Top 10: Suicides led to anti-bullying law

Anti-bullying-Press-conference-at-Texas-Capitol-March-7,-2011-0-02-25-07

PARENTAL RESPONSE | David and Amy Truong, the parents of 13-year-old gay suicide victim Asher Brown, became tireless advocates for anti-bullying legislation this year. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

No. 4

In the fall of 2010, a number of high-profile suicides brought attention to the problem of bullying in schools. This year, the LGBT community worked to change laws and save lives.

After helping to push through policies in the Dallas and Fort Worth school districts, as well as a few others around the state, the LGBT community focused on passing statewide anti-bullying legislation in the 2011 session of the Legislature.

Equality Texas made the legislation a priority and a number of bills were introduced.

In February, Equality Texas hosted a Lobby Day. Several hundred people from around the state participated.

Among them were Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents — Amy and David Truong — and a group of 10 students from Youth First Texas.

Burns and the Truongs met with key legislators including members of the committees that would  hear the bills.

The students from YFT spoke to their senators and representatives telling their own stories of being bullied.

Legislators not usually considered allies were visibly moved by stories of violence in schools in their hometowns.

Equality Texas board chair Anne Wynn, Executive Director Dennis Coleman and Deputy Director Chuck Smith spent the spring lobbying on behalf of the bills.

The organization arranged for the Truongs as well as the parents of Montana Lance and Jon Carmichael, two other Texas suicide victims, to testify at committee hearings.

As originally crafted, the bills specified categories that would be covered. National studies have shown that the more specific the law, the more effective it is in protecting LGBT students. When sexual orientation and gender identity are not specified, school staff often ignore anti-gay bullying. But to increase the chances that anti-bullying legislation would pass, several bills were combined and all references to specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity, were deleted.

The new anti-bullying “super bill” passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House — and was eventually signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Under the new law, for the first time, the bully rather than the victim can be transferred to another classroom or school. Parental notification rules were strengthened and protections added for the person reporting the bullying. The definition of bullying now includes electronic means, or cyberbullying. And every school district must adopt an anti-bullying policy, including any necessary procedures to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents.

A second bill also passed that provides money for counseling services, which includes services for both the bully and the victim. School staff already receive training to recognize potential suicide risks. That training will be expanded to include victims of bullying.

Meanwhile, although the Dallas Independent School District approved an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy last year, Resource Center Dallas and Lambda Legal accused some DISD officials of blocking its implementation.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox along with Lambda Legal community educator Omar Narvaez addressed the DISD board about the problem in December.

Cox said she had gotten word from frustrated school district employees that principals were being instructed not to use the electronic reporting system that the board mandated. She said she would continue to track the district’s compliance with the policy in 2012.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Local Briefs

S. Dallas AIDS Walk orientation set

Volunteer orientation for the South Dallas AIDS Walk takes place on March 15 at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and on March 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Sanford Brown College, 1250 W. Mockingbird Lane.

The walk will be on March 19 and benefits the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation and other South Dallas AIDS service providers. Auntjuan Wiley is the event chair. To volunteer, contact Ray Jordan at 214-491-8028.

LGBT Lobby Day set in Austin

The LGBT community will gather in Austin this weekend for several conferences that culminate in lobby day at the state capitol on Monday, March 7.

Registration for lobby day begins at 7:30 a.m. at First United Methodist Church Family Life Center, 1300 Lavaca St. in downtown Austin.

At 9 a.m. Equality Texas will hold a press conference on the south steps of the Capitol. Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston and the parents of suicide victim Asher Brown will speak. Brown would have celebrated his 14th birthday on March 2. Joel Burns has been added to the speakers line up. After a training session, lobbying begins at 11 a.m. Lunch will be served at the church at noon with lobbying continuing another two hours on Monday afternoon.

DBA offering free LegalLine

The Dallas Bar Association will offer two LegalLine call-in programs in March, in which volunteer attorneys will answer legal questions free of charge. The programs will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9, and Wednesday, March 16.
For LegalLine assistance, call 214-220-7476 between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the designated days.

Words of Women celebration set

The 9th Annual Words of Women, a Dallas Celebration of International Womens Day, will be held at The Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future, 3800 Parry at Exposition in Fair Park, on Sunday, March 13, from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The event will feature the Words of Women Essay of the Year Presentation, speakers addressing issues of important to women, music and entertainment, an information table and food.

One of the main topics will be the women of Egypt.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez will attend.

