Three years ago, a public school teacher in Arlington, Texas, did something that a lot of teachers do: shared something about her personal life with her students – and ended up being suspended eight months and nearly fired for it.

Stacy Bailey, who has twice won Teacher of the Year awards at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School, got in trouble in 2017 when, during a presentation called “Get to Know Your Teacher,” she showed students a photo of herself and her then-fiancée, Julie Vazquez, dressed as characters from the popular movie “Finding Nemo.” Paul Holding, a parent, complained that Bailey was promoting the “homosexual agenda” and in an email to school officials wrote, “She told her students to not think it is gross for same-sex couples to be together. She told my daughters they could marry any type of person just like her.”

In response, officials at the Mansfield Independent School District suspended Bailey for eight months from her position as an art teacher. She was asked to resign but refused and was reassigned to a high school.

The school district clearly was in the wrong. Marriage equality is the law of the land. If Bailey had been straight and talked about the man she planned to marry, no one would have complained, and she certainly would not have been punished. What happened to her was discrimination, pure and simple – and we know that religious beliefs are often the basis of bias against LGBTQ people.  

Bailey decided to fight back. Buzzfeed News reported that she filed a federal lawsuit, and after a court ruled that the case could proceed, settlement talks began. Under the terms of the settlement, Bailey’s suspension will be withdrawn, and the school district has agreed to give staff members training on LGBTQ issues. Bailey will also receive $100,000 in damages; she said she plans to donate $10,000 of it to a charity that works with LGBTQ youth.

“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?” Bailey asked during a press conference. “Is she announcing her sexual orientation? Is she presenting her life in a way that promotes her political beliefs? Of course not. She’s simply sharing facts about her life.”

Bailey also said, “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.”

It’s great that this individual case worked out in Bailey’s favor, but let’s not forget that there are countless more examples around the country of LGBTQ people being fired, reprimanded or otherwise discriminated against in the workplace because of who they are and who they love. A U.S. Supreme Court decision is imminent in a trio of cases that could strip away federal employment protections from LGBTQ people, leaving only a patchwork of state and local anti-discrimination laws in place to protect people’s livelihoods. That’s why Congress should pass the Equality Act now. This landmark legislation, already passed last year by the U.S. House of Representatives, will protect the civil rights of LGBTQ people while making sure that religion is not used to undermine these protections.

Photo: Julie Vazquez (l) and Stacy Bailey. Screenshot from KXAS-TV, Forth Worth