A state commission has unveiled recommendations they hope will make Massachusetts schools and workplaces more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth.
The guidance shared Tuesday at Faneuil Hall included the creation of a LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum for schools, stronger protections for gay and transgender youth against bullying and basic LGBTQ competency training for all state employees and contractors.
"Faneuil Hall has a dark history of selling enslaved African Americans, my ancestors," said Shaplaie Brooks, executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, as she stood among paintings and busts of colonists and founding fathers. "I can say proudly that I stand tall here [as never in] my ancestors wildest dreams."
The recommendations come as state officials across the nation have drafted more than 300 anti-LGBTQ policies this year, with many that would ban, censor or limit LGBTQ youth or their caregivers and teachers. That includes laws like the one recently passed in Florida,colloquially known as the "Don't Say Gay" law, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. It also bans lessons about gender identity for older students unless they are "age appropriate or developmentally appropriate" and allows parents to sue the district if the policy is violated.
Brooks said Massachusetts, the only state with a commission on LGBTQ youth, is a "lighthouse" — but there are also challenges. In Massachusetts, one in every four homeless young people identifies as LGBTQ, she said.
"While we believe that Massachusetts ... has done so much to become a leader for LGBTQ youth across the nation, there is still much to be done to address the inequities LGBTQ youth with varying intersecting identities face" in the state, she said.
Those challenges are laid out in the commission's new 236-page report. LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts continue to face high rates of school-based bullying, violence and suicide attempts, citing data from the 2019 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey that found 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 than non-LGBTQ youth. In addition, queer and transgender youth of color are nearly four times more likely to be incarcerated within the juvenile justice system.
Among the projects for next year, the commission anticipates adding two full-time lead trainers in eastern and western parts of the state, building relationships with the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for district-wide initiatives and organizing a curriculum conference for educators and students.
The commission's key 2023 priorities are:
- Provide basic LGBTQ competency training to all state employees and contractors;
- Support interagency collaboration to address family rejection of LGBTQ youth;
- Strengthen protections against bullying of LGBTQ youth and enact policies to strengthen inclusion in schools;
- Adopt policies that recognize gender identity diversity in state workplaces;
- Implement LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in public schools.
Commission chair Craig C. Martin said the advisory body, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, has submitted its report to the Legislature.
"We have the honor and privilege of standing alongside them to help advise and inform almost 20 state agencies, hundreds of schools, community organizations, nonprofits alike, on meaningful recommendations, policies, resources and supports that put our LGBTQIA youth first," he said. "These recommendations represent some of the best research-based and ground-pounding thinking we can gift — gift! — the commonwealth."