As we approach the beginning of the 2023 school year, the ACLU of Alaska commits to continuing to protect students’ rights — including the rights of LGBTQIA2S+ students — to a learning environment free from bullying and harassment. With recent efforts by the Alaska School Board and Mat-Su School Board to pass discriminatory policies towards LGBTQIA2S+ students, the ACLU of Alaska would like to remind students, parents and teachers of the rights afforded to everyone under the U.S. and Alaska Constitution.
First Amendment rights
You have the right to:
- Voice your support for LGBTQIA2S+ equality and equity at school.
- Be free from viewpoint-based censorship on t-shirts, leaflets, etc. that promote LGBTQIA2S+ equality or have queer-positive messages.
- Hang posters, make announcements and hold meetings for LGBTQIA2S+ related groups on the same terms as other student organizations.
- Write a column or article in a personal or student-led publication addressing LGBTQIA2S+ issues without discrimination based on your LGBTQIA2S+- supportive ideas.
- Freely access information and ideas.
- The U.S. Constitution and the Alaska Constitution both have an Equal Protection Clause.
- Public schools cannot single out LGBTQIA2S+ students for negative treatment just because schools. disapprove of being gay or feel uncomfortable around people whose gender identity/ expression is different from theirs.
- Public schools cannot take bullying or harassment less seriously just because the student is LGBTQIA2S+.
- Anti-trans bathroom bills. In 2022 the Mat-Su Borough School District passed a policy that requires individuals to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender assigned at birth. This is a violation of students’ right to privacy. This policy is also discriminatory and directly targets trans girls. The 9th Circuit, the federal circuit that governs Alaska, hasn't decided if forcing students to use bathrooms that match their sex assigned at birth violates Title IX or not. The ACLU of Alaska is committed to ensuring that students can use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
- School sports ban against trans girls. In 2023, the Mat-Su Borough School District passed a policy banning trans girls from participating in sports. According to the policy, only those assigned female at birth may participate in any girls’ sports teams. The State of Alaska Board of Education proposed to ban trans girls from school sports this summer; the Board accepted public comment and testimony on the proposal but has not issued a decision yet. Currently, trans girl student athletes are allowed to play sports on girls teams in Alaska, outside of the Mat-Su School District.
What to do if you feel like your rights are being violated
- Write down what happened as soon as you can. Include the time and date, who was involved, where you were, any witnesses, and everything you can remember about the events that happened.
- Tell an adult you trust. A parent or friendly relative, a trusted teacher or school official who you feel is safe to talk to.
- Contact a lawyer. A lawyer can help provide legal advice on your rights and support the process of taking legal action, if that is something you choose. Calling a lawyer does not mean that you must take legal action. Your trusted adult can help you do this so you feel comfortable sharing your story with an attorney and getting legal advice.
Don’t know any lawyers? That’s ok, we do!
The ACLU of Alaska has attorneys on staff to help navigate these legal challenges. Reach out to us if:
- You want to play sports or have played sports but will be affected by a statewide anti-trans girls in sports policy
- Have been affected by the Mat-Su bathroom policy
- Have experienced discrimination in school or elsewhere based on your LGBTQIA2S+ identity
- If you’re unsure if your rights have been violated in school, please reach out to the ACLU of Alaska for guidance. We are here to help!
Other items the ACLU of Alaska is monitoring
- Libraries and access to information. Across the country, there have been several recent attempts to ban books at public and school libraries. This is all part of a coordinated effort to limit access to materials about gender and sexuality, and limit access to materials that discuss systemic racism. In the Mat-Su, the School District already has a process in place to challenge and limit student access to certain materials. Rather than follow this process, the board preemptively removed books from the shelf prior to being reviewed. The Mat-Su School Board has also passed a policy that will require two-week advance parental notice for any class content regarding gender and sexuality. Everyone, including youth in schools, has a right to free access to information. The First Amendment does not allow the government to get rid of or limit the use of books or ideas because they are controversial, unpopular, or offensive. The ACLU of Alaska is continuing to monitor this issue and advocate for the First Amendment Rights of students in Alaska public schools.
- Freedom of expression. The Mat-Su School Board recently passed BP 4055 which prohibits teachers from engaging in activism during school hours and in the presence of students. Activism is broadly defined in this policy as “as a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” This policy was designed to prevent educators from freely expressing support for LGBTQIA2S+ students and providing safe spaces for students.