Schools can teach a lot of things. Math, science, history, and all the rest. They can teach teamwork and the value of putting in the effort through sports and clubs. Schools can also teach tolerance and understanding.

The town of Lumberton, Texas, suspended a transgender teacher simply because a few parents complained she should not be teaching their children.

Laura Jane Klug, born Kurt Klug, worked as a fifth grade substitute teacher at Lumberton Intermediate School on several occasions without incident, but was asked not to return after some of the students’ parents contacted the school. She is suspended pending a school board decision on whether to keep her on the substitute teacher roster.

Klug’s offending action? Being present while transgender.

One disturbed parent said “If it does affect my child and his ability to learn or if it causes questions that I don’t feel are appropriate then undoubtedly there’s an issue with having somebody transgender, transsexual or transvestite, to be teaching that age group.” The parent did not cite any specific way Klug’s occasional substituting affected his child’s ability to learn, or any “inappropriate” questions his child raised.

Klug maintains, and no one has contested, that she never discusses her transgender status in class. She just teaches fifth grade. “I have always conducted myself in a professional manner and would never discuss my gender identity in school,” Klug said.

Macy v. Holder Says No

Despite what Lumberton, Texas might believe, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has already made clear transgender discrimination is discrimination on the basis of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The case was Macy v. Holder.

The case that led the EEOC to its decision is not unlike Klug’s in Texas. It arose out of a dispute between job applicant Mia Macy and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (commonly known as ATF.) When Macy applied for a job, she presented as male. Shortly thereafter, Macy informed ATF that she was transitioning from male to female. ATF responded by informing Macy that another applicant had been hired because that applicant was “further along in the background check process.” Macy filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging that the stated reason for not hiring her was pretextual and that the true reason was because of her “sex, gender identity and on the basis of sex stereotyping.” The EEOC agreed and precedent was established, at least outside of Texas.

Meanwhile, Back in Lumberton…

The hiring policy of Lumberton Schools is quite clear:

The Lumberton ISD does not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, military status, genetic information, or on any other basis prohibited by law. Employment decisions will be made on the basis of each applicant’s job qualifications, experience, and abilities.

Lumberton’s school superintendent, in his online welcoming letter, writes “To all of our new staff, students and families, we thank you for choosing LISD and hope your experience here is special… Our staff shows a level of commitment to develop the whole child: knowledge, citizenship, respect…”

At the same time, Lumberton, for its part, is now claiming the suspension is not for being transgender, but for creating a “distraction” in the classroom.

John Boehner Objects

But on a national level, real change may come more slowly. Speaker of the House John Boehner is not in favor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, legislation meant to increase workplace protection for gays and lesbians by prohibiting most employers (it pointedly exempts religious employers from its provisions) from discriminating on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said without explaining how the legislation would in fact cost jobs by decreasing the reasons not to hire someone. The Senate passed the bill in November, but the proposal is currently languishing in the Republican-controlled House.

Discrimination is Discrimination

That such a debate exists– in Lumberton, Texas and in the halls of Congress– is a sad meter of our America. Even in Lumberton today one would be unlikely to see headlines such as “Black Teacher Suspended” or “Jew Kicked Out of School.” And yet Lumberton– and Congress– still choose not to understand that discrimination is discrimination.

Schools can teach a lot of things. Math, science, history, and all the rest. They can teach teamwork and the value of putting in the effort through sports and clubs. Schools can also teach tolerance and understanding, or instruct children in how to discriminate, hate and disrespect other human beings simply because of the color of their skin, the religion they do or do not follow, simply for who they are.

That seems now to be the goal of Lumberton, Texas schools, aided by a headmaster in Congress.


Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is available now from from Amazon.

Photo by ~W~, used under Creative Commons license