Betsy DeVos Is Okay With Schools Banning LGBT Students

DeVos says she will not restrict federal funding for schools that ban LGBT kids.

Posted May 25, 2017

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
Source: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Gay and transgender students are commonly victims of harassment and bullying in school. Studies have estimated that as many as 80 percent of transgender youth experience bullying, and this mistreatment is one of the greatest predictors of behavioral and emotional problems among these kids. 82 percent of gay and lesbian students report similar bullying. 31 percent of LGBT students say that their schools do nothing about it.

The U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also plans to do nothing, when it comes to anti-LGBT policies in schools receiving federal funding. During yesterday's Congressional testimony, US Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) asked DeVos about Indiana's Lighthouse Christian Academy. The school receives over $665,000 in school vouchers. The school also states in its handbook that if a student is from a home in which a "homosexual lifestyle" or "alternate gender identity" is practiced, that the student can be denied admission or expelled. 

Rep. Clark then asked Secretary DeVos if she would step in and require the school to eliminate its discriminatory policy in order to receive federal funding. After several attempts to avoid the question, DeVos ultimately answered that she would not. A video of her testimony is available here.

Pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists (with a few extreme exceptions) have been working tirelessly to improve the health of LGBT youth. They have spent countless hours working with schools to make them safer for these students. As school climates improved, we started to see students thrive. One transgender 13-year-old girl I worked with has straight A’s, was in her school play, and is already thinking about college. Gay and lesbian students are valedictorians, varsity team captains, and class presidents.

If we've learned one thing about LGBT youth, it's that when we take away the bullying and rejection, these kids succeed. The Lighthouse Academy, by refusing to accept these students, is bullying and rejecting. It is the job of the Secretary of Education to do everything she can to end this bullying so that these students can thrive. Secretary DeVos refuses to accept this responsibility. 

We know that when a family rejects a child’s LGBT identity, it can increase the risk of suicide almost 20 percent. I’m afraid of what will happen when the head of our nation’s education system does the same. 

Jack Turban's writing on neuroscience and children's mental health has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and Kevin MD among others. Find him on Twitter @jack_turban or online at 


McGuire, J. K., Anderson, C. R., Toomey, R. B., & Russell, S. T. (2010). School climate for transgender youth: A mixed method investigation of student experiences and school responses. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(10), 1175-1188.

Grant, J. M., Mottet, L., Tanis, J. E., Herman, J., Harrison, J., & Keisling, M. (2010). National transgender discrimination survey report on health and health care: Findings of a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. National Center for Transgender Equality.

Vries, A. L., Steensma, T. D., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., VanderLaan, D. P., & Zucker, K. J. (2016). Poor peer relations predict parent-and self-reported behavioral and emotional problems of adolescents with gender dysphoria: a cross-national, cross-clinic comparative analysis. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 25(6), 579-588.

Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.