LGBT students seeking support from their teachers may very well have that comfort taken away from them. A piece of Texas legislation proposed by state Sen. Konni Burton puts teachers' jobs on the line if they refuse to disclose information about their students' gender or sexual identities. But what is Texas S.B. 242, and what, specifically, does it require teachers to share?
Summarized as an expanded definition of "the right of a child's parent to public school records and information concerning the child," the bill requires that educators disclose the following:
A parent is entitled to: ... records relating to the child's general physical, psychological, or emotional well-being; information regarding the school activities of the parent's child and disclosure of any general knowledge regarding the parent's child.
School employees then would be "disciplined" for keeping any information from a parent, even in the case that the student asks for discretion:
A request by a child to an employee of a school district to conceal or withhold information or general knowledge concerning the child from the child's parent is not a defense to any disciplinary action taken against the employee.
It's vital to note that the bill itself does not mention the right to a child's gender or sexual identity explicitly, but the "general physical, psychological, or emotional" description implies this.
In an op-ed published this past May, Burton addressed a Fort Worth school district's decision to allowing students to use the bathroom and pronouns which correspond to their their gender identities. Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner had insisted that "the new guidelines squarely involve parents, unless it would prove harmful to the child," but Burton still felt that the measure was overreaching.
"Parents, not schools, are the primary decision-makers for their children," Burton wrote. Claiming that "parents are the beginning of the solution, not part of the problem," Burton also asserted that "any policy that creates barriers or allows secrets to be withheld from parents is destructive and ultimately counterproductive."
In a statement on Burton's website, she explains that, by her estimations, the aforementioned Scribner guidelines "treated all parents as potentially dangerous and completely marginalized their role in their child’s life," emphasizing that "the focus of our bill has nothing to do with issues of sexuality and gender," but rather is a measure meant to "strengthen the existing expectation that when a parent contacts a school and inquires about their child, they will receive accurate information."
Seeing as Burton is against federal marriage equality, writing in June 2015 to say "I will continue to fight for Texas' Tenth Amendment right to define marriage as one man and one woman," one can assume that Burton is not a proponent of gay rights for neither marriage-aged Texans nor young students. Her values as a Tea Party conservative likely inform her intentions for the bill.
Critics of the bill and gay advocacy groups have warned of its hazardous nature, noting that LGBT youth are disproportionally endangered, and having mentors to provide students support is vital. "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," notes Steven M. Rudman, chairman of Equality Texas.
Texas' S.B. 242 could hurt LGBT students, even if that is not the explicit or written intention of the bill. A parents' request for full-access to personal information about their child could be well-intentioned or, given a parent's personal values, could instead work to expose an unaccepted identity. In a climate where suicide risk for LGBT youth is at staggering levels, with a four-times greater suicide risk for LGB young people and nearly a quarter of transgender youth attempting suicide, providing students with a confidant when they might otherwise not have one could be key in protecting youth who feel unsafe.