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Bill restricting ‘explicit shows’ in front of children heads to Abbott

“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders” Advocates: ‘revisions to the legislation still target drag’

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The Texas State Capitol on June 8, 2022. (Photo Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune)

By William Melhado | AUSTIN – The Texas Legislature gave final approval Sunday to a bill that will criminalize performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children as well as any businesses that host them.

Originally designed as legislation to restrict minors from attending certain drag shows, lawmakers agreed on bill language that removed direct reference to drag performers just before an end-of-day deadline. The bill now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Under Senate Bill 12, business owners would face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit performances in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.” Performers caught violating the proposed restriction could be slapped with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

After lawmakers from both chambers met in a conference committee to hash out the differences between their versions of the bill, the House and Senate released a new one that expanded the penal code’s definition of sexual conduct. The bill classifies as sexual conduct the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied with sexual gesticulations.

Advocates said this addition is aimed at drag queens’ props and costumes, which is evidence that lawmakers are still targeting the LGBTQ community.

Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, amended the legislation in the House by removing explicit reference to drag. Shaheen told The Texas Tribune that members had viewed videos of performances in which children were exposed to “lewd, disgusting, inappropriate stuff.” He said the updated bill addresses what was in those videos. Shaheen did not specify which videos concerned lawmakers.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, authored SB 12 after a small but loud group of activists and extremist groups fueled anti-drag panic by filming drag shows and posting the videos on social media. Those groups characterized all drag as inherently sexual regardless of the content or audience, which resonated with top GOP leaders in the state, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Advocates say the revisions to the legislation still target drag, even if those types of performances aren’t directly mentioned in the bill.

Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, criticized the addition of “accessories or prosthetics” to the bill. Drag artists performing in front of children don’t wear sexually explicit costumes, Bandit said, adding that this bill creates a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t acceptable to do at drag shows.

“Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?” Bandit asked. “It’s still really vague but it’s still geared to try to target drag performance, which is what this bill has been trying to do this entire time, right?”

Shaheen said that including direct reference to drag performers wasn’t necessary to the intent of the bill, which was to restrict children from seeing sexually explicit material.

“You want it to cover inappropriate drag shows, but you [also] want it to cover if a stripper starts doing stuff in front of a child,” Shaheen said.

Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, spoke against the bill Sunday just before the House gave it final approval in a 87-54 vote. She criticized the removal of language that previously narrowed the bill’s enforcement to only businesses. González warned that the bill’s vague language could lead to a “domino effect” of consequences.

“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders,” said González. “It can go into your homes and say what is allowed in your homes after the lines ‘commercial enterprise’ were stricken out.”

During a House hearing on SB 12, Democrats questioned whether the bill’s language would also ensnare restaurants like Twin Peaks that feature scantily clad servers. Shaheen said the way the bill is written exempts these types of performances.

LGBTQ lawmakers applauded the removal of the direct reference to drag performers. But advocates fear the phrase “prurient interest in sex” could be interpreted broadly since Texas law doesn’t have a clear definition of the term, said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who testified against the bill in a House committee.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the term is defined as “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion,” though the language’s interpretation varies by community.

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William Melhado’s staff photo

William Melhado

[email protected]

@williammelhado

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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Second Texas school district investigated re: gender identity policy

Katy ISD’s board voted to require staff to notify parents if their child wants to use a different pronoun or identifies as a different gender

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A recent Katy Independent School District, Texas board meeting. (Screenshot/YouTube Katy-ISD TV)

By Nina Banks | KATY, Texas – The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation Monday into Katy Independent School District’s gender identity policy on the basis of gender harassment under Title IX. The investigation came nine months after the district adopted a policy that notifies parents if their child requests to use a different name or pronouns at school.

Katy ISD did not respond to a request of how many parents have been notified this year under the new policy, which requires staff to inform parents that students are transgender or ask to use different names or pronouns.

The Houston Chronicle reported in December that the district had notified parents at least 23 times since the policy was adopted.

The gender identity policy also bars schools from teaching “gender fluidity” and denies students from competing in sports with the gender they identify with, which mirrors state legislation already regulating K-12 athletics.

Students Engaged in Advancing Texas, a student-led advocacy group, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in November regarding the policy. Katy ISD graduate and member of SEAT Cameron Samuels labels the investigation as a win against the conservative policies being passed in the district.

“Elected solely on platforms to target marginalized students, far-right school board candidates accomplished exactly what they were elected to do: weaponize identity and neglect students’ educational needs,” they said.

