On June 23, 2011, the 7th largest school district in the country passed non-discrimination protections that include gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. The measure passed with a 7-0 vote, with 2 abstentions.
Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed off on an anti-bullying bill that protects against all forms of bullying. However, the law has received criticism for leaving out explicit protections based on gender identity, sexual orientation and other protected classes like race, sex, and religion.
A 2009 report from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network found that 2 in 3 students in the state experienced harassment and sometimes violence because of their gender expression. Absent of a state non-discrimination law that protects LGBT people and a fully enumerated state anti-bullying law, the school district’s new policy comes as a relief to transgender students. Cristan, a transgender woman and former Houston school district student, wrote on her blog:
My experience in school was fairly horrific. The bullying I endured inspired thoughts of suicide each and every day. There were days when I would beg – on my knees with tears rolling down my face – to not be sent to school. School was a living hell and staff did nothing to make it better.
Anna Eastman, a Houston School Board Member, told The National Center for Transgender Equality:
For me adding Gender Identity and Gender Expression to the list of protected attributes became imperative after learning the reality of not only gay teens, but also trans teens. After getting to know just a couple of people who lived the reality of trans identity, any (even subconscious) resistance I might have had fell away […] I have three children and while I know they and their peers will still struggle through developmental milestones, I do believe there will be many supports in place to hopefully make adolescent coming of age more universal for all children rather than the incredibly different and difficult journey LGBT kids have faced in the past.
Juliet Stipeche, another Houston School Board member, said:
These crucial civil right protections enhance the educational and work environments for HISD’s students and employees. The HISD Board of Education’s unanimous vote sends a clear message that HISD embraces diversity and equality and is dedicated to ensuring that our schools are safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for all children, educators and support personnel. I am extraordinarily proud of my colleagues on the Board and the administration for pushing forward this critical change.
Watch video of the meeting here.