If a kid is growing up in Texas grappling with the realities of being gay or transgender, what he or she really needs right then is to be forcibly outed to his or her parents, according to at least one conservative state senator. Luckily, there may soon be an actual law on the books requiring teachers and other school district employees to out students to their parents.
Konni Burton, a Tea Party Republican state senator from Fort Worth, has just filed a real winner of a piece of legislation, Senate Bill 242, which would force school employees to disclose the sexual and/or gender orientation of students to their parents. Any employee who does not do this would face mandatory disciplinary action.
Burton filed the bill in response to Fort Worth ISD's attempt to change school district guidelines to protect trans students. Under Fort Worth's new rules, a school employee would only be able to reveal a student's orientation to parents after getting permission from the student. However, after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pressured the district to back off on the guidelines, Fort Worth ISD gave in and dropped the proposal.
So now it seems Burton is trying to make any further attempts to keep a student's sexual or gender orientation private illegal. Burton says she views these measures as key to a child's “physical, mental, emotional health, and more,” she explained in a statement issued just before she filed the bill. "We found these provisions in desperate need of clarity and expansion," Burton stated. "No parent in Texas should ever have to fight for the basic right to matter in their child’s life again."
In her mind, thus, she would actually be protecting the rights of both students and parents, since this measure of forcing any employee students choose to confide in at school to then break that confidence by telling the student's parents is intended to ultimately help the child. We just have to wonder — in a world where Mike Pence,a guy who believes in conversion therapy, is about to become vice president of the United States — what kind of "help" Burton intends.
After all, do parents really have a "right to know" in all circumstances? Parents who accept and support their child's identity can be a huge asset to help a student cope with some of the challenges of being an LGBT kid, as the Centers for Disease Control points out. But some parents decide they can't let their child live in their house, or life at home becomes so strained and toxic the child may run away. (Hence why it's more common for LGBTQ teens to be homeless compared to their straight counterparts.)
As Steven Rudner, chairman of the board for Equality Texas, noted, if a student can tell a teacher but can't tell his or her parent, there's probably a reason the parent isn't in the loop. "Until kids are not kicked out of their house for being gay or transgender, and until kids are not being beaten by parents for being gay or transgender, we owe it to kids to protect them," Rudner stated in a release issued Monday.
Burton's bill is thorough too. If a school district employee doesn't reveal sexual or gender identity of a student to the student's parents, the person would be subject to discipline. And the excuse that an educator was honoring a promise to keep the information secret would not be acceptable if this bill becomes law. The legislation is clear:
"A request by a child to an employee of a school district to conceal or withhold information or general knowledge concerning the child from the child's parent is not a defense to any disciplinary action taken against the employee."
It doesn't stop there. Texas school districts would also be banned from adopting or enforcing "any rule that conflicts" with SB 242. So even school districts that do not approve of the legislation will be stuck following it.
First the state blocked a federal order to allow trans students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, and now this. It's already hard enough to be trans or gay in a Texas high school, and for some reason state lawmakers seem intent on making it even more difficult.
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