Student at arts magnet school says she was bullied by a teacher; advocates say policy dealing with faculty behavior needs changes
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer [email protected]
Delaney Hillan kissed her girlfriend in the hall at school, and that’s when the trouble started.
Hillan, who came out during her junior year in high school, is now a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She said she didn’t expect to have problems being gay at the magnet school, but, she added, at least one teacher had problems with it.
“A teacher yelled at us [when I kissed my girlfriend] and said she didn’t want to see any of this again,” Hillan said, adding that the teacher threatened to report the incident.
Hillan said she understood that official school policy was no public displays of affection in school. But she said the kiss was more a “bye, see you later” kiss than making out in the hall. It was much less than what goes on regularly between heterosexual couples in school, she said.
And she wasn’t the only student to ever kiss her girlfriend in the school.
“It’s Booker T!” she said, the school many LGBT students choose to attend because it’s considered a safe place to go to school.
But the teacher persisted.
A few days later, Hillan said she was walking down the hall and the same teacher was standing outside her classroom. She stopped Hillan as she was passing to again admonish her.
Hillan said the teacher told her, “I want you to know I’m very disappointed in your behavior this year. I don’t appreciate your being so flagrant about it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
Hillan’s mother picked her up from school that day, and when she got in the car, she said, she began to cry.
“I never felt so dehumanized,” Hillan said.
With her mother’s support, Hillan spoke to the principal who said she would talk to the teacher.
“Ever since then, she’s been nice to me,” Hillan said.
She spoke sympathetically of the teacher and said she understood the source of the bullying was the teacher’s religious background. But she doesn’t want another student to feel dehumanized in school again.
“Booker T. Washington’s a place where you are accepted,” she said. “The rules and policies at the school are accepting of all.”
Hillan said school is a place of trust and not somewhere a student should ever feel attacked.
This year, Hillan is president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She has demonstrated with QueerLiberaction and she wanted to speak up for other students, especially those in less-safe environments.
“Students are pushed, yelled at and spit on,” she said. “Even if they’re not openly gay, but others think they are, they’re isolated. It’s hard to make friends when you have that label put on you.”
Kristine Vowels has worked on LGBT issues from within Dallas Independent School District for several years. She told Hillan that the DISD board was holding an open hearing about a new, inclusive anti-bullying policy and that she could tell her story to the public.
Hillan said speaking to the board in front of the packed room at the DISD meeting didn’t bother her.
“Maybe because I’m a theater major,” she said, “but I wanted to get across what was important.”
“Why would you go to a place you were scared of?” Hillan said.
Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell said that the recently approved anti-bullying policy goes a long way to protect students throughout the school district.
But, he noted, the policy adopted addresses students, not faculty and staff. He said that the employee manual needs to reflect new policies in the student handbook.
McDonnell also said that training must be implemented to make sure faculty and staff understand what constitutes bullying against LGBT students and what they must do to stop it.
The anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression. The harassment policy already included sexual orientation and now must be updated similarly, McDonnell said.
That policy was written in the mid-1990s with the assistance of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. However, protected groups should be consistent across different areas of conduct, McDonnell said.
He said that there must be a safe way for students to report bullying. “It’s harder to report your teacher,” McDonnell said.
Hillan had a receptive principal who didn’t hesitate to take action. But in the case of transgender student Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School, the bullying allegedly came from her principal.
Moreno wanted to run for homecoming queen but was stopped by the school’s new principal. But rather than just stopping her bid, Moreno thought the principal’s words crossed over into bullying.
The principal allegedly called Moreno an “it, or whatever you are” and threatened to close the school’s GSA in retaliation for Moreno speaking to Dallas Voice.
DISD trustee Lew Blackburn has said that the district needs a district-wide policy on homecoming elections.
Moreno believed that if a teacher were speaking to her inappropriately, she could have turned to the principal, but in her case there was nowhere to turn other than the press.
Hillan thinks the solution is simpler than that. Any bullying by faculty and staff needs to stop.
“Students shouldn’t be afraid to go to school,” Hillan said. “And I shouldn’t be afraid of my teachers.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.