In June, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 14, which bans minors in his state from receiving gender-affirming care. This gave families with transgender kids little option but to relocate to another state so that their children could receive necessary care.
Mitchell Tillison, 40, moved to Sammamish with his family just three months ago to provide a safe environment where his daughter, Rebecca, can receive gender-affirming care.
The Tillison family previously lived in Frisco, Texas. Tillison described Frisco as a generally supportive environment, explaining how the staff at his daughter’s school were very accommodating during her transition. However, the state itself wasn’t the best environment, especially after Senate Bill 14 was passed.
“Texas is complicated,” Tillison said.
As such, he began searching for a place where his daughter would be welcomed at both the community and political level. He started off by reaching out through his TikTok network, which consists of a lot of teachers, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and allies.
When exploring which school districts would be welcoming, Tillison saw the Issaquah School District (ISD) come up repeatedly. He also saw there was a promising job market in the area for both his wife and him. So, they made the decision to move to Sammamish.
As an educator, one of Tillison’s first job interviews was with ISD, where the job application asked how he would maintain a safe environment and affirm the identities of each of his students.
“That’s not a question I’ve seen on an application before…it told me the school district was already in the right place to begin with,” he said.
Although he was not hired, Tillision was given the opportunity to talk to an ISD school principal. The principal had only positive things to say about the staff and students in the district and reassured Tillision that Rebecca would get ample support.
“After that, I sat in my car and cried…I knew our kids would be safe,” Tillison said.
The family’s experience here has been great so far. Tillison says Rebecca, who is a middle schooler, loves her classrooms and teachers. He mentioned that there are so many opportunities for her to explore. Over the summer, Rebecca went to a musical theater camp in Issaquah.
“She came home every day with a giant smile on her face,” Tillison said.
He said that one of the biggest differences between her school in Frisco and her school in Sammamish is the visible support.
“She saw the pride flags and positive language in classrooms and felt immediately comfortable,” he said.
Another difference he saw was the City of Sammamish’s recent absolute intolerance of hate speech against the queer community. He mentioned how he heard that ex-commissioner Fayed was fired after making anti-LGBTQIA remarks.
“That [consequence] would have never happened in Texas,” Tillison said.
Tillison explained that he found it remarkable that the city responded decisively against the remarks, instead of ignoring them. The backlash just served as another reassurance that the city would uphold its resolution to value diversity and equity, allowing Tillison and his family to feel welcomed.
“All we ask is basic dignity and respect for our kid and our family,” he said.