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.