The Austin Independent School District (AISD) has decided to take some of the funds it has received from a local church and put them toward LGBT-related activities, including Austin’s annual Pride parade. The decision comes after months of protests from gay rights advocates, who want the district to stop renting its facilities to organizations that do not support gay marriage.
“We do have a core value of equity, diversity and inclusion in this district,” said Jacob Reach, according to the Austin-American Statesman. Reach, who is the Austin school district’s chief of staff, said that “Every year, the organizers of [Pride week] have struggled to find donations, money and support to be able to include AISD students and teachers in this event. So we were able to set aside for them so they don’t have [to] go out and try to raise the money.”
The Statesman reports that 298 organizations rent from the AISD. These organizations include 41 other churches besides the church in question, Celebration Church. Celebration Church is a multisite church, co-pastored by Joe and Lori Champion, and is a member of the Association of Related Churches, an organization that supports church planting and growth. The church has been renting from the district since the end of last summer, and since September, the district has received $182,000 from the church in rental fees. The AISD has allotted $10,000 of these funds toward paying for Pride-related activities and materials, as well as toward helping its students participate in the Pride parade, which will be on August 10th.
AISD and Competing Interests
The Statesman reports that in the past, Celebration Church had statements on its website that said “homosexuality, bisexuality and disagreeing with one’s biological sex is a sin.” While the church has since removed that language, the site still defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and specifies that the church does not support sex outside of marriage.
Gay rights activists have been protesting outside during the church’s services ever since Celebration Church first started renting space from the school district. One protestor told the Statesman that the AISD’s decision to use the church’s rental money for the Pride parade is helpful, but not sufficient to seriously address homophobia and transphobia. Last fall, the district did consider restricting the church’s use of its facilities. However, the Texas Attorney General’s office warned the district that doing so would violate the Constitution and state law, so the AISD took no action at that time.
In a Facebook post on June 3rd, the district announced its support of Pride Month, as well as its decision to use rental funds toward Pride activities.
One user commented expressing appreciation for the district’s support, but added, “If you want to be truly supportive you need to stop renting out the AISD performance center at Mueller to the hateful very vocal anti LGBTQ church group: Celebration Church. We have people down there protesting every single Sunday & you’ve completely ignored our concerns for almost a year now.”
Celebration Church has not addressed the AISD’s decision, although in an email, church leaders did say, “Our focus is on our mission of sharing the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.”