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

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Hearing set on bills to remove ‘homosexual conduct’ law from books

Daniel Williams

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

This week was the 12th of Texas’ 20-week regular legislative session, held in odd-numbered years. The urgency of looming deadlines has pressed lawmakers into a flurry of activity with committee hearings lasting into the wee hours of the morning and lawmakers engaging in hours-long floor debates. While the heated budget fight continues to dominate headlines, several key bills important to the LGBT community have quietly made progress this week.

On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee considered legislation designed to address the issue of bullying, including House Bill 24 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Duval, Starr, Webb and Zapata counties, and House Bill 170 by Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo. Guillen’s bill had originally been scheduled for a public hearing on March 1, but he removed it from consideration to address concerns that it focused simply on punishing bullies and not on preventing bullying in the first place. At Tuesday’s hearing, Guillen offered a revised version of the bill that included education and prevention elements not in his original bill.

This was the second time this session that the committee heard legislation on the subject of bullying. During discussion of the bills Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, conceded that this is an important issue for many Texans and indicated that the committee would likely pass some form of anti-bullying legislation that included elements of all or some of the bills that have been filed this session.

On Wednesday, House Bill 665 by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, was heard in the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee. Meghan Stabler, Human Rights Campaign board member, testified passionately in favor of the bill using her personal experience as a transgender woman to illustrate the need for employment protections. The slack-jawed awe of some committee members at being in the same room with an actual transgender person slowly morphed into rapt attention as Stabler patiently told her story of transitioning on the job and how her employers slowly demoted and moved her to less critical positions. Dennis Coleman,executive director of Equality Texas, also testified in favor of the bill.

—  admin

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

As Senate begins DADT hearings, Guy-Gainer accuses Republicans of ‘juvenile mutiny’

Dave Guy-Gainer

Senate Republicans are committing “a form of juvenile mutiny” by indicating they’ll block consideration of “don’t ask don’t tell” during the lame duck session, according to a leading local advocate for repealing the policy.

All 42 Republican senators signed a letter delivered to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday pledging to block any legislation that’s unrelated to government funding or taxes this month.

The Senate Armed Services Committee began hearings at 8 a.m. Dallas time today (you can watch live here) on the Pentagon’s report on DADT, which was released Tuesday and concluded that there’s “low risk” to ending the ban. But regardless of the Pentagon report and the committee hearings, some believe Wednesday’s letter to Reid  seriously threatens DADT repeal this year.

Dave Guy-Gainer, an openly gay retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County, said there were “no surprises” as he watched Tuesday’s press conference during which the Pentagon report was released.

“In fact, as I listened to each of the four speakers, I heard the same words and sentences that proponents of Repeal have said for many many years,” said Guy-Gainer, a board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “The impact of repeal is minimal. And the concerns that some have can be overcome by education and leadership. It was refreshing to hear Secretary Gates call upon the Senate to enact repeal by the end of December. I understand that he has instructed the services to continue to draft the changes to their many regulations and policies and to draft the lesson plans that will be used to educate the force so that they will be ready when repeal happens. Or, they will be ready when the judiciary calls an end to DADT.”

Guy-Gainer added that he believes the findings of the report, along with polls showing a vast majority of Americans support DADT repeal, should serve as a mandate for the Senate to act.

“In military terms, I personally find their [the Senate Republcans'] letter to be a form of juvenile mutiny,” Gainer said.”These Senators were sent to Washington by people called constituents as a part of a whole. In law a constituent is one who appoints another to act on their behalf. About 80 percent of Americans support repeal and that 80 percent is certainly not made up solely of members of other parties. These Senators are there to vote the will of the people and not there to support the selfishness of partisan politics.

“If there is a threat to our national security, it is the withholding of the military funds that would be provided by the National Defense Authorization Act,” Gainer said, referring to the bill to which DADT repeal is attached. “By one measure, 92 percent of our military is fine working alongside gay and lesbian counterparts. But, none of them can function without biscuits, beans and bullets. After months of delay, it is time for a vote to be taken.

“Hopefully, those who read this article will find a way to inspire these 42 to use the power that was handed them at the ballot box to vote according to the wishes of the nation, the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the men and women of our nation’s military. Failing passage this month leaves the issue in the hands of the judiciary — and those cases will proceed.”

—  John Wright