NATIONAL BRIEFS: Officer who produced anti-gay videos can stay in the Navy

Officer who produced anti-gay videos can stay in the Navy

NORFOLK, Virginia — A Navy panel says the former commander of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier who produced raunchy videos aboard the ship can remain in the service.

The board of inquiry issued its recommendation Wednesday, Aug. 24. It had been looking at whether to dismiss Capt. Owen P. Honors from the Navy.

Honors was relieved of command in January after media reports about the videos surfaced. The videos included simulated same-sex shower scenes, anti-gay slurs and references to prostitution in foreign ports.

Honors says the videos were made to improve morale while teaching important shipboard lessons. He helped produce and appeared in the videos that aired on the ship between 2005 and 2007, when he was the ship’s executive office.

Both sides satisfied in talks over school district policy

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Both sides say they held productive talks toward settling two lawsuits against Minnesota’s largest school district challenging its policy requiring staff to remain neutral when sexual orientation is discussed in the classroom.
The plaintiffs say the policy prevents the Anoka-Hennepin School District from protecting kids perceived as gay from bullying and harassment.

Both sides issued a statement Tuesday night, Aug. 23, after talks mediated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau in St. Paul saying they “look forward to future constructive dialogue.” They also say they’ve agreed not to comment further on the settlement process.
No new talks are scheduled.

The lawsuits were filed this summer on behalf of six former and current students by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights after previous settlement efforts failed.

Gay council candidate says he is target of anti-gay messages

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A gym owner who says he’s the first openly gay candidate to run for Charlottesville City Council says he’s been receiving anti-gay messages.

James Halfaday told the Daily Progress one of his fliers was returned Aug. 7 with a disparaging message and his face crossed out. He said he sought legal advice but was told the defaced flier didn’t constitute a threat, so there was little he could do.

Halfaday said the flier is the latest in a string of attacks, including a July 31 email accusing him of “promoting perversion” and an insulting Facebook message in May. The Facebook message was configured to make it look like it was sent by Kathy Galvin, one of Halfaday’s six opponents in the Democratic primary, but both campaigns and party officials say Galvin had nothing to do with it.

A letter to Halfaday and Galvin from Charlottesville Democratic Committee co-chairs Tom Vandever and Jim Nix says the message was likely generated “by an unknown third party” with the goal of damaging the campaigns of both candidates.
Nix and Vandever urged both campaigns to keep the incident quiet to lessen its impact.

Halfaday said he originally wanted to keep the hate mails quiet because he assumed they would die down and he didn’t want to start an “uproar” in the gay and lesbian community.

He said he chose to come forward now because he’s run a successful campaign despite the negatives, adding that he’s not going to be intimidated.

Jonathan Stevens, a Galvin campaign adviser, said he thought the Facebook issue was a “dead letter” a long time ago.

“It was put aside as one of those nasty little things that can happen on the Internet,” Stevens said.

Nix said that, to his knowledge, Halfaday is indeed the first openly gay person to run for City Council.

“This is 2011, it’s not 1970 or something like that,” Nix said. “Sadly, we do still live in an age where some people just don’t accept that and do mean things.”

Philadelphia trans inmate being moved to men’s prison

PHILADELPHIA — A transgender woman who has been incarcerated at Riverside Correctional Facility, the city’s only prison for women, for the past 14 months is being moved to a facility for male prisoners after complaining that a corrections officer had forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to reports by The Advocate.

Jovanie Saldana, 23, who has been living as a female since she was 12, was charged in June 2010 with felonies including armed robbery. Prison officials reportedly did not know Saldana was transgender until they recorded a telephone conversation between her and her mother while investigating Saldana’s allegations against the corrections officer.

The Advocate reports that Saldana, who has not had gender-reassignment surgery, should have undergone a cavity search when she was first incarcerated in the prison, and then again each time she returned following outings for court appearances.

Lorenzo North, president of the union representing corrections officers, has said that the error in searching Saldana is proof that the officer Saldana accused of sexual abuse is innocent, according to the Advocate.

Teacher didn’t violate policy with anti-gay Facebook post, officials say

Lake County School District Superintendent Susan Moxley has reinstated Mount Dora High School social studies teacher Jerry Buell, suspended after making anti-gay posts to his Facebook page, saying the posts did not violate the school district’s code of conduct, WFTV.com has reported. Mount Dora is in Florida.

Buell, the district’s former teacher of the year, was transferred to an administrative position while district officials investigated complaints over his Facebook page. Buell allegedly posted on Facebook that same-sex unions are a “cesspool” that make him want to throw up. The posts reportedly angered a number of his Facebook “friends,” including current and former students.

Mount Dora High School graduated Brett Winters filed the complaint against Buell, saying that his Facebook posts indicated he was “dangerous to
gay students.”

Buell insisted he was “exercising my [free speech] rights as a citizen of this country.”

The district is still investigating comments Buell made on a school web page and a class syllabus, and the teacher has been given a list of directives to follow, although that list has not been made public.

Fred Karger invited to California GOP’s convention

Openly gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger has been invited to speak at the upcoming California GOP convention, according to reports by On Top Magazine. The invitation came within an hour of the publication of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in which Karger accused the party of giving him “the cold shoulder.”

Karger has said that his 2 percent showing in several recent polls marks him as a legitimate candidate, and State GOP Communications Director Mark Standriff said Karger has always been welcome in the California GOP.

But Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay Republican group GOProud said Karger is not a credible candidate.

“Unfortunately, Fred Karger is playing a stunt, and his stunt has run its course,” LaSalvia told On Top.

Voluntary manslaughter conviction an option in McInerney trial

LOS ANGELES — A California judge has decided jurors may consider voluntary manslaughter in the trial of a teen accused of murdering a gay classmate at school.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell decided Tuesday, Aug. 23, the panel could opt for the lesser charge rather than first-degree murder if they find Brandon McInerney guilty of killing 15-year-old Larry King.

The Ventura County Star reports Campbell felt that not allowing jurors to consider voluntary manslaughter would be problematic if there is an appeal.

The shooting occurred in February 2008 at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard. McInerney, who is now 17, did not testify.

Closing arguments were expected to begin Thursday, Aug. 25.

The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pretrial publicity.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas lauds House committee’s decision to advance bipartisan anti-bullying bill

Rep. Diane Patrick

The Texas House Committee on Public Education voted 10-1 today to advance a bipartisan anti-bullying bill, authored by Republican Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington. The bill, a committee substitute for Patrick’s HB 1942, doesn’t specifically protect LGBT youth but incorporates much of the language from another anti-bullying bill by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. For example, Patrick’s bill would update the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying, and it would allow the bully, instead of just the victim, to be transferred to another classroom or campus. Strama’s bill had the backing of Equality Texas, which now plans to support Patrick’s bill. The text of the committee’s substitute for Patrick’s bill wasn’t immediately available on the Legislature’s website, but Equality Texas provides details of the measure in a press release below.

—  John Wright

White House calls for coordinated anti-bullying efforts

Anti-bullying bills introduced in Congress in conjunction with White House conference

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The White House held a high-visibility conference on bullying prevention Thursday, March 10, with the president and first lady calling on parents, teachers, students, and communities to address the problem together.

Members of Congress also this week introduced several LGBT-inclusive bills designed to address bullying and harassment of students.

In his opening remarks, President Obama said the one overarching goal of the conference was “to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.” Instead, he said, “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people.”

The president also noted that bullying is “more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have or sexual orientation.”

Attending the event were senior administration officials and approximately 150 students, parents, teachers, advocates and others, including gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, representatives from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project.

“No school can be a great school until it is first a safe school,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. And Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius asserted, “Bullying is not an education problem or a health problem — it is a community problem.”

Breakout sessions led by other administration officials discussed school policies and programs, campus and community programs, and cyber-bullying. Although there were no sessions or speeches specific to anti-LGBT bullying, the need to address it came up numerous times in breakout sessions and speeches.

Kevin Jennings, the openly gay assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the Department of Education — and the founder of GLSEN — said in a call with reporters that bullying has reached a “tipping point” where it “is no longer tolerable.”

What pushed it to that point, he said, was the media attention surrounding a string of five suicides last fall related to anti-LGBT bullying.

The event also served to launch the Web site StopBullying.gov, which consolidates federal anti-bullying resources for students, parents, educators, and others. On the homepage is a prominent rainbow-colored box titled “LGBT Bullying,” which links to LGBT-specific information and resources.

The conference also highlighted several private, national campaigns to address bullying, including ones from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the National PTA.

MTV said it would launch a new coalition — of which the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation will be part — to fight bullying and intolerance online.

And Facebook said it would soon enhance the anti-bullying resources in its online Safety Center. It will also create a “Social Reporting” system so that, when people report content that violates Facebook policies, harassing content can be removed quickly, and parents or teachers can be notified.

Already, the administration has taken several steps to address bullying:

The Departments of Education, Justice, HHS, Agriculture, Defense and the Interior formed a federal task force on bullying in 2009, and convened the first-ever National Summit on Bullying in August 2010.

• The Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools awarded $38.8 million in grants to 11 states last October as part of a new Safe and Supportive Schools program. The program requires states to survey students, family and staff about school safety issues, including bullying, and direct grant money where there is the greatest need.

• The Department of Education issued guidance to all school officials last  October, reminding them that federal law requires schools to take action against bullying — including gender-based and sexual harassment of LGBT students.

• The Department of Education issued a memo to all chief state school officers last December providing examples of effective state anti-bullying laws as a reference for developing or revising their own.

• HHS launched a Stop Bullying Now! campaign for students 5 to 18 years old, with tool kits to help youth mentor younger children about bullying prevention.

Legislation

Members of Congress also announced several pieces of anti-bullying legislation this week.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.,  reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act on Tuesday, March 8, which would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to implement anti-bullying programs and to report data on incidents of bullying and harassment, including bullying done through electronic communication.

The programs must specifically include bullying and harassment based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of students and those with whom they associate, among other attributes.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., said she will soon introduce a House version of the bill, as she did last session.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.,  on Thursday March 10 reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which establishes similar anti-bullying requirements for colleges and universities receiving federal student aid.

The bill is named after a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide last September after two other students videotaped him in an intimate encounter with another man and broadcast the video online.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act on Thursday, which states that elementary and secondary schools must not discriminate against students on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds, or risk losing those funds.

“Discrimination,” under SNDA, includes harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  Kevin Thomas

YFT plans new lobby effort

YFT
SPEAKING UP | Members of Youth First Texas gather in Sen. Florence Shapiro’s office on Monday, March 7, as part of Equality Texas’ Lobby Day efforts. The teens visited lawmakers to tell their personal stories of bullying and harassment in order to get support of anti-bullying measures now being considered by the Legislature. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Teens tell lawmakers personal stories of bullying, suicide attempts

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Ten teens from Youth First Texas went to Austin to talk to legislators about anti-bullying legislation on March 7. They joined about 350 LGBT activists and allies from around the state who came for Equality Texas lobby day.

Equality Texas executive director Dennis Coleman talked to the group about coming back to Austin later in the session to testify before committees that will hear testimony about the proposed laws.

As they rehearsed their stories, trying to pare them down to one minute each, the teens realized that they wouldn’t be able to speak to every representative and senator personally. But because they believed their personal stories could make a difference in the way lawmakers vote, the teens began brainstorming on how to get their stories out.

They came up with the idea of recording their stories to DVD to send to each senator and representative. The teens planned to start the project as soon as they returned to Dallas.

The group’s first stop in the Capitol on Monday was the office of Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, who represents the district in which three of the teens live.

YFT member Giancarlo Mossi, one of the three living in Shapiro’s district, began telling the group’s story to two legislative aides. He said he was regularly called a faggot at Plano Senior High School, and other students threw things at him on the bus.

Reporting it didn’t make a difference and the harassment continued through graduation, Mossi said.