Suggested admission is $10. Parking is free. For more information, call Christine Jarosz 214-319-6696 or Linda Evans at 214-660-1820, or e-mail Teresa Nguyen at teresa@redidagency.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas sets LGBT lobby day for March 7

Equality Texas hoping for more than 400 to participate in lobbying effort; Stonewall Democrats, TENT planning weekend gatherings

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Equality Texas is calling on the LGBT community and its allies to converge on Austin on March 7 to lobby the Texas Legislature on a slate of already-filed bills.

Bills filed include anti-bullying legislation; a bill to prohibit of insurance discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; a bill allowing both same-sex parents to be listed on an adopted child’s birth certificate; a bill banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; and a bill to repeal Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, the sodomy statute that has been ruled unconstitutional.

In addition, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston has filed a joint resolution to repeal the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Coleman has filed a similar resolution in each legislative session and, as is past sessions, the resolution is not expected to pass.

Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, asked that people planning to attend the lobby day pre-register on his organization’s website.

Those who do register in advance and indicate an interest in a particular bill will be sent to offices of legislators who will hear those bills in committee.

The day begins with registration at 7:30 a.m. followed by a press conference at 9 a.m. Rep. Garnet Coleman and the parents of suicide victim Asher Brown are expected to speak.

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman said that an hour of orientation is meant to put people at ease, teach them to simply tell their own stories and put together small groups of people that pair first-timers with more experienced lobbyists.

“Lobbying is about telling your own story,” Dennis Coleman said. “You never know who you’ll meet.”

Legislators are lobbied daily, Dennis Coleman said. Sometimes the lawmakers are in their offices and receive constituents. Other times those constituents meet with the lawmaker’s legisltive director. He said that senators and representatives who are allies need to hear support from their districts, but opponents need to hear from the LGBT community as well.

He said Equality Texas is working with legislators on bills that would benefit the LGBT community and hasn’t had to spend much time this session fending off discriminatory legislation.

Local representatives have taken the lead in proposing much of the positive legislation.

Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth submitted a bill prohibiting bullying in public schools. That law would also address cyberbullying.
Rep. Mark Strama of Austin filed similar legislation in the House.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo of Dallas wrote HB 208 that would prevent insurance discrimination. The bill would keep insurance companies from refusing to insure, charging a different rate or limiting coverage in amount, extent or kind because of bias or prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia authored HB 415, the bill that would repeal language that states that only a mother and father may be listed on the birth certificate of an adopted child.

Lobbying will begin at 11 a.m.

“That should give people a chance to visit about three offices before lunch,” Coleman said.

Equality Texas is providing a continental breakfast in the morning as well as lunch. After lunch, constituents will visit offices until 3 p.m. followed by a one-hour debriefing session.

Coleman said more than 200 people are already registered but he’s hoping for 400. Among those participating are members of Stonewall Democrats who will be in Austin for a weekend conference.

Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who is openly bisexual, will be the opening keynote speaker for the Texas Stonewall Democrats Caucus statewide conference on March 5.

The conference takes place at the Hilton Garden Inn on 5th Street. Among the weekend’s other highlights, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, will lead a roundtable discussion on transgender issues on Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon, the Transgender Education Network of Texas will hold its second Transgender Caucus, also at the Hilton Garden Inn.

To register for Lobby Day, visit EqualityTexasLobbyDay.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Rally, vigil for Asher Brown


A rally and vigil were held Tuesday in honor of 13-year-old gay suicide victim Asher Brown outside the middle school he attended near Houston. From organizer Barry Ouellette of the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality:

“It was a great event, very touching. We had about 30 people for the demonstration and about 70 for the candlelight vigil where there were some touching stories and kind and inspiring words from many teenagers as well as concerned parents, clergy and Houstonians.”

However, KTRK-TV reports that other parents weren’t happy about the demonstrations and are defending the school against allegations that it failed to do anything about bullying complaints from Asher’s parents:

“I think it’s terrible because it has frightened all of our children too. For this reason, I am here to pick up my daughter today. Because it has scared my daughter,” said Shay Phillips.

“I don’t worry about bullying in this school or any other school. But I do worry about it in general,” said Sheila McGraw-Hall. “I think the school is being wrongfully blamed in this case. Or at least to the magnitude that it is being put out there right now in the media,” said another parent.

Below is a report from MyFoxHouston.com, and Channel 2 has a report here.

—  John Wright