A Texas school district is facing controversy for suspending a popular teacher after she discussed sexual orientation with her students. Elementary school art teacher Stacy Bailey was suspended after telling students she was gay, according to the Dallas Morning News. The News reports that Bailey has been suspended with pay since September. Concerned parents and students attended a Mansfield Independent School District board meeting earlier this month where they asked why she was no longer on campus. Bailey told the newspaper that she legally couldn't comment when they asked her about the suspension. After the meeting, it was also reported that she was suspended after asking the school district to include protections for LGBTQ people in its anti-discrimination rules.
But the school district released a statement on Mar. 27 explaining why Bailey was suspended. According to the press release from Mansfield Independent School District, Bailey was suspended because, as the district alleges, she "insists that it is her right and that it is age appropriate for her to have ongoing discussions with elementary-aged students about her own sexual orientation, the sexual orientation of artists, and their relationships with other gay artists." The school district claims that it received complaints from parents and asked Bailey to stop discussing sexual orientation with students, per the release, and that she refused.
The school district says it has the right to ensure "age-appropriate instruction." From the press release:
It is the responsibility of Mansfield ISD to protect the learning environment of our students. We also believe it is paramount to partner with our parents in the education of their children. Therefore, parents have the right to control the conversation with their children, especially as it relates to religion, politics, sex/sexual orientation, etc.
Bailey's attorney shared a statement with the News pushing back on the school district's claims. According to her attorney, Bailey only told the students she was married to a woman.
"For Stacy, this entire ordeal began when she spoke with the students about her family which, for Stacy, included her wife," the statement said. "The District appears to speak for Stacy when it states that she 'insists it is her right and that it is age appropriate' to discuss matters including ongoing discussions about her own sexuality. This is absolutely false. Further, she never received directives to change her behavior — and never refused to follow any directive."
Bailey's lawyer tells Buzzfeed the school received a complaint from one parent and made the decision to suspend her after that complaint. People are taking issue with the school district's claim that the discussion was inappropriate for children and arguing that straight teachers talk about their partners in the classroom without punishment. One Twitter user, in a tweet that has since gone viral, says that "all [Bailey] did was mention she had a wife."
Students and parents are advocating for the popular teacher's return to school. A petition asking the school district to add LGBTQ anti-discrimination language to its policies has garnered nearly 3,000 signatures. The petition says the school district currently forbids discrimination based on race, religion, gender, nationality, age, and disability. According to the ACLU, it is legal to discriminate because of gender identity or sexual orientation in many parts of Texas. It is not currently clear if there is a timeline for ending the teacher's suspension.
Regardless of the outcome, Bailey's predicament is a reminder that LGBTQ discrimination is still legal in many parts of the U.S. According to The Human Rights Campaign, only 20 states and D.C. have laws forbidding employers from discriminating against employees based on gender identity or sexual orientation — and until that changes, LGBTQ people will not have equal protection under the law.