DISD moves ahead on LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

SPREADING THE WORD | Rafael McDonnell, facing camera, speaks to the press Thursday following the DISD  board meeting in which trustees gave preliminary approval to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

District spokesman says new proposal likely to be approved at Nov. 18 board meeting

Click here to read a draft of the proposed policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

In response to a series of gay teen suicides across the nation, the Dallas Independent School District is moving forward with a policy that provides specific protections against bullying for LGBT students.

The seven-page policy discussed by DISD’s board of trustees on Thursday, Nov. 4, would make the district the first in Texas to outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

None of DISD’s nine trustees spoke against the proposal during Thursday’s briefing session, and a district spokesman said afterward that the policy likely will be approved by the board at its next meeting Nov. 18.

“I hope as a district that this sets a trend for others — that this is something that has to end, and let it begin with DISD,” trustee Nancy Bingham said.

District staff had initially proposed a general bullying policy that failed to enumerate categories of protected students, prompting objections from LGBT advocates who’ve lobbied trustees over the last month.

Trustee Eric Cowan said he’s glad the categories were added.

“I wish we were at a point where all students could mean all students, but unfortunately our society isn’t there yet,” Cowan said.

The LGBT-inclusive policy was brought forward by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn. The policy is similar to one that’s in place in Broward County, Fla., home to Fort Lauderdale.

“We finally got a bullying policy where everybody is covered,” Nutall said. “I was bullied as a child, so I don’t want anybody to go through that craziness.”

Nutall said she’s asked staff to develop training on the policy for students, teachers and staff. The policy will be included in the Code of Conduct that’s distributed to all DISD students.

“They need to understand what bullying is and what they can get in trouble for,” Nutall said.

Thursday’s discussion came after trustees heard from three representatives from the LGBT community.

Roger Poindexter, director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, warned that gay students who’ve been bullied have won large monetary settlements from districts in other parts of the nation.

Poindexter said while a general policy might give adults “a warm fuzzy feeling,” it wouldn’t accomplish its goal.

“We need to spell it out so the bullies can understand it,” Poindexter said, before reading off the names of gay teens who’ve taken their own lives in recent months, including 13-year-old Asher Brown near Houston.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said 10 years of research shows that enumerated bullying policies are more effective.

“If it isn’t written, nobody’s going to think about it,” McDonnell said.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told trustees they’re “sorely mistaken” if they think current policies are protecting students from anti-gay bullying.

While DISD has policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, Garcia said he knows a student who was bullied relentlessly for being gay before being “saved” by the LGBT community.

“Don’t make a suicide make you do the right thing,” Garcia told trustees. “The time to act is now.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Trustee says DISD administration resisting protections for gay students in bullying policy

Bernadette Nutall

The Dallas Independent School District’s administration is reportedly resisting an effort to include specific protections for LGBT students in a new bullying policy, setting up a possible showdown over the issue during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday that the district’s attorneys are objecting to her proposal to list categories of protected students in the bullying policy, because they say it could open up the district up to lawsuits from those who are left out.

Nutall said she submitted a fully inclusive policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the administration on Tuesday, Nov. 2. However, the administration has posted a noninclusive version of the policy that doesn’t list any categories of protected students on Thursday’s agenda.

Nuttall encouraged people in the LGBT community to attend the board meeting and speak in support of the substitute policy she’s proposing along with Trustee Lew Blackburn. Those who wish to speak at the meeting must sign up by calling 972-925-3720 before 5 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the board room at district offices, 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to put it in there,” Nutall said. “I was very frustrated. I really don’t understand the resistance. I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer, but I’m finding out that it’s not. … The community needs to drive this policy.”

A DISD spokeswoman said the board of trustees will discuss the proposed bullying policy on Thursday but will not take a final vote.

“They will be talking about the policy that you see [on the agenda], and they can add or change the language as they see fit,” the spokeswoman said. “Tomorrow’s briefing will kind of determine what direction this is going to take and what additional language, if any, they want to see.”

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said Wednesday that at least three LGBT leaders, including himself, plan to speak at Thursday’s meeting. The others are Jesse Garcia, president of the LULAC Rainbow Council, and Roger Poindexter, the new director for Lambda Legal’s South Central Region.

McDonnell said he’ll request that the board of trustees delay consideration of the bullying policy until it can further discussed.

