WATCH: HISD Board gets earful on anti-gay flier

Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

A standing-room-only crowd greeted the Houston Independent School Board last night. While the board’s monthly meetings often attract an assortment of parents, community members and gadflies many in the crowd were there with a decidedly non-educational issue on their minds: the anti-gay flier distributed by Trustee Manuel Rodriguez during his recent reelection campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier encouraged Houstonians to vote against Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. because of his sexual orientation.

The first to address the issue were Rodriquez’s fellow trustees, Anna Eastman and Juliet Stipeche. Eastman spoke passionately of the importance of HISD’s anti-bullying policy which “protects people from harassment and bullying based on attributes we all have,” and said that she felt Rodriguez’s actions violated the spirit of that policy. Stipeche, near tears, read the names of teens who had committed suicide after enduring anti-LGBT bullying.

The board had planned to vote on a new ethics policy at the meeting that covered behavior by trustees. At the encouragement of two speakers, and the motion of Eastman, the board decided to delay that vote until December so that a policy stating that encouraging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression could be added.

After three and a half hours the crowd in the board’s chambers had dwindled, with most of those who had come to confront Rodriquez still waiting. When Board President Paula Harris finally opened the floor for public comment the first person to step up was Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman. Freeman told the board that the extant of Rodriquez’s homophobic campaigning was far greater than the flier which had drawn so much media attention. “What you all might not know is that he also went on television and said that he just couldn’t understand why a 54 year old unmarried man would want, quote ‘access to children,'” said Freeman. “That statement in and of itself, and the implications made therein is reprehensible and simply disgusting.”

Freeman asked that the Board remove Rodriquez as their representative on the Texas Council of School Boards, and as the board’s vice president. He went on to criticize the apology issued by Rodriquez after the election, saying that it did not address the concerns of the GLBT community, nor was it delivered to the community but rather to the press. “You cannot simply say ‘oops, I’m sorry’ and this all goes away,” said Freeman. “We will never forget what you did!”

Board President Harris had made frequent reference throughout the meeting to a group of students from HISD’s Milby High School, letting them know that their time to speak would come. As the students’ designated speaker stepped to the podium his hands visibly shook in nervousness. “When I first heard about [Rodriquez’s flier] I did not agree with it because I believe that the message was that a gay person could not be as successful as a straight person and that really hurt me,” said the student. “My question to you is are you going to help us stop the bullying, or are you going to be a bully yourself?”

Perhaps the strongest response from the board was garnered by Paul Gonzales, who choked back tears as he described the challenges he faces as a gay man and parent of an HISD student. “I have a kid, and I have a kid that I have enrolled in HISD, and I love her. Me and my partner every single day are trying to show her that there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong with our family. So for a board member to say that my family is reprehensible to him… I have to explain [to her] that there are still people who consider us not the kind of family that deserve respect,” said Paul to the board, who were fighting back tears of their own. “GLBT parents like myself trust HISD to give us that haven for our children, that they’re not going to be looked at any differently. But the words that we saw on this flier just made me cringe to think that this isn’t the place that I thought that it was.”

After the jump, watch some of the eighteen people who spoke to the board.

—  admin

Chronicle blogger blames ‘It Gets Better” project for LGBT teen suicides

Kathleen McKinley

Kathleen McKinley

Kathy McKinley is a self-described “conservative activist” who blogs for the Houston Chronicle under the monicker “TexasSparkle.” In a recent post McKinley took the “It Gets Better” project to task for what she believes is their culpability in the suicides of LGBT teens:

“These kids were sold a bill of goods by people who thought they were being kind. The “It will get better” campaign just didn’t think it through. They didn’t think about the fact that kids are different from adults. They handle things differently. They react differently. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS. You can grumble all day long how unfair it is that straight teens can be straight in high school, and gay kids can’t, but life is unfair. Isn’t the price they are paying too high?? Is it so much to ask them to stand at the door of adulthood before they “come out” publically? Because it may save their life.”

McKinnley’s primary confusion about the “It Gets Better” campaign (other than its name) is the assumption that the goal is to encourage teens to come out of the closet, or encourage them to become sexually active:

“Why in the world would you give teenagers a REASON to tease you? Oh, yes, because the adults tell you to embrace who you are, the only problem? Kids that age are just discovering who they are. They really have no idea yet. The adults tell you to “come out,” when what we should be telling them is that sex is for adults, and there is plenty of time for figuring out that later.”

I would like to encourage Ms. McKinley to watch the “It Gets Better” project’s founder Dan Savages’ video. Please, Ms. McKinley, listen, and tell me if you hear Savage or his partner Terry say anything about teens coming out or having sex. I think what you’ll hear them say is that all of the things that most kids, gay and straight, dream of (falling in love, starting a family, having the support of their parents, co-workers and friends) are possible for LGBT teens. I think you’ll hear them talk about how difficult their teen years were, and about the fears they had that their parents would reject them, that they’d never find success and that they’d always be alone.

Choosing to have sex is one of the most personal decision a person will ever make. For LGBT people, choosing to come out is another. I have not watched all of the thousands of videos from people who have participated in the “It Gets Better” project. It’s possible that there are a few that tell kids to come out right away, or to become sexually active, but I doubt it.

