Department of Education to include gender identity in national bullying and hate crimes survey

(David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

NLGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics has announced it will include gender identity in the 2016 School Survey on Crime and Safety.

The survey, which already includes sexual orientation in its data, examines bullying and hate crimes in the nation’s schools.

LGBT youth, especially transgender and gender nonconforming students, are more likely to be bullied and harassed than their peers. According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGB youth are twice as likely to experience bullying than their heterosexual peers. The numbers are higher for transgender and gender nonconforming youth compared to their cisgender and LGB peers.

“The new language in the School Survey on Crime and Safety will help protect LGBTQ students from bullying and harassment and will allow us to better understand the challenges they face. Reliable data on what motivates bullying and hate crimes will help educators and lawmakers prevent harassment and violence that disproportionately affect LGBTQ students,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. ”We thank the Department of Education for its work to prevent anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools and look forward to continuing to work with President Obama and the administration.”

 

—  James Russell

Former student files discrimination lawsuit against Birdville ISD

Smith.Isaiah

Isaiah Smith

Isaiah Smith, 20, filed a lawsuit against Birdville ISD for a three-day suspension that happened when he was a senior.

Smith said he carried his Bible to school with him. He was being bullied for being gay. Classmates would quote Leviticus to him and tell him he was going to hell.

So he ripped several pages of Leviticus out of his Bible and was later suspended. The school claimed that tearing the pages caused a disruption, but they never agreed that the bullying and name calling was wrong.

Smith is the teen that petitioned the Keller City Council to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy after collecting more than 2,000 signatures in 2012. Mayor Pat McGrail allowed Smith to present his petition and speak longer than the allotted public comment period.

He was assisted in filing the lawsuit by the American Humanist Association, claiming Birdville promoted Christianity and prayer meetings at school and making him feel unwelcome.

 

—  David Taffet

Politics can sometimes hit too close to home

Russell.JamesI received a campaign solicitation this morning from a fellow prep school graduate whose husband is running for office. The generic donation solicitation e-mail, titled “Why Our Family is Running,” espoused the virtue and wisdom of her husband, Bo French, a candidate running to the right of incumbent Republican Charlie Geren of Fort Worth. (Geren’s family attended the school as well.)

Sheridan French, who graduated from high school a few years before me, describes in her e-mail how a combination of courage and faith has prepared them to enter the “difficult arena” otherwise known as politics. In a bold font indicating a clear sense of urgency, Sheridan writes, “Both Bo and I are deeply concerned about the direction of our country and strongly believe Texas is the light that can lead the way to a better America.”

I’ve been casually following French’s and other right-wing challengers’ campaigns against perceived moderate Republicans like Geren since their April announcements. French has so far remained mum on social issues, largely denouncing “radical Islam” and “burdensome taxes.” But Sheridan’s e-mail, with references to faith and family and freedom, gave me a sense of things to come. Given its veiled language, if his campaign unfolds as I expect, he’ll soon garner the support of hard-right groups, including the anti-LGBT Texas Values PAC, Texas Eagle Forum PAC and Empower Texans. He’ll pursue traditional values, extolling marriage as an institution between a man and a woman that should be kept that way by the state. Maybe he’ll oppose extending protections based on gender identity and expression and sexual orientation. (It’s part of a formula I’ve documented here and here.)

I don’t want to speculate. But I don’t want to be silent either.

Having shared teachers and hallways and classrooms and textbooks and the struggles of senior year with Mrs. French, her e-mail felt like a punch in the gut.

Even before landing my gig at the Voice, I regularly heard about and experienced suicides, bullying and hate crimes. While rarely on the receiving end of the bullying anymore, I am still reminded of high school. I remember being called a “fag,” cornered in the men’s bathroom and picked on more often than not. That type of vitriol was not representative of the student body as a whole, much less the amazing faculty and staff. And to them I am grateful.

In the ongoing struggle for acceptance, I also learned we must have courage and strength. I thank my privileged life for helping me develop enough strength to stick up for myself in even the most adverse situations. Yet I recognize not all LGBT Texans share that privilege. Not all Texans have the ability to fight back after being called a “fag” or the option of going to counseling when on the verge of suicide or, even, the confidence that comes from being out.

We all know the facts because we’ve likely all experienced them first hand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study of LGBT youth in grades 7–12 found that LGBT youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight peers. According to a 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality, 82 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school while 44 percent of them had been abused physically.

Bullying and discrimination are not confined to youth though: lesbian, gay and bisexual adults can still be fired from their jobs in 31 states. Trans people can be fired from their jobs in 39 states, and 14 percent all of reported hate crimes are LGBT-related. We still live in fear of the police, of losing our friends to self-loathing suicides, of winding up on the streets.

Which brings me to my point.

Legislation is not an end, but a means to an end. Discrimination and hate do not have to be ways of life. There are opportunities for aspiring and incumbent state lawmakers to help inch Texas toward creating an equal working environment, where you’re fired based on performance; where you feel safe enough to report a crime without fear of retribution; where you’re free to hold your girlfriend’s hand in the hallway.

But is that the way Texas can be a light to the country, as Mrs. French suggests?

Our alma mater has, since its humble beginnings, regularly pumped out leaders. We in fact were all taught to use our knowledge to change the world. Its logo, per aspera ad astra or through difficulty reach for the stars couldn’t make that any more clear.

At the end of her e-mail, before the links to the various social media accounts, she requests  prayers for resilience and strength as they go on the campaign trail. I briefly felt a sense of pride that may not be familiar to someone outside our cloistered alma mater. Hopefully in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, she’ll remember the courage of her LGBT classmates, who overcame enormous obstacles to become leaders. And hopefully, should her husband be elected, he will not make it any more difficult for any of us to reach for the stars.

—  James Russell

Participating in Day of Silence? Send us photos!

facebook_shared_DOS15_2Today is the Day of Silence, where thousands of students, faculty and staff at schools around the world take a vow of silence against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey, 85 percent of middle and high school students were verbally harassed in school in the past year and nearly two-thirds frequently heard anti-LGBT language among peers.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance will eat their lunch in silence from noon–2 p.m. in the University Center, according to the Shorthorn, the school’s student newspaper.

If your school or classmates have organized a similar event and you’d like to share any photos, please send them as an attachment to russell(at)dallasvoice(dot)com. We’ll post them on the Instant Tea blog.

—  James Russell

Suicide by McKinney teen recalls series of bullying deaths

raymond-howell-jr

Raymond Howell, Jr., (Instagram)

Raymond Howell Jr., 14, was found dead of an apparent suicide near a culvert beside busy Eldorado Parkway in McKinney on Thursday, April 2. The McKinney Boyd High School freshman is believed to have committed suicide after being bullied by older students.

According to CBS 11, Howell had recently asked for a transfer to a different school to escape the bullying.

School districts throughout Texas have anti-bullying policies as a result of a series of suicides in the fall of 2012, including several in Texas and Oklahoma. It was during that period that Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns rose to national attention with his story of being bullied as a teen.

The McKinney police public information officer didn’t return a call today to confirm whether the bullying that led to Howell’s death was LGBT-related.

The Trevor Project hotline is a toll-free 24 hour LGBTQ suicide prevention line at 1-866-488-7386.

—  David Taffet

REVIEW: ‘Bull’

Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz with Natalie Young, Ian Ferguson (Photo by Karen Almond)

Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz with Natalie Young, Ian Ferguson (Photo by Karen Almond)

Thomas (Ian Ferguson), a schlubby British salesman, fidgets nervously in a stark room. Across from him, Isobel (Natalie Young) sits coolly, dressed elegantly and moving with the stealth of a panther. “Why didn’t you wear your good suit?” she asks Thomas. He thought this was his good suit. Maybe she’s screwing with him. Then Tony (Alex Ross) walks in. “Why didn’t you wear your good suit?” he asks. And from there, the dominoes fall.

Bull, a play by Cock playwright Mike Bartlett, takes its name in equal measure from the bullshit that yuppie business types toss around each other and the bullying that takes place of Thomas, unrelentingly, for an hour. These aren’t playground taunts and gimme-your-milk-money strong-arm tactics; they are acts of outright warfare where words are weapons and victory requires scorching the earth of your adversary. It’s medieval, primal … and completely contemporary.

It’s also gimmicky, though not necessarily in a bad way. It’s easy to make people squirm uncomfortably while watching someone, if not self-destruct, then at least contribute to his own demise through poor decision-making. Just have the characters be unrelenting, the protagonist (? — Thomas is hardly a hero) do the exact wrong thing at each moment. It’s patent audience manipulation, but it does serve a purpose: Just how far will human nature take us? Does compassion ever kick in?

But an even better point raised by this production, directed by Christie Vela and performed through the weekend at the Wyly courtesy Second Thought Theatre, is whether Thomas deserves our sympathies. Awful as it is to say, Thomas projects his weaknesses and allows himself to be victimized by them. You wanna slap him and yell, “Stop being a doormat!” But maybe he can’t help it — maybe he is destined to be forever walked upon. After a while, his whiny lack of survival techniques begins to make you see the point advanced Isobel, Tony and later their bloviating boss Carter (Jeremy Schwartz): If you can’t swim with the sharks, you’d better get out of the water or relent to a life as chum.

Of course, as much of a weakling as Thomas is, the cruel mindgames Tony and Isobel relentlessly inflict upon him — from a homoerotic exercise calculated to emasculate him to bitchy snipes that burrow under his skin — take them to the point where they reject their own humanity. You begin to see this as some elaborate twist on the TV show The Apprentice (Bartlett even mentions the show, which, I wouldn’t be surprised, was his inspiration for writing the play). What they do becomes a form of torture. They are cold-blooded.

Still, the play is better than Mamet’s equally divisive and outrageous Oleanna, in part because the issues seem more present. And the fact the cast delivers all the animus with such steely-eyed makes it all the more shocking. It’s not the kind on play to see on a date, but do it. What, are you afraid you little pussy? Huh … punk?!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Spirit Day: Go purple to take a stand against bullying

Today is Oct. 16. It’s also Spirit Day, when people everywhere are encouraged to “go purple” to take a stand against bullying. There’s even anspirit day selfie app for that: The Spirit Day App, powered by Toyota Financial Services, which provides anti-bullying resources, calls to action and lets you take a “selfie” then turn it purple and add an anti-bullying slogan. That’s my purple selfie right here in this post. I am also using it today as my profile pic on Facebook. I even remembered to wear my purple shirt today.

But see, here’s the day. It takes more that a purple shirt or a purple “selfie” to stop bullying. It takes more than paying attention just one day out of the year.

According to a study published in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 have actually attempted suicide. Overall, the suicide rate among teens climbed from 6.3 percent in 2009 to 7.8 percent in 2011, reflecting the trend gaining national attention as more teen suicides are reported as a result of bullying.

I have two sons, both relatively well-adjusted, considering that they are teenage boys. But both of them have had to deal with some sort of bullying during their lives. The older one, — now almost 18 — got bullied in junior high because he was a “smart kid,” a “nerd” who wore glasses. The younger one, now 15, was the target of a whole gang of bullies throughout his fourth-grade school year because we bought a house in a new neighborhood and he had to go to a new elementary school. “New kids” often get bullied.

We were lucky. Our kids made it through and are OK. A lot of kids aren’t so lucky.

And we have to remember that in a time when social media infiltrates so much of our lives, bullying isn’t limited to the classroom or the playground. It can follow our kids home, into our own living rooms, into their own bedrooms. We have to find whole new ways to protect our children. And that takes more than wearing purple one day a year.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for Spirit Day, for purple selfies and purples clothes. Things like that raise awareness, and change doesn’t happen without awareness. I am just asking that we all remember not to let it stop there.

If you have children, talk to them about bullying. Make sure they know they can come to you for help if someone is bullying them. And make sure they are not bullying anyone else. If you are a young person yourself and you are being bullied, don’t suffer in silence. Find someone who can help. If you can’t find someone, contact us here at Dallas Voice; we can connect you with the help you need.

And remember that bullying isn’t limited to children. Adults are bullied too: by coworkers, spouses, by someone at the gym or on the street.

When you see someone being bullied, step in. Do something to stop the abuse. Don’t turn away. You could be the one who makes the difference, who saves someone’s life.

 

—  Tammye Nash

REVIEW: ‘Gidion’s Knot’ at KDT

Leah Spillman and Jenni Kirk in ‘Gidion’s Knot’ at KDT.

A mother attends a parent-teacher conference to discuss her fifth-grader, who was suspended for a week, but the the teacher doesn’t recall making the appointment … unless the mother is … oh, her.

That’s the first 20 minutes or so of the 80 minutes that make up Gidion’s Knot, a regional premiere now playing at The MAC. It’s a frustrating first quarter, with long, slow, wordless scenes and intentionally obtuse exposition. How can the teacher, Miss Clark (Leah Spillman), childless and new to the classroom not recall a conference set up only three days ago? Then again, when the mother, Corryn (Jenni Kirk) arrives in her class the first time, why doesn’t she just say her son’s name, or Miss Clark’s, and save us all the discomfort and mystery?

The answer is pretty simply, actually: Then the play would only be 62 minutes long, and the author, Johnna Adams, wouldn’t have been able to impress us with her stagecraft — her ability to pull a Mamet out of a hat. It’s a playwrighting gimmick, a first-act conundrum meant to draw us in but which only holds in sharp relief the incompleteness that infests the entire play.

Some of that incompleteness is intentional. Miss Clark and Corryn are both incomplete women, especially when it comes to children: The teacher without any of her own (she has a cat instead), and the single mother, not especially devoted to her only child but trying to make up for it when, alas, it’s too late. No wonder they don’t communicate in full thoughts or engage in sensible dialogue — they are both cut off in some ways, adrift in their work.

