A Texas teacher who was suspended for showing her students a photo of her then-fiancé has reached a $100,000 settlement with her school district, her attorney announced Tuesday.
Stacy Bailey will donate $10,000 of her settlement money from the Mansfield Independent School District to a charity helping LGBTQ students in schools.
"If you are a school district that thinks you can bully a gay teacher out of their job, I hope you remember my name and I hope you think twice," said Bailey during a press conference on Tuesday.
Bailey, who twice won Teacher of the Year awards at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School in Arlington, filed a discrimination lawsuit against MISD in 2018.
The 33-year-old teacher was suspended in September 2017 after the district "received complaints from parents about Ms. Bailey discussing her sexual orientation with elementary-aged students," according to a press release from the school district.
The complaint related to her showing a photo during an introductory slideshow of her and her then-fiancé, Julie Vazquez, dressed as Finding Nemo characters, telling students it was her "future wife."
A parent had complained to the school district that the award-winning teacher promoted a "homosexual agenda."
Speaking on Tuesday, Bailey said the parent's complaint was without merit.
"When a straight teacher happily announces that she and her husband are expecting a baby to her elementary class, is she saying something inappropriate to very young and impressionable students? Is she announcing her sexual orientation? Is she presenting her life in a way that promotes her political beliefs?" asked Bailey. "Of course not. She’s simply sharing facts about her life."
Under the terms of the settlement, the school district will withdraw the suspension from Bailey's permanent record, provide staffers with mandatory training on LGBTQ issues, and vote on whether to add "sexual discrimination" to its list of antidiscrimination categories.
MISD also has to pay a total of $100,000 to Bailey and her attorney, Jason Smith. Bailey and her wife plan to donate $10,000 of their share to a charity for LGBTQ students, while Smith will donate $10,000 to the Human Rights Campaign.
After an eight-month suspension from her job as an elementary school art teacher, Bailey was reassigned to a local high school.
In October, a federal judge ruled that Bailey's lawsuit claiming discrimination and a breach of her constitutional rights could go ahead.
“If the community’s perception is based on nothing more than unsupported assumptions, outdated stereotypes, and animosity, it is necessarily irrational and […] provides no legitimate support for Mansfield ISD’s decisions,” wrote Judge Sam Lindsay. "The private antipathy of some members of a community cannot validate state discrimination."
The case was heard at the Northern District of Texas federal court in Dallas.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Bailey told BuzzFeed News that when she started at her new school, she was nervous about how students would react as news of her suspension for being gay had been all over local and national media.
Instead, on her first day, around 15 LGBTQ teens flooded her classroom with baskets and candy, introducing themselves. Some even cried as they welcomed her.
"I don't think they’d ever seen a teacher out loud say they were gay. To see a grown-up who was successful and educated and not afraid? I don't think they had ever seen that before," Bailey told BuzzFeed News.
And she used the exact same introductory slideshow presentation with the photo of her wife when meeting her new high school students at the beginning of the school year.
"I've seen my classroom turn into a safe space for all kinds of kids who feel marginalized," she added.
Bailey said when the suspension first happened, she considered moving to a nearby urban school district but worried the next gay teacher at MISD would encounter the same anti-gay prejudice she did.
"There have always been gay educators," said Bailey. "Some of your best teachers may have been gay but too afraid to tell you."
Bailey said that although the last few years have been extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing for her personally, she plans to continue working as a high school teacher with MISD and watch the district change from within.
"Even though you’re made to feel small and made to feel less than, you can stand up in your own power and you can also make a change," she told BuzzFeed News.
She encouraged other queer teachers facing discrimination in their conservative districts to avoid the temptation to move to more progressive districts. "I challenge you to change the one you're in," she said.
"It may not be easy. You may get pushback. And if what happened to me happens to you, I want you to know you can survive it," said Bailey. "You do not have to give up your passion or profession."