LGBT leaders and allies are balking at a proposed bill in Texas that critics say will force schools to out LGBT students against their will to their parents.
State Sen. Konni Burton (R-Fort Worth) has filed Senate Bill 242, a measure that amends existing law to expand the type of school records that parents are able to access. Previously, parents were privy to their child’s attendance record, test scores, grades, disciplinary records, and counseling or psychological records. But Burton’s bill adds “other records relating to the child’s physical, psychological, or emotional well-being” to the list of information that administrators are to provide parents upon request. There is an exception for any information related to suspected child abuse.
Elliott Griffin, Burton’s chief of staff told The Houston Chronicle that the bill was written is response to the Fort Worth Independent School District issuing trans-inclusive guidelines. Under those guidelines, transgender students must be allowed to use facilities that match their gender identity. But the guidelines also limit what information the school shares with parents about their child’s gender identity.
Under Burton’s bill, school employees who attempt to conceal any information to which parents should have access will be disciplined. Supporters of Burton and conservatives claim that parents have a right to know about matters or behaviors that their children are engaged in that might be harmful. They also insist that the bill does not explicitly address sexuality or sexual orientation.
But LGBT advocates say that, in practice, the bill could lead administrators or teachers to essentially “tattle” on students who divulge personal information such as their sexual orientation or gender identity. They worry that less accepting parents may throw their children out of the house or into reparative or conversion therapy to “cure” them. Another concern is that being outed might cause LGBT students to commit suicide.
“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,” Steven Rudman, the chairman of Equality Texas, said in a statement. “We believe Sen. Burton’s legislation would essentially destroy protected communications between a student and an educator.”
Kari Hudnell, the senior manager of media relations for GLSEN, says the organization encourages schools to adopt policies that allow students to assert their identities on their own without fear of being outed. She recommends that school districts like Fort Worth adopt some of the “best practices” when it comes to policies that address LGBT youth and their issues.
“We know, unfortunately, that there are cases where a child may not be in a safe environment at home. And outing them to parents or family may be very harmful, very detrimental,” says Hudnell. “That’s not only for children who live with their family, but who are in the Children & Family Services system.
“This bill is concerning for us, and these are not the kinds of policies we encourage for that reason.”