Texas Ag Dept. Shocked That Antidiscrimination Training Included Gender Identity

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

Texas Department of Agriculture officials were shocked that an employee training session this week touched on issues around gender identity — and the department quickly repudiated the training, saying it presented “misinformation” and a “biased view.”

The presentation on equal employment opportunity, held Wednesday morning, dealt with gender identity only briefly — the presenter offered definitions of “transgender” and “cisgender,” and she explained the meaning of deadnaming, The Texas Tribune reports.

That afternoon, department leaders apologized for aspects of the training in an email saying the problematic portions were “with regard to the subject of gender.” Some employees were offended by it because of their religious beliefs, according to the email, sent to staffers and obtained by the Tribune.

“The agency was taken by surprise by the inclusion of controversial and incorrect legal propositions and would like to correct the misinformation provided,” the email said. “The current law in Texas contrasts with the material presented with regard to the subject of gender.”

Last year, a federal judge ruled that some types of discrimination against transgender workers are acceptable, contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by Donald Trump, ruled that the Biden administration’s guidance on implementing Bostock was overly broad. Kacsmaryk said the Bostock ruling applies only to hiring and firing practices and doesn’t mean, as the guidance had it, that companies have to allow workers to use the restrooms corresponding to their gender identity or dress according to that identity, nor do they have to use employee's preferred pronouns. He also said Texas employers don’t have to comply with the guidance.

The Agriculture Department, which is headed by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (pictured), recently imposed a gender-specific dress code on employees, saying they must dress “in a manner consistent with their biological gender.”

Miller is “an outspoken conservative Republican elected statewide who has been an eager combatant in the state’s political fights over the rights of transgender people,” the Tribune reports. He joined in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against the Biden administration guidance that resulted in Kacsmaryk’s ruling. “I refuse to sit idly by while the rights of my fellow Texans are violated by an overbearing and encroaching federal bureaucracy,” he said in a statement issued when the suit was filed.

The administration didn’t appeal the ruling, although legal experts theorized that it has another strategy in the works. A press release from Paxton’s office about the lack of an appeal was attached to the email sent to Ag Department staff.

Natalie Rougeux, the employment lawyer and university instructor who conducted the training, said she stood by it. She “simply gave the proper terminology for ‘transgender’ and ‘cisgender’ and explained the concept of ‘deadnaming,’” she told the Tribune via email. She noted that while certain aspects of the Biden administration guidance aren’t enforceable in Texas, that could change.

“Even as a conservative voter, I feel that it is prudent to briefly provide employees with the basic concepts of gender identity for their awareness,” Rougeux said. “There was no mandate given, and the training included many other topics of discrimination and harassment, including what it is and is not and how to report concerns of mistreatment or retaliation in the workplace.”

About 100 employees attended the training in person in the department’s headquarters in Austin, and those in field offices participated virtually. Some workers told the Tribune she used humor to make the session entertaining as well as informative. One said such trainings are “usually profoundly boring,” but Rougeux’s was “the best.”

The Tribune sought comment from the Ag Department about its backtracking on the training, but there had been no response as of Thursday.

(Photo above: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller)