Editorial: AISD creates sanctuary for LGBTQIA students


Charles Sacco

We believe that city and school officials are doing the right thing by publicly supporting transgender and LGBTQIA+ youth by having pride events and designating Austin as a safe place and a sanctuary while under pressure from state officials.

Austin ISD’s support of the LGBTQIA+ community is known as a favorite target of many Republican politicians for many years. People and organizations involved in the LGBTQIA+ community have been subject to ridicule, prejudice, and animosity within Texas. Some officials, like Gov. Greg Abbott, are notorious for pushing laws and policies that indirectly or directly discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people. Despite severe pushback from lawmakers, Austin ISD still holds optional pride events for anyone and everyone, continuing to welcome any student on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

We believe that city and school officials are doing the right thing by publicly supporting LGBTQIA+ youth by having pride events and designating Austin as a safe place and a sanctuary while under pressure from state officials.

March was a celebration of LGBTQIA+ pride for Austin ISD and was celebrated with marches, apparel, and decorations. On Saturday, March 26, Austin ISD held an optional “Pride Out!” event at Eastside Memorial Early College High School in the park, which included community resources, interactive activities, performances, and celebration. High school students from the Gay-Straight Alliance helped younger students with crafts and face paint, and PFLAG, a support group for parents of LGBTQIA+ kids, handed out literature.

Republican lawmakers and politicians in Texas cranked up the outrage machine when Austin ISD announced these events. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott openly opposed the Austin ISD pride events, with Paxton sending a letter to Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde, condemning the pride week by calling the events “human sexuality instruction” and accusing Austin ISD of providing a “week-long indoctrination” without parental consent.

In response to Paxton and Abbott’s remarks, Elizalde said, “I want all our LGBTQIA+ students to know that we are proud of them and that we will protect them against political attacks.” Elizalde also released a statement on the Austin ISD website ahead of pride week saying, “Here at Austin ISD, we celebrate Pride during every school year so our LGBTQIA+ students know how much they are valued and loved. This year, it’s important to me personally that they know they are respected and safe.”

However, Austin ISD is not immune to this prejudice; the discrimination and hatred towards the LBGTQIA+ community still happen, even here at Akins. For example, at the beginning of the fall semester, the hallways were covered with pride flags. Soon after, the pride flags were torn down without permission from the hallways and were only recently put back up by supporative teachers for pride week.

We know that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but Austin ISD is still far ahead of other school districts in terms of creating a safe and inclusive learning environment. Kai Shappley, a Texas transgender girl that was a finalist for Time’s Kid of the Year, recently moved to an Austin ISD elementary school from just south of Houston in Pearland where school officials refused to let her use the girls’ restroom. Shappley and her family have moved several times in search of a more welcoming environment and found it in Austin.

Additionally, the pride events that Austin ISD is hosting are not mandatory and are simply a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community that is meant to support and recognize the diverse identities of students and their families. Despite what Paxton thinks, pride events do not feature or include portrayals of sex. Republicans need to stop sexualizing the identities of LGBTQIA+ individuals just to score political points.

It is imperative that we do not back down in creating safe and inclusive learning environments for students of all diverse backgrounds and identities. In The Trevor Project’s third annual National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, an alarming 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. To lower these rates, we need to support and welcome LGBTQ individuals by becoming a more open-minded community. We need to care more about this matter of life or death than what any government officials’ misunderstanding of what happens at a pride event.

Austin ISD continues to make itself an attractive place for students to learn and teachers to work, designating itself as a welcoming and accepting environment for people of all identities. District leaders and officials have made it clear that they will protect their LGBTQIA+ youth at all costs. Though Austin ISD still has progress to make, we shouldn’t let politicians slow us down. At the end of the day, this is about recognizing our shared humanity.