Thursday, June 30, 2005

LGRL Announces Special Session Victory

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students scored a major victory in the Texas House of Representatives last night. Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) led the way on two important steps toward making Texas public schools safer for LGBT youth.

During debate on HB 2--a bill to overhaul the funding and programming of Texas public schools--Representative Coleman successfully added an amendment calling for a study on the bullying and discrimination in Texas schools. The amendment would require the Texas Education Agency to collect data on the reasons for and frequency of bullying and discrimination in our public schools. The results of this report will help educators and policymakers create positive environments and ensure that all schools are places where students are free to learn, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

"Governor Perry has called us back to Austin to fix some of the fundamental ways we fund and educate our Texas youth,” stated Representative Coleman. “During this important debate, we must remember that every Texas student has the right to a public education. When students are discriminated against in school, and the school does nothing about it, we are failing them in a very fundamental way. This amendment will give lawmakers the necessary information to better understand and address the issue of bullying and discrimination against LGBT youth in our public schools.”

Heath Riddles, Deputy Director of Communications for the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, applauded the move. “Mr. Coleman continues to be a champion of equality and fairness in this state,” Riddles said. “He understands the importance of protecting our youth, and the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas is proud to have him our corner. This lobby will continue to demand that type of commitment from all public servants in Texas. We will not rest until equality and fairness, not political divisiveness, are the driving forces in this state’s political arena.”

K.T. Thirion, 19-year-old LGRL volunteer and youth activist, says she’s relieved to hear about the amendment. “I know what it’s like to be harassed at school and not feel safe walking around campus,” Thirion said. “This kind of legislation is important, because we need to show that harassment based on sexual preference and gender identity is a problem in our schools. I think some Texans will be very surprised by the findings of this study.”

A separate bill filed by Representative Coleman, HB 60, would go one step further toward protecting students. The Dignity for All Students Act would protect students from bullying and discrimination based on the ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin of the student or the student's parent in Texas public schools.

The Dignity for All Students Act is a nonpartisan issue: it protects gay kids from being harassed in public schools. Representative Coleman filed the bill in response to the fact that no state or federal law extends protections to LGBT youth in Texas public schools. A national study done by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, indicates 84% of LGBT youth in public schools reported regularly experiencing homophobic harassment, while 82.9% of LGBT students report that faculty or staff never intervened or intervened only some of the time when present and homophobic harassment takes place.


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