YFT restructures its staff

Development will become a board function, with programming handled by a professional staff member

YFT-GaylaProm-006

PROM NIGHT | Youth attending a previous Gayla Prom stop dancing long enough to smile for the camera. Previously presented at SMU by Resource Center Dallas, the prom now comes under the purview of Youth First Texas.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Officials with Youth First Texas have created the new part-time position of youth program coordinator, and the board hopes to fill the job before the end of January.

The new hire will be responsible for program development, implementation and evaluation.

The agency, which serves LGBT youth up to age 22, currently has no employees.

Sam Wilkes had served as director of development and administration, but that position has been eliminated.

In announcing the change, the YFT board called the staff restructuring a reflection of its stronger commitment to core programs.

“We really found that even though we have a program committee, we need a dedicated person,” said YFT Board Co-Chair Chris-James Cognetta.

He said the agency is looking for someone who has experience in youth work, preferably with the LGBTQA community. Other preferences include someone with an education or programming background and who is bilingual.

“We’ve had an influx of LGBTQA Hispanic youth,” Cognetta said.

Most of the Hispanic youth who attend are fluent English speakers, but their parents primarily speak Spanish. He said that it is important to welcome parents having trouble accepting their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity and to answer questions they may have.

“It makes a huge difference when we have a bilingual staff member,” he said.

Development will be taken over by a committee chaired by the treasurer, currently Kevin Mackenroth, and will include two other board members.

“The plan is to launch a sustained giving program from individuals and corporations, and include estate planning,” Cognetta said. He said this was the first time the agency has tried this approach.

Cognetta also said that YFT is in good shape financially.

“We’re going into the first quarter with 30 percent more income than we expected,” he said. “We’re putting more money into programming in 2012 than ever.”

Cognetta said that the core programs will continue. Education instruction includes health and nutrition classes as well as helping youth obtain GEDs or get into college. One of the agency’s recent success stories is a student who applied to Southern Methodist University with the help of YFT, and who is now a pre-law and pre-med student there.

Other YFT programs include the big group on Thursday nights, the gender identity group, self-defense class and Friday night family dinner.

The center maintains a food pantry for emergency situations for youth living on their own.

“We move them over to the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] food stamp program,” Cognetta said. “But we fill the gap until we can get them into that.”

YFT is also trying to take over planning and organizing for the annual GAYLA prom, which has been held at SMU in May in recent years. Cognetta said the new programming director would take over handling the project, which was dropped by Resource Center Dallas.

“We’re looking for volunteers to pull it together,” Cognetta said.

Also, Cognetta said he hopes the new staff member will do more outreach to schools and gay-straight alliances and do “gap analysis” to determine who and what areas are underserved.

“I want to see the center open every evening at 4 and every Saturday night,” Cognetta said.

Currently, YFT is open Tuesday through Friday at 6 p.m., Thursday at 5 p.m. and every other Saturday evening. Cognetta said that many youth go home after school and don’t get out again. Opening earlier would serve more people, he said.

“Finding volunteers who will be there at 4 is a challenge,” Cognetta acknowledged. He said finding a group of people to each devote one Saturday a month to opening the center will likely be easier.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

LGBT advocates give DISD an ‘F’ on implementing anti-bullying policy

Cox, Narvaez say some administrators are telling employees not to use online reporting system

DISD

CALLING OUT DISD | Cece Cox with Resource Center Dallas and Omar Narvaez with Lambda Legal this week urged DISD board members to force employees to step up implementation of the district’s anti-bullying policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox this week accused Dallas Independent School District officials of instructing principals to ignore the reporting requirement in the school district’s anti-bullying policy.

Speaking at a DISD board meeting Thursday morning, Dec. 1, Cox called board members that adopted the policy visionary, but gave the district a grade of “F” in implementing the policy.

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez also spoke at the Dec. 1 board meeting.
DISD passed the anti-bullying policy in November 2010, soon after a string of teens across the country committed suicide after having been repeatedly bullied at school. The Dallas policy was implemented more than six months before the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Perry signed a new statewide anti-bullying law.

Narvaez said that the Dallas policy was cited repeatedly in Austin as the anti-bullying bill made its way through the Legislature.

But he said that a year after the Dallas policy was adopted, only about a third of principals have been trained on the computer-based reporting system, that most schools do not have the system in place and even more do not know how to use it.

Narvaez urged DISD to step up its implementation.

Cox said that many schools only sporadically adhere to key provisions of the policy —  enforcement and reporting.

A year after adopting the policy, Cox said, “I’m sorry to report the wheels have fallen off. Your grade is ‘F.’”

She said that there was a deliberate attempt by some DISD administrators to stop the implementation of the anti-bullying policy. “My agency has received reports from [DISD] employees,” Cox said.

“They have been told not to use the online reporting system.”

She warned the board of the serious consequences of ignoring bullying in schools: “You will have blood on your hands.”

Narvaez also praised the policy that passed unanimously a year ago, noting that it is being used as “a blueprint across the state.”

But, he added, two-thirds of DISD principals still need to be trained on the reporting system.

“It’s time we forget about politics,” he said.

Narvaez told the board several stories of DISD students having been bullied for a variety of reasons beyond sexual orientation and reminded them that the policy would keep all students safer.

Narvaez said that while some administrators fear that repeated reports of bullying would be counted against a school, instead, schools with the highest rates of reporting should be seen as having principals doing their jobs diligently and that schools that don’t report incidents of bullying should be seen as having principals ignoring the problem.

