Your Right to Form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)

Note: Available as a flier here.



Your Right to Form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)


Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing Lesbian, Gay,
Bi-Sexual, Transgender (LGBT)  issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. Nationwide, students are forming these groups in part to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students and to promote understanding and respect in the school community. Although the efforts of these groups focus primarily on the needs of LGBT students, students who have LGBT family members and friends, and students who are perceived to be LGBT, messages of respect, tolerance, and inclusion benefit all our students. By encouraging dialogue and providing supportive resources, these groups can help make schools safe and affirming environments for everyone.

But in spite of the positive effect these groups can have in schools, some such groups have been unlawfully excluded from school grounds, prevented from forming, or denied access to school resources. These same barriers have sometimes been used to target religious and other student groups, leading Congress to pass the Equal Access Act.

In 1984, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Equal Access Act, requiring public secondary schools to provide equal access for extracurricular clubs. Rooted in principles of equal treatment and freedom of expression, the Act protects student-initiated groups of all types.  By allowing students to discuss difficult issues openly and honestly, in a civil manner, our schools become forums for combating ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.

The Act requires public secondary schools (including high schools and some middle schools) to treat all student-initiated groups equally, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters discussed at their meetings. Its protections apply to groups that address issues relating to LGBT students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity, just as they apply to religious and other student groups.

Although specific implementation of the Equal Access Act depends upon contextual circumstances, these guidelines reflect basic obligations imposed on public school officials by the Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The general rule, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, is that a public high school that allows at least one noncurricular student group to meet on school grounds during noninstructional time (e.g., lunch, recess, or before or after school) may not deny similar access to other noncurricular student groups, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters that the groups address.




There is no government body tasked with specific oversight of the Equal Access Act. However, several federal and state agencies do have authority to handle complaints based on civil rights violations.


Under certain circumstances, a school’s refusal to recognize a GSA may constitute unlawful discrimination under federal and state statutes that prohibit sex discrimination. For instance:

  • If a school treats one group of students differently from or worse than other students because that group represents gender-nonconforming or transgender students, that different treatment may constitute unlawful sex discrimination.
  • If a school has engaged in unlawful sex discrimination by permitting a hostile environment for gender-nonconforming or transgender students, a school may be required to recognize a GSA as part of a series of steps to eliminate that environment.
  • If a school refuses to recognize a GSA or other group because the school anticipates the group will be a vehicle for advocating for the rights of gender-nonconforming or transgender students (or because of past advocacy by the students now seeking recognition of the GSA), that decision may constitute unlawful retaliation.

Complaints may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education – Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Attorney’s Office or at the Connecticut state level with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.



The Educational Opportunities Section enforces federal laws that protect students from harassment or discrimination. The Section is responsible for enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in public schools and institutions of higher learning; the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 which, among other things, requires states and school districts to provide English Language Learner (ELL) students with appropriate services to overcome language barriers; and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination. The Section also plays a significant role in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal funds); Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex by recipients of federal funds); and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (both of which address disability discrimination and appropriate disability-related services).



The Educational Opportunities Section accepts complaints of potential violations:

·        By e-mail to

·        By telephone at (202) 514-4092 or 1-877-292-3804 (toll-free)

·        By facsimile at (202) 514-8337

·        By letter to the following address:

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Educational Opportunities Section, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530
In order to properly respond to a complaint, the Section requests that complainants provide their name, address, and the name of the school/school district/university where the alleged discrimination occurred.

Additional information regarding how to file a complaint is available at




The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces federal laws that protect students from harassment or discrimination. OCR plays a significant role in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal funds); Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex by recipients of federal funds); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (both of which address disability discrimination).


