WATCH: Texas state legislators tell LGBT youth, ‘It Gets Better’

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Several LGBT allies in the state Legislature have teamed up to make a two-part “It Gets Better” video to encourage queer youth that even in Texas, times are changing.

Lawmakers featured in the video are Rep. Mary Gonzalez, Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Mark Strama, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Rep. Rafael Anchia, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Sen. Kirk Watson, Sen. Royce West, Rep. Chris Turner, Sen. Jose Rodriguez, Rep. Garnet Coleman, Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Donna Howard, Rep. Justin Rodriguez, Rep. Gene Wu, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia.

The video was made in memory of Asher Brown, a gay Houston teen who committed suicide after being bullied. It was produced by Omar Araiza and Brianna Roberts, with filming and editing by Nathan Burkhart.

Araiza said coming out to his family at 16 was the hardest thing for him because many people in his life has homophobic beliefs. But things changed and he made it through the dark times when he wanted to end his life.

Now, he said he has hope because of the changing attitudes across the state, which was reflected by the strong support for LGBT issues in this year’s legislative session with a record number of pro-LGBT bills filed.

“This change in conversation needs to be made visible to LGBT youth who believe they are alone,” Araiza said. “Because they are supported and cared for by many. These videos are proof that in Texas, we have brave elected leaders willing to stand and support what many call today’s civil rights movement. While Texas may not be on the forefront of civil rights, change experienced here is a sign that full LGBT rights are inevitable.

“Things will continue to get better. We will all make it better.”

Watch the videos below.

—  Anna Waugh

Gay suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents drop suit against school district

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol lobbying for anti-bullying legislation in 2011.

Amy and David Truong, parents of gay teen suicide victim Asher Brown, have dropped their lawsuit against the Cy-Fair Independent School District in Houston.

Brown, 13, committed suicide in September 2010. The Truongs claimed Asher had been bullied based on his Buddhist beliefs, his size and his sexual orientation.

The Truongs became crusaders for passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and testified in favor of the state’s new anti-bullying law, which passed in 2011.

“All of this has been so difficult,” Amy Truong wrote on her blog recently after they dismissed the lawsuit. “Yet, no matter what happens, we have won. Everyone in the state has won. Laws have changed and everyone benefits from it.”

The school district denied the Truong’s allegations about bullying at Hamilton Middle School. Officials claimed Asher’s death resulted from problems at home.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: School in suicide victim Asher Brown’s district records powerful anti-bullying video

Cy-Ranch High School is part of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in the northern suburbs of Houston. So is Hamilton Middle School, where gay 13-year-old Asher Brown was relentlessly bullied before taking his own life in 2010. That’s why it’s especially good to see this amazing flash-mob/lip-dub anti-bullying video from the students at Cy-Ranch and Kaitlyn Knippers, a 15-year-old who wrote and recorded the song, “Who Do You Think You Are.” Watch it below.

—  John Wright

Parents of Asher Brown face vandalism, indimidation

David and Amy Troung at Equality Texas Lobby Day advocating for anti-bullying legislation

Sixteen months ago, amidst a national rash of suicides by LGBT youth, residents of Harris County awoke to find that the epidemic had claimed one of our own. Asher Brown, 13, had taken his life after enduring months of taunting from his Cy-Fair classmates. Asher was small for his age, a Buddhist, didn’t dress in designer clothes and didn’t act the way his classmates felt a “boy” should. Asher converted to Christianity, thinking it would make the torture end. His parents, David and Amy Truong, spoke with teachers and administrators, vainly hoping they would intervene to stop the torment. When nothing worked, when the adults at the school failed to step up, Asher killed himself.

For a moment, the people of Cy-Fair seemed to wake up. Candlelight vigils were held and adults throughout the community swore to stop the cycle of  harassment and assault that caused Asher to give up hope.

Then the moment passed. Cy-Fair, Harris County and the nation went on.

For David and Amy Truong the pain their son enduring remained, spurring them to action. The couple spoke to the media, religious leaders and elected officials asking for a change in the culture of our schools. They visited with members of the state legislature, helping to push through landmark anti-bullying legislation last year, and they have sued the Cy-Fair Independent School District, hoping to force the school district to change the way it responds to bullying, so no other child will have to experience what Asher did.

For some in Cy-Fair, it seems, the Truongs refusal to remain silent is an affront. My Fox Houston reports that the couple has faced an onslaught of harassment and vandalism as thanks for their efforts:

“‘People just driving by slowly and parking and staring at us. When they do speak to us they scream, “Bully, bully, bully!” Kids would start chanting that. Adults would just give us dirty glares. They scream by screaming, “Yee ha”!’ said David who has reported the incidents to Harris County Precinct 4 Constables.

Most recently, a hefty bag of bottles was smashed at high speed against the Troung’s [home], splattering glass throughout the yard.

