YFT plans new lobby effort

Posted on 10 Mar 2011 at 5:20pm
YFT
SPEAKING UP | Members of Youth First Texas gather in Sen. Florence Shapiro’s office on Monday, March 7, as part of Equality Texas’ Lobby Day efforts. The teens visited lawmakers to tell their personal stories of bullying and harassment in order to get support of anti-bullying measures now being considered by the Legislature. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Teens tell lawmakers personal stories of bullying, suicide attempts

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Ten teens from Youth First Texas went to Austin to talk to legislators about anti-bullying legislation on March 7. They joined about 350 LGBT activists and allies from around the state who came for Equality Texas lobby day.

Equality Texas executive director Dennis Coleman talked to the group about coming back to Austin later in the session to testify before committees that will hear testimony about the proposed laws.

As they rehearsed their stories, trying to pare them down to one minute each, the teens realized that they wouldn’t be able to speak to every representative and senator personally. But because they believed their personal stories could make a difference in the way lawmakers vote, the teens began brainstorming on how to get their stories out.

They came up with the idea of recording their stories to DVD to send to each senator and representative. The teens planned to start the project as soon as they returned to Dallas.

The group’s first stop in the Capitol on Monday was the office of Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, who represents the district in which three of the teens live.

YFT member Giancarlo Mossi, one of the three living in Shapiro’s district, began telling the group’s story to two legislative aides. He said he was regularly called a faggot at Plano Senior High School, and other students threw things at him on the bus.

Reporting it didn’t make a difference and the harassment continued through graduation, Mossi said.

Pierce Magnus is still in school. He walks with a cane and said he has always been treated differently. At best, other students give him the coldshoulder, something that’s been going on since middle school. At one point, he tried to kill himself.

After his suicide attempt failed, Magnus said, he was put in an institution and is now on medication. He blames the suicide attempt on bullying and harassment by other students and the indifference with which the school staff reacted.

“That’s a terrible way to go through high school,” Magnus said.

Alice Nightingale said that her high school teachers know how she’s treated and don’t do anything about it.

“I stood up for myself once and got suspended,” she said. “It seems like we try and just do more harm.”

Magnus and Nightingale also live in Shapiro’s district.

The students were lobbying lawmakers to vote for Asher’s Law, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s anti-bullying bill that he renamed this week and reintroduced into the Texas House of Representatives. Sen.

Wendy Davis of Fort Worth introduced anti-bullying legislation in the Senate that will be heard in Shapiro’s education committee.

Mossi said that passing Asher’s Law was crucial.

“I try to let people know they’re not alone,” he said. “But I’m not in high school anymore.”

Magnus said that YFT is a safe space, but “Passing this law will make schools a safe space, too.”

Sen. John Carona’s office was the group’s next stop. Carona represents Richardson, the Park Cities, parts of Garland and most of North Dallas. Other YFT members explained their experiences to Carona’s staff.

Elliott Puckett said that when he was attacked in the bathroom at his high school, the principal told him he brought it on himself.

“I’ve been through so much bullying,” said YFT member William Morvant, “I almost became one of those statistics.”

He tried killing himself three times, he said.

“I’ll be graduating from school soon,” Morvant said. “But I don’t want others going through this.”

Morvant was among those who had also spoken at a Dallas Independent School District meeting before their new anti-bullying policy was adopted.

After their morning lobbying session, the group walked across the Capitol lawn toward First United Methodist Church on Lavaca Street, where Equality Texas provided lunch.

They returned to speak to more legislators in the afternoon and stayed through Tuesday for a second day of lobbying.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

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