During public comment at the most recent Katy ISD School Board meeting, a man railed against what he called “the gay agenda.” His comments received a round of applause.
That type of openly homophobic rhetoric has become more common in Katy in recent years. It’s also shaped district policy.
Logan McLean is a senior at Katy ISD’s Cinco Ranch High School.
“I’ve spoken at four board meetings,” she said. “It was extremely intimidating to walk into a room and know that the majority of the people in there are probably going to be against what you’re saying.”
McLean started speaking at board meetings last school year, when the district was removing books from school libraries before formal reviews were complete. Those removals came in response to complaints that largely targeted material by and about LGBTQ+ people and people of color.
And library books aren’t the only restricted resource. While Katy ISD made it easier for parents to ban books, the district’s internet filters for years made it difficult for students to access digital resources serving LGBTQIA+ people, like The Trevor Project’s suicide prevention resources and the website for the Montrose Center — a resource hub for Houston’s LGBTQ community.
McLean formed a Gay-Straight Alliance club at Cinco Ranch High in May.
“I was trying to access things like the GSA Network and the Trevor Project for resources on how to start up that club,” she said. “And I couldn’t access any of them.”
She got in touch with Cameron Samuels, who graduated from Katy ISD’s Seven Lakes High School in May.
“My freshman year, I discovered an internet filter that categorized websites containing LGBTQ content under the category entitled ‘alternative sexual lifestyles: GLBT,'” they said. “That was very shocking to see, and it hurt me to my core.”
At the time — four years ago — Samuels wasn’t sure how to advocate for change. But returning from remote learning as a senior during the 2021-22 school year, they became more vocal about Katy ISD policies.
“I met with district officials, with school board members, and argued our point that these policies were discriminatory and that there was no backing to it,” they said. “There was no reason why they should be blocking these websites.”
ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal filed a complaint, and the district agreed to remove certain filters for high school campuses.
Now, Katy ISD high school students are allowed to access suicide prevention resources from the Trevor Project. The filters also no longer block the website for the Montrose Center and a handful of other sites, although some Houston-area LGBTQ+ non-profits and charities — like The Diana Foundation and Houston Pride Band — remain blocked at high school campuses, according to screenshots shared by McLean.
In late September, a Katy ISD spokesperson told Houston Public Media that the district’s filters are maintained by a third-party vendor and are designed to be compliant with federal law.
“Katy ISD is committed to providing safe learning environments to all students, both in the classroom and online,” the spokesperson wrote.
But the Trevor Project and other sites are still blocked in Katy ISD elementary schools, according to screenshots provided by Anne Russey, parent of two Katy ISD elementary students.
“I don’t know how we can justify that as a district,” she said. “I think we’re asking for something catastrophic to happen when we talk about blocking any suicide prevention resource for children.”
In a written statement, attorney Brian Klosterboer with ACLU of Texas wrote: “Katy ISD has finally made these critical, life-saving websites and information available to LGBTQ+ students, but it shouldn’t have taken the district a year to comply with federal law and make this change. The inspiring activism of Katy ISD students made this happen, but the district still needs to make sure that it allows critical resources at elementary and middle schools too.”
Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, wrote: “Suicide prevention should not be controversial and resources to address it should not be censored. Every student should have access to the full range of resources available on TheTrevorProject.org, whether it be for learning, research, or for support in times of mental health crisis.”
Katy ISD said its goal is “to support the learning, safety, and well-being of all children,” and encouraged parents and students to contact leaders at the campus or district levels with any concerns.
McLean and Samuels said the restrictions — on digital resources and library books — are all part of the same problem.
“I would argue it has gotten worse … in recent years, public education in general has just become almost a battleground of political pawns,” McLean said. “Gay people have existed forever, trans people have existed for forever. But we are seeing this wave of challenges on whether or not they should be allowed to express themselves, allowed to exist in schools.”
“Katy used to be that destination school district, but now it has been seen as the district of culture wars — of discrimination,” Samuels said.
Students are still coming together, though. McLean said the Cinco Ranch High School Gay-Straight Alliance, formed in May of this year, already has 64 members.