Austin ISD kicked off LGBTQ Pride Month this week by raising the Pride flag during a ceremony at the district’s headquarters. The Pride flag will remain in place for the week of June 3rd and will also fly over the courtyard the week of October 7th, in honor of AISD’s district-wide Pride Week.
Over the past year, members of Informed Parents of Austin have voiced concerns about the district’s lack of communication around AISD’s past Pride Weeks, as well as the lack of enforcement of individual schools’ participation in the district-wide Pride week. We are hopeful that AISD’s May 31 press release, which details their increased commitment to this year’s October 5-11 Pride Week, marks an important first step in its commitment to amplify and support AISD Pride and actionably demonstrate their #AllMeansAll and #NoPlaceForHate values.
Here is an excerpt from that press release (full release at bottom of post):
“The district is also pleased to announce that funds generated from the rental of the AISD Performing Arts Center have been designated for district and campus Pride activities, including participation at the annual Austin Pride Parade, marking the sixth year of continued support and participation in the parade happening Saturday, Aug. 10. PAC rental funds will be used for costs, such as transportation and other expenditures, associated with both the Pride Parade and the district’s celebration in October. In addition, the district’s LGBTQ+ Affinity Group will be coordinating a districtwide event on Saturday, Oct. 5, at the AISD Performing Arts Center where LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families will be celebrated marking the beginning of AISD’s Pride Week, Oct. 7-11.”
Since August 26, 2018, Austin ISD has been renting the PAC to Celebration Church, an organization which explicitly discriminates against LGBTQ individuals. Due to public outcry, the AISD school board began investigating options for discontinuing this partnership. As a result, on September 21, 2018, Jeffrey Mateer, First Assistant Attorney General to Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, sent a letter to AISD Superintendent, Paul Cruz. This letter threatened legal action if AISD denied rental opportunities to Celebration Church and cited multiple religious freedom cases. In the letter he states,
“…the district should welcome churches who want to rent its facilities after school and on weekends, not discriminate against some of them based on their beliefs about marriage. In fact, the Constitution and state law require the District to provide churches with equal access to facilities it opens to community organizations. The District should reject the calls of its trustees to alter the facility use policies, and maintain its longstanding, cooperative relationship with churches in the community.”
Because Celebration Church has a “Marriage and Sexuality Policy” that excludes members who are LGBTQ, The Informed Parents of Austin supports any legislative actions to introduce new bills or amend existing existing laws that would ensure a school district’s power to deny rentals to any organization that discriminates based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Our organization also seeks to ensure that AISD fulfills Superintendent Cruz’s promise to use the funds earned through its rental of the Performing Arts Center (PAC) to Celebration Church to fund inclusion and equality programs in AISD. We estimate that after forty weeks of rental at $6,000 per week, AISD currently has $240,000 available to commit to such programs, yet we are still waiting the district’s accounting for the rental of the PAC.
We believe it is important that every penny of rent earned from anti-LGBTQ organizations goes towards countering the harmful effects of discrimination against LGBTQ students and staff, like that preached at Celebration Church. We would like to see these funds used to provide training for AISD staff concerning inclusion and equality, mental health services for LGBTQ youth, and programs to ensure the next generation of straight, CIS-gender kids are allies instead of excluders.
Just some of the suggestions we have put forth, and will continue to request, to the AISD Board of Trustees for the Celebration/PAC funds are:
- LGBTQ ally training for parents and community members.
- LGBTQ ally training for students.
- LGBTQIA training for all leadership involved in making decisions about and/or has the potential to impact student welfare, such as principals, school nurses, AISD campus police, and AISD board of trustees.
- All training should include preparedness in dealing with gender identity and gender expression issues as well as intervention strategies around harassment and victimization of students due to their gender identity or expression.
- Revising school forms to be gender neutral so same-sex parents, foster parents, single parents, non-binary parents and more, don’t need to work around gendered/mother/father blanks on forms.
- Supplement collections of LGBTQ books for each school’s library and dedicated sections/displays for LGBTQ titles.
- An AISD messaging campaign which communicates that AISD leadership unequivocally protects LGBTQ students, families, faculty and staff from homophobia and transphobia, and that AISD does not share the values with Celebration Church.
- Additional counseling resources and counselor training to deal with supporting LGBTQ students, specifically dealing with challenges faced by students who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming.
- District resource for collecting and disseminating best practices and for building community with GSA (Gay Straight Alliances) across the entire district.
- Each school should provide gender-neutral bathrooms to help transgender and gender-nonconforming students feel safe, comfortable and welcome at school.
- Pride flag to be displayed prominently at the Performing Art Center.
- Pride flags to be hung with flag collections at schools and during Pride Week.
- An LGBTQ scholarship fund.
We would love your feedback regarding how you would like to see the PAC funds allocated. You can share your ideas for us to consolidate on our Facebook Group, and we encourage you to also share you thoughts on why LGBTQ+ Inclusion programs are important to you with Superintendent Cruz and the Board of Trustees at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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