Good advice then. Bad advice now.

On Monday I told you the story about the teacher who was seen by his superintendent participating in the Gay Pride parade.  I gave the superintendent some advice that was good then, and still good now.  Today….a different story. 

Let’s ride the Wayback Machine to about 1982.  A small Texas school district had an opening for an English teacher.  A college professor from Oregon applied, and drove all the way down to Texas for an interview.  She was quite impressive. The superintendent offered her the job.  Before she left, she asked about housing options in the small town. The superintendent recommended that she meet with Mrs. Smith, another teacher in the district who owned some rental properties.  They shook hands and the lady headed out to find Mrs. Smith, and then head back to Oregon to pack up for the move to Texas.

A few days later the superintendent bumped into Mrs. Smith and found out that her encounter with the district’s new teacher had not gone well.  Mrs. Smith indignantly proclaimed that she would never rent to “it.” 

“It”???  Mrs. Smith then explained that this new teacher was no lady, but rather, a man dressed up as a woman.  She cited the hands, the voice, the Adam’s apple.  

The superintendent did more research on the woman’s background and confirmed Mrs. Smith’s hunch.  The clincher was the record of the valedictorian of the high school class the woman graduated from.  She was indeed the valedictorian. Same last name. Same social security number.  But her name was John—not Jane.  The superintendent was confident that his new hire would not be well received in the community. But the contract had already been approved.

That’s when I got the call.   Could the district terminate the contract based on the woman’s sexual transformation? I’m not sure we even knew the word “transgender.”  That’s when I got the call.   Could the district terminate the contract based on the woman’s sexual transformation? I’m not sure we even knew the word “transgender.” 

I did my research and concluded that the district could back out of this contract without legal liability.  Neither transgender nor homosexual individuals had any legal protection in those days.  Of course you could not discriminate on the basis of sex, but I had that figured out:  “Your honor, this is a woman who used to be a man, but if we were dealing with a man who used to be a woman, we would do the same thing. It has nothing to do with sex.”  So I advised the superintendent to contact the woman and see if he could negotiate a resignation. 

That was good legal advice in 1982, but not today.  Last month at the Supreme Court that argument mustered only three votes.  The majority of the Court concluded that discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status was the same thing as discrimination based on sex. 

I’m grateful that the superintendent did get that resignation.  This superintendent was one of the kindest men I have known, and I’m sure he approached the conversation with courtesy and respect.  But he advised the Oregon professor that she would not find this small town in Texas a welcoming place.  She understood and made only one request:  would the superintendent reimburse for the gasoline for the round trip from Oregon to Texas.  Yes, indeed, he certainly would.

Just imagine: if the woman had stood her ground and sued, the district would have prevailed. The law was on the district’s side.  Then that decision, Transgender Oregon Professor v. Small, Rural Conservative Texas School District would have been one of the cases overturned by the Supreme Court’s historic ruling last month.