Parents: Schools Using Transgender Suit As Cover to Discriminate

‘The blood is on their freaking hands if anything happens to these kids,’ says one parent of a trans student.

Ken Paxton
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks the 2016 Texas GOP convention. Paxton’s office is suing the federal government over guidelines that direct schools not to discriminate against transgender students.

As one of Texas’ two anti-transgender lawsuits against the federal government heads back to court this week, parents of trans children say the case is already having a negative impact on their kids.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor granted the state’s request for a nationwide injunction barring the Obama administration from implementing guidelines saying trans students are protected against discrimination under existing federal law.

On Friday, O’Connor will hear arguments on a Department of Justice request to clarify the scope of his injunction. Among the issues: whether the injunction should apply only to schools or — as the Texas Attorney General’s Office maintains — also to workplaces.

Though the injunction bars the feds from implementing the guidelines, it doesn’t prohibit schools from following them. Nevertheless, some districts in Texas are using the injunction to justify continued discrimination against trans students, according to some parents.

Chelsa Morrison said she planned to pull her 8-year-old trans daughter, Marilyn, out of school this week because Grapevine-Colleyville ISD refuses to correct her child’s name in official records. School officials have also tried to discourage Marilyn from using girls’ restrooms and failed to protect her against anti-trans bullying from other students, according to Morrison.

Marilyn Morrison, an 8-year-old in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. Morrison's mom says the district refuses to correct her daughter's name in school records.
Courtesy of the Morrison family
Marilyn Morrison, an 8-year-old in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. Morrison’s mom says the district refuses to correct her daughter’s name in school records.

“We have very few in our group that are having issue-free school years,” Morrison told the Observer, referring to members of the support group DFW Trans Kids and Families.

“This is brutal for our kids, and it’s all [the AG’s office’s] fault,” she added, fighting back tears. “With all the suicides that happen, I just feel like the blood is on their freaking hands if anything happens to these kids.”

Representatives from the AG’s office and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. In the wake of the injunction, Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to districts, which the ACLU called misleading, that effectively encouraged them to ignore the federal guidance.

Another member of DFW Trans Kids and Families, Jennifer Campisi, said Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD continues to bar her 9-year-old trans son, EJ, from using boys’ restrooms. Instead, EJ must use single-stall restrooms for faculty or in the nurse’s office, which outs him as trans to his peers, his mother said.

“I just can’t really get anywhere with them, especially with the lawsuit,” Campisi said this week. “I feel like the districts are really scared now to do anything. They don’t want to be the next one on the news.”

On Monday, Dripping Springs ISD made headlines when parents flooded a school board meeting in response to a call to action from the anti-LGBT group Texas Values, which reported that the district was allowing a third-grader to use bathrooms based on her gender identity. But Dripping Springs appears to be an exception to the rule when it comes to following the Obama administration’s guidance in the face of O’Connor’s injunction.

One mother, who asked that her name be withheld to protect her trans daughter’s privacy, said the injunction came down just hours before she met with Garland ISD administrators to request that they allow her trans daughter to use girls’ restrooms this year.

“I’ll never know what they would have said, but they said, ‘I don’t know if you heard about what happened this morning, and so we really aren’t in a place right now, we can’t do anything,’” the mother said. “They just kind of played dumb on it, and kept going back to the fact that there was this lawsuit, and now everything’s up in the air and we have to wait.”

The mother said she now plans to file a complaint against Garland ISD with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. However, the injunction has temporarily barred the department from investigating such complaints, according to Paul Castillo, a Dallas staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

Castillo said another issue to be addressed at Friday’s hearing is whether the injunction should apply only to cases involving the use of intimate facilities, or more broadly to any alleged discrimination against trans students. He added that the injunction doesn’t preclude parents from filing lawsuits directly against districts.

“It’s psychologically damaging for transgender kids to continue to use separate restrooms or be referred to by the wrong name or pronouns,” Castillo said. “I think attorneys for districts would be ill-advised to tell their clients, ‘Just sit on your hands,’ because ignoring the fact that transgender students are being harmed in the interim only increases their liability.”

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 3:02 pm CST