‘Broken glass was everywhere on our lawn, almost to our neighbor’s lawn. We had to spend an hour picking through it by hand,’ said David.

Since their son’s death, the Troungs have endured more than a dozen separate incidents of vandalism and hateful harassment.”

Children aren’t born hating other people, they have to be taught. In Cy-Fair, it seems we now know where the children who drove Asher to suicide learned that skill.

After the jump watch the My Fox Houston report

—  admin

LGBT teen suicides continue — and so does harassment of Asher Brown’s parents

The It Gets Better Project project has helped a number of teens who are bullied in schools and churches. Legislation to stop bullying has passed in a number of states including Texas.

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol

But the bullying continues and so does teen suicide. Here are four gay teens who took their own lives in January. Others may have gone unreported as LGBT-related.

• Jan. 1 — Jeffrey Fehr, 18, hanged himself at his family’s home in Granite Bay, Calif.

• Jan. 11 — Eric James Borges, 19, an intern at The Trevor Project, committed suicide after being bullied, tormented and terrorized for most of his life. His religious-extremist parents did not to attend his memorial.

• Jan. 20 — Phillip Parker, 14, of Gorndonsville, Tenn. committed suicide. His parents said he was constantly bullied because he was gay.

• Jan. 29 — Rafael Morelos, 14, of Wenatchee, Wash., who was openly gay, hanged himself after constant bullying.

But the bullying doesn’t stop there. Dallas Voice reported in March 2011 that Asher Brown’s parents, Amy and David Truong, were being harassed for speaking out against the Cy-Fair Independent School District and pushing for anti-bullying legislation.

Asher was one of the teen’s whose suicide brought national attention to the issue. His parents lobbied Texas legislators and testified before the Senate Education Committee about the bullying Asher endured.

Fox News in Houston reports that the Truongs continue to be the victims of bullying and vandalism at their house. Watch the Fox video here.

—  David Taffet

On 1-year anniversary of Asher Brown’s death, his parents call for a moment of silence tonight

Asher Brown
Asher Brown

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Asher Brown’s death.

Asher, a gay 13-year-old from the Houston area, took his own life in response to bullying at school.

Asher’s parents, Amy and David Truong, have recorded a video calling for a moment of silence at 8 p.m. today in honor of Asher and other victims of bullying, as well as their families.

Watch the Truongs’ video and read a statement from Equality Texas below.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Houston schools add LGBT protections; marriage vote still pending in NY

Asher Brown
Asher Brown

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Houston school board on Thursday night unanimously approved a new policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, according to a report from Meghan Stabler, a board member for the Human Rights Campaign. Houston ISD is the seventh-largest district in the nation, and the new policy protects both students and employees, Stabler reports. It comes eight months after the suicide of gay youth Asher Brown, who took his own life in response to anti-gay bullying in the nearby Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, which has not yet updated its policies to protect LGBT youth.

2. Despite rumors of an all-night session that would finally include a vote on marriage equality, the New York Senate abruptly shut down at 11 p.m. local time on Thursday and will reconvene this morning. Towleroad has a summary of where things stand.

3. As the wait continued in Albany, President Barack Obama addressed an LGBT fundraiser Thursday night in Manhattan, where he said he believes that “gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country” but added that marriage should be left up to the states. Watch video of Obama’s remarks and the protest outside below.

—  John Wright

Legislative session ends well for LGBT community

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED | Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said the LGBT lobbying organization stayed persistent and reached its major goal in this legislative session. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Although prospects were dim as session started, Equality Texas has achieved its top priority with passage of anti-bullying bill

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

When the 82nd Texas Legislature convened in January, things weren’t looking good for the LGBT community.

Republicans had seized a supermajority in the House in November elections, and Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, had eliminated half its staff — including its legislative lobbyist — due to budget constraints.

Five months later, when the legislative session ends this coming Monday, Equality Texas will have defied the odds and achieved its No. 1 priority — passage of meaningful anti-bullying legislation.

On top of that, the group has seen committee hearings on more than a dozen bills it supported, and appears to have staved off several anti-LGBT measures, including one targeting transgender marriage and another aimed at eliminating gay resource centers on college campuses.

“I would give this a very high mark as far as a legislative session for us,” said Dennis Coleman, who was named executive director of Equality Texas just months before the session began.

“I would give it an ‘A’ considering where we thought we were going. I don’t think that anybody thought that we would make any kind of progress based upon last year’s elections, and I would say I was a little skeptical as well.

“We stayed persistent,” Coleman added. “We found allies to work with all across the board. Equality Texas became the expert on a lot of the bills that were out there, especially around the bullying bills.”

For Equality Texas, the session was highlighted by final passage this week of HB 1942, the bipartisan anti-bullying bill by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that now awaits Gov. Rick Perry’s signature. Passage of Patrick’s bill, a compromise measure that includes portions of several other anti-bullying bills, comes on the heels of the gay youth suicide crisis of last fall.

