Top 10: Suicides led to anti-bullying law

Anti-bullying-Press-conference-at-Texas-Capitol-March-7,-2011-0-02-25-07

PARENTAL RESPONSE | David and Amy Truong, the parents of 13-year-old gay suicide victim Asher Brown, became tireless advocates for anti-bullying legislation this year. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

No. 4

In the fall of 2010, a number of high-profile suicides brought attention to the problem of bullying in schools. This year, the LGBT community worked to change laws and save lives.

After helping to push through policies in the Dallas and Fort Worth school districts, as well as a few others around the state, the LGBT community focused on passing statewide anti-bullying legislation in the 2011 session of the Legislature.

Equality Texas made the legislation a priority and a number of bills were introduced.

In February, Equality Texas hosted a Lobby Day. Several hundred people from around the state participated.

Among them were Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents — Amy and David Truong — and a group of 10 students from Youth First Texas.

Burns and the Truongs met with key legislators including members of the committees that would  hear the bills.

The students from YFT spoke to their senators and representatives telling their own stories of being bullied.

Legislators not usually considered allies were visibly moved by stories of violence in schools in their hometowns.

Equality Texas board chair Anne Wynn, Executive Director Dennis Coleman and Deputy Director Chuck Smith spent the spring lobbying on behalf of the bills.

The organization arranged for the Truongs as well as the parents of Montana Lance and Jon Carmichael, two other Texas suicide victims, to testify at committee hearings.

As originally crafted, the bills specified categories that would be covered. National studies have shown that the more specific the law, the more effective it is in protecting LGBT students. When sexual orientation and gender identity are not specified, school staff often ignore anti-gay bullying. But to increase the chances that anti-bullying legislation would pass, several bills were combined and all references to specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity, were deleted.

The new anti-bullying “super bill” passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House — and was eventually signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Under the new law, for the first time, the bully rather than the victim can be transferred to another classroom or school. Parental notification rules were strengthened and protections added for the person reporting the bullying. The definition of bullying now includes electronic means, or cyberbullying. And every school district must adopt an anti-bullying policy, including any necessary procedures to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents.

A second bill also passed that provides money for counseling services, which includes services for both the bully and the victim. School staff already receive training to recognize potential suicide risks. That training will be expanded to include victims of bullying.

Meanwhile, although the Dallas Independent School District approved an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy last year, Resource Center Dallas and Lambda Legal accused some DISD officials of blocking its implementation.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox along with Lambda Legal community educator Omar Narvaez addressed the DISD board about the problem in December.

Cox said she had gotten word from frustrated school district employees that principals were being instructed not to use the electronic reporting system that the board mandated. She said she would continue to track the district’s compliance with the policy in 2012.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Top 10: Teen suicides put spotlight on bullying

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NOT FORGOTTEN | Suicide victims, back from left, Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas, and front from left, Raymond Chase, Zach Harrington, Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi. (Kevin Thomas/Dallas Voice)

No. 1:

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve heard the adage practically all our lives, but 2010 proved beyond any doubt that words can, indeed, be lethal, as a wave of teen suicides grabbed headlines and focused attention on an epidemic of anti-gay bullying in schools.

And for the first time, it seemed, mainstream America came to terms with the reality of statistics showing that LGBT youth are three to four times more likely to take their own lives than their straight peers.

On Sept. 28, media across the country picked up the story of Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from Houston who days before shot himself to death with his stepfather’s gun. That same day came word that Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from Tehachapi, Calif., had died after spending nine days on life support after he hung himself in his own backyard. Both boys endured months of anti-gay bullying at school, and both families said officials had ignored their repeated pleas for action. But by the time candlelight vigils took place around the country in memory of the victims, two more names had been added to the list: 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind., committed suicide after months of being bullied at school; and 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another student secretly videotaped him having sex with another man and broadcast it on the Internet. On Sept. 29, 19-year-old Raymond Chase hung himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Then there was Cody J. Barker, 17, of Wisconsin, who died Sept. 13; Harrison Chase Brown, 15, of Colorado, who died Sept. 25; Felix Sacco, 17, of Massachusetts who died Sept. 29, and Caleb Nolt, 14, of Indiana, who died Sept. 30.

Finally, there was Zach Harrington, 19, of Norman, Okla. Harrington’s family said the young man had attended a Sept. 28 City Council meeting that included a public hearing on a resolution to recognize October as LGBT history month. A number of residents attended to speak out against the ordinance — which was eventually passed by the council — and Harrington’s parents said their son was so hurt by the hateful rhetoric that seven days later he took his own life.

Gay journalist and blogger Dan Savage had already started an online video project called the “It Gets Better Campaign,” in which people of all ages, from rock stars and actors to government officials to other gay teens sitting in front of their computers in their bedrooms, told their own stories of overcoming struggles and surviving to see their lives get better. They urged young people considering suicide to hang on and not give up hope.

Then on Oct. 12, one week after Harrington’s death, gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns took time during a meeting to address the issue. His voice choked and strained with emotion, tears running down his face, Burns read a speech he had scribbled down hastily during his lunch hour that day. He told of growing up gay in Crowley, Texas, and the bullying he endured, and how he, too, had come close to taking his own life.

But, Burns said, “It gets better,” and he continued by talking about how he had survived and thrived, about his loving family, his husband and how wonderful his life has become.

By the next morning, video of Burns’ speech had been posted to YouTube and was collecting thousands of hits. And Burns was invited to appear on The Today Show, Ellen and more. He had become the face of efforts to end the bullying and save young lives.

Around the same time, the Dallas school board began discussing how to improve its own anti-bullying policy. Activists noted that while most of the suicides making headlines involved LGBT youth, the district’s proposed new policy didn’t specifically protect those young gays, lesbians and transgenders.

Meanwhile, Andy Moreno, a female transgender student at North Dallas High School, was fighting to run for homecoming queen.

Moreno had been nominated by classmates, but school administrators said she couldn’t run because she was officially enrolled as a boy.

Although Moreno herself said she hadn’t experienced bullying by her classmates, LGBT advocates pointed out that she was being bullied by administrators because of her gender identity, and that school district policies did not specifically protect her.

On Nov. 18 the DISD board approved a fully inclusive new anti-bullying policy. Officials with the Fort Worth Independent School District announced that they, too, would be revising their policies to specifically protect LGBT teens.

As December began, State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth announced she had prefiled legislation to address bullying in the state’s public schools, and that unlike a similar bill prefiled in the house by Rep. Mark Strama, her bill was fully inclusive of LGBT teens.

On Dec. 16, Equality Texas held a press conference in Austin, releasing results of a poll on LGBT rights that showed nearly 80 percent of Texans support inclusive anti-bullying legislation.

Chuck Smith, Equality Texas’ deputy director, said that anti-bullying bills had been introduced in the Legislature each session since 1997 but none of the measures had ever passed. But this time, as the death toll has continued to rise and the country has been forced to acknowledge the ongoing damage, Smith said he believes inclusive anti-bullying legislation has its best chance ever of passing in Texas.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Equality Texas pushes for anti-bullying legislation

Group also releases poll results showing support for LGBT rights

Tammye Nash  |  nash@dallasvoice.com

Joel-and-Dennis
CITING THE NUMBERS | Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, left, listens as Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman outlines the findings of a poll showing that nearly 80 percent of Texans favor inclusive anti-bullying legislation. Equality Texas kicked off an intensive effort to get such a measure passed during the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature at a press conference in Austin on Monday, Dec. 13. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

AUSTIN — Equality Texas started ramping up efforts to get a comprehensive anti-bullying law passed in the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature with a press conference Monday, Dec. 13, highlighting results from a recently completed poll on LGBT issues.

In the poll — commissioned by Equality Texas and conducted by the national polling firm Glangariff Group Inc. —  79.2 percent of all respondents said they favored legislation that would “provide direction to Texas teachers on how to protect all children from bullying, harassment and
discrimination in school, including the children of gay and lesbian parents or teenagers who are gay,” according to Equality Texas press materials.

Dennis Coleman, Equality Texas’ executive director, said at Monday’s press conference that while bullying in schools is not new, the recent spate of gay teen suicides stemming from such bullying has “moved this issue up the ranks of issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

“The Dallas school district recently approved new policies to address bullying. Now it is time for the state as a whole to do the same,” Coleman said.

Coleman said that some seven bills addressing bullying have already been pre-filed for their 2011 legislative session. But, he added, Equality Texas “will not support legislation that does not include all children.”

Chuck Smith, the lobbying organization’s deputy executive director, said that Equality Texas prefers the language in legislation prefiled by Sen. Wendy Davis, which updates the definition of bullying and includes cyber-bullying, and which specifically includes LGBT students.

The bill also calls for data to be collected on bullying and provides guidelines for teachers and administrators on how to respond.

Rep. Mark Strama of Austin has prefiled a similar bill in the House of Representatives. However, Smith said, Strama’s bill does not specifically include the requirement of collecting data on bullying targeting a student’s gender identity or expression.

“That phrase is very important,” Smith said. “Strama’s bill includes gender identity and expression in the definition of bullying, but not in the section requiring collection of data on bullying.”

“These bills provide a present-day definition of what bullying is, and that is so important because too many lawmakers conjure up an image of a skirmish on the playground. That is not bullying,” Smith said. “Bullying is a repetitive pattern based on an imbalance of power and intimidation.”
Smith also said the data collection requirements are an essential piece of the anti-bullying effort.

“In most districts, if you were to ask them they would say they don’t have a problem with bullying. But if you ask them specifically how many incidents they had last year, they can’t answer because they are not currently required to collect that data,” Smith said.

Collecting such statistics, he added, will allow districts to inform their teachers and administrators, at the campus level on whether their anti-bullying training programs are effective.

“There are a lot of common sense things you would assume are already in the Texas Education Code, but they aren’t,” Smith said. “We want to see legislation passed that fills those gaps.”
Gay Fort City Councilman Joel Burns — who became the face of anti-bullying efforts when video of his Oct. 12 speech on his own experience of being bullied as a gay teen went viral — spoke at the press conference, agreeing with Coleman that bullying “is a problem we cannot afford to ignore another day.

Burns said, “As I stand here, there are Texas children who believe their only escape from the bullying and harassment is to put a gun to their heads and pull the trigger, empty the pill bottle into their mouths and swallow, or tighten the noose around their necks and step off the chair.

“Today and every day, those children, without hope, live in our Texas cities and towns, in our neighborhoods, go to school with our children, and unfortunately, might even be children in your own family,” Burns said.

Anne Wynne, new co-chair of the Equality Texas board, participated in the Monday press conference, reading a statement from former Texas first lady and U.S. first lady Laura Bush in support of anti-bullying legislation.

“Bullying of any kind is terrible, and we as adults have to be the ones to do something about it,” Bush’s statement said.
She also described how proud she was of Burns for having the courage to make such a public statement about his own experiences.

Vicki Baldwin, a retired educator with 42 years in the field, said passage of anti-bullying legislation is “a moral issue. You do not treat people — anybody — badly. You do not pick on people because they are different. This is a moral issue, and Texas needs to take the lead” in addressing it.

“In general, I don’t like policies, and I don’t like legislation” Baldwin said. “But I also know everybody isn’t like me. I try to do the right thing, and I always assumed that other people try to do the right thing, too, just instinctively. But that’s not the way it happens. We have reached the point that people’s lives, their actual lives, are involved here, and it is critical that we do something to address it.”

Burns agreed. “Any one life lost is worthy of us taking action,” he said. “And it is past time to take action now.”

Other issues in the poll

Although Monday’s press conference focused on the need for anti-bullying legislation, Equality Texas also released responses from the poll indicating that support for LGBT equality is higher in Texas than most people would assume.

According to the poll, 88 percent of the respondents support a guaranteed right for lesbians and gays to visit their partners in the hospital, and 75.4 percent support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 69.7 support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination against transgenders.

Surprisingly, the poll found that 63.1 percent of those responded support allowing gays and lesbians to get a civil union.
In other findings:
• 75.1 percent support a guaranteed right for lesbians and gays to make end-of-life decisions for their partners.
• 68.8 percent support giving gays and lesbians the same legal rights as heterosexual parents regarding their children.
• 67.3 percent support hate crime legislation protecting transgenders.
• 65.4 percent support legal rights of gays and lesbians to inherit their partners’ possessions when no will is in place.

Poll results were also examined based on the political party affiliation of respondents:
• Democratic voters support all 12 LGBT rights listed in the poll by a majority above 65 percent.
• 77.8 percent of Democrats support civil unions for gays and lesbians.
• Independent voters give majority support to 11 of the 12 rights, supporting six of the 12 by more than 65 percent.
• The only right independent voters do not support is the right of same-sex couples to marry. However, 59.4 percent of independent voters do support civil unions.
• A majority of Republican voters support nine of 12 of the LGBT rights covered by the poll, including supporting five of the 12 at levels higher than 65 percent.
• Republican voters do not support the right to same-sex marriage, but 57.6 percent do support civil unions for gays and lesbians.
In looking at responses broken down by religiosity, the poll found:
• A majority of respondents who attend weekly religious services support nine of the 12 rights covered in the poll.
• 51.1 percent of those who attend religious services weekly support civil unions for gays and lesbians.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Local leaders turn focus on bullying

Rally set Friday in Dallas to promote legislation, promote awareness of bullying in schools, teen suicide

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

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.
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.

—  Kevin Thomas

Elliott’s story: How 1 teen survived bullying, suicide attempt

When classmates beat him up for being gay, this Ennis teen and his mom reported it. But the principal told Elliott he brought it on himself

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

IN MEMORY OF ASHER  |  Brian Carter, left, and Sharon Ferranti stand on the corner with signs as the buses let out of school during a human rights demonstration outside of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to protest the treatment of Asher Brown, a gay eighth-grader at the school who killed himself at home Sept. 23. Brown’s parents blamed his suicide on two years of anti-gay bullying they say he had suffered at the school. (Karen Warren/Associated Press-Houston Chronicle)
IN MEMORY OF ASHER | Brian Carter, left, and Sharon Ferranti stand on the corner with signs as the buses let out of school during a human rights demonstration outside of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to protest the treatment of Asher Brown, a gay eighth-grader at the school who killed himself at home Sept. 23. Brown’s parents blamed his suicide on two years of anti-gay bullying they say he had suffered at the school. (Karen Warren/Associated Press-Houston Chronicle)

The suicides of as many as six LGBT youth over the past month have focused a spotlight on the issue of anti-LGBT bullying in schools and online, and the correlation between bullying and teen suicide.

According to a 2003 study by the National Crime Prevention Council, six out of 10 teens witness some form of bullying at least once a day. And much of that bullying is directed at teens who are — or who are perceived to be — LGBT.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network has reported that students hear anti-LGBT epithets an average of 25 times a day, and that in 97 percent of the cases, teachers fail to respond to the comments.

Various studies have shown that LGBT teens are two to four times as likely as their non-LGBT counterparts to attempt suicide, and according to a report to the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, 30 percent of all completed youth suicides are related to sexual identity.

And GLSEN’s 2003 National School Climate Survey reported that more than 64 percent of LGBT students say they feel unsafe at their schools because of their sexual orientation.

The statistics are overwhelming. But for one North Texas gay teen, anti-gay bullying and suicide attempts are far more than just statistics.

Elliott, who lives in Ennis, is 17 now. But he almost did not live that long after enduring bullying that started, he said, when he was in first grade. After years of enduring the abuse, Elliott said, he tried to commit suicide at age 15.

“I live in a small town,” he said. “I’m a ballet dancer. I stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Elliott said he was on the only one in his school being bullied, a fact that left him feeling totally alone.

And the bullying didn’t stop at words. When he was a freshman, Elliott said, a classmate followed him into the restroom at school and beat him up.

Elliott told his mother what happened. She went to the school and spoke to the principal, who told her he would do something about it.

What the principal did was tell Elliott that he had brought it upon himself.

The bullying wasn’t just at school: “I was dealing with a lot of problems,” Elliott said.

His older brother was having drug problems and tormented him at home. He had an abusive stepfather who let his own two children get away with things that he grounded Elliott for.

“He’d ridicule me for being gay,” Elliott said of his stepfather, “and it turned out he was bi.”

So Elliott started cutting himself on his ankles and his wrists. He was never hospitalized, but a nurse noticed the cuts. He told her he injured himself when he fell out of a tree.

Elliott took what he called a “safe overdose,” of a prescription drug, but recovered. He said that was the last time he tried or even considered suicide. But he said he understands how the young suicide victims that have been in the news felt. And it scares him that he came close to meeting the same fate.

Elliott said things began to get better at home for him by the end of his freshman year. His mother finished her degree, started teaching and divorced his stepfather.

His older brother very recently became sober.

For his sophomore year, Elliott transferred to arts magnet Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas. That’s where he first learned about Youth First Texas.

“I took a DART bus over [to Youth First] and I loved it,” he said, adding that for the first time in his life, he was with other people like him.

“It made me feel amazing,” he said. “Whenever I’m not in Ennis, I’m at Youth First Texas.”

Elliott joined a survivors group at Youth First in which LGBT youth discuss how they feel during times of distress. He worked with the fundraising committee and became a member of the Youth Board. He entertained with a YFT group at the Creating Change conference in February and the Gayla Prom in June.

Elliott also modeled in the annual YFT fashion show at the Rose Room and was a runway model for DIFFA.
Elliott began his activist career in April when he participated in Day of Silence in school and Breaking the Silence at Rosa Parks Square in Downtown Dallas. This summer he attended Activist Youth Camp at University of North Texas. An ACLU representative told him that had he reported the principal’s comment about bringing the beating on himself, they would have investigated.

“Just knowing I can do that is important,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do anything about it.”

His mother has become an active volunteer with YFT as well. He called her his biggest supporter.

“A lot of the others are neglected by their parents,” he said. “She acts as a mom to everyone. She gives everyone hugs. She talks to everyone and is there for everyone.”

He said he’d like to see more LGBT community involvement from other organizations.

For his senior year, Elliott is back at Ennis High School. He said the environment is different now, although it’s still difficult to walk down the halls and see other students who tormented him for years.

For protection in school, he said, “I’m starting to repopulate my girl-posse.”

Activist camp left Elliott feeling empowered and safer in school. He said he is not afraid to face the principal who told him he brought on his own beating.

Elliott said he has no personal life in Ennis, although he does teach ballet at a dance studio in town. His students are 6-to 8-year old girls.

“It intrigues them that there’s a male teacher,” he said.

A former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader owns the studio. He said she’s proud to have a male teacher on staff. Now when he goes to into a store and sees one of his students, he said, they call out, “Hi Mr. Elliott!”

After graduation, Elliott plans to attend Navarro County Community College to take his basic courses. Then he’d like to transfer to a school in Dallas to study dance and continue to be involved at YFT.

He said the recent suicides have affected him terribly. “I printed out the headlines,” he said. “It really bugs me.”

Elliott has advice for other teens who have considered suicide: “Whatever you’re going through, it just makes you a stronger person,” he said. “Whatever you go through makes you capable of doing things others can’t.”

And he wants school staff to know how much bullying hurts.

“Everything you say affects someone,” Elliott said. “I want teachers and staff to know it really hurts. Everything you say affects someone. Teachers and principals are ignorant to that. If you ignore it, it will fester.”

……………………………………………

Where to get help

• Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
Dallas, Texas
214-879-0400
YouthFirstTexas.org

• The Trevor Project
866-488-7386
TheTrevorProject.org

• The Promise House
224 W. Page Ave.
Dallas, Texas
214-941-8578
or 214-941-8670
PromiseHouse.org

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK
SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

• Suicide Prevention Help
SuicidePreventionHelp.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Texas schools that don’t protect kids against anti-gay bullying now risk Title IX lawsuits

Stacy Dorman and Debi Ellison have convinced the U.S. Department of Education to investigate their bullying complaint against the Birdville Independent School District.

Two pieces of good news, if you will, on the bullying front today.

First, the Georgetown Independent School District has settled a lawsuit brought by the mother of now-16-year-old Ryan Mitchell, who has reportedly endured years of bullying based on his perceived sexual orientation.

Neither Texas nor the federal government explicitly prohibits anti-gay bullying in schools. But this lawsuit is part of a very positive trend in which the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama is treating anti-gay bullying as a violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender in any education program that receives federal funding. Austin’s KXAN.com reports:

“This is the first suit that the Texas Civil Rights Project has brought under title 9 alleging discrimination based on gender stereotyping and sexual orientation,” said Todd Batson, with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “However, that’s a developing area of the law.”

“I was spit on. I was knocked unconscious. My books were thrown in the trash. My finger was broken, lots of stuff,” said Ryan Mitchell, 16. “People called me gay, faggot on a daily basis.”

Terms of the settlement haven’t been disclosed, but they will include the district working with the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-bullying program, No Place for Hate.

Meanwhile, a little closer to home, a lesbian couple has succeeded in convincing the Department of Education to investigate — under Title IX — longstanding complaints of bullying against the Birdville Independent School District.

The couple, Stacy Dorman and Debi Ellison, allege that their 12-year-old son, Caine Smith, has been the victim of sexual harassment, also prohibited by Title IX. We don’t know all the details of the case, but we’re guessing the bullying is at least partly related to the fact that Caine has two moms and long hair. CBS 11 has the story.

UPDATE: We should know better than to post something like this without calling Ken Upton at Lambda Legal. Upton sent over a lengthy e-mail clarifying — and correcting — my legal analysis. In a nutshell, Upton says public school students have long been protected against anti-gay bullying under the constitutional rights of equal protection and free speech. “I just wanted to be sure we point out that while this administration has demonstrated that it cares more about the health and well-being of students than some prior administrations, and the full weight of the Department of Education indeed does change the equation in our favor, these protections are not new. More parents and attorneys willing to represent students need to be aware of them.” I’ve posted Upton’s full analysis after the jump.

—  John Wright