Michigan LGBTQ students began this school year without a clear, statewide policy to protect them. That’s despite the fact that this past February, the Michigan State Board of Education (MSBE) released draft guidelines designed to help create safe, supportive learning environments for these students.

The MSBE cites data gathered from the 2015 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey as part of the reason why these guidelines are necessary. According to the data, LG- BTQ students are 2.3 times more likely to be threatened, bullied, harassed or assaulted than their non-LGBTQ peers. A shocking 41 percent report this type of behavior happening at their schools, making it far more likely that these students skip class. These factors can create a firestorm of anxiety, stress and depression that contribute to exclusion, diminished academic achievement and stunted aspiration. Worse, data show that LGBTQ students may be 4.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers. If nothing is done, some of our most vulnerable youth will remain directly in harm’s way.

In the face of these alarming facts, the MSBE guidelines, particularly the inclusion of protections for transgender students, were met with so much public debate at the May 10 meeting that the MSBE had to delay final voting by many months. However, during the September 14th meeting, the MSBE did approve the guidelines by a vote of 6 to 2.

While these guidelines are a supportive step in the right direction, they’re also non-binding. That means that each school district can set its own policy.

LAHR contacted a number of local school districts to find out if they already had a policy in place, if they would support the Board’s guidelines, or if they would go in their own direction. Those school districts include: Lansing, East Lansing, Holt, Dewitt, Okemos, Haslett, Waverly, Williamston, Charlotte and Mason. Michigan State University and Lansing Community College were also surveyed.

Lansing (LSD) - Mr. Peter Spadafore, Lansing School District president, will ask the Lansing School Board to support the MSBE guidelines. He also said that LSD is an inclusive district and works with students so that they feel safe and supported.

Holt - Mr. W. Scott Szpara, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services, indicated that Holt works with individual students and that they are monitoring the MSBE’s guidelines.

Charlotte - Mr. Mark Rosekrans, Superintendent of Schools for the Charlotte school district, indicated that Charlotte currently works with individual students so that they feel safe and welcome at school. Additionally, the staff at Charlotte were presented information in the form of a keynote address at the start of the year.

Okemos - The Okemos Public School district does not have a specific policy, nor has it decided if it will follow the MSBE’s guidelines. The question is up for discussion within the Okemos School Board.

Michigan State University (MSU) - According to Dee Hurlbert, Director of the LBGT Resource Center at Michigan State University, a person may use a restroom or other gendered facility that is consistent with their gender identity on campus. If a person is made to feel unwelcome or unsafe in any restroom (or in any other place on campus), they are encouraged to contact the Office for Institutional Equity. Additionally, MSU has a number of single-person, gender-neutral restrooms.

Lansing Community College (LCC) - LCC does not have a clearly defined policy, but the campus does have a number of single-person, gender-neutral restrooms.

Individuals from the Dewitt, East Lansing, Haslett, Mason, Waverly and Williamston school districts did not respond in time for publication.

Protecting and empowering our LGBTQ youth doesn’t start and end with non-binding guidelines. You can help your child and others by checking your school’s anti-bullying policy against the MSBE’s model policy. You can encourage LGBTQ literacy in schools and ask that your school honor the proper names and pronouns of students. You can even help students, teachers and administrators start a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Organizations such as GLSEN (www.glsen.org) and GSAnetwork (www.gsanetwork.org) are great online resources for starting, organizing and promoting your GSA. Michigan’s own Department of Education has, through a coalition of LGBTQ literate advocates and educators, developed a wealth of resources and school trainings under the Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth project (contact: Laurie Bechhofer, HIV/STD Education Consultant, at BechhoferL@michigan.gov).

Michigan’s young people deserve as much support as we can give, which is why it’s critical that we endeavor to make schools safe spaces — or, at least, as safe as possible.

Contact information for the school personnel mentioned was posted on LAHR’s facebook page September 20.