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GLBT Political Caucus Endorses Juliet Stipeche for Nov. 30 Runoff

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Candidate Juliet Stipeche answers questions at a meet-and-greet in a supporter’s home on Wednesday, November 10, 2010. On her right wrist is a purple HRC “End Bullying” wristband. Looking on is Zeph Capo, director of the Houston Teachers Federation. Photo: Brandon Wolf


HISD School Board Seat Runoff Election

Houston GLBT Political Caucus Endorses Juliet Stipeche
for HISD Trustee 8 in the Nov. 30 Runoff


by Brandon Wolf

A year ago, scant attention would have been paid to a runoff election for a Houston Independent School District (HISD) trustee, especially when the election is for the unfulfilled one-year term of former trustee Diana Davilla, who recently resigned.

However, the recent national awareness of school bullying and gay teen suicide makes even this race an important election for Houston’s LGBT community. Building a school culture that values and protects every child will take time. Electing concerned school board members is where it all starts.

The Caucus and the Teachers’ Federation Endorsement
Kris Banks, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, says that “Juliet Stipeche was one of four candidates who screened with the Caucus. The other candidates were Judith Cruz, Peter Schwethelm, and Cheryl Moodie. All four gave answers at their screenings that were generally supportive of the GLBT community.”

Banks continued: “What made Juliet stand out was her record. Juliet has been a member of our organization. She had spent the past several months, in which she was not a candidate, working with the local members of the Human Rights Campaign [HRC]. She knew and had the support of many members of the GLBT community and people who are important to the GLBT community, like Rep. Garnet Coleman.

“For this endorsement, our members chose a candidate who not only was supportive of GLBT issues and qualified, but also one whom they knew. We obviously need people in public office who support our issues. But to truly be the best advocate, that person has to know our community—and Juliet both supports our issues and knows our community.”

Juliet Stipeche at her law office.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT), says “The HFT supported Juliet Stipeche because she was not only the brightest and the most articulate candidate, but also because she was the most independent. No one bought and prepackaged her. She is running for all the right reasons. She is from the East End community and she cares deeply about that community and the future of its children. She is deeply grateful to teachers for the education she received in HISD that helped her receive her degrees from Rice University and from the University of Texas, and she thanks her teachers. She would be a breath of fresh air on the Board.”

Zeph Capo, an HFT board member, added: “I would just like to echo that Juliet’s knowledge of the law and commitment to our community will be instrumental to achieving full equality for our LGBT employees.”

East End Student Days
Growing up in Houston’s East End, the daughter of immigrant parents, Stipeche learned the value of a good education.

Her father was a diesel mechanic and electrical technician, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom. Both instilled in their daughters the idea that by working hard and getting a good education, they could achieve anything.

Stipeche did just that. She graduated as the valedictorian from the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. She then went on to graduate magna cum laude from Rice University and earn her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

Now, as a successful attorney living back in the East End, Stipeche wants to ensure that the next generation of young Houstonians has the same opportunity for success as she did.

Stipeche says that “planting the seeds for success depends on four things: strengthening the educational foundation, exceeding scholastic expectations, ensuring parental involvement, and developing community participation.”

Anti-Bullying Proposals
O
utSmart magazine talked with Stipeche about issues that affect Houston’s LGBT community—especially bullying of LGBT youth and the resultant suicides.

OutSmart: Would you support adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the HISD Equal Opportunity Employment policy?
Juliet Stipeche:
Yes. I support HISD adopting a policy similar to the proposed Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. HISD should extend employment protections based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Would you support adding LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying instructions for HISD personnel and students?
Yes. This must be an essential part of anti-bullying instruction for HISD personnel and students.

Do you realize that although kids of all sorts are bullied, it is mostly LGBT kids who kill themselves?
Yes. I understand that LGBT youth are more than three times as likely to have attempted a suicide in the past 12 months, may lack family support, and may be rejected by their families, or told to leave home. We must recognize and acknowledge the differences in our student population and address unique issues.

Do you have any interest in supporting programs to help LGBT kids get off the streets, into foster homes, and back into school?
Yes. Homeless youth are more likely to use drugs, attempt suicide, or engage in the sex trade. HISD must have measures in place to provide resources and support for LGBT youth who may face extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Are you aware of how difficult that is, since these kids have been living the hard life on the streets, prostituting themselves, selling and doing drugs, while they are still minors?
I am very aware of these difficulties.

What kind of bullying training would you fund for teachers and students?
I would support the creation and implementation of orientation programs, workshops, and classroom lectures for the students. I would also support training and development programs for teachers, principals, support staff, and volunteers. HISD must partner with various community organizations and learn from programs such as the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools.

Would you extend the training to parents, volunteers, and administrators, so that they can also identify and respond to bullying?
Absolutely. Everyone must be educated to identify and respond to bullying.

How would you expect schools to respond to specific antigay taunting instead of just “general” bullying, since LGBT or LGBT-perceived youth are more at risk of suicide?
Education and training regarding both “general” and LGBT taunting and bullying must be addressed to students, teachers, principals, support personnel, and parents. There must also be support measures in place, such as intervention counselors to assist the emotional needs of students.

Juliet Stipeche (second row, third from left) helps at a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) table.

What kind of zero-tolerance policy would you like to see enforced in the schools?
Violence, drugs, weapons, and criminal activity should not be tolerated in a place of learning. Schools should develop a prevention program that eliminates any expectation that harassment and criminal behavior will go unpunished. Parents, students, administrators, and school employees must understand behavioral expectations in a learning environment. When violations occur, swift intervention must take place to stop bullying, and enforcement of applicable disciplinary action must take place. Children must learn how to behave appropriately and learn the consequences associated with their actions, and parents must be involved in the disciplinary process and made aware of their child’s inappropriate behavior. Additionally, any report of bullying must be taken seriously and swiftly addressed. A child’s opportunity to succeed is dependent upon learning appropriate behavioral expectations and skills in a community setting.

Would you help to develop a long-term collaboration between the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Human Rights Campaign?
Yes. HISD must work with our invaluable community resources to make a difference. As a board member, I want to develop an inclusive approach of participating and collaborating with local community organizations and resources.

Would you support having Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, speak to school assemblies?
Yes. Her message for tolerance and equality must be heard. We are condemned to repeat the past when we fail to learn from it. Additionally, in the face of enormous tragedy, Ms. Shepard relentlessly worked to assist in the passage of a historic piece of federal legislation—the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act—in 2009. Therefore, Ms. Shepard’s strength and triumph should be celebrated and appreciated.

What kind of accountability do you think schools should have to “walk the walk” instead of just giving lip service?
HISD must implement a strategic plan to address bullying that includes education, training, and enforcement. Serious repercussions must exist for HISD schools that fail to follow or strictly enforce HISD’s anti-bullying policy.

What kind of records do you think the schools should keep? The Cy-Fair ISD said that they had no records of Asher Brown’s parents’ complaints?
HISD should develop a paper and electronic reporting system that allows for the documentation, retention, and tracking of complaints. It is my understanding that state representatives Coleman and Farrar will introduce the Dignity for All Students Act in the next legislative session, which includes a reporting and tracking component. While I strongly support the passage of this act, time is of the essence, and HISD should be proactive in developing a system of recording and documenting complaints of bullying. There should also be an anonymous component to the reporting option that allows students to more freely report incidents of bullying.

Do you think schools should have intervention counselors for emotional problems?
Yes. HISD should invest in the hiring and retention of intervention social workers and counselors who can address the emotional, psychological, and social issues of students in need.

What can be done to make bullying “un-cool”?
HISD must work especially hard to develop a culture where bullying is not condoned or tolerated. This comes from investing in education, training, and counseling of students, teachers, parents, principals, and support personnel. Additionally, HISD’s anti-bullying policy must be understood by all employees, students and teachers, and it must be strictly enforced. However, there must be a culture developed at each school where bullying is not considered “cool.”

How do you think bystanders can be motivated to intervene when they see a bullying incident?
HISD could develop “Good Samaritan” awards where students can receive some sort of reward for intervening on behalf of a child that is being bullied. It is a form of positive social reinforcement to support and create a culture of tolerance and non-violence.

What ideas do you have for putting a stop to bullying?
A successful intervention program requires a district-wide commitment to implement a solid policy that changes and addresses bullying. First and foremost, everyone in HISD should be knowledgeable and committed to the enforcement of HISD’s anti-bullying policy. Second, HISD must create a means of reporting, documenting, and tracking bullying within each school. An anonymous reporting option should be made available for students, teachers, parents, and HISD support personnel as a means of reporting and identifying “hot spots” that require additional intervention, training, and support.

