DCCCD adds trans protections

LGBT community activists celebrate after DCCCD adopted new nondiscrimination policies on Tuesday

The Dallas County Community College District trustees voted during their monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3, to add gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policies.

Three policies were amended by the board. The first covers employees. Two others protect students.

The student policies added the wording into the school’s nondiscrimination policy and the student code of conduct.

After five speakers addressed the board and another five were scheduled to speak, board Chair Jerry Prater told the crowd that attended to support the policy, “We have gotten your message loud and clear.”

The protections passed by a vote of four to one. Trustee Bill Metzger was the only one to vote against the changes. Two trustees were absent, but would have probably voted for passage, according to staff who had worked on the measures.

DCCCD becomes the third community college in the state after San Jacinto College and Houston Community College to add trans protections. The Dallas school is the largest college in the state.

See this Friday’s Dallas Voice for additional coverage.

—  David Taffet

Victory in HCC trans discrimination case (sort of)

As previously reported by our friends over at the Dallas Voice, in September a Houston Community College teacher, Donny Leveston, led an in-class conversation about “Taboo: Incest and Homoeroticism” in which transgender people were referred to as “freaks” and “weirdos.” In an official response from the HCC Office of Institutional Equality the school admitted that the instructor acted insensitively and failed to show proper concern for a transgender student in the class who later withdrew from the school over the incident. Despite this, HCC found that Leveston did not violate the school’s policy against Discrimination and Harassment and will not be disciplined or required to attend training on transgender issues.

—  admin

Houston Community College teacher accused of referring to trans students as ‘freaks,’ ‘weirdos’

Donny Leveston, an English teacher at Houston Community College, is under fire for allegedly referring to transgender people as “freaks” and “weirdos.” The comments were made during an in-class student discussion of a paper written by the instructor entitled “Taboo: Incest and Homoeroticism.” According to a transgender student in the class, Leveston closed the discussion by saying, “I don’t care what those people do, as long as they keep it away from me.”

The student emailed Leveston and explained that his comments made her feel unwelcome in his class. Leveston responded that “everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion” and that the student should respect his right to feel uncomfortable with transgender people  “Everyone has the right to his or her own preference,” wrote Leveston, “just do not go trying to push your views on me. Case closed.”

Leveston didn’t  return calls seeking comment for this story.

Daniel Arguijo, chief communications officer for HCC, said the college is aware of the situation, and has reached out to both the student and Leveston to begin the process of addressing the allegations.

Lesa Spivey, director of public relations and media at HCC, said the school values diversity.

“We want all of our students and staff to feel comfortable in class,” she said.

HCC’s non-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression, but Spivey maintained that the inclusion of “sex” and “gender” in the policy covers the trans community.

“I can tell you for a fact that our policy includes transgender people,” Spivey said. “When we say sex and gender, for us, that’s all-inclusive.”

—  admin

Trans man Lance Reyna’s attacker has been released from jail, and he’s ‘about to lose it’

Terrance Calhoun

Back in June we told you about a brutal hate-crime attack against a transgender man inside a restroom on the campus of Houston Community College. Lance Reyna, a student-activist who’s both transgender and gay, was washing his hands when his attacker emerged from a stall and put a knife to his throat saying, “Hey queer, I need you to be quiet, cooperate, and give me all your valuables.” Reyna was knocked to the floor and beaten and kicked. His wallet and credit cards were taken. Terrance Calhoun, 22, was later arrested on campus and charged with aggravated robbery in the attack that occurred during Houston’s gay Pride week. Three months later, Calhoun has bonded out of jail as he awaits sentencing.

“I just got informed that my attacker is out of JAIL, someone please calm me down because I’m about to lose it,” Reyna wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

“I feel hopeless right now, plus all the bullying not being taken serious is something I can relate from my younger days in school,” he added Thursday night.

“Just spoke with HPD investigator, threatening text message has been documented. When number was ran it came up with a history,” Reyna wrote Friday morning.

Cristan Williams of the Houston-based Transgender Foundation for America reports on her blog that police don’t plan to pursue hate crime charges against Calhoun:

“Since the attacker won’t fess up to knowing that Lance was part of the GLBT community, he won’t be held accountable under State or Federal hate crime statutes and the case will be prosecuted as a simple assault,” Williams wrote. “As it stands now, he’s out of jail and may get off with a slap on the wrist and some community service because this is his, ‘first time offence’ (according to the DA’s office)!”

UPDATE: We spoke with Reyna on Friday afternoon, and he said Calhoun pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, earlier this month. Calhoun bonded out of jail this week while he awaits sentencing in early November, but Reyna said a prosecutor told him Calhoun could receive probation because it’s his first felony.

Reyna said the FBI investigated the case under the new federal hate crimes law that passed last year. However, because Calhoun wouldn’t admit that he targeted Reyna because he is transgender, the FBI opted not to pursue hate crimes charges. This was despite the fact that Calhoun used an anti-LGBT slur, “queer,” during the attack.

“I’m really disgusted with the way they don’t want to take things seriously,” Reyna said of authorities.

Reyna, who now attends the University of Houston, said Calhoun lives just a few blocks away from the campus, and he’s concerned for his safety. He said he hopes Calhoun is sentenced to at least 2 1/2 years behind bars, to give him a chance to finish school.

“That way, there would be less of a chance of me running into him,” Reyna said. “I had calmed down a little bit, but now I’m back to when it initially happened. I’m reliving the attack, and I don’t want to deal with the hell I went through right after it. It’s too much for me to deal with right now, just knowing he’s out on the streets.”

Reyna said it took him three weeks to recover from a concussion he sustained in the attack, and he’s currently undergoing counseling.

“They say have a lot of systems of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “I have my good days and bad days, buy my level of anxiety just went up a couple of notches with him getting out of jail.”

Reyna said he also received a threatening text message a few days before Calhoun got out, but he is unsure who sent it. He has reported the message to police.

Williams, of the TFA, said she’s concerned about the standard that’s apparently being used by authorities to determine whether offenses are hate crimes. Texas’ hate crimes statute doesn’t include protections for transgender people, but the new federal law does.

“Apparently the attackers just have to come out and say, ‘Yes it’s a hate crime. I hate them, I was motivated by hate, now take me off to jail,'” Williams said. “Basically, unless they can have evidence that is beyond the pale, that is incontrovertible, they can’t prosecute it is as a hate crime.

“It would break if my heart, and it would make me lose a lot of respect for our legal system, if this guy gets off with a slap on the wrist and some community service after attacking a trans man with a deadly weapon and sending him to the hospital,” Williams said.

—  John Wright

Classmate arrested in hate-crime attack on transgender Houston Community College student Lance Reyna

Lance Reyna

One of Lance Reyna’s classmates has been arrested in the transgender student-activist’s hate-crime beating inside a Houston Community College restroom last week, The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday evening.

Terrance Calhoun, 22, was arrested on campus Wednesday and charged with aggravated robbery in the attack on 29-year-old Lance Reyna.

Reyna was washing his hands when his attacker emerged from a stall and put a knife to his throat saying, “Hey queer, I need you to be quiet, cooperate, and give me all your valuables.” Reyna, who is both transgender and gay, was knocked to the floor and beaten and kicked. His wallet and credit cards were taken.

Reyna told The Chroncile he’s slightly relieved about the arrest but still feels he was targeted and won’t be satisfied until Calhoun is convicted of a hate crime. Unfortunately, prosecutors say it’s unlikely they’ll pursue a hate-crime charge. Again, that’s because Texas law provides no enhanced penalty for hate crimes if the offense is already a first-degree felony, such as aggravated robbery.

While aggravated robbery is punishable by life in prison, it is difficult for law enforcement to send a message — or for the statute to act as a deterrent — if cases aren’t formally prosecuted as hate crimes. Furthermore, Texas’ hate crimes law doesn’t protect transgender people, so if the case were prosecuted as a hate crime, defense attorneys could try to argue that the statute doesn’t apply, even though Reyna is also gay.

From The Chronicle:

The victim, who has been active in transgender and other gay and lesbian organizations, said he still suffers pain from his injuries. “I don’t feel safe on campus,” he said. “Just looking at the building triggers my memories. I deal with night terrors every day.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: Houston hate crime victim speaks out

Last week we told you about Lance Reyna, a transgender man who was beaten and robbed at knifepoint on the campus of Houston Community College a few days before the city’s Pride celebration. ABC 13 caught up with Reyna during Pride, and he’s speaking out about the incident:

“He was like, ‘Hey queer, I need you to be quiet, cooperate, and give me all your valuables,'” Reyna said.

But Reyna put up a fight.

“He punched me here and elbowed me in the same spot and by that time I’m falling to the floor,” said Reyna. “He just kept punching me and kicked me and took my wallet and ran off.”

Reyna chased after him but he got away. The attack left the student with a concussion. But that’s not what hurts him the most.

“With it being pride week this week, it makes me feel like I’m a target,” he said.

Reyna is still shaken but instead of letting fear force him into silence, he is facing adversity head on and speaking out.

“I shouldn’t have to be ashamed to walk down the street because I present myself in a different way,” Reyna said. “I feel the person I am on the inside shouldn’t be affected by how I look on the outside.”

—  John Wright

Trans activist robbed, beaten in apparent hate crime at Houston Community College

Lance Reyna (Houston Chronicle)

A transgender activist and student at Houston Community College was beaten and robbed at knifepoint Tuesday in what he says was a hate crime, The Houston Chronicle reports.

Lance Reyna, 29, says his attacker uttered a sexual epithet in a “flamboyant,” mocking tone before putting a knife to his throat in a campus bathroom. Reyna is well known on campus as a trans activist. Reyna suffered a concussion and lost his wallet. His credit cards were later used for purchases. The attack occurred days before this weekend’s Houston Pride celebration.

Reyna told the Chronicle he believes the attack should be prosecuted under Texas’ hate crimes law, but there are two problems here. One, the 2001 law doesn’t cover transgender people, and two, aggravated robbery is already a first-degree felony, meaning there is no sentencing enhancement available.

What the Chronicle’s story doesn’t say is that the crime could and should be prosecuted under the federal hate crimes law passed in October. In fact, one of the biggest benefits to the federal law for people in Texas is that it covers trans people, whereas state law does not.

We spoke with Randall Terrell, political director at Equality Texas, about the case this morning. Terrell agreed the case would be difficult to prosecute under state law.

“If the guy believes that any transgender person is also gay and that’s why he attacked, there may be a sexual orientation element in there,” he said. “But if it’s just because of gender identity, it’s going to be hard to prosecute.”

Terrell also agreed that the feds can intervene because the new hate crimes law calls for that when a state lacks jurisdiction, which is the case in Texas when it comes to gender identity. A federal prosecution could carry an additional penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

—  John Wright