Gay candidate vies for Dallas school board seat

Posted on 10 May 2013 at 10:30am

Arturo Sierra would be DISD’s 2nd out trustee; Fort Worth incumbent Carlos Vasquez seeks re-election amid opposition within community

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Arturo ‘Art’ Sierra

 

ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

The Dallas school board could gain an openly gay member this year, but Fort Worth’s could lose gay incumbent Carols Vasquez.

Arturo “Art” Sierra hopes to make it into a runoff in the May 11 election for the District 7 Dallas school board seat.

Sierra, who runs a small landscaping business, is the only gay candidate running in the May 11 DISD elections, but faces law firm office manager Rafael Narvaez III and incumbent Eric Cowan, who is a director of revenue management.

If elected, he’d become just the second openly gay DISD trustee in history, after Jose Plata.

Vasquez, FWISD vice president and elementary school teacher, is running for re-election in District 1, with former Dallas Trustee Camille Rodriguez and political newcomer Jacinto Ramos Jr. challenging him.

Vasquez and Austin ISD Trustee Jayme Mathias are the only two openly gay school board members in the state.

Vasquez, 45, has been criticized for his temperament and infighting on the board. His lack of attention to LGBT issues has also caused strife.

Many in the LGBT community are now supporting juvenile probation officer Ramos, 38, who said he would be an ally for the community.

Vasquez didn’t return calls seeking comment for this story.

Ramos said he’s spoken to LGBT youth at several schools and wants to ensure that they and other youth have a safe environment to grow and learn. He spearheaded the creation of a multicultural awareness club at North Side High School to celebrate diversity and offer support many youth don’t feel like they have from the administration or school board.

“I just don’t feel we have the quality of leadership in my district that advocates for all backgrounds,” Ramos said.

Openly gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns is not endorsing in the race, but called Ramos an “up and coming star and Hispanic leader in Fort Worth.”

Dallas’ Sierra said he was approached by schoolteachers and retired principals to represent the district.
He said the heavily Hispanic district, which includes North Oak Cliff and parts of West Dallas, isn’t well represented, which prohibits Hispanic and LGBT families from participating.

“I’m able to reach out to so many families,” he said.

Sierra has helped unite his neighborhood over the years, helping create a safe neighbors group, to which he was elected chairman. The group plans meetings and social gatherings to discuss crime rates and prevention, code compliance and meet neighbors. He’s also worked as elections clerk and served as elections judge in his precinct.

Sierra wants to focus on helping bring in and retain bilingual teachers so students can learn English and progress faster, as well as staffing more police on school campuses.

“It’s important that we have these bilingual teachers from day one because these kids are being pushed through,” he said. “They need to make a transition to English classes as soon as possible.”

He also wants the bullying policy enforced. Two of his neighbors are schoolteachers and worry about the effectiveness of DISD’s LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy. Growing up in Brownsville, he said he knows what it’s like facing adversity in public school while being gay and Hispanic.

“As a Hispanic gay male, I know what it’s like to go to public school,” he said. “We need that ordinance enforced across the board. Schools need to help end bullying. We need to protect our LGBT students.”

Sierra also wants to follow in the footsteps of Austin and Pflugerville ISD and offer employees domestic partner benefits. While DISD cannot offer them currently because its health insurance is through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, he said the district should find a way to provide them by leaving the TRS or changing the policy’s definition of who is eligible.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be offering these benefits already,” he said. “I think it’s something that needs to be done.”

While Sierra’s chances at winning are slim with an incumbent in the race, he said he at least hopes to make it into a runoff.

“It’s always difficult to beat an incumbent, but never say never,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 10, 2013.

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