What Could Senate Bill 242 Mean for LGBTQ Students?
The Lone Star State has never been known for being even remotely liberal. From desperately clinging to slavery by joining the Confederacy to its numerous recent attacks on a woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage, Texas’ history does not leave much room for hope for the left-minded. In what many believe is another attempt to exercise Texas’ right-wingedness, Senate Bill 242 has been proposed by Senator Konni Burton. It calls for the parent’s full entitlement to “access to all written records of a school district” and any “personal, direct, or incidental knowledge” faculty has regarding students, except in cases of child abuse as outlined in Section 38.004. Many believe that this vague wording could have disastrous consequences as it could force school faculty to out LGBTQ students who aren’t out at home, but the bill may not cause as much of a change as I and most other LGBTQ supporters fear.
SB 242 is alarming for most supporters of the LGBTQ community because many students, especially in Texas, don’t feel that their parents are accepting enough of people that deviate from the heterosexual cisgendered majority. This rejection could range from a lightly strained relationship to being disowned and shipped away for the inhumane treatment that is conversion therapy. This, of course, could spell out irreversible harm for everyone involved because of its potential to sever the bonds students have with their parents and teachers.
The understandable part of the sentiment behind the bill is that parents have the right to know what’s going on with their children, which is completely right. However, this right should not override the rights of the child to their own privacy and the potential to grow into their own person. If children feel more comfortable with discussing their sexuality and gender with a supportive staff member, then they should be able to share this vital part of their life without fear.
At the end of the day, the whole point of parents “knowing what’s best” is supposed to be for the sheer benefit of the child, and forcing students and faculty to share parts of the student’s life they aren’t ready to share with their parents will only lead to ruin. Should this bill have the drastic consequences that many dread, then those outed won’t feel comfortable with exploring who they are because they can’t comfortably talk to an adult. The faculty who do the outing will either face strained relationships with students who once trusted them or never had the opportunity to open themselves out. The parents who feel the need to invade their children’s privacy will hurt their relationship with their children and it will only lead to more secrecy as the children will find other methods to find the guidance that a faculty member could have provided.
However, according to a statement released by Burton, SB 242 actually only calls for small changes. Burton released a statement regarding the negative attention the bill is receiving. In it, she points out that many of the provisions the bill, including the requirement for faculty to release information on students, are already in existing state law. She also assures readers that SB 242 “has nothing to do with issues of sexuality and gender.” Burton reports that the bill was made in response to Fort Worth’s recent attempt to place new guidelines regarding transgender students that “treated all parents as potentially dangerous and completely marginalized their role in their child’s life.”
In Burton’s statement and SB 242, special importance should be given to Section 38.004 because it has the widest range of interpretation. According to Burton, it’s “an exception for abuse or neglect, which clearly calls for reporting without the knowledge or consent of the parent.” However, what is considered “child abuse” regarding LGBTQ youth is unfortunately relative for many. For most, the risk for conversion therapy is considered beyond sufferable and is therefore within the lines of abusive, but for others, it’s not. Because of this, LGBTQ students are still at risk.
As someone who wholeheartedly supports, the LGBTQ community, I, and every other supporter, can only hope that the changes will be as minimal and ineffective as Burton outlines.