Pierce Magnus is still in school. He walks with a cane and said he has always been treated differently. At best, other students give him the coldshoulder, something that’s been going on since middle school. At one point, he tried to kill himself.

After his suicide attempt failed, Magnus said, he was put in an institution and is now on medication. He blames the suicide attempt on bullying and harassment by other students and the indifference with which the school staff reacted.

“That’s a terrible way to go through high school,” Magnus said.

Alice Nightingale said that her high school teachers know how she’s treated and don’t do anything about it.

“I stood up for myself once and got suspended,” she said. “It seems like we try and just do more harm.”

Magnus and Nightingale also live in Shapiro’s district.

The students were lobbying lawmakers to vote for Asher’s Law, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s anti-bullying bill that he renamed this week and reintroduced into the Texas House of Representatives. Sen.

Wendy Davis of Fort Worth introduced anti-bullying legislation in the Senate that will be heard in Shapiro’s education committee.

Mossi said that passing Asher’s Law was crucial.

“I try to let people know they’re not alone,” he said. “But I’m not in high school anymore.”

Magnus said that YFT is a safe space, but “Passing this law will make schools a safe space, too.”

Sen. John Carona’s office was the group’s next stop. Carona represents Richardson, the Park Cities, parts of Garland and most of North Dallas. Other YFT members explained their experiences to Carona’s staff.

Elliott Puckett said that when he was attacked in the bathroom at his high school, the principal told him he brought it on himself.

“I’ve been through so much bullying,” said YFT member William Morvant, “I almost became one of those statistics.”

He tried killing himself three times, he said.

“I’ll be graduating from school soon,” Morvant said. “But I don’t want others going through this.”

Morvant was among those who had also spoken at a Dallas Independent School District meeting before their new anti-bullying policy was adopted.

After their morning lobbying session, the group walked across the Capitol lawn toward First United Methodist Church on Lavaca Street, where Equality Texas provided lunch.

They returned to speak to more legislators in the afternoon and stayed through Tuesday for a second day of lobbying.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Anti-bullying bill introduced in U.S. Senate

Democrat Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and lead co-sposnor Sen. Mark  Kirk, an Illinois Republican, along with 17 other co-sponsors today introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act. According to a press release from the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the bill is the first time a Senate bill with bipartisan support has specifically addressed bullying and harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat, is expected to introduce a similar bipartisan bill in the House in the coming weeks.

GLSEN said no federal law or policy exists so far requiring schools to adopt policies addressing bullying. Such laws at the state level vary greatly from state to state. Anti-bullying legislation introduced in this session of the Texas Legislature recently had enumerated lists of protected classes, including sexual orientation and actual or perceived gender identity and expression, removed to make it more palatable to right-wing conservatives who control both legislative houses.

Although versions of the Safe Schools Improvement Act have been introduced in previous congressional sessions, this bill introduced today is the first to specifically address cyber-bullying, according to a report by the Washington Blade.

—  admin

Coleman introduces ‘Asher’s Law’

Asher Brown, left, and Rep. Garnet Coleman

Today as LGBT citizens from around the state converged on Austin to lobby lawmakers on LGBT issues, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat from Houston, introduced “Asher’s Law,” a bill that would “help protect our children before they are terrorized and traumatized both physically and mentally,” according to a press release from Coleman’s office.

Before this session of the Texas Legislature even began, Coleman had prefiled HB 1386. Asher’s Law — HB 2343 — is identical to that earlier legislation except that Coleman renamed it in honor of Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from Houston who committed suicide last year after enduring relentless bullying from his classmates and peers.

Coleman said that he renamed the legislation with the permission of Asher’s parents, Amy and David Truong. Coleman said, “The Truongs are acting with grace and courage. They are allowing a tremendous personal tragedy be a catalyst for change in state statute. We should honor them.”

Coleman said that Asher’s Law, if passed, would direct the Department of State Health Services and the Texas Education Agency to implement a program to recognize students at risk of emtoional trauma or committing suicide, intervene effectively and refer students to mental health services if necessary. The bill would require school districts to report incidents of harassment and bullying to the TEA annually and to train district employees on preventing bullying and harassment. It also addresses harassment and discrimination by school district employees toward students and other employees.

