Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tournament at Axiom

Aces high

Hope for Peace and Justice teams up with Pocket Rockets tonight for their Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tourney and mixer. With over $400 in prizes, the event benefits the anti-bullying campaign, the Safe Schools Program. Raffles, silent auction, drinks and food make the evening an event. And don’t worry. Non-poker players are just as welcome. Hey, it is a mixer, also.

DEETS: Axiom Sushi Lounge,  4123 Cedar Springs Road. 6:30 p.m. PocketRocketsDallas.com

—  Rich Lopez

Anti-bullying bill introduced in U.S. Senate

Democrat Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and lead co-sposnor Sen. Mark  Kirk, an Illinois Republican, along with 17 other co-sponsors today introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act. According to a press release from the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the bill is the first time a Senate bill with bipartisan support has specifically addressed bullying and harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat, is expected to introduce a similar bipartisan bill in the House in the coming weeks.

GLSEN said no federal law or policy exists so far requiring schools to adopt policies addressing bullying. Such laws at the state level vary greatly from state to state. Anti-bullying legislation introduced in this session of the Texas Legislature recently had enumerated lists of protected classes, including sexual orientation and actual or perceived gender identity and expression, removed to make it more palatable to right-wing conservatives who control both legislative houses.

Although versions of the Safe Schools Improvement Act have been introduced in previous congressional sessions, this bill introduced today is the first to specifically address cyber-bullying, according to a report by the Washington Blade.

—  admin

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

WATCH: Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns makes another video, this time for GLSEN

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” video has more than 2 million views, but it’s good to know that his advocacy for safe schools won’t end there. Burns has followed up by filming the above PSA for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Safe Space Campaign, which aims to place a GLSEN Safe Space Kit in every middle and high school in the country. What’s next, a YouTube reality show?

—  John Wright

Youth First Texas leader Sam Wilkes speaks from experience about the struggles of gay teens

Sam Wilkes speaks during the safe schools rally in Lake Cliff Park on Friday.

Sam Wilkes is development director and the only paid staff member at Youth First Texas.

On Sunday he appeared on Lambda Weekly to talk about bullying and how groups like YFT can help.

Wilkes said an estimated one-third to on- half of teen suicide attempts are by LGBTQ youth.

The Centers for Disease Control lists suicide as the third leading cause of death of people ages 15 to 24, just behind accidents and homicide. More than 4,000 young people commit suicide every year — that’s one every two hours.

According to estimates, 100 to 200 attempts are made for every actual suicide.

On Friday, at a rally in Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff to support safe schools, Wilkes spoke about the youth who attend YFT.

“These are youth who are marginalized and have no other place to turn,” he said. “In fact many of them are homeless because they feel they are safer on the streets than they are in their own homes.”

On Lambda Weekly, Wilkes told his own story and talked about why he’s so passionate about helping other young people.

When he was 18, Wilkes’ mother asked him whether he was gay. Although Wilkes knew he was different from the time he was 12, he wasn’t ready to come out. So he gave his mother an answer that was ambiguous and non-committal.

The next day, his mother handed him a letter that said he was no longer welcome in the house.

Wilkes was fortunate because he already had a job working at a restaurant. He had friends who let him crash on their sofa for several months until he could save enough for an apartment. On his own, he managed to finish school. To this day, he said, his relationship with his parents is nonexistent.

But not all youth are even as fortunate as he was, he said. He called his job at Youth First Texas the best opportunity anyone could have.

Wilkes said more than half of youth at YFT have contemplated or attempted suicide before coming to the center. But after they become involved at YFT and meet other LGBTQ youth, depression and risky behavior decreases tremendously.

—  David Taffet

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

Houston legislators Coleman, Farrar announce plan to re-introduce Dignity for All Students Act

State Reps. Garnet Coleman of Houston, left, and Mark Strama of Austin

State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, both Houston Democrats, on Friday released a joint statement announcing their intention to once again file the Dignity for All Students Act when the 2011 Texas Legislature comes into session, saying that “recent news reports have highlighted the necessity for such legislation.”

The news reports the statement references revolve around the recent suicides of teens who had been bullied and harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, including 13-year-old Asher Brown of Houston, who shot himself to death on Thursday, Sept. 23.

