The following is a joint statement from Resource Center, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community center serving the Dallas area, and Fairness Fort Worth, the LGBT advocacy group in Tarrant County:
This week’s news that students at a school in the McKinney ISD were asked to leave school for wearing ‘Gay is OK’ t-shirts in support of a bullied classmate points out the glaring lack of LGBT-specific anti-bullying and anti-harassment protections for public school students across North Texas. As the school year ends across the region, the time is now to change that.
According to the most recent School Climate Index published by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) in 2013, 79% of students in Texas experienced verbal harassment based on sexual orientation and 56% were harassed based on their gender identity. Nearly nine out of ten students heard homophobic remarks or negative remarks about gender identity. Just under four in ten students were physically harassed based on sexual orientation, and one in four were harassed based on gender identity. Finally, 56% of Texas students never reported that harassment to school officials. This may be part to what students hear from staff: the survey found 28% regularly heard school staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression and 23% regularly heard staff make homophobic remarks.
In the 10-county Dallas Fort Worth area, there are 93 independent school districts. Only two — Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD — have LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies for students, teachers and staff. Two more districts — Grand Prairie ISD and Little Elm ISD — provide LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies for students only. The Cedar Hill ISD has an anti-harassment policy for lesbian, gay and bisexual students only.
None of the 88 other school districts in North Texas provide any other enumerated, specific LGBT anti-bullying or anti-harassment protections for students, teachers or staff. The numbers are equally bleak across Texas. Of the 1,029 school districts across the state, around a dozen districts have anti-bullying and/or anti-harassment policies that are explicitly LGBT-inclusive. Last year Uplift Education, an operator of charter schools in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, adopted LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies for students after meeting with representatives from the Center and Fairness Fort Worth.
Resource Center and Fairness Fort Worth jointly call on all school districts across North Texas to adopt policies explicitly protecting LGBT students, teachers and staff. But merely adopting these policies is only the first step. The best-written policy is simply words on paper if there are not active steps to implement it. Both Resource Center and Fairness Fort Worth want to work with local districts on LGBT-inclusive policies and will be reaching out to engage them on this issue in the coming months.