It’s pre-filing season for the Texas legislature, which returns to session in 2017, and one anti-LGBT bill is already getting a lot of attention, as is the lawmaker who filed it.
Sen. Konni Burton (R), the Tea Party-endorsed candidate who succeeded Sen. Wendy Davis (D), has filed a bill, SB 242, that would mandate that schools disclose to parents information about the students’ psychological well-being. This could mean outing LGBT students to the very parents they fear might not be accepting of who they are. Most of the articles about the bill have explained it as such, but Burton has repeatedly rejected this portrayal on social media, even though she has also openly admitted it’s exactly the reason she filed it.
Burton’s bill is a response to a controversy at Fort Worth Independent School District earlier this year. In accordance with LGBT nondiscrimination polices that were already on the books, the district issued guidance for how to enforce them, which included full access to facilities for transgender students in accordance with their gender identity. It also stated that if a student discloses a queer identity, “School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian.”
If a student hides their identity at home, outing them could have severe repercussions for the student’s life, including family rejection — which itself can be detrimental to their mental health . Others could be kicked out of the home or forced into some form of conversion therapy.
Among the people who objected to protecting LGBT students from being outed was Burton, who penned an op-ed at the time complaining that “those who would treat parents as unessential or potentially harmful are damaging the integrity of American family.” She insisted that “any policy that creates barriers or allows secrets to be withheld from parents is destructive and ultimately counterproductive.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) also objected, and asked Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to issue a legal opinion about Fort Worth ISD’s guidance. Paxton, who is also leading a multi-state lawsuit against the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender inclusion in schools, concluded that Fort Worth’s policies ran afoul of a Texas state law requiring that “A parent is entitled to full information regarding the school activities of a parent’s child.”
The district scrapped their original guidance and issued new regulations that require parental involvement before students can receive any accommodation at school, making it impossible for students to find safety at school without their parents knowing about their identity. If, for example, a trans student seeks accommodations regarding bathroom usage, they now cannot receive them with their parents’ approval.
Enter Burton’s bill. It would amend the law Paxton referred to in his legal opinion to make it even more explicit that LGBT identities would be among the things a school must disclose to parents. To a list of records a school has to disclose, it adds, “other records relating to the child’s general physical, psychological, or emotional well-being.”
Personnel who don’t disclose such information would be subject to discipline, even if a child requests that it be concealed or withheld from their parents. And “a school district may not adopt or enforce any rule that conflicts with this section.”
On her own webpage last Wednesday, Burton further explained that it was the LGBT protections at Fort Worth ISD that were the singular motivation for her bill. “No parent in Texas should ever have to fight for the basic right to matter in their child’s life again,” she said.
But on Twitter, she then spent several days fervently rejecting the idea that her bill would out LGBT students. She decried that “a few publications ran with a totally false story,” calling them “clickbait.” For example, The New Civil Rights Movement’s John Wright wrote that Burton “wants to force schools to out LGBT students to parents.” She accused him of whipping up outrage and ignoring the facts.
Your "post" is totally false. You are trying to whip up outrage & not concerned about the facts. https://t.co/taliIF5BnL
— Konni Burton (@KonniBurton) November 19, 2016
The only outlet she credits with explaining her bill correctly is the Houston Chronicle, which ran an article Friday entitled, “Senator: Proposed bill wouldn’t force schools to ‘out’ LGBTQ students.” The article cites not Burton herself, but Elliott Griffin, her chief of staff, who explained that the bill would not force a child into reparative therapy. But of course, that’s a response to a claim nobody made about what the bill itself does, only a concern about what parents might do in response.
Griffin’s only other clarification was that the bill does not require parents be informed unless parents ask for information about their student. That much is true. But the way it’s worded — and as Griffin confirmed — if a parent asks for anything, the school must disclose everything.
UPDATE: Monday morning, Burton posted a follow-up response regarding SB 242 on her website. She claimed that “there is a great deal of misinformation being spread about this proposed bill,” but otherwise confirmed what has been reported here and elsewhere about it.
Fort Worth ISD “treated all parents as potentially dangerous and completely marginalized their role in their child’s life,” she wrote. “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.”
That claim does not, however, address the fact that the her bill was a response to LGBT protections nor that it specifically addresses relevant information that schools should provide to parents. In fact, Burton downplayed the potential consequences that could result from unaccepting parents.
“Many of the extremely sad and dire scenarios being spread by those who peddle in misinformation and stoke the flames of fear are not only incongruous to the proposed bill as written, they are incongruous with existing state law,” she wrote.
She provided no explanation for what her bill would change short of requiring schools, when asked, to out LGBT students to their parents.