How You Can Make a Difference: A Guide to the First Amendment for LGBTQ+ Youth in Delaware

Not all schools and school districts are created equal, and sometimes it can seem like the rules and policies at certain schools are not very friendly to the LGBTQ+ community. Public school districts are run by school boards, which are people elected by the community to represent the school district, to decide what to do with funds, and to come up with policies for the schools in the district. Sometimes when we have just a few people making decisions for an entire community, the things they decide might not always align with the values and opinions of people they represent. 

That’s one reason why it’s important to educate yourself about who is running for elected office in your community, because those people will have power over you and the people you care about. Unfortunately, if you’re under 18, you don’t have the right to vote – at least not yet. However, you do still have the right to express your thoughts to elected officials. The First Amendment gives YOU power. If there’s something happening at your school that you don’t like or that you’d simply like to make better, you can use those powers to try and make those changes happen.

Freedom of Speech

You can often access school board meetings physically or virtually, and speak your mind to the representatives on the board and the community members that are present. School officials generally may not punish you for expressing yourself at a school board meeting, so long as you abide by the rules of the board. 

Freedom of Press

Outside of school, on your own device, you can publish and post your opinions about your school and school district, whether you’re praising or criticizing something or someone (be careful mentioning people by name though, because if you end up misrepresenting the facts about somebody, that can cause problems). When it comes to using a computer at school, or your school’s WiFi, the school’s policies may limit what you can and can’t say or do.

Words like “publishing,” “posting,” and “press” come from a time when most news was actually printed on paper from a printing press, thus “Freedom of Press” is how the First Amendment refers to publishing text, but now with the Internet, most of our “publishing” happens online. When we “post” online, like on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., that actually comes from when people would nail flyers to a wooden post somewhere in a public place to share information – you’re free to do that too, in fact you might find that printing out flyers or posting something on a cork board may reach somebody who has limited internet access or doesn’t follow you online. Sometimes there’s no school like the old-school! If you’re looking to publish your ideas in something a little more formal, keep in mind that the school will have the ultimate say about what gets published in a school newspaper or yearbook.

Freedom of Assembly

You can protest your school or school board’s policies publicly or privately. When we think of protesting, oftentimes we imagine huge marches with thousands of people carrying signs and loudly chanting. This might work for you, but there are lots of really creative ways that people can protest. In fact, to “protest” simply means to declare that you disapprove of something. You certainly can get a group of students together and make signs and slogans. Or maybe you’re not much for crowds or don’t feel like you have many allies, and would prefer to simply stand silently with a sign that you made all on your own. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, protesters organized “sit-ins” where they simply went into diners that Black people weren’t allowed into and sat down, refusing to move. Your protest could be as simple as coordinating with all your friends to wear a certain color shirt to school, or wear a black arm band to signify your protest. 

Caution: If you do decide to gather somewhere, it must be a public, rather than private place, such as your school, your city hall, or a park. You can’t just show up at a school board member’s house and have a sit-in on their living room floor – that would be trespassing and you could get arrested for that.

Caution: If you do decide to engage in some sort of protest, be aware that if you break a rule or a law, you can and probably will face the consequences of breaking that rule or law. Your protest may be very noble, but that does not protect you from consequences. Some protesters decide beforehand that their cause is more important than the consequences, and those protesters are often aware that they will likely be punished or arrested and proceed anyway. That is a personal choice, in the same way that breaking a rule or law under other circumstances is a personal choice. The law requires you to go to school, so a school can discipline or punish students who participate in a walkout or who miss class. You cannot be punished further for the meaning or the message behind the walkout or protest. It’s always good to be aware of your school’s policies.

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Freedom of Petition

A petition is a document that requests a change from some authority figure (like a principal, or a school board). You can create a petition that addresses some issue you would like to see changed and gather signatures from all the people who support your idea. Petitions may seem super formal and complicated, but they’re actually very simple. 

Want to learn more about how to write a petition? Check out our website!

Browse the Guide Below

Know Your Rights: A Guide to the First Amendment for LGBTQ+ Youth in Delaware, is packed with information related to students’ rights around LGBTQ+ expression in schools. Click through the links below to read our full guide!

What is the First Amendment?

⬆️ A digestible outline of the First Amendment and how it applies to LGBTQ+ students’ expression in schools.

Language and Definitions

⬆️ Language and definitions that are commonly used in conversations about LGBTQ+ communities and issues.

LGBTQ+ Students: Know Your Rights!

⬆️ A full list of rights that LGBTQ+ people are promised in schools - regardless of individual school policies.

How Can You Make a Difference?

⬆️ A list of ways that students can use the First Amendment to express themselves in schools.

The School Board’s Role in Your Rights

⬆️ Information about the role that school boards play in policy-making for schools, and how students can make their voices heard even if they can’t vote.

Who Can You Go To

⬆️ A list of resources for LGBTQ+ students in Delaware.