Is DISD refusing to protect gay kids from bullying?

We’ve been told repeatedly in recent weeks that DISD’s board of trustees planned to put off a vote on a new bullying policy until officials could further discuss whether it should enumerate specific categories of students who would be protected, including those who are targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

So it comes as quite a surprise that this Thursday’s board agenda includes an item calling for approval, on second reading, of the same non-inclusive bullying policy that was initially proposed by the DISD administration. If you’ll recall, the non-inclusive policy prompted objections from LGBT groups, and at least two DISD trustees responded by saying they’d propose a substitute that enumerates specific protections.

We’ve got calls in to district spokesman Jon Dahlander, as well as trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, to find out what’s going on. But for the record, Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas is concerned:

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Based on the conversations with several board members, this proposed policy doesn’t reflect the information we gave them and how they responded to us.”

McDonnell notes that the only apparent change in the proposed policy since it was first introduced is the addition of the following paragraph at the very top:

—  John Wright

DART guts transgender policy

Closed-door session leads to proposal that could take protections from gay and lesbian employees and offer none to transgender employees

By John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

LGBT advocates expressed outrage this week after learning that Dallas Area Rapid Transit had effectively gutted a months-old proposal to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Following a 30-minute closed-door session to discuss the new policy on Tuesday, June 15, DART’s Board of Directors hastily approved an amendment stating that the agency won’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no state or federal employment protections for LGBT people, the amendment could allow DART to discriminate against workers based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT legal experts said the amendment would not only nullify the addition to the policy of gender identity, but it would also rescind DART’s protections for sexual orientation, enacted in 1995.

Cece Cox, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said she felt the LGBT community’s “trust has been shattered.”

“Without answers from DART, we are left to speculate that DART does not care about equity for LGBT people and even perhaps that this was deliberately sabotaged,” Cox said in a statement released Thursday. “We have not seen action like this since ExxonMobil rescinded employment protections at their merger in the most crass display of disregard for their LGBT employees in recent corporate history. A final vote has not taken place. DART has time to do the right thing. If it does not, DART should be prepared for outrage from the LGBTA community.”

The DART Board of Directors is scheduled to take a final vote on the new policy Tuesday, June 22. The proposal to add gender identity to the policy came about in response to allegations that the agency discriminated against a transgender bus driver.

RCD spokesman Rafael McDonnell said the nature of the LGBT community’s presence at next Tuesday’s meeting likely will depend on what happens in the meantime.

“The question is going to be, are they going to change the language?” McDonnell said Thursday. “Do they get that the language is bad? And if so, what are they doing about it? I think that will reflect the tone of what we do on Tuesday.”

By noon Thursday, DART officials gave no indication they planned to revisit the amendment, which was caught by Dallas Voice after the agency forwarded a draft of the policy to the newspaper on Wednesday afternoon.

In response to questions about the amendment, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons insisted that the agency’s intent is to add gender identity to the policy and become more inclusive.

But Lyons couldn’t explain the reason for the amendment, and he denied requests for an interview with the agency’s attorneys.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said he felt the community had been “royally screwed” by DART.

“It’s exactly the opposite of what they promised they were doing,” Upton said. “After all the work that’s gone into this, if this is what comes out of it, then we got nothing. They can say that’s not what they intended, but that’s what it says.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice