Following a Willis High School event in October where a drag queen was invited to teach drag makeup to a cosmetology class, CISD trustee Dale Inman spoke out against WISD’s choice of guest speakers as well as criticized the LGBTQ community itself. Inman has three daughters who attend Willis High.
“The LGBTQ community is one of the most vile, hate-filled communities I’ve ever come across, and I’ve spent time in the Middle East with Hezbollah and radical Muslims,” Inman said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper on Oct. 28. “These folks are vicious.”
Inman’s comments were both defended and admonished, with some calling for his resignation. Holding back tears, Conroe High School student Zoey Nofchissey stood before the CISD board of trustees on Nov. 19 and told Inman how his comments hurt her.
"To call us vile and disgusting and [say] that we’re vicious is wrong. It’s very wrong,” Nofchissey said.
Some local LGBTQ students said Inman’s comments and the drag queen debate highlighted their need for more resources and support for LGBTQ youth. There are an estimated 158,500 LGBTQ youth in Texas, according to the Williams Institute at the University of Los Angeles in 2017.
Meanwhile, others in the community have voiced that they have the right to object to “alternative lifestyles.”
Divided over drag
The drag queen event took place Oct. 18, when a Willis High cosmetology teacher hosted a drag queen who performs under the name Lynn Adonis-Deveaux to teach makeup application. Adonis-Deveaux was wearing jeans but also wore heels and makeup, according to WISD.
“The speaker did as asked, which was to talk to students about makeup application,” WISD said in a statement.
Following the event, Inman said on Facebook he does not want “alternative lifestyles” promoted in Montgomery County schools. In response to community outrage, WISD changed its guest policy procedure so teachers must get approval for guest speakers as well as send a parent letter to provide an opportunity for parents to opt out their children, WISD Director of Communications Jamie Fails said.
Community response over the incident was divided. At the CISD board meeting Nov. 19, several people called for Inman’s resignation following his comments on social media, including Rachel Walker, a CISD parent and the engagement specialist for The Woodlands Pride, which organizes an annual Pride celebration.
“Our kids are leading the way on what it means to be kind and inclusive; it’s us parents that need a refresher,” Walker said. “The only way I see to move forward and to affect positive change is for [Inman] to issue a public apology and resign.”
Several residents and community members defended Inman and suggested drag and LGBTQ lifestyles may not be welcome in the community.
Jay Gross, West Conroe Baptist Church senior pastor, defended Inman’s character at the Nov. 19 CISD meeting, saying Inman has housed homeless families and those displaced by hurricanes.
“I’ve even seen [Inman] go to prison after his daughter was assaulted and speak to the prisoner who assaulted her about forgiveness,” Gross said. “We are Americans, and you have the right to believe what you want to believe ... But you do not have the right to demand that I agree and applaud and support what you believe.”
CISD resident Kevin Williams said he believes the community is orchestrating a “witch hunt” against Inman.
In response, CISD issued a statement Nov. 21 that the views expressed by Inman do not represent the views of the board of trustees or the district. At the time of publication, CISD has not responded to demands for Inman’s resignation. Inman declined to be interviewed again.
More vulnerable population
Much of the criticism Inman faced focused on the adverse effect his words had on LGBTQ students in CISD and WISD. Some statewide research indicates LGBTQ students are more vulnerable to bullying and mental health issues than non-LGBTQ peers.
Research by the Williams Institute in 2017 found Houston lesbian, gay and bisexual students from ninth to 12th grade are nearly three times as likely to “seriously consider suicide” compared to their non-LGB peers, with 15% of LGB students needing medical treatment for suicide attempts.
Caitlin Clark, a Texas research associate with GLSEN, a national educational organization that works to help LGBTQ students, said school policies and practices can foster discrimination for LGBTQ youth. Clark said Texas schools have no policies protecting LGBTQ students, and Texas is a “no promo homo” state, meaning schools can only mention LGBTQ people or topics in health classes in a negative sense.
“It’s not just other students that are making hostile school climates,” she said. “It’s often the teachers and policies and systems that are set up to make these schools unsafe.”
Anthony Lane, a WHS English teacher and parent, said at a Nov. 11 WISD board meeting he regularly hears homophobic slurs in the hallways and asked the district to help “teach our kids to be tolerant and respectful.”
According to GLSEN research, only 5% of Texan students attend a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy with protections for sexual orientation and gender expression. CISD, WISD and Montgomery ISD do not have protections for LGBTQ students in their bullying or harassment policies in their student handbooks.
Brandi Hendrix, principal of Montgomery High School, said although the district does not include LGBTQ identity in its bullying or harassment policy, teachers at her school undergo training to identify and deal with bullying and work to create an “inclusive” space for their students.
Denise Cipolla, coordinator of guidance and counseling for CISD, said the district is supportive of its LGBTQ students and works with them to provide education to parents and support the students in class. However, there is no standardized training or process.
Fails said in an email WISD also does not have specific training or policies for its teachers, but “welcomes and accepts all students.”
GLSEN has several recommendations for policies to protect LGBTQ students, including assessing school climate regularly, adopting comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policies, and offering training and education resources for educators to create a welcoming atmosphere for students.
State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, chair of the Texas LGBTQ Caucus, said in an email the caucus will fight for LGBTQ students, who currently have no protection against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
There are some LGBTQ resources in Montgomery County. Jamie Lee, chapter president of Montgomery PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said her organization advocates for the LGBTQ community in Montgomery County. Lee said members of her group have spoken positively about educators in the school districts.
“I think they’ve been very receptive,” Lee said.
Lee said she has recently contacted counselors at Lake Creek and Montgomery high schools to provide them with her information.
CISD has four Gay-Straight Alliances. Ginger Pilot, a foster mother in WISD, said her transgender son has also helped to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at WHS. She said he has found strong support among his friends and teachers.
“I haven’t had the resistance from the school. And then to hear all these parents [speak against the LGBTQ community], it just floors me,” Pilot said.
Nofchissey said she believes there are some kids who are “just like their parents” and close-minded, but she has found a supportive community of peers at her school and believes most CHS teachers are generally accepting.
“They are very supportive. They care so much about their students,” Nofchissey said. “They won’t judge.”