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