The Austin Chronicle

After Filing Bill Forcing Schools to Out LGBTQ Kids, Legislator Bullies Media

By Mary Tuma, November 21, 2016, 3:30pm, Newsdesk

After filing anti-LGBTQ legislation late last week, state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Ft. Worth, has gone on the attack over press coverage of her bill.

While state law already permits some information (like test scores and attendance) to reach parents, Burton’s SB 242 would entitle parents to a wider scope of their child’s personal record, including their “general physical, psychological, or emotional well-being” and “any general knowledge,” even if those students want that information withheld. The potential law could pose serious and dangerous consequences for LGBTQ students who don’t feel safe coming out to their parents, but who want to confide in a school counselor, nurse, or teacher. It could also put school districts in an ethical jam: Breaking the new rules would result in disciplinary action.

Advocacy group Equality Texas cautioned the legislation would “essentially destroy protected communications between a student and an educator” and effectively “force the outing” of LGBTQ students. The group invites bill critics to sign a petition calling on their own state senator to oppose the legislation. “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 Equality Texas board chairman Steven M. Rudner, the parent of a gay child, in a statement.

Burton’s bill was filed in response to Fort Worth ISD’s recent move to implement transgender-inclusive school policies (including public facility use), sparking pushback from anti-LGBTQ Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Burton herself. While the ISD sought to prevent transgender students from being outed to their parents due to safety risk concerns, the state-level backlash eventually forced them to scrap that part of the new policy.

“We found these provisions in desperate need of clarity and expansion,” wrote Burton about her local ISD’s trans-inclusive rules. “That is why 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, and more. 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. No parent in Texas should ever have to fight for the basic right to matter in their child’s life again."

Apparently unhappy with the press coverage of her new bill, the Tea Party activist and replacement to former Senator Wendy Davis shot off a series of angry tweets toward state media last week, including pro-LGBTQ publication the New Civil Rights Movement, which Burton accused of being “false” and misleading. (After seeing our tweet calling the proposed bill “anti-trans,” Burton called this Chronicle reporter an “anti-reader” who must think “reading is hard.”) The conservative senator has also castigated media for failing to contact her office before publishing. The New Civil Rights Movement says that’s false – Burton just didn’t talk to them, and it looks like she’s not giving any other reporter the opportunity to do so. Burton’s Capitol office told the Chronicle the senator will not be fielding any questions from the press regarding SB 242, instead directing reporters to a post on her website that seeks to set the record straight (yet hardly allays any fears expressed by the LGBTQ community).

In a May op-ed against transgender inclusive school policies, Burton writes: “I've heard it argued already that leaving parents in the dark is in the interest of safety, yet research shows transgender people are at an exponentially higher risk of suicide than the general population.” While partially correct, Burton, either naively or willfully, misses the point: Forcing an already vulnerable population to reveal their gender identity or sexual orientation to parents – who, at the least, may not be accepting, and at worst may abuse them – places them at risk. Statistics show the impact of a non-supportive family can be dire: The prevalence of suicide attempts is higher among those who experience rejection, disruption, or abuse by family members because of anti-transgender bias – and lifetime suicide attempts were reported most frequently by those who were victims of violence by a family member, according to a 2014 national study from the Williams Institute and the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

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