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LULAC Councils can be first line of defense against school bullying

Posted on 10/19/2012 @ 04:21 PM

Members of LULAC Youth Council #1113 of Dallas, Texas, rallied in support of LGBT bullied teens shortly after the epidemic of Gay Teen Suicides in September 2010. Pictured in the center is Texas State Representative Roberto Alonzo, a longtime Dallas legislator who has helped build bridges between the Latino and LGBT communities.

By Jesse Garcia

Brandon Elizares, Rafael Morelos and Austin Rodriguez bravely came out of the closet early in life. They wanted to live honest and open lives. But sadly, their communities weren’t prepared to protect them from the daily abuse, taunts and threats at school.

Brandon, 16, of El Paso, Texas, was found in his room after ingesting an unknown amount of pills. Rafael, 14, of Cashmere, Washington, left his home and hung himself on a nearby bridge. Austin, 15, of Wellsville, Ohio, put himself in a coma after overdosing on his medication.

Austin survived. Brandon and Rafael did not.

Two years ago, America experienced a string of gay teen suicides that received media attention. Nine gay youth ended their lives in September 2010 as a result of anti-gay bullying. Their deaths sparked an “It Gets Better” campaign, which included video messages of support from members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, Hollywood celebrities and even the President of the United States.

Somehow these messages of support did not reach Brandon, Rafael and Austin, whose tragedies took place in 2012. The Latino community needs to step up and address school bullying at home, and LULAC councils are the perfect vehicle to take on this problem locally with school boards.

Education is a civil right. No one should be denied a safe place where he or she can achieve his or her fullest potential.

Following the string of suicides in the fall of 2010, LULAC Council 4871 of Dallas, Texas, formed a coalition with other civil rights groups in the city to address bullying on the campuses of Dallas Independent School District, the 12th largest school district in the United States with nearly 160,000 students. Two-thirds of the student body is Latino.

Instances of anti-gay bullying in Dallas schools were all too familiar to LULAC council leaders. The council’s first-ever scholarship recipient, a 17-year-old senior named Jesus Montelongo, provided an essay that moved many in the community. The young scholar’s academic achievement was the only positive thing he took away from 12 years of public school. In elementary, Montelongo was singled out by a teacher who told him there was no room for gays on the bus for a school trip, and consequently, he was left behind. By the time the young boy was in middle school, thoughts of suicide were already forming in his head. In high school, Montelongo was threatened so much that he sat alone in the cafeteria to avoid contact with others.

Council leaders shared Montelongo’s story at rallies that LULAC 4871 and its coalition partners coordinated to get DISD school board members to take up the matter. At an Oct. 15, 2010, anti-bullying rally, a press conference with LULAC members and Latino elected officials called for an end to violence on campuses and for acceptance of LGBT students. That evening school board members agreed to meet with LULAC and its partners to discuss a blue print on a safe schools policy.

LULAC 4871 and its coalition partners researched and crafted a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that included the best school codes of conduct from across the nation. The result was a policy that not only protected LGBT youth, but also covered youth of different faiths, races, weight, language and more categories. The policy also clearly defined what constituted bullying. LULAC was also happy that the policy would protect youth who are immigrants and youth who primarily speak a foreign language.

On Nov. 18, 2010, LULAC members attended the DISD school board meeting where officials not only voted for unanimously for the anti-bullying policy but even shared their own stories of being bullied. That signature policy can be found on this link: http://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Code/361?filter=FFI

Policies like Dallas’ help curb incidents that lead to bullying and suicide by making educators and administration more accountable. Bullied children are often either too scared or ashamed to report instances so it is up to adults to take action.

In a 2011 study commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (a national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students), researchers surveyed 8,584 students between the ages of 13 and 20 from every state and the District of Columbia and found that:

  • 8 out of 10 LGBT students faced harassment in school (81 percent)
  • Three-fifths of respondents felt unsafe at school (63.5 percent)
  • And nearly a third skipped a day of school due to safety concerns (29.8 percent)
To help Latinos tackle the bullying issue with schools and within their own family, national Hispanic organizations, including LULAC, have united for the Familia es Familia campaign. Familia es Familia is a first-of-its kind, comprehensive public education campaign that provides resource materials to help Latino families address LGBT issues, from bullying, to discrimination to marriage. Visit www.familiaesfamilia.org to learn more about how you can prevent more suicides and teach acceptance and respect to our future generations.

Jesse Garcia is a LULAC member and former president of LULAC Council 4871.

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