Non-Discrimination Laws Must Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

| by Pat Griffin

Sorry for the clunky title, but I couldn’t figure out another way to get the point across in a snappy clever way in fewer words.

Nikki Williams has been teaching geography for three years and was an assistant volleyball at a public charter school just outside Dallas, TX for three years. She was about to realize a lifelong dream of coaching basketball this season too. From all accounts she is a popular and successful teacher/coach supported by students and parents. She has received positive performance evaluations and a letter of commendation from the superintendent. It all sounds good so far.

But just before basketball season started in October, Nikki was fired. Nikki filed a grievance with the school claiming that she was fired because she is a lesbian. Apparently school officials became aware of this when Nikki’s partner began attending volleyball games this fall.

Students and parents have rallied to support Nikki pressing school administrators to explain their decision. The parents and students are unconcerned about Nikki’s sexual orientation. They are upset that a popular and successful young teacher/coach is suddenly gone. A petition for her reinstatement has been signed by over 100 parents and 50 students. The total school enrollment is 300.

Administrators have denied that Nikki’s “gender preference” (I assume they mean “sexual orientation”) played any role in their decision to dismiss Nikki. Parents and students asked what did prompt her firing. Administrators, hiding behind claims that they are prohibited from discussing the reasons by “privacy concerns” did a little evasive dance justifying their decision and refusing to reconsider it. They later claimed that her firing was due to a single incident in school when Nikki did not report some students who were skipping class. The parents think firing Nikki is an extreme and disproportionate reaction to the incident. I agree. To add insult to injury, administrators have tapped a former football coach to coach the girls’ basketball team. He has never coached basketball or girls and apparently resigned a previous coaching position because a grievance of some kind was filed against him. I guess school officials are reassured that there is probably not much of a chance he is a lesbian. Surely an unqualified man with a questionable professional record must be a better role model for the team, right?

Back to the title of this post – The saddest part of this situation is that Nikki may have no legal protections to challenge her dismissal. Texas is one of 29 states that do no protect its citizens from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. No federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity either.

Bigotry and stupidity looks like it might win this round in the long term fight to have coaches and teachers evaluated on the basis of their work and personal integrity rather than who they love. Nikki’s students and their parents get this. Too bad the school administrators don’t.

This article includes contact information for the Life School Waxahachie administration if you want to let them know your thoughts on this.