This Texas teacher was fired for being gay, but she won’t be silenced.

Stacy Bailey was put on leave for saying the words “future wife.”

On the first day of the 2017 school year at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School in Arlington, Texas, art teacher Stacy Bailey introduced herself to her class with a slideshow. The photos included one of her and her now wife dressed as Disney characters Nemo and Dory. She told the class that the other woman in the photo was her future wife, Julie.

The next thing Bailey knew, she was put on leave. For a year. She was accused of pushing a “homosexual agenda.” She was never told what specific policy she had broken and how. She was asked to resign (which she did not). She was precluded from speaking to other teachers, to her school family since 2008. And she was forced to wait. And wait.

There is no doubt that Baily was treated unfairly, unkindly, illegally, and all because she is a lesbian – an out lesbian that is.

One year later, she is at a new school (Lake Ridge High) and a lawsuit is pending. Until this very interview, she has not spoken to the press. But the time has come for her to tell her story in her words. Why wouldn’t it be? She broke no law. She did nothing wrong. Unless telling the truth is now illegal…

Through it all, Bailey has carried herself with enviable dignity and grace. She has followed Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” model with incredible restraint. She has held her tongue, cried her tears, wrestled with confusion, waited in despair, and gone over what happened a thousand times in her mind. In the end, it was really quite simple, devastatingly, mind-bogglingly simple.

Here is what Bailey told me about what transpired; how it ripped her apart; and where things stand with this clear-cut case of discrimination against a teacher whose resume and background are beyond reproach (including being named Teacher of the Year twice) – except for one thing according to the school – she refused to lock herself in the closet and lie to her students – even if it was simply by omission.

This is a story about erasure and one woman’s refusal to be erased. What sparked this entire situation?

Stacy Bailey:  I start every year by introducing myself in about 10 presentation slides before I dive into my class rules and expectations. I include many fun facts about myself in order to connect with my students; things like the year I was born with baby pictures. Kids love knowing how old I am and that I grew up in the country.  I show them my parents because my mom was Mexican-American, and many students connect to that. I show them my sister, my wife, my best friends, my hobbies like cooking, instruments, travel…etc. By the end of the 5-minute intro of myself, students have an understanding that they know me and many have connected with me through my story or family pictures. Then, I directly go into a lengthy 15-20 minute discussion about rules, consequences, and expectations for the year.

Since 2012, I’ve introduced Julie as part of my family. In 2017, instead of using the word “girlfriend”, I introduced her as my “future wife” since we had decided to get married. It was a simple, quick statement about my family.  95% of my classes have little to no response. This year, a student in a 4th grade class said “Ew!” when I introduced Julie. 

My response was, “If you think that this is different or gross, please be respectful in this class.” And then I moved on to the next part of my presentation. Kids say “Ew!” to so many things, from crickets, to mud, to someone burping, so I didn’t think twice about my response to the child. It was a habitual response most teachers would give.

AE: When was the first you heard of there being some sort of issue?

SB:  On or about August 24, 2017, my principal walked into my room and asked about what I said on the first day of school. I immediately knew what she meant from her face. 

She said a parent had complained to the school board and the superintendent.  I said, the only wording that I changed this year was that I said “future wife” instead of “girlfriend.” She agreed I had done nothing wrong, but said she didn’t know what was going to happen. I felt uneasy in my gut, but that’s mostly because I’m used to having such a good rapport with students and parents. I couldn’t imagine who the parent was or why they wouldn’t just contact me to clarify what happened. 

AE: What were you thinking/feeling the moment you realized there was an issue?

SB:  It was a while before I realized there was a real issue. I did have a meeting with H.R. on August 25, but no part of that meeting signaled to me that there was a life-changing daunting issue at hand. I was asked to explain how exactly I introduced my future wife to my students, and I was then asked to explain my reaction to a child who said, “Ew!” in my class. I explained both honestly and concisely. 

Even though the meeting had several accounts of discriminating statements made towards me, I felt like we had a moment of clarity where we both understood each other and felt that we could work together towards a solution. It was concluded that I had not acted inappropriately, and the meeting ended with H.R. suggesting I contact the district about changing the wording in the policy in order to prevent this in the future. I, by no means, took this meeting as a warning.

I was a straight-A, rule-following student through school and college. So that sort of meeting was very daunting for me. I hate for people to think that I broke a rule or did something wrong on purpose. So, while that meeting was very painful for me, and I did cry a lot, I actually felt that it was the beginning of progress.  I had no fear. That same night I constructed an email to start a conversation with the district about the policy. I was even excited about the potential change and told many friends and colleagues about it. I fully expected the district to respond by setting up a meeting with me to make plans for the future.

AE: How did your family react when they found out?

