Schools Protect Gay Youth
Houston Trustees Vote to Include Sexual Orientation as a Protected Status in Student Code of Conduct
[HOUSTON, TX] - Gay students in Houston Independent School District facilities may rest easier this year thanks to new language in the student code of conduct.
HISD board trustees last Thursday approved a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation as a protected status.
According to school district officials' written report after the meeting, "To promote a climate of respect for all, the Code of Student Conduct requires students to respect the rights and privileges of other students, teachers, and district staff members. After considerable discussion by the board, the Code now prohibits `any verbal abuse or bullying of others, including, but not limited to, slurs, name-calling or derogatory statements, including derogatory comments to another person because of that person's race, color, religion, national origin, disability, physical/personal appearance or sexual orientation.'"
The report also states, "The Code defines bullying as `any act or speech that subjects persons to indignity, humiliation, intimidation, physical abuse or threat of physical abuse, social or other isolation, shame or disgrace.'"
A violation of that policy would be considered a Level II infraction and be referred to an administrator for disciplinary action.
At the HISD board's June 27 special meeting, trustee Jeff Shadwick offered an alternative in the policy. He said he did not want to enumerate offenses in the code.
Shadwick suggested that the wording simply prohibit slurs and name- calling that would cause a student shame, humiliation or disgrace.
"I think lists are a bad idea," he said, the Houston Chronicle reported. "I want to send them broad words. I think principals know bullying when they see it. It identifies a conduct we are trying to address."
Shadwick's motion was rejected by a 5-3 vote. A second motion then was passed, listing offenses based on religion, physical appearance, race and sexual orientation.
The change in the code of conduct becomes effective this upcoming school year. Each year, the code of conduct is distributed to every student at the beginning of the school year and lists the rights and responsibilities of students.
Trustee Esther Campos had suggested that a sexual orientation protection clause be added to the code of conduct. She said her idea wasn't in response to any specific problems but she noted that children can be mean toward others because of their differences.
"It's to protect all children," Campos told the Chronicle.
Jim Null, chair of the education committee for Houston's chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG), spoke to the board prior to its vote on the new language. He emphasized the importance of an itemized list.
In addition, two HISD teachers spoke in favor of the move. There were no opposing speakers.
Laurie Bricker, HISD school board president, previously emphasized the district's message of tolerance for all people.
"What our board is working toward is a stronger and more comprehensive code of student conduct that includes [a ban on] discrimination against anyone for any reason," Bricker told the Voice last week. "I know that we all believe in that.
"The absolute pride that I feel in our board is reflected in the fact that we're not struggling whether or not to include sexual orientation" as a protected category, she added. The decision, she said, is simply "the most effective way to send a very clear and concise message" for tolerance.
School district spokeswoman Heather Browne said the proposed change simply would reinforce the district's stance against discrimination.
According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, most gay students routinely hear derogatory comments directed at them because of their sexual orientation.
GLSEN performed the only national survey of gay students' high school experiences last year, the 2001 National School Climate Survey. The survey found that 84 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth regularly hear slurs such as "faggot" and "dyke" at school.
In addition, 82 percent reported that teachers and staff "never" or "only sometimes" intervene when they witness the use of such "hate language," GLSEN states.
The survey also found that more than eight out of 10 gay high school students eventually experience verbal, physical or sexual harassment at school.
According to GLSEN, parents across the United States are supportive of protection for gay students in school policies. A national survey of parents conducted by Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates last year found that 83 percent of parents support "putting in place/expanding anti-harassment and non-discrimination policies to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students," GLSEN reported.
Houston Independent School District Board Services office: www.houstonisd.org
Also, eight out of 10 parents support "teacher sensitivity trainings on tolerance that include instructions on dealing with LGBT harassment in schools," according to the survey.
Earlier this spring, HISD conducted a training seminar that was mandatory for principals and addressed issues particular to gay students.