In addition, Asher’s Law gives school districts the option of transferring a bully, instead of current practice which is to transfer the student being bullied.

Coleman has filed similar bills in every legislative session since 2003. Prior to that year, he supported similar bills filed in each session by then state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat.

—  admin

Wendy Walsh: Seth’s mother says stop the bullying now

I have two sons. I like to say I inherited them when their mother and I began our relationship.

They make me crazy sometimes, like when I have to tell them 12 times to pick up their dirty socks off the floor, or not to leave their empty water bottles or candy wrappers on the couch.

They make me crazy sometimes. But I love them more than life — all the time. Even when they make me crazy.

In one week and one day, I will get to celebrate my 10th Christmas with my sons. I am willing to bet I am looking forward to Christmas morning as much as — maybe even more than — they are. The looks on their faces when they see the gifts from Santa, when they open those brightly-wrapped packages under the tree — that joy is worth all the crazy times. It’s worth the world.

In one week and one day I get to celebrate Christmas morning with my sons. Wendy Walsh will never have that chance again. Her son, Seth, was one of the several LGBT teens who committed suicide this fall after facing years of bullying. I can’t even begin to imagine what she must be feeling right now. I think I might just close myself off in my house and never want to see anyone else again.

But Wendy Walsh isn’t doing that. She is putting her grief and her pain and, yes, her anger to work, joining with the ACLU to call on all schools everywhere to protect all children from the kind of bullying and harassment that left her son feeling he had no way of escape except dying, and to call on the federal government to enact legislation to fight bullying.

And while the rest of us can never truly understand the depth of Wendy Walsh’s grief, her loss, we need to all understand that Seth Walsh was our son, too, that Wendy Walsh’s loss was our loss, and that her grief should be our grief. And we should all fight just as hard and she is to make sure that no other children, anywhere, ever feel such despair that suicide seems their only option.

If we don’t do something to save our children, who will?

—  admin

Bigots are so unreliable!

Despite news reports indicating otherwise, no one spoke Tuesday night at the Fort Worth City Council meeting to air disapproval of Councilman Joel Burns “It Gets Better” speech last month. Tuesday’s meeting lasted into the wee hours, as the council dealt with several controversial issues. The only person who referenced Burns’ speech during “Citizen Presentations,” which came after midnight, spoke in support of it. Linda Sandoval Foley said she’s been a special education teacher since 1964.

“Bullying and harassment, whatever the reason, is not only injurious to the person who is bullied, but to the bully themselves,” she said. “Parents and community often offer a model to kids as to what is acceptable and give both tacit and implicit approval to bullying behaviors. But equally present is a capacity for acceptance and understanding, and expectations for appropriate behavior toward people who are different from you in any way, whether it’s the color of your eyes, or whether you’re tall and skinny, awkward and clumsy, whatever. Yes, it does get better. But we need, our kids need, the support and involvement of their parents, their teachers and all the other adults who are in their lives. And I thank Councilman Burns for his statement, and I do appreciate his life experience, and I do look forward to it being better for all our kids.”

Earlier, during councilmembers’ reports, Burns also referenced his “It Gets Better” speech, saying he had a lot of announcements but none of them were likely to make YouTube. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important,” he said.

Among other things, Burns went on to congratulate the TCU football team for its victory last weekend over Utah, saying it was the only time he’s ever wished he was in Salt Lake City. Burns also congratulated those from Fort Worth who received awards during Saturday’s Black Tie Dinner: the Rev. Carol West (Kuchling Humanitarian Award) and American Airlines (Elizabeth Birch Equality Award).

