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

Bullying victim’s family sues Joshua schools

Jon Carmichael

The family of 13-year-old Jon Carmichael filed suit yesterday in federal court against the Joshua Independent School District, claiming that school officials ignored and even covered up the months of cruel harassment and bullying that drive Jon to suicide in March of last year.

The lawsuit was filed Monday, March 28, in federal district court in Dallas, exactly one year after Jon hung himself in his family’s barn. Joshua is located just outside of Cleburne, south of Fort Worth in Johnson County.

Reports at the time of his death indicated that Jon was bullied because he was smaller than his classmates at Loflin Middle School.

A report in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram says that among the bullying Jon endured was being thrown into a trash dumpster and having his head held down in a toilet while it was flushed. Just before Jon hanged himself, the lawsuit alleges, he was stripped naked and put in a trash can. This time the attack was videotaped and posted on YouTube. It was removed at the direction of a school staff member, but that staff member did not report the incident, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also claims that on the day Jon died, he told a girl he was going to commit suicide and she told him to go ahead because no one cared if he lived or died.

School superintendent Ray Dane said he has not seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

Jon’s mother and sister were among those who went to Austin on Tuesday, March 22, to testify in favor of comprehensive anti-bullying legislation being considered by Texas lawmakers.

—  admin

Beloved, gay UT professor retires after 39 years

Guy Howard Miller

Guy Howard Miller taught history and religious studies since 1971

JOSHUNDA SANDERS  |  Austin American-Statesman
(via the Associated Press)

AUSTIN — Anyone looking for “an exhibit of Jesus pop culture gloriousness” has to look no further than Guy Howard Miller’s office, says Lindsey Carmichael, one of his estimated 10,000 former students.

The University of Texas professor who taught history and religious studies there since 1971 typically sipped a Diet Dr Pepper in his Garrison Hall digs after class amid an abundance of Jesus-themed refrigerator magnets, mouse pads and framed pictures.

“My ex-wife said it was Jesus-infested,” Miller said matter-of-factly.

Now that Miller, 69, has retired — his last class was Dec. 3 — he will have to find a place for his turn-of-the-century Jesus pictures and growing collection of Ben-Hur artifacts. For his former students, the bigger problem will be finding someone as colorful and as engaged in his profession.

Carmichael, 25, is among those who refer to themselves as “Millerites,” and she said she considers Miller more of a friend than a former professor.

Like others who have had a class with him, Carmichael says she still remembers what he said to her class during their first meeting: “Now kids, Dr. Miller is gay. Now, Dr. Miller also loves Jesus. And if you happen to have a problem with that, there’s the door.”’

“Religion for him is not a cultural assumption; it’s fluid and constantly evolving,” she said. “I’m going to be grateful to him for the rest of my life. Now that he’s retired, the university will never be quite as bright a place.”

Miller’s attentiveness is legendary. At the beginning of each semester, he would tell his students that he really wanted to meet them and would hold frequent office hours to get to know them, he said.

“I will have seen about 60 to 70 percent of the class by the end of the term,” Miller said.

He also held a number of administrative roles at the school, and his vision helped shape the Department of Religious Studies, which in 2011 will enroll its first graduate students. He created one of his most innovative classes, “Jesus in American Culture” — a multimedia course he started with a grant from UT’s Tech Services in 2005, complete with full-length video, audio recordings and transcripts available online.

He wrote “The Revolutionary College: American Presbyterian Higher Education, 1707-1837 ” and has contributed to several other books.

Miller is small in stature, but his voice and presence loom large. He has a mischievous twinkle in his eye even when he’s talking about potentially dry topics like the differences between Protestants and Catholics. He favors tweed jackets with button-down shirts in blue or canary yellow.

Miller was raised Southern Baptist in Graham with five sisters.

“I was the first to go to college,” he said. “I thought I’d be a laborer or a butcher like my father was.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1964 and a master’s in history in 1966 from what is now the University of North Texas. After earning a doctorate in American intellectual history from the University of Michigan in 1970, he taught for a year at Hope College in Michigan before moving to UT.

The Rev. Marcus McFaul, who leads Highland Park Baptist Church, took three courses with Miller from 1980 to 1984.

“The greatest gift I got as a student of Dr. Miller’s is the appreciation of critical thought, and his animated description of religious thought made history come alive. Howard Miller is what put me on to the love of American religious thought. It allowed me to get the larger picture and still retain an affinity to a particular tradition, ” McFaul said.

Overhearing this, Miller said, “Marcus has done what I wish I could have done — which is remain a Baptist.”

Miller said the Southern Baptist church that he grew up in was “a very different denomination than the very conservative denomination that emerged after the conservatives purged liberals and moderates in the ’80s and ’90s.” He left the church in the 1960s because he disagreed with some aspects of Baptist theology and “more important, with its opposition to the civil rights movement.”

In Austin, he joined an Episcopal church for a few years but stopped attending because he grew tired of his sexual orientation being a problem, he said. He said he no longer attends a church, but if he returned to one, it would be a moderate Baptist church like McFaul’s.

Miller has received most of the university-wide and College of Liberal Arts teaching awards, including the largest undergraduate teaching award at the school, the $15,000 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship.

“If I do have a calling, it’s to teach the gospel of liberal arts, not the Gospel of Jesus,” Miller said.

—  John Wright