Queer teens at one Texas school say they’re approaching a crisis point after a recent onslaught of state legislation and school board actions targeting LGBTQ youth.
For 17-year-old Kayla (her name has been changed to protect her identity), coming out is a matter of survival. But faced with the possibility of being kicked out of her home, denied relevant mental health resources at her school, and under mounting anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas, Kayla has decided to keep quiet about her queer identity, leading to occasional suicidal ideation.
“There was no one that I could really talk to during this period. I didn’t want to become a burden to other people. So just having to sit with those thoughts was definitely not healthy for me. I definitely no longer wanted to live on this earth,” Kayla said.
Crisis calls from Texas teens to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ adolescents, have shot up by more than 150% in the past year, the organization says. While the spike cannot be attributed to one specific cause, the culture wars against queer youths in Texas have escalated—in one recent example, a high school senior in a suburb of Houston faced off against parents over internet access to LGBTQ resources and literature.
Cameron Samuels, a classmate of Kayla’s at the Seven Lakes High School, appeared at a school board meeting last month to ask the Texas school district to remove an internet filter on LGBTQ mental health resources—but he was drowned out by parents’ calls to remove books with LGBTQ content and their demands to enforce Texas State Rep. Matt Krause’s call to remove 850 book titles pertaining to race and sexuality.
Cameron, an 18-year-old senior and other students have collected 1,000 student signatures in a petition calling on the Katy Independent School District to remove an internet firewall that blocks LGBTQ resources, including suicide prevention resources, and to expand the district’s anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies to include LGBTQ students.
“It is a matter of life or death,” Cameron said at the December school board meeting, which was streamed on the Katy school board website.
According to its 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, the Trevor Project reported that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their straight peers, 42% of respondents considered attempting suicide last year, while 94% reported that recent politics have negatively affected their mental health. Nicholas Turton, communications manager for the organization, reported that more than 14,500 of the 201,000 crisis calls received in 2021 alone were from LGBTQ teens from the state of Texas. The Trevor Project noted that transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
During the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers introduced 75 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including more than 40 bills specifically targeting transgender and nonbinary youth—more than any other state in the U.S.
August 31: The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services removed information for a suicide prevention hotline and legal services for LGBTQ youth from its website.
September 1: TX House Bill 25, which prohibits transgender youths from participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identity, went into effect, along with HB 3979 which restricts how race is taught in schools.
October 25: State Rep. Matt Krause launched an investigation to call for the inquiry and removal of 850 book titles with LGBTQ and anti-racism content. This effort has since spread to public libraries in Texas.
November 10: Governor Abbott orders the Texas Education Agency to target schools which provide students with materials with “pornography,” citing books with LGBTQ content.
November 19: The Texas State Board of Education rejected calls to include information on anti-LGBTQ bullying, sexual orientation and gender identity in the health education curriculum.
The state’s efforts to curtail access to LGBTQ resources have inspired local school board politics.
While parents at the recent Katy Independent School District Board meeting cited explicit sexual content from several books as cause to enforce Rep. Krause’s book probe, LGBTQ students say their calls to be protected under anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, to be represented in the curriculum, and to access mental health resources are being sexualized. Late last year, Katy ISD recently changed the internet filter blocking LGBTQ mental health resources from “alternative sexual lifestyles” to “human sexuality.”
“It’s saying that LGBTQ resources such as the Trevor Project are inherently sexual, when in reality, they are not. We’ve searched up several websites related to human sexuality, but for straight people. For example, marriage websites, Planned Parenthood, RAINN, and all those websites were accessible. So, it’s showing that human sexuality is only harmful if it is homosexual,” Cameron said.
“It’s tough to not be able to be fully honest and live as myself to the most important people in my life. My mental health has suffered in high school. I haven’t been able to access any mental health treatment or therapy,” said 18-year-old Grace, another Seven Lakes student who started the petition to remove the internet firewall and didn’t want her real identity revealed.
During a November Katy ISD Board meeting streamed and posted on the district’s website, parents expressed dismay at what they said were increasing numbers of teens openly identifying as LGBTQ.