The Dignity for All Students Act would prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools on the basis of ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin.  It would also prohibit discrimination based on association with a person, and protects both the parents of students and whistleblowers who may report incidents of discrimination or harassment.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said that Coleman has been filing the Dignity for All Students Act since 2003, but the bill itself has been filed in Texas legislative sessions since 1997 when then-State Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt of Dallas introduced the measure.

Smith said the Dignity for All Students Act introduced in the 2009 legislative session, authored by Coleman and co-authored by El Paso Democratic State Rep. Marissa Marquez, was sent to the Public Education Committee but did not get a hearing that session.

Another measure, the Safe Schools for All Youth Act introduced in 2009 by Austin Democratic Rep. Mark Strama, is also likely to be refiled in 2011, Smith said. The 2009 version of Strama’s bill, which expanded and clarified the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying and bullying that occurs off-campus, did pass out of the Public Education Committee and the Calendar Committee and was “in line for floor debate when everything died in the House in the stall that occurred in an effort to avoid dealing with voter ID bills,” he said.

Strama’s bill, Smith said, “uses language that teachers and administrators can relate to. It would create a definition of what bullying is and what cyber-bullying is, what to do when bullying or cyber-bullying occurs and strategies to reduce incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying. It adds those definitions into existing laws about what triggers some sort of disciplinary action.”

He said that the 2011 version of Strama’s bill — which had four joint authors and 13 co-authors — will include even more than was included in the 2009 version. He also said that Coleman and Farrar’s Dignity for All Students Act and Strama’s Safe Schools for All Students Act aren’t redundant.

“The two bills would both be part of the Texas Education Code, but they would be in different parts of the Texas Education Code. Coleman’s bill would be in Chapter 11, and Strama’s bill would be in Chapter 37. They don’t overlap,” Smith said.

He added that these two might not be the only two bills bullying and harassment in public schools to be filed in the 2011 legislative session.

“There is certainly the possibility that there will be additional bills filed,” And if there could be anything good to come out of recent events, maybe it’s that it could help us reach the tipping point where something will actually get done this year.”

The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes in January.

—  admin

Trevor Project calls for moment of silence for suicide victims at 7 p.m. Dallas time today

We aren’t aware of any specific events planned for Dallas in response to the suicides of six teens in the U.S. who were gay or perceived as gay in September, but it looks like a National Safe Schools Day of Action will take place next Tuesday, Oct. 5. Also, there will be a Stand Up to Youth Suicide Rally and March in San Francisco on Friday, Oct. 8, and rallies are reportedly being planned next weekend through the “It Gets Better” project, in advance of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. Does anyone know of anything that’s planned for Dallas? As we reported earlier, many plan to gather around Big Tex at the State Fair at noon Saturday, Oct. 9 during the unofficial Gay Day, so perhaps this would be a good time to do it. Just a thought.

Anyhow, The Trevor Project is calling for a moment of silence and reflection at 7 tonight Dallas time in remembrance of the victims. Here’s the full press release:

The Trevor Project Asks All Americans for a Moment of Silence at 8pm ET, 5pm PT Tonight

(West Hollywood, CA, October 1, 2010) – Statement from Charles Robbins, Executive Director of The Trevor Project:

Late last night, The Trevor Project learned of yet another young LGBTQ person who died by suicide. Raymond Chase was a sophomore at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island when he took his own life on Wednesday. Words do not adequately describe the tragic loss felt across the country for the five promising young individuals who were so isolated and felt so alone and cut off from their peers and society that suicide became an option.

We encourage all people who feel connected to these tragic events, whether friends, family, peers, community members, and sympathetic human beings to pause today at 8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 PM Pacific for a moment of silence and reflection in remembrance of Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas. Events are being planned across the country in the coming weeks to mourn the loss of these young people, and to take action to stop bullying crimes that lead to suicide, and a website http://makeitbetterproject.com/.

To help stop the cycle that leads young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people to feel they are alone, connect them to The Trevor Project. There is a place that’s free of bullying and judgment online, where young LGBTQ people, their friends and allies ages 13-24 can connect safely and be themselves. More than 13,000 young people already belong to TrevorSpace.org, and more youth join every day. If you or someone you care about shows warning signs for suicide, please do not hesitate to call The Trevor Lifeline at: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). The call is free and confidential.

We mourn the loss of these 5 young people, and today we will stand in silent solidarity for an end to the unnecessary loss of young lives.

