LGBT Children Put At Risk By Proposed Texas Legislation

TX State Sen. Konni Burton
TX State Sen. Konni Burton

Within days of the election, Tea Party-backed Texas State Senator Konni Burton filed Senate Bill 242, which critics say will force school teachers, guidance counselor, and administrators to out LGBT students to their parents. The New Civil Rights Movement states that the bill, if passed, “would place LGBT youth in the conservative state at risk for abuse, neglect or suicide if their parents aren’t accepting.”

The response to Sen. Burton was swift and harsh on social media following the release of this article. A defiant Sen. Burton issued an official statement on her blog:

Many people have expressed dismay about a parent’s right to know anything or that teachers may face discipline for undermining a parent’s right to know, however, these provisions are already the law in Texas.
Having explained those initial points, let me explain the course of events that led to the filing of this bill. It began with the overreach of a school district in my local community that put into place new guidelines for their transgender students. In those guidelines, the school district treated all parents as potentially dangerous and completely marginalized their role in their child’s life. Although the district’s aggressive overreach had to do with policies for transgender students, the focus of our bill has nothing to do with issues of sexuality and gender, and everything to do with how parents are treated by the government entities they fund. I would firmly stand against any policy that treated parents as unessential in their child’s life, regardless of what group the policies were intended for. You will not find the words “sexuality” or “gender” anywhere in the proposed bill. You will find, in addition to what is already a parent’s right to know (again, listed above), that we include the child’s general well-being and health, both physical and mental, in our proposed legislation.

My response to Sen. Burton:

I am a constituent of yours. I thank you for your service, even though I may disagree with most of the policies you support. I have requested a meeting with you regarding SB 242 and am eagerly awaiting a response from your office. In the meantime, please let me share my personal story with you in hopes that you may understand why many LGBT people are concerned about your bill.

As a teenager, I struggled with my own sexuality. Most nights, I cried myself to sleep, begging God to “make me normal.” Ultimately, it became clear to me that this was not a phase I was going through, and I realized that my sexuality would not change. I felt I had nowhere to go for help. After a friend of mine had come out as bisexual, his parents kicked him out of the house to live on the streets. I was in fear of how my own parents would react if I came out as gay. I couldn’t turn to my teachers or guidance counselors because the fear of being outed by them to my parents was so strong. With nowhere to turn for help, I put a plan in place to take my own life so that I would not bring shame upon my family.

My experience is not unique. This is reality for many children, especially in conservative parts of the country. SB 242 requires parental access to “records relating to the child ’s general physical, psychological, or emotional well-being” and “disclosure of any general knowledge regarding the parent ’s child possessed by an employee of a school district.” Furthermore, it states that “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 disciplinary action. The wording of this is bill so vague that it is reasonable to imagine a scenario in which a teacher is punished for not reporting knowledge of a child’s sexuality or gender identity to his or her parents—even if the child begs the teacher to keep it secret.

Senator Burton, I agree that schools should be partners to parents in the education of their children, but what happens when the actions of a teacher or administrator have the unforeseen consequence of putting a child in danger? What happens when this bill creates an environment in which children live in fear of being outed to their parents by school employees? How will you feel when that environment of fear prevents an LGBT child from getting help and results in his or her completion of suicide?

You claim that your bill has “nothing to do with issues of sexuality and gender.” If you expect us to take you at your word, then prove it. I call on you to withdraw your bill as it is currently written and resubmit it with explicit language protecting LGBT students from being outed unnecessarily to their parents.