Lone Star Lunacy: Austin ISD’s ‘Pride Week’

Austin’s school district decided to use taxpayer funds to pay for a drag show
Unsplash, Pete Axeopoulos
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Community members and elected officials in America’s eleventh largest city are outraged after the true extent of the local school district’s annual “Pride Week” came to light.

The Austin Independent School District hosted its 2022 Pride Week from March 21st to March 26th, which ended with a large “PRIDE OUT! Party in the Park at Eastside ECHS.” Area schools were “encouraged to plan activities that engage, educate and inspire” activism relating to LGBT rights and identity. The district provided a weeks’ worth of lesson guides for all grade levels that included restorative circles, instruction regarding gender stereotypes, and identity reflections. 

In practice, school activities went far beyond the baseline level of social justice activism in schools. Doss Elementary School hosted an indoor pride parade featuring students marching down the hallway with pride-themed flags and masks. That school also instructed students not to reveal what was said in restorative circles.The Post Millennial reported that this guidance was later changed to say “Respect privacy: ‘What we say in this room stays in this room.’ (Teacher will explain it is ok to share with parents or adults they trust outside the community circle.)”

Fifth graders were asked to participate in an activity that retroactively created a “list of demands” for policymakers regarding inclusivity. The activity, which was led by the Gay-Straight Alliance, assumed that the policymakers complied with every student demand, and that the academic environment was now “safer.” 

According to the Libs of TikTok Twitter account, one 4th grade teacher went as far as to claim that 20 out of her 32 students identified as LGBT and had come out to her. The alleged statistic was referenced as part of a larger argument that Austin ISD’s Pride Week had not gone far enough.

“The first Pride was a riot,” the unidentified teacher exclaimed. “It is not enough to just welcome, love, and celebrate Queer folx. Your allyship should always lead you to activism — speaking up and fighting for what is right, even when it feels uncomfortable. We can’t just choose in or out of our protest spaces.” 

But the week’s closing party proved to be most controversial. The party, which was held on district property, included pronoun pins, queer story time, and a petition for LGBT sex education. More notably, it was topped off by a dance performance by drag queens, several of whom were wearing short skirts. Young children are present in the video of the performance. 

Parents on Facebook bombarded Austin ISD with angry comments:

“So since [the LGBT community] gets a whole week of pride with schools participating in activities, does Austin ISD also have a disabilities awareness week?” One parent asked. “Do disabled kids also get a whole week celebrating inclusion for kids with differences and disabilities to help teach other kids about being inclusive???”

“I do not care what anybody does in their bedrooms, but it is my job to have this conversation with my kids. This is [an] overstep of boundaries. Please just teach math, English, and science. JDYJ- Just do your job.“ said another community member.” 

A third parent noted in Spanish that the Pride Out party was held in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood, and expressed concern that the choice of location could be an attack on the nuclear family — integral in Latin American cultures. 

“Regardless of what you think about the content, the frequent and willful defiance of state law ought to concern everyone — and lead to substantive change next session,” added James Quintero, the policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Government for the People initiative, in a March 28th tweet. He added that he has filed a Public Information act request to find out exactly how much taxpayer money was spent on Austin ISD’s drag show.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was also outraged at the week’s events. He wrote a letter informing Austin ISD that they had violated school law, and tacitly encouraged parents to file lawsuits.

“As you know, your curriculum and lesson plans deal head on with sexual orientation and gender identity — topics that unmistakely constitute human sexuality instruction governed by state law,” the letter said. “…the Texas Legislature has made it clear that when it comes to sex education, parents — not school districts — are in charge.” 

Quintero argued that Austin ISD’s Pride Week could be a landmark event for parental rights in Texas. “Does this align with your values?” Quintero asked rhetorically. “If not, then you, as a parent, should have the choice and resources to find another institution that better aligns.”

But the next legislative session is not until next year, meaning that many Austin ISD families have very little recourse. Despite the Lone Star State’s electorate’s strong support for school choice, policymakers have lagged behind. While the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) distanced itself from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) after the latter was implicated in a letter labeling angry parents as domestic terrorists, the TASB still remains an NSBA member. To put it simply, many Texans, especially in Austin, feel like afterthoughts in educators’ minds. 

For now, it seems that the conflict surrounding Austin ISD will drag on. District superintendent Stephanie Elizalde tweeted that “I want all our LGBTQIA+ students to know that we are proud of them and that we will protect them against political attacks.” But a fundamental question remains in the minds of those perpetrating the “political attacks:” why are public schools using taxpayer funds to host drag shows for young children?

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.