A Republican lawmaker's bill would prevent Texas school districts from celebrating LGBTQ pride
Republican lawmakers have filed 140 bills targeting LGBTQ+ Texans during the 88th legislative session, according to Equality Texas. One of those measures, which focuses on pride events at public schools, had a hearing in the Texas House Public Education Committee on Tuesday.
State Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, filed House Bill 1507, which seeks to prohibit public school districts and charter schools from organizing or hosting programs "dedicated to celebrating or providing special instruction regarding a sexual preference." The legislation creates penalties for school employees and districts who violate that provision. The fine would be anywhere from $500 to $10,000, and a teacher's permit could be suspended or terminated.
Ultimately, this bill would ban schools from celebrating LGBTQ+ pride events. But King refused to acknowledge that during the hearing while he faced questions from Austin-area Democrats.
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, who used to be Austin ISD's school board president, asked King about the issue directly.
"Is the purpose of your bill to stop any LGBTQ pride events in public schools?" she asked.
King responded that the purpose of his bill is to stop any events of a sexual nature.
"My bill stays away from naming any group," he said. "Now, if a group feels like they're being named then the bill would probably include them, but my bill doesn't talk about that."
Hinojosa criticized the legislation and noted that the goal of pride events is to help all students feel included. Austin ISD wrapped up its own Pride Week on March 25.
"What I love about what we do with these pride events is that we educate our kids and our families so that ignorance doesn't exist and all our kids feel like they are welcomed, they are a part of a community and accepted."
But King countered that pride events could make some students and their parents uncomfortable.
"If a first grader comes home with sticker that goes against what the child is being taught at home, that first grader doesn't know what that sticker means," he said. "So, it's not inclusive of all kids."
State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, spoke out against HB 1507.
"I'm surprised, again, that we're in the Pub Ed hearing talking about sex," he said. "Hopefully that will come to a close soon and we can get back to education policy."
Talarico said it is important to uplift and celebrate students who have historically faced discrimination. According to a 2022 survey from the Trevor Project, LGBTQ students reported lower rates of attempting suicide if their school was LGBTQ-affirming.
A number of people joined Talarico and Hinojosa in expressing concerns about the bill, its intent and its impact during public testimony. Among them was Dr. Maria Rivera, the managing director of student wellness at KIPP Texas, a charter school network. She said the language in HB 1507 is vague and the enforcement mechanism is unclear.
"Would the many charter schools and ISDs that celebrate Pride month immediately be in violation?" she said. "As someone who is on the ground right now in education, I worry about the intimidating effect this will have on our teachers."
Maggie Stern with the Children's Defense Fund-Texas told lawmakers the nonpartisan group opposes HB 1507. She said young people deserve to attend schools where they feel safe and supported.
"The truth is that there is nothing inherently sexual about pride celebrations or LGBTQ+ identity," she said.
Stern, who works with young people, also said the bill is not reflective of what Texas youth want. She said their priorities are better mental health resources and preventing bullying, and there is widespread support for LGBTQ+ rights.
Several people who expressed support for HB 1507 said school districts had no place teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity. They said those are topics that should be addressed at home.
At the end of the hearing on his bill, King said he was going to make some changes to HB 1507 before asking the House Public Education Committee to vote on whether to send it to the entire Texas House.
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