Former student files discrimination lawsuit against Birdville ISD


Isaiah Smith

Isaiah Smith, 20, filed a lawsuit against Birdville ISD for a three-day suspension that happened when he was a senior.

Smith said he carried his Bible to school with him. He was being bullied for being gay. Classmates would quote Leviticus to him and tell him he was going to hell.

So he ripped several pages of Leviticus out of his Bible and was later suspended. The school claimed that tearing the pages caused a disruption, but they never agreed that the bullying and name calling was wrong.

Smith is the teen that petitioned the Keller City Council to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy after collecting more than 2,000 signatures in 2012. Mayor Pat McGrail allowed Smith to present his petition and speak longer than the allotted public comment period.

He was assisted in filing the lawsuit by the American Humanist Association, claiming Birdville promoted Christianity and prayer meetings at school and making him feel unwelcome.


—  David Taffet

American Humanist Association represents Birdville student

Smith protest

Isaiah Smith at a protest last year

An attorney for the American Humanist Association sent a complaint to Birdville ISD in Tarrant County about the suspension of a North Richland Hills student.

Isaiah Smith was suspended after he ripped pages out of his Bible. Smith said the incident began when he was taunted and told he couldn’t be gay and Christian.

The American Humanist Association called the suspension for ripping a Bible a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. The attorney demands any record of the suspension be removed from Smith’s record. The full letter is here.

Comments to a previous Dallas Voice post and emails after that item ran indicate how emotionally charged the issue is. Numerous posters commented on Smith’s behavior in school.

He “doesn’t stand for the pledge or the U.S. national anthem, which shows much disrespect to this country,” one wrote.

“Isaiah Smith is not a saint,” Ashley Wilmot wrote in an email and described disruptive behavior by Smith in class and in band.

Other commenters were blatantly ignorant of the topic or used the language of bullies playing victim.

“I have a question for you, when you get older and have a mate, how are you both going to learn the beauty that lies within the struggle of loving the opposite sex?” Birgit Sellers asked in a comment.

Smith is openly gay and made news last year when he petitioned the Keller City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance.

—  David Taffet

Keller youth petitions his city to add LGBT protections

GSA president collected more than 2,000 signatures before making a presentation at City Hall

Keller High School student Isaiah Smith, right, collected signatures to urge his City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance. The mayor said the council has not decided whether to take action.

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

KELLER— Isaiah Smith, 16, made a presentation to the Keller City Council on April 17 after collecting the signatures from about 1,200 adult residents and  800 youth. He’s petitioning to his city to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in restaurants in the city.

“A person can be denied service at a restaurant,” he explained. “I view this as an injustice. All people should be treated equally.”

Smith was inspired by an episode of the ABC show What Would You Do? that was filmed at Norma’s Cafe in North Dallas. Actors played a waitress and a lesbian couple couple with kids,  and mostly patrons defended the lesbian couple.

Smith said that under state law, he needed to submit his petition to the city within 180 days of collecting the first signature.

He said he was the first signer on Oct. 22, making his deadline April 19.

Bernardo Vallarino from GLSEN Greater Dallas, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said: “He was very eloquent. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Vallarino postponed another meeting to attend and was delighted that he got to hear Smith speak.

“He was as good as any lawyer who addresses a city council,” Vallarino said, adding that Smith was a cut above most citizens who speak before council.

Vallarino said one of Smith’s best points that seemed to catch the attention of council members was that nondiscrimination affects everyone. Smith explained that no one should be singled out because of sexual orientation, whether gay or straight.

Assistant City Manager Steve Polacek said later of Smith: “We certainly appreciate his energy and respect his passion. He’s working for something he loves.”

Mayor Pat McGrail allowed Smith seven minutes to speak, more than the usual three minutes. After Smith finished, a counselor from the Keller school system addressed the council and told them that she is a lesbian and would benefit from having a nondiscrimination ordinance on the books.

Later in the week, Mayor McGrail said, “We certainly applaud Mr. Smith’s passion and commitment to his cause; however, council has not discussed nor decided on any action at this time.”

Soon after he began collecting the signatures, Smith was featured on the Channel 33 news. He said that after that, one woman recognized him and asked him if she could sign. Most of the signatures he gathered by going door to door and discussing discrimination with people in Keller.

Smith, who said he would like to enter politics, said he’s learned quite a bit about the law.

“I had some officers tell me I needed a solicitation permit,” he said. But an attorney confirmed to him that the type of canvassing he’s doing doesn’t require a permit.

“I spoke to the city secretary,” he said. He called her to ask about the procedure to submit a petition and have the signatures verified.

“She was shocked and said she never had a petition like that before,” he said.

He had copies of Dallas and Fort Worth nondiscrimination ordinances that are much broader, covering employment, housing and public accommodations.

“If you work in government, you need to make sure there’s no discrimination,” he said.

While he gets little support from his family, he said he gets lots of support at Keller High School.

“Middle school was hell on wheels,” he said. “But my school is very accepting.”

Keller High School had a controversy with its GSA when it first formed. A Facebook page appeared in October 2011 called “Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.” As a result of the controversy, the GSA had to move from a small classroom to a large lecture hall to accommodate the number of additional students who began participating.

Now the group has settled in, and Smith said they have movie nights and a number of regular activities.

“They tried to start a ‘straight alliance,’ but no teacher would sponsor,” Smith said. “My school won’t allow a bigoted organization to be part of the school.”

And if they did, they’d have to contend with Smith.

After the jump, the text of Smith’s council presentation:

—  David Taffet