DISD trustee to propose LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, transgender homecoming guidelines

Lew Blackburn

Lew Blackburn, a member of the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees, said Monday he plans to propose an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for LGBT students.

DISD is already considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, it doesn’t spell out the categories of students who would be protected. Last week, Resource Center Dallas asked DISD to add protections for specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Several youth across the nation who were gay or perceived to be gay have committed suicide in response to bullying and harassment in recent weeks.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn told Instant Tea on Monday. “What I’m doing is looking at policies across the nation, not just in Texas. I’m looking for something more wide-ranging.

“I’m still doing some research, and what I’m hoping to do is come back to the administration with a revision to what they have proposed with some additional language that other states are using,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s going to be up for approval next week, but I’m going to try to have it delayed for another month so we can get more language into the policy.”

Blackburn encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees about the new anti-bullying policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on DISD’s website.

We also asked Blackburn about the recent controversy involving Andy Moreno, the transgender girl who was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School.

Blackburn responded that he plans to ask the administration to draft a policy on the subject and bring it to the board of trustees for consideration. He said he’s concerned that in the absence of such a policy, principals at different schools could reach different decisions.

“I would like for us to be consistent district-wide,” Blackburn said. “We need to start talking about it so that we have something in policy before the start of school for next year. It’s new territory for us, and I think we need to take our time and do it right.”

—  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

DISD prohibits offensive language related to ‘gender orientation,’ whatever the hell that means

As Instant Tea continues our review of the Dallas Independent School District’s policies related to harassment, bullying and discrimination, we’ve come across something rather peculiar.

It’s on Page 5 of DISD’s “2010-2011 Student Code of Conduct,” in a section titled “General Guidelines and Notifications” and under a headline that reads “Offensive Language.” Here’s what it says:

“Such language includes, but is not limited to, the use of slurs or offensive language related to race, ethnicity, gender and/or gender orientation, disability and religious beliefs.”

Below is a screen grab lest you think we could make this stuff up, but you can also view the entire Code of Conduct by going here.

Now, can someone please explain to me the definition of “gender orientation”? And after you’ve done that, can you give me an example of offensive language related to “gender orientation”? Actually, please don’t. But do they mean “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”? Or both? Or neither? Because those are two totally different things. Is this a typo? Or is it a deliberate attempt to avoid the word “sexual” in a handbook that is distributed to students?

Well, we plan to try to find out. But in the meantime, Resource Center Dallas is preparing to launch a campaign to demand that DISD include specific protections for LGBT students in its new anti-bullying policy, which is set to be discussed during a Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday. We’ll have more on RCD’s campaign here in just a few. So don’t go away, and if you do, come right back. We’re just getting warmed up.

—  John Wright

Why doesn’t DISD’s proposed new anti-bullying policy specifically protect LGBT students?

Edwin Flores

Via Unfair Park, we noticed that the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees is considering a new anti-bullying policy.

Which makes sense in light of all the recent bullying-related suicides across the country. DISD Trustee Edwin Flores tells Unfair Park that the district needs to make its policies more specific and comprehensive. What doesn’t make sense, though, is the fact that nowhere in the proposed policy does DISD spell out the types of bullying that will be prohibited, such as bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, and bullying based on gender identity and/or expression. In short, the proposed new policy, as written, DOES NOT specifically protect LGBT students.

If trustees truly want to be more specific and comprehensive — rather than just trying to score a few political points — they need to spell out what types of bullying will be prohibited. After all, it’s legal to fire someone for being in gay in Texas precisely because sexual orientation isn’t included in state employment law. Likewise, the absence of sexual orientation from DISD’s anti-bullying policy could be construed to mean that it’s OK to bully someone for being gay.

DISD has a nondiscrimination policy, passed in the 1990s, that includes sexual orientation BUT NOT gender identity, which explains why the district can so openly discriminate against a transgender girl who wants to run for homecoming queen. The nondiscrimination policy passed in the 1990s is non-inclusive of transgender people, and Andy Moreno is in some ways paying for it today.

The LGBT community shouldn’t allow DISD to put yet another non-inclusive policy on the books. How many more gay teen suicides will it take before the district addresses the real causes?

Trustees are set to discuss the proposed policy during their regular meeting, at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 in the board room at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas. There will be an opportunity for public comments at the start of the meeting. Also, contact info for DISD trustees is available here.

—  John Wright

Online Extra: St. Vincent’s dean defends decision to reject lesbian couple’s daughter

Ryan Reed

In this week’s print edition you’ll find a full story on the lesbian couple from Bedford whose 4-year-old daughter was recently denied admission to a local preschool, St. Vincent’s Cathedral School, because she has two mommies. We also wanted to share the full text of responses to our questions that we received via e-mail from Ryan Reed, the dean of St. Vincent’s. Here they are:

DV: Why was Olivia Harrison denied admission to St. Vincent?
Dean Ryan Reed: When we met with Jill and learned of her family situation, we told her that the values taught at the school were in conflict with those at home. We thought this might put Olivia in a very conflicted situation to which Jill agreed. We don’t dispute God’s love for this family just that one of the basic Christian values that we subscribe to is sexual activity inside a faithful, lifelong relationship between a husband and wife. As best we could ascertain, this was not something that Jill was in agreement about.

DV: Why did the school fail to notice in more than two months that Jill Harrison had crossed out father and put mother on the application, and written in the name of her wife, Tracy Harrison?
Reed: When the admissions officer saw the changes on the application, she made 4 or 5 phone calls and sent at least one email asking for clarification, none of which were returned. We don’t have documentation of the phone calls but we do for the email.

DV: Why is the school continuing to use the name Episcopal even though it is no longer affiliated with the Episcopal Church USA?
Reed: This is obviously the confusing issue but far less emotional then having to say this family would not be a good fit. St. Vincent’s is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort, which is a corporation in the state of Texas run by a board of trustees. This diocese and this corporation voted to withdraw our voluntary association with the Episcopal Church USA and associate with a different province of the Anglican Communion (of which TEC is but one) but that did not change the fact that this is an Episcopal Diocese, governed by a Bishop using the Book of Common Prayer. This messy issue is what is at dispute in the Texas Court System right now. TEC does not own the term Episcopal. There is in this country the Charismatic Episcopal Church for example or in other places the Scottish Episcopal Church. In conversation, I refer to myself as an Anglican but until the lawsuit is settled we are still the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, “province of the Southern Cone” (which is part of South America).

DV: Is it true that St. Vincent would allow Olivia Harrison to attend the school if she were a single, unmarried lesbian?
Reed: Yes. Our handbook asks our parents and requires our staff to abide by basic Christian values. That means abstinence or sexual activity confined to marriage. We have been consistent with this policy in that an unmarried teacher became pregnant and was dismissed. Likewise, we turned away two men with a daughter two years ago, and like the Harrison’s, referred them to a school where they would be more comfortable and their relationship accepted. (They are doing quite well there by the way). We have banned a husband from the school who left his wife for another women. The child stayed with the mother in this case and was not asked to leave.

We are simply asking people to strive toward the traditional Christian teaching in matters of how we live our lives. We don’t follow people around if they are single and dating to make sure the date stops at the front door. We don’t monitor what husband and wives are doing. But if something becomes public, we try to handle it in a pastoral and private way. By nature, Jill and Tracey’s relationship is very public.

We recognize that every parent who comes here is by nature prone to sin. We simply ask that they attempt to live by basic Christian values. In this case, the Harrison’s relationship was by nature in opposition to this belief and it is by nature a requirement that they cannot meet.

DV: How do you justify punishing a 4-year-old girl for who her parents are?
Reed: Back to the first answer. Because this young girl would likely hear Christian teaching on marriage at St. Vincent’s as well as the struggle that we all have with sin, she might be put in a place where she questioned not only the values of her mother but her moral authority as well. Olivia would certainly find herself in conflict with most of classmates when it comes to this very tough subject. We would not want this to happen to Jill, Tracey, or Olivia. It seems far from punishment to me, in fact, it seems more loving to refer them to a school that can accommodate their family situation rather than put her in a situation where the moral legitimacy (and still in Texas the legal legitimacy) of her mom’s relationship is called into question.

One final thought: I am not the pastor of the school parents which ties my hands a little.  In the congregation, where I am pastor, we have a loving community of sinners who are all working through their walk with God. We have, and have had, gays and lesbians, both couples and singles. Without singling them out, they have been asked to wrestle alongside the rest of us with the fact that they are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. Trying to conform our lives and our relationships with God’s will for us is done in a private and pastoral way.

—  John Wright