Every video in the project that I have seen has had the same simple message: that the person making it understands how tortuously awful the experience of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender in Junior and High School can be, but there is a wonderful world of loving, vibrant, successful, engaged LGBT adults out there and if queer teens can just hang on, just for a few years, they can join it. I doubt that any of the contributors to the project think that hanging on for a few years will be easy. I suspect that most of them remember, with excruciating clarity, contemplating ending those temporary years of terror with a permanent solution and that is why they choose to reach out.

I grew up without role models, where people like Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk didn’t exist . I grew up in a small town where the two men with the pink house were talked about in hushed tones that immediately fell silent when I walked into the room, because it wasn’t appropriate for children’s ears. I grew up in a world where my mother wouldn’t tell me what “gay” meant, where the evening news was turned off if it reported on the AIDS crisis, where I wasn’t given words to describe who I was, and so the only word I could find was “alone.”

I was lucky. My suicide attempt failed.

I was lucky, I survived, and went to college, and found a church that embraced and loved LGBT people. That’s where I met doctors and lawyers and business owners and teachers who were like me. That’s where I met two wonderful women who had built a life together for over 50 years. That’s where I discovered I wasn’t alone and that being gay didn’t mean that i couldn’t have all of those things I’d dreamed of.

That is what McKinley missed in her blog post. In her haste to lay blame on anything other than the overwhelming prejudice perpetuated by schools, churches and governments against LGBT people McKinley missed the fact that kids need role models. In her rush to shove queer teens back into the closet she forgot that human beings need the hope of a better world, lest they give up in despair.

McKinley got one thing right in her post. She titled it “Are Adults Also To Blame For Gay Teen Suicides? Yes.” Adults are to blame for LGBT teen suicides. When adults hide the stunning diversity of God’s creation from their children they create a vision of reality that some of those children can’t see themselves in. When adults tell LGBT teens that they should be invisible then it is all too clear who is to blame when those teens believe them, and take steps to make themselves invisible permanently.

To all the LGBT kids out there: it does get better. There are adults who care about you and want all the wonderful things you dream of to come true, but you have to hang on. If you need to keep who are secret to remain safe then do so. If you need someone to talk to please call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-Trevor (866-488-7386).

—  admin

DOE says school district was negligent in responding to bullying against Seth Walsh

Seth Walsh

The U.S. Department of Education today issued a ruling declaring that the Tehachapi School District in California was negligent in not adequately intervening in the harassment and bullying that 13-year-old Seth Walsh faced at school in the years leading up to Walsh’s suicide last fall.

Walsh’s suicide was one of several tied to anti-LGBT bullying that happened last fall and focused national attention on the issue, leading to the creation of the It Gets Better Project.

In its ruling, the DOE noted that Walsh had subjected to “persistent, pervasive and often severe sex-based harassment,” and that the school district had been notified of the bullying but had failed to do anything to stop it. The ruling notes that while the Tehachapi school district’s sexual harassment policy and regulations are in line with federal law, the district — in the case of Seth Walsh — failed to follow its own policies and procedures.

According to the accompanying resolution agreement, the district will be required to revise its policies, hire new personnel to oversee harassment intervention, implement trainings for faculty and staff about both observing and intervening in harassment, and then report on the success of intervention strategies.

To read the DOE’s complete letter detailing its ruling in the case, go here.

To read the complete resolution agreement, go here.

—  admin

WATCH: Youth First Texas’ ‘You’re Not Alone’ project, a peer-to-peer version of ‘It Gets Better’

When members of Youth First Texas went to Austin in March to lobby for anti-bullying legislation, they did a better job of explaining the importance of such laws than any of the adults who were there. They were able to look senators and representatives in the eye and tell them personal experiences about having been bullied. Some of the youth told lawmakers they had attempted suicide, something that wouldn’t have happened if schools took bullying more seriously.

Walking back from the Capitol to a local church that was hosting lunch, the YFT members had an idea to make videos about their experiences. First, they sent copies to State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who shared them with other members of the Education Committee. But the videos also had another purpose — saving lives. While the “It Gets Better” videos are mostly adults telling teens they’ll get through their bad experiences in high school, YFT’s “You’re Not Alone” videos contain messages from LGBT youth to LGBT youth.

Watch the first set of videos from YFT’s “You’re Not Alone” project after the jump.

—  David Taffet

Okla. lawmakers endorse bullying, suicide

We’re kidding, of course, but not completely.

The Oklahoma House voted Monday night to kill a bill that would have outlawed cyberbullying and required schools to enact anti-bullying policies.

The bill’s Republican author, Rep. Lee Denney, said the 52-44 vote “absolutely shocked me.” Denney authored the measure after an 11-year-old in her district who was bullied at school committed suicide.

Opponents of Denney’s bill called it “overkill” and said it would represent another mandate placed on schools by the Legislature.

The Equality Network, Oklahoma’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, released a statement saying the group is “deeply troubled” by the bill’s defeat. An earlier version of the bill passed the House 74-23 in March.

“This is really sad news for Oklahoma’s students,” said Kathy Williams, president of The Equality Network. “Each day, students are physically attacked and verbally terrorized in our schools. It is disgraceful that our legislators refused to pass even this watered-down bill to help administrators, teachers, parents, and students create safer schools. No one can learn in a climate of fear.”

TEN says a recent study found that only 20 out of 500 school districts in Oklahoma include sexual orientation in policies protecting students. Only two include gender identity. “These omissions leave LGBT students highly vulnerable in districts that do not explicitly protect them from harassment and intimidation,” the group said.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Marsha Ambrosius’ ‘Far Away’ and the blogger who’s attacking its anti-bullying message

I have Tammye Nash to thank for reminding me about this video.

R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius takes on the subject of bullying and suicide in her video for “Far Away” from her album Late Nights & Early Mornings, which came out in March. The song is actually the second single from the album that debuted in late December. The video garnered much attention because even with the topic of suicide, the video depicts the issues affecting an African-American gay couple, an image hardly seen in music videos by non-gay artists. The video premiered back in January.

The video ends with a message by Ambrosius that relates her to the topic and strives for an end to bullying. But one person sees it differently. Blogger Sandra Rose figures that kids don’t commit suicide because they are bullied, but for deeper reasons.

Gay teens are not committing suicide because they are the targets of homophobic bullying; they are committing suicide due to their undiagnosed mental issues (depression being one of them).

If, as Marsha suggests, society succeeded in eliminating homophobic bullying, the suicide rate among gay teens would stay the same. That’s because the core issue (depression) is not being addressed properly.

Interesting point. What do you think?

As for the video below, just think of this more as an “in case you missed it” post.

—  Rich Lopez

Apple employees join It Gets Better effort

Ok. So the the “It Gets Better” videos aren’t new, and there are a ton of them out there.

But this one — from Apple and featuring Apple employees — is new to me, and it is, I think, one of the most touching I have seen.

—  admin

UPDATE: Police say man found shot to death in Oak Lawn may have committed suicide

Earlier we reported that 28-year-old Javier Ahumada was found shot to death at an apartment on Dickason Avenue in Oak Lawn on Monday night. Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said the actual address of the complex is 4120 Dickason Ave. He also provided the following update:

“We are still waiting for the M.E. [Medical Examiner’s] report but are not ruling out anything at this point. He had mental issues and has tried to harm himself in the past. This may very well be a suicide but we will wait for the M.E. to rule on that. A weapon was found by his body.”

—  John Wright

Bullying victim’s family sues Joshua schools

Jon Carmichael

The family of 13-year-old Jon Carmichael filed suit yesterday in federal court against the Joshua Independent School District, claiming that school officials ignored and even covered up the months of cruel harassment and bullying that drive Jon to suicide in March of last year.

The lawsuit was filed Monday, March 28, in federal district court in Dallas, exactly one year after Jon hung himself in his family’s barn. Joshua is located just outside of Cleburne, south of Fort Worth in Johnson County.

Reports at the time of his death indicated that Jon was bullied because he was smaller than his classmates at Loflin Middle School.

A report in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram says that among the bullying Jon endured was being thrown into a trash dumpster and having his head held down in a toilet while it was flushed. Just before Jon hanged himself, the lawsuit alleges, he was stripped naked and put in a trash can. This time the attack was videotaped and posted on YouTube. It was removed at the direction of a school staff member, but that staff member did not report the incident, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also claims that on the day Jon died, he told a girl he was going to commit suicide and she told him to go ahead because no one cared if he lived or died.

School superintendent Ray Dane said he has not seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

Jon’s mother and sister were among those who went to Austin on Tuesday, March 22, to testify in favor of comprehensive anti-bullying legislation being considered by Texas lawmakers.

—  admin

Puppy in need of adoption — save me from myself!

My name is Gulliver. Help me find a home.

Every week in the print edition, we profile the Pet of the Week; this is not that. This is an act of self-preservation.

Some very evil lesbians, who know what a soft touch I am with needy puppies, have tried to get me to adopt a fourth dog. I once had four dogs at once, but none were puppies and none over 30 lbs.; I currently have a 40+ lb. 9-month-old Lab named Gulliver who is as much work as two dogs alone. (Here’s more proof they are evil: They stole the name Gulliver for their new dog less than a month after I did.)

So why does all this matter? Because these women have another rescue they are taking care of named Buddy, and they can’t keep him. If they don’t adopt him out soon, they will trick me into taking him and we can’t have that. So one of you needs to step up.

Here’s the deal: Buddy is about 10 months old, probably a Chow- or hound-and-Shar Pei mix who was discovered in a neighbor’s front yard suffering from dehydration, starvation and injuries from a fight with a larger dog. He’s something of a miracle baby. His recovery is progressing: He’s already added 6 lbs. to his skinny frame. He’s probably as big as he’s gonna get. And by Monday, he’s have all his vaccinations and lose his testicles. In other words, the perfect boyfriend.

If you can adopt him — and please, somebody, do it! I can’t take another pet! My cat will commit suicide! — contact e-mail Gyrlchef@yahoo.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones