In August 2017, an art educator at Mansfield Independent School District found herself on administrative leave for showing students a picture of her wife during a “Get to Know Your Teacher” presentation.
After parents accused the teacher of pushing a homosexual agenda, school officials placed Stacy Bailey on leave and later asked her to resign, which she refused to do. A year later, the district reinstated Bailey, but placed her at a different school and grade level. In May 2018, Bailey filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination.
Bailey’s situation isn’t unique; every day, LGBTQIA teachers experience similar scenarios in schools across the United States.
Currently, no U.S. federal law prohibits employment discrimination against LGBTQIA individuals like Bailey. According to LGBTQIA advocacy group Movement Advancement Project, 26 states lack inclusive nondiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., have state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Two states have nondiscrimination policies that protect based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity expression. Therefore, many LGBTQIA individuals live in fear of facing discrimination or even being fired.
Texas is among the states that do not have an inclusive nondiscrimination law that protects sexual orientation and gender identity expression. A study by the Movement Advancement Project tallied points for the number of laws and policies within a state that would help LGBTQIA people receive equal treatment. Texas received zero points for employment nondiscrimination laws in the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that out of the 740,448 LGBTQIA individuals currently residing in Texas, none are protected by state nondiscrimination law and must rely on local city nondiscrimination laws – provided they exist
Fortunately for LGBTQIA Texans, a few state legislators are pushing for employment protection for that group’s members. State Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) has filed a bill during every legislative session since 2011 seeking to secure inclusive nondiscrimination laws for LGBTQIA individuals. But his bills have never made it to a full vote, facing religious objections from fellow legislators and their constituents. Among them is State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), who in discussing Johnson’s bill in 2017 said he believes sexual orientation is a choice and, therefore, does not require protection under the law.
Such objections have not stopped Texas legislators from advocating for LGBTQIA individuals. House Bill 254, co-sponsored by State Reps. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton), would prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBTQIA individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and make it a criminal offense to violate the law. The bill was filed in late 2018 and is currently making its way through the House Committee on State Affairs.
In 2019, we should not have to debate laws that prohibit discrimination of any individual; they should be a given. It is time for our state legislators and school officials to treat our LGBTQIA teachers like the heterosexual individuals in their halls, not like second-class citizens. The following are recommendations being made to ensure LGBTQIA teachers feel safe to be themselves in a school environment.
- Survey data from LGBTQIA individuals who say they have been discriminated against in Texas is nonexistent, possibly due to fear of being outed to colleagues and/or supervisors. The Texas Legislature could commission the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which already surveys LGBTQIA youth, to conduct a statewide study on the impact on discrimination against LGBTQIA teachers. Lawmakers could use the survey results as a resource for legislative efforts and decision-making.
- The HRC could fund this survey through a grant from the Health and Human Services Commission.
- The American Federation of Teachers should create a state chapter composed of LGBTQIA teachers to help educate on, advocate for, and implement nondiscrimination laws within districts across Texas.
School District-Level Recommendations
- School officials without nondiscrimination policies for LGBTQIA teachers should review nondiscrimination policies that currently exist within the state of Texas in districts such as Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Houston ISDs.
- School district officials should adopt language modeled after one of the above districts’ policies and amend their employee welfare policy to include LGBTQIA-inclusive language and include sexual orientation and gender identity expression as covered under the nondiscrimination policy within their school district.
- Leadership at the school and district level should be required to complete an LGBTQIA sensitivity training course in order to understand the community and be aware of words and actions that may perpetuate a heteronormative school culture infused with internalized homophobia.