The parking lot was packed Monday evening when I arrived at the administrative headquarters of the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCISD), from which I graduated over a decade ago. Four pop-up tents had been set up in the parking lot by conservative activist groups who held a tailgate party ahead of the meeting. Among the tailgaters was Julie McCarty, the founder of the True Texas Project, a right-wing group descended from the NE Tarrant Tea Party that’s been designated an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We had a huge party in the parking lot to celebrate our victories & enjoy awesome community spirit,” wrote True Texas Project CEO Julie McCarty on Twitter. “Thank you @GCISD & thank you to the @TrueTXProject peeps who supported!”
Immediately outside the building entrance, a handful of students from the district held protest signs. “Our existence is not a controversy,” one sign read. “Let trans kids live, we aren’t threats,” said another.
What drew both groups to the suburban school district meeting in Tarrant County was a 36-page document of proposed district policies that was publicly released only 72 hours earlier. The proposals were championed by the school board’s four-member conservative majority, recently elected with the help of a flood of dark money, part of a nationwide trend in which crusading reactionaries have turned school boards into perches from which to wage war on literature, queer children, and non-existent curricula. Most controversially, the GCISD policies include a total ban on employees engaging in any discussion of what the district defines as “gender fluidity.”
“For purposes of this policy, ‘Gender Fluidity’ means any theory or ideology that (1) espouses the view that biological sex is merely a social construct, (2) espouses the view that it is possible for a person to be any gender or none (i.e. non-binary) based solely on that person’s feelings or preferences, or (3) espouses the view that an individual’s biological sex should be changed to ‘match’ a self-believed gender that is different from the person’s biological sex,” the measure reads.
Other policies include a ban on “equity audits” across the district and draconian rules on what books are allowed in libraries and classrooms. The language around “inappropriate material” in libraries is particularly vague, defining it in part as “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors.”
The policies are described by proponents as designed to ensure the district complies with state and federal laws, such as the laws passed by the Texas Legislature explicitly banning the teaching of “critical race theory” in classrooms. Critics, such as the ACLU of Texas, deride the policies as blatantly anti-LGTBQ+ and note that parts of the policies in fact go beyond what is required by state law.
Nearly two hundred people had signed up to speak during the public comment period, a record-breaking number according to board member Jorge Rodríguez. Testimony lasted nearly four hours. Students, parents, alumni, and outside activists alike were each given a mere sixty seconds to voice their opinion on the proposed policies prior to the final vote. Most said they were residents of the district. A few were activists with far-right groups like True Texas Project, Protect Texas Kids, and even the John Birch Society.
In terms of the “prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole,” the room was clearly divided. Simple statements of thanks to the board, heartfelt pleas to reconsider the policies, and deranged chest beatings were all on display. One man, Scott Western, shocked some in the room when he delivered a deeply homophobic rant in favor of the policies.
“Fight like hell, hold the line against the LGBT mafia and their dang pedo fans. Keep winning. You know what, keep the winning, they can keep the monkeypox,” Western said. “Woo! Get some. Thank you.”
Western received no condemnation from the board, but one man was warned and eventually ejected by the board president for clapping after speeches in opposition to the policies.
Some of the most compelling speeches came from students and alumni of the district who urged the district to reconsider the proposed measures. “Many already feel that they have to suppress their gender expression in public and fear discrimination,” said one high school junior. “Schools everywhere and in GCISD are supposed to make everyone feel included and safe.”
Another student’s speech personalized that concern in a particularly dramatic fashion.
“I transferred to another district this year because of the culture of fear you continue to create,” the student said. “I am part of the LGBTQ+ community, as are many of my friends that remain in the GCISD schools. The policies you are proposing are putting them in danger. So, what are we afraid of? No, let me rephrase. What are you afraid of?”
After the public comment period concluded, the four conservative members—in keeping with their apparent disdain for free speech—voted to limit comment from the trustees to three minutes each. One opposed member, Rodríguez, tore into the proposal.
“Now we have a war against librarians, a war against LGTBQ+ students and teachers, and that is why I’m voting against these policies,” Rodríguez said. “We’ve heard from many citizens concerned about these policies, and in years past we don’t get to this point because we go to the community and ask for feedback and input. … I believe this is all political. These board meetings have just become headquarters for political campaigns instead of focusing on what we are here to do, which is to help students succeed.”
Conservative member Tammy Nakamura defended the policies as a justified response to what she sees as the politicization of education and the “overt and nefarious infiltration of social and cultural propaganda in the curriculum, none more damaging to young minds and bodies than the madness of so-called Gender Fluidity Ideology.”
“Simply put, with the passage of these policies, we have neutralized our classrooms,” Nakamura said. “They will no longer be used as weapons against free market capitalism, against national pride and unity, against traditional American values, and against the biological and social identity of our children.”
At the end of the trustee statements, with less than five hours of public discussion, the proposed policies were all passed by the same 4-3 margin that limited discussion about them.