Texas teacher placed on leave for talking about her wife

From Newsweek:

An elementary school teacher in Texas was suspended after she allegedly spoke about her sexual orientation with her students, officials said Tuesday.

Charlotte Anderson Elementary art teacher Stacy Bailey, 31, was suspended with pay in September. Officials with the Mansfield Independent School District (ISD) said it received complaints from parents about her discussing her sexual orientation with students. …

District officials said the teacher was not suspended over her request to include LGBTQ language in its nondiscrimination policy. Instead, the district said, Bailey was suspended because 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.”

“Parents have the right to control the conversation with their children, especially as it relates to religion, politics, sex/sexual orientation, etc.,” the statement continued.

Now, it could be the case that the school district simply phrased this poorly. But such a policy as stated would be disingenuous in the extreme. On its face, this stance presents an appearance of neutrality, treating sexual orientation altogether as something to be discussed by students’ parents and guardians rather than their teachers. But in practice, it’s hard to imagine such a policy being applied neutrally at all.

When was the last time a teacher was put on leave for mentioning her husband? When was the last time a teacher was put on leave for mentioning his wife? Really, when was the last time a history teacher was disciplined for teaching about kings and their many wives, or First Ladies and their role in American civic life? This is clearly a non-issue – when it’s about straight people. Yet when a teacher – or an artist being studied – has a same-sex partner, this is now treated as a fact of their life that needs to be quarantined and kept out of the classroom. When the sexual orientation of straight people is a constant and unquestioned presence in the curriculum, this supposedly neutral policy really only serves to elevate one sexual orientation above the rest.

Such policies are a cousin to the UK’s Section 28, which required that schools “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. The ambiguous scope of this law created an atmosphere of overbroad caution and wariness, where schools now felt it was necessary to shut down gay-straight alliances and teachers were discouraged from stepping in when students were subjected to homophobic bullying. This school district’s policies may not single out queer sexual orientations by name, but their uneven enforcement effectively singles them out as a uniquely unwelcome intrusion into the learning environment.

“The sexual orientation of artists, and their relationships with other gay artists” is not some ancillary or trivial area of study that can be so easily discarded. When I was in 6th grade, my art class had a unit on Keith Haring during which we somehow managed to learn almost nothing about him. Sure, we learned plenty about the technical aspects of his work, and some recurring visual themes like babies and dogs and UFOs. We were even tasked with creating our own art incorporating some of his best-known motifs.

But it wasn’t until years later, when I looked up Keith Haring online, that I found out he was gay. We didn’t learn that Keith Haring was a gay artist. We didn’t learn about his AIDS activism, or his work Silence=Death. We didn’t learn that Keith Haring died of AIDS.

In our class, all of his extensive commentary on social issues of the 1980s had been silenced, left out, quarantined. We received a deficient education because someone took it upon themselves to section apart the life of this great artist, and decide for us that his illustrations of dogs and hearts were more important than the reality of the inspirations and life circumstances that fueled his creative work. All we were left with was art, a very limited selection of art devoid of anything remotely challenging, without an artist.

I see this school district trying to cut such an inappropriate line through their art curriculum and through the lives of the faculty tasked with teaching it. It’s as if they want the event of teaching to take place, without the inconvenience of a teacher who exists in her fullness as a person with a life of her own – the same life that heterosexual teachers are allowed to live unhindered. That is the furthest thing from neutral. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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One Response to Texas teacher placed on leave for talking about her wife

  1. Lexie Byrd says:

    You just suggested that Keith Haring and his work was presented to you in a way that somehow tried to erase his rather active queerness!
    Please try to imagine how utterly flabbergasted I feel, because I personally remember pulling up my jeans after sitting down in a restroom recently decorated by Haring in the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center in Manhattan. (It’s been repurposed, now that Haring is a noted, but dead, artist.) Still, I find it quite irritating to discover that your art teachers tried to airbrush Haring’s intensely gay identity out of sight.
    Haring was wrong. Silence, or rather, being silenced, is worse than death. Heteronormative erasure is forever being dressed as a member of another sex.

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