If you’re gay and an elementary school teacher in the North Texas suburb of Mansfield, simply telling students about your partner or spouse could cost you your job.
Art instructor Stacy Bailey, a decade-long employee of Mansfield ISD and two-time teacher of the year, alleges that officials barred her from the classroom after she mentioned her wife in a get-to-know-your-teacher presentation to students in August. According to a lawsuit she filed against the school district on Tuesday, officials targeted Bailey after a parent accused her of pushing a “homosexual agenda” to young students. Bailey’s lawsuit also claims school officials asked her to resign in October, shortly after she requested that they update Mansfield ISD’s nondiscrimination policy to cover LGBT employees.
“By filing this lawsuit, Stacy hopes to push Mansfield out of the shadows of discrimination into the sunshine of equal rights,” her lawyer, Jason C.N. Smith, told the Observer. In addition to damages for the harm done to her professional reputation, the lawsuit demands that Bailey be allowed to return to her art class at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School and that school officials publicly acknowledge that they illegally discriminated against her.
Bailey’s case appears to highlight the extent to which LGBT teachers may be forced to tiptoe around basic personal details about their lives. Without the protection of an inclusive nondiscrimination policy, particularly in more conservative pockets of the state, LGBT educators may not have the luxury of being out. According to Bailey’s lawsuit, a PowerPoint presentation she gave to students on the first day of school in 2017 included class rules and expectations for the year, along with some “about me” slides that featured photos of family members and Bailey’s “future wife,” Julie Vasquez, her partner of seven years whom she married in March.
After a parent complained, Mansfield ISD associate superintendent and human resources director Kimberly Cantu told Bailey, “You can’t promote your lifestyle in the classroom,” according to Bailey’s lawsuit. When Bailey insisted that simply mentioning her fiancée isn’t a political statement, Cantu allegedly replied, “Well, right now it kind of is.” The lawsuit said the same parent later complained after Bailey, while teaching students about the work of Jasper Johns, mentioned that he was the long-time partner of fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Mansfield ISD sent the Observer a statement denying the allegations in Bailey’s lawsuit. The district characterized the dispute with Bailey as “an issue with her open sexual preferences.”
“The issue at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School is whether Mrs. Bailey has followed District guidelines requiring that controversial subjects be taught in ‘an impartial and objective manner. Teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal belief regarding political or sectarian issues.’ The record will show through discovery in this lawsuit that Mansfield ISD is and has been an inclusive, supportive environment for LGBT staff for decades.”
Smith said Bailey isn’t speaking publicly about her ordeal because the district has ordered her to keep quiet on the matter. Vasquez, Bailey’s wife, recently told Mansfield ISD board members that the episode has caused “disbelief, fear, confusion and a deep sadness” in their family.
Bailey’s paid suspension for an entire school year has triggered calls for Mansfield ISD to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy, which in turn has invited backlash from conservatives. Ahead of a Mansfield ISD board meeting last month, the Tarrant County Republican Party parroted a warning issued by the conservative Christian group Texas Values, which accused activists of pressuring the school district to “pass a policy that would infringe on religious liberty, and allow boys into girls’ showers, locker-rooms, and bathrooms.”
As I wrote last year, the notoriously anti-LGBT group similarly pushed, unsuccessfully, to kill an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy in San Antonio, reviving the anti-trans “bathroom bill” rhetoric that dominated Texas’ last legislative session.
While the district recently renewed Bailey’s teaching contract for another school year — she has, after all, twice been named her school’s teacher of the year — Smith says the district won’t let her go back to her old elementary school, insisting she either teach middle or high school students.
The message sent, Smith says, is that LGBT people are just too controversial for young minds.
“I’m a father of 8-year-old twins in public school, and I certainly don’t want my children exposed to inappropriate behavior,” Smith said. “But openly acknowledging your future wife who is also a woman is not inappropriate conduct.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a comment from Mansfield ISD officials that was sent to the Observer after publication.