“It’s unfortunate that it took the suicide of children for people to really pay attention to what we knew about almost 15 years ago,” Coleman said. “For many people they think it just popped up, but this has been going on for at least three sessions.”

To help win passage of Patrick’s bill, Equality Texas enlisted people like Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, as well as the parents of bullying victims including Asher Brown, the gay 13-year-old from the Houston area who took his own life last year.

“It was a promise I made to Asher the day that he died before his little body left this house,” Amy Truong, Asher’s mother, said this week in an Equality Texas press release marking final passage of HB 1942. “I told him that I would never stop fighting until we did something to change this.”

Coleman downplayed criticism that Patrick’s bill doesn’t include enumerated protections for LGBT youth. “I think by making it as broad as you can, you include everyone without excluding anyone,” Coleman said. “To say that LGBT students are not covered is wrong.”

Coleman added that although he doesn’t believe the absence of LGBT protections weakens the bill, “I definitely think we would not have gotten the broad bipartisan support had we continued trying to fight for everything we thought should have been in there.”

As of Thursday, Equality Texas was patiently awaiting final passage of a second bill it supports, a youth suicide prevention measure from Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

But the group’s work won’t end with the session on Monday. Dennis Coleman said he believes a special session is likely, which could provide an opportunity for defeated anti-LGBT measures to re-emerge. He added that the group has a very short window for fundraising prior to the 2012 election cycle.

“I don’t know what kind of vacation I’m going to be taking anytime soon,” Coleman said as he traveled from Austin to Dallas for a fundraiser on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re tired, but we’re happy with the results.”

—  John Wright

Asher’s parents respond to abuse allegations

Amy and David Truong

As we mentioned last week, David and Amy Truong have filed a federal lawsuit against the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and Hamilton Middle School. The Truongs are the parents of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old who committed suicide in September after reportedly being bullied at school.

The Houston Chronicle noted in its report about the lawsuit that the Truong’s older son had been removed from the home by Child and Family Protective Services because of alleged abuse.

The Truongs believe the school district has been raising child abuse allegations since Asher’s death to deflect blame from school officials. The Truongs also questioned how the Houston Chronicle got a copy of the abuse allegations even before the case had gone to family court.

Estella Olguin, a spokeswoman for CFPS in the Houston area, said the agency doesn’t release case files. She said the reporter from the Houston Chronicle obtained a copy directly from the judge. A judge is allowed to release files in open investigations.

Olguin said CFPS normally investigates a home when there is a death of a child, especially if a suicide is involved. Her department cannot, however, investigate and charge a school if bullying was involved — even if negligence by school personnel is found.

CFPS also investigates when someone refers a case.

Olguin could not tell us whether someone referred the case after Asher’s death and if so, who it was. She also could not tell me whether it was referred or it was a routine investigation triggered by the suicide.

The Truongs believe the school district may have asked CFPS to open the investigation.

In their lawsuit, the Truongs accuse school district officials of publicly stating on several occasions that there was no evidence Asher was bullied. Evidence such as David Truong’s signed visitor sheets that show he met with school officials about the problem is missing and, the lawsuit alleges it was destroyed by the district.

David answered the abuse allegations in an email to us. We’ve posted the full text of his email below.

—  David Taffet

LEGE UPDATE: Senate flirts with trans marriage ban; LGBT youth removed from suicide bill

Daniel Williams

An attack on opposite-sex marriage, movement on anti-bullying bills and the removal of protections for LGBT teens from a suicide prevention bill marked this, the 15th week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session.

On Friday morning , April 15, urgent alerts went out from state and national transgender advocacy groups asking Texans to call Democratic members of the Senate and urge them to oppose Senate Bill 723. The bill would remove a court-ordered “change of sex” from the list of identifying documents which Texans can use to obtain a marriage license, potentially voiding all opposite-sex marriages in Texas where one partner has changed their legally recognized sex.

The alert was caused by the placement of SB 723 on the Senate’s “intent calendar” for Monday, April 18.

Senate rules require bills to be considered in the order they are filed, but the Senate hardly ever follows that rule. Instead they file a bill at the front of the line (the “blocker bill”) and everyone agrees not to vote on it. In order for the Senate to consider a bill filed after the blocker bill they must vote to “set aside” the Senate rules and take the bill “out of order.” Senate Rule 22.02 says that setting aside the rules requires a two-thirds majority of the members present. The intent calendar is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up out of order that day. The Senate creates an intent calendar each week, and any bill not taken up on Monday rolls over to Tuesday and then to Wednesday. They then start a new intent calendar the following week.

There are 31 Senators: 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans. In order for a bill to receive the required two-thirds (or 20) votes it needs, at least one of the Democrats must support it. Thus the urgency of the alert.

—  admin