Backpedaling Fort Worth State Senator: Bill That Outs LGBTQ Kids Isn't About "Sexuality and Gender"

Last week, when Texas state Senator Konni Burton filed Senate Bill 242, she made it clear that the bill was about fixing a specific problem. It was wrong, she said, when Fort Worth Independent School District created regulations to protect transgender kids this year but allowed school personnel to not inform the student's parents of their child's transgender status.

"I am planning to file a bill that rewrites these provisions to make it unequivocally clear that a parent has a right to full and total information on their child’s academic performance, physical, mental and emotional health," Burton said. "Further, my legislation will make it expressly against state law for a district to adopt policies designed to undermine a parent’s right to know."

The bill Burton filed goes much further even than her statement would suggest. It would require all school personnel to disclose "full information regarding the school activities of the parent's child and disclosure of any general knowledge regarding the parent's child possessed by an employee of a school district."

That broad language opens up many hypothetical instances of disclosure by school officials, from sexual orientation to a romantic relationship to a religious stance. Imagine a child who's an atheist, but has fundamentalist parents. That student's parents would have the full right to get the teacher to report that, too.

LGBTQ advocates are outraged by the bill, and say it's dangerous for kids with less-than-accepting parents.

"Until kids are not kicked out of their house for being gay or transgender, and until kids are not being beaten by parents for being gay or transgender, we owe it to kids to protect them," said Steven Rudner, the board chairman of Equality Texas. "If your kid is gay, and can tell his teacher, but hasn’t told you, then you are the problem. If a kid can tell a teacher but not their parent, it is a pretty good indication that your child is scared of you and the consequences of telling you, and you are who the kid needs to be protected from."

Burton, reacting to the attention her bill has received, wrote a form letter to anyone who makes inquiries to her office about why she filed it. In it, she claims that she is just fighting back against school officials who would treat parents as less than essential.

"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," Burton writes. "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."

On Twitter, Burton has argued that her bill would not require teachers to out gay kids.
When asked if she'd be willing to include an exception to the disclosure requirements for LGBTQ students — the bill currently doesn't — Burton blamed those who have a problem with the bill for making it all about civil rights for the LGBTQ community.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young