For LGBTQI+ students, the first three months of 2024 continue to highlight the urgency in pushing back against the sustained assault on transgender youth and their rights. In February, the tragic loss of Nex Benedict — a nonbinary high school student who was attacked in a school bathroom that they were forced to be in because of Oklahoma’s regressive “bathroom ban” law — makes clear the devastating consequences when people in power enable a harmful mix of transphobic policies and vitriolic rhetoric. Since our founding in 1990, GLSEN has risen up to fight for inclusive school environments and work in solidarity with LGBTQI+ youth, especially transgender and gender-expansive youth. LGBTQI+ youth right now are fighting for their lives and their futures amid a wave of censorship and discrimination that is intended to silence us and push kids back into the closet.

Extremist state lawmakers have shown no signs of relenting in their legislative attacks on transgender youth, with the ACLU tracking over 200 bills in 2024 that adversely impact the rights of LGBTQI+ students. Just weeks before Nex’s death, Utah became the 10th state to enact a “bathroom ban” law, which forces transgender students to use facilities that are inconsistent with their gender identity. Make no mistake: these laws aren’t meant to protect anybody — in fact, they only create unsafe situations that leave children vulnerable to bullying and assault. At the same time, state legislators in Ohio overrode the veto of Governor Mike DeWine (R) to ban access to life-saving gender-affirming care for transgender youth and limit opportunities for transgender student athletes, even though fewer than a dozen transgender students in the state participated in school sports.

The Good News

Despite these ongoing efforts to belittle and harm transgender youth, some states are actively paving the way for a brighter future. International Transgender Day of Visibility is traditionally celebrated on March 31 — and this year, we want to shine a spotlight on the policies that can serve as beacons for how K-12 schools can build safe, affirming, and inclusive learning environments.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 150 bills in 32 states have been introduced that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ students, not mistreat them. That’s why, for the first time, GLSEN has developed a legislative tracker for proactive state bills that raise the ceiling on what is possible to truly support LGBTQI+ youth.

One clear example is Washington State, where Governor Jay Inslee (D) has recently signed into law new requirements for school districts to adopt a curriculum that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive of marginalized and under-represented groups. Washington is now the seventh state to have moved toward an inclusive curriculum, setting a standard for LGBTQI+ inclusion in core subjects and ensuring that transgender students will be represented in their curriculum. When students see themselves in learning materials, they become more engaged and have better academic outcomes.

Additionally, there are policymakers who are actively working to protect schools and libraries by essentially banning book bans. Legislators across 13 states have introduced 19 bills aimed at safeguarding against such censorship. These efforts underscore a positive nationwide response to the aggressive campaign by extremist groups that are seeking to restrict access to diverse literature and perspectives.

In addition to protective legislation being passed, recent school board election results serve as a powerful testament to the electorate’s broad rejection of extremist attacks on educational freedom. Despite increased spending, most extremist candidates for school boards were decidedly rejected by voters. Instead, candidates that support LGBTQI+ inclusion in schools were elected to school boards — from Virginia to New Mexico and Pennsylvania to Kansas.

More Good News

There is progress at the federal level as well: the U.S. Department of Education is expected to take a historic step this spring in updating federal regulations to — for the first time ever — clarify that Title IX protects students on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. These updates will challenge a wave of discriminatory state legislation that has targeted transgender youth (including “bathroom ban” laws), while also strengthening requirements on school districts to ensure that the concerns of LGBTQI+ students are promptly and effectively addressed. For example, the Department of Education has in recent years investigated school districts that have dress codes based on sex stereotypes, failed to address persistent and intentional misgendering of students, and pulled LGBTQI+-related books from school library shelves.

In spite of an ongoing wave of toxic, anti-LGBTQI+ legislation, these inclusive policies at both the state and federal level demonstrate that school districts can take a different approach that is rooted in building safe and affirming learning environments and signals not just progress, but hope. Yes, we can choose a better path. This year, let’s work to reverse the tide and build a foundation of support for inclusive policies that center the academic success and well-being of LGBTQI+ youth to ensure that all students are supported in their K-12 school environment.

Brian Dittmeier is the director of public policy for GLSEN, the leading national organization working to advance safe and affirming learning K-12 learning environments for LGBTQI+ youth.