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

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