Mansfield ISD. We just keep showing up.
Galileo Church continues to serve as a community organizing hub to advocate for LGBTQ+ protections in the policies of Mansfield ISD. We gave a couple of speeches in the public comments at the 10/23/2018 meeting. No one spoke in opposition, despite the rumors…
My name is Katie Hays, and I’m a parent, a taxpayer, and religious leader in Mansfield ISD.
My friends and I began attending school board meetings early this year when we realized that district policies do not include protections for LGTBQ+ humans. Adding the terms sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to 3 district policies has been our singular focus.
On several occasions we have been told in private conversations with several of you that you are working on it; that there are legal impediments between you and the justice you know should be done. You have asked for our patience. We have given it.
Then you introduced a new idea, seemingly related to our cause – an anti-bullying commission – to which we asked in this very setting that members of our coalition, who have attended these meetings faithfully for all these months, be appointed. You smiled and nodded and even said in private that you’d very much like to have our applications and recommendations. We gave them.
None of us were selected for that committee, which we now understand was formed by a lottery, which tells us much about what kind of priority the district places on this work. Imagine if a committee of citizens were formed to decide how to spend MISD’s dollars, or build MISD’s buildings. Membership for committees about dollars and buildings would not be formed by lottery, I imagine.
But our lack of representation on that committee doesn’t really matter anyway, as we now have a statement in writing from Dr. Cantu, to the United Educators Association, that the protection of LGBTQ students will not be addressed by the anti-bullying committee. Not because that’s what the committee decided, but because somebody pre-decided that for them. So any hope we had that this committee would be a reasonable stopgap measure to protect our vulnerable kids until you are ready to make the necessary steps for policy change has dissipated.
This leads me to a larger point: in months and months of attending MISD school board meetings, we have witnessed not a single exchange of substantive debate about the issue we’re here to press, nor really any others. These long meetings are padded with self-congratulation for high-achieving schools, students, and staff. They are exercises in feeling great about the privilege we enjoy by living here. (I live here; I enjoy that privilege.) Anything that requires a vote receives a unanimous decision with no actual conversation or debate between you, the members of the board, to which we are privy. I am beginning to think that this board is dangerously close to being in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. How else can all these decisions get made, such as what the anti-bullying committee will or will not discuss, and who is on it, out of the view of the public?
Indeed, the names of persons who were selected for that committee, which has already met once outside of the public eye, have not been released to the public. We are so far not able to find out which of our neighbors are already meeting about the issue to which we have been committed with significant investments of time, energy, and prayer.
When I was 19, I articulated a call to ministry from within a denomination that does not recognize the gifts and callings of women. There were many powerful people who would express to me, behind closed doors, that they supported me and wanted to see me succeed. But in public, they offered me nothing, not one gesture toward justice.
When I was 19, I didn’t have a word for this, but now I have a couple. If you know what you’re doing by expressing private support for our LGBTQ students and staff but offering them no actual support in public, we call that gaslighting. It’s a cynical strategy employed to preserve fake peace by convincing us to keep playing by your rules. And make no mistake: the rules that insist that I can talk for five minutes only, and you can’t talk back to me, is a construct of this board’s invention. It’s not gospel. Change it, and let’s talk on the record.
If it’s not your intent to make us feel a little bit insane for believing what you tell us privately when you won’t back it up publicly, if you are really just calculating how much it will cost you to do the right thing, and deciding it’s too expensive, we call that fear. Believe me, it’s nothing compared to the fear that LGBTQ students and staff in Mansfield, in Texas, in our country, are experiencing every day of the world.
Fix it, please. It’s past time to get this done.
I have come to the point where I’ve realized that it might be legal under current Texas law, and MISD policy, to discriminate against me for mentioning my fiancée at work...for honestly answering a child’s question about my engagement ring. I have to stop and go out of my way to say “spouse” and to use gender neutral pronouns. It is legal for us to get married, but I can’t mention my wife in the classroom without fear of discrimination. My co-teacher can mention her husband during class, and she’s protected from discrimination. She has mentioned her husband in passing, and nobody thinks twice. I can’t do that.
That’s the way it is right now I suppose, but I ask you to consider this. Although it might be legal to discriminate, it is not required. There is no law saying that you, as a school district, have to discriminate. As a matter of fact, you have the legal ability and authority to add protections for LGBT students and staff to MISD policy. It might be legal to discriminate, but is it right?
Is it moral to treat me differently? I challenge you to consider that it is never right or moral to disrespect or mistreat someone simply because they are different than you.
This brings me to the topic of bullying, since individuals are often victimized for being different. I was initially excited about the anti-bullying committee the board has formed. You see, I had learned the following facts from the districts Safe School videos:
LGBT individuals are frequent targets of bullying.
Half of the students who are bullied for being LGBT skip school to avoid their tormentors.
The dropout rate of LGBT youth is 3 times the national average of heterosexual students.
LGBT youth are 3-4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
So, you can imagine how I felt hope, and possibly even excitement, at the prospect of the Anti-Bullying Committee including our LGBT population in anti bullying programs at MISD. However my hope and excitement was crushed when a representative of MISD explained, and I quote, “LGBTQ language will not be added to the anti-bullying work which is separate and apart from the Anti-Bullying committee…” End quote.
Imagine my confusion. MISD’s teacher training clearly teaches all the facts that I just read to you, but MISD still says that “LGBTQ language will not be added to the anti-bullying work which is separate and apart from the Anti-Bullying committee...”
I value all kids the same; they should be protected and treated the same. Just because it might be legal for us to discriminate against LGBT students by refusing to protect them, it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it moral. LGBT students face hostile peers, hostile adults, and a district that currently refuses to provide them protections. I cannot sit by and do nothing. I cannot allow myself to be another person or institution that they must face discrimination from. I will continue to advocate for this “Invisible Group”. All kids are worth it, these kids are worth it. It is an honor to advocate on their behalf.
I guess I fail to understand... The law doesn’t force this board to discriminate. There is no law stopping you from adding protections for LGBT staff, students, and families. Nowhere does it say that LGBT students must be omitted from protections. There is absolutely no law stopping you from protecting a group of students who you as a district identify as frequent targets of bullying. It ultimately boils down to doing the right thing. I guess what saddens me the most is that this board has the legal authority to protect LGBT staff and students but you are choosing not to do it.