Teachers in Texas Could Be Forced to Out LGBTQ Students to Parents If New Bill Gets Passed

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Raising teens is a rough road — there’s no denying that. Parents are desperate to know their kids’ secrets, sometimes in order to protect them and keep them safe. But some are speculating that Senate Bill 242, filed by Texas Tea Party legislator Konni Burton earlier this month, could potentially do more harm than good in allowing parents access to private information about their children.

Senator Burton proposed the bill in response to what she considers Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner’s abuse of authority, as he recently mandated new regulations for students who identify as transgender, and did so without parental consent. According to TribTalk, Senator Burton feels parents should have access to all information regarding their children — not just some — including any special policies put in place for transgender students. As such, she disagrees with Dr. Scribner’s new mandates that could protect private counseling between LGBTQ students and faculty. (Emails to Burton’s office Monday were not immediately returned.)

And here’s where that could present a real problem: The bill itself would entitle parents to all records and information concerning their child’s “general physical, psychological or emotional well-being,” which is worrisome to many, as it could lead to teachers outing LGBTQ students to their parents before they may feel ready. Furthermore, if teachers refuse to comply — and deny a parent’s request for information about their children’s sexual orientation — those teachers could be subject to suspension or termination.

Despite all the progress that’s been made regarding civil rights for the LGBTQ community, discrimination and mistreatment are still widespread, causing many — especially teenagers — to keep their sexual orientation quiet. Many kids struggle to come out to their parents in particular, due to a fear of rejection and/or lack of support at home. This is especially true for teens living in religious and ultra-conservative communities, where forced conversion therapy as a way to “repair” their “broken” children who are gay or transgender is sadly common. In fact, it’s what many have tied to the rising rates of LGBTQ homeless teens, cast out for being unable to “change,” as well as the disturbing fact that the suicide rate is 4-5 times higher for LGBTQ youth than it is for heterosexual teens.

In light of all of this, is it any wonder many teens might wait longer to come out to their parents?

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For many of these kids, school is their safe place when home is not. And even if parents are supportive and loving once they learn the truth, if their child just isn’t ready to tell them yet, it’s their personal right to wait until they feel they are. Such an extremely personal and potentially painful decision needs to be left to that person, not to his teachers and/or parents. The bottom line is this: These kids are often in an unstable mental state, not knowing where to turn for help. If their trust is broken at school, and they don’t have support at home, the results could be catastrophic.

As a parent, I can see the need for information regarding your children. And I absolutely understand the mindset that you are privy to any and all conversations, observations, and evaluations that involve your child. I get Senator Burton’s point. I also understand that parts of this bill follows laws already in place in the state of Texas, laws that in large part I agree with. However, mandating that teachers disclose a student’s sexual orientation goes too far. So I say to Senator Burton, if a parent is prepared to provide a safe space for her child to come home to, then hopefully that child will feel comfortable enough to confide the truth about his or her sexual orientation when he is ready.

As a high school English teacher for many years, I had students who were scared and uncomfortable and not sure how to navigate the process of coming out as LGBTQ. Thankfully, I was never put in the situation these teachers in Texas could be forced into. The few times I did have students come to me with a personal situation, I encouraged them to talk to their parents. I also connected with the school counselor to ensure that even if these kids didn’t feel safe at home, they felt safe at school and had someone to talk to, somewhere to go where they were valued and accepted. It is crucial that legislation like this does not break the chain of trust between students and faculty.

So what can you as a parent do? Simple: Tell your kids, as often as you can, “I love you. I will always love you. No matter what.”

Then your children know they will be welcomed, loved, and supported. No matter what. If they feel this unconditional love, they will tell you when they are ready. If you condemn people who are LGBTQ in your home, your child may not feel safe coming out to you. And he or she may need to seek help elsewhere, such as at school.

As it stands now, Senate Bill 242 has the potential to do irreparable harm to the psyche of LGBTQ youth. It can take away their control over their own lives, and over their own personal identities. While it is of course every parent’s job to keep their kids safe, it’s also a school’s job to do the same.

As Sondra Howe, a co-president of the Dallas chapter of the LGBT rights advocacy group PFLAG, recently said, “If a child has not come out yet at home, there’s a reason for that.”

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