The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has filed complaints seeking federal investigations of a charter school and a school district that is says violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination, including anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, in educational programs that receive federal funding.
The complaint against the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, a public charter school, is on behalf Marie and Matthew Moe, the parents of a student who is transgender and nonbinary and wished to join its prestigious girls’ choir, Singing Girls of Texas. The choir director allowed the student, identified under the pseudonym Margo Moe, to audition. The parents’ names are pseudonyms as well.
Margo had completed the audition process but had not received an official invitation to join the choir when Paul Gravley, president and CEO of Texas Center of Arts and Academics, the academy’s governing body, tried to stop all auditions, according to the complaint, filed Thursday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He was apparently unaware that Margo had finished their auditions. Upon learning that they had, he allowed auditions to resume, but he said the question of Margo’s addition to the choir would have to wait until the center’s board of directors could vote on choir eligibility.
The board then adopted a policy that eligibility for Singing Girls of Texas and the school’s male group, the Texas Boys Choir, would be determined by students’ sex assigned at birth, based on an “unaltered” birth certificate, first on an interim basis, approved in May, and then on a permanent one, OK’d in June. This came even though the Singing Girls of Texas and Texas Boys Choir directors supported participation by trans and nonbinary students. The meetings where the policy was discussed were marked by anti-trans statements from the board chair, Daniel Bates, as well as Texas state legislators and others, the complaint says. So was a survey sent to parents between the meetings to gauge their thoughts on the policy; it included references to “indoctrination” and “Radical Gender Theory,” according to the ACLU of Texas.
Before auditioning for the Singing Girls of Texas, Margo was given the opportunity to sing in the Texas Boys Choir, but their gender identity and vocal range are better suited to the girls’ group, and they would have felt uncomfortable in the boys’ choir, the complaint states. Margo then joined a mixed-gender choir class, but it was open-enrollment and offered less rigorous training than the Singing Girls of Texas, plus the class did not perform publicly, as the gendered groups do. And the class will not be offered next year.
“As a result of the board’s vote and the discriminatory and hostile tenor of the board meeting, Margo feels stigmatized, dejected, and no longer welcome as a part of the FWAFA community,” the complaint states. “They are devastated that their school board members voted to keep them from the choir that would allow them to thrive as a non-binary, soprano singer and pursue their career aspirations in vocal performance.”
“We knew there’d be bullies when my child first came out as transgender and nonbinary,” Marie Moe said in an ACLU press release. “There have been a handful. However, I never thought that the worst bullies would be grown men and women — school board members — who’ve abused their power to quite literally remove my child’s voice for the sake of personal and political advancement and religious dogma.”
“Inclusion into Singing Girls of Texas would have given our child the best chance to grow and learn because the director of Singing Girls of Texas is a phenomenal and award-winning instructor,” added Matthew Moe. “Unfortunately, the discriminatory actions by the board derailed our child’s choir career before it even began. This whole process has added anxiety, stress, and a level of fear into our daily lives since we spoke out against the board’s decision. Now we feel like a target has been placed on our family just for trying to allow our child to be the happiest, healthiest, and most whole version of themself and for seeking the best educational opportunities for them.”
The academy’s exclusion of Margo goes against Title IX, the ACLU says, noting that President Joe Biden issued an executive order in 2021 making clear that the ban on sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The complaint calls for the academy to allow students “to audition for, and join, the choir that best aligns with their gender identity and vocal range,” and for the school board to “apologize to Margo and work to repair the hostile educational environment that it created through its recent actions.”
The other complaint, also filed Thursday with the DOE’s civil rights office, is against the Keller Independent School District, located near Fort Worth. The school board voted June 28 “to enact a ‘Facility Standards’ policy, which prohibits transgender and nonbinary students from using the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity,” and an “’Identification of Students’ policy, which allows and encourages teachers, staff and students to purposefully misgender transgender and nonbinary students at school,” the ACLU’s press release states.
These actions “will exacerbate the pervasively hostile atmosphere for LGBTQI+ students in Keller ISD,” and the district should be investigated for Title IX violations, the complaint says. The ACLU of Texas is joined in the complaint by the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas, Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, the Intercultural Development Research Association, the Resource Center, the Transgender Education Network of Texas, and the Texas Freedom Network.
It also calls for the DOE to consider this complaint in the context of one the ACLU filed in November objecting to the Keller ISD board’s decision to ban books that deal with gender fluidity. It came just three months after Keller ISD’s executive director of curriculum and instruction directed principals to remove all 41 books challenged by parents in the previous school year. At least 18 of those were LGBTQ-inclusive.
“It is deeply disappointing that these North Texas school boards have targeted their transgender, nonbinary, and intersex students, who just want to feel as though they belong,” Chloe Kempf, an ACLU of Texas attorney, said in the release. “They’ve enacted policies depriving students of books that reflect their experiences. They’ve banned students from using the facilities and from participating in the activities that align with who they are, all the while subjecting them to harassment and bullying.
“We urge the federal government to intervene and end these clearly discriminatory policies before they can further harm and stigmatize LGBTQIA+ students. No matter their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or religion, all students deserve to learn in an inclusive and welcoming educational environment.”