After the two spoke during the brief public comments section of the board meeting, DISD trustee Nancy Bingham spoke privately with Cox. Bingham, an early supporter of the anti-bullying policy, said the board would be getting a briefing.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DONATION

PURPLE PARTY PEOPLE  | The executive board and associate board of the Purple Party presented Don Maison and Mary Beth O’Connor, center, of AIDS Services of Dallas a check for $50,000 at Revlon House. The money was raised at the April 28-May 1 event and was donated in memory of Peter Brown, a long-time board member who died in July. Purple Party is one of the largest all-volunteer charity circuit parties in the country and has donated a total of more than $400,000, board members said. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Oliver Blumer named vice chair of TENT board

Oliver Blumer, left, and his partner Mary Kay Cody

Oliver Blumer, who was profiled by Dallas Voice a while back, has been named vice chairman of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, the statewide organization dedicated to furthering the cause of gender diverse people.

According to the press release we’ve posted after the jump, Lisa Scheps is stepping down as executive director of TENT, and board chairwoman Katy Stewart will take over day-to-day operations.

—  John Wright

Is DISD refusing to protect gay kids from bullying?

We’ve been told repeatedly in recent weeks that DISD’s board of trustees planned to put off a vote on a new bullying policy until officials could further discuss whether it should enumerate specific categories of students who would be protected, including those who are targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

So it comes as quite a surprise that this Thursday’s board agenda includes an item calling for approval, on second reading, of the same non-inclusive bullying policy that was initially proposed by the DISD administration. If you’ll recall, the non-inclusive policy prompted objections from LGBT groups, and at least two DISD trustees responded by saying they’d propose a substitute that enumerates specific protections.

We’ve got calls in to district spokesman Jon Dahlander, as well as trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, to find out what’s going on. But for the record, Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas is concerned:

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Based on the conversations with several board members, this proposed policy doesn’t reflect the information we gave them and how they responded to us.”

McDonnell notes that the only apparent change in the proposed policy since it was first introduced is the addition of the following paragraph at the very top:

—  John Wright

Resource Center calls on DISD to add LGBT protections to proposed new anti-bullying policy

IMPORTANT UPDATE: RCD’s Rafael McDonnell reports that those wishing to speak at Thursday’s DISD meeting must sign up by 5 p.m. Wednesday by calling board services at 972-925-3720.

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the Dallas Independent School District to add protections for LGBT students to a proposed new anti-bullying policy. As we reported yesterday, the new anti-bullying policy is slated to be discussed Thursday by DISD’s board of trustees. A final vote is expected at the end of the month, but as currently written, the policy doesn’t include specific prohibitions against bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. Which seems odd given the fact that we are in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicides related to anti-gay bullying and harassment, including at least one in Texas. Resource Center is encouraging people to contact the nine members of DISD’s Board of Trustees and demand that they amend the policy to include LGBT students. RCD has also sent its own letter to each of the nine trustees, which we’ve posted below. From RCD’s press release:

“We are pleased that DISD is revisiting its approach to bullying. Unfortunately, the proposed policy does not define which students are to be protected by it. As a result, it does not provide specific protections for LGBT students. It is vital for this board to specifically articulate who this policy is designed to protect, rather than simply stating a broad definition of bullying. Absent any specific protections, it could be inferred that it would be okay to bully students based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Given the rash of LGBT bullying-related suicides in recent weeks—including one in the greater Houston area—specifically articulated protections are not formalities; they are essential.

“Resource Center Dallas encourages the North Texas LGBT community to contact the nine members of the DISD board. Encourage them to modify the proposed anti-bullying policy to specifically include LGBT students. Board members still have time to improve the protections for the youngest members of our community. Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail, can be found at http://www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm. Additionally, if you are able to attend the DISD board meeting Thursday, October 14 at 11:30 a.m. at 3700 Ross Avenue in Dallas, please do so. A representative of the Center will address the board on these issues.”

—  John Wright

Activist (and hottie) Travis Gasper to return to Dallas as development director for AIDS Interfaith

Travis Gasper

Travis Gasper, founding president of the current chapter of Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats and a Dallas Voice “Future Pioneer,” is returning to Dallas from Colorado to accept a position as director of development for AIDS Interfaith Network, he told Instant Tea in an e-mail Wednesday.

Gasper, a Colorado native, left Dallas last December to run a newly created nonprofit in Denver that engages business leaders as advocates for early childhood programs. Gasper says he’ll be moving back to Dallas in a few weeks.

“I just happened to find out about the position when I was in town last month, and it was great timing since I had gotten to know the organization last year when we were fighting the city’s HIV/AIDS budget cuts,” Gasper writes. “The experience of starting a new organization has been great, and we have great board members and funders, but I miss friends and family and Dallas in general.”


—  John Wright

YFT-Collin County still looking for a home

Back in July we reported that Collin County’s organization for LGBT youth was looking for a new home, after being forced to move from its meeting space of 18 months in Plano.

Two months later, the organization still hasn’t found anything permanent or even semi-permanent, according to volunteer Jeanne Rubin.

Rubin tells Instant Tea the the group is still meeting on a temporary basis in the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Frisco, where one of its board members works.

“Attendance has been sparse which is probably due to vacations, etc., but also because it isn’t our space,” Rubin says. “This seems to be a common problem for non-profits, all of which are suffering right now. I have gotten a few leads and followed up but so far nothing has worked out.”

Anyone who knows of space available in Collin County can contact Rubin at CollinCounty@YouthFirstTexas.org.

Collin County YFT will hold its regularly weekly meeting at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, before taking a week off for Dallas Pride. The group’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26. The group has discontinued its Wednesday meetings until further noticed and instead will plan an activity once or twice a month. For more information, visit the website or the Facebook page.

—  John Wright