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

REGIONAL: Novotny says her advantage is Kern’s extremism

Trans candidate for Oklahoma House says Republican supporters say Kern is ‘on a different level’ from conservative constituents

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Brittany Novotny
Brittany Novotny

OKLAHOMA CITY — The New York Times named several transgender candidates around the country as having a good chance of election. Among them was Brittany Novotny, running for the Oklahoma Legislature.

Other transgender candidates are running in more likely places like Hawaii, Oregon and California. Theresa Sparks, a candidate for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, is seeking the seat once held by Harvey Milk and is seen as the conservative candidate in the race.

Novotny’s district encompasses northern suburbs of Oklahoma City usually considered on the far end of the conservative spectrum. But she said this week her campaign is going well.

While Novotny stays on message, her Republican opponent, incumbent Rep. Sally Kern, rose to fame by calling gays a bigger problem than terrorism. The comment was especially harsh in a district that was home to many of the Oklahoma City bombing victims.

After media criticism every time she spoke about homosexuality, Kern agreed to stick to the issues rather than leveling personal attacks. However, a Kern supporter recently referred to Novotny as “a confused it.”

“The issues in my district are economic development, good jobs, roads and transportation, education,” Novotny said. “Teachers, technology, textbooks.”

Her district is usually characterized as Republican with a conservative incumbent.

Novotny said that isn’t a fair description of the area.

“It’s a moderate swing district,” she said, with an extremist incumbent.

She has been told that 48 percent in her area consider themselves moderate or liberal. People in the area are concerned with jobs, not her gender identity, she said.

“In knocking on 3,000 doors, it’s only come up once,” she said, referring to her gender identity.

Novotny said her Republican supporters have told her, “I’m conservative but Kern is on a different level.”

She believes that will be the margin of difference that will get her elected.

“We feel we have done a good job of sticking to the issues,” Novotny said.

In an interview last month, Houston Mayor Annise Parker commented on Novotny’s approach to the race by concentrating on issues.
“That’s how you win an election,” Parker said.

Novotny said she went to law school because of her interest in going into public service.

“Some thought I was going to be the LGBT candidate,” she said. “But I’ve always been interested in politics.”

Kern refused to debate Novotny in an open town hall forum. Instead they squared off on KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, on the show Flash Point for 20 minutes.

The Daily Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper that is based in Oklahoma City, has declined to endorse in legislative races.

“But they’re not fans of my opponent,” Novotny said.

She spent 45 minutes with the editorial board and said they talked about her values and vision for Oklahoma.

Mara Keisling is the executive director of The National Center for Transgender Equality, an organization that does not endorse candidates. She commented on Novotny’s race and compared it to Parker’s Houston election.

“The people of Houston weren’t looking for a lesbian mayor,” she said. “They were looking for a competent mayor.”

She said the question to voters is: Can she do a better job?

She believes Novotny has a good chance of election because Kern “has a reputation of being controversial.”

Keisling said that if Novotny wins, it will be because people in Oklahoma are concerned about jobs and the economy and want a responsible and mature state representative.

“I never wanted my trans status to hold me back,” Novotny said.

She has out fundraised Kern. In the latest filing, Novotny reported $25,000 to Kern’s $14,000. She is ahead in total raised throughout the campaign as well and has 500 small donors, also more than her opponent.

“I’m real proud of the way we’ve run the campaign and I hope it pays off on Election Day,” she said.

If elected, she would become the first transgender state legislator in the country.

Her election watch party on Nov. 2 will be at the Holiday Inn on Old Route 66 in Bethany, Okla., the same location where she announced her candidacy more than a year ago.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

H4PJ calls on Dallas City Council to support LGBT-inclusive bullying policy for DISD

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, is slated to address the Dallas City Council this morning and ask the council to pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District “to do everything in their power to prevent bullying,” according to David Plunkett, a spokesman for H4PJ.

In the wake of last month’s gay teen suicide crisis, H4PJ has been circulating a petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures, calling for DISD to adopt fully inclusive anti-bullying guidelines that provide specific protections for LGBT students. DISD’s board of trustees is  considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, the proposed policy doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity. DISD trustee Lew Blackburn told Dallas Voice this week he plans to introduce a substitute policy that does include sexual orientation and gender identity. Blackburn, along with LGBT advocates, have urged people in the community to contact the other trustees and urge them to support Blackburn’s proposal. DISD’s new anti-bullying policy could be up for a final vote as early as next week.

Courtesy of Plunkett, here’s the text of Piazza’s remarks:

I am here to present a petition signed by 1,000 people requesting that the Dallas City Council pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District to do everything in their power to prevent the bullying that has led to far too many suicides of young people. Just down I-45, 13-year-old Asher Brown took his life in September. Then, earlier this month, just north on I-35 in Norman, Oklahoma, 19-year-old Zach Herrington took his life following a toxic debate at a city council meeting.  We are asking you to encourage DISD to ensure the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

I could speak to you today as someone who was a pastor in this city for 22 years at the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender church. I could speak to you as the President of Hope for Peace & Justice whose petitions I present. However, I’d like to use my two minutes to appeal to you as a parent. I have two teenage girls. One is a junior at the School for the Talented and Gifted, and the other is a senior at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

My partner and I might have sent our daughters to private schools, but it was very important to us that they attend public schools where most of the children in this city receive their education. It hasn’t always been easy for them.

My oldest daughter was in Harry Stone Middle School when the state of Texas passed a constitutional amendment that denied marriage equality to her parents. Next month my partner and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. So, you can imagine my daughter’s surprise when her language arts teacher told her students, during class, to be sure their parents voted in favor of the constitutional amendment because, and I quote, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Fortunately, my daughter was secure enough to raise her hand and ask, “Excuse me Mrs. Smith, but then who did create Adam and Steve?”

Her teacher said, “I guess you must know some of those people,” to which Jerica replied, “Only just about everyone in my life who loves me.”

Jerica knew how to handle herself, but imagine for just a moment if you had been a small boy struggling with your sexuality and heard that teacher’s words. Imagine if you had been a child who had been abused at home and so filled with rage that you were looking for someone to bully. That DISD teacher, at one of our best magnet schools, just gave you all the justification you needed.

As a father, I beg you. Make a statement that this is not who we are in Dallas and that we know our children are not our own, but they are ALL — gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — children of God. Thank you .

—  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

DGLA hosts rally for safe schools in Oak Cliff

About 50 people gathered around a pavilion in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas on Friday evening for a safe schools rally organized by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

The crowd, which included several local TV news crews and about a dozen youth, listened as a series of speakers talked about what can be done to stop bullying, mentor children and quell the national gay teen suicide crisis.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay LULAC council, choked up as he recounted his own struggle to overcome bullying.

“We’re here for you,” Garcia said. “We care about you. You are our children. Don’t give up.”

Larry Duncan, president of Dallas County Schools, which provides transportation and other services for local school districts, told the crowd it was unfortunate Friday’s rally was even necessary.

“It isn’t about why we’re here, it’s about why the other people in our city and county aren’t here,” Duncan said. “The fact that we have to be here is a shame.”

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, vowed to push safe schools legislation that includes LGBT youth in next year’s legislative session.

Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso said she’ll encourage the Dallas Independent School District to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a proposed new anti-bullying policy the district is considering.

“Just know you are not alone,” Jasso said. “There are lots of us on the City Council, myself included, who are here to help you. We cannot afford to lose any more teens to suicide.”

As currently written, DISD’s proposed new anti-bullying policy doesn’t include specific protections for LGBT youth. But Lee Taft, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said DISD’s board of trustees agreed to delay discussion of the new policy this week in response to a request from his organization.

Taft, who lost his partner to suicide in the 1980s, said the community must focus on prevention instead of “post-vention.” He also said the media needs to strike a balance to avoid glamorizing suicide and fueling a copycat phenomenon.

“Let’s make sure that we don’t make martyrs and don’t empower bullies,” Taft said.

Patti Fink, president of DGLA, said the bullying children endure in school wouldn’t be tolerated in any other part of society, including the workplace or even people’s own neighborhoods.

“It’s a travesty that our children are experiencing brutality in our schools every day that prevents them from learning,” Fink said, issuing a call to action. “This is the time, this is the date, this is the energy we need to go forward.”

—  John Wright

Resource Center calls on DISD to add LGBT protections to proposed new anti-bullying policy

IMPORTANT UPDATE: RCD’s Rafael McDonnell reports that those wishing to speak at Thursday’s DISD meeting must sign up by 5 p.m. Wednesday by calling board services at 972-925-3720.

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the Dallas Independent School District to add protections for LGBT students to a proposed new anti-bullying policy. As we reported yesterday, the new anti-bullying policy is slated to be discussed Thursday by DISD’s board of trustees. A final vote is expected at the end of the month, but as currently written, the policy doesn’t include specific prohibitions against bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. Which seems odd given the fact that we are in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicides related to anti-gay bullying and harassment, including at least one in Texas. Resource Center is encouraging people to contact the nine members of DISD’s Board of Trustees and demand that they amend the policy to include LGBT students. RCD has also sent its own letter to each of the nine trustees, which we’ve posted below. From RCD’s press release:

“We are pleased that DISD is revisiting its approach to bullying. Unfortunately, the proposed policy does not define which students are to be protected by it. As a result, it does not provide specific protections for LGBT students. It is vital for this board to specifically articulate who this policy is designed to protect, rather than simply stating a broad definition of bullying. Absent any specific protections, it could be inferred that it would be okay to bully students based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Given the rash of LGBT bullying-related suicides in recent weeks—including one in the greater Houston area—specifically articulated protections are not formalities; they are essential.

“Resource Center Dallas encourages the North Texas LGBT community to contact the nine members of the DISD board. Encourage them to modify the proposed anti-bullying policy to specifically include LGBT students. Board members still have time to improve the protections for the youngest members of our community. Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail, can be found at http://www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm. Additionally, if you are able to attend the DISD board meeting Thursday, October 14 at 11:30 a.m. at 3700 Ross Avenue in Dallas, please do so. A representative of the Center will address the board on these issues.”

—  John Wright

Why doesn’t DISD’s proposed new anti-bullying policy specifically protect LGBT students?

Edwin Flores

Via Unfair Park, we noticed that the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees is considering a new anti-bullying policy.

Which makes sense in light of all the recent bullying-related suicides across the country. DISD Trustee Edwin Flores tells Unfair Park that the district needs to make its policies more specific and comprehensive. What doesn’t make sense, though, is the fact that nowhere in the proposed policy does DISD spell out the types of bullying that will be prohibited, such as bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, and bullying based on gender identity and/or expression. In short, the proposed new policy, as written, DOES NOT specifically protect LGBT students.

If trustees truly want to be more specific and comprehensive — rather than just trying to score a few political points — they need to spell out what types of bullying will be prohibited. After all, it’s legal to fire someone for being in gay in Texas precisely because sexual orientation isn’t included in state employment law. Likewise, the absence of sexual orientation from DISD’s anti-bullying policy could be construed to mean that it’s OK to bully someone for being gay.

DISD has a nondiscrimination policy, passed in the 1990s, that includes sexual orientation BUT NOT gender identity, which explains why the district can so openly discriminate against a transgender girl who wants to run for homecoming queen. The nondiscrimination policy passed in the 1990s is non-inclusive of transgender people, and Andy Moreno is in some ways paying for it today.

The LGBT community shouldn’t allow DISD to put yet another non-inclusive policy on the books. How many more gay teen suicides will it take before the district addresses the real causes?

Trustees are set to discuss the proposed policy during their regular meeting, at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 in the board room at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas. There will be an opportunity for public comments at the start of the meeting. Also, contact info for DISD trustees is available here.

—  John Wright

Why is John Wiley Price trying to get rid of gay Parkland hospital board member Chris Luna?

Chris Luna

We’ve been trying to get in touch with openly gay former Dallas City Councilman Chris Luna, who’s reportedly being targeted by Commissioner John Wiley Price for ouster from Parkland hospital’s Board of Managers.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Price called an executive session this past Tuesday to discuss with other commissioners his proposal to oust Luna, who was appointed by openly gay County Judge Jim Foster late last year. Price has not said publicly why he wants Luna off the board:

Luna, a former Dallas City Council member, said Monday that he didn’t understand Price’s action.

“No one on the Commissioners Court has expressed any concern or dissatisfaction to me,” Luna said.

County Judge Jim Foster, who appointed Luna late last year, said Price didn’t talk to him before making a last-minute addition to the agenda of the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting.

“He has not shown me the common courtesy of picking up the phone and calling,” Foster said.

The DMN later reported that commissioners had met in executive session and opted to delay their decision about removing Luna from the board for a week, until next Tuesday.

When Luna was appointed to the board, he told Dallas Voice he was looking forward to the assignment and hoped to revive a proposal for Parkland to offer domestic partner benefits.

In response to our messages, Luna sent us an e-mail late Wednesday saying only that he would be at a professional conference Wednesday and Thursday.

We spoke Thursday morning with openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, a friend of Luna’s. Fitzsimmons noted that because Tuesday’s discussion was in a closed executive session, he doesn’t know what commissioners talked about.

“All I know is there had been some accusations made which are currently being investigated,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s a mystery.”

—  John Wright