OCR accepts complaints of potential violations:


·        By e-mail to or

·        Online at

·        By telephone at (617) 289-0111 or TDD: (800) 877-8339

·        By facsimile at (617) 289-0150

·        By letter to the following address:
Office for Civil Rights, Boston Office

U.S. Department of Education

8th Floor

5 Post Office Square

Boston, MA 02109-3921


In order to properly respond to a complaint, OCR requests that complainants provide:


·        Name, address and, if possible, a telephone number;

·        Information about the person(s) or class of persons injured by the alleged discriminatory act(s) (names of the injured person(s) are not required);

·        The name and location of the institution that committed the alleged discriminatory act(s); and

·        A description of the alleged discriminatory act(s) in sufficient detail to enable OCR to understand what occurred, when it occurred, and the basis for the alleged discrimination (race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age or the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act).
Additional information regarding how to file a complaint is available at



United States Attorney’s Office – District of Connecticut
New Haven Office – Headquarters

US Attorney’s Office

New Haven Office

Connecticut Financial Center

157 Church Street

Floor 25

New Haven, CT 06510

(203) 821-3700

Fax: (203) 773- 5376

* for a list of U.S. Attorneys in other states go to



Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (Connecticut)

25 Sigourney Street

Hartford, CT 06106

860/ 541-3400

Connecticut Toll Free 1-800-477-5737

TDD 860-541-3459


Agency Mission: The mission of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) is to eliminate discrimination through civil and human rights law enforcement and to establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons within the state through advocacy and education.

Statutory Authority: Connecticut General Statutes, Chapter 814c. Link directly to the Connecticut General Statutes at:

It is the statutory responsibility of the Commission to:

  • Enforce human rights laws that ban illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit transactions.
  • Monitor compliance with state contract compliance laws and with laws requiring affirmative action in state agency personnel practices.
  • Establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons in Connecticut through education and outreach activities.

General statutes section 10-15c (and 46a-58(a) Deprivation of Rights) prohibits schools from discriminating against children in connection with permitting attendance and making schools open to them.  If students are allowed to form other types of student organizations, then the school should not treat students differently on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

To permit the formation of other student organizations and associations and to prohibit the formation of GSAs would constitute discrimination under 10-15c and a complaint could be filed with the CHRO claiming a violation of 46a-58(a) through the violation of 10-15c. Also, if a school permits access to school facilities to other clubs/organizations, as it cannot prohibit religious clubs it also cannot prohibit LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) clubs.
Connecticut law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation such as schools.

It is the CHRO’s position that the State’s public accommodations law applies to the schools.  Therefore the State’s public accommodations law would prohibit the banning of GSAs in high school and middle schools. 


If students have been denied an opportunity for equal access in a place of public accommodation based on their protected class status, they may be able to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.



How to Contact State and Local Agencies



May 13, 2015


Supporting Transgender Students

I have been getting numerous calls about working with transgender students. I must say I am very encouraged by the calls – people seem to be genuinely concerned about doing the right thing.


I want to point out the resource guide that can be found at –

Many of you have asked for help in training staff or advice on how to best help the school population understand the transition. Robin McHaelen is a nationally recognized expert. I recommend her highly to work with students and parents, train staff and to consult with schools on best practices.


Robin McHaelen

Executive Director

TrueColors, Inc.

Sexual Minority Youth and Family Services

True Colors, Inc.
30 Arbor Street, Suite 201A
Hartford, CT  06106
(860) 232-0050, ext. 302

True Colors is a non-profit organization that works with other social service agencies, schools, organizations, and within communities to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are both recognized and competently met. The organization trains more than 2400 people annually, organizes the largest LGBT youth conference in the country with more than 2000 attendees and manages the state’s only LGBT mentoring program. True Colors has been spotlighted by both national and local media for their expertise in LGBTI youth issues, including most recently CNN.

Another resource is GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders)

Jennifer Levi

Director, Transgender Rights Project

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders

30 Winter Street, Suite 800

Boston MA 02108

(617) 426-1350


GLAD has been an incredibly healthful resource, particularly in the area of legal rights. Attorney Levi is in great demand but there are others on staff who are also experts in this area (same phone number):

Allison Wright, Staff Attorney –
Vickie Henry, Staff Attorney –


GLAD launched a GSA campaign in September 2014 to encourage students to form GSAs or other LGBTQ clubs at their public high schools or middle schools.  They created a short video about the rights of students to form GSAs at their schools, which can be viewed at  Please feel free to share this video widely, especially with youth. GLAD is actively looking to assist students who experience difficulty with starting/forming GSAs at their schools.   GSAs and other LGBTQ clubs greatly improve school climates.  GSAs and other LGBTQ clubs can cut down on transphobic and homophobic remarks, can help transgender and gender nonconforming students feel safer, can help students and teachers learn about LGBTQ issues, and can create a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ students.


Message Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education

Dear Colleague:

I am pleased to announce the release of OCR’s report to the President, Secretary of Education, and Congress detailing the Office for Civil Rights’ activities in fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2014.

Among the report’s highlights—in FY 13-14, OCR:

  • resolved nearly 20,000 cases;

  • increased transparency by posting more resolution agreements than ever on our website;

  • released a new, universal Civil Rights Data Collection covering nearly every public school and district in the nation; and

  • wrote and released 11 comprehensive policy guidance documents to remind schools and other institutions of their legal obligations under federal civil rights laws.

You can find the report on our website. Please share it widely with your members and stakeholders.

Looking ahead, OCR will continue to work to ensure that our nation’s students learn in environments free from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age. We look forward to engaging with you in this effort.


Catherine E. Lhamon
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education


More on …Notice of Nondiscrimination



A) Notice of Nondiscrimination

The Title IX regulations require that each recipient publish a notice of nondiscrimination stating
that the recipient does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs and
activities, and that Title IX requires it not to discriminate in such a manner.19 The notice must
state that inquiries concerning the application of Title IX may be referred to the recipient’s Title
IX coordinator or to OCR. Itshould include the name or title, office address, telephone number,
and e-mail address for the recipient’s designated Title IX coordinator.

The noticemust be widely distributed to all students, parents of elementary and secondary
students, employees, applicants for admission and employment, and other relevant persons.
OCR recommends that the notice be prominently posted on school Web sites and at various

16 34 C.F.R. § 106.9.

17 Id. § 106.8(a).
18 Id. § 106.8(b).
19 Id. § 106.9(a).

Page 7 –Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence
locations throughout the school or campus and published in electronic and printed publications
of general distribution that provide information to students and employees about the school’s
services and policies. The notice should be available and easily accessible on an ongoing basis.
Title IX does not require a recipient to adopt a policy specifically prohibiting sexual harassment
or sexual violence. As noted in the 2001 Guidance, however, a recipient’s general policy
prohibiting sex discrimination will not be considered effective and would violate Title IX if,
because of the lack of a specific policy, students are unaware of what kind of conduct
constitutes sexual harassment, including sexual violence, or that such conduct is prohibited sex
discrimination. OCR therefore recommends that a recipient’s nondiscrimination policy state
that prohibited sex discrimination covers sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and that
the policy include examples of the types of conduct that it covers.


Title IX & Bullying Information on Websites

I am coming across numerous situations in which people cannot find critical documents on school websites. The following should be easily found in a school website by typing the words in a “search box” on your site. Test your own site to see if you can find:


·        “Title IX”

·        “sexual harassment”

·        “nondiscrimination statement”

·        “Title IX Coordinator”


·        “Bullying”

·        “Bullying Policy”

·        “Safe school climate plans” [Note that Public Act 11- 232, AN ACT CONCERNING THE STRENGTHENING OF SCHOOL BULLYING LAWS requires explicitly that this be posted on your website.]

·        “Safe School Climate Coordinator”

·        “Safe school climate specialist”

·        “Safe School Climate Committee”


·         “504 Coordinator”

·        “504/ADA”

·        “grievance procedure”

·        “complaint process”

·         “policies”

·        “student handbook”

·        “employee handbook”

·        “board policies”


I am sure I might be missing some other words. By adding these words to your web, people will be able to find information faster. Speak to whoever does your website about this. Your web/IT person should understand this as adding “keywords” or “meta-tags” into the website. I am asking our own SDE web person to consider this also. Please think about doing this. It will make life easier.



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