Know Your Rights: Title IX for LGBTQ+ Families

Title IX is a powerful tool to safeguard your rights and protect against discrimination. Whether you're an LGBTQ+ family navigating the increasingly hostile educational landscape or a transgender young person seeking support, this resource can provide you with the knowledge you need to use Title IX to protect yourself and create a safe learning environment.

Updated May 2024

What is Title IX?

Title IX is the name of the federal civil rights law enacted as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any public or private elementary school, secondary school, school district, college, or university that receives federal funding. Religious schools can apply for an exemption.

In April 2024, the Department of Education updated the Title IX rules to clarify and expand protections for people discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics (which encompasses intersex people).

Under Title IX, schools…

  • Cannot separate, deny benefits to, or exclude a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics;
  • Must investigate and resolve allegations of discrimination, harassment, bullying, or physical harm based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics;
  • Are required to take steps to protect students from harassment, bullying, physical harm, or discrimination

These protections apply to all school-run programs and extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs.

To learn more about the latest Title IX rule updates, you can visit the Department of Education’s website here.

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. This includes excluding you from sex-separated activities and facilities consistent with your gender identity, such as bathrooms, locker rooms, extracurricular activities, and more. 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.

Hostile Environment

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.

Family Equality filed a lawsuit against Florida’s H.B. 1557 and got the state to admit that these laws are limited to curriculum only. Our settlement with Florida could serve as a useful guide to understanding how a school in any state might violate Title IX while claiming to just be following state law. For a more detailed guide on how to use our Florida case to advocate for classroom inclusion, you can see view our guide Advocating for Classroom Inclusion: Navigating Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay and Trans” Settlement.

Book Bans

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.

School Facilities and Activities

Under Title IX, schools generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity including participation in sex-separated activities and facilities. Schools cannot prevent people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, especially transgender and nonbinary students. While schools are allowed to separate students by sex in some circumstances, such as having a separate male and female sex education lesson, they must allow you to participate in the activity consistent with your gender identity.

Sports Bans

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 Late 2024, 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

Check out Know Your IX and the National Women’s Law Center’s resourceKnow Your IX Title IX and Supportive Measures for K-12 Student Survivors.” This tool will guide you through approaching your school to file a complaint or request supportive measures. While its primary focus is on sexual harassment or assault, the advice is applicable to harassment, bullying, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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.

Why is it important to file Title IX complaints?

Title IX is an important safeguard, but it can’t be enforced unless you file a complaint if and when you experience discrimination. 

Additionally, by filing a complaint, you are contributing to the national record of what is happening in schools across the country. The more people speak out about the discrimination they’ve experienced using Title IX complaints, the clearer the patterns are — and the easier it is for policymakers to recognize a need for change. 

In short, filing a Title IX complaint when you experience discrimination can make a real difference in the lives of other LGBTQ+ parents and children. 

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: 

  1. Submit your complaint online. You can submit your complaint either through the electronic submission of the pre-prepared OCR complaint form or by email
  2. 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 filing a Title IX complaint or feel like you need advice from a lawyer, there are some organizations that you can reach out to for support:

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. |

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.