Point Foundation honors Tyler Clementi with scholarship named after him

The Point Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships for LGBT students, this week announced the creation of a new scholarship named after Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide last fall after his roommate and another student secretly videotaped him having sex with another man and posted the video online.

Tyler Clementi

Clementi’s death, on Sept. 22, was one of a string of gay teen suicides that sparked a national conversation over anti-LGBT bullying and prompted a number of highly-visible campaigns against bullying.

According to a press release from The Point Foundation, the foundation created the scholarship “with the cooperation of Clementi’s parents, Joe and Jane, to honor his memory and to further the efforts to end the bullying that many LGBT youth face within education environments.” A statement attributed to Joe and Jane Clementi said: “Our son Tyler was a kind and gentle young man who enjoyed helping people. This scholarship will help college students and it will raise awareness of young people who are subject to abuse through malicious bullying — and so it will help people in Tyler’s memory.”

The Point Foundation has already set aside funds for the Tyler Clementi Scholarship, and will accept donations in his name from the public and current Point Foundation supporters. Donations can be made online at PointFoundation.org or by phone at 866-33-POINT.

—  admin

Burns to attend White House anti-bullying summit

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host an anti-bullying conference at the White House on Thursday, March 10. City councilman Joel Burns will attend.

Students, parents and teachers will discuss how to stop bullying with the president and first lady. They issued an invitation on facebook to join the conversation about stopping bullying at StopBullying.gov.

The president and first lady will open the meeting in the East Room of the White House. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will participate in the afternoon.

Topics listed for discussion in smaller groups include in-school policies, in-school programs, community-based programs, cyber bullying and campus-based programs.

StopBullying.gov confronts the issue of bullying against the LGBT community squarely addressing the issue on the site’s front page and linking to a section of resources that begins with a statement of rights.

A 2009 survey of 7,000 LGBT youth found that:

  • Eight in 10 LGBT students had been verbally harassed at school
  • Four in 10 had been physically harassed at school
  • Six in 10 felt unsafe at school
  • One in five had been the victim of a physical assault at school

 

—  David Taffet

Students launch gay group at Baylor University

More than 50 students reportedly met last week to discuss forming an LGBT student group at Baylor University. (Baylor Lariat)

Patti Fink, a Baylor University alum who serves as president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, alerted us to this story from the Baylor Lariat newspaper about a new group for LGBT students at the Baptist school in Waco:

The group, named the Sexual Identity Forum, is in the process of applying to be an officially chartered student organization at Baylor, and its founding members expect a final decision on the chartering to be made before the end of the month.

Alvarado senior Samantha Jones, the organization’s president who affirmed during the meeting that she is openly gay, said she was motivated to start a discussion group because she believes the administration has not always been accepting of students with alternative sexual identities.

“I feel as though the student body in and of itself is very welcoming,” Jones said. “Everyone I’ve come out to or approached has been very welcoming and very compassionate and tolerant. I feel as though the high administration … refuses to recognize that there are gay students on campus, and they refuse to allow a group like this to exist.”

The story goes on to say that Baylor prohibits students from participating “in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” However, the university’s director of students services wouldn’t comment on whether the Sexual Identity Forum is likely to receive a charter.

This is a remarkable development at a school where Kenneth Starr is president and where, in the past, students have been expelled for being gay.

UPDATE: The group’s charter has been denied. Read more here.

—  John Wright

Bullying from a different source?

Student at arts magnet school says she was bullied by a teacher; advocates say policy dealing with faculty behavior needs changes

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Delaney Hillan

Delaney Hillan kissed her girlfriend in the hall at school, and that’s when the trouble started.

Hillan, who came out during her junior year in high school, is now a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She said she didn’t expect to have problems being gay at the magnet school, but, she added, at least one teacher had problems with it.

“A teacher yelled at us [when I kissed my girlfriend] and said she didn’t want to see any of this again,” Hillan said, adding that the teacher threatened to report the incident.

Hillan said she understood that official school policy was no public displays of affection in school. But she said the kiss was more a “bye, see you later” kiss than making out in the hall. It was much less than what goes on regularly between heterosexual couples in school, she said.
And she wasn’t the only student to ever kiss her girlfriend in the school.

“It’s Booker T!” she said, the school many LGBT students choose to attend because it’s considered a safe place to go to school.
But the teacher persisted.

A few days later, Hillan said she was walking down the hall and the same teacher was standing outside her classroom. She stopped Hillan as she was passing to again admonish her.

Hillan said the teacher told her, “I want you to know I’m very disappointed in your behavior this year. I don’t appreciate your being so flagrant about it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

Hillan’s mother picked her up from school that day, and when she got in the car, she said, she began to cry.