It turns out that the reason Miss Clark forgot about the meeting (one for which Corryn is 20 minutes late, a further indication of her lack of parental responsibility) is that she assumed it had been canceled — after all, the child in question, Gidion, killed himself over the weekend. What led to that? And how was it related to his suspension? More mysteries, more drawn-out explanations.

When the reasons are finally revealed — quite astonishingly, if melodramatically (more extended exposition, as if Adams were terrified her play would only last 38 minutes) — it’s a further disconnect for teacher and mom: Gidion was a troubled, Miss Clark says — brilliant says mom … but why can’t he be both?

Gidion’s Knot bulges with literary and mythic references (check out the title itself), and the points it raises are thoughtful and complex, but its weaknesses are just as apparent. “Want to get people on your side? Throw in a dead child!” Corryn hisses at Miss Clark about modern society, but that’s exactly what she’s doing (and what Adams is). A dead kid raises all sorts of troubling questions, and how can outsiders (Miss Clark, the audience) judge the emotional reaction of a distraught mother?

But that’s what the play invites us to do, and Corryn — fiercely played by Kirk, who’s matched with coolness by Spillman — falls short. (Her last name, it turns out, is Fell.) She’s a bundle of contradictions, who demands the participation of the school’s principal but gets angry at Miss Clark when she won’t engage in tit-for-tat sniping, who blames Miss Clark even though she was deaf to her own child’s pain, who wants to play “what’s my line?” guessing games but criticizes efforts at deflection. She’s also critic-proof, because who are we to say her irrationality isn’t justified?

And therein lines the heart of Gidion’s Knot — its unresolvability. All rules go out the window; like the Gordian Knot, it cannot be solved, it can only be destroyed and rebuilt. Sometimes there are no answers, just more questions.

Plays through April 26. KitchenDogTheater.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

American Humanist Association represents Birdville student

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Isaiah Smith at a protest last year

An attorney for the American Humanist Association sent a complaint to Birdville ISD in Tarrant County about the suspension of a North Richland Hills student.

Isaiah Smith was suspended after he ripped pages out of his Bible. Smith said the incident began when he was taunted and told he couldn’t be gay and Christian.

The American Humanist Association called the suspension for ripping a Bible a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. The attorney demands any record of the suspension be removed from Smith’s record. The full letter is here.

Comments to a previous Dallas Voice post and emails after that item ran indicate how emotionally charged the issue is. Numerous posters commented on Smith’s behavior in school.

He “doesn’t stand for the pledge or the U.S. national anthem, which shows much disrespect to this country,” one wrote.

“Isaiah Smith is not a saint,” Ashley Wilmot wrote in an email and described disruptive behavior by Smith in class and in band.

Other commenters were blatantly ignorant of the topic or used the language of bullies playing victim.

“I have a question for you, when you get older and have a mate, how are you both going to learn the beauty that lies within the struggle of loving the opposite sex?” Birgit Sellers asked in a comment.

Smith is openly gay and made news last year when he petitioned the Keller City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance.

—  David Taffet

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities kicks off town hall series with bullying panel

Old Bedford School

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities meets at Old Bedford School in Bedford.

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities kicks off a monthly town hall series Wednesday with a discussion on bullying. The panel will include representatives from three local school districts.

Leading the discussion on how the community can come together to create a safer environment for children will be Fort Worth ISD student engagement program specialist Sharon Herrera, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD coordinator of guidance and counseling Carla Docken and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD crisis counselor Robin Davis.

The documentary Bully will also be screened. October is National Bullying Awareness Month.

The panel discussion is the first in a monthly town hall series called Journey Toward Justice scheduled through August 2014. The series will include a guest speaker or panel addressing a variety of topics including access to healthcare, human trafficking and modern day slavery, economic justice and the issue of childhood poverty, LGBT equality, religious and cultural freedom in the U.S., racial equality and minority rights, women’s rights and equality, capital punishment and prisoner rights, reproductive freedom, disability rights, and environmental justice and climate change.

“With the Journey to Justice program, we hope to examine the commonalities that are found among different people and marginalized groups and how, by joining together and aligning resources, we can all work together to be the catalyst for a paradigm shift in the larger community,” said Kristin Robertson, moderator of the leadership advisory team at Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities.

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities is a financially independent parish church of Cathedral of Hope in Dallas and affiliated with United Church of Christ.

The discussion on bullying takes place on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. The town hall takes place the second Wednesday of each month. Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities meets at Old Bedford School, 2400 School Lane, Bedford. 817-354-HOPE.

—  David Taffet