The school year at MacArthur High in Irving, Texas, began last fall with the administration scraping off rainbow stickers that had been pus, prompting hundreds of students to walk out in protest. Seven months later, LGBTQ students say things have deteriorated further.
One faculty sponsor of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance is facing having her contract terminated, another is preparing to resign, and a third has been removed from the classroom. The alliance’s weekly meetings became monthly, and attendance dropped from about 40 students to fewer than 10. The student newspaper has functionally shut down. Two teachers said that the school’s principal asked teachers to take down gay pride flags in their classrooms and offices.
Several students said that either they or their classmates have been called homophobic slurs and bullied, and school staff members have failed to intervene. Some said they’re discouraged by the Irving Independent School District’s response to the concerns they’ve raised through the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and school board meetings, and they feel less safe at school than they did a year ago. Two students said human resources officers with the district questioned them about their involvement with the GSA.
“It feels like a target was put on us,” said Adaiah Knight, a junior who identifies as gender-fluid and nonbinary and who said students have harassed them. (Knight uses they/them pronouns.)
LGBTQ students and teachers in the district said they’ve already been on edge because of the pressure schools across Texas and beyond are facing from politicians, parents and activists to remove books with LGBTQ themes. They’re also deeply worried about a state order calling for child abuse investigations into the families of transgender children, which was temporarily blocked by a judge.
Nationwide, educators have raised concerns that new measures, such as a Florida law that prevents teachers from discussing sexual orientation in third grade or lower, could lead to a purge of LGBTQ teachers. And advocates for LGBTQ students are alarmed by some parents’ recent demands that schools prohibit students from organizing Gay-Straight Alliances, calling them “pornographic” and suggesting they would turn children gay.
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The clash at MacArthur, in a suburb northwest of Dallas, was not the result of a new law or policy, or a public pressure campaign at school board meetings. But the series of events has still left LGBTQ students feeling a new level of insecurity, and some teachers in need of a new job.
“It’s like they’re being shadow-banned,” Christine Latin, one of five faculty sponsors of the GSA at MacArthur, said of the student group. Latin, a dance instructor, said she plans to resign after this school year over the district’s handling of the issue.
“They’re not going to come out outright and say, ‘Don’t say gay,’” she said of the school administration, “but they’re going to make it as difficult as possible for you to be allowed to express yourself or even learn about how you feel, who you are and your identity.”
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It all started with teachers posting small rainbow stickers – long a symbol of the gay pride movement – outside their classrooms to show students that they were LGBTQ allies. In August, the administration required that all the stickers come down, later explaining in a statement to NBC News that decorations in classrooms, hallways or offices must be “curriculum driven and neutral in viewpoint” to “ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity.”
“The damage that was done by scraping them down was far worse than just never having them in the first place,” said Rachel Stonecipher, an English and journalism teacher, and another of the GSA sponsors, who was placed on administrative leave in September and barred from communicating with teachers or students.