Bullying from a different source?

Student at arts magnet school says she was bullied by a teacher; advocates say policy dealing with faculty behavior needs changes

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Delaney Hillan

Delaney Hillan kissed her girlfriend in the hall at school, and that’s when the trouble started.

Hillan, who came out during her junior year in high school, is now a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She said she didn’t expect to have problems being gay at the magnet school, but, she added, at least one teacher had problems with it.

“A teacher yelled at us [when I kissed my girlfriend] and said she didn’t want to see any of this again,” Hillan said, adding that the teacher threatened to report the incident.

Hillan said she understood that official school policy was no public displays of affection in school. But she said the kiss was more a “bye, see you later” kiss than making out in the hall. It was much less than what goes on regularly between heterosexual couples in school, she said.
And she wasn’t the only student to ever kiss her girlfriend in the school.

“It’s Booker T!” she said, the school many LGBT students choose to attend because it’s considered a safe place to go to school.
But the teacher persisted.

A few days later, Hillan said she was walking down the hall and the same teacher was standing outside her classroom. She stopped Hillan as she was passing to again admonish her.

Hillan said the teacher told her, “I want you to know I’m very disappointed in your behavior this year. I don’t appreciate your being so flagrant about it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

Hillan’s mother picked her up from school that day, and when she got in the car, she said, she began to cry.

“I never felt so dehumanized,” Hillan said.

With her mother’s support, Hillan spoke to the principal who said she would talk to the teacher.

“Ever since then, she’s been nice to me,” Hillan said.

She spoke sympathetically of the teacher and said she understood the source of the bullying was the teacher’s religious background. But she doesn’t want another student to feel dehumanized in school again.

“Booker T. Washington’s a place where you are accepted,” she said. “The rules and policies at the school are accepting of all.”

Hillan said school is a place of trust and not somewhere a student should ever feel attacked.

This year, Hillan is president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She has demonstrated with QueerLiberaction and she wanted to speak up for other students, especially those in less-safe environments.

“Students are pushed, yelled at and spit on,” she said. “Even if they’re not openly gay, but others think they are, they’re isolated. It’s hard to make friends when you have that label put on you.”

Kristine Vowels has worked on LGBT issues from within Dallas Independent School District for several years. She told Hillan that the DISD board was holding an open hearing about a new, inclusive anti-bullying policy and that she could tell her story to the public.

Hillan said speaking to the board in front of the packed room at the DISD meeting didn’t bother her.

“Maybe because I’m a theater major,” she said, “but I wanted to get across what was important.”

“Why would you go to a place you were scared of?” Hillan said.

Andy Moreno

Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell said that the recently approved anti-bullying policy goes a long way to protect students throughout the school district.

But, he noted, the policy adopted addresses students, not faculty and staff. He said that the employee manual needs to reflect new policies in the student handbook.

McDonnell also said that training must be implemented to make sure faculty and staff understand what constitutes bullying against LGBT students and what they must do to stop it.

The anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression. The harassment policy already included sexual orientation and now must be updated similarly, McDonnell said.

That policy was written in the mid-1990s with the assistance of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. However, protected groups should be consistent across different areas of conduct, McDonnell said.

He said that there must be a safe way for students to report bullying. “It’s harder to report your teacher,” McDonnell said.

Hillan had a receptive principal who didn’t hesitate to take action. But in the case of transgender student Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School, the bullying allegedly came from her principal.

Moreno wanted to run for homecoming queen but was stopped by the school’s new principal. But rather than just stopping her bid, Moreno thought the principal’s words crossed over into bullying.

The principal allegedly called Moreno an “it, or whatever you are” and threatened to close the school’s GSA in retaliation for Moreno speaking to Dallas Voice.

DISD trustee Lew Blackburn has said that the district needs a district-wide policy on homecoming elections.

Moreno believed that if a teacher were speaking to her inappropriately, she could have turned to the principal, but in her case there was nowhere to turn other than the press.

Hillan thinks the solution is simpler than that. Any bullying by faculty and staff needs to stop.

“Students shouldn’t be afraid to go to school,” Hillan said. “And I shouldn’t be afraid of my teachers.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

DISD approves LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

William Morvant, a gay student at Booker T. Washington High School, addresses the DISD board of trustees while other audience members from the LGBT community stand in support on Thursday.

Following a discussion in which several named their own personal schoolyard tormentor, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a comprehensive new bullying policy that specifically protects LGBT students.

Trustees also heard from several members of the LGBT community, including two students, before voting 9-0 to approve the policy, enacted in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides across the nation.

The policy, spearheaded by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, reportedly makes DISD the first district in the state to specifically prohibit bullying based on both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“School should be one of those places that we call a safe haven,” said Blackburn, who said his bully “Brandon” took his lunch money every day. “If we are fearful for our physical being, then our intellectual being is not going to benefit.”

Blackburn said the board tried to make the policy as inclusive as possible and drew on policies from Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles and Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the administration will implement this policy with full vigor whereby all of our students will have protections,” Blackburn said. “Safe schools is one of our goals, it’s always been one of our goals. It’s not only about somebody coming to a school building with a gun or a knife. Safe schools mean being safe from people like Brandon.”

Nutall took the opportunity to apologize to DISD students who’ve been bullied, including those who spoke Thursday.

“I commend you on your courage for coming down here and telling your story,” Nutall said, adding that her bully is now in prison. “I apologize that we didn’t act on this faster.”

William Morvant, a gay student at DISD’s Booker T. Washington High School, told the board he came out in seventh grade and attempted suicide twice. He said his memories of DISD will be mostly of bullying, harassment and being called “inhumane words.”

“I’m here to speak today because if this policy were in tact, I believe I would have had a better growing up experience in school,” Morvant said. “I wouldn’t have had to go taking 20 pain pills to kill myself to get rid of the pain, cutting just to get those words that I was called out.”

Others from the LGBT community who addressed the board prior to the vote were Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas; Omar Narvaez, vice president of LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council; Delaney Hillan, also a student at Booker T. Washington; and Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Dozens more from the community attended the meeting, standing when speakers took the microphone and erupting in applause after the vote.

—  John Wright

That’s Brynt-ertainment

Contemporary Ballet principal dancer Brynt Beitman finds modern dance welcomes the gay aesthetic

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

MEN IN MOTION  |  Brynt Beitman, left, gets his Texas groove on for ‘Wild & Free,’ Friday at the Lakewood Theater. (Photo courtesy Brian Guilliaux)
MEN IN MOTION | Brynt Beitman, left, gets his Texas groove on for ‘Wild & Free,’ Friday at the Lakewood Theater. (Photo courtesy Brian Guilliaux)

WILD & FREE
Lakewood Theater, 1825 Abrams Parkway. Oct. 15. 7 p.m.
$25.  214-821-2066.
ContemporaryBalletDallas.tix.com.

…………………………..

For every parent who has ever worried about pushing their children into extracurricular activities that they might not like, there’s the strong possibility that a creative spark will be lit that a child might otherwise have never discovered. That’s exactly what happened to contemporary ballet dancer Brynt Beitman when he was eight years old.

“My sister wanted to take dance and my parents made me play football and do all the guy stuff and I didn’t like that,” he says. “They actually offered to have me try dance and at first I was like, ‘No, dancing’s for girls!’ And by the end of my first class, I was like ‘OK! I really like this!’”

Beitman began his training at Kitty Carter’s Dance Factory with jazz and tap. At 13, he started seriously training in ballet. After studying with Krassovska Ballet Jueness and Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet, he spent summers at Boston Ballet and Southern Ballet

Theater, among others, eventually getting his bachelor’s from the Juilliard School in New York.

“Now I look back and dance has been the most consistent part of my life,” says Beitman, 27.

Tonight, Beitman performs in Wild & Free with Contemporary Ballet Dallas, where he’s been for three seasons. The mission of the company, which was started in 2001 by SMU alumni hoping to revitalize dance in Dallas, is to reach a broad audience while cultivating emerging artists and choreographers.

The show honors the independent spirit of contemporary Texas artists. Original works will be set to the music of Norah Jones, Nina Simone, and even Texas music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan — no Swan Lake here.

“It’s based on Texas. There will be something that everybody will like,” Beitman says. “There are nine pieces from nine different choreographers. If you don’t like one thing, just wait 10 minutes … but there’s nothing to dislike!”

Beitman’s work with Contemporary Ballet Dallas confirms his conviction that modern dance is where his talents truly lie.

“I think it’s more creative. Classical is more codified and you have less freedom and a lot more restrictions choreographically.

Contemporary can be whatever you want it to be,” says Beitman, who hopes to become a choreographer. He also thinks as a general rule that contemporary ballet attracts more gay male dancers, but he’s quick to point out that his opinion is far from a scientific sampling.

“I think that the athletic bravura of classical ballet attracts straight guys, where contemporary dance is a lot more times internally driven and in my experience, it seems to attract…” — he pauses before blurting out — “… queers!”

To Beitman, being a dancer is particularly rewarding because of the openness, diversity and acceptance of not just homosexuality, but people from a vast array of backgrounds.

“It’s like somebody being in fashion and not being open to gay people. Contemporary dance is the same way. There’s no real stereotypical dancer as far as their private lives are concerned,” he says. “It’s a really universal thing and there all different types of people. And here I am!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas