQ+ youth face and what your rights are in certain situations.


Bullying, defined by Iowa code 280.28, is any act or conduct (electronic, written, verbal or physical) toward a student based on the characteristic, or perceived characteristics of the student, which creates a hostile school environment. This can include sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It must meet one or more of the qualifications.

1) Make the student reasonably fearful of harm to self or their property.
2) Impacts a student’s mental or physical health significantly.
3) Impacts a student’s academic performance significantly.
4) Has a significant impact on a student’s ability to participate or benefit from activities, services or privileges provided by the school.

Your school is legally required to have an anti-bullying policy in place, according to Iowa Code section 280.28. This is required to be available to all students, staff, volunteers and parents/legal guardians. If you are unsure where to find your school’s bullying policy, or how to report bullying, ask a teacher or your guidance counselor, and they should be able to point you in the right direction. For more information, read Iowa Code 280.28 here https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/2015/280.28.pdf


GSA’s/LGBTQ student groups

Under the Federal Equal Access Act, you have the right to form student groups called Gay-Straight Alliances/Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSA) or any other student group that supports the LGBTQ+ community in your middle school or high school, so long as your school allows other non-curricular clubs. Your student group must be treated the same as any other club. This means your school cannot impose rules on your club that they don’t on others, force you to change the name of your club and they must allow you to use the same facilities that other clubs use. If you believe that your club’s rights are being infringed upon, talk with your club’s advisor and the school principal, and make sure you mention your rights under the Federal Equal Access Act. More information about the Federal Equal Access Act can be found here https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/4071


Iowa Code Section 216.9 prohibits a school which receives public funding (I.E public schools) from discriminating against any student based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This includes excluding a person from going to school or any school functions or programs (except athletic programs), not giving students a comparable opportunity in athletic programs (I.E a girl isn’t allowed to form a girl’s baseball team) and making a rule or excluding a person based on parental, family or marital status (I.E. a student isn’t allowed to bring their parents to parent-teacher conferences because they have two dads). If you believe you have been discriminated against, start by going to school officials, or even the school board. If you have already taken these steps, and feel the issue has not been resolved, you may file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission within 300 days of the incident. For more information on Iowa Code Section 216.9, visit https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/216.9.pdf


Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Student Rights

Under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, schools are required to respect a youth’s gender identity in regards to dress code, restroom and locker room access, names and pronouns. Recently, the guidance on how title IX protects transgender and gender non-conforming students was withdrawn. This guidance made the law more clear for schools and students alike, and creates confusion and uncertainty without it. With or without this guidance, this law hasn’t changed.



Article written by: Morgan Dodge, Care Coordinator with Orchard Place Integrated Health Program


Keep an eye on the Orchard Place Teen Space for more blogs and articles! We want this to be a great place to find mental health resources for teens, and will be exploring more topics each month.




State of Iowa, Iowa Code Section 280.28. 22 Dec. 2015, www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/2015/280.28.pdf.

State of Iowa, Iowa Code Section 216.9 24 Nov 2019

“20 U.S. Code § 4071 - Denial of Equal Access Prohibited.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/4071.

“FAQ on the Withdrawal of Federal Guidance on Transgender Students.” National Center for Transgender Equality, 27 Feb. 2017, transequality.org/issues/resources/faq-on-the-withdrawal-of-federal-guidance-on-transgender-students?utm_content=buffer39c25&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

“20 U.S. Code § 1681 - Sex.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/1681.