On Monday, November 13, Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT) – a student-led movement demonstrating youth visibility in educational policy making – filed a formal complaint of discrimination with the US Department of Education after Katy Independent School District’s Board of Trustees adopted a comprehensive anti-transgender policy in August, SEAT declared in a press release.
The student group said the complaint – delivered to the federal department’s Office of Civil Rights – “challenges the policy’s adverse impact on transgender students, asserting violation of Title IX rights with gender identity discrimination and perpetuating harmful sex stereotypes and heteronormative gender roles.”
Jarred Burton, a student at Tompkins High School in Katy ISD and SEAT organizer, feels like they have had to turn into an adult before their time due to the rising anti-LGBTQ climate in their Texas school district.
“I cannot imagine that any of the current board members had to attend a school board meeting to fight for their rights at [our] age,” Burton told GLAAD in an interview.
Burton would love to see his peers feel safe to be young in his school’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), which provides a community and safe space for LGBTQ youth.
“In a perfect, ideal school environment our GSA could just be for fun stuff, and be a place for queer people to gather and stuff, which it kind of was last year,” Burton said, “but after this policy we’ve tried to take a more active role in advocating and trying to teach people to know their rights and all the things that they need to know in order to fight back policy.”
When Burton found out about the policy he, among members from SAGA and SEAT, spread the word amongst their peers, their families and friends, and others affected. Their collective organizing “prompted resounding community opposition, with over 400 individuals, including many students, expressing disapproval during more than four hours of impassioned public comments. Despite opposition, the board narrowly voted 4-3 shortly before midnight,” reported SEAT.
Burton has worked closely with the student organization as a result of the mounting number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in the state of Texas this year (141), according to a tracker by Equality Texas, the state’s leading LGBTQ political advocacy organization. While most of the proposed policy hasn’t advanced, Texas has no explicit statewide protections for LGBTQ people. Instead, the state has implemented discriminatory laws like the “Don’t Say Gay/Trans” law – which censors any discussion of LGBTQ people or issues in schools – in place of protections. Laws inflicting censorship of LGBTQ issues influence local politics.
“Specifically in Katy and around that area, what we’re seeing is the policies that are being enacted are just a trickle down effect, and they’re part of a bigger agenda,” GLAAD Media Institute Alumn and SEAT’s Partnership Director Da’Taeveyon Daniels said to GLAAD in an interview.
Daniels lives approximately two hours from Burton, but that’s why the 17-year-old shows up. The fight in Katy ISD is also a fight for all LGBTQ Texan youth, Daniels notes.
“We saw policies like this during the legislative session and we’ve seen policies even before that, but it’s becoming a concerted effort to silence the identities and the voices of people who are different from the heteronormative Texas-person,” continued Daniels.
The “Gender Policy” in Katy ISD has five main objectives:
“…(1) biological females and males and sex-specific spaces are safeguarded; (2) District facilities such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities are separated by Biological Sex; (3) the pronouns used for persons on campus are consistent with the Biological Sex of the person; (4) Gender Fluidity content is excluded from the classroom and instructional materials; and (5) District staff will not diagnose or treat gender dysphoria and will respect the right of the parent to determine what is best for the welfare of their child. The District’s ultimate goal is to ensure students are safe to learn and grow, and not to engage in the social transitioning of students.”
Yet, the policy does the opposite of its intended goal, according to organizers. Daniels says that it’s getting harder to fight anti-LGBTQ policies like this due to their overreach.
For instance, the “Gender Policy” passed by Katy Independent Schools works to force students to come out as LGBTQ to their parents or guardians. At least 19 students have been forcefully outed to their parents already after expressing that they may be transgender or gender nonconforming, or have a desire to change their name, pronouns, clothing, or hairstyle, Houston Landing reported.
Research shows that these anti-LGBTQ tactics contribute to harmful consequences.
Policies like the one passed by Katy ISD make 67% of transgender and nonbinary youth feel angry, 54% feel stressed, 51% feel scared, 46% feel nervous, and 43% feel sad, according to a 2023 study by The Trevor Project. Eighty-six percent of respondents said these proposed policies negatively affected their mental health, coinciding with increasing suicide rates among LGBTQ youth.
Jarred Burton mentioned that adults are drafting policy that targets youth purposefully. The Katy ISD student addressed the School Board last week and published an op-ed on Friday in the Houston Chronicle to continue highlighting student experiences.
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“This policy tries to endanger and erase trans students all under the misleading guise of parental authority and student safety, when it is clearly driven by ignorance and hate,” Burton wrote. “Attempts at mental health awareness mean nothing with policies like this in place attempting to erase queer youth.”
Daniels agrees with Burton.
“Nineteen people have been outed to their families,” said Daniels. “It’s really concerning to see that [in] a district, and a school board whose main job – priority – is to uphold and protect young people; uphold their voices in educational spheres.”
For Daniels and Burton, fighting for LGBTQ rights in Texas comes down to something they’re not legally able to do yet: vote.
“I don’t know the exact figures but I know that a majority of the people who were able to vote in the last school board elections didn’t, and it’s things like that, that allow these people to get these board members in office,” said Burton. “You have to engage in these [elections] and educate yourself because even if you’re out of school and it doesn’t affect you, it’s gonna affect the people that come after you.”
To read the full press release from SEAT, visit.