‘This symbolic gesture will reiterate the district’s commitment to our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families…’
(Melissa B. Taboada, Austin American-Statesman) After months of lobbying by LGBT rights activists, the Austin school district has committed to use revenue generated from the rental of the Performing Arts Center to a local church opposed to gay marriage to fund district participation in LGBT-friendly activities.
The district will put $10,000 of the rental fees generated by Celebration Church toward funding its participation in the annual Austin Pride Parade and other LGBT districtwide activities.
Since August, when Georgetown-based Celebration Church began regularly renting the Mueller facility for Sunday services, gay rights advocates weekly have protested outside, contending that the district should stop renting the facility to the church because its traditional biblical views run counter the district’s inclusive values.
Church leaders have said they believe in being welcoming and kind to all people regardless of sexual orientation, religion or political beliefs, but they stick to teaching the Bible.
The church’s website previously referenced Bible verses stating homosexuality, bisexuality and disagreeing with one’s biological sex is a sin.
The references have since been removed but the website states marriage is defined “from the beginning of Scripture as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman” and that the church “does not endorse or condone” sexual intimacy outside of a marriage relationship.
Amid the protests, school district officials in September discussed considering limiting the center’s use by outside entities, including the church. But soon after, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office warned the district that preventing the church from using the center would violate state law and the First Amendment.
The district has since continued to rent the space to the church and has received more than $182,000 from the rental since September.
It is among the 298 organizations, including 42 churches, that rent facilities from the district, a common practice among school districts in Central Texas.
After the state intervened, advocates asked that revenue from the rental be used to support LGBT students and staff members, and district leaders agreed.
“Our core value is supporting all students, making sure all our students have a welcoming environment. We do have a core value of equity, diversity and inclusion in this district,” said Jacob Reach, the Austin district’s chief of staff.
“We felt our inclusion of Pride week was a good choice. Every year, the organizers of that event have struggled to find donations, money and support to be able to include AISD students and teachers in this event,” Reach said. “So we were able to set aside for them so they don’t have go out and try to raise the money.”
Austin school district administrators, teachers and students this year and in the past, have participated in the Austin Pride Parade in August, and in October hosts its own Pride week, in which campuses can plan pride activities.
About $4,000 of the $10,000 in the center’s rental fees will go toward transportation to boost students’ participation in the Pride parade, scheduled for Aug. 10.
Celebration Church leaders did not respond regarding the use of the rental money, but said in an emailed statement, “Our focus is on our mission of sharing the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.”
Anna Nguyen, who has protested outside the church and has challenged school board to better support the LGBT students and community members, said the $10,000 toward Pride activities is “a start, but it’s not enough.”
“Relative to the revenue they have collected from the Celebration Church and also relative to deal with the problem of homophobia and transphobia in AISD and in general, $10,000 is not really a lot,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said the district needs to spend more on diversity and inclusion initiatives and more ally training for school leaders and on anti-bullying initiatives.
Last week, the district raised the rainbow Pride flag at its central office and will do so again the week of Oct. 7 and said on its website that it will use a portion of the center’s rental revenue to support gay-friendly activities.
The Facebook post drew hundreds of likes and the majority of commenters praised the district’s actions. A few noted the district’s likely budget shortfall and said the district should put the money to use on other educational purposes.
“This symbolic gesture will reiterate the district’s commitment to our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families,” the district said in a statement.
(c)2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.