Spokesman says DISD too busy with budget cuts to discuss trangender homecoming issue

A rally in support of Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School in October. Since then we haven’t heard much from DISD, or the LGBT community, about trying to come up with a policy that would avoid such controversies in the future.

Here’s the reply we received late Monday from DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, after we inquired about whether district officials have discussed a possible policy change related to gender and homecoming elections in response to last year’s controversy at North Dallas High School:

“I don’t know if there have been additional discussions regarding that particular issue. Most of our time right now is devoted to paying attention to what is taking place in Austin and planning for next year’s budget accordingly. A $253 million budget deficit would wipe out a lot of things in our school district. If I hear of something, I’ll let you know.”

We certainly sympathize with Dahlander and other DISD officials as they try to deal with the impending budget crisis, but we also hope his statement indicates that the district is open to taking up the transgender homecoming issue as soon as possible. After all, it’s been almost five months since transgender girl Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at NDHS. The district should be commended for, in the meantime, passing a fully inclusive anti-bullying policy that is the first of its kind in the state. But this doesn’t mean the district’s work — or the LGBT community’s work — is done. For one thing, we need to ensure that the anti-bullying policy is properly implemented and enforced. And for another, while the anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression, the district’s employment nondiscrimination policy does not. In other words, it’s now against DISD policy for a student to bully another student for being transgender, but it’s not against DISD policy for the district to fire a teacher for being transgender. And, apparently, it isn’t against DISD policy for an administrator to discriminate against a student for being transgender, as in the case of Andy Moreno. On Tuesday night I sat in a Stonewall Democrats meeting and listened to a gay student talk about the resistance he’s faced from administrators in trying to establish a GSA at Woodrow Wilson High School. So while the budget situation is critical, let’s also remember that for some LGBTQA youth, the issues we’re raising could be a matter of life and death.

—  John Wright

Mich. school’s policy change presents opportunity to revisit transgender homecoming issue in Dallas

Andy Moreno

Remember Andy Moreno, the transgender girl who was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School?

Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that North Dallas isn’t the only school in the country that’s had to deal with this issue. But unlike NDHS or DISD, schools in other districts appear to be learning from their mistakes and drafting policies to avoid a repeat of the problem. For example, the NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich., reported Monday that students at Mona Shores High School will henceforth select a gender-neutral homecoming court:

The change comes about five months after a transgender student wasn’t allowed to run for homecoming king at Mona Shores.

Oakleigh Reed is registered at the school as a girl, but plans to undergo a sex change upon turning 18. Reed identifies as a boy, and students and teachers at Mona Shores recognize Oak that way, as well.

Reed was disqualified from running for homecoming king in September. Since last fall, school officials have been trying to figure out a way to avoid a similar situation from happening again.

The solution?

The juniors and seniors will vote on a gender-neutral prom court this spring. The policy will stand for future homecoming events, as well. There will be two juniors and two seniors on the courts; the sex of the students won’t be considered.

“I’m so glad that the rules have been changed,” Reed said in a news release from the ACLU. “All I wanted was a chance for all students to participate and be heard. Now, my classmates and I can just focus on having a great time at our school dance.”

We’ve contacted Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the Dallas Independent School District, to find out whether there have been any further discussions about this issue since the Andy Moreno controversy in October. We’ve also left a message with Dinnah Escanilla, the principal at North Dallas High School who told Moreno she couldn’t run for queen because she was born a boy — a decision that the district stood behind.

We’ll let you know what we find out.


—  John Wright

U.S. Department of Education warns schools that anti-gay bullying can violate civil rights laws

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

“It Gets Better” has been a success. Videos and public appearances by people like Councilman Joel Burns led to videos by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A transgender North Dallas High School student’s attempt to run for homecoming queen ended with a rally of support at her school as well as an appearance on MTV.

Many young people have gotten the message but so have school districts and even the U.S. Department of Education.

The education department announced Tuesday that school districts that do nothing to combat bullying will lose money. The letter said the guidelines “do include protection against harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics as well as gender and sexual harassment of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals.”

The announcement also said that the White House will convene a conference on bullying early next year.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said:

“Bullying is a problem that shouldn’t exist. No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others. To every student who feels threatened or harassed—for whatever reason—please know that you are not alone. Please know that there are people who love you. And please know that we will protect you.”

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Laura Bush speaks out against anti-gay bullying, says she’s proud of Joel Burns

Last week we noted that former first lady and Dallas resident Laura Bush, despite her stated support for equality for same-sex couples and her longtime focus on education, hadn’t said anything about the gay teen bullying and suicide crisis. Well who knows, maybe she was listening, because while Bush hasn’t yet made her own “It Gets Better” video, she did say this about the subject in an interview with ABC News (video above):

“Bullying in every kind, certainly gay teens, is really, really terrible, but any children, is terrible. And schools really need to make sure that bullying is not going on,” Bush says. “I was proud of the Fort Worth city councilmember [Joel Burns] that talked about it. I think that’s part of the ‘It’ll get better’ project. I think that’s what he said to children, to young gay teenagers is, ‘It will get better,’ and it’s really important for us to not allow bullying of any kind in schools.”

Coincidentally, Bush goes on to talk about a recent visit to North Dallas High School, which is where transgender student Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen. Have a look.

—  John Wright

North Texas becomes the gay news capital of the world — at least for a few weeks

In my 3½ years at Dallas Voice, I can’t remember a two-week period when North Texas generated so much national attention for a series of different LGBT-related stories. There was, of course, the Rainbow Lounge raid last year, but that was really one huge story, not four big ones.

First, there was Andy Moreno’s bid to become homecoming queen at North Dallas High School. Then there was Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns “It Gets Better” speech. Then there was the Dallas Police Department’s raid of The Club Dallas. And now, there’s Jon Langbert’s battle against the Boy Scouts, which landed him on national TV last night. Here’s the video:

—  John Wright

WATCH: MTV News on Joel Burns, Andy Moreno

MTV News came to North Texas last week to interview Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns about his “It Gets Better” speech, but they ended up sticking around for Thursday’s rally in support of Andy Moreno outside North Dallas High School. Actually it looks like they missed most of the rally itself. But anyhow, the best thing about these two clips is that you can watch ‘em both in about 2 ½ minutes.

—  John Wright

DISD trustee to propose LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, transgender homecoming guidelines

Lew Blackburn

Lew Blackburn, a member of the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees, said Monday he plans to propose an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for LGBT students.

DISD is already considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, it doesn’t spell out the categories of students who would be protected. Last week, Resource Center Dallas asked DISD to add protections for specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Several youth across the nation who were gay or perceived to be gay have committed suicide in response to bullying and harassment in recent weeks.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn told Instant Tea on Monday. “What I’m doing is looking at policies across the nation, not just in Texas. I’m looking for something more wide-ranging.

“I’m still doing some research, and what I’m hoping to do is come back to the administration with a revision to what they have proposed with some additional language that other states are using,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s going to be up for approval next week, but I’m going to try to have it delayed for another month so we can get more language into the policy.”

Blackburn encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees about the new anti-bullying policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on DISD’s website.

We also asked Blackburn about the recent controversy involving Andy Moreno, the transgender girl who was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School.

Blackburn responded that he plans to ask the administration to draft a policy on the subject and bring it to the board of trustees for consideration. He said he’s concerned that in the absence of such a policy, principals at different schools could reach different decisions.

“I would like for us to be consistent district-wide,” Blackburn said. “We need to start talking about it so that we have something in policy before the start of school for next year. It’s new territory for us, and I think we need to take our time and do it right.”

—  John Wright

Scenes from today’s rally outside North Dallas High School in support of Andy Moreno

If you turn on the local TV news tonight, you’ll undoubtedly see coverage of today’s rally outside North Dallas High School in support of Andy Moreno, the transgender girl whose principal decided she wasn’t fit to run for homecoming queen. A dozen or so protesters from Queer LiberAction gathered on a street corner in front of the school at about 3:30 p.m. As the bell rang a few minutes later and students poured down the front steps, QL organizer Elizabeth Pax yelled through a megaphone for those who support Andy to join the protesters. Hundreds of students swarmed the street corner, cheering and chanting as Moreno stood alongside Pax looking on. Crews from several local TV stations, as well as from CNN and MTV News, were on hand. The protesters and students, including Moreno, eventually marched up and down Cole Avenue yelling things like “Who’s queen? Our queen!” as police and school officials watched nearby. We’ll post a full story and video from the rally shortly. More pics below.

UPDATE: We’ve posted our story here.

—  John Wright

Protest planned to support transgender student

From Queer LiberAction’s website.

Queer LiberAction is planning a protest to support North Dallas High School transgender student Andy Moreno.

According to QL organizer Gabe Coppinger, the action will be held Thursday, Oct. 14 beginning at 3:30 p.m. School lets out at 3:45 p.m.

Andy Moreno was denied a spot as a finalist for homecoming queen on Monday despite reports from members of the vote-counting committee that she received more votes than at least one of the other finalists. Coppinger said the group will be there to support Moreno and thank the students who voted for her as well as the faculty and staff that have treated her with respect. The group’s only criticism with the school is the bullying that they say has come from the principal.

Coppinger said more details will follow.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: N. Dallas High School doesn’t want you to know if trans student won homecoming vote

North Dallas High School isn’t releasing the results of the vote for homecoming queen, saying the information is confidential. So we have no way of knowing for sure whether transgender student Andy Moreno had enough votes to be a finalist for homecoming queen. But Andy’s running mate on the ballot, her MTF transgender friend, is one of three finalists for homecoming king. So it’s likely that Andy was also one of the top three vote-getters, but Principal Dinnah Escanilla is stubbornly sticking to her terrible decision not to allow Andy to run for queen. What’s worse, the Dallas Independent School District continues to allow Escanilla’s blatant discrimination, making us wonder what would happen if the principal required the homecoming queen to be of a certain race.

Fox 4 has been following this story closely, and it’s been the No. 1 most read article on their site both last week and today. But why does Fox 4 reporter Sophia Reza suddenly begin referring to Andy as a “he” and “him” halfway through her report, almost as though she’s mimicking students who do the same thing? And why does anchor Heather Hays seem to have such a hard time understanding the simple fact that Andy identifies as a girl, not a boy?

Andy, who has a new hair-do and looks stunningly beautiful in the interview, says she plans to talk to the principal about the homecoming vote, but as of now, she has no plans to sue despite being approached by some lawyers. She’ll be attending the homecoming dance in a dress and heels this weekend, which Hays also seems worried about. Hays asks whether the school has a dress code — such as one prohibiting low-cut dresses — that would also bar Andy from wearing a dress at all.

“Well then they should have less of a problem with me coming in a low-cut dress, because I’m sorry, but what’s going to pop out of my top?” Moreno responds.

You’ve gotta absolutely love this girl.

—  John Wright