AUSTIN — A North Texas school district says parents have a right to control classroom conversations about sexual orientation, but supporters of a teacher who wants her to return to her elementary art classroom say administrators cratered to pressure and removed her because she’s gay.
Last year, Mansfield ISD administrators took Stacy Bailey, a two-time teacher of the year winner at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School, out of the classroom after a parent complained that the veteran teacher promoted a “homosexual agenda,” by showing a photo of her “future wife” in a first-day presentation designed to introduce herself to pupils, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit.
The district said in a statement that, “Ms. Bailey insists that it is her right and that it is age appropriate for her to have ongoing discussion with elementary-aged students about her own sexual orientation, the sexual orientation artist and their relationships with other gay artists.”
Bailey’s lawsuit counters the assertions, saying the district’s statement contains “multiple falsehoods” but there are voices who say the controversy surrounding Bailey dramatizes a bigger point: the LGBT community’s failure to gain legal equality.
“Most people are surprised that there are 28 states where you can be fired because you’re gay,” said Kyle C. Velte, a visiting assistant professor at Texas Tech University School of Law. “Texas doesn’t have an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation as a protected class. A gay person can marry her partner on Sunday and be fired on Monday. If she were married to a man, nobody would have said a thing.”
Congress could amend Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but Velte said the current political climate makes that problematic.
Two federal appellate courts have applied Title VII to discrimination based on sexual orientation; another held that Title VII bans gender-identity discrimination, but despite some “good law on this” Velte said the appellate courts are divided.
Jason Smith, Bailey’s attorney, said that while the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s illegal to discriminate against people because they’re gay, some school districts are resisting.
“They need to come into compliance with the Constitution and let lesbian and gay staff talk about their families just as anybody would,” Smith said.
Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst for Texas Values, an Austin-based not-for-profit organization that supports “biblical, Judeo-Christian values,” backs the school district.
“It’s important for people to realize that this is in an elementary school,” Hudgens said. “It’s beyond a picture on a desk. The core of the issue is, parents have a right to have input. This is a controversial issue; the teacher clearly crossed the line.”
But Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said the district “froze like deer in the headlights,” in handling the situation, first indicating that it might not renew her contract, then reversing course after parents and students rose to her defense.
“They had a complaint from a parent that turned out to be unfounded,” Marfaro said. “She hasn’t talked about gay lifestyles or gay rights.”
Despite the dispute, Bailey has said she wants to return to teaching elementary pupils.
The district recently offered Bailey to a secondary-school assignment.
But Velte said Bailey did nothing wrong in in the first place.
“Some of the kids in her classroom are going to be LGBT,” Velte said. “They’re going to need role models. That role modeling is important not only for them but for kids who are straight. This case shows that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI LLC’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.