“I can’t even recognize this district,” parent Karen Perez said. “I’m asking you, board, what has changed? How does this happen? Look at how our library’s propaganda works on impressionable minds.”
Another parent during a December board meeting called for any materials or discussion dealing with gender and sexuality to be removed from the school curriculum and left up to parental control at home.
“Katy ISD, please stay out of our children’s sexuality,” parent Claudia Turcott said. “The educational system was created for teaching reading, writing, math, and science.”
Kayla said that many LGBTQ students do not feel that they can explore issues of their gender and sexuality at home.
“School is often the one safe haven for students. Their wifi is being tracked at home or their search history is being tracked. They don’t feel safe looking up resources while at home,” Kayla said. “I was always taught at home that if you are anything other than straight/ heterosexual that you will not go to heaven. I remember a girl had come out to our church small group. As soon as she left the bathroom, our small group leader started talking about how gay people are going to hell. It was scary, really. I’m still young, and I’m still dependent on my parents. I can’t risk being kicked out or disowned right now.”
According to the Trevor Project’s study, LGBTQ youth who had at least one LGBTQ affirming space had a 35% reduced chance of a suicide attempt.
“It’s tough to not be able to be fully honest and live as myself to the most important people in my life. My mental health has suffered in high school. I haven’t been able to access any mental health treatment or therapy.”
Grace, High School Student
Kayla said that in 2019, the Seven Lakes High School principal required students who wanted to participate in the Pride Club and appear in the club’s yearbook photo to have a permission slip signed by their parents. The ensuing fallout led to kids fighting with their parents, the club disbanding, and the yearbook advisor resigning, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
“If their goal is to make sure that school is a learning environment for students, it is much easier for students to get by when they know that they are being supported, that they’re not being targeted, not just by the students around them, but also not being targeted by the school administration,” Kayla said.
A month before launching his book probe, Rep. Krause had announced his bid to run for state attorney general, but has since dropped out to run for Tarrant County’s district attorney. Krause hasn’t given details on how he compiled his book list. But he is a paid public speaker for the organization WallBuilders, whose stated goal is “educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country and providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values, and encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.” Wallbuilders’ founder David Barton previously stated, “The Bible says the law is made to regulate sexual immorality, whether it’s homosexual or whatever.”
Other similar right-wing political action committees, such as the Act in Action, Cherry Tree Republicans, Recover America, the Conservative Coalition of Harris County, Houston Greater Public Schools, have financed the recent wins of conservative candidates for local school boards, including in Klein ISD, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, and Houston ISD in Harris County.
The PAC Conservative Republicans of Harris County sent a mailer out to Cy-Fair and Houston ISD voters stating that their endorsed candidates “promote biblical marriage. ‘God created them male and female'” and that their opponents “accept, affirm, and celebrate perverted sexual lifestyles and promote pedophilia.”
Since students delivered their petitions, the Katy Independent School District still hasn’t unblocked district internet access to LGBTQ resources such as the Trevor Project.
“The school board listened to those parents. But then refused to make a comment on our issue,” Cameron said. “Knowledge is power, and ignorance is also power. It’s so important to have access to information and not block websites or pull books from libraries or censor information. It’s inevitable that some people are going to open up and become part of the LGBTQ community or believe in certain political ideologies. Shutting off that information—that is how these elected officials are trying to protect their power. But they are not in the majority.”
Cameron, Grace, and Kayla graduate from high school this year. Grace is looking forward to a more inclusive college environment and for the freedom to come out.
“I hope to live and love openly,” Grace says.
To other LGBTQ teens in Texas who feel unable to come out, Grace says, “Know that you are loved, and there will be people in this world who will love you and accept you for who you are. I promise there will come a day where you’ll be able to live as yourself.”
Josephine Lee is an organizer with El Pueblo Primero workers organization in Houston, TX and the Break the Chains Alliance, which calls for equal rights for all workers. This oped is republished from Common Dreams under a Creative Commons license. Read the original oped here.
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