The state’s Commission on LGBTQ Youth rated Mass. public school handbooks. Most got an F.

Changes to handbooks and a more inclusive curriculum were among the suggestions in a new, 236-page report.

A person waves a Pride flag during a Transgender Day of Visibility Event named, “We Are A State of Love: A Gathering of Visible Solidarity With LGBTQ Youth” outside of the State House in March. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The state Commission on LGBTQ Youth is working to make schools more inclusive in terms of curriculum and overall environment.

A new 236-page report includes many statewide proposals on inclusivity, a portion of it focusing on education.

“Data from the 2019 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that, compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience bullying, three and a half times as likely to skip school because they feel unsafe, and four and a half times as likely to attempt suicide,” the report said.

“Moreover,” it read, “LGBTQ youth – particularly QTBIPOC [Queer and Transgender People of Color] youth – find themselves nearly four times more likely to be incarcerated within the juvenile justice system.”


To help with inclusivity, one area the report focused on was handbooks. Things they are recommended to include are:

  • Having all non-discrimination regulations include “gender identity”
  • The ability for students to report their preferred name and gender marker on all school documents
  • Having gender-neutral bathrooms, locker rooms, and other areas accessible, and available all the time
  • Confidentially for LGBTQ+ students
  • Schools should avoid using “gendered practices”

The report also rated schools’ student handbooks, examining 1,704 of 1,851 throughout the state, or 92 percent.

Most, or 86 percent, of the handbooks used “gender identity” in them, which the study says shows they’re working with the most current anti-discrimination laws.

However, just 12 percent, or 210 of the 1,704 handbooks reviewed, used gender neutral language.

“The average score of all sampled handbooks was a D,” according to the report. Most, or 64 percent, received an F, while another 12 percent received a D. Twenty-two percent received a C. Less than 2 percent, or 31, were graded B. Less than 1 percent received an A.

“The only two schools that earned an ‘A’ are located in the Greater Boston area: Community Charter School of Cambridge (CCSC), and McCall Middle School in Winchester,” the report said. “While CCSC and McCall Middle School received the highest scores and have exemplary handbooks for LGBTQ+ inclusion, it is important to note that most B-scoring schools were penalized only for their use of binary language.”

The report also notes that transgender and nonbinary youth “are the most underrepresented and underserved in Massachusetts education policy and practice.”


A total of 5.5 percent of schools talk about gender in the handbook, but do not discuss identity in anti-discrimination policies, the report said.

While CCSC and McCall Middle School had the best scoring handbooks, the report notes that their communities also take in the highest property taxes in the state.

“Both schools also benefit from affiliate 501(c)(3) organizations to bolster their budgets,” the report said. “These initial research results indicate that lower-scoring handbooks may not necessarily reflect attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people: they could also indicate staffing and resource allocation issues, which are reflective of broader educational inequities throughout the Commonwealth and this country.”

Handbooks should include language on non-discrimination based on gender identity, and should have information about name and pronouns for nonbinary and transgender students, the report said.

Information on a student’s identity should be in their student record, according to the report. There should also be a section of the handbook on privacy, confidentiality, and student records.

Students should also be allowed to play sports with the team corresponding with their gender identity, and dress codes should allow students to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity.

“Schools should review and evaluate any gender-based activities, rules, and practices currently being utilized, and replace such gender-based activities, rules, and practices with non-gendered alternatives,” the report said. “CCSC’s handbook states that the school ‘will continue to evaluate all gender-based policies, rules, and practices, and maintain only those with a clear and sound pedagogical purpose. Gender-based policies, rules, and practices can have the effect of marginalizing, stigmatizing, and excluding students, including gender-nonconforming students.’”


There should also be training for school staff, and handbooks should be updated each year, according to the report.

The report also advocates for protections for LGBTQ students, training for staff around violence and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, and school-based groups for them. There should also be family member support and a staff member who is “proficient” in sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and curriculums should include work on human and civil rights, including for LGBTQ people.

The report also advocates for “age-appropriate information” on LGBTQ issues, a diverse workforce, and a review of all policies, academic and non-academic, “to identify issues and patterns that may create barriers to a safe and successful learning experience for LGBTQ students.”

“When students firmly understand their rights and responsibilities at school, they are better equipped to advocate for themselves and for each other,” the report said. “Including specific language about LGBTQ+ inclusion in public school handbooks will ensure that LGBTQ+ students have more equal grounds to fight for the safe, supportive schools that all youth deserve.”

The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ youth, created in 1992 under Gov. William Weld, is a 50-member commission that advises others in state government on effective policies, programs, and resources for LGBTQ youth.


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