“I never felt so dehumanized,” Hillan said.

With her mother’s support, Hillan spoke to the principal who said she would talk to the teacher.

“Ever since then, she’s been nice to me,” Hillan said.

She spoke sympathetically of the teacher and said she understood the source of the bullying was the teacher’s religious background. But she doesn’t want another student to feel dehumanized in school again.

“Booker T. Washington’s a place where you are accepted,” she said. “The rules and policies at the school are accepting of all.”

Hillan said school is a place of trust and not somewhere a student should ever feel attacked.

This year, Hillan is president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She has demonstrated with QueerLiberaction and she wanted to speak up for other students, especially those in less-safe environments.

“Students are pushed, yelled at and spit on,” she said. “Even if they’re not openly gay, but others think they are, they’re isolated. It’s hard to make friends when you have that label put on you.”

Kristine Vowels has worked on LGBT issues from within Dallas Independent School District for several years. She told Hillan that the DISD board was holding an open hearing about a new, inclusive anti-bullying policy and that she could tell her story to the public.

Hillan said speaking to the board in front of the packed room at the DISD meeting didn’t bother her.

“Maybe because I’m a theater major,” she said, “but I wanted to get across what was important.”

“Why would you go to a place you were scared of?” Hillan said.

Andy Moreno

Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell said that the recently approved anti-bullying policy goes a long way to protect students throughout the school district.

But, he noted, the policy adopted addresses students, not faculty and staff. He said that the employee manual needs to reflect new policies in the student handbook.

McDonnell also said that training must be implemented to make sure faculty and staff understand what constitutes bullying against LGBT students and what they must do to stop it.

The anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression. The harassment policy already included sexual orientation and now must be updated similarly, McDonnell said.

That policy was written in the mid-1990s with the assistance of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. However, protected groups should be consistent across different areas of conduct, McDonnell said.

He said that there must be a safe way for students to report bullying. “It’s harder to report your teacher,” McDonnell said.

Hillan had a receptive principal who didn’t hesitate to take action. But in the case of transgender student Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School, the bullying allegedly came from her principal.

Moreno wanted to run for homecoming queen but was stopped by the school’s new principal. But rather than just stopping her bid, Moreno thought the principal’s words crossed over into bullying.

The principal allegedly called Moreno an “it, or whatever you are” and threatened to close the school’s GSA in retaliation for Moreno speaking to Dallas Voice.

DISD trustee Lew Blackburn has said that the district needs a district-wide policy on homecoming elections.

Moreno believed that if a teacher were speaking to her inappropriately, she could have turned to the principal, but in her case there was nowhere to turn other than the press.

Hillan thinks the solution is simpler than that. Any bullying by faculty and staff needs to stop.

“Students shouldn’t be afraid to go to school,” Hillan said. “And I shouldn’t be afraid of my teachers.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

DISD approves LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

William Morvant, a gay student at Booker T. Washington High School, addresses the DISD board of trustees while other audience members from the LGBT community stand in support on Thursday.

Following a discussion in which several named their own personal schoolyard tormentor, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a comprehensive new bullying policy that specifically protects LGBT students.

Trustees also heard from several members of the LGBT community, including two students, before voting 9-0 to approve the policy, enacted in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides across the nation.

The policy, spearheaded by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, reportedly makes DISD the first district in the state to specifically prohibit bullying based on both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“School should be one of those places that we call a safe haven,” said Blackburn, who said his bully “Brandon” took his lunch money every day. “If we are fearful for our physical being, then our intellectual being is not going to benefit.”

Blackburn said the board tried to make the policy as inclusive as possible and drew on policies from Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles and Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the administration will implement this policy with full vigor whereby all of our students will have protections,” Blackburn said. “Safe schools is one of our goals, it’s always been one of our goals. It’s not only about somebody coming to a school building with a gun or a knife. Safe schools mean being safe from people like Brandon.”

Nutall took the opportunity to apologize to DISD students who’ve been bullied, including those who spoke Thursday.

“I commend you on your courage for coming down here and telling your story,” Nutall said, adding that her bully is now in prison. “I apologize that we didn’t act on this faster.”

William Morvant, a gay student at DISD’s Booker T. Washington High School, told the board he came out in seventh grade and attempted suicide twice. He said his memories of DISD will be mostly of bullying, harassment and being called “inhumane words.”

“I’m here to speak today because if this policy were in tact, I believe I would have had a better growing up experience in school,” Morvant said. “I wouldn’t have had to go taking 20 pain pills to kill myself to get rid of the pain, cutting just to get those words that I was called out.”

Others from the LGBT community who addressed the board prior to the vote were Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas; Omar Narvaez, vice president of LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council; Delaney Hillan, also a student at Booker T. Washington; and Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Dozens more from the community attended the meeting, standing when speakers took the microphone and erupting in applause after the vote.

—  John Wright

A revised draft of DISD’s new bullying policy

Lew Blackburn

If you’ll remember, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees moved forward last Thursday with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. The LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, which would be the first in the state, was brought forward by trustees Lew Blackburn and Bernadette Nutall after a previous proposal from the administration failed to enumerate protected groups.

Today, Blackburn was kind enough to send over a revised draft of the LGBT-inclusive policy, which reflects some minor changes suggested by trustees during Thursday’s meeting.

“The changes are mostly formatting, with a few wordings that individual trustees wanted to add for greater clarity,” Blackburn said. “We are scheduled to vote on the policy next week.”

Read the revised draft of the policy by going here. Next week’s meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium, at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

Dallas City Council resolution condemns bullying, notes that LGBT students are often the victims

As Unfair Park first reported last week, the Dallas City Council on Wednesday will consider a resolution to condemn all bullying, harassment and intimidation at schools in the city. The two-page resolution, submitted by seven council members, notes that “children and youth with disabilities and children and youth who are lesbian, gay, or trans-gender, or who are perceived to be so, [are] at particularly high risk of being bullied by their peers … ”

The resolution was submitted by Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano, Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Steve Salazar and Tennell Atkins. If you’ll remember, Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, addressed the City Council and requested just such a resolution three weeks ago (you can watch video of Piazza’s remarks here). Since then, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees has opted to move forward with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. So at this point the City Council resolution is like icing on the cake. And just in case you really like icing, we’ve posted the full text below.

—  John Wright

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

Trustee says DISD administration resisting protections for gay students in bullying policy

Bernadette Nutall

The Dallas Independent School District’s administration is reportedly resisting an effort to include specific protections for LGBT students in a new bullying policy, setting up a possible showdown over the issue during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday that the district’s attorneys are objecting to her proposal to list categories of protected students in the bullying policy, because they say it could open up the district up to lawsuits from those who are left out.

Nutall said she submitted a fully inclusive policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the administration on Tuesday, Nov. 2. However, the administration has posted a noninclusive version of the policy that doesn’t list any categories of protected students on Thursday’s agenda.

Nuttall encouraged people in the LGBT community to attend the board meeting and speak in support of the substitute policy she’s proposing along with Trustee Lew Blackburn. Those who wish to speak at the meeting must sign up by calling 972-925-3720 before 5 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the board room at district offices, 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to put it in there,” Nutall said. “I was very frustrated. I really don’t understand the resistance. I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer, but I’m finding out that it’s not. … The community needs to drive this policy.”

A DISD spokeswoman said the board of trustees will discuss the proposed bullying policy on Thursday but will not take a final vote.

“They will be talking about the policy that you see [on the agenda], and they can add or change the language as they see fit,” the spokeswoman said. “Tomorrow’s briefing will kind of determine what direction this is going to take and what additional language, if any, they want to see.”

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said Wednesday that at least three LGBT leaders, including himself, plan to speak at Thursday’s meeting. The others are Jesse Garcia, president of the LULAC Rainbow Council, and Roger Poindexter, the new director for Lambda Legal’s South Central Region.

McDonnell said he’ll request that the board of trustees delay consideration of the bullying policy until it can further discussed.

“Even if people don’t want to speak, I think we need to pack the chambers,” McDonnell said, noting that many other school districts around the nation have adopted fully inclusive bullying policies without objections from attorneys. “Clearly there are other legal minds who come to a different answer.”

—  John Wright

Is DISD refusing to protect gay kids from bullying?

We’ve been told repeatedly in recent weeks that DISD’s board of trustees planned to put off a vote on a new bullying policy until officials could further discuss whether it should enumerate specific categories of students who would be protected, including those who are targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

So it comes as quite a surprise that this Thursday’s board agenda includes an item calling for approval, on second reading, of the same non-inclusive bullying policy that was initially proposed by the DISD administration. If you’ll recall, the non-inclusive policy prompted objections from LGBT groups, and at least two DISD trustees responded by saying they’d propose a substitute that enumerates specific protections.

We’ve got calls in to district spokesman Jon Dahlander, as well as trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, to find out what’s going on. But for the record, Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas is concerned:

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Based on the conversations with several board members, this proposed policy doesn’t reflect the information we gave them and how they responded to us.”

McDonnell notes that the only apparent change in the proposed policy since it was first introduced is the addition of the following paragraph at the very top:

—  John Wright