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Volume 17, Number 5
September/October 2001

Ignoring Sexual Minority Students Can Have Legal Consequences


Only five states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Wisconsin—currently have laws specifically protecting public school students from harassment and/or discrimination based on sexual orientation. Only one, California, also protects students based on gender identity. But a 1996 lawsuit demonstrated that existing federal laws are often enough to make school officials liable if they fail to deal effectively with harassment against students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

Jamie Nabozny successfully sued school administrators in Ashland, WI, for failing to protect him against anti-gay abuse in middle and high school, dramatically changed the landscape with regard to the rights of sexual minority students under the law. Working with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that fights anti-gay discrimination, Nabozny received a settlement of just under $1 million. The principal of Nabozny's middle school, as well as the principal and vice principal of his high school, were held personally liable in the case.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.