The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed federal civil rights complaints today (Thursday, Aug. 10) against both the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and the Keller Independent School District, asking the U.S. Department of Education to open investigations for alleged Title IX civil rights violations.

According to a press release announcing the complaints, “These policies are part of a wave of attacks on transgender and nonbinary Texans, and the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole, including students who seek to access medical care, to play sports, to participate in the arts and to receive an inclusive education.”

ACLU of Texas attorney Chloe Kempf said, “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. 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,” Kempf added. “No matter their gender identity, sexual orientation, race or religion, all students deserve to learn in an inclusive and welcoming educational environment.”

ACLU of Texas filed the complaint against FWAFA on behalf of a Fort Worth family with a transgender and nonbinary child who last year was prevented from joining the school’s prestigious Singing Girls of Texas choir, even though the choir director expressed support for the student’s participation.

The student’s parents are identified in the ACLU complaint by the pseudonyms “Marie Moe” and “Matthew Moe” in order to protect their identity in the face of possible harassment. In reporting on a FWAFA board meeting earlier this summer, Dallas Voice identified the student only as M.

Students have to audition to be accepted at FWAFA, and M auditioned and was accepted as a singer. M took a choir class and, in the spring of the 2022-23 school year with the encourage of the choir director, auditioned for the Singing Girls of Texas choir, one of two renowned choirs associated with FWAFA. The other is Texas Boys Choir.

M was one of the first students to audition, but after their audition, school administrators cancelled auditions until the board could consider whether to allow M and other trans/nonbinary students to audition for and participate in a “gender-specific” choir not aligned with the students gender assigned at birth.

Marie Moe told Dallas Voice earlier this summer that choir membership is never based on a singer’s gender but rather on the register of their voice. Her child, Marie said, “is a soprano. They have always been a soprano and always will be a soprano.”

However, the FWAFA board — after a drawn-out process that included several versions of a survey that many said was skewed to favor right-wing conservative views and included questions on social issues far removed from the matter of the school’s choirs — voted at a late June board meeting to change the school’s handbook to define “boy” and “girl” based on the gender markers on a child’s original birth certificate and to require students auditioning for the school’s two choirs to show their birth certificates as proof of their “biological sex.”

The vote came at the end of a meeting at which about 60 people spoke. Marie said at the time that speakers were divided “about 50-50” between those who supported inclusive policies for the two choirs and those who opposed inclusion. But, she noted, only a handful of those opposing inclusive choirs were actually affiliated with the school. Most of the others were connected to the several right-wing school board members, most of whom have no children or grandchildren currently attending FWAFA.

Today’s press release from the ACLU quotes Marie as saying, “We knew there’d be bullies when my child first came out as transgender and nonbinary. 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.”

The complaint also details how the school board’s actions have created a hostile anti-LGBTQ  atmosphere at the school, nothing that “These actions and the school board’s anti-LGBTQIA+ policy violate Title IX by discriminating against students who are transgender and nonbinary.”

M’s father, identified as Matthew, said, “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. Unfortunately, the discriminatory actions by the board derailed our child’s choir career at its beginning.

“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,” Matthew added. “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.”

Marie said today that M will be returning to FWAFA with the other students when classes begin for the 2023-24 school year on Monday, Aug. 14. Marie added that M is “less worried than we are” about going back to school on Monday, but “as their mom I just worry about opportunities moving forward.”

FWAFA’s new exclusionary policies “go against federal law,” the ACLU noted in its press release today. “President Joe Biden signed an executive order in March 2021 which clarifies the Department of Education policy that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Keller ISD

The complaint filed today against Keller ISD, came in response to a Facility Standards” policy prohibiting transgender and nonbinary students from using the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity that was enacted by the school board on June 28. The board also passed an “​​Identification of Students” policy which allows and encourages teachers, staff and students to purposefully misgender transgender and nonbinary students at school.

“Keller ISD has a documented history of bigotry against LGBTQIA+ students,” today’s ACLU press release notes. “The ACLU of Texas filed a previous complaint against the district for sex discrimination in November of last year when the school board voted to ban all library materials that that discuss or depict what the policy calls ‘gender fluidity’ for all grade levels.”

See a copy of the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts complaint here.

See a copy of the Keller ISD complaint here.

— Tammye Nash