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

Macy’s employee in San Antonio fired for refusing transgender customer service

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that a Macy’s employee in San Antonio was fired for not allowing a transgender shopper to use a fitting room.

The employee cited her Christian belief as the reason she denied the customer service. Store policy allows transgender people to use either fitting room.

Equality Texas Assistant Director Chuck Smith said, “Go Macy’s! If your religious beliefs prevent you from carrying out the functions of your job for other people — whether that be as a dressing-room attendant, a pharmacist, or a doctor — then you should leave that job. Christianity does not entitle you to oppress others, though you are welcome to oppress yourself.”

Macy’s received a 100 percent rating in the Human Rights Campaign‘s Corporate Equality Index.

—  David Taffet

Vote now to help Equality Texas win $25K

Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, is vying to win $25,000 in the Chase Community Giving contest on Facebook.

If you have a Facebook account, you can vote for Equality Texas by going here.

Each person can vote 10 times but cannot vote twice for the same charity. Equality Texas is encouraging people to also vote for “the equality slate” — all 10 of the LGBT groups that are part of the contest.

The charity with the most votes will receive $500,000. Nos. 2 through 5 will receive $100,000 each, and the top 100 will receive $25,000 each.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said the group was at No. 77 heading into the weekend but has since dropped out of the money to No. 104.

Voting ends at 11 a.m. Central time on Tuesday. Vote for Equality Texas by going here.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gov. Rick Perry tries to mislead Iowa voters about gay adoption in Texas

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday told the audience at a right-wing presidential forum in Iowa that same-sex couples are barred from adopting children in Texas, according to On Top Magazine.

But Perry’s statement was at best misleading and, at worst, an outright lie designed to pander to socially conservative voters.

At the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines, Perry and other presidential candidates were asked what they would do to help faith-based adoption agencies “which are being run out of business because they will only place children in homes headed by mothers and fathers and they will not place those children in homes headed by same-sex couples.”

Perry responded: “Obviously I think it is an issue you can address at the federal level, and passing a federal marriage amendment is one of the ways to do that, but until that does pass, as in the state of Texas, a gay couple cannot adopt a child in the state of Texas, so the states have the ability again, until there is a federal marriage amendment that clearly states that marriage is between one man and one woman and in that as well you cannot adopt a child unless it is one man and one woman.”

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said in most jurisdictions in Texas, it’s true that gay couples can’t adopt “as a couple” due to the state’s defense of marriage act. However, in most jurisdictions, gay couples can adopt the a child separately, which is effectively the same thing, Smith said.

Unlike in states such as Utah and, until recently, Florida, Texas has no ban on gay adoption, Smith said. And, a non-biological mother who is the lesbian partner of a biological mother can typically obtain a second-parent adoption in Texas, Smith said.

“It’s not black and white,” he said. “It’s factually inaccurate to say there’s a ban on gay people adopting. It is a function of which family law judge people go to, but in virtually all jurisdictions, gay couples can adopt. Unfortunately they’re required to do it in two separate transactions, where each individual person has an adoption transaction. It’s also true that under the current statute, the supplemental birth certificate of an adopted child only has one parent’s name on it if the parents are of the same gender. That’s something we’ve been trying to change and will continue to try and change.”

Smith said while Texas legislators unsuccessfully attempted to ban gay foster-parenting in 2005, there has never been a bill to ban gay adoption.

“I think it was an attempt at a bravado comment — ‘In Texas, we don’t let the gays do anything’ — that was kind of the point,” Smith said, adding he thinks the entire forum was “an exercise in pandering” for all the candidates.

“What they’re attempting to do is to make something controversial that’s only controversial in their little mind-sphere,” Smith said. “There’s over 30 years of longitudinal studies that show sexual orientation is not a determining factor in whether a person is or is not a good parent. They’re trying to say that gay people can’t be good parents. There simply is not evidence to speak to that.”

Watch video of Perry’s response below.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Michele and Marcus save marriage

Chuck Smith with Equality Texas posted this video on Facebook, and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it here.

—  admin

Parker, Castro speak at Equality Texas brunch

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Houston Mayor Annise Parker were guests at Sunday’s Spirit of Texas Brunch benefiting Equality Texas.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said he’s hoping the event raised more than $50,000 — the most ever — in its fifth year.

He said the speakers were all inspirational. In addition to Castro and Parker, they included David and Amy Truong, who lost their son, Asher, last September to suicide.

Castro appeared at the brunch a day after being re-elected.

“A newer, younger generation of Texans will understand how important is to … love who you want to love, and marry who you want to marry,” Castro told the audience.

Parker, meanwhile, is just gearing up for a re-election campaign.

“Until we believe we are just as equal, just as worthy, that our cause has an essential rightness to it, we are not going to win the war,” Parker said at the brunch.

“The discussion was on the legislative work and how people’s lives are affected by what policy is,” Smith said.

To read a full story on the brunch, go here.

 

—  David Taffet

LEGE UPDATE: Anti-gay ‘family and traditional values’ item not in Senate’s version of budget

Daniel Williams

The absence of a homophobic budget amendment, movement on anti-bullying legislation and the most adorable committee hearing in recent memory marked this, the 17th week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session.

The infamous anti-gay amendment to the Texas budget — which would require universities to fund “family and traditional values centers” if they have LGBT resource centers — isn’t in the Senate version budget. While the state’s media focused on whether the Senate would actually vote on the budget, the Finance Committee seems to have quietly skipped over the provision, added by amendment in the House by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. Last week the American Independent reported that the Christian amendment would have little to no impact, but its absence from the Senate budget is cause for celebration for LGBT Texans.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, greeted the news with cautious optimism, explaining that the budget is a massive document, 854 pages long, and although the “family and traditional values” language isn’t in Article III Sec. 56, the entire text would have to be carefully searched before the amendment’s absence was certain.

“If it really is out of there, then I’m pleased,” Smith said, “but I need to do research.”

The full text of the Senate budget can be found here.

—  admin

State reps pass redistricting map

Rep. Marc Veasey

Legislators believe congressional and legislative districts will be decided in the courts

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Although plans for new congressional and state house and senate districts are not complete, minority groups are already criticizing the plans.

Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston sent a letter to the Justice Department this week about the plan passed by the Texas House of Representatives for the state House. That plan has not yet passed the state Senate.

“Republicans cracked and packed communities of color into districts in order to dilute their voting rights,” Coleman said in a statement. “Close to 90 percent of the population growth in Texas was non-Anglo, yet this map reduces the number of districts where communities of color can elect their candidate of choice.”

Chuck Smith at Equality Texas said that his organization has not been keeping a close eye on redistricting because they have to work with whoever gets elected. He said his organization’s assumption was that whatever this legislature passed, it would be challenged in court.

Every redistricting plan passed by the Texas Legislature since 1980 has been challenged in court. After the 2000 census, Speaker of the House Tom DeLay intervened; those maps were redrawn several times and not settled until the 2006 election.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo

The office of Rep. Roberto Alonzo agreed with Equality Texas. Alonzo serves on the House Redistricting Committee.

Alonzo’s legislative aide, Cole Howard, said, “It looks like both sides sat back and determined the courts can decide the districts,” Howard said.

He called the map retrogressive and said it does not account for growth of minority communities.

Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth who serves on the redistricting committee, said there were a number of different scenarios that could happen. He said that if the Senate does not pass the House map or if the governor vetoes the map, it would be drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board.

That group is made up of five Republicans appointed by the governor.

“The strategy is to pack districts,” Veasey said.

But he said that the plans are not legal. Republicans are attacking Fort Worth’s urban core especially in Senate redistricting, he said.

“They’re going after Wendy Davis,” Veasey said.

He said that the plan for the Senate is to divide Davis’ district into as many as five pieces that would be assigned to suburban or rural districts.

“That would leave Fort Worth out in the cold,” he said. In a similar move in Dallas, he said state Sen. Royce West could be the only voice in Dallas.

He said he expects congressional seats to be left to the courts.

“No one has seen any plans yet,” he said.

Several maps have been drawn, but nothing discussed by the committee.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson already serves a packed district that includes most of the city’s heavily LGBT neighborhoods as well as most minority communities. Districts are supposed to be evenly divided in population but her district is one of the largest in the state. One of the four new congressional districts would have to be carved from her district.

In one plan, Johnson retains much of her district south of I-30. Oak Lawn would fall into a new district created to attempt to swing that new seat to a Republican candidate.

Veasey said that if House members do draw the map, they will attempt to carve a Republican seat from Johnson’s district, but he said he wasn’t sure how that would be possible or if it would even be legal.

Republican Rep. Pete Sessions’ current district was created to carve up former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost’s former district.

The tactic worked and Frost lost re-election after 13 terms in office.

In most plans, Sessions’ new district would become more safely Republican, taking the Oak Cliff portion of the area away from him.

“Our delegation should look more like Houston’s,” Veasey said.

Houston has more diverse representation in Congress. He said Dallas has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the country and the second-fastest growing African-American population.

In the plan passed by the House for the state House of Representatives, adjustments to the map would not seriously impact the chances of any incumbents in Dallas. State Rep. Rafael Anchia’s district would push further into Oak Lawn taking away some of Rep. Dan Branch’s district. Branch’s area would become more safely Republican.

Seats in North Dallas that recently swung from Democrat to Republican would also become more safely Republican by pushing out further into the suburbs.

In Fort Worth, Rep. Lon Burnham’s district would push into Veasey’s, whose district would be packed with even more minority residents. Veasey said both he and Burnham would be safe. Both have been strong LGBT community allies.

But Veasey said he didn’t think that part of the plan would be legal.

Under current Texas House rules, May 12 is the last day to pass bills, although the rules may change before this Thursday’s deadline.

The legislature adjourns on May 30. By that date, the Senate must pass its redistricting plan and reconcile their plan with the House.

However, according to the Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan organization that provides technical and legal support to the legislature for redistricting, a planned schedule doesn’t expect the Legislature to finish its work by the end of the session.

From May 31 through Aug. 27, the Legislative Redistricting Board will meet if the House and Senate fail to agree on a plan.

Once their work is done, the governor would call a special session of the Legislature to adopt the plan.

Since Jan. 2, 2012 is the last day for candidates to file for the November 2012 elections, all challenges must be settled by the end of December.

The Justice Department must also approve redistricting in Texas. This will be the first time since 1961 that Democrats controlled the Justice Department during redistricting.

—  John Wright

Anti-bullying bill to be heard by Senate panel

Sen. Wendy Davis

The Senate Educate Committee will hold hearings on Tuesday, March 22 at 8:30 a.m. on several anti-bullying bills, including a measure authored by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, that’s backed by Equality Texas.

Davis’ bill is the Senate companion to a bill by Rep. Mark Strama’s that was heard in committee a few weeks ago.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said the group is focusing on Davis’ and Strama’s bills because they’re the most comprehensive and have been carefully crafted over two years.

Testifying in support of Davis’ bill Tuesday will be David and Amy Truong, the parents of gay suicide victim Asher Brown. Also attending the committee hearing will be the parents of Montana Lance, who hung himself in the school nurse’s office in his elementary school in the Colony, and the parents of Jon Carmichael from Joshua. Jon was 13 when he committed suicide at home after school bullying. Montana was 9.

Senate committee hearings can be watched online here.

Friday’s Dallas Voice will feature a story about David and Amy Truong and how Asher’s suicide has changed their lives.

—  David Taffet

References to sexual orientation, gender identity to be removed from TX anti-bullying bills

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

Specific references to LGBT youth will be removed from two anti-bullying bills backed by Equality Texas to improve their chances of passage and de-politicize the issue, Instant Tea has learned.

One of the bills, House Bill 224 by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said Monday that a substitute for HB 224 will be introduced during the hearing that removes all enumerated categories — including sexual orientation — from a provision requiring school districts to report incidents of bullying to the state.

Instead, the substitute bill will direct the Texas education commissioner to specify what types of bullying must be reported. Smith said enumerated categories will also be removed from a companion bill in the Senate, SB 242 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis’ bill as originally drafted included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“If they were all there it likely wouldn’t pass,” Smith said, referring to the enumerated categories. “At the end of the day, the reporting part is not important compared to the rest of the guts of the bill.”

HB 224 and SB 242 would establish uniform definitions for bullying and cyberbullying in the state education code, and require districts to create training programs for students, parents, staff and volunteers. The bills would also allow officials to transfer bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims.

Strama’s HB 224 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the House public education committee. It’s one of three bills backed by Equality Texas scheduled for committee hearings Tuesday.

HB 172, by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, would launch a study on the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 is scheduled for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the House criminal jurisprudence committee.

HB 130, by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would incorporate an anti-bullying hotline into the state’s existing Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline. HB 130 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. in the House human services committee. 

Smith said it’s unlikely that any of the bills will be voted on Tuesday. You can watch committee hearings live on the Legislature’s website. For more information on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda, go here. To register for the group’s lobby day on Monday, March 7, go here.

UPDATE: The full text of the substitute bill is here. Smith also had this to say on Facebook:

“I would have preferred a headline like, ‘House Public Ed Committee to hear landmark anti-bullying bill that will protect every child based upon any actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or belief.’ That’s what’s IN the bill and EVERY child will be protected. The enumerated references were removed from reporting guidelines, not who is covered by the bill.”

—  John Wright