Superintendent cites polarization in the community as reason for delay
JAMES RUSSELL | Staff Writer
Supporters of a proposed new policy that would have offered protections to LGBT people in the Keller Independent School District said this week that they were disappointed that the school board postponed a vote on the policy. But they intend to use the extra time to educate the public on the need for such a policy.
School board members had planned to vote on the policy — which would have protected students and employees from bullying, discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression — at their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13. The item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.
David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said supporters of the new policy need to work to counter-act the efforts to opponents to sensationalize the issue with ominous threats of sexual predators lurking in bathrooms.
“The go-to scare tactic now seems to be centered on a prurient sex-centric bath and locker room argument, demeaning and dehumanizing LGBT people along the way,” Henderson said. “We all know it’s baloney, but they’ve used this successfully. It’s up to us to take control of this narrative and set it on an honest course.”
Administrators with the northeast Tarrant County district proposed the language after a student, Casey Akers, alleged discrimination based on her sexual orientation by administrators at Timber Creek High School earlier this year.
In the spring, Akers, who is lesbian, wanted to perform a “promposal,” a popular prom event akin to a wedding proposal among high school students, to a straight female friend who did not have a date. Initially school administrators said she could but recanted after learning Akers was proposing to a girl. They told her, she said, that it “wasn’t appropriate.”
A district spokesperson, however, said the student code of conduct does not permit “actions or demonstrations that substantially disrupt or materially interfere with school activities,” including promposals.
The incident led Akers to discover that LGBT people were not protected under district policies, so she began lobbying district officials to change those policies.
On May 8, the administration presented a new policy offering protections to LGBT people to numerous stakeholders, and the board previewed the policy in June.
But two trustees, Jo Lynn Haussmann and Brad Schofield — backed by anti-LGBT activists — vocally opposed the measure.
According to a screenshot Henderson sent to Dallas Voice, Haussmann questioned on Facebook why transgender children aren’t “normal” and agreed with another commenter that transgender adults should go through counseling.
On a radio show, Schofield slammed his fellow trustees for being “too liberal.”
The two rallied other opponents of the measure to attend the Aug. 13 school board meeting for which the new policy was on the agenda, even if those opponent’s did not live in the school district and would not be impacted by the policy change.
The night of the meeting, district Superintendent Randy Reid announced the board would delay the vote for further consideration. He said the responses to the ordinance from both those for and against it lead to the decision to pull it.
Henderson said Reid told Akers the agenda item was pulled after an outcry from “mainstream families,” and that Reid should think about the pressure LGBT individuals deal with all the time in the face of such opposition.
“If the superintendent felt his job might be on the line [because he was] openly supporting LGBT stakeholders, maybe he and the board will start to realize how rank-and- file faculty and students feel,” Henderson said.
“For all the advances we’ve recently made there is considerable work left to do. KISD says they have no problems, but FFW gets phone calls from students, parents and faculty indicating quite a different culture than the facade suggests.”
The proposal is returning to a review committee for further consideration.
Observers believe the change would have passed with only Haussmann and Schofield voting against it, had it been allowed to proceed to a vote. And proponents of the measure do not plan to give up.
In a text message, Akers wrote she was initially hurt after hearing about the last minute postponement. “I felt like the LGBT community was being swept under the rug. Although we are not [facing discrimination] in this case, we are being overlooked,” she wrote.
By a few days later, her feelings had changed, and she now calls the delay an opportunity to “spread awareness about the [issues facing LGBT people] to my peers.”
Henderson predicted Keller ISD won’t be the last school district to face such issues.
“We’re going to see more of these encounters in school districts around Texas,” he said. “It’s prudent for us to remember that laws and policies alone are but one step in gaining rights. We have to educate and advocate as well.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2015.