A unanimous decision to add gender identity and perceived sexuality to the El Paso Independent School District’s nondiscrimination policy brought tears and hope Tuesday.
Board President Isela Castañon-Williams began crying after the vote because her son, Antonio, is gay, The El Paso Times reports.
“I know what it’s like going to school because of people who would bully us because we’re gay,” Williams told the board before the vote. “It can adversely affect the welfare of students who are different and that environment can create hostility.”
The policy previously prohibited discrimination against any student because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other chararistic prohibited by law.
Advocates of the updated policy said it would help prevent LGBT bullying in light of 16-year-old El Paso teen Brandon Elizares, who took his life June 2 after enduring relentless bullying since coming out in 2010.
Elizares’s mother said she thought the policy change was a “baby step” to future prevention and only time would tell if it would help.
“We can ask about it a year from now and see how well it’s worked,” she said. “I didn’t see anything at any of the schools my kids attended about any anti-bullying campaign or anything. If they did have it, I as a parent didn’t know about it, and I was going to the school every day.”
Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso and community liaison for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Anti-Bullying Coalition, said the LGBT community has been the target of three-quarters of bullying cases in El Paso.
The school district will offer safe zone training to teachers with help from PFLAG and University of Texas of El Paso’s Social Work Department so students can know where to go if they need to talk. The district will also begin an anti-bullying campaign this fall with activities and events to help prevent bullying and promote acceptance.