Austin ISD to boost Pride Parade participation with church rental money

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After protests and complaints about Austin ISD renting space to a church that doesn’t allow gay members, the district is getting creative with its response. 

It plans to take $10,000 of the money it’s received in rent payments, and use it to boost student participation in the Austin Pride parade. 

Previously, the district has relied on donations to pay for the transportation, security, and entrance fee to participate. 

“Austin ISD is committed to providing welcoming environments to all of our students,” said AISD Communication and Engagement Executive Director Reyne Telles. “All means all for us, and that comes in a variety of ways.”

Since it began renting out its performing arts center on Sundays to Celebration Church in August, the district has received $182,182.50 in rent payments.

However, it quickly became controversial due to a marriage and sexuality policy previously posted on its website that reads in part: “…homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God.”

The policy goes on to say that employees, volunteers and members should abide and agree to the policy.

Former AISD student Naomi Wilson is among a small group of demonstrators who’s been protesting every week since the church started leasing the space. 

She believes the policy doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s almost insulting how small that step was,” Wilson said. 

Celebration Church did not respond to KXAN’s request for comment. However, the advocacy group Texas Values didn’t mince words when asked about the new policy. 

“What Austin ISD is doing with their money shows they need to get their priorities straight,” said Texas Values Public Policy Advisor Mary Castle. “Instead of sending kids to these over-sexualized events, they should really be focusing on the failing schools in the district.”

Last school year several board members publicly questioned whether the district should keep renting to Celebration Church. That drew the ire of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. 

It explained in a letter that changing the rules to target Celebration Church, would be discriminatory.

The letter says: “…the Constitution and state law require the District to provide churches with equal access to facilities it opens to community organizations.”

This means either all groups can rent AISD facilities, or none.

Celebration Church is just one of more than 40 churches, and 300 hundred organizations the district rents its facilities out to. 

Telles said the $10,000 is just a start and adds that the district is open to increasing that amount depending on the need. 

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