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New Texas Bill Focuses on Gay Youth

Houston representative to introduce legislation to protect students from anti-gay bias

[HOUSTON, TX] - A Houston state representative said this week that he will file legislation to protect Texas students from discrimination based on factors including gender identity and sexual orientation.

The announcement by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) follows recent approval by the Houston Independent School District of a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation as a protected status. The HISD policy does not, however, specify gender identity as protected from bias.

But Coleman's proposed bill is almost identical to one filed in the last legislative session by gay-friendly state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt of Dallas. That bill died in committee.

Ehrhardt's bill, co-sponsored by legislators including gay-friendly Houston Rep. Debra Danburg, stated: "A public educational institution or employee of a public educational institution may not discriminate against a student enrolled in the institution on account of the ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin of the student or the student's parent."

In a press release Tuesday, Coleman said he will file a bill to "protect students from discrimination based on their ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity, disability, religion, national origin and sexual orientation."

Gay-friendly Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt of Dallas filed a bill almost identical to Coleman's in the last legislative session, but that proposal died in the state House.

"Currently, no Texas law provides protection against discrimination for students," Coleman said in the press release. "The recent decision by the HISD board of trustees is an important step. We need to take this policy a step further to ensure that all Texas schools are safe for all students."

Randall Ellis, spokesperson for Coleman, said the new proposal may take after a recently approved New Jersey law, which directs public schools to draft their own policies but does not include the wording for those policies in the law.

"The bill hasn't been drawn up at this point," Ellis said.

Previously, Coleman has sponsored a Texas bill similar to the national Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the most recent version included gender identity, according to Ellis. That measure achieved a hearing but made no progress in the legislature.

Vanessa Edwards Foster, board chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, which is based in Texas, said she is obviously thrilled that gender identity will be included in the proposal to protect gay youth.

"This is something that's been long needed, and [bias due to gender identity is] something that dogs a lot of students," Foster said. "Unfortunately, it contributes to a rather marked increase in dropout rates among students who have to deal with this."

National Transgender Advocacy Coalition www.ntac.org Texas House of Representatives www.house.state.tx.us

Rep. Garnet Coleman 5445 Almeda, Suite 403 Houston, TX 77004

The likelihood that the bill might pass is a toss-up at this point, particularly with November elections on the horizon, she said.

"It's very difficult to really kind of gauge that," Foster said. "The redistricting has pretty much reshaped the complexion of what we're going to be seeing in the upcoming legislative session. We don't know in a lot of those instances who exactly is going to be elected in those seats.

"Unfortunately, we're not probably going to have as advantageous a makeup in the legislature as we did previously," she added. "We're hopeful, but unfortunately we're not very optimistic at this point.

"We've also got freshmen legislators who are in there who will need the educational process," Foster noted. "Before, we had the luxury of having people who were aware of [gender identity issues] and didn't really need much in the way of lobbying."

If a bill such as the one Coleman proposes is approved by Texas lawmakers, it would make the state the ninth in the country to protect students from discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation. It would make Texas only the fourth state to specifically include protections for transgender students.

The next session for the Texas Legislature, its 78th, begins in January.

Related Stories:

Jul 5, 2002 - Gay Houston Youth Welcome New Policy

Jul 5, 2002 - Schools Protect Gay Youth

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