HISD Trustee Eastman to hold community meeting on anti-bullying efforts

Anna Eastman

HISD Trustee Anna Eastman

Houston Independent School District Trustee Anna Eastman has announced a special meeting for constituents in her District I to discuss anti-bullying programs currently implemented in HISD on Tuesday, February 7. The meeting, at Reagan High School (413 E 13th), coincides with HISD’s Anti-Bullying Awareness Week.

Guests include Kim A. Case of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Martin B. Cominsky of the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Fisher of +Works, a national, Houston-based anti-bullying organization.

Eastman has been on the forefront of anti-bullying efforts in HISD since joining the board of trustees in 2009, helping push through actions by the board last summer that protect students from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

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No action from HISD Board on anti-LGBT flier

Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

It’s been 36 days since news first broke that HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriquez was distributing an anti-LGBT flier as part of his campaign, yet the HISD board has still taken to action to reprimand their colleague. As previously reported by Houstini, at some point toward the end of early voting during the fall municipal elections Rodriquez began distributing a flier that encouraged Houstonians to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because Fonseca had a history of activism for LGBT issues, was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, had no children and had a “male partner.” The net effect of the flier was a statement that gay men are not fit for public office. Rodriquez later appeared on Spanish language television and said that he did not understand “why an unmarried 54-year-old man would want access to children.

At the board’s monthly meeting last night trustees considered adopting an ethics policy that would instruct trustees to “make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of all children in the District, regardless of ability, race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sex, age, disability, ancestry, marital status, veteran status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/ or social standing.” The enumerated list of attributes was added to the draft policy after community outrage at Rodriquez’s flier. After trustees raised concerns about other portions of the ethics policy the measure was tabled until an indefinite date. At this time there is no commitment from the HISD Board of Trustees to resume consideration of the policy.

As happened at the board’s November meeting several HISD students spoke to the board requesting that action be taken against Rodriguez. Sergio, a freshman at Milby High School, told Rodriguez “your fliers make me feel inferior,” adding “what makes you think a bully should be my representative?” Micheal, a Milby sophomore, spoke in similar terms “I have been bullied throughout Elementary and Middle School… I don’t want a bully representing HISD.” Christine Farley, the school nurse at Milby and co-sponsor of the schools Gay Straight Alliance spoke eloquently, decrying Rodriquez’s “dirty politicking” and criticizing his lack of contrition: “You have made to attempt to apologize to my students.”

Several community leaders also addressed the board, echoing the call for action or at least a sincere apology. Cristan Williams, executive director of the Transgender Foundation of America, said that she did not believe that Rodriquez understood why the community was upset. “I’ve not yet heard a type of an apology that fully recognizes the message that was sent,” said Williams. “Just because someone is GLBT, or a part of the GLBT community does not mean that they are a pedophile or should be excluded from our culture.” Lou Weaver read a resolution from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus adding his own comments. “Students, faculty and staff should all be held responsible for their actions, board members should be no exception,” said Weaver. “Don’t use your biases to get elected.”

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Local activists continue effort to remove Rodriguez

Rodriguez Protest

Protesors, led by Mike Pomeroy, outside of the November 10 HISD Board meeting

The controversy over an anti-LGBT flier distributed by HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez continues to snowball. Activists organizing on the website hisdbully.org and led by Mike Pomeroy and Cristan Williams are planning to protest at the HISD Board Meeting December 8. The protest, which begins at 4:30  pm outside the Hattie May White Center (4400 West 18th Street) where the School Board meets, is part of a two pronged approach that includes speakers directly confronting Rodriguez during the period allowed for public comments at the meeting.

As previously reported by Houstini, At some point towards the end of early voting during the fall municipal elections Rodriquez began distributing a flier that encouraged Houstonians to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because Fonseca had a history of activism for LGBT issues, was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, had no children and had a “male partner.” The flier came within a hair’s breadth of saying “don’t vote for gay people” without actually saying it.

The Houston LGBT Political Caucus discovered the flier and began bringing it to the public’s attention on Friday, November 4, the last day of early voting. By election day, November 8, the flier had become national news. Rodriguez received 916 votes in early voting, Fonseca 814. On election day, after the flier became public knowledge, Rodriguez garnered 1,485 votes to Fonseca’s 1,563. Rodriquez’s pre-election day lead was sufficient to put him into office by 24 votes.

On November 10, at the Houston Independent School Board’s monthly meeting, Rodriguez heard from students, parents and teachers in the district furious at him for perpetuating anti-LGBT sentiment. Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus revealed to the board that, in addition to distributing the flier, Rodriguez made additional homophobic remarks to local Spanish-language media.

What you all might not know is that [Rodriguez] also went on television and said that he ‘just couldn’t understand why an unmarried 54-year-old man would want access to children.’ That statement in and of itself and the implication contained within is representable and discusting.”

In response to the public outcry the HISD Board President Paula Harris pledged that the board would reconsider their code of ethics for trustees to address such behavior. The board is scheduled to consider the revised code of ethics next week at the November 8 meeting.

The organizers of the protest ask that people planning to attend RSVP on the Facebook event they created. Anyone wishing to speak at the Board Meeting must sign up online by 4:30 pm on Wednesday, December 7. The Board receives public comments at the end of each meeting, which can be quite late in the evening.

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Website shines spotlight on Rodriquez

Rodriquez

Manuel Rodriquez

Houston Independent School Board Member Manuel Rodriguez has the dubious distinction of being the sole topic of a new website: hisdbully.org. The site seeks to remove Rodriquez from office for anti-gay comments and literature made during his recent re-election campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, Rodriguez’s campaign distributed a flier that encouraged voters to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because of Fonseca’s history of LGBT activism and because he is gay. Rodriquez also made comments during an interview with a Spanish language station asking why a 50-something year old man with no children was seeking access to children.

“We were encountering so many different people who were outraged by the behavior of Manny Rodriguez, who wanted to do something but weren’t sure what they should do,” said Mike Pomeroy, one of the organizers of the site.  “We needed an easy way to disseminate the information as far and wide as possible, to compile all of the relevant media attention that the issue has received, and to focus the energies of all the disparate individuals who wanted to address the issue, so that we could all work together with the same goal in mind.”

The site includes a petition calling for Rodriguez’s resignation.

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