In midst of gay teen suicide crisis, Houston’s Kinkaid School removes Safe Space stickers

Texas Monthly‘s March issue features an interesting piece (already available online to subscribers) about the ideological battle that’s gripped Houston’s prestigious Kinkaid School since a parent — who also happened to be one of the highest-paid bankers on Wall Street — wrote an e-mail that went viral in 2009 complaining that the school had become too liberal.

Texas Monthly‘s John Spong concludes that in the aftermath of the e-mail, conservatives appear to have won the day at George W. Bush’s alma mater: At least three openly gay Kinkaid staffers have resigned their posts, sexual orientation is excluded from a new diversity policy at the school, and GLSEN Safe Space stickers were removed from classrooms and offices:

With gay suicides and bullying in national headlines, that move struck many as beyond tone-deaf. For them, the school’s reasoning—that the stickers implied that one group was more protected than others—showed greater concern for some people’s political views than for the welfare of vulnerable students. The same objection was raised when the board clarified its edict on “student exposure to issues relating to sexual orientation.” Faculty had pointed out that kids trying to understand their sexual identity often reach out to them; a gay Kinkaid alum I talked to credited one such teacher with saving his life. Could that conversation now get a teacher fired? The board stressed that the proper place for these sorts of conversations was at home or in a counselor’s office, adding that teachers were not to initiate those discussions. As one current faculty member put it, “We’re allowed to have those conversations; we’re just not allowed to tell the kids we’re allowed to have those conversations. That’s the thing that’s confusing.”

—  John Wright

Is Garland-raised country star LeAnn Rimes an LGBT ally or a phony hypocritical sellout whore?

From the ones we missed file, above is touching video footage of North Texas’ own LeAnn Rimes performing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles — led by guest conductor Tim Seelig — at a holiday concert last month. Rimes, who grew up in Garland, is overcome with tears as she talks about the gay youth suicide crisis before teaming with the chorus for a beautiful performance of “The Rose.”

Fast forward to tonight, when Rimes is performing again – this time at a fundraiser for (gasp!) House GOP freshmen. As Queerty notes, the fundraiser is being hosted by California Rep. Jeff Denham, who, while a state senator, repeatedly voted against recognition of marriages from other states. And the $2,500-a-plate fundraiser is designed to re-elect lawmakers who undoubtedly will help block consideration of any pro-LGBT legislation — including a federal law to protect gay kids from bullying in public schools — for the next two years.

So, to rephrase the question from the headline, should the LGBT community have learned something about Rimes from her extramarital affair with Eddie Cibrian?

—  John Wright

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

Another approach to anti-gay bullying

Jeremy Liebbe wants to show LGBT youth how to fight back against would-be bulliers and bashers.

Liebbe, an openly gay detective sergeant for the Dallas ISD police department, is a volunteer at Youth First Texas who’s taught the YFT Youth Defenders program for the last two years.

The daylong Youth Defenders Program, which is open to all YFT youth and volunteers, will be offered again Saturday, Oct. 23. The program teaches basic self-defense and self-awareness techniques, and is designed to help raise participants’ self-esteem.

Liebbe, a first-degree black belt and a SWAT-trained supervisor in the DISD police narcotics unit, said the Youth Defenders program is especially relevant given the ongoing gay teen bullying and suicide crisis.

“Just changing their mindset alone is going to prevent most bullying,” Liebbe said. “Bullies and bashers, they’re looking for an easy target. Most of the time the bully’s going to back down or walk away the moment they realize you’re going to fight them.

“A lot of it is just self-esteem,” he added. “It’s almost a self-victimizing cycle. Anything we can do to increase the self-esteem and personal power of this very marginalized age group is going to help reduce self-destructive behavior.”

The Youth Defenders program will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Youth First Texas. For more information or to sign up, visit the Facebook page.

—  John Wright

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

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