SB:  My family and friends were all very excited at first when they thought I could help my district with a policy change. I had a meeting set up for September 11 to begin the conversation. I was spending my evenings doing research on policy and finding, to my surprise, very few school districts in Texas actually had LGBTQ inclusive language in their policy. We all felt hopeful.

On September 8, however, I was called into another meeting with H.R. that ended up with me being removed from the classroom and silenced for the next 259 days.

The same parent as before had written another complaint about one of my 4th grade projects. I’ve been teaching this project for the last 5 years, so it was very shocking to suddenly get a complaint about it.

I was so beyond shocked, I could hardly understand the words and what was happening. I remember H.R. sliding my administrative leave paper to me, but it felt like a dream. I scanned over it and said, “I have 1st graders coming into my room in 10 minutes and you’re telling me I cannot go back to my school at all?” 

I was told that not only could I not go to my school, but I could not contact co-workers, parents, students, or be on district property until further notice.  I was told I was under investigation. I asked what in the world they were investigating and offered to send all of my presentations and lesson plans.

Even in the haze of being stunned at the situation, I knew that everything about the situation felt wrong. I told H.R that this felt illegal and that I could not agree or sign that paper. So I slid it back to her. I almost had to run out of that office before I began weeping and broke into a panic attack. But it all hit before I made it back to my car.

My principal immediately called me and told me that I had to drive back to my school, but stay in the parking lot and hand over my badge and my keys. I was crying and having a hard time breathing.  She was concerned about my ability to even drive. My principal said, “What did you do?”  I said, “I have no idea, I only did exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 5-6 years.” We were both so perplexed and hurt.  She said, well, maybe they’ll clear you by Monday and you’ll be back. I agreed and drove home in my tears and confusion. I had no idea that was my actual last day at Charlotte Anderson.

AE: How did your friends react?

SB:  My wife and my sister were both home when I came home that Friday, September 8th. I was so distraught I could hardly communicate. My wife was infuriated and was sure that this was illegal. While I made my 40-minute drive home, she pulled up MISD’s policy and handbook and began scouring for anything she could find that would give reason for what they did. She couldn’t find anything.

I could hardly speak, I was shaking and felt sick. My two closest friends knew that I was sent home and they both offered words of ‘this is just temporary’, ‘they’re going to find out you didn’t do anything wrong.’We all very confidently believed that I would be back to work within the week.

AE: What transpired after you were initially notified?

SB:  The Friday I was sent home, I immediately called my UEA reps to explain my situation. I was connected with a lawyer, and he was perplexed about why/how I was placed on leave. He is very familiar with school policy, yet could not offer any actual reason in policy that could place me on leave. He told me my best bet was to “hurry up and wait” to allow the system to work, to not rock the boat, and that more than likely I would be back to work soon. 

I expected that my principal would soon have a meeting with everyone to let them know that I was on leave for an undefined amount of time and give my co-workers direction on contacting me. This never happened.  I don’t exactly understand why my situation was never addressed, but I do know that my work family was very hurt and confused by my absence.

The first two weeks of my investigation I almost incessantly tried to contact H.R. through email or phone call. I was very concerned with this investigation ruining my scheduled lesson plans. I teach my class comprehensively from K through 4th grade.  Each year builds on the other, so I knew that time away from my class could ruin my lessons not for just that year, but for the next 5 years. 

As the days continued to build my wife kept repeating to me, “You need to let your lessons go. It’s not going to happen this year.” I couldn’t accept it and could only think about how confused my students must be with my sudden disappearance.  Since I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone in my district, I had no idea what my kids were being told. I didn’t get to say goodbye. The silence was unbearable.

I was advised by my UEA lawyer to pretend these days were a vacation. When your job is your passion it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a special opportunity to seize each day. There was no way I could imagine my days away from my kids as vacation; only days of wasted opportunity.

AE: What happened next?

SB:  By the end of September I was told that there was likely a bigger issue going on in the district and that my investigation had likely been put on the back burner and that’s why it was taking so long. It didn’t feel right to me. I knew that all the district had to do was look through two presentations, and maybe interview a few kids and parents to find out that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I couldn’t imagine how this process could take longer than a week.

The month of October came to me as a surprise that I was still home. My wife and I worked together to keep me positive and hopeful.  She left for work every day as usual, and I was home alone. She gave me 3 mantras to repeat to myself when I felt sad:  You are a great teacher, you did nothing wrong, and the truth will come out.  I read many books, Oprah, Cheryl Strayed, and Brene Brown. 

I gave myself a daily task to do a random act of kindness for a stranger. I thought that if I woke up each day with goodness in my heart and projected that goodness to the world, that hopefully all of that love would come back to me. I kept in good spirits until October 30th.

This stunned me to the point of immobilization. Up until this point, I thought things were just running behind. I fully expected a meeting where someone would explain to me what they believed I did wrong, I would offer my explanation, maybe I’d receive redirection for the future, and be returned to work. I couldn’t fathom willingly walking away from my students, so I rejected the request that I resign. 

Those ten days of waiting were complete torture for me. I couldn’t get out of bed, I cried for hours at a time sometimes until I threw up.

I had to miss an entire holiday season with my students. I missed our annual Turkey Trot, I missed fun dress up days, I missed holiday parties and assemblies. Each day I knew an event was going on without me, I cried and stayed in bed.  I couldn’t sleep, I forgot to eat most days. 

Not one day felt like a vacation. I started to lose hope of a good outcome. I felt trapped with a gag in my mouth. My wife and I decided to get two puppies as a way to give my days purpose and to lure me out of bed. My wife and sister tried to keep me hopeful and assure me that after they finally met with me in January, everything would be understood, and I would finally get back to my kids.

I explained, once again, how every day I wake up I think about all of my students.  There are ones who depend on me for morning hugs, who come to me when they run out of money in their breakfast accounts. Yes, I teach art, but I also look out for their well-being and they didn’t even know where or why I was gone, and I desperately wanted to get back to them even though my curriculum plans had been ruined.

Within the week I was notified that if I did not resign, the district intended to propose me for non-renewal, which is basically an easy way of firing a teacher. This is when all the air in my lungs was taken out, it didn’t return for months. I was inconsolable. My wife told me that I needed to accept the fact that I was never going back to Charlotte Anderson. 

The district had made it very clear they didn’t want me back there.  I grieved the loss of my job similar to how one grieves the loss of a loved one. I lost myself so much that I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for weeks.

Teachers who teach because it is our calling don’t see our work as just a job. Our job title is very much our identity. Among family and friends alike, I was an elementary art teacher. Anyone who met me more than one time knew this about me, and they also knew how much love I had for my students and school.  If I wasn’t allowed to be an elementary art teacher, then who was I? Along with the grief of losing my students, I had a major identity crisis. I very much lost myself during these months.  I’m still working on trying to find the “Ms. Bailey” who used to exist.

AE: Where do things stand now?

SB: I currently teach Art 1 at Lake Ridge H.S.  When I knew about my reassignment, I decided to put circumstances aside and try my best to create a space that I, as well as my new students, could enjoy.  I knew that I would have to remember who “Ms. Bailey” was and try to fake that person until I remembered what she was really like.  I was deathly afraid to be around people again. 

I started the first two weeks of school with a lot of post-traumatic stress, fear, and panic. My stress and tension has begun to manifest itself as physical daily pain and headaches. I plan to do my job, find my passion again, and be the Ms. Bailey I was before. I try not to let fear overcome me or affect my performance, but anytime I get a phone call during work, or called to the office, my heart stops and I get hot all over.  It’s happened a few times.

AE: Do you think anything good has come from this? 

SB: I hope that a huge wave of awareness has swept across this district, maybe the state of Texas, maybe the nation. I think a lot of good has already come from this. I’ve had many young people, parents, and teachers contact me thanking me for my courage. I think what’s happened to me, and the way I reacted to it has given people a sense of hope that they really need right now. 

I grew up in a generation that taught me to hide myself and be ashamed of who I am.  It’s taken me years to get over that notion. It’s no secret that LGBTQ people spend their life going in and out of the closet. We learn where it is safe to be ourselves and where we must hide. Our authenticity is determined by what city we are in, what family member we are next to, the beliefs of the people we are walking with on a sidewalk…etc  At any moment our safety and dignity can be threatened. We have all experienced it. 

In most of our workplaces there’s an unwritten “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  I don’t believe my story is original or unique. I believe many LGBTQ teachers have been forced to resign and leave the job they loved. When you feel like a second-class citizen, most of us choose to stay quiet to preserve our dignity. If I would have caved and simply gone away, my integrity and dignity would have gone with it. Standing up for myself was the only option I had in order to live in my truth.

AE:: What do you believe you’ve learned from this experience?

SB: Last year at this time I had no idea that something like this could happen to me. I naively thought that when marriage equality passed in 2015 it came along with nation-wide protections. I think a lot of us thought that. My family is recognized through national law, but if I talk about my family at work I get a severe consequence. It’s hard to make sense of that.

I learned that it’s impossible for me to exist without feeling like my days matter.  As a teacher we have about 100 opportunities per day to do something good, make a difference, change a life. When that was stripped from me, I felt like I was a waste of air. I lost all of my passions, music, cooking, drawing, writing, friendship. 

In February when it became apparent I was not returning to school for the remainder of the year, my wife insisted that I volunteer and use my creative talents to do good in order to find myself again. I began volunteering for a local hospice for about 4-6 hours a week. I was a music and art volunteer. I drew portraits of hands, and I played old-timey blue grass gospel and folk songs for large groups at retirement homes.  Doing this gave a sense of purpose to my days and began to remind me of who I am.

AE: Is the issue closed? Is a lawsuit or other action still pending?

Bailey: The issue is very much not closed.  I knew once we filed the lawsuit in May that it would likely take 2 years or longer before anything real came of it. It would have been easier on my life to just resign, or to be unlawfully reassigned and to take no action. But, I’m a firm believer in, if you know better, do better. If I did nothing about my situation, then I would be passing the buck to the next teacher who this happens to. My wife and I took much consideration before making our decision to file a lawsuit, and we felt an obligation to teachers and generations that come after us to not let this issue just go away. My family has the right to exist and to be equally protected under the law.   

AE: How do you hope all of this will end ultimately?

Bailey: When this all started last September, my only goal was to get back to teaching my students at Charlotte Anderson. I would have settled for an apology and being returned back to my work family. Now, it seems like my situation is much bigger than just me, and even bigger than just my job. It would be nice if LGBTQ people didn’t have to lie to feel safe in their workplace. It would be lovely to see sweeping national protections for us in the workplace so we could just exist like everyone else does. 

My lawyer wisely told me not to live my life for my lawsuit. He told me to get back to the business of living. For the most part I try not to think about all of the drama that surrounds my job. I try to ignore articles and whatever the press may be saying. I never intended to be “that gay teacher” or an activist. I was simply living my life honestly. Sometimes just living turns out to be a sort of unintended rebellion.

AE: Would you change your actions that lead to all of this if you could go back in time?

SB: I’ve thought about that a lot. There was many days I didn’t think I was going to survive this.  Around March when had to decide between lying and keeping my career or remaining truthful and potentially ending my career, I very much wanted to wish this whole situation away. I wanted it to be a bad dream that I could wake up from.  I had been open and honest about my life since 2012, and why suddenly had my life been so uprooted? Why was my family suddenly controversial? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.  Early on into this struggle I set two rules for myself:1. Every time you CAN make a choice, make the best one. And 2 every choice you make either moves you towards fear or towards empowerment.  Do not move towards fear. 

Those two principles have lead me to today. I don’t recognize my life. This is not part of what I planned or intended for myself, but for some reason this horrible thing landed in my lap. I believe that every struggle and hardship of my life has prepared me to survive this one. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe everything in life happens on purpose and in order. I can’t regret any of part of my life that lead me to this. This is the life I was given, my job is to live that life.

AE: Anything else you’d like to say or share?

SB:  If a veteran teacher with a perfect record suddenly breaks a policy, I feel like there should be more due process than what was given to me. Why was I not offered a meeting with a discussion? It seems like if you have a teacher who is eager to get back to the classroom, you perform whatever investigation you see necessary, meet with that teacher to discuss the findings, you redirect that teacher and you let them get back to work, or you fire them. What happened to me will never make sense in my brain.

I spent two years lying by omission to my students. When kids asked me if I was married or if I had a boyfriend, I had a prepared response in order to deflect the question. I must have been asked that question at least 100x per year. That’s a lot of lying.

This is a Cheryl Strayed quote that I use and go back to in trying times: “At that moment they chose to tell the truth about themselves instead of staying ‘safe’ inside the lie. They realized that, in fact, the lie wasn’t safe. That it threatened their existence more profoundly than the truth did…This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it. Some of those people lost their jobs because they said that. Some lost family and friends. Some even lost their lives. But in saying that, they gained themselves.”

In 2012, Julie and I had been together for a year and I knew she was my forever partner. I felt convicted to stop lying to my students. I had a meeting with my principal, inquiring about policy and if I was safe to start telling my students the truth. I was told there was nothing in policy that could keep me from telling kids the truth. 

I don’t hold anything against the dad who started this. I know who he is, and I know and love both of his daughters. I have taught them for years, they are precious girls. I do wish he would have set up a parent-teacher conference with me to discuss his interpretation of what happened. So many problems between people can be solved with simple conversation. I understand he felt his complaint to the district was his own attempt at protecting his kids. I, like him, want all students to feel safe in my classroom. I would have respected his right to shield his own children from whatever he thought was going on if he would have given me the chance.

The very moment on May 25, 2017 when I was allowed to contact my school family, I did. I spent a huge portion of my summer reconnecting with co-workers, students and families; probably well over 100 of them.

I went to graduation parties, pool parties, and even did a day of art lessons with some of my kids. One of my students ran up to me and just started crying. Some of them were still concerned about the art they had missed and wanted to know what they would be learning when they went back to school. I had to tell them I wasn’t allowed to come back to be their teacher, and the look in their eyes was so sad.

I’m sure my eyes were the same.