“Even if people don’t want to speak, I think we need to pack the chambers,” McDonnell said, noting that many other school districts around the nation have adopted fully inclusive bullying policies without objections from attorneys. “Clearly there are other legal minds who come to a different answer.”

—  John Wright

Another DISD trustee comes out in support of a bullying policy that protects gay, transgender kids

Bernadette Nutall

A second Dallas Independent School District trustee spoke out publicly this week in support of a bullying policy that provides specific protections for gay and transgender students.

Trustee Bernadette Nutall, who represents District 9, said she’s asked DISD staff to draft a proposed policy that protects as many categories of students as possible, including those who may be bullied on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Nutall joins trustee Lew Blackburn among those who’ve publicly stated their support for an LGBT-inclusive bullying policy.

The district has been considering a new bullying policy, but as originally drafted by the DISD administration, the proposal didn’t include specific categories of students that would be protected.

Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the district, suggested last week that a new bullying policy isn’t necessary because DISD already has an anti-harassment policy that includes sexual orientation.

But Nutall disagreed.

“Harassment is bullying, but how many kids come home and say, ‘Mom, I was harassed today’?” Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday, Oct. 27. “Can’t we just keep it simple?

“I think we need to be very clear, if you mistreat someone because they are different or because they’re not like you, there are consequences for your actions,” Nutall said.

Nutall said she was bullied as a child and currently has a daughter in middle school in the district. She also said she’s a devout Baptist but believes people need to set aside their personal beliefs.

“Ultimately you have to protect all people whether you agree with them or not,” Nutall said. “It’s not about that, it’s about you have the right to be who you are.”

Nutall said she’s forwarded to district staff copies of policies from places like Broward County, Fla., and Philadelphia that include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Despite likely opposition from the religious right, which is fighting LGBT-inclusive bullying policies nationally, Nutall is confident her proposal will receive support from a majority of the nine-member DISD board when the policy comes back up for a vote, which is expected to be sometime in November.

“I think I have the five votes,” Nutall said. “I do believe it’s going to pass without a problem.”

LGBT advocates have encouraged people in the community to contact their trustees and urge them to support a fully inclusive police. Contact info for trustees is listed on the DISD website.

—  John Wright

DISD tables anti-bullying policy

Trustee Lew Blackburn says he will offer a substitute with specific protections for LGBT students, but district spokesman says measure may not be necessary

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

BEING VIGILANT  |  Hundreds gathered for a second vigil in memory of LGBT teens lost to suicide in recent weeks Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Oak Lawn, as Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns continued to make headlines across the country with his passionate plea to troubled youth to remember, “It gets better.” See the full story on Page 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
BEING VIGILANT | Hundreds gathered for a second vigil in memory of LGBT teens lost to suicide in recent weeks Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Oak Lawn, as Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns continued to make headlines across the country with his passionate plea to troubled youth to remember, “It gets better.” See the full story on Page 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Independent School District trustee Lew Blackburn said this week he plans to introduce a bullying policy that provides specific protections for LGBT students.

However, a DISD spokesman said he’s unsure whether a new policy is needed because DISD already has a policy prohibiting harassment of students based on various factors, including sexual orientation.
Bullying policies have taken on added significance after a string of widely publicized recent teen suicides across the country, including several by students who’d experienced bullying and harassment because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

DISD’s nine-member board of trustees has been considering a new anti-bullying policy that would strengthen penalties and clarify definitions. However, as currently written, the proposal doesn’t list factors based on which students would be protected.

In response to the concerns of LGBT advocates, Blackburn said he plans to introduce a substitute proposal that would enumerate those factors, including both sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn said Monday, Oct. 18. “What I’m doing is looking at policies across the nation, not just in Texas. I’m looking for something more wide-ranging. I’m still doing some research, and what I’m hoping to do is come back to the administration with a revision to what they have proposed with some additional language that other states are using.”

Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the district, said Thursday, Oct. 21 that trustees have put off discussion of the new bullying policy until November at the earliest.

“We already have a policy on the books that talks about no harassment of kids for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, all of those things, so I think they wanted to take a step back and do a little more research,” Dahlander said. “I think they felt like, you know what, while the word bullying may not necessarily be there, harassment certainly is and we probably need to go back to the drawing board and revisit whether or not we need this policy based on what we’ve already got.”