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational settings or federally funded activities. Gov. Greg Abbott has loudly voiced his opposition to the federal law recently ordering the Texas Education Agency to disregard the Biden administration’s expansion of Title IX.

“The district is committed to offering equal educational opportunities to our entire community,” a spokesperson from Katy ISD told the Tribune in a response to the investigation. “While we have received the OCR filing and deny any wrongdoing, we are committed to remaining fully cooperative and responsive throughout the process.”

Victor Perez, Katy ISD board president and proponent of the policy, argued that the policy was “mischaracterized” by community members as an attack on its queer and transgender students and instead relieves the burden for staff withholding information from parents. The policy was passed at a board meeting in August with a vote of 4-3 after four hours of public comment.

Alastair Parker, a member of the Cinco Ranch High School Gender-Sexuality Alliance, spoke at the board meeting in opposition to the policy.

Parker and others argued that the policy infringes on the rights of transgender kids to express themselves and opens them to potential harm if they are outed to transphobic parents or caregivers.

Johnathan Gooch from Equality Texas, a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBTQ+ Texans, said he hopes students recognize their power to report policies like this in the wake of the increasing number of legislation targeting LGBTQ+ youth.

This isn’t the first instance in Texas of a gender related policy being investigated on the federal level. Carroll ISD in Tarrant County was reported to have eight open investigations last February after it eliminated protections over race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

There are documented mental health benefits to using preferred pronouns. A research team at the University Texas at Austin conducted a study in which they concluded that students in gender-affirming environments report 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% decrease in reported suicidal ideation and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts.

“When students place their trust in teachers and school administration, the school has a duty to preserve that trust,” Gooch said. “That duty requires schools to ensure that no disclosure would place a student in harm’s way.”

Parker has been out as a transgender man since the seventh grade and is supported by his father, who he resides with. He acknowledged that this isn’t the case for many of his classmates as some have parents that are less accepting.

His teachers have gone by his preferred name and pronouns for his entire high school experience. But since the policy has been enacted, he has seen some of his peers go by their deadnames fearing that their parents would be notified.

Over the past year, other schools across the state have adopted similar policies.

Keller ISD, which is also in Tarrant County, passed a policy in late June that prevents students from using their preferred name and pronouns or using restrooms with the gender they identify with.

The policy was met with retaliation from the Texas American Civil Liberties Union, writing in a letter to the district that the policy is “deeply invasive and unlawful for school administrators to interrogate students’ private medical information in this way.”

As the end of the school year nears, Parker observed the policy being enforced at varying levels of severity by teachers. The passing of legislation or policy like this deters from the ongoing health crisis for queer and transgender youth and is wholly unnecessary, he said.

“If a child’s not telling their parents something like that, it’s for a reason,” he said. “I know that most of the people who are in favor of this are the ones who bounce off whatever their parents have told them to repeat.”

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Nina Banks’s staff photo

Nina Banks is the Tribune’s Dallas Press Club Foundation reporting fellow based in Arlington where she is studying communications at Tarrant County College. She is managing editor of the student-run newspaper, The Collegian, and hosts the staff’s podcast, The First Draft. When Nina isn’t hunched over her laptop, you can find her sipping on boba tea.

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The preceding article was first published by The Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

Disclosure: Equality Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Gov. Abbott tells state ignore federal student LGBTQ+ protections

The new Title IX rules expanded the definition of sex-based harassment. Texas is also suing the Biden administration to block the changes

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration Monday after it extended Title IX to LGBTQ students. (Photo Credit: Austin Price for The Texas Tribune)

By Sneha Dey | AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Education Agency on Monday to ignore a Biden administration rule that expanded federal sex discrimination protections to include LGBTQ+ students.

The Biden administration recently revised the rules for Title IX, the sweeping civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at federally funded colleges and K-12 schools. The new rules, which are set to go into effect in August, redefined sex discrimination and sex-based harassment to prevent misconduct based on sex stereotypes, pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation. It codifies initial guidance documents that prompted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue the Biden administration last year.

“Congress wrote Title IX to protect women. Biden, with no authority to do so, rewrote Title IX to protect men who identify as women,” Abbott wrote Monday on social media platform X.

Abbott’s order came the same day Paxton announced he had sued the Biden administration Monday to block the Title IX changes. Texas joins a growing number of Republican-led states that have berated the new rules, setting the stage for a legal fight over LGBTQ+ student protections. They say the Biden administration misinterpreted the intent of Title IX.

In its final interpretation of Title IX, the Biden administration sought to extend a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court case decision related to workplace discrimination to students. The high court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII, a civil rights law that bars employment discrimination on the basis of sex, applied to gay and transgender workers.

The Title IX changes also walk back rules set during the Trump administration that required “live hearings” in which students accused of sexual misconduct could question accusers in a courtroom-like setting. The Biden administration kept Trump-era provisions that allow informal resolutions and prohibit penalties against students until an investigation is complete.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

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Sneha Dey’s staff photo

Sneha Dey is an education reporter for The Texas Tribune. She covers pathways from education to employment and the accessibility of postsecondary education in Texas, with an eye on college readiness, community colleges and career and technical training. Prior to joining the Tribune, she had stints at NPR’s Education Desk and Chalkbeat. Sneha is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She grew up in New York and is based in Austin.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

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Texas politics leave transgender foster youth isolated

After Kayden Asher told his dad that he was trans, their relationship fell apart and the teenager entered Texas’ troubled foster care system

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After Kayden Asher told his dad that he was transgender, their relationship fell apart and the teenager entered Texas’ troubled foster care system. As Asher tumbled through several foster placements, Texas leaders intensified their efforts to regulate the lives of LGBTQ+ people. (Photo Credit: Greta Díaz González Vázquez/Texas Tribune)

By Greta Díaz González Vázquez | AUSTIN, Texas – After Kayden Asher came out as transgender to his family and small Gulf Coast community, their rejection sent him into a spiral of mental health episodes that landed him in the care of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

During his years in foster care, Asher moved between nearly 10 different placements, including mental hospitals, residential treatment centers and foster homes.

At the same time, Texas politicians intensified efforts to regulate the lives of transgender youth and banned gender-affirming care — such as hormone therapy, which Asher received while in foster care — for trans kids.

Since leaving the state’s care, Asher has pursued a degree in paralegal studies at Austin Community College with the hope of eventually working with queer foster youth who he said are increasingly isolated by state policies. But as the political climate has increased hostilities toward transgender people, Asher fears the hostility in his home state will force him to leave Texas.

Research shows that LGBTQ+ foster kids are more likely to live in group home settings, move between placements and face mistreatment. Yet Texas CPS collects little information about the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth in foster care. Asher discusses how growing up trans in Texas foster care made it more difficult to begin building a life once he aged out of the system.

Watch:

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Greta Díaz González Vázquez’s staff photo

Greta Díaz González Vázquez was a two-time Tribune fellow on the multimedia team in 2022 and 2023. She graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from The University of North Texas, where she also earned a certificate in narrative journalism.

Greta worked as a journalist in Mexico for six years, freelancing and doing multimedia journalism for a public radio station. Her reporting is focused on gender violence in Mexico and science. Greta’s work has earned state and national awards in her home country, including the National Award for Science Journalism and the National Faces of Discrimination Award.

The preceding article was first published by The Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

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Independent Texas reporting needs your support. The Texas Tribune delivers fact-based journalism for Texans, by Texans — and our community of members, the readers who donate, make our work possible. Help us bring you and millions of others in-depth news and information. Will you support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation of any amount?

YES, I’LL DONATE TODAY

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Texas Governor Abbott: “We Want To End” trans teachers

Abbott announced in a keynote speech to the Young Conservatives of Texas an intention to “end” trans and GNC teachers being able to teach

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addresses Young Conservatives of Texas convention in Dallas Saturday April 20. (Photo Credit: YCT/Twittwr)

By Erin Reed | DALLAS, Texas – During a session at the 2024 Young Conservatives of Texas Convention held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas this weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott stated that trans and gender nonconforming (GNC) teachers must be “ended” in the state. 

This statement follows crackdowns on transgender teachers in various Republican-controlled states in the United States. Book bans“Don’t Say Gay” legislation, and anti-drag laws have increasingly been weaponized against all transgender and GNC individuals, especially within educational settings. In Texas, many of these laws have been blocked due to being likely unconstitutional; however, this has not prevented the governor from making one of his strongest statements yet in support of overt discrimination toward transgender people.

The statement, first reported by journalist Steven Monacelli, addresses a teacher in a small town in Texas. Abbott, who repeatedly refers to the teacher as a “man dressed as a woman,” states that the teacher’s mere presence “normalizes the concept” of being transgender or GNC—a concept Gov. Abbott then asserts the state should try to prohibit. He states, “This kind of behavior is something we need to end in the state of Texas.”

Abbott said:

Up the street from where we are right now is Lewisville, Texas. In Lewisville, Texas, in the high school, recently, as in just a month ago, they had a high school teacher who was a man who would go to school dressed as a woman in a dress, high heels, and makeup. Now, what do you think is going through the mind of the students that’s in that classroom? Are they focusing on the subject that this person is trying to teach? I don’t know. What I do know are these two things. One is this person, a man, dressing as a woman, in a public high school in the state of Texas, he’s trying to normalize the concept that this type of behavior is okay. This type of behavior is not okay. And this is the type of behavior that we wanna make sure we end in the state of Texas.”

Within hours, multiple GOP officials in Texas signed onto Abbott’s call to ban trans and GNC teachers from teaching. These include Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi and multiple Texas State legislators and candidates such as Briscoe Cain and Brent Money. Their reaction to Abbott’s comments are in line with the Texas GOP platform passed in 2022 that call extensive restrictions on trans and GNC individuals in schools.

It is important to note that federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. A Supreme Court decision, Bostock vs. Clayton County, specifically stated that Title VII protections around nondiscrimination in the workplace apply to trans and GNC people. That court decision is currently being used to overturn anti-trans laws in Title IX cases in schools as well as bathroom banssports bans, and more.

Recent efforts have targeted transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals within state school systems. For example, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was recently extended to apply to transgender teachers who share pronouns or use titles different from their sex assigned at birth. This law forced a transgender female teacher to go by Mr. and use he/him pronouns in the classroom or face termination. Similarly, a nonbinary teacher was banned from using the title Mx. in school.

A recent case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, blocked that Florida law as likely in violation of the First Amendment. Like Governor Abbott, attorneys for the state of Florida argued that transgender teachers in the classroom were a “distraction” to students and that a trans woman teacher was harming her students’ education with her mere existence and expression of her identity. The judge, however, struck down this notion, noting that the trans woman teacher had higher test scores than the district average.

It remains to be seen whether Gov. Abbott and the Republican Party of Texas will lean into anti-trans politics going into the 2024 elections. The willingness of some influential Texas Republicans to endorse Gov. Abbott’s position in the video suggests that they might. If so, there is evidence that this could harm candidates who are in tight races in the state and espouse such positions. For instance, in 2023, candidates running on anti-trans issues experienced significant defeats nationwide, including the defeat of 70% of all Moms For Liberty candidates in school boards.

Regardless of electoral consequences, the state has become harsher for transgender people in recent years. Attorney General Ken Paxton has continued to subpoena medical records of transgender individuals who cross state lines to obtain care. He has also attempted to obtain lists of PFLAG members, including addresses and phone numbers.

Abbott has not been much better: under his leadership, transgender families across the state were investigated under the premise that providing medical care for their transgender youth amounted to child abuse. This latest statement from Gov. Abbott shows an intent to continue weaponizing state powers against transgender and gender-nonconforming people in Texas.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Appeals court blocks Texas from investigating trans kids & families

“Texas PFLAG families are grateful the court has once again recognized the harm caused by investigating parents for loving their trans kids”

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Trans Allies & Advocates in Texas gather on the Capitol grounds in Austin. (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

AUSTIN, Texas — On Friday the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, upheld injunctions in two related cases against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) barring the DFPS from implementing the agency’s rule expanding the definition of child abuse to presumptively treat the provision of gender-affirming care as child abuse.

The injunctions bar DFPS from implementing the rule by investigating these families based solely on allegations that they are providing gender-affirming care to their adolescents, or taking any action in open investigations other than to close them so long DFPS can do so without making further contact with the families.

Today’s ruling came in two lawsuits, Doe v. Abbott and PFLAG v. Abbott, filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV Project, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the ACLU of Texas, and the law firm of Baker Botts LLP.

“Texas PFLAG families are grateful that the court has once again recognized the harm caused by investigating parents for affirming and loving their transgender kids,” said Brian K. Bond, CEO of PFLAG National. “PFLAG National and our members and supporters will continue leading with love, just as we’ve done for the last 51 years, because when courageous love takes action, our families are stronger, our communities are safer, and our LGBTQ+ loved ones across races, places, and genders thrive.”

In September of 2022, the Travis County District Court issued a third injunction blocking the State of Texas from implementing a directive issued by Republican Governor Greg Abbott that targets trans youth and their families across Texas.

The directive ordered the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent transgender children with medically necessary healthcare.

The directive could have led to transgender youth being placed in foster care and their parents criminally charged with child abuse—just for following the advice of their physicians and mental health providers.

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“We are gratified that the Court upheld the district court’s injunctions protecting families of transgender young people across the state from unlawful investigations under the DFPS rule,” said Paul D. Castillo, senior counsel, Lambda Legal. “The Court recognized yet again that being subjected to an unlawful and unwarranted investigation causes irreparable harm for these families who are doing nothing more than caring for and affirming their children and seeking the best course of care for them in consultation with their medical providers.”

“Transgender youth have always existed and always will, and the vast majority of Texans do not support separating them from their families or taking away their life-saving health care,” said Ash Hall, LGBTQ+ policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Texas. “The maneuvers by Texas state officials against transgender youth are bullying masquerading as policy. Nothing could be further from abuse than parents loving and supporting their transgender children. This decision is another much-needed victory for trans youth and those who love and support them.”

“We are grateful the court saw through this dangerous and transparently discriminatory action by Texas officials,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Our clients and countless families like theirs are guided by love and compassion for their transgender youth, following the guidance of their doctors and fighting for the futures their family deserves. These baseless and invasive investigations are a dangerous abuse of the state’s power and one we’re thankful the Texas courts have consistently ruled against.”

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Texas school superintendent suspended over trans actor’s removal

He was suspended in connection with the investigation into efforts to remove a trans senior from the school’s production of Oklahoma!

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Senior Max Hightower has participated in the high school’s Bearcat Theater since he was a freshman. (Photo Credit: Screenshot/KXII CBS 12)

By Tammye Nash | SHERMAN, Texas – The Sherman Independent School District Board of Trustees, following a closed session meeting on Friday, March 8, has voted to suspend Superintendent Tyson Bennett.

Meghan Cone, the school district’s chief communications officer, confirmed Tuesday, March 12, that Bennett was suspended in connection with the investigation into Bennett’s efforts to remove transgender senior Max Hightower from the school’s production of Oklahoma! Cone said the SISD board had not made nor provided a statement following the vote.

Philip Hightower, Max’s father, said today he is “thrilled that the board made the right decision to protect our kids from discrimination. I’m thrilled Max and the rest can be safe, and I’m proud that our community united and said no to transphobia.”

The board suspended Bennett with pay and appointed Deputy Superintendent Thomas O’Neal as acting superintendent, effective immediately.

The Sherman ISD Board of Trustees has voted to suspend the district’s superintendent, Tyson Bennett.

Gordy Carmona, North Texas community engagement and advocacy strategist for Equality Texas, was among those who spoke at the November board meeting where SISD trustees reversed Bennett’s decision to cancel and recast the play. “Hearing Sherman ISD’s decision to recast the Oklahoma! production last year based on a district rule barring students from playing roles that didn’t match their gender assigned at birth was alarming,” Carmona told Dallas Voice today. “Theatre is supposed to be one of the few safe havens for LGBTQIA+ students.

“Thankfully Sherman ISD listened to students, parents and community members concerns,” they continued, “Their reinstatement of the original cast was the first step in correcting some concerning problems within the district. News of the unanimous decision to suspend Superintendent Tyson Bennett was a welcomed surprise, but there is still room for growth in ensuring current and future LGBTQIA+ students can feel fully supported by their district.”

The controversy over the high school play began last October when the high school principal, at Bennett’s direction, contacted parents and students to tell them the planned production was being cancelled. That notification came after Max Hightower was cast in the male role of Aly Hakim, a major character in the play. Several female students were cast in male roles, as well.

In a confusing statement issued Nov. 6, district officials explained that Sherman ISD had no policy regarding how students are cast, except in this one instance and maybe in the future, but then again maybe not: “There is no policy on how students are assigned to roles. As it relates to this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used when casting.” A second statement, issued by the district on Nov. 10 supposedly was intended to clear up confusion but really only muddied the waters further.

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Bennett’s decision was that for the production to go on after the first of the year, later than originally planned, the show would have to be recast, and he wanted the school’s theater teachers to instead stage a version of the play rewritten for younger students.

But following a marathon board meeting later that month, in which dozens of parents, students and other community members turned out to criticize Bennett and his directives, the Sherman ISD board voted to rescind the directives completely and allow the production to go on as originally cast. The board at that time also removed Bennett’s authority over the school’s fine arts programs and announced an ongoing investigation into the situation.

Sherman High School staged its production of Oklahoma! in January with the original cast, including Max Hightower, in place.

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Tammye Nash
Managing Editor

Nash has been a professional journalist since 1982, and first began working for Dallas Voice in 1988, just four years after the paper was founded. She has worked at both weekly and daily newspapers over the years, but has always worked for community newspapers where the focus is on serving and improving the community you serve.

Nash has won numerous awards over the years for her work, and enjoys working with the other award-winning journalists at Dallas Voice who are as dedicated to the LGBTQ community as she is. Nash lives in Fort Worth with her partner of nearly 20 years, their two sons and their menagerie of pets. She spends her free time on her hobby of photography.

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The preceding article was previously by the Dallas Voice and is republished with permission.

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Lawmaker who split with party on LGBTQ+ votes forced into runoff

Thierry angered fellow Democrats because of a speech she gave on the House floor in support of banning gender-transitioning care for minors

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Shawn Thierry and Lauren Ashley Simmons. (Photo Credit: Thomas Meredith for The Texas Tribune and Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune)

By Zach Despart | HOUSTON, Texas – Rep. Shawn Thierry, the Houston Democrat who had angered her party by siding with Republicans on bills opposed by the LGBTQ+ community last year, has been forced into a primary runoff with labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons.

With no Republican candidates in the heavily Democratic district, which covers a swath of south Houston anchored by the majority-Black neighborhood of Sunnyside, the winner of the May 28th runoff race is virtually guaranteed to hold the House seat.

The race became a referendum on whether Democrats can remain in good standing with the party if they are not fully supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. Thierry cast two votes opposed by gay and transgender advocacy groups: one restricting certain books at school libraries that led to fears of discrimination about LGBTQ literature and another that banned gender-transitioning care for minors.

While a few other Democrats also supported those bills, Thierry was by far the most vocal in her support. She gave a floor speech in support of the transgender-care bill that shocked fellow Democrats and won her praise from Republicans.

House Democrats also said they were disappointed Thierry did not join their fight to weaken the bills, which could pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature without any Democratic support. On the gender-transitioning care bill, Thierry skipped the votes on all 18 amendments her Democratic colleagues offered.

Thierry said her votes were in line with Black voters in her district who are more socially conservative than white progressives, and who she said represent only a sliver of Democrats. Detractors, including other House Democrats, said the party needs to be united in its commitment to protect LGBTQ+ rights and protect vulnerable Texans.

TEXAS HOUSE DISTRICT 146

Democrat

MAJORITY OF RESULTS HAVE COME IN

An estimated 99% of votes have been counted, according to the Associated Press. No projected nominee has been called yet.

CANDIDATESVOTESPCT.
DLauren Ashley Simmons6,25549.5%
DShawn Nicole Thierry Incumbent5,60844.4
DAshton P. Woods7666.1

Source: Associated Press

Republican

THIS RACE IS UNCONTESTED.

CANDIDATESVOTESPCT.
RLance York—%

Source: Associated Press

See results here: (Link)

Thierry’s opponents coalesced around Simmons, who said residents asked her to run after a video of her criticizing the state takeover of Houston ISD exploded in popularity online. Simmons, who has two children in the district, said she worried Thierry was not sufficiently supportive of public education.

Simmons secured some of the marquee endorsements in the race, including labor unions, Planned Parenthood and the influential Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus. Democratic Reps. Jessica González, Julie Johnson and Ana-Maria Ramos, backed her, while Barbara Gervin-Hawkins and Nicole Collier endorsed Thierry.

Thierry’s small-dollar donations largely dried up and her reelection campaign relied heavily on wealthy Republican donors. Her contributions included $10,000 from Doug Deason, a conservative activist, and $15,000 from his pro-school voucher Family Empowerment Coalition PAC.

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Zach Despart’s staff photo

Zach Despart is a politics reporter for The Texas Tribune. He investigates power — who wields it, how and to what ends — through the lens of Texas government. He has extensively covered the Uvalde school shooting, including a groundbreaking investigation on the role the gunman’s rifle played in the disastrous police response. He previously covered Harris County for the Houston Chronicle, where he reported on corruption, elections, disaster preparedness and the region’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey. An upstate New York native, he received his bachelor’s degree in political science and film from the University of Vermont.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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Texas AG’s effort to persecute families of trans youth blocked

PFLAG received demands from Paxton to turn over documents, communications, & info related to its work helping families with trans adolescents

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Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse. Austin, Texas. (Photo Credit: Travis County Texas government)

AUSTIN, Texas – Travis County District Court Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel today blocked the latest effort by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to persecute Texas families with transgender youth, temporarily halting the Attorney General’s demand that PFLAG, Inc. turn over information and documents about its support of families in Texas seeking gender-affirming medical care for their transgender youth.

PFLAG National, a nonprofit group that supports LGBTQ people and their families, sued the Republican Texas Attorney General late Wednesday in Travis County District Court, arguing that the demand from Paxton’s office was “a clear and unmistakable overreach.”

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, and Transgender Law Center, who filed a new lawsuit on behalf of PFLAG National and requested a temporary restraining order against the Attorney General’s investigative demands on Wednesday evening, issued the following joint statement:

We’re grateful that the Court saw the harm the Attorney General’s Office’s intrusive demands posed for PFLAG National and its Texas members — and is protecting them from having to respond while we continue to litigate the legality of the office’s requests. We now will return to court to seek an extended and ultimately permanent block so that PFLAG can continue supporting its Texas members with transgender youth in doing what all loving parents do: supporting and caring for their children.”

On February 9, PFLAG National received civil demands from the Attorney General’s Office to turn over documents, communications, and information related to PFLAG National and the organization’s work helping families with transgender adolescents.

related

PFLAG National is a plaintiff in two lawsuits filed against restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for adolescents in Texas: one lawsuit Loe v. Texas, challenging S.B. 14, the state’s ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors, and PFLAG v. Abbott, challenging the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) rule mandating investigations of parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent transgender children with medically necessary healthcare.

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, Transgender Law Center, and the law firm Arnold & Porter represent PFLAG, Inc. in this newly filed case.

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Texas AG: PFLAG must provide names, details of trans members

On Thursday, a legal filing by PFLAG National revealed that Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas was seeking identification of trans members

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaking with Republican voters in 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Attorney General/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | AUSTIN, Texas – In a legal filing Thursday, PFLAG National sought to block a new demand from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that would require the organization to identify its Texas transgender members, doctors who work with them, and contingency plans for anti-transgender legislation in the state.

Paxton’s civil investigative demand, issued on Feb. 5, calls for extensive identifying information and records from the LGBTQ+ rights organization. PFLAG, in its filing to block the demands, describes them as “retaliation” for its opposition to anti-transgender laws in the state and alleges that they violate the freedom of speech and association protections afforded by the United States and Texas constitutions.

The demands are extensive. The letter to PFLAG National demands “unredacted” information around claims made by Brian Bond, PFLAG’s Chief Executive Officer, in a legal fight against the ban on gender-affirming care in the state. Bond’s claims highlighted that PFLAG represents 1,500 members in Texas, many of whom are seeking contingency plans if SB14, the ban on gender-affirming care, takes effect.

Per the lawsuit, PFLAG National states that it would be required to disclose Texas trans youth members, including “complete names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, jobs, home addresses, telephone numbers, [and] email addresses.” It also states they would need to hand over documents and communications related to their medical care, hospitals outside the state, and “contingency plans” discussed among members for navigating the new laws on gender-affirming care in Texas.

You can see see some of the questions asked in the civil investigative demand here:

Demand for full information.
Demands that include substantiation of claims by Brian Bond, CEO of PFLAG National; these claims include the existence of 1,500 families in Texas.
Demands that include contingency plans on going out of state or moving.

The demands also encompass communications with out-of-state healthcare organizations, including QMed in Georgia, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Plume. Previous reports have revealed similar civil investigative demands issued to these out-of-state healthcare providers, seeking information on all patients from Texas who have received their gender-affirming care in Washington State at Seattle Children’s Hospitals. Seattle Children’s Hospital, in a legal response, argued that such care, conducted entirely within the state of Washington, falls outside Texas’s jurisdiction. It further contended that Washington has a shield law prohibiting the sharing of protected private information related to transgender and abortion care with out-of-state entities. That lawsuit is still ongoing.

This is not the first attempt by Attorney General Ken Paxton to identify transgender people in the state. The filing points to a previous attempt to “compile a list of individuals who had changed their their gender” on Texas driver’s licenses. This is part of a “pattern of seeking identifying information about anyone who is transgender in Texas,” according to the filing.

PFLAG National alleges that the demands are an “overly broad, unreasonably burdensome fishing expedition” that violates its member’s rights to freedom of petition, association, speech, and assembly.

It also alleges that they are a violation of prohibitions on unjustified searches and seizures, and that the use of civil investigative demands are an attempt to get around judicial decisions that have blocked Paxton from making similar requests in ongoing court fights. The organization also alleges retaliation for standing up for transgender families in the state.

“These Demands are a clear and unmistakable overreach by the OAG in retaliation for PFLAG successfully standing up for its members, who include Texas transgender youth and their families, against the OAG’s, the Attorney General’s, and the State of Texas’s relentless campaign to persecute Texas trans youth and their loving parents,” the filing reads.

In an interview with Mandy Giles, founder of Parents of Trans Youth and former PFLAG Houston president, she concurs with the allegation of retaliation, stating, “Paxton would retaliate against PFLAG… the families can’t defend themselves. They are too scared to be visible. They can’t fight back, they can’t fight for their kids, they can’t fight for themselves, or their trans loved ones. When PFLAG stepped up to help, it was a saving grace. To have them be attacked this way feels like we all are getting attacked.”

When asked about the specific demands for contingency plans, she paused to collect herself, stating, “This is the families worst fear… that something that was offered to them for protection could come back and hurt them…. the nerve of Paxton asking for families escape plans when he was the reason they were escaping.”

Sadie Hernandez, communications manager for Transgender Education Network of Texas, stated that while Paxton was targeting transgender people now, the methods overlap with other fights in the state for reproductive healthcare and bodily autonomy. “The way they are coming after trans folks has been seen in the way they are going after abortion rights. We have an idea of what is in their playbook.”

She also emphasized the unique impacts these enforcement efforts have on marginalized communities within the trans community, such as undocumented immigrants, “When we talk about folks disproportionately impacted, immigrant and undocumented trans folks who can’t leave the state, or if you are in a border checkpoint can’t even leave the area to receive any kind of gender-affirming care…there will be a lot of folks left out of being able to access care.”

Responding to the Lawsuit, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Director of Constitutional Law Practice Karen Loewy stated, “The Attorney General’s demand of PFLAG National is just another attempt to scare Texas families with transgender adolescents into abandoning their rights and smacks of retaliation against PFLAG National for standing up for those families against the State’s persecution.But PFLAG members’ rights to join together for mutual support, community, and encouragement are strong and we will fight to protect them.”

PFLAG National is represented in the case by Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas, The Transgender Law Center, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas provided several funds that they work with, including the Frontera FundFund Texas ChoiceTEA FundAvow, and Lilith Fund.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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Texas High School cancels play about Matthew Shepard

“As a queer student in this show, I’m livid it’s been cancelled not once, but 2X. People in KISD should not have the right to discriminate”

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A Timber Creek High School theatre production dress rehearsal. (File Photo Credit: Timber Creek High School - Keller ISD/Facebook)

FORT WORTH, Texas – In an email sent out to students and parents last week, officials of Timber Creek High School in suburban Ft. Worth announced that student-led production of The Laramie Project — a play about the aftermath of the 1998 murder of 21-year-old University of Wyoming freshman Matthew Shepard was cancelled.

According to The Dallas Morning News:

In the brief email to families, school leaders said they are “working on developing an alternative production opportunity for our students.” Keller Independent School District spokesman Bryce Nieman said in a statement that the decision was “made by many stakeholders.”

“The decision to move forward with another production at Timber Creek High School was based on the desire to provide a performance similar to the ones that have created much excitement from the community, like this year’s Keller ISD musical productions of Mary Poppins and White Christmas,” Nieman wrote in an email.

The Dallas Morning News also reported that parents were not given an explanation when they were informed the show was cancelled. “We understand that it is unusual for a production change like this to take place. Students will still have an opportunity to read, discuss, and analyze the play during the school day,” Nieman’s email read. 

Judy Shepard, told the paper she was disappointed. “My heart is broken when people still refuse to see how important this work is,” she said. Judy and her husband Dennis founded the Denver, Colorado-based Matthew Shepard Foundation in the months after their son’s murder 25 years ago.

The Laramie Project, written by Moisés Kaufman, is one of the many programs endorsed by the Foundation in its ongoing effort to advocate for LGBTQ+ youth and has been performed tens of thousands of times globally since it premiered at The Ricketson Theatre by the Denver Center Theatre Company in February of 2000.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation provides help and resources for those wishing to produce The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. The Foundation’s Laramie Project Specialist can help with media, historical context, creative consulting, and other resources and services at no charge to non-profit theatres and educational and religious institutions. The Foundation can also help those who wish to engage their communities in a conversation about how to erase hate in the world.

A Change.org petition was started to get the Keller ISD administrators to reconsider their decision. A signer and Timber High School drama and theatre student who identified himself as Danny Street commented:

“As a queer student in this show, I am absolutely livid that it has been cancelled not once, but TWICE. My freshman year we were meant to perform Laramie, and it was changed right before auditions. KISD has been continuously pushing their anti-lgbtq agenda these past few years and it’s hurtful and uncalled for. This year alone we have given teachers “the right” to not call transgender students by their preferred name, which is a problem I have to face daily. The people in our district should not have the right to discriminate against its queer students. Let us tell this story, if you don’t then you are proving you’re on the wrong side of history and you stand right with the bigots who caused the demise of Matthew Shepard. Protect queer kids and queer art in schools.”

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