Houston ISD Board Approves LGBT Discrimination and Harassment Policy Revision

June 23, 2011 at 11:17pm

It was eight months ago that the death of 13-year old Asher Brown was in the nations spotlight along with many other teen suicides. Asher's parents believe the eighth grader was bullied to death, and claimed his school and the Cypress-Fairbanks school district, just north of Houston, did nothing to stop it. The bullying went on for two years since Asher entered middle school and during that time, they had gone to complain to coaches, an assistant principal and anyone who would listen. Asher’s parents said nothing was ever done by any school official.


On June 23rd the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh largest school district in the country, has adopted a LGBT inclusive anti-Discrimination and Harassment policy. As defined in the adopted policy, employees of the district shall not discriminate on the basis of or engage in harassment directed toward students or district employees based on “sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.”


The HISD board voted 7-0 in favor of the policy revision, with 2 members absent.


Speaking in favor of the new policy revision was David Embry, a Houston ISD Vanguard teacher who had received homophobic harassment during his tenure as a kindergarten teacher. Mr. Embry talked about how after teaching a sample class to parents and other faculty prior to being hired, the administrator turned to the parents and asked if they “would mind if he was gay.”


Prior to the start of the school year a call was sent out to all parents informing them that “he was a young man and a homosexual and it asked them if they were ok with that.” He continued, “Several parents told their children that I was gay. The first week of school the principal went around telling several teachers that I was gay.” Mr Embry talked about how the school took on a ‘mob mentality’ and how he endured degrading comments and harassment by fellow school officials for weeks before being pulled from his job on erroneous allegations. He was eventually cleared of all allegations and returned to school, but was consistently reminded of the homophobic taunts that he had received.


Before the Board vote HISD Board member Larry Marshall, (District IX) said, “I think this recommendation clearly signals to principals that when you enter a school building you are on our turf, and on our turf we are going to treat everyone with dignity and respect. I think that administrators need to thoroughly understand that anything else will not be tolerated.”


All seven members of the Board voting for the new policy praised the passage of the policy revision:


A substantiated charge of harassment against a student or employee shall result in disciplinary action. The term "harassment" includes repeated, unwelcome, and offensive slurs, jokes, or other oral, written, graphic, or physical conduct relating to an individual's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability or handicap, or age, sex, marital status, veteran status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational or work environment.


Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District has yet to update their discrimination policy to include “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and/or Expression,” but has updated a handbook asking teachers, to “not, under any circumstances, comment on a student’s gender, ethnicity/race, religion, sexual orientation, or physical appearance.”