DISD’s harassment policy, passed in the mid-1990s, includes sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Meanwhile, DISD’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits “offensive language” related to “gender orientation,” a term which is not defined in the code.

Dahlander said DISD was the first in the state to include sexual orientation in its harassment policy. He also said he believes trustees are open to including sexual orientation and gender identity in the bullying policy, which is one of the reasons they put off discussion.

“They may specifically address different categories of students or different kinds of bullying, or they may not address it because of what’s already there in terms of harassment,” Dahlander said. “The ball, as always, is in their court.”

Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, was among several LGBT advocates who met with Blackburn this week to discuss his proposal.

Cox said RCD officials have heard from at least two other trustees who support a fully inclusive policy. However, she noted that the policy will need five votes to pass.

“My experience tells me that things are never as easy as they should be,” Cox said. “I think with the ongoing need and now the spotlight on LGBT bullying and suicide, passing a policy that doesn’t specifically include LGBT folks would not be prudent. It would essentially have no teeth in it.”

Both Blackburn and Cox encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees and urge them to support a fully inclusive policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on the DISD website at www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm.

ADVOCATING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, speaks at a rally Friday, Oct. 16, in support of stronger anti-bullying laws and policies in Texas’ public Schools. Alonza has pledged to introduce asafe schools measure when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
ADVOCATING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, speaks at a rally Friday, Oct. 16, in support of stronger anti-bullying laws and policies in Texas’ public Schools. Alonza has pledged to introduce asafe schools measure when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Blackburn also said he plans to ask DISD’s administration to come up with proposed guidelines related to gender identity and homecoming court eligibility.

The principal at North Dallas High School recently sparked controversy when she refused to allow transgender female student Andy Moreno to run for homecoming queen.

The district currently has no policy on the matter. In response to the controversy at NDHS, DISD officials released statements saying they supported the principal’s decision and trumpeting the district’s “aggressive” anti-harassment policy — even though it doesn’t include gender identity.

Blackburn said he’s concerned that in the absence of a DISD policy related to homecoming eligibility and gender identity, principals at different schools could reach different decisions.

“I would like for us to be consistent district-wide,” Blackburn said. “We need to start talking about it so that we have something in policy before the start of school for next year. It’s new territory for us, and I think we need to take our time and do it right.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

H4PJ calls on Dallas City Council to support LGBT-inclusive bullying policy for DISD

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, is slated to address the Dallas City Council this morning and ask the council to pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District “to do everything in their power to prevent bullying,” according to David Plunkett, a spokesman for H4PJ.

In the wake of last month’s gay teen suicide crisis, H4PJ has been circulating a petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures, calling for DISD to adopt fully inclusive anti-bullying guidelines that provide specific protections for LGBT students. DISD’s board of trustees is  considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, the proposed policy doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity. DISD trustee Lew Blackburn told Dallas Voice this week he plans to introduce a substitute policy that does include sexual orientation and gender identity. Blackburn, along with LGBT advocates, have urged people in the community to contact the other trustees and urge them to support Blackburn’s proposal. DISD’s new anti-bullying policy could be up for a final vote as early as next week.

Courtesy of Plunkett, here’s the text of Piazza’s remarks:

I am here to present a petition signed by 1,000 people requesting that the Dallas City Council pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District to do everything in their power to prevent the bullying that has led to far too many suicides of young people. Just down I-45, 13-year-old Asher Brown took his life in September. Then, earlier this month, just north on I-35 in Norman, Oklahoma, 19-year-old Zach Herrington took his life following a toxic debate at a city council meeting.  We are asking you to encourage DISD to ensure the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

I could speak to you today as someone who was a pastor in this city for 22 years at the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender church. I could speak to you as the President of Hope for Peace & Justice whose petitions I present. However, I’d like to use my two minutes to appeal to you as a parent. I have two teenage girls. One is a junior at the School for the Talented and Gifted, and the other is a senior at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

My partner and I might have sent our daughters to private schools, but it was very important to us that they attend public schools where most of the children in this city receive their education. It hasn’t always been easy for them.

My oldest daughter was in Harry Stone Middle School when the state of Texas passed a constitutional amendment that denied marriage equality to her parents. Next month my partner and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. So, you can imagine my daughter’s surprise when her language arts teacher told her students, during class, to be sure their parents voted in favor of the constitutional amendment because, and I quote, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Fortunately, my daughter was secure enough to raise her hand and ask, “Excuse me Mrs. Smith, but then who did create Adam and Steve?”

Her teacher said, “I guess you must know some of those people,” to which Jerica replied, “Only just about everyone in my life who loves me.”

Jerica knew how to handle herself, but imagine for just a moment if you had been a small boy struggling with your sexuality and heard that teacher’s words. Imagine if you had been a child who had been abused at home and so filled with rage that you were looking for someone to bully. That DISD teacher, at one of our best magnet schools, just gave you all the justification you needed.

As a father, I beg you. Make a statement that this is not who we are in Dallas and that we know our children are not our own, but they are ALL — gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — children of God. Thank you .

—  John Wright

DISD trustee to propose LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, transgender homecoming guidelines

Lew Blackburn

Lew Blackburn, a member of the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees, said Monday he plans to propose an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for LGBT students.

DISD is already considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, it doesn’t spell out the categories of students who would be protected. Last week, Resource Center Dallas asked DISD to add protections for specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Several youth across the nation who were gay or perceived to be gay have committed suicide in response to bullying and harassment in recent weeks.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn told Instant Tea on Monday. “What I’m doing is looking at policies across the nation, not just in Texas. I’m looking for something more wide-ranging.

“I’m still doing some research, and what I’m hoping to do is come back to the administration with a revision to what they have proposed with some additional language that other states are using,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s going to be up for approval next week, but I’m going to try to have it delayed for another month so we can get more language into the policy.”

Blackburn encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees about the new anti-bullying policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on DISD’s website.

We also asked Blackburn about the recent controversy involving Andy Moreno, the transgender girl who was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School.

Blackburn responded that he plans to ask the administration to draft a policy on the subject and bring it to the board of trustees for consideration. He said he’s concerned that in the absence of such a policy, principals at different schools could reach different decisions.

“I would like for us to be consistent district-wide,” Blackburn said. “We need to start talking about it so that we have something in policy before the start of school for next year. It’s new territory for us, and I think we need to take our time and do it right.”

—  John Wright

DGLA hosts rally for safe schools in Oak Cliff

About 50 people gathered around a pavilion in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas on Friday evening for a safe schools rally organized by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

The crowd, which included several local TV news crews and about a dozen youth, listened as a series of speakers talked about what can be done to stop bullying, mentor children and quell the national gay teen suicide crisis.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay LULAC council, choked up as he recounted his own struggle to overcome bullying.

“We’re here for you,” Garcia said. “We care about you. You are our children. Don’t give up.”

Larry Duncan, president of Dallas County Schools, which provides transportation and other services for local school districts, told the crowd it was unfortunate Friday’s rally was even necessary.

“It isn’t about why we’re here, it’s about why the other people in our city and county aren’t here,” Duncan said. “The fact that we have to be here is a shame.”

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, vowed to push safe schools legislation that includes LGBT youth in next year’s legislative session.

Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso said she’ll encourage the Dallas Independent School District to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a proposed new anti-bullying policy the district is considering.

“Just know you are not alone,” Jasso said. “There are lots of us on the City Council, myself included, who are here to help you. We cannot afford to lose any more teens to suicide.”

As currently written, DISD’s proposed new anti-bullying policy doesn’t include specific protections for LGBT youth. But Lee Taft, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said DISD’s board of trustees agreed to delay discussion of the new policy this week in response to a request from his organization.

Taft, who lost his partner to suicide in the 1980s, said the community must focus on prevention instead of “post-vention.” He also said the media needs to strike a balance to avoid glamorizing suicide and fueling a copycat phenomenon.

“Let’s make sure that we don’t make martyrs and don’t empower bullies,” Taft said.

Patti Fink, president of DGLA, said the bullying children endure in school wouldn’t be tolerated in any other part of society, including the workplace or even people’s own neighborhoods.

“It’s a travesty that our children are experiencing brutality in our schools every day that prevents them from learning,” Fink said, issuing a call to action. “This is the time, this is the date, this is the energy we need to go forward.”

—  John Wright

Local leaders turn focus on bullying

Rally set Friday in Dallas to promote legislation, promote awareness of bullying in schools, teen suicide

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

RALLYING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS  |  Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, right, speaks to a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Higher Education during the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature. Alonzo is among those who will speak at a rally Friday to promote awareness of the problems of bullying in schools and teen suicide.
RALLYING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, right, speaks to a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Higher Education during the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature. Alonzo is among those who will speak at a rally Friday to promote awareness of the problems of bullying in schools and teen suicide.

Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance will hold a rally in Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff on Friday, Oct. 15 to draw attention to the problem of gay teen suicide and to opportunities in the next session of the legislature to end school bullying.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo is among the speakers. In the last session he coauthored a safe schools bill with Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. The legislation did not pass.

Larry Duncan, president of Dallas County Schools, is also scheduled to appear. Dallas County Schools is providing shuttle bus service from 8th & Corinth Station on the Red and Blue lines to Lake Cliff Park. The park is located at E. Colorado and Zang boulevards.

“The rally is important because we need a safe schools law that empowers teachers, administrators and staff to stop bullying when they see it,” said DGLA President Patti Fink. “No kid can focus on algebra when they’re fearing for their safety. Kids are losing their lives over this issue. It’s got to stop.”

Most states, including Texas, do have some form of anti-bullying laws.

Only five states — Hawaii, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana — remain without any student protection.

In 2005, the Texas legislature passed Chapter 37 of the Education code that requires school districts to adopt student codes of conduct that proscribe bullying and harassment.

The law does not specify groups that are often the targets and doesn’t enumerate what must happen when school staff observes bullying behavior.

Laws that are not specific have proven to be ineffective in preventing bullying of LGBT students, according to advocates.

The current Dallas Independent School District regulations list groups protected from harassment. Among those is the unclear “gender orientation,” sort of a combination and confusion of gender identity and sexual orientation, which are not listed.

Four representatives from the LGBT community attended a DISD board of trustees meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14. The board is considering a new anti-bullying policy. The proposed policy, as currently written, doesn’t specifically protect LGBT students.

Gregory Pynes, vice chair of the board for Resource Center Dallas, spoke during public comments and commended the trustees for wanting to strengthen their anti-bullying policy.

But he urged them to amend the proposed policy by listing protected categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Pynes invited trustees to work with Resource Center on the policy, which is expected to come up for a final vote later this month.

Others from the LGBT community who attended the DISD meeting were Chastity Kirven of Get Equal Now, David Plunkett of Hope for Peace and Justice and Pamela Curry of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

Earlier this year, Fort Worth ISD ran a district-wide poster campaign called “It’s Not Okay” to bully one’s fellow students or to allow others to be victimized. The district sponsored parent workshops throughout the district to combat bullying.

Sexual orientation is included in the Fort Worth school district’s bullying policy under its code of conduct. Gender identity is not.

Other large school districts in the area —  including Plano, Richardson and Arlington ISDs — do not specify groups that are covered by anti-bullying policies.

One of Tarrant County’s largest school districts, Birdville ISD, does not list covered groups. Earlier this year, Haltom City parents called police about bullying incidents at a BISD school and brought their complaints about bullying including assaults to CBS 11.

At this week’s city council meeting, Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns gave an emotional speech about having been bullied in school and considering suicide. He showed pictures of six teens who recently committed suicide after having been bullied and told their stories.

“This bullying and harassment in our schools must stop,” he said.

His 10-minute speech received a standing ovation from other council members and from citizens attending the meeting.

Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith said that stronger safe schools legislation will be the top priority of the upcoming legislative session. He said that electing legislators who will support an anti-bullying law is important. Several bills will be introduced in the House.

The law that Smith was most excited about is one being crafted by Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. Strama has introduced safe schools legislation each session since he was elected in 2004. Local representatives Alonzo and Raphael Anchia of Dallas, Paula Pierson of

Arlington and Lon Burnham of Fort Worth co-authored the bill in the last session.

Burnham’s legislative director in Austin reaffirmed Burnham’s commitment to the issue.

“He certainly supports and is concerned with the issue,” he said.

Smith said next session’s proposed law is different from previous versions. The exact language of the new bill is still being written.

However, Strama’s proposed legislation will specify what does and does not constitute bullying and what school personnel must do when they see bullying occur or when it is reported.

In defining the problem, schoolyard fights, for example, are not considered bullying.

Bullying refers to verbal or physical acts committed by a student to harass, intimidate or cause harm to another student. The more recent problem of cyber-bullying includes threats, harassment and intimidation on line as well as in texting or through other electronic means.

Locally, support for anti-bullying legislation appears strong although some representatives would not commit to supporting a particular bill until they saw final wording. Specifying gay, lesbian or transgender students has been the reason some withhold support of anti-bullying legislation in the past.

Rep. Eric Johnson represents part of Oak Lawn and campaigned on the issue of safe schools. His wife serves on the board of Resource Center Dallas.

“We must provide all Texas schoolchildren with an atmosphere in which they feel, and in fact are, safe while learning,” said Johnson.

“Our very future depends on it. I will support comprehensive legislation in the Texas House to address the issue of bullying directly so that all of our children have the opportunity to make the most of their education and their lives.”

Calls to other area legislative offices showed general consensus that schools need to be made safer for students.

Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown’s office said, “Of course. She’s against any bullying in schools.”

Harper-Brown’s district is in Irving. Her opponent is in the upcoming election is Loretta Haldenwang. Her campaign manager, Kirk McPike, also indicated support.

Multiple calls to other area Representatives’ local, Austin and campaign offices were not returned. Many of those legislators did support the Strama bill in the current session.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Resource Center calls on DISD to add LGBT protections to proposed new anti-bullying policy

IMPORTANT UPDATE: RCD’s Rafael McDonnell reports that those wishing to speak at Thursday’s DISD meeting must sign up by 5 p.m. Wednesday by calling board services at 972-925-3720.

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the Dallas Independent School District to add protections for LGBT students to a proposed new anti-bullying policy. As we reported yesterday, the new anti-bullying policy is slated to be discussed Thursday by DISD’s board of trustees. A final vote is expected at the end of the month, but as currently written, the policy doesn’t include specific prohibitions against bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. Which seems odd given the fact that we are in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicides related to anti-gay bullying and harassment, including at least one in Texas. Resource Center is encouraging people to contact the nine members of DISD’s Board of Trustees and demand that they amend the policy to include LGBT students. RCD has also sent its own letter to each of the nine trustees, which we’ve posted below. From RCD’s press release:

“We are pleased that DISD is revisiting its approach to bullying. Unfortunately, the proposed policy does not define which students are to be protected by it. As a result, it does not provide specific protections for LGBT students. It is vital for this board to specifically articulate who this policy is designed to protect, rather than simply stating a broad definition of bullying. Absent any specific protections, it could be inferred that it would be okay to bully students based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Given the rash of LGBT bullying-related suicides in recent weeks—including one in the greater Houston area—specifically articulated protections are not formalities; they are essential.

“Resource Center Dallas encourages the North Texas LGBT community to contact the nine members of the DISD board. Encourage them to modify the proposed anti-bullying policy to specifically include LGBT students. Board members still have time to improve the protections for the youngest members of our community. Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail, can be found at http://www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm. Additionally, if you are able to attend the DISD board meeting Thursday, October 14 at 11:30 a.m. at 3700 Ross Avenue in Dallas, please do so. A representative of the Center will address the board on these issues.”

—  John Wright

DISD prohibits offensive language related to ‘gender orientation,’ whatever the hell that means

As Instant Tea continues our review of the Dallas Independent School District’s policies related to harassment, bullying and discrimination, we’ve come across something rather peculiar.

It’s on Page 5 of DISD’s “2010-2011 Student Code of Conduct,” in a section titled “General Guidelines and Notifications” and under a headline that reads “Offensive Language.” Here’s what it says:

“Such language includes, but is not limited to, the use of slurs or offensive language related to race, ethnicity, gender and/or gender orientation, disability and religious beliefs.”

Below is a screen grab lest you think we could make this stuff up, but you can also view the entire Code of Conduct by going here.

Now, can someone please explain to me the definition of “gender orientation”? And after you’ve done that, can you give me an example of offensive language related to “gender orientation”? Actually, please don’t. But do they mean “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”? Or both? Or neither? Because those are two totally different things. Is this a typo? Or is it a deliberate attempt to avoid the word “sexual” in a handbook that is distributed to students?

Well, we plan to try to find out. But in the meantime, Resource Center Dallas is preparing to launch a campaign to demand that DISD include specific protections for LGBT students in its new anti-bullying policy, which is set to be discussed during a Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday. We’ll have more on RCD’s campaign here in just a few. So don’t go away, and if you do, come right back. We’re just getting warmed up.

—  John Wright