—  John Wright

Advocates push safe schools bill in wake of suicide

Parents of Houston teen who shot himself last week say school officials didn’t respond to repeated complaints, leading to 13-year-old being ‘bullied to death’

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Asher Brown
Asher Brown

HOUSTON — The recent bullying-related suicide of a gay Texas teen highlights the need for comprehensive safe schools legislation protecting LGBTQ students, advocates said this week.

Asher Brown, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School in northwest Harris County, fatally shot himself on Thursday, Sept. 23 after his parents said he was “bullied to death” over a period of 18 months for, among other things, being gay.

Asher’s parents allege that school officials failed to respond to their repeated complaints about the bullying — which included other students simulating gay sex acts on their son. Asher came out as gay to his stepfather the same day he took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a 9mm Baretta.

His suicide was one of four in recent weeks around the country tied to anti-gay bullying, prompting calls to action from advocacy groups and tentative plans for vigils in cities nationwide the weekend of Oct. 9-10.

“It’s devastating. It’s horrible,” said Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group. “You don’t want to see any child hurt, much less lose their life, because of an unsafe school environment.”

Asher’s suicide is the first in recent memory in Texas that can be directly tied to anti-gay bullying, Smith said. However, a national survey in 2009 found that 90 percent of LGBT middle and high-school students had experienced harassment at school in the last year, while nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

A safe schools bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced — but failed to pass — in each of the last two state legislative sessions.

“Part of the reason why the bill hasn’t passed is because it hasn’t risen to the level of being deemed legislation that we absolutely have to deal with,” Smith said.“If there is any silver lining to Asher Brown’s death, hopefully it raises awareness that please, let us deal with this before another child dies.”

Equality Texas this week called on members to contact legislators and urge them to support the safe schools bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, in next year’s session. The group also noted that Asher’s suicide marked the second time in less than a year that officials in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District have been accused of failing to respond to complaints of anti-gay bullying until it was too late.

Last November, a freshman at Cy-Fair ISD’s Langham Creek High School was beaten with a metal pipe in what he said was an anti-gay attack. Jayron Martin, 16, said at the time that he had begged two principals and his bus driver to intervene prior to the attack, but they failed to do so.

Asher’s death was one of four this month in the U.S. that stemmed from anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools, according to media reports.

Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from California, died in a hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 28 after hanging himself from a tree in his back yard several days earlier.Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman, hung himself in his family’s barn in Greensburg, Ind., on Thursday, Sept. 9. And Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off a bridge this week after his roommate secretly streamed on the Internet a live recording of him having sex with another man.

“These horrific stories of youth taking their own lives reflect on school bullying culture in this country,” said Charles Robbins, executive director of Trevor Project, a national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

“To be clear, they do not point to a contagion of teen or youth suicide, but that the media, parents, teachers and friends are more in-tune to speaking up about the causes,” Robbins said. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends affected by the loss of these wonderful individuals.”

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, the national LGBT civil rights group, also expressed condolences.

“But sympathy is not enough — we all have a responsibility to take action, and to keep working until all young people are safe and respected, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gorenberg said. “We must push for laws on the federal level and in every state that prohibit bullying and discrimination.

“We must hold people accountable, and use the courts when necessary. And most importantly, we must love and teach all our children to be their best selves and to respect and support others to do the same.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

HRC releases statement on Asher Brown’s suicide; bullied gay teen in California dies

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement Wednesday morning on the suicide of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old from Houston who took his life after enduring months of anti-gay bullying at his middle school:

“We feel for Asher’s family during this sad time. This young man had a wonderful life ahead of him, but he was ‘bullied to death’ because he was gay. This tragedy was preventable. School officials must act when kids are tormented and bullied. All students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect which is why HRC urges school districts and state legislatures everywhere to implement enumerated anti-bullying policies and laws that that protect all students.”

Equality Texas has issued an action alert calling on people to contact their state legislators and urge them to pass safe schools legislation that protects LGBT youth. Also, Change.org has posted a petition addressed to officials in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Also, a gay 13-year-old in California has died after nine days on life support, after attempting suicide in response to years of anti-gay bullying. Seth Walsh, 13, who hung himself from a tree in his back yard on Sept. 19, died Tuesday afternoon. No charges have been filed.

—  John Wright