Juliet Stipeche is shown at a recent Painting Project. Photo Courtesy Juliet Stipeche Campaign

Each school year should start with an orientation program that explains HISD’s anti-bullying policy for students and parents in an accessible fashion according to grade level. All parents should receive a copy of HISD’s anti-bullying policy and have an opportunity to participate in workshops that explain the policy. Additionally, every teacher, principal, and support personnel must participate in training programs that explain HISD’s anti-bullying policy and up-to-date practices in addressing bullying.

Classroom instruction should also be developed that combines lecture, discussions, and role-playing. Intervention programs and themes should be consistently addressed and lectured throughout the school year to create an anti-bullying culture within each school.

HISD should partner with local community organizations such as HATCH, GLSEN, and HRC to assist in developing and implementing proper training programs. While the goal must always be prevention, HISD must also work with law enforcement to report and address student harassment, assault, and other criminal behavior. HISD should also work with the Houston Police Department and its campus peace officers to create a collaborative anti-bullying reporting and prevention policy.

You’ve been very involved with the Human Rights Campaign. What were some specific projects that you worked on?
I am a member of HRC’s Federal Club and Diversity Committee. I have worked with Paul Guillory and HRC on various volunteer projects for Ya Es Hora, the U.S. Census project, and Hip Hop for HIV. I have participated in HRC’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and attended this year’s Houston Gala. Paul Guillory, Kenneth Humphrey, and I also celebrated our birthdays together this year in June. We had an extraordinary party, celebrating our special day together and unity through diversity!

Why do you want to be an HISD Trustee?
I grew up in what is considered a pretty rough neighborhood, and I witnessed all sorts of tragedy and problems as a child. However, I was blessed with loving parents and supportive teachers, and I worked very hard to succeed. I realized at a young age that education is the key to a better future, and I also developed a love and appreciation of service and volunteerism. I have been a mentor and volunteer for years, focusing on students and encouraging them to follow their dreams. Given my unique life’s circumstances, I developed a passionate conviction for equality, human rights, and social justice. I want to serve as an HISD Trustee for District VIII to improve the quality of our community’s public education system for all students. I want to make a difference to ensure that every child has a fair shake, a chance for a better tomorrow, and an opportunity to fulfill his or her dreams in a safe, nurturing, and supportive learning environment. I will make a difference and serve as a strong advocate for our children and community.


Do You Live in HISD District 8?

HISD.District 8

This map shows the boundaries of HISD District 8. To find out which HISD District you live in, click on the following link:   http://www.houstonisd.org/HISDConnectDS/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=b591745faf105110VgnVCM10000028147fa6RCRD&vgnextchannel=245b2f796138c010VgnVCM10000052147fa6RCRD


Early Voting Begins November 18

The HISD Trustee – District VIII Runoff Election will be on Tuesday, November 30.
For more information pertaining to the runoff election, voters should call 713/556-6121.
Early Voting Schedule for HISD Trustee – District VIII Runoff Election:
Nov. 18–24 (7 a.m.–7 p.m., including Saturday and Sunday)

Early Voting Locations:

Gregory Lincoln Education Center
1101 Taft Street, Houston, TX 77019
Furr High School
520 Mercury, Houston 77013
West Gray Adaptive Recreation Center
1475 West Gray, Houston, TX 77019
Austin High School
1700 Dumble, Houston, TX 77023

Join the Juliet Stipeche Campaign
www.julietforhisd.com/

Phone Banking – Seven Days a Week
Juliet Stipeche’s campaign office is at 7049 Lawndale in between Wayside and 75th Street.
Phone banking goes on every day between 2 and 8 p.m.
Monday–Friday, 10–6 on Saturday and 1–6 on Sunday.

Houston GLBT Political Caucus – Montrose Block Walking
Sunday, November 14, 2010 • 3 p.m.–5 p.m.
Caucus Headquarters: 1124 West Gray, Houston, Texas 77006

Meet and Greet Reception with Juliet Stipeche
Wednesday, November 17, 2010  • 6 p.m.–7:30 p.m.
Saul and Lisa Valentin • 1943 Norfolk St., Houston, TX 77098
Please RSVP to Lisa by Mon. 15 @ 832.830.3697 or [email protected]

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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