As the Texas Legislature is amidst another special session, we wanted to share Sophia’s story of how schoolteachers and students are being directly affected by anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation.
Sophia DeLoretto-Chudy is a resident of Austin and former elementary school teacher. She was abruptly removed from her position in March 2023 after a TikTok she made went viral overnight. In the TikTok, she shared a memo she had received from school administrators citing concerns over “an intentional attempt in teaching [her] students their legal and constitutional rights.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Equality Texas: Let’s start by having you introduce yourself.
Sophia DeLoretto-Chudy: My name is Sophia DeLoretto-Chudy. I go by she/her/hers, and I am a former teacher. Last year, I was teaching third grade in Austin, Texas.
EQTX: What is your relationship to the state of Texas? Are you originally from here or did you move here?
SDC: I actually moved to Texas in 2021 immediately following the freeze. When I was deciding where to live, I was looking for places that had big, really diverse, really young populations, but the elected leaders didn’t actually look like the populations that they represent. And where voting turnout rates were really low. Actually, part of how I picked Texas was by looking at election data.
So I moved to Austin and kind of fell in love with Texas. I started unraveling all of these stereotypes that I had heard growing up in the Pacific Northwest about the South. And I really felt like I wanted to do work in Texas, and I saw people for who they really were on the ground.
EQTX: Can you talk a little bit more about what some of that myth-busting and unlearning you did was like?
SDC: A big thing I learned was that there’s really not a lot of choice in Texas, and people actually do care a lot but feel like they’re being kept from having a voice. And then, there was also this idea that Texas is just this big, white, cowboy state, but it’s actually really diverse! There’s so much more going on than what we think of from outside the state, which makes sense when it takes twelve hours to drive across Texas. There’s not a lot of people that know what it’s really like.
EQTX: As you know, over the past few years, Texas lawmakers have been increasingly focused on legislation targeting queer and trans people, and many of those bills have been centered around education and school policies. So while you were a teacher, how did this legislation affect you professionally?
SDC: A lot of the policies that most people are hearing about nowadays weren’t in effect while I was teaching, but there were policies from before that had chilling effects. Across schools and local libraries around the state, Texas was leading the nation in number of attempts to restrict books, so there was a very rigid system in place to choose the books that we were allowed to read, plus so many different levels of bureaucracy we had to go through to get approval to show certain content. And oftentimes, the process was too slow to be useful because the event would pass and I still wouldn’t have approval for the content.
But during this legislative session, the bill trying to ban pride events at schools was a big one for us because we had a pride celebration at my school. And when we were planning it, we had to be incredibly careful because there were huge fears about who might show up and try to harass or intimidate the students who were participating and the teachers and the parents that were putting it on.
EQTX: What has the impact been on your students amidst all of that?
SDC: During a staff training for human physiology week, we were trained that when a student has a question, we answer it first with facts. But if there is no direct fact that is related to the question, we answer with the common understanding or generally accepted position. And if we’re ultimately unable to answer it, we tell the student to ask a different trusted adult in their family. We were not allowed to include any personal opinions on the matter or any personal relationship to the matter.
And I had a question during this training because one of my students is trans and she is proud to be trans. So I asked, “What if somebody asks if trans women are real women? Because unfortunately, that is controversial in our political state and we don’t know that the general public will agree. So how do we answer this question?”
And they essentially told me that I was not allowed to say that trans women are women if that question were to be asked. Policies like this are so harmful to students because their very identities are being called “controversial topics.” And then these students internalize that their existence, comfort, and safety in the classroom do not matter.
EQTX: What kind of responses have you seen or been involved in to support queer and trans students? What are people doing to resist and fight back against this blatant censorship?
SDC: Unfortunately, with teachers, there’s a culture of fear right now. And it is really hard to take any kind of stand in situations like this without fearing reprimand, without fearing losing your job. Teachers get graded every year by administrators, and that grade results in pennies to the dollar difference in your salary, but our salaries are so low to begin with that it’s incredibly important to get a good grade. And that means not being controversial.
I will say where I draw the most hope from is the students themselves because they are incredibly intelligent. They understand. You explain gender identity to a child and they get it instantly. It makes complete sense to them. They don’t go into conversations about gender identity with baggage of any kind or predispositions—those things are taught.
With the parents, though, I will say it’s been really cool to see how they’ve responded. Some parents started a queer alliance for students, parents, and siblings of students who want their identity affirmed at school. And it’s not a political organization by any means, they just wanted a space to come together and be in community.
I think community building is going to be the answer in response to bad policy. So when lawmakers are not protecting those among us that are the most vulnerable, we will protect each other. And the harder that they push back against queer people existing, the more queer people are going to come out is how I see it. And be louder and prouder because they have to be, and that’s true for our students too.
EQTX: Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you want to add?
SDC: Even though it was a very painful thing that happened, there was a slight blessing involved in being removed at the time that I did. It allowed me to go and advocate for my students at the Capitol during the last legislative session. It allowed me to bring information back to other teachers about the bills being debated that would affect schools. And in many of those conversations about laws that were being proposed, I was the only teacher in the room, voicing how it would affect a classroom or how it would affect my students.
But the only reason I was able to be there was because the school administration made the decision to remove me. And, because I had gained 60,000 followers on TikTok, I was able to use that platform to promote information about what was happening at the Texas legislature, how to get involved, which bills to pay attention to, and how it would affect the classroom and students. So there was a little bit of a silver lining to it that I am a little bit grateful for.