After gay teen’s suicide, El Paso ISD board adds LGBT protections

Brandon Elizares

A unanimous decision to add gender identity and perceived sexuality to the El Paso Independent School District’s nondiscrimination policy brought tears and hope Tuesday.

Board President Isela Castañon-Williams began crying after the vote because her son, Antonio, is gay, The El Paso Times reports.

“I know what it’s like going to school because of people who would bully us because we’re gay,” Williams told the board before the vote. “It can adversely affect the welfare of students who are different and that environment can create hostility.”

The policy previously prohibited discrimination against any student because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other chararistic prohibited by law.

Advocates of the updated policy said it would help prevent LGBT bullying in light of 16-year-old El Paso teen Brandon Elizares, who took his life June 2 after enduring relentless bullying since coming out in 2010.

Elizares’s mother said she thought the policy change was a “baby step” to future prevention and only time would tell if it would help.

“We can ask about it a year from now and see how well it’s worked,” she said. “I didn’t see anything at any of the schools my kids attended about any anti-bullying campaign or anything. If they did have it, I as a parent didn’t know about it, and I was going to the school every day.”

Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso and community liaison for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Anti-Bullying Coalition, said the LGBT community has been the target of three-quarters of bullying cases in El Paso.

The school district will offer safe zone training to teachers with help from PFLAG and University of Texas of El Paso’s Social Work Department so students can know where to go if they need to talk. The district will also begin an anti-bullying campaign this fall with activities and events to help prevent bullying and promote acceptance.

—  Anna Waugh

El Paso PFLAG chapter plans memorial service for gay teen suicide victim Brandon Elizares

Brandon Elizares

PFLAG El Paso will host a memorial service Friday night for Brandon Elizares, the gay 16-year-old who committed suicide June 2 after his mother said he was bullied at school for two years because of his sexual orientation. The local PFLAG chapter has also set up an anti-bullying fund in Brandon’s memory.

Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso, told Instant Tea that news of Brandon’s death — which began to trickle in just before last weekend’s gay Pride festivities in the Sun City — has hit the local LGBT community hard.

“Those of us who knew what had just happened, it definitely took a toll on us,” Rollings said. “It brought a sense of reality to the LGBT community.”

Rollings said he’s been involved in all of the controversies the El Paso LGBT community has faced in recent years, from the gay kiss fiasco at Chico’s Tacos to hate crimes issues to the fight against Pastor Tom Brown over domestic partner benefits.

“This truly is the saddest thing we’ve had to endure,” Rollings said.

Brandon’s mother, Zachalyn Elizares, said the family is also trying to raise money so that Brandon’s remains can be flown to his native Hawaii for a viewing and service. Brandon was born and raised in Hawaii, where much of his family still lives, before moving to El Paso with his mother about eight years ago.

Zachalyn Elizares said Brandon struggled with depression since coming out as gay two years ago. She said he left a suicide note saying “he felt like he had to hide under his skin, and it made him feel terrible [that] other people weren’t comfortable around him.”

“‘My name is Brandon Joseph Elizares, and I couldn’t make it,’” Zachalyn Elizares said, quoting from the note. “He says he wasn’t strong enough, he says he tried to protect himself and he couldn’t do it. He tried to speak up for himself … but it wasn’t enough, and he felt no connection left to this world.”

The PFLAG memorial service will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, 10500 Kenworthy St. in El Paso.

Donations can be made to the PFLAG anti-bullying fund at the El Paso Area Teachers Federal Credit Union — Acct.: 168783. Checks containing the account number can be mailed to the El Paso Area Teachers Federal Credit Union, 12020 Rojas Drive, El Paso, TX 79936.

Below are photos from a memorial held by Brandon’s family and friends at a local park last weekend.

—  John Wright

El Paso teen Brandon Elizares takes his own life after being bullied for 2 years for being gay

Brandon Elizares

The mother of an El Paso teen who took his own life last weekend said her son had been bullied at school for two years because he was gay. Brandon Elizares, 16, was found dead at his home on Saturday. Elizares mother, Zachalyn, told KFOX14 there had been an incident at school last Friday in which someone insulted her son and planned to fight him this week:

KFOX14 News spoke Elizares’s friends and mother, Zachalyn Elizares, at her Northeast home on Friday, and she said that her son was bullied at school for two years because he did not want to hide the fact that he was gay.

“He got bullied simply for being gay,” Elizares said. “He’s been threatened to be stabbed. He’s been threatened to be set on fire.”

Elizares said the El Paso Independent school district did everything it could to help solve the problem.

“They’ve reprimanded several kids and they did everything that they could,” Elizares said.

Watch KFOX14′s full report here.

—  John Wright