The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network Texas, and others filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on Monday, alleging violations of Title IX.
The ACLU is seeking an investigation of the Keller Independent School District (Keller ISD), which banned all books depicting or referencing transgender or nonbinary people earlier this month.
The ACLU stated in its letter that the policy was intended to erase the existence of transgender and non-binary people.
Three conservative school board members were elected to the seven-member Keller ISD board six months ago, resulting in Keller ISD’s anti-transgender policy. A Christian political action committee donated large amounts to all new members, who campaigned on issues like banning LGBTQ-friendly books from school libraries and banning critical race theory, a college-level field that examines the idea that racism is embedded in institutions and legal systems.
Education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance are prohibited from discriminating based on sex under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
“We think that it’s important for trans and nonbinary students in the community to understand that there are people who stand with them and who believe they have a right to exist [and access a variety of books in education] that reflect their experience,” she says.
The civil rights groups accuse the Keller ISD of allowing their personal anti-LGBTQ+ feelings to influence their decisions to ban books and discuss anything about gender-fluid or transgender people.
“The effect of the policy, absent federal civil rights intervention, will be to stigmatize LGBTQ+ and particularly transgender, non-binary, gender diverse, and intersex students in Keller ISD, to uniquely deprive them of the opportunity to read books that reflect their identities, and to create an environment in which unlawful discrimination flourishes,” the complaint argues.
During a contentious meeting on November 14, the Keller Independent School District board voted to ban any book that mentions gender-fluid characters or descriptions and discussions of the term from all schools.
“All four school board members on the seven-member board who voted in favor of the policy evinced animus towards LGBTQ+ students, publicly making anti-LGBTQ+ comments at the board meeting at which the policy was adopted,” the complaint reads.
“This policy seeks to erase transgender and non-binary identities in particular and sends the message that transgender and non-binary students do not belong in the Keller ISD community,” it continues.
As The Advocate reported, Keller ISD principals were asked last minute to remove many books from classrooms and libraries on August 16.
Among the 42 books removed were the Bible, a graphic adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. Since then, most books other than those dealing with LGBTQ+ themes have been returned to shelves.
The Advocate has contacted the Keller ISD for comment.
Laney Hawes is a mother of four Keller ISD students. She has been an outspoken critic of the school board’s antics and the right-wing takeover of school boards more broadly.
She celebrated the ACLU complaint.
She tells The Advocate that although she’s not involved in this case, she’s been in touch with Equality Texas and the ACLU of Texas.
“We’re thrilled!” she exclaimed. “Word went out last night and spread like wildfire in our school media groups and text threads.”
The families who support LGBTQ+ students and stand against the bigotry of the north Texas school districts are grateful for the intervention.
“Until you’re in a situation like this, you don’t realize how costly and time-consuming and overwhelming it can be to sue a school district or file civil rights complaints,” Hawes says. “Especially because those of us in the community fighting against all this are just parents. Unlike the other side, we aren’t funded by PACs and Texas billionaires trying to hijack public Ed.”
Parents in Texas blame Patriot Mobile, a local cellular phone carrier in the state, for funding far right-wing candidates’ school board campaigns. The company is an arm of a Christian conservative political action committee. Local advocates say it’s responsible for the hysteria.
Hawes says she and others are optimistic. “We’re trying to raise our kids, work full-time jobs, and pay our mortgage,” she says. “We don’t have an extra 20k for a team of fancy lawyers.”
Huddleston says that while the Office of Civil rights typically takes weeks to months to act, it’s the ACLU of Texas’s hope that because it’s evident that the majority of the Keller ISD school board expressed anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments that the Department of Education will act quickly.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not respond to The Advocate's request for comment.