Hundreds gathered on the Cedar Springs strip in Dallas on Wednesday evening, Oct. 20, for a second vigil in as many weeks to honor and remember the many young people who’ve taken their own lives in response to anti-gay bullying and harassment.
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.”
RALLYING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, right, speaks to a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Higher Education during the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature. Alonzo is among those who will speak at a rally Friday to promote awareness of the problems of bullying in schools and teen suicide.
Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance will hold a rally in Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff on Friday, Oct. 15 to draw attention to the problem of gay teen suicide and to opportunities in the next session of the legislature to end school bullying.
State Rep. Roberto Alonzo is among the speakers. In the last session he coauthored a safe schools bill with Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. The legislation did not pass.
Larry Duncan, president of Dallas County Schools, is also scheduled to appear. Dallas County Schools is providing shuttle bus service from 8th & Corinth Station on the Red and Blue lines to Lake Cliff Park. The park is located at E. Colorado and Zang boulevards.
“The rally is important because we need a safe schools law that empowers teachers, administrators and staff to stop bullying when they see it,” said DGLA President Patti Fink. “No kid can focus on algebra when they’re fearing for their safety. Kids are losing their lives over this issue. It’s got to stop.”
Most states, including Texas, do have some form of anti-bullying laws.
Only five states — Hawaii, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana — remain without any student protection.
In 2005, the Texas legislature passed Chapter 37 of the Education code that requires school districts to adopt student codes of conduct that proscribe bullying and harassment.
The law does not specify groups that are often the targets and doesn’t enumerate what must happen when school staff observes bullying behavior.
Laws that are not specific have proven to be ineffective in preventing bullying of LGBT students, according to advocates.
The current Dallas Independent School District regulations list groups protected from harassment. Among those is the unclear “gender orientation,” sort of a combination and confusion of gender identity and sexual orientation, which are not listed.
Four representatives from the LGBT community attended a DISD board of trustees meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14. The board is considering a new anti-bullying policy. The proposed policy, as currently written, doesn’t specifically protect LGBT students.
Gregory Pynes, vice chair of the board for Resource Center Dallas, spoke during public comments and commended the trustees for wanting to strengthen their anti-bullying policy.
But he urged them to amend the proposed policy by listing protected categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
Pynes invited trustees to work with Resource Center on the policy, which is expected to come up for a final vote later this month.
Others from the LGBT community who attended the DISD meeting were Chastity Kirven of Get Equal Now, David Plunkett of Hope for Peace and Justice and Pamela Curry of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.
Earlier this year, Fort Worth ISD ran a district-wide poster campaign called “It’s Not Okay” to bully one’s fellow students or to allow others to be victimized. The district sponsored parent workshops throughout the district to combat bullying.
Sexual orientation is included in the Fort Worth school district’s bullying policy under its code of conduct. Gender identity is not.
Other large school districts in the area — including Plano, Richardson and Arlington ISDs — do not specify groups that are covered by anti-bullying policies.
One of Tarrant County’s largest school districts, Birdville ISD, does not list covered groups. Earlier this year, Haltom City parents called police about bullying incidents at a BISD school and brought their complaints about bullying including assaults to CBS 11.
At this week’s city council meeting, Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns gave an emotional speech about having been bullied in school and considering suicide. He showed pictures of six teens who recently committed suicide after having been bullied and told their stories.
“This bullying and harassment in our schools must stop,” he said.
His 10-minute speech received a standing ovation from other council members and from citizens attending the meeting.
Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith said that stronger safe schools legislation will be the top priority of the upcoming legislative session. He said that electing legislators who will support an anti-bullying law is important. Several bills will be introduced in the House.
The law that Smith was most excited about is one being crafted by Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. Strama has introduced safe schools legislation each session since he was elected in 2004. Local representatives Alonzo and Raphael Anchia of Dallas, Paula Pierson of
Arlington and Lon Burnham of Fort Worth co-authored the bill in the last session.
Burnham’s legislative director in Austin reaffirmed Burnham’s commitment to the issue.
“He certainly supports and is concerned with the issue,” he said.
Smith said next session’s proposed law is different from previous versions. The exact language of the new bill is still being written.
However, Strama’s proposed legislation will specify what does and does not constitute bullying and what school personnel must do when they see bullying occur or when it is reported.
In defining the problem, schoolyard fights, for example, are not considered bullying.
Bullying refers to verbal or physical acts committed by a student to harass, intimidate or cause harm to another student. The more recent problem of cyber-bullying includes threats, harassment and intimidation on line as well as in texting or through other electronic means.
Locally, support for anti-bullying legislation appears strong although some representatives would not commit to supporting a particular bill until they saw final wording. Specifying gay, lesbian or transgender students has been the reason some withhold support of anti-bullying legislation in the past.
Rep. Eric Johnson represents part of Oak Lawn and campaigned on the issue of safe schools. His wife serves on the board of Resource Center Dallas.
“We must provide all Texas schoolchildren with an atmosphere in which they feel, and in fact are, safe while learning,” said Johnson.
“Our very future depends on it. I will support comprehensive legislation in the Texas House to address the issue of bullying directly so that all of our children have the opportunity to make the most of their education and their lives.”
Calls to other area legislative offices showed general consensus that schools need to be made safer for students.
Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown’s office said, “Of course. She’s against any bullying in schools.”
Harper-Brown’s district is in Irving. Her opponent is in the upcoming election is Loretta Haldenwang. Her campaign manager, Kirk McPike, also indicated support.
Multiple calls to other area Representatives’ local, Austin and campaign offices were not returned. Many of those legislators did support the Strama bill in the current session.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.
This week, we here in the LGBT community in DFW are celebrating the courage of two members of our community: Trans teen Andy Moreno who chose to stand and fight when her high school principal told her she couldn’t run for homecoming queen, and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, whose impassioned and powerful speech on teen suicide and his own struggle as a teen is reaching people around the world.
But elsewhere, the same hatred and bullying and harassment that played a role in a number of highly-publicized teen suicides over the past month was rearing its ugly head once again.
Nassau County police this week arrested three Long Island teenagers for allegedly assaulting a classmate for being gay — not once, but twice, and both times on a school bus, according to reports at WPix.com.
Police have charged 18-year-old David Spencer of North Valley Stream, 16-year-old Chase Morrison of Lakeview both with second-degree aggravated harrassment and third-degree assault, and they have charged 14-year-old Roy Wilson of Baldwin with third-degree assault.
According to reports, the three assailants attacked their 14-year-old classmate on the bus Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 12, as it left Nassau BOCES Career Preparatory High School in Hicksville, kicking and stomping him while hurling anti-gay epithets at him. The next morning, Wednesday, Oct. 13, when the unnamed victim boarded the bus to go to school, the three attacked him again, using anti-gay insults as they slapped him in the face and head.
The three were arrested later Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, I sat down at the computer and watched a number of videos from people — famous and not-so-famous — who were participating in Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, sending video messages to LGBTQ youth that even though they may face bullying and harassment and discrimination now, life will get better if they just hang on.
One of the videos I saw was from gay gossip maven Perez Hilton. I have to admit, I didn’t even finish watching his video because I — apparently like a lot of other people — couldn’t stomach the apparent hypocrisy of watching this man — who has made a living bullying people and outing people who weren’t ready to be out — speaking out against bullying and trying to console young people who were being bullied.
Apparently, Perez realized the hypocrisy of it, too. And he went on Ellen DeGeneres’ show to acknowledge that hypocrisy and to pledge to change his ways. Will he change? I guess we just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, watch the video, and decide for yourself whether you believe he is sincere.
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.”
Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns, right, and his husband, J.D. Angle
I have known Joel Burns for almost 10 years — several years longer than he has been on the Fort Worth City Council.
My wife and I met Joel and his husband, J.D. Angle, through mutual friends back when Joel and J.D. still lived in their beautifully restored home in the same East Fort Worth neighborhood where my wife and I and our children lived. I saw them then as the perfect couple: happy, handsome, healthy men with a beautiful home and great jobs. I knew they had great things ahead of them.
Then they moved to another beautifully restored older home in an historic neighborhood just south of downtown Fort Worth, and Joel ran for City Council. I was so happy when he was elected, because I believed that not only would Joel be a good representative for his constituents in District 9, but that he would also be a good representative for the LGBT community.
I think the fact that no one even stepped up to oppose Joel when he ran for re-election in 2009 shows that his constituents, overall, believe he is doing a good job on the City Council. But last night — Tuesday, Oct. 12 — during the weekly Fort Worth City Council meeting, Joel proved without a doubt that he also represents his LGBT community, and he proved why it is so important to have openly LGBT elected officials at all levels of government.
At each council meeting, council members are given a few minutes each at the start of the meeting to make announcements and to recognize people from their districts who have done something outstanding. Last night, Joel took his time to talk about the recent suicides of several LGBT youth — and to tell his own very personal and very powerful story.
After recounting the stories of several young men who have taken their own lives in recent weeks after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment, Joel told his fellow councilmembers and those in the council chambers that he was about to tell them something he had never told anyone before — not even his parents or his husband. And then, struggling through his own tears, he told them of the day when he was a 9th grader at Crowley High School and a group of older teens accosted him and “roughed him up.”
“They said that I was a faggot, and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged. That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down, that what I was beginning to feel on the inside must somehow be showing on the outside. Ashamed, humiliated and confused, I went home. There must be something very wrong with me, I thought, something I could never let my family or anyone else know,” he recalled.
Joel broke down then, and acknowledged that he couldn’t actually bring himself to read aloud the next couple of sentences he had written that described his own near suicide attempt. “I, don’t want my mother and father to have to bear the pain of having to hear … hear me say the …” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
When he regained his composure enough to continue, Joel said: “So I will just say, and I will skip ahead, I have never told this story to anyone before tonight. Not my family, not my husband, not anyone. But the number of suicides in recent days have upset me so much, they have just torn at my heart. And even though there may be some political repercussions for telling my story, the story is not just for the adults who might choose or not choose to support me. The story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight. Or the rope. Or the pill bottle. You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it on that unfortunate day. There is so, so, so much more.
“Yes, high school was difficult. Coming out was painful. But life got so much better for me. And I want to tell any teen that might see this: Give yourself a chance to see just how much better life will get. And it will get better. You will get out of the household that doesn’t accept you. You will get out of that high school, and you never have to deal with those jerks again if you don’t want to. You will find and you will make new friends who will understand you. And life will get so, so, so much better.”
Joel then talked about all the happy memories that fill his life now, from the first time he ever saw his future husband, to the day he asked J.D. to spend his life with him, to winning his first election to just a few days ago when he sat with his father after his father came out of surgery, and his father told him how happy he was to have Joel there with him.
He said: To those who are feeling very alone tonight, please know that I understand how you feel, that things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself. It may not seem like it tonight, but they will. And the attitudes of society will change. Please, live long enough to be there to see it.”
Joel ended by encouraging anyone who needs help or resources to deal with the issue of LGBT teen suicide to contact TheTrevorProject.org or to call him directly at 817-392-8809. “And you can call me, and I will get you whatever resources you need,” he promised.
As Joel finished, his fellow councilmember and friend Kathleen Hicks led the rest of the council and those in the council chambers in a standing ovation for Joel and his courage. I think he deserves a standing ovation from all of us, as well. Because last night, Joel Burns did us all proud, and maybe — just maybe — he helped save someone’s life.
Watch video of Joel’s speech to the council below:
A 19-year-old gay man from Oklahoma has taken his own life, and his parents say a hate-filled recent City Council meeting he attended may have driven him over the edge.
Zach Harrington was a talented musician who’d endured years of struggles due to his sexual orientation in high school in conservative Norman, Okla.
On Sept. 28, Harrington attended a three-hour public hearing on a proposal to declare October gay history month in the city. Although the council ultimately approved the proposal, Harrington’s parents described the meeting as potentially “toxic” for their son, a private person who internalized his feelings.
Nikki Harrington, Zach’s older sister, said her brother likely took all of the negative things said about members of the GLBT community straight to heart.
“When he was sitting there, I’m sure he was internalizing everything and analyzing everything … that’s the kind of person he was,” she said. “I’m sure he took it personally. Everything that was said.”
Harrington’s father, Van, said he wasn’t sure why his son went to the meeting, especially after his experiences in Norman once he revealed that he was gay as a teenager. He said he feels his son may have glimpsed a hard reality at the Sept. 28 council meeting, a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.
“I don’t think it was a place where he would hear something to make him feel more accepted by the community,” he said. “For somebody like Zach, it (the meeting) was probably very hard to sit through.”
Zach Harrington committed suicide at his family’s home in Norman seven days after the meeting, yet another apparent victim of anti-gay hate. His parents say they hope the story of his death will make people think twice before they say certain things about their friends and neighbors in public. We’re hoping it will also prompt them to reflect upon the hatred in their hearts.
As school gets under way and Equality Texas gears up for the 2011 legislative session, the statewide gay-rights organization is calling on members to contact their representatives and ask them to support LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation. From the Action Alert:
Under current law, students are not specifically protected from bullying and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Current law does not establish a uniform state school conduct policy and does not provide for monitoring or enforcement of independent school district policies.
For the third legislative session, Equality Texas will be working to pass safe schools legislation. It will not pass until lawmakers know it is a top priority for their constituents. During the 81st Legislative Session, Rep. Mark Strama filed a bill relating to safe schools for all youth. While it was voted favorably out of committee, it died on the the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. Will this be the session to finally pass a safe schools bill?
As of this morning, Equality Texas reported that only 68 of 150 representatives had been contacted via the online advocacy campaign. To contact your representative, go here.
Also, while perusing the Equality Texas website, we couldn’t help but notice another recent advocacy campaign that we’d somehow missed in the wake of the Prop 8 ruling. It’s a fundraising letter from Equality Texas that calls attention to the need for advocacy right here at home and, to illustrate the point, highlights some differences between Texas and California:
• No form of statewide relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
• Allows employers to legally discriminate against LGBT Texans.
• Does not have a safe schools law that explicitly addresses sexual orientation and gender identity.
• Does not permit a same-sex partner to make a medical decision on behalf of his/her incapacitated partner in the absence of an advance directive.
• No clear adoption laws. Courts have used a parent’s sexual orientation to deny, restrict or modify custody and visitation.
• Hate crimes law explicitly includes “sexual preference.” No provision of Texas law explicitly addresses gender identity.
• Allows same-sex domestic partners to register and to receive essentially all of the rights and benefits of married couples under state law.
• Prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, appearance and behavior in the areas of employment (public and private), housing and public accommodations.
• Protects students from discrimination and hate violence on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
• Allows same-sex domestic partners to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner. Domestic partners and their children are specifically granted hospital visitation rights.
• Permits a same-sex couple to jointly petition to adopt.
• Hate crime law covers sexual orientation and gender identity.
While we’re on the subject of political party platforms in Texas, looks like the Democrats approved four pro-LGBT resolutions over the weekend during their state convention in Corpus Christi.
It’s safe to say the Lone Star State has gotten yet another black eye, albeit deserved, in national LGBT circles over anti-gay language in the state GOP platform. So let’s hope some of those same bloggers will pick up this positive story, but don’t count on it. After all, the idea that everyone in Texas wants to lock up “homosexuals” makes for better headlines.
Anyhow, according to the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, the four pro-LGBT resolutions that were adopted at the convention call for (1) a state employment nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT protections, (2) competitive insurance benefits for LGBT employees at Texas universities, (3) accurate birth certificates for same-sex parents of adopted children and (4) policies that would prohibit bullying and harassment in Texas public schools.
TSDC also reports that the new Texas Democratic platform, for the first time ever, now uses the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” in calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies.
“The 2010 State Democratic Convention proved beyond a reasonable doubt that LGBT Texans have a place at the table of the Democratic Party,” said TSDC President Dan Graney. “As for the Republican Party of Texas, it might as well call itself the Republican Party of Uganda because of all the hate and bigotry that is dripping from its platform.”
Here’s the full press release from TSDC:
TEXAS DEMOCRATS ADOPT PRO-LGBT PLATFORM/
RESOLUTIONS AT STATE CONVENTION
Delegates meeting at the Texas Democratic Convention this past weekend in Corpus Christi adopted a platform and resolutions that champion gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality and nondiscrimination on a variety of levels. This is in stark contrast to the State Republican Party Convention two weeks ago, which adopted a platform that denounces homosexuality as “tearing at the fabric of society” and calls for the felony prosecution of anyone who performs a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple in Texas.
For the first time ever, the 2010 State Democratic Party platform uses the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” in calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies against the LGBT community. The platform also advocates for anti-bullying policies in public schools, diversity in institutions for higher learning,
passage of the Employment Non Discrimination Act, increased education initiatives and services to address HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, an end to discrimination in the state foster care system, strong enforcement of both federal and state hate crimes laws and repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
All four pro-equality resolutions that were proposed by Equality Texas and that passed numerous senate district and county conventions also were adopted on the floor of the convention without opposition. These resolutions included (1) a state employment nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT protections, (2) competitive insurance benefits for LGBT employees at Texas universities, (3) accurate birth certificates for same-sex parents of adopted children and (4) policies that would prohibit bullying and harassment in Texas public schools. Similar resolutions had been approved by previous convention resolutions committees but never made it to the floor of the convention for a vote.
Hundreds of LGBT Texans were among the 5,000 delegates and alternates who attended the convention. The Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus (TSDC), which is the official LGBT Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, hosted a reception on June 24 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its founding. The TSDC also held an Executive Board meeting and Caucus membership meeting at the convention, both of which were well attended. Dan Graney of San Antonio was re-elected President, Erin Moore of Dallas was re-elected Vice President and Carol Cappa of Fort Worth and Shaun Nelson of Houston were respectively elected the new Secretary and Treasurer of the Caucus. Graney and Moore will represent the TSDC on the State Democratic Executive Committee or SDEC, which is the governing body of the State Democratic Party between conventions
Also elected to the SDEC were four members of Stonewall Democrats chapters in Texas: Eli Olivarez of McAllen, Garry Brown of Austin and DeeJay Johannessen and Mary Edwards of Tarrant County. Stonewall Democrats members were also elected to all five of the permanent committees of the convention, which includes credentials, rules, platform, resolutions and nominations.
“The 2010 State Democratic Convention proved beyond a reasonable doubt that LGBT Texans have a place at the table of the Democratic Party”, exclaimed TSDC President Dan Graney. “As for the Republican Party of Texas, it might as well call itself the Republican Party of Uganda because of all the hate and bigotry that is dripping from its platform”, he said.
Texas Democrats are gearing up for the midterm elections this November and are hoping to elect Bill White the first Democratic governor of this state in 16 years. The 2012 Texas Democratic Convention will take place in Houston.