Proposed Texas Law to out LGBT Students: A Devastation in the Making
When I was teaching at an adult learning center a few years ago, I was doing a unit on LGBT issues and discrimination. We were doing The Laramie Project, a piece which started as a play by the Tectonic Theater group but was later adapted on HBO. The Laramie Project is based on the horrifyingly real case of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was kidnapped, pistol whipped and chained to a Texas gate, looking so inhuman at that point due to how badly he'd been beaten and his small stature that the person who discovered him there thought he was a scarecrow.
As can be expected, we had some pretty intense conversations, but that can definitely happen with a group of adults. We were at the start of the unit, as I recall, and there was a man of about 26 taking the class. He was openly gay, and while I wouldn't normally mention that sort of personal detail while writing - so long as you're a decent person, you could admit you identify as a teddy bear or dragon and I wouldn't care - the fact of his sexuality has a great deal to do with why he was trying to finish off his high school credits by taking a course with me.
He shared that when he was 15 and in high school, the principal at the particular school he was attending at the time happened to see him around the school, hanging out outside. Now, while this may not attract much attention on a regular school day, what matters here is that the principal saw the young man holding hands with another boy. My student then shared with me that the principal called home - he apparently had a personal relationship with the young man's father - and effectively outed my student.
What apparently happened next continues to boggle my mind. My student told me he went home that night, encountered his father, who proceeded to trash all his belongings and then kicked his son out of the house. This, naturally, scratched any plans my student had at the time for completing his high school, and while he has gone on to become very successful in his life, it was clear to me that he was quite haunted by what had happened, now a decade and a half ago.
When he told me the story, I was stunned. Never would I ever consider disclosing that sort of information to a parent; firstly, it's not my responsibility to do so, as it does not impinge on the student's safety or his ability to complete work in my classroom. Secondly, I have two young children of my own, and I could not envision a time where I'd ever consider kicking my kids out simply because of who they happened to be attracted to.
His experiences as a gay man came to inform a great deal of what transpired in our classroom during that unit, and I will always be grateful for his candor during those weeks, as I learned a lot during that time, and I think my students did too.
I can only imagine how he feels when it comes to a Texas law being proposed that would see teachers outing students.
Matt Shepard, The Inspiration Behind 'The Laramie Project'
Proposed Texas Senate Bill 242: A Danger To LGBT Kids
Texas Senator Konni Burton is proposing a bill that will require teachers to out students to their parents, a move which will definitely set back the notion of student trust in teachers and being safe in schools at least a few decades.
Under the proposed bill, which was designed with the idea that "a parent has a right to full and total information on their child’s academic performance, physical, mental and emotional health, and more,” according to Burton, parents would have the right to know whether their child identifies somewhere along the LGBT spectrum. She was apparently inspired when Fort Worth, her native city, barred faculty from disclosing a transgender student’s identity to parents without their express permission.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick launched a campaign against the protections, and officials at the school ultimately bowed to the pressure and removed them, allowing faculty to disclose that the student was indeed trans to his or her parents.
Steve Rudner, Equality Texas board chair, said Burton's proposal could see students completely lose whatever sense of safety they may have otherwise had at school. Not all parents are supportive of their children's sexuality; according to San Antonio Current, half of the United States' homeless population are in fact LGBT youth who have been kicked out of the house for being gay.
"If your kid is gay, and can tell his teacher, but hasn’t told you, then you are the problem," Rudner said. "If a kid can tell a teacher but not their parent, it is a pretty good indication that your child is scared of you and the consequences of telling you, and you are who the kid needs to be protected from."
The thing is, schools recognize that student health is a growing concern, particularly when it comes to their mental health. The struggles kids go through when it comes to questioning and then accepting their sexuality can result in an incredible amount of anxiety and stress, and this can come out in a range of ways, particularly if the kid feels he or she can't disclose what they know about themselves to their parents.
Everyone needs a soft place to land when it comes to dealing with life's challenges, and nowhere is this truer than when we consider the generation that's coming up. Texas Senate Bill 242 will effectively destroy whatever sense of safety LGBTQ youth might have had in going to school. School is supposed to be one of the safest places for kids to be, but when you strip that away and require the people that are supposed to be allies to children - teachers, school secretaries, counselors or administrators - to report on their sexuality in much the same way as Jewish children had to be singled out from their peers from 1939 to 1945, what message are you sending? That being who you are is no longer okay?
Someone needs to teach Senator Burton, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Vice President Elect Mike Pence and anyone else who still holds to an anti-LGBT agenda that someone's sexuality has nothing to do with who a person really is. And as for Burton's implied suggestion that perhaps homosexuality has to do with someone's mental health - ma'am, that's been stripped out of the DSM, the manual psychologists and therapists and psychiatrists deem as their bible for years. Instead of creating laws that will only increase paranoia and stresses on overburdened children and school staff, focus on trying to put measures in place to teach kids how to deal with mental health crises that they may go through.
So long as they're good people, who gives a rat's behind about a person's sexuality? Why put people through that sort of torture, wondering if the person they thought was safe to talk to will ultimately betray them?
Senator Konni Burton needs to move back into the 21st century and focus on the issues of the day. Implementing laws that will only further a discriminatory agenda will only lead to chaos and division.
Come together. Don't drive people further apart.