Lumberton ISD suspends trans teacher after parents complain her gender identity is a ‘distraction’

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 12.20.31 PM

A substitute teacher was told this week she shouldn’t return to the fifth grade class she was teaching in after parents complained about her being transgender.

Laura Jane Klug was subbing at Lumberton Intermediate School, but told local news affiliate KBMT 12 News that she was told not to return after some of the students’ parents contacted the school.

Lumberton is a city north of Beaumont.

Klug met with a representative of Lumberton Independent School District’s Human Resources and Superintendent John Valastro Tuesday afternoon. The school board will discuss allowing Klug to return to substituting at its meeting Thursday.

Klug said they suspended her pending a decision by the school board on whether to continue using her as a substitute teacher.

It’s unclear how her gender identity became an issue. Klug said she’s never discussed it in front of students and has always done her job well without any previous complaints.

“I have always conducted myself in a professional manner and would never discuss my gender identity in school,” Klug said.

But some parents are now uncomfortable with her teaching their students.

Roger Beard, whose son was in the class Klug was subbing, said he thinks having a trans teacher to young students is “a very big distraction.”

“If it does affect my child and his ability to learn or if it causes questions that I don’t feel are appropriate then undoubtedly there’s an issue with having somebody transgender, transsexual or transvestite, to be teaching that age group,” Beard said.

Lumberton ISD doesn’t include LGBT protections in its Equal Employment Opportunity policy, but it does include sexual orientation and gender identity in a policy related to career and technical programs. However, in a federal 2012 ruling, it was determined that gender identity was considered discrimination on the basis of sex.

Watch the news report below.

—  Anna Waugh

Employees’ Retirement Fund board takes up city of Dallas pensions

employees-retirement-fund-of-the-city-of-dallas-78620670

The board of trustees for the city’s Employees’ Retirement Fund brainstormed ideas Tuesday morning about the best approach to make the pension plan equal for LGBT retirees.

The Dallas City Council passed a comprehensive equality resolution last month directing the city manager to evaluate areas in city employment where disparities for LGBT employees exist. Among them, were the pension plans.

Under the current plan, opposite-sex spouses receive lifetime benefits when their spouses die, but same-sex spouses are treated as designees, and their benefits run out after 10 years.

The ERF board spent half an hour discussing the resolution, as well as the state’s constitutional marriage amendment and the Texas Family Code, both of which prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.

—  Anna Waugh

University of Houston student Senate introduces bill to help trans community

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 12.19.48 PMStudents at the University of Houston are considering a bill to help transgender students and staff better identify themselves as their gender identity on campus.

The bill, the Josephine Tittsworth Act, was introduced by the student Senate Wednesday and calls upon the university to “fulfill its existing nondiscrimination policy (of the UH Student Handbook)” in regards to LGBT students, the student newspaper The Daily Cougar reports.

The bill seeks to acknowledge that “gender expression is the external characteristics presented by an individual such as masculine or feminine features displayed in mannerisms, speech, social environments or attire,” and to formally acknowledge “the terms, gender identity and gender expression represented trans, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff” on all University documentation.

It would allow students to have their preferred name on rosters and other university documents.

“Honestly, this is a freedom of speech issue. It allows people to choose which box to check. Over the past few weeks, people had unfortunately misinterpreted (the bill). This bill is about respect and tolerance on this campus,” newly elected student body President Charles Haston told the paper.

The bill comes a few months after the student government at the University of Houston-Downtown approved gender-neutral restrooms.

UH students at the meeting Wednesday explained the bill would help address students who go by a name associated with their gender identity only to be outed as trans when the professor calls roll, revealing their legal name.

The bill cites “high rates of harassment, physical violence and sexual assaults” as a result of failing to acknowledge trans and gender-nonconforming identities.

“This bill will translate into people being open with their identity,” said Tanzeem Chowdhury, former undergraduate-at-large senator.

“I think it would create a safer campus. Currently, UH is the second-most diverse campus in the nation. We’re always making progress in acceptance, and this would be a strong move forward — it would create a safer campus not only for members of the LGBT community, but for the entire student body.”

A town hall meeting to discuss the act will be at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

—  Anna Waugh

BREAKING: Texas appeals court rules in favor of trans widow Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz

CORPUS CHRISTI — The 13th District Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi issued a landmark opinion Thursday in favor of Houston trans widow Nikki Araguz, ruling that Texas must recognize the marriages of trans people.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez, reverses the 2011 ruling by Houston state district Judge Randy Clapp, who ruled that Araguz was born male and Texas’ 2005 marriage amendment doesn’t recognize her marriage to a man. Her 2008 marriage to her late husband, Thomas Araguz III, became invalid. Thomas Araguz was a volunteer firefighter in Wharton and was killed in the line of duty in 2010 and Nikki Araguz was denied his death benefits.

Clapp’s ruling hinged on the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals decision in Littleton v. Prange, which found that since a male who transitioned to female was born male, she was therefore still male. Her marriage to a male was therefore invalid because same-sex marriages are invalid under state law.

But the Texas Legislature opened the door for transgender marriage in 2009 when it added documentation of a sex change to the identification documents people can present to obtain a marriage license. Araguz’s appeal in September hinged on how the 2009 statute voids the Littleton ruling.

Houston attorney Kent Rutter, the lead attorney for the appeal, said the opinion marks the first time in Texas a court has recognized that trans people have the right to marry.

“What the decision today says is Texas law now recognizes that an individual who has had a sex change is eligible to marry a person of the opposite sex,” he said. “I think it’s a significant victory for trans people in Texas.”

Kent said that the ruling will result in further court proceedings to ensure Araguz receives her late husband’s death benefits.

 

—  Anna Waugh

Taking the ‘T’ out of LGBT

Why sexual orientation and gender identity need to be separate but equal in the LGBT movement

Tyler

Tyler Curry

Tyler Curry  |  Contributing Writer

In the fight for civil rights, the battles have typically been fought between two parties. Whether it was blacks vs. whites, men vs. women or Meryl Streep vs. actresses everywhere, there never has been a need to identify a third party. And in the tradition of the haves versus the have-nots, the ruling party gets to choose how their opponents are defined.

In the battle for same-sex rights, who was a part of our demographic was decided for us long ago, and we didn’t know we could question it. We were LGBT, and our opponents, the moral majority, knocked us out round after round.

But we are no longer the wimpy kids in the corner, vastly outmatched by our foes. Over the last several decades, we’ve grown to become a worthy opponent and are winning state and federal policy battles. As we continue to progress in the fight for equal rights, it has become apparent that the ‘T’ in LGBT is being neglected as gay men and women continue to take precedence.

By being part of the same-sex acronym, trans individuals are rarely recognized as a unique group that requires its own specific agenda to obtain equality. Instead, they are often considered an obscure and misunderstood subgroup of the gay community.

In the beginning of the gay rights movement, the battle against violence, outright discrimination and blatant intolerance was one that gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women were equally invested in.

But now, the concerns of gay men and lesbians have shifted to such things as marriage equality and employment discrimination. Although transgender men and women also share in these inequalities, they are subjected to many more injustices that fail to gain hardly any mainstream support.

According to a report in the Center for Transgender Equality, trans people experience three times as much police violence as non-transgender people. Trans people are often inappropriately sexualized in the media and are subjected to derogatory comments about their genitalia, which rarely are corrected.

The report also shows that trans people are more likely to be poor and homeless because of their inability to obtain employment and a lack of protection in employment rights.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest percentage of HIV infections occurs among transgender women, yet this statistic is rarely discussed in mainstream media.

The issues of transgender men and women are often brushed to the side as the preoccupations of an overly sensitive group of people. People often justify their intolerance of the trans community while expressing support for same-sex rights.

Just last week, actress Gabourey Sidibe repeatedly used the slur, “tranny,” while on the Arsenio Hall show. Sidibe, an outspoken supporter of gay rights, was stunned to find out that the slur was considered offensive, and she quickly apologized for her error.

But then, something interesting happened. Stories published on several media forums, including the Advocate Magazine online and Instinct Magazine online, posed the question of whether we are being too sensitive about a word that is commonly used in the gay community.

Numerous gay men and women then weighed in on whether the trans slur was, in fact, a slur. A large percentage of the commenters agreed that the media and the gay community were being too harsh on the popular TV actress. One commenter even said it could not be considered a negative term if popular shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race used the term in a comedic and even an affectionate way.

These comments are evidence that even the gay community does not understand and are often the cause of discrimination against transgender people. In case you weren’t aware, the drag queens on RuPaul’s drag race are the reason people like Sidibe are clueless about trans slurs. Those drag queens are gay men who continually abuse a term that damages trans people. Just like “that’s so gay” is often meant to be humorous, comically calling someone a ‘tranny’ may garner a few laughs, but it unintentionally demeans a group of people.

When drag queens remove the trappings of their dramatized personas, they become once again a part of the gay rights movement and leave real transgender people to suffer the consequences.

Although the discrimination against trans people by the gay community is unintentional, it is the reason the ‘T’ should be removed from the LGBT. Gay men often use the slur because they believe it’s a part of their collective community vocabulary. Just as we take liberties by using our own gay slurs as we chose, we mistakenly use the slurs aimed at trans people and whose objections are brushed off as political sensitivity.

There is a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and it can’t be expected that one movement will equally serve both groups. However, gays and transgender individuals both share in the effects of being misunderstood. So, as gay men and women, we don’t fully need to understand being transgender to be able to whole-heartedly support that cause.

The public opinion of same-sex orientation and gay rights has changed drastically over the past several decades. The majority of Americans now support the civil rights of gay men and women, giving our fight for equality some much needed muscle.

Now we have the chance to throw our strength behind a group who continues to be marginalized just as we were not too long ago.

Transgender people still suffer from the bullying, discrimination and injustice from which many gays and lesbians have long since moved on. Now, more than ever, it’s time for the LGB to start championing the ‘T’.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

PHOTOS: Creating Change 2014 in Houston

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

 HOUSTON — Thousands of LGBT advocates departed from Houston Sunday as the 26th annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change came to a close.

The annual five-day conference set records for the amount of attendees and workshops in its first year in Houston. And the inspiration of the weekend was all around during the conference, from Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s welcome to trans actress Laverne Cox’s keynote speech and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey’s State of the Movement address. (If you missed any of the speeches, you can watch them here.)

And, like any celebration in the LGBT community, it ended with a bang as bisexual singer Nona Hendryx rocked out on stage on Sunday after brunch.

More photos below.

—  Anna Waugh

Texas jails confront safety of LGBT inmates

imagesBlack eyeliner rings Tyniesha Stephens’ large brown eyes. Her long, dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she excitedly shares pictures of herself in the blonde wig and skirts she dons when she’s not in orange jail garb.

Yet Stephens lives among men in a Texas jail where she is serving a sentence for prostitution. And she knows she is nothing like them.

“I am feminine, a feminine person, a transgender woman, and some guys look at me, you know, with that eye,” Stephens, 28, said. “I feel very uncomfortable.”

Stephens, whose legal first name is Marques, has been taking hormones for 10 years and is partly transformed into a woman. She’s hopeful that soon, she can serve out her time in a women’s jail. But how soon — or if — that can happen is in question.

The Harris County Jail in Houston, the third-largest in the country which processes some 125,000 inmates annually, is one of many nationwide implementing changes to the way it treats its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. The changes stem from a law passed by Congress under former President George W. Bush that requires federal, state and local lockups to eliminate rape in part by adjusting regulations about how the population lives behind bars.

It’s not easy. As jails sort out how to put the law into place, conflicts are arising between existing state laws and the federal rules, making the implementation process slow and difficult.

Housing is one of the most difficult questions. Until now, gays, lesbians and transgender inmates were often housed separately, but based on their biological gender. Stephens lives with gay men. The new rules say it is discriminatory, as well as potentially unsafe, to house people based on sexual orientation and gender, and so now they hope to house inmates based on where they will be safest, and consider gender identity when making that decision.

“Transgender women have to be eligible for women’s housing. That is where they will be safest,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality. “These are women who are psychologically women.”

—  Steve Ramos

Laverne Cox: Love for trans community will end injustices she, others face

Trans actress Laverne Cox addresses the crowd at Creating Change Thursday evening in Houston. (Jessica Borges/Dallas Voice)

Trans actress Laverne Cox addresses the crowd at Creating Change 2014 Thursday evening in Houston. (Jessica Borges/Dallas Voice) 

HOUSTON — Transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox has learned to love herself and is pleased to see the rest of the country learning to love trans people.

Cox gave the keynote address Thursday evening at this year’s national Creating Change conference at the Hilton Americas–Houston.

She walked onstage to a standing ovation and loud cheers from the 4,000 people in the audience. But she admitted to them  she was “not used to receiving this kind of love.”

“I have to say that a black transgender woman from a working-class background raised by a single mother getting all this love tonight; this feels like the change I need to see more of in the country,” Cox said.

—  Anna Waugh

HRC endorses ‘champion for equality’ Wendy Davis for governor

wendy-davis-hrc-blog450

The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, is endorsing state Sen. Wendy Davis in her gubernatorial bid, the organization announced Wednesday.

“Wendy Davis has been a champion for equality for all, whether it is the working poor or LGBT Texans,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “Her dedication to the underdog and commitment to fairness for all Texas families make her the right choice for Governor.”

Davis has a proven record on LGBT issues in the state Legislature.

She authored the only LGBT-inclusive version of anti-bullying legislation in 2011. That same year she co-sponsored youth suicide prevention legislation and lobbied to kill an anti-transgender marriage bill.

Last year’s session was just as impressive with her co-authoring the Senate version of a statewide workplace nondiscrimination bill and co-authoring inclusive insurance nondiscrimination legislation. And when a different version of the anti-trans marriage bill came up, she was one of only two senators to vote against it.

HRC endorsed Davis because of her “stellar record on LGBT equality” and ” history of putting Texas’ families first,” compared to anti-gay Greg Abbott, her likely opponent in November.

“Wendy Davis’ energy and courage are needed in Austin,” said Julie Johnson, a Texas attorney and HRC board member emeritus. “I’m proud to be one of the tens of thousands of HRC members in Texas, and I know that Wendy will fight for all our families when elected. Wendy has proven herself an effective leader — and that’s exactly what the people of Texas need.”

But, surprisingly, she wasn’t connected to any of the three pieces of legislation dealing with marriage equality last year, HJR 77, HJR 78 and HB 1300. Davis has never made a public statement in support of marriage equality, and when asked by Dallas Voice during a press conference about how she would approach it as governor, she replied that she would leave it in the Legislature’s hands.

Since filing for governor, Davis has publicly applauded San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Davis supported a similar ordinance in 2000 when she served on the Fort Worth City Council. But her campaign has since been silent on LGBT issues. Davis was a surprise speaker at HRC’s Black Tie Dinner in November, and she’ll be attending a Dallas LGBT fundraiser at a lesbian couple’s home this Friday, which is closed to media. Despite showing up at fundraisers and events where she appeals to LGBT voters, her campaign has refused several requests for an interview with Dallas Voice for the reason that she is too busy.

—  Anna Waugh

S. Texas school says it will allow trans teen’s tuxedo photo to run in yearbook

Jeydon Loredo

Jeydon Loredo

Trans student Jeydon Loredo will now be remembered in his senior yearbook for the way he wants to be remembered after his school district consented late last week to allow his photo to run in the book.

The La Feria Independent School District  previously told Loredo his photo wouldn’t run because he needed to be pictured wearing feminine clothing. He appealed the decision to the school board last Monday. And the Southern Poverty Law Center, joined by the Human Rights Campaign, intervened on his behalf, threatening legal action if the district didn’t run the photo.

The decision was reversed on Friday when attorneys with the district and SPLC met to ensure Loredo would be included in the yearbook. In addition to agreeing to run the picture, the district will have the superintendent apologize to Loredo for the treatment he received and have the school board discuss adding gender expression to its nondiscrimination policies.

“We are very pleased that the school district has recognized Jeydon for who he is and will allow his photo in the yearbook along with all his classmates,” SPLC staff attorney Alesdair Ittelson said in a statement. “This is as a signal to other school districts that transgender students should be recognized as important members of their communities rather than ostracized and subjected to discrimination. We applaud Jeydon’s courage in standing up for his rights.”

HRC President Chad Griffin applauded the decision.

“We’re thrilled Jeydon will be getting the justice he deserves,” Griffin said in a statement. “It’s a shame that it took a threat of legal action for the school board to make the right decision, but we’re grateful that, in the end, Jeydon’s photo will be included in the yearbook. Discrimination has no place in our society — especially our schools.”

—  Anna Waugh