—  John Wright

DISD tables anti-bullying policy

Trustee Lew Blackburn says he will offer a substitute with specific protections for LGBT students, but district spokesman says measure may not be necessary

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

BEING VIGILANT  |  Hundreds gathered for a second vigil in memory of LGBT teens lost to suicide in recent weeks Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Oak Lawn, as Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns continued to make headlines across the country with his passionate plea to troubled youth to remember, “It gets better.” See the full story on Page 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
BEING VIGILANT | Hundreds gathered for a second vigil in memory of LGBT teens lost to suicide in recent weeks Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Oak Lawn, as Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns continued to make headlines across the country with his passionate plea to troubled youth to remember, “It gets better.” See the full story on Page 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Independent School District trustee Lew Blackburn said this week he plans to introduce a bullying policy that provides specific protections for LGBT students.

However, a DISD spokesman said he’s unsure whether a new policy is needed because DISD already has a policy prohibiting harassment of students based on various factors, including sexual orientation.
Bullying policies have taken on added significance after a string of widely publicized recent teen suicides across the country, including several by students who’d experienced bullying and harassment because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

DISD’s nine-member board of trustees has been considering a new anti-bullying policy that would strengthen penalties and clarify definitions. However, as currently written, the proposal doesn’t list factors based on which students would be protected.

In response to the concerns of LGBT advocates, Blackburn said he plans to introduce a substitute proposal that would enumerate those factors, including both sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn said Monday, Oct. 18. “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.”

Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the district, said Thursday, Oct. 21 that trustees have put off discussion of the new bullying policy until November at the earliest.

“We already have a policy on the books that talks about no harassment of kids for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, all of those things, so I think they wanted to take a step back and do a little more research,” Dahlander said. “I think they felt like, you know what, while the word bullying may not necessarily be there, harassment certainly is and we probably need to go back to the drawing board and revisit whether or not we need this policy based on what we’ve already got.”

DISD’s harassment policy, passed in the mid-1990s, includes sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Meanwhile, DISD’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits “offensive language” related to “gender orientation,” a term which is not defined in the code.

Dahlander said DISD was the first in the state to include sexual orientation in its harassment policy. He also said he believes trustees are open to including sexual orientation and gender identity in the bullying policy, which is one of the reasons they put off discussion.

“They may specifically address different categories of students or different kinds of bullying, or they may not address it because of what’s already there in terms of harassment,” Dahlander said. “The ball, as always, is in their court.”

Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, was among several LGBT advocates who met with Blackburn this week to discuss his proposal.

Cox said RCD officials have heard from at least two other trustees who support a fully inclusive policy. However, she noted that the policy will need five votes to pass.

“My experience tells me that things are never as easy as they should be,” Cox said. “I think with the ongoing need and now the spotlight on LGBT bullying and suicide, passing a policy that doesn’t specifically include LGBT folks would not be prudent. It would essentially have no teeth in it.”

Both Blackburn and Cox encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees and urge them to support a fully inclusive policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on the DISD website at www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm.

ADVOCATING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, speaks at a rally Friday, Oct. 16, in support of stronger anti-bullying laws and policies in Texas’ public Schools. Alonza has pledged to introduce asafe schools measure when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
ADVOCATING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, speaks at a rally Friday, Oct. 16, in support of stronger anti-bullying laws and policies in Texas’ public Schools. Alonza has pledged to introduce asafe schools measure when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Blackburn also said he plans to ask DISD’s administration to come up with proposed guidelines related to gender identity and homecoming court eligibility.

The principal at North Dallas High School recently sparked controversy when she refused to allow transgender female student Andy Moreno to run for homecoming queen.

The district currently has no policy on the matter. In response to the controversy at NDHS, DISD officials released statements saying they supported the principal’s decision and trumpeting the district’s “aggressive” anti-harassment policy — even though it doesn’t include gender identity.

Blackburn said he’s concerned that in the absence of a DISD policy related to homecoming eligibility and gender identity, 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.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

National spotlight focuses on Burns

As Fort Worth councilman’s staff, volunteers continue to field e-mails, calls from bullied teens seeking help, Dallasites stage a 2nd vigil to remember teen suicide victims


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

PROUD COUPLE  |  Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
PROUD COUPLE | Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Joel Burns has been a familiar name and face in North Texas since 2007 when he was first elected to the Fort Worth City Council, becoming Cowtown’s first openly gay council member.

But in the last two weeks, thousands have learned Burns’ name and are hailing him as a hero of the LGBT community and the battle against bullying and teen suicide.

Fort Worth City Council’s Oct. 12 meeting started out as usual. But then Burns took his turn during that part of the meeting in which councilmembers routinely offer recognition to individuals and events in their own districts. But this time, Burns took on a national topic.

Struggling to choke back tears until finally giving up and letting the tears run down his face, Burns talked about several teenagers who were LGBT, or at least perceived to be LGBT, who had recently taken their own lives after enduring months, sometimes years, of anti-gay bullying and harassment.

And then the councilman told his own story, how he had himself been bullied as a teen and had contemplated suicide.

By the time he finished, everyone in the Council Chamber had risen to their feet to salute him with applause.

But it didn’t stop there. Burns posted the official  Fort Worth City Council video on YouTube as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign to encourage and reassure LGBT teens — and suddenly, Burns was an Internet sensation.

Newspapers around the world posted the video on their websites and it went viral on YouTube. Before he knew it, Burns was being asked to be on, first local and then national and international news programs, including The Today Show with Matt Lauer. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Burns was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ television talk show.

During an appearance on Ellen, Burns said that the best part of the last two weeks has been the number of teens from around the world who have e-mailed him and contacted him on Facebook.

“The countless number of kids from around the world … who said, ‘I was in a really, really bad place and I was making plans to take my own life,’” he said. “The fact that they have reconsidered — that makes it worth me crying at City Council, the heartache for my mom and dad, worth every bit of all that because they’re still alive.”

While Burns has been traveling coast-to-coast speaking out against bullying on all of the network morning shows in New York, on cable news and on Ellen in Los Angeles, a team of volunteers has been sorting through thousands of messages pouring into his e-mail inbox at Fort Worth City Hall.

By Monday, Oct. 18, more than 20,000 e-mails had arrived after the video had been streamed 1.3 million times. On Thursday, Oct. 21, the number of YouTube hits passed 2 million, and the e-mail and Facebook messages continue to pour in.

The YouTube page has logged more than 27,000 comments.

Actually reaching Burns or his office this week has been almost impossible. His office phone switches to directly to voice mail.

The Fort Worth City Hall media office said they would pass a message to his office to contact Dallas Voice. But spokesman Bill Begley said he’d walk a message down to Burns’ office himself.

Will Trevino in Councilmember Kathleen Hicks’ office said that former staff and volunteers in Burns’ office had been working overtime trying to keep up with the flood of messages.

Remembering the lost ones
Wednesday was Spirit Day, designated to remember young people who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Many wore purple to show solidarity for efforts to stop the bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the call for an end to bullying by releasing an “It Gets Better” video earlier this week and wearing purple on Spirit Day.

More than 200 people gathered in the Caven parking lot off Cedar Springs Road and held a candlelight vigil marching to the Legacy of Love monument at Oak Lawn Avenue.

Marchers carried purple signs that read “Hope” and “It Gets Better.”

At the monument, organizer Ivan Watson read the names of recent suicide victims and a moment of silence was observed for each one.

Watson said he was inspired to organize the vigil after hearing about Asher Brown, the recent Houston suicide victim.

Organizer Steve Weir of DallasGay-Agenda.com billed the event as a peace march and vigil in memory of those who died and a stand against bullying D/FW area. He said that school policies must change to make schools safe for LGBT youth.

Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center Dallas said he searched bullying policies of school districts across the state and found none that specifically addresses bullying based on sexual orientation. Austin’s comes closest, he said.

McDonnell also said that Philadelphia’s school system passed a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that specifically addresses sexual orientation and sexual identity.

“It’s in Lew Blackburn’s hands,” McDonnell said.

Blackburn is the DISD trustee who has shown the most interest in crafting a policy that will protect LGBT students and those perceived to be.

The “It Gets Better” campaign continues. Randy Potts is the grandson of evangelist Oral Roberts. His uncle was gay and committed suicide. He is recording an “It Gets Better” video this weekend.

To watch video from Wednesday’s vigil, go to DallasVoice.com/videos

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas