Most State Policies That Address LGBTQ+ Students in Schools Are Affirming, Despite Recent Trends Toward Exclusion

Research BriefLGBTQ+ YouthMar 22 2022

Creating school environments that support students’ health and well-being is critical for helping them thrive. For students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary, or another non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ+), research demonstrates that affirming policies—which provide explicit, enumerated protections (i.e., a specific list of protections)—are associated with reduced rates of bullying and suicide, among other outcomes. Throughout 2021, however, many states proposed policies to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ students in schools, such as transgender students’ ability to access bathroom facilities or play on sports teams that match their gender identities. These proposals represented a marked shift from an increasingly supportive policy environment.

This data story shows that most state statutes and regulations are affirming of LGBTQ+ students—that is, they aim to provide supports to LGBTQ+ students. There are several ways in which state policies can affirm LGBTQ+ students in schools, including ensuring that sexual health education is inclusive of non-heterosexual relationships, expanding definitions in teen dating violence prevention policies to cover same-sex couples, and establishing privacy policies to prevent unwanted disclosure of an individual’s sexual or gender identity. However, new policies enacted in 2020 and 2021 are largely exclusionary, establishing barriers for LGBTQ+ students to access supports or services at school.

To analyze the current landscape of state statutes and regulations that either affirm or exclude LGBTQ+ students in schools, Child Trends and EMT Associates collected a list of codified policies that explicitly reference LGBTQ+ student populations. The analysis reflects statutes and regulations that were on the books as of August 2021; it does not include statutes and regulations that were repealed prior to, or enacted after, this date. (Please refer to the Methodology section, which appears as a dropdown at the end of this data story, for more detailed language about our analysis. Descriptions and examples of all identified categories of laws can also be found in this section.)

As of August 2021, most state statutes and regulations are affirming of LGBTQ+ students in schools, although exclusionary policies increased in 2020 and 2021.

At least one state enacted statutes and/or regulations that are affirming toward LGBTQ+ students in each year from 2006 through 2021, for a total of 121 policies across 26 states. In 2019 alone, 12 states enacted affirming policies. Several states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington, enacted multiple affirming policies across several years during this timeframe.  While no states enacted exclusionary policies from 2006 to 2019 that remain codified today, eight enacted exclusionary policies in 2020 and 2021.

State policies that are affirming and exclusionary of LGBTQ+ students, as of August 2021, by number of non-repealed policies enacted per year

* Cumulative since 1979

Note: The graph reflects the current statutory and regulatory landscape when these data were collected (August 2021) and does not include statutes and regulations repealed before this date.

State statutes and regulations provide a wide range of supports for LGBTQ+ students.

Twenty-four states have anti-bullying statutes and/or regulations that include enumerated protections for LGBTQ+ students. An additional nine states have enacted policies that encourage the development of state or district model policies or professional development to support LGBTQ+ students in schools. Seven states have enacted affirming policies about culturally inclusive educational materials that include references to LGBTQ+ individuals, and seven have enacted policies about suicide prevention with specific references to supports for LGBTQ+ students.

States enacting affirming laws, by topic and number

Hover over each state’s icon below to see applicable affirming statutes and regulations in that state. The subsequent interactive map shows summaries of affirming laws that address bullying of LGBTQ+ students, by state

The most common category of affirming policy is enumerated protections from bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nearly half of all states have enacted anti-bullying statutes or regulations that enumerate protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Seven states enacted anti-bullying policies prior to 2006. Several states have enacted multiple policies designed to provide protections from bullying for LGBTQ+ students. For example, in Connecticut, one statute defines bullying as including behavior that is based on an individual’s sexual orientation, and another requires the development of training materials to prevent bullying—including bullying based on sexual orientation.

States with affirming statutes and regulations on bullying of LGBTQ+ students, by year

Hover over each state to see the applicable laws

Exclusionary statutes and regulations became more common in 2020 and 2021.

The majority of statutes and regulations creating exclusions for LGBTQ+ students that were in effect as of August 2021 were enacted in 2020 and 2021. While several other states have since repealed statutes or regulations, only four exclusionary policies enacted prior to 2020 remain in effect. Eight additional states added exclusionary policies—including restrictions on including content about sexual orientation or gender identity in curricula and restrictions on transgender students’ participation in school sports—in 2020 and 2021.

States with exclusionary policies for LGBTQ+ students as of August 2021, by year of first enactment of a non-repealed exclusionary policy

Hover over each state to see the applicable laws



While statutes and regulations that protect and affirm LGBTQ+ students in schools remain more common than those that exclude them, the recent increase in exclusionary state policies contradicts a research base showing that student outcomes are best served in supportive environments.