by Josef Molnar
The Houston Independent School District has moved one step closer to outlawing discrimination against its students, faculty, and staff based on sexual orientation.
The school board approved, on first reading, a proposal that makes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression a breach of its district policy. All seven board members who were at the meeting voted in favor of the change; board members Harvin Moore and Michael Lunceford were not present. The board is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal at its August 11 meeting.
Jenifer Rene Pool, a community activist who is running for Houston City Council and has worked on the proposal for three years, said the change has been a long time coming.
“This has been a labor of love for years,” she said. “When I got that first text from [board member] Anna Eastman telling me it passed seven-to-zero, it brought tears to my eyes.”
Although Pool began the effort to include nondiscrimination language in the district’s policy, she was soon joined by other community members. She thanked Cristan Williams and David Embry, an HISD teacher, as well as the Houston Federation of Teachers, for their help over the years.
“I couldn’t do it all myself,” she said. “This needed to be a joint effort amongst the members of the GLBT community or it would have no meaning. I’m grateful as can be that this is happening.”
She said Josephine Tittsworth’s successful work to get the same language included at the University of Houston provided an incentive for HISD to do the same.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which represents HISD teachers, said the union took an early position in favor of the policy change.
“It’s a human rights issue, as far as we are concerned,” she said. “We have a number of members who are very involved in this issue, and we feel it’s the right thing to do. I’m glad to see the board agreed.”
Past incarnations of the board had avoided an official vote on the issue, Fallon said, and instead placed the nondiscrimination language in its less-formal guidelines a few years ago.
“It’s weird because the administration knew it was the right thing to bring forward, but they were concerned about conservatives ranting and raving, so they put it in the regulations so it would get people used to it and then they could move it over [to become an official policy],” she said. “Any time it becomes a public issue, it can draw a lot of opposition, but it really didn’t.”
If the board approves the policy change in August, Fallon said the union will publish the information in its annual handouts to teachers.
Trustