LGBT advocates give DISD an ‘F’ on implementing anti-bullying policy

Cox, Narvaez say some administrators are telling employees not to use online reporting system

DISD

CALLING OUT DISD | Cece Cox with Resource Center Dallas and Omar Narvaez with Lambda Legal this week urged DISD board members to force employees to step up implementation of the district’s anti-bullying policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox this week accused Dallas Independent School District officials of instructing principals to ignore the reporting requirement in the school district’s anti-bullying policy.

Speaking at a DISD board meeting Thursday morning, Dec. 1, Cox called board members that adopted the policy visionary, but gave the district a grade of “F” in implementing the policy.

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez also spoke at the Dec. 1 board meeting.
DISD passed the anti-bullying policy in November 2010, soon after a string of teens across the country committed suicide after having been repeatedly bullied at school. The Dallas policy was implemented more than six months before the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Perry signed a new statewide anti-bullying law.

Narvaez said that the Dallas policy was cited repeatedly in Austin as the anti-bullying bill made its way through the Legislature.

But he said that a year after the Dallas policy was adopted, only about a third of principals have been trained on the computer-based reporting system, that most schools do not have the system in place and even more do not know how to use it.

Narvaez urged DISD to step up its implementation.

Cox said that many schools only sporadically adhere to key provisions of the policy —  enforcement and reporting.

A year after adopting the policy, Cox said, “I’m sorry to report the wheels have fallen off. Your grade is ‘F.’”

She said that there was a deliberate attempt by some DISD administrators to stop the implementation of the anti-bullying policy. “My agency has received reports from [DISD] employees,” Cox said.

“They have been told not to use the online reporting system.”

She warned the board of the serious consequences of ignoring bullying in schools: “You will have blood on your hands.”

Narvaez also praised the policy that passed unanimously a year ago, noting that it is being used as “a blueprint across the state.”

But, he added, two-thirds of DISD principals still need to be trained on the reporting system.

“It’s time we forget about politics,” he said.

Narvaez told the board several stories of DISD students having been bullied for a variety of reasons beyond sexual orientation and reminded them that the policy would keep all students safer.

Narvaez said that while some administrators fear that repeated reports of bullying would be counted against a school, instead, schools with the highest rates of reporting should be seen as having principals doing their jobs diligently and that schools that don’t report incidents of bullying should be seen as having principals ignoring the problem.

After the two spoke during the brief public comments section of the board meeting, DISD trustee Nancy Bingham spoke privately with Cox. Bingham, an early supporter of the anti-bullying policy, said the board would be getting a briefing.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: HISD Board gets earful on anti-gay flier

Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

A standing-room-only crowd greeted the Houston Independent School Board last night. While the board’s monthly meetings often attract an assortment of parents, community members and gadflies many in the crowd were there with a decidedly non-educational issue on their minds: the anti-gay flier distributed by Trustee Manuel Rodriguez during his recent reelection campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier encouraged Houstonians to vote against Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. because of his sexual orientation.

The first to address the issue were Rodriquez’s fellow trustees, Anna Eastman and Juliet Stipeche. Eastman spoke passionately of the importance of HISD’s anti-bullying policy which “protects people from harassment and bullying based on attributes we all have,” and said that she felt Rodriguez’s actions violated the spirit of that policy. Stipeche, near tears, read the names of teens who had committed suicide after enduring anti-LGBT bullying.

The board had planned to vote on a new ethics policy at the meeting that covered behavior by trustees. At the encouragement of two speakers, and the motion of Eastman, the board decided to delay that vote until December so that a policy stating that encouraging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression could be added.

After three and a half hours the crowd in the board’s chambers had dwindled, with most of those who had come to confront Rodriquez still waiting. When Board President Paula Harris finally opened the floor for public comment the first person to step up was Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman. Freeman told the board that the extant of Rodriquez’s homophobic campaigning was far greater than the flier which had drawn so much media attention. “What you all might not know is that he also went on television and said that he just couldn’t understand why a 54 year old unmarried man would want, quote ‘access to children,’” said Freeman. “That statement in and of itself, and the implications made therein is reprehensible and simply disgusting.”

Freeman asked that the Board remove Rodriquez as their representative on the Texas Council of School Boards, and as the board’s vice president. He went on to criticize the apology issued by Rodriquez after the election, saying that it did not address the concerns of the GLBT community, nor was it delivered to the community but rather to the press. “You cannot simply say ‘oops, I’m sorry’ and this all goes away,” said Freeman. “We will never forget what you did!”

Board President Harris had made frequent reference throughout the meeting to a group of students from HISD’s Milby High School, letting them know that their time to speak would come. As the students’ designated speaker stepped to the podium his hands visibly shook in nervousness. “When I first heard about [Rodriquez's flier] I did not agree with it because I believe that the message was that a gay person could not be as successful as a straight person and that really hurt me,” said the student. “My question to you is are you going to help us stop the bullying, or are you going to be a bully yourself?”

Perhaps the strongest response from the board was garnered by Paul Gonzales, who choked back tears as he described the challenges he faces as a gay man and parent of an HISD student. “I have a kid, and I have a kid that I have enrolled in HISD, and I love her. Me and my partner every single day are trying to show her that there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong with our family. So for a board member to say that my family is reprehensible to him… I have to explain [to her] that there are still people who consider us not the kind of family that deserve respect,” said Paul to the board, who were fighting back tears of their own. “GLBT parents like myself trust HISD to give us that haven for our children, that they’re not going to be looked at any differently. But the words that we saw on this flier just made me cringe to think that this isn’t the place that I thought that it was.”

After the jump, watch some of the eighteen people who spoke to the board.

—  admin

WATCH: Minnesota teens who committed suicide together may have been girlfriends

Paige Moravetz, left, and Haylee Fentress, both 14, committed suicide last weekend. Family members said the two may have been girlfriends and may have been bullied at school over their relationship.

Two 14-year-old girls in Marshall, Minn., have killed themselves together, becoming the latest in an ever-more-tragically long list of teens who were — or at least, are believed to have been — pushed to suicide by bullies. And relatives told NBC’s Today Show the two may have been girlfriends and may have faced further torment from classmates because of that.

Best friends Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz hanged themselves together following a slumber party last Saturday, April 16, at Haylee’s house. Both girls left suicide notes, but relatives said the notes gave no clear explanation for their actions.

Watch the Today Show report below.

—  admin

Memorial tree for gay suicide victim Zack Harrington to be planted in Norman, Okla. park

Zack Harrington

The father of Zack Harrington, the gay teen who took his own life after listening to homophobic comments at a Norman, Okla. city council meeting last year, says his family plans to plan a tree in his memory at a city park.

Zack Harrington’s death served as the inspiration for gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” speech.

Zack’s father, Van Harrington, said the family plans to plant the Oklahoma White Bud on April 29, which would have been Zack’s 20th birthday.

“We now have site approval and digging permit for planting of Zack’s tree,” Van Harrington said in an email this morning.

They’ve also ordered a memorial bench from the Norman Park Service that will be placed there at a later date.

Van Harrington said a documentary film is being produced about Zack’s life by Still Point Pictures, a New York company. They’ll be back in July for more filming, he said.

Also, Lecia Brooks from the Southern Poverty Law Center recently brought the film Bullied to Norman for two separate showings in Zack’s name.

“Hopefully these interests in Zack’s life will make a difference for others,” he said. “I know it helps me.”

—  David Taffet

TX Senate committee hears emotional testimony from parents of bullying suicide victims

Sen. Wendy Davis, who’s worked for two years with Equality Texas to craft a comprehensive anti-bullying law, introduced the bill in the Senate Education Committee this morning.

Davis told the committee that one in five students report being bullying on school grounds. Among the highlights of the bill, Davis explained, are that it would allow the victims of bullying to remain anonymous, it would expand the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying, and it would allow school officials to transfer the bully, rather than just the victim, to another class or school. Notification of parents is required, but principals could withhold notification of parents if a victim’s safety were at risk.

Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, asked, “How can bullying be proven?”

Davis answered that this is covered by the expanded definition of bullying and by equipping teachers with the tools to identify bullying behavior.

“So children can feel safe in their educational environment,” Davis said.

Shapiro responded, “So bullying is just in the eyes of the beholder?”

Four people lined up to testify during the morning session including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Texas, The Texas Classroom Teachers Association and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

Only two spoke before the committee adjourned for a Senate floor session. The Hogg Foundation spoke in favor of the bill and the ACLU against.

Testimony, including from the parents of three bullying victims who committed suicide, continued this afternoon.

Amy Truong, Asher Brown’s mother, spoke first. Wednesday will be the six-month anniversary of Asher’s death. Her testimony was so powerful that Jon Carmichael’s mother, who was schedule to speak next, left the room in tears. Instead, Jon’s sister spoke.

Montana Lance’s parents both testified before the committee. His father said that when Montana went to teachers or administrators, they told him not to be a tattletale. Jason Lance said he called the school and followed up every time he knew his son was bullied. Deborah Lance, his mother, said her son was simply overcome by bullying before he went into the nurse’s bathroom and hung himself. She said that in a year, four children in Texas have taken their own lives because of bullying. If legislators don’t act, they can expect another eight to commit suicide before they meet again.

Davis spoke and was in tears. Shapiro offered her sorrow to each of the parents on behalf of the committee, where the bill was left pending.

For more information on members of the Senate Education Committee, go here. A companion bill is also pending in the House education committee.

—  David Taffet

Top 10: Teen suicides put spotlight on bullying

Flash1
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:

View all of the Top 10

“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

Remembering a friend and helping others

Friends of woman who committed suicide holding 2nd benefit for Foundation for Prevention of Suicide


Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HAPPIER TIMES  |  Shauna Greaham seemed like ‘the perfect person’ to her friends, but in reality, she struggled throughout her adult life with depression. This weekend, her friends are holding an event in her memory to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
HAPPIER TIMES | Shauna Greaham seemed like ‘the perfect person’ to her friends, but in reality, she struggled throughout her adult life with depression. This weekend, her friends are holding an event in her memory to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Kinita Albertson first met Shauna Greaham in high school, when the two played softball for opposing teams. Then the two women met again, this time as teammates, when they both played college softball for Texas Weslyan University.

Greaham was, Albertson said, “the perfect person, so amazing.”

But it only seemed that way.

Greaham committed suicide on Oct. 13, 2008.

Albertson said Greaham struggled with periodic bouts of depression throughout her adult life. Although Albertson said she never knew of her friend being bullied or harassed over being gay, Greaham wasn’t comfortable with her sexual orientation, either.

“When we were in college, she was embarrassed to be gay. She never talked about it or admitted it,” Albertson said. “Even after college, I would see her at the games [for the lesbian softball league], and she would say, ‘Oh, I’m just playing for the gay league because they needed more players.’”

Still, Greaham’s friends never expected her to take her own life.

“She had a girlfriend, but they were breaking up,” Albertson said, recalling the days leading up to her friend’s death. “We knew Shauna was upset and depressed, so we went over that weekend to spend some time with her. She seemed to be okay. Yes, she was upset, but by the time we left, she seemed okay. She was laughing and having a good time with everybody.

“And then, she was just gone,” Albertson continued. “Nobody really knows what happened. Something just snapped, and she was gone.”
And her friends were left with grief and questions.

“I had all the questions and nowhere to find answers. Even on the Internet, I had trouble finding any information. I had to dig. I was just grasping at straws as to why this happened,” Albertson said.

And then she found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and finally found some of the answers she was seeking.

“I found AFSP online, and I called and asked for information. They really did help,” Albertson said.

One of the things she learned, Albertson said, was not to give in to some of the common misperceptions about suicide.

“A lot of times, when someone commits suicide, people say that they just gave up, that they quit trying. It’s a lot more complicated than that. There aren’t such easy answers,” Albertson said. “That’s one thing I don’t want people to think about Shauna. She was an amazing person, and I don’t want anybody to think of her as a quitter.”

AFSP is a nonprofit organization “exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide,” according to its website.

The agency works to meet its goals by funding scientific research, offering education programs for mental health professionals, working to educate the public about mood disorders and suicide prevention, promoting policies and legislation aimed at preventing suicide and offering programs and resources for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and those who are themselves at risk for suicide.

The organization also has a specific LGBTQ Initiative and in 2007 helped sponsor, in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a conference on LGBTQ suicide. AFSP has since funded several grants related to the issue of LGBTQ teen suicide and is currently working to complete a review of research and recommendations on LGBTQ suicide and suicide risk, according to the website.

The organization is also actively involved in studying and publicizing the link between anti-LGBT bullying and suicide.

But all those efforts take money. That’s why Albertson and her friends this weekend will hold their second annual “Strides for Shauna” benefit show and date auction.

Casey Cohea, who is helping organize the benefit, said eight people have already committed to being “auctioned off” for dates, and she expects others to join the list by the time the event starts Saturday night, Oct. 16.

The event will also feature a performance by Nikki McKibben who was the third place finisher in the debut season of American Idol.

McKibben isn’t one the dates who will be auctioned, Cohea noted, “she will just be there to sing. We told her what we were doing, and she wanted to help.”

The show and auction starts at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Best Friends Club, 2620 E. Lancaster Ave. in Fort Worth. And anyone interested in volunteering for the auction can contact Cohea at pinkertc15@yahoo.com or Albertson at Kinita.albertson@gmail.com.

But even those who can’t attend can still contribute by going online to OutOfTheDar-kness.com and donating to Team Strides for Shauna.

“I didn’t know Shauna. I’m doing this because people that I know and love knew and loved Shauna and this is important to them,” Cohea said.

“But I am also doing it because this is something that affects so many people in our community. We are losing so many people to suicide, and we have to do something to help.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas