Gay suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents drop suit against school district

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol lobbying for anti-bullying legislation in 2011.

Amy and David Truong, parents of gay teen suicide victim Asher Brown, have dropped their lawsuit against the Cy-Fair Independent School District in Houston.

Brown, 13, committed suicide in September 2010. The Truongs claimed Asher had been bullied based on his Buddhist beliefs, his size and his sexual orientation.

The Truongs became crusaders for passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and testified in favor of the state’s new anti-bullying law, which passed in 2011.

“All of this has been so difficult,” Amy Truong wrote on her blog recently after they dismissed the lawsuit. “Yet, no matter what happens, we have won. Everyone in the state has won. Laws have changed and everyone benefits from it.”

The school district denied the Truong’s allegations about bullying at Hamilton Middle School. Officials claimed Asher’s death resulted from problems at home.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Fort Worth teen suspended for anti-gay comments films NOM video

Dakota Ary

Dakota Ary, the Fort Worth teen who was suspended last year after he made anti-gay comments in class, is featured in a new video from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

Ary was suspended after gay teacher Kris Franks sent him to the principal’s office for making anti-gay comments, which Franks said were part of ongoing anti-gay bullying from Ary.

Ary’s mom later hired Liberty Counsel lawyer Matt Krause — now the Republican nominee for Texas House District 93 — and the suspension was lifted. Franks was suspended for unrelated behavior, but the charges were later dropped.

Ary speaks about the incident in a NOM Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance video, where he talks about how his freedom of speech was violated and he encourages other people to speak up for what they believe in.

Ary’s mom is also in the video and talks about how parents should empower their children to stand up for their beliefs. She said Ary was targeted and called hateful names after his story made national headlines.

“Dakota is not a bigot. He is not someone who hates gay people,” she says in the video. “He’s not a hater in any way. And of all these organizations and companies that promote gay marriage and so on and so forth, for them to come back at him as a child is just ridiculous. I’m extremely proud of the fact that he did stand up for himself.”

Watch the video below.

—  Dallasvoice

Study shows high rate of discrimination against transgender people in Texas

Mara Keisling

Transgender Texans generally face even higher levels of discrimination than transgender people nationwide, according to a state-level breakout from a national study conducted last year.

Equality Texas and the Transgender Education Network of Texas released the state-level figures Tuesday from the study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality. The full national study is available online, and results from the Texas study are below. The national study included 266 Texas respondents.

In Texas, transgender people faced higher rates of harassment and assault in school. Nationally, 78 percent reported being harassed, but in Texas 85 percent faced harassment. Physical assault was also higher in the state at 46 percent compared to 35 percent nationally. Sexual assault in school was comparable at 12 percent nationally and 9 percent in Texas.

Texas doesn’t have LGBT-inclusive employment nondiscrimination or anti-bullying laws. The state’s hate crimes law covers gays and lesbians but not transgender people.

Equality Texas called the rates of workplace discrimination in the state “alarming.” Chuck Smith, Equality Texas interim executive director, said the report graphically demonstrates the discrimination faced by transgender Texans.

“In our state, where the right of self-determination is so valued, it is unconscionable that anyone would be denied the ability to earn a living, to live where they choose or to be educated,” Smith said. “Equality Texas calls on the members of the Texas Legislature to join us in working to ensure that all Texans are given the ability to live as their authentic selves.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said some states have made a lot of progress toward ensuring safety, jobs and homes for transgender people. But she said “this research points out persistent gaps in the fair and equal treatment of transgender people.”

According to the report:

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Joel Burns on new bullying law

Almost two years after a viral speech made him an instant celebrity, gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns is enjoying another round of TV appearances this week to discuss the state’s new anti-bullying law.

Burns has been vocal about his personal experience with bullying when he was teen at Crowley High School and about the need for bullying legislation. He was on WFAA last week and KTVT this morning to discuss House Bill 1492, which the Texas Legislature passed last year. It went into effect Sept. 1 of this year.

During today’s interview, Burns talked about being beaten up his high school gym as a freshman at 13 and his speech before City Council almost two years ago.

“And I realized that that is a lifelong impact,” he said about bullying. “It’s something you carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Burns said he is “very proud” of the new bill, which he lobbied for in Austin, but he called it a baseline and encouraged parents to contact their school boards to help add on to the bill’s requirements.

The bill does not include LGBT protections, but both Dallas and Fort Worth ISD have included LGBT protections in their policies.

Burns will be back on KTVT at 4 p.m. today.

Watch the videos below.

—  Dallasvoice

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

Brandon Elizares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—  Dallasvoice

Flour Bluff teen commits suicide; family blames school district for not addressing bullying

Ted Molina

A year after the Flour Bluff Independent School District received national attention for refusing to allow students to form a Gay Straight Alliance, the district is accused of not handling bullying that led to a former student’s suicide on Sunday.

Ted Molina, 16, faced bullying since fifth grade from a group of boys who used racial epithets and threatened to fight him. Molina’s mother is Asian. The family blames the school district for not handling the bullying properly, his aunt told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Molina played football in middle school, but quit his freshman year hoping the taunting would stop. When it continued, he withdrew from Flour Bluff High School on March 5. While he seemed to improve, he posted several grim photos of himself on Facebook hours before he killed himself in his bedroom. He did not leave a note.

From the Caller-Times:

—  Dallasvoice

Survey: How safe are LGBT youth in TX schools?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Gay-Straight Alliance Network are conducting a school climate survey on anti-LGBT bullying and discrimination.

The survey has a short version and a long version.

Participants will remain anonymous and findings will help the ACLU of Texas “share ways that schools have successfully addressed issues of discipline, bullying, and engendered a safe learning environment.”

According to the ACLU, one recent survey showed that only 32 percent of Texas students felt school officials intervened effectively in response to a report of bullying.

For more information, visit the ACLU of Texas website.

—  Dallasvoice

Parents of Asher Brown face vandalism, indimidation

David and Amy Troung at Equality Texas Lobby Day advocating for anti-bullying legislation

Sixteen months ago, amidst a national rash of suicides by LGBT youth, residents of Harris County awoke to find that the epidemic had claimed one of our own. Asher Brown, 13, had taken his life after enduring months of taunting from his Cy-Fair classmates. Asher was small for his age, a Buddhist, didn’t dress in designer clothes and didn’t act the way his classmates felt a “boy” should. Asher converted to Christianity, thinking it would make the torture end. His parents, David and Amy Truong, spoke with teachers and administrators, vainly hoping they would intervene to stop the torment. When nothing worked, when the adults at the school failed to step up, Asher killed himself.

For a moment, the people of Cy-Fair seemed to wake up. Candlelight vigils were held and adults throughout the community swore to stop the cycle of  harassment and assault that caused Asher to give up hope.

Then the moment passed. Cy-Fair, Harris County and the nation went on.

For David and Amy Truong the pain their son enduring remained, spurring them to action. The couple spoke to the media, religious leaders and elected officials asking for a change in the culture of our schools. They visited with members of the state legislature, helping to push through landmark anti-bullying legislation last year, and they have sued the Cy-Fair Independent School District, hoping to force the school district to change the way it responds to bullying, so no other child will have to experience what Asher did.

For some in Cy-Fair, it seems, the Truongs refusal to remain silent is an affront. My Fox Houston reports that the couple has faced an onslaught of harassment and vandalism as thanks for their efforts:

“‘People just driving by slowly and parking and staring at us. When they do speak to us they scream, “Bully, bully, bully!” Kids would start chanting that. Adults would just give us dirty glares. They scream by screaming, “Yee ha”!’ said David who has reported the incidents to Harris County Precinct 4 Constables.

Most recently, a hefty bag of bottles was smashed at high speed against the Troung’s [home], splattering glass throughout the yard.

‘Broken glass was everywhere on our lawn, almost to our neighbor’s lawn. We had to spend an hour picking through it by hand,’ said David.

Since their son’s death, the Troungs have endured more than a dozen separate incidents of vandalism and hateful harassment.”

Children aren’t born hating other people, they have to be taught. In Cy-Fair, it seems we now know where the children who drove Asher to suicide learned that skill.

After the jump watch the My Fox Houston report

—  admin

Al Franken asks public for help passing Student Non-Discrimination Act

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D – Minnesota, is asking the public for help passing S. 555, The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the provisions of S. 555 students who experienced discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with LGBT people could bring a civil suit against the school officials or districts responsible for the discrimination. The bill currently has 34 co-sponsors (none from Texas) and its House companion (H.R. 998 by Rep. Jared Polis, D – Colorado) has 150 (with 7 Texan co-sponsors including Houston’s own Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green) . Both bills have been referred to committee but neither has received a hearing, a crucial step towards becoming law.

In the video requesting the public call their Senators (after the break) Franken points out that federal law already provides protection for school children harassed because of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, but that no protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inclusion of “association” in S. 555 is particularly well thought out. According to the Williams Institute nearly 1 in 5 same-sex couples in the United States is raising children, in Harris County 18% of same-sex couples are.  As these children enter school it’s important that they be able to receive an education without harassment or bullying due to who their parents are.

Franken is asking people to call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and encourage their Senator’s to support the bill.

—  admin

Soldier commits suicide after being bullied — and the soldiers who bullied him face criminal charges

Eight U.S. Army soldiers are facing charges including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault, dereliction of duty, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, maltreatment and making a false officials statement after having allegedly bullied and hazed another soldier until he was driven to suicide, according to reports published in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Pvt. Danny Chen

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, born and raised in Lower Manhattan, was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Although based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, the division is serving in the Kandahar province in Afghanistan.

Chen found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a guard tower on Oct. 3.

Although military officials are not discussing details of the investigation or the charges, Chinese community activist Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said that according to information gleaned from emails, Facebook posts, discussions with cousins and pages of Chen’s journal that have been released by the Army, Chen faced incessant bullying based on his ethnicity.

OuYang said Chen’s fellow soldiers dragged him across the floor, threw rocks at the back of his head and mocked him by calling him “Jackie Chen” — a reference to Chinese martial arts star Jackie Chen — in a bad Chinese accent. OuYang also said that once after Chen left the water heater on after showering, the other soldiers forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down.

Five of the eight soldiers charged in connection with Chen’s death are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and assault consummated by battery, as well as other charges. Those five are Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Specialist Thomas P. Curtis and Specialist Ryan J. Offutt.

Sgt. Travis F. Carden was charged with assault and maltreatment, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement. The only officer facing charges, Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, was charged with dereliction of duty.

I know that the bullying and hazing directed at Chen was reportedly based on his Chinese ethnicity, with no mention made of anything related to his sexual orientation, But bullying is bullying, no matter what the bullying is based on, and bullying kills. This story also makes me think of those folks who say that bullied children and teens just need to grow a set and get over it. But if a trained soldier stationed in Afghanistan can be bullied into suicide, what chance does a lonely kid questioning his or her sexual orientation or gender identity have against those who think might makes right?

—  admin