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Katy school students come together as censorship of LGBTQ+ voices ramps up

In October, students at Katy ISD pushed school officials to lift filters blocking websites with LGBTQ+ resources in some of its high schools. We’re keeping up with those students as they navigate a school year fraught with book bans and other censorship. 

Logan McLean
Gabe at Cinco Ranch’s movie night social with LGBTQ pins that the group gave away.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from Katy ISD.

To understand Katy now, it helps to go back in time.

Kyle Getz attended Cinco Ranch High School in the early 2000s. He was still in the closet.

"I dated girls," he said. "And I never felt as strongly as I did about like, the way that I felt for the boys in class. So I knew I had this weird thing about me, I knew that I felt it. And I tried really hard to wish it away. I, as I mentioned, like, even though I wasn’t religious, I would still pray, I would pray that I was not gay."

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He doesn't remember a lot about that time.

"They say that going through any kind of trauma — even if it’s not like a war, something major like that — going through trauma of any kind, you kind of forget things," he said. "So, I think I’ve forgotten a lot of things."

He did recall students joking about AIDS and gay people going to hell. He also remembered having no books or other resources that reflected what he was going through.

"Mainly what I had growing up was what TV shows ... gay people on the Real World on MTV or in college is when Brokeback Mountain came out. I drove far away to a theater to see that," he said. "I think TV and movies were the only places that I really learned about gay people. Or the, you know, the one gay student that I just heard about and never actually met."

That Katy ISD student ended up on the local news in 2002. We reached out but didn't hear back, so we aren't naming them in this story.

The theme for the yearbook that year was "firsts."

"He was the editor of the yearbook, and he wrote an essay about coming out to his mom," Getz said. "And there were several things in the yearbook that people got angry about — some printing issues that were real — they weren’t making it up. There were some issues with how it looked, and a couple of things with content in there, one of which being his essay about coming out."

The yearbook was reprinted — without the editor's essay. Students protested. The Houston Chronicle ran a story headlined "Cinco Ranch High’s Great Yearbook Debate." The lede: "A 900-word essay dealing with homosexuality has become the core of what some Cinco Ranch students are calling undue censorship."

That was in 2002. A lot has changed since then. The Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws a year later in a case that came out of Houston. In 2015, the court legalized gay marriage. And just this month, Congress codified that decision by passing The Respect for Marriage Act and the president is expected to sign it into law.

But as those changes have swept the nation, pockets of pushback have expanded — including, this year, in Katy.

Students have had to fight to get access to digital resources for LGBTQIA+ youth with limited success. And at the school board, trustees created new review panels for challenged library books. The school board members voted to give the panels a parent majority, and to exclude any student representation — including 18 year old high schoolers with parental consent.

Most of those challenged books have LGBT+ representation and characters of color.

Logan McLean
Andi Ingram (left) and Neveah Gregory (right) dress as the Princess and the Frog at Cinco Ranch GSA’s Halloween social and costume contest.

Gabriel Galdo Gonzalez is a junior at Katy ISD's Cinco Ranch High School — the same school that censored its yearbook editor's coming out story two decades ago.

"One of the ways that the book ban has affected our school is that teachers can no longer have their books in their personal libraries," he said.

On top of the new review panels for challenged books, the district's school board recently made it harder for teachers to maintain classroom libraries.

"They have to fill out a whole process to try and get them accepted and stuff like that, and that’s a lot of work. And a lot of teachers don’t want to do that. But my English teacher, she has been putting in the work trying to get all of her books accepted, and I’m sure that other teachers have as well. So that’s definitely a positive change that a lot of people are finally taking matters into their own hands and just creating something good."

Gonzalez and other students are doing the same thing — taking matters into their own hands.

He's an officer with the new Cinco Ranch Gay Straight Alliance, an official student club.

Logan McLean
Logan McLean and Jessica Acevedo at their school’s Gay Straight Alliance welcome meeting.

Cinco Ranch senior and GSA president Logan McLean helped launch the group because of the backlash against LGBT+ people becoming more visible.

"While I have seen representation of LGBT and minority students has grown and that is a positive change, we’re also just seeing a massive pushback against seeing any of those experiences reflected — through these book bans, through anti CRT bills, through bills regarding trans athletes," she said. "There are all these things where I think public education has become such a polarized topic in politics now that it has become harder and harder to really be yourself."

Earlier this year, the group held a meeting about LGBTQ+ representation in the media. They planned to pass out books – like Melt With You and Kiss & Tell, with queer characters. Administrators removed the books for review and later returned them.

“To me it felt pretty discriminatory,” McLean said. “It was very ironic that we were having a meeting about representation, and then we had that representation taken away.”

In a written statement, Katy ISD said the books had to be reviewed due to district policy – telling Houston Public Media “Non-school literature intended for distribution on campus grounds, by noncurriculum-related student groups, must be reviewed by campus personnel per Board Policy. If the distribution takes place among only the membership of the group, then the policy allows for an exception to that review process. If the distribution is intended for members, as well as non-members (i.e., students outside of the club), a review is required.”

But that’s not true, according to the district’s own written policy. We reviewed the rules and found that groups are allowed to distribute books and materials to all attendees at club meetings, whether they are members or not. McLean and Gonazalez said they tried to point that out, but administrators wouldn’t listen.

"So yeah, it was definitely frustrating, especially because you’re trying to just tell them like, ‘Hey, this is nothing, it’s nothing wrong that we’re doing here,'" Gonzalez said. "We’re just trying to live our lives, and when that is kind of being taken away from you, it really does sting. It’s kind of like salt to a wound."

For McLean, the internet filters and book challenges of 2022 rhyme with the yearbook censorship of 2002.

A flyer for a Cinco Ranch GSA meeting

"It’s not a new trend for LGBT voices to be censored, especially when it comes to media," she said. "But, you know, back then it was just as prolific really. So it wasn’t surprising to me at all to see that that was something that happened back then, and to see it’s still happening today."

But, where Kyle Getz and other Cinco Ranch students only had TV, movies and a censored yearbook story to relate to in 2002, today, Logan McClean, Gabriel Galdo Gonzalez and almost 100 other students in the school's Gay Straight Alliance have each other.

If you or someone you know are struggling, the national suicide prevention hotline is 988 – and the Trevor Project has specialized resources for LGBTQ+ people ... you can find information at The Trevor Project Dot Org, or by texting START to 678 678.

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Dominic Anthony Walsh

Education & Families Reporter

Dominic Anthony Walsh covers education & families for Houston Public Media's enterprise team. His work examines the institutions and policies affecting millions of students and families across Texas, with a focus on Houston — home to the largest school district in the state. He comes to the Bayou City after...

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