Fort Worth

Fort Worth LGBT youth speak out at trustees’ meeting

Transgender restrooms are again topic of debate at Fort Worth school board meeting

The controversial transgender restroom policy dominated the public comment time at Tuesday's school trustees meeting.
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The controversial transgender restroom policy dominated the public comment time at Tuesday's school trustees meeting.

A transgender teen who just graduated from Arlington Heights High School called on Fort Worth school trustees Tuesday night to stick with the guidelines they approved months ago that outline how district employees should deal with transgender students.

Benjamin Juan, 18, praised the guidelines, saying there are times when transgender students are in danger because their families don’t accept them.

“There are people who will kick their children out — who beat them,” Juan said. “A school district is here to serve the children, not the parents.”

The school board meeting again was the forum for a debate that began in May when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick denounced the transgender student guidelines and called for the resignation of Superintendent Kent Scribner.

Texas Values, an Austin-based nonprofit, has been urging critics to attend the regular school board meetings.

“This transgender policy is tainted,” Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, told trustees, adding that the district could face lawsuits about the transgender guidelines.

The guidelines establish protection for transgender and other students, including a section that provides students access to a bathroom where they “must feel comfortable and safe.” President Barack Obama has since issued a federal directive that allows transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity.

The guidelines don’t include language that guarantees transgender students access to all bathrooms, as opponents have said.

Many critics also have questioned wording in the guidelines that outlines when it would be inappropriate for school staff to tell parents that their child is transgender.

Tuesday morning, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion, requested by Patrick, stating that the Fort Worth guidelines violate state laws because they allow educators to withhold information from parents.

“... the Education Code provides that parents must have access to all written records of a school district concerning their child, as well as full information regarding the child’s school activities,” the opinion states. “Attempts to encourage a child to withhold information from his or her parents may be grounds for discipline.”

Scribner said, “We are in the process of gathering community input. I am confident we will produce a revised version that is improved, provides clarity and fulfills our commitment to communicating effectively with parents and community.”

The guidelines were not on the trustees’ agenda Tuesday, and no action was taken.

Nathan, 21, a 2013 graduate from Trimble Tech told trustees that he struggled with depression.

“I didn’t want to live let alone go to school,” said Nathan, who asked that his last name not be published because he fears harassment.

Xavier Khan, 16, a student representative of the Paschal High School Gay Straight Alliance, stressed the need for the rights of all students to be protected. He said fears that the guidelines will encourage predators haven’t proven true at other communities.

On Tuesday, Fairness Fort Worth and other LGBT supporters also tried to change the tenor of the discussion by raising awareness of homeless youth. The community set up a clothes drive outside the school board meeting site. They also set up a gofundme account to raise contributions to help fund “Care Closets” on campuses.

Tuesday’s meeting was described as especially significant for members of the local LGBT community because it fell on the anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge Raid. On June, 28, 2009, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Fort Worth police raided the gay bar — an event that resulted in several arrests for public intoxication, injuries to two customers and the impetus for a local human rights movement.

Nationally, the LGBT community has been reeling from the recent massacre at an Orlando gay bar. More recently, Pastor Donnie Romer of Stedfast Baptist Church in Sansom Park has made headlines after he prayed that survivors of the Orlando shooting die.

The school district held a series of community forums to discuss the issue. Since then, smaller working groups have been meeting with Scribner.

Clint Bond, a school district spokesman, said the first meeting took place June 23. About six students participated, he said. On Monday, 16 people met. Forty-three people from the community have been invited to attend the discussions, including parents, students, pro-family advocates, faith leaders and LGBT leaders, he said.

Three issues being addressed in the discussions are parental rights, assessment and safety, and active dialogue with the community, Bond said.

The media are not invited to the discussions, Bond said. But they are not secret, he said.

“People can self-identify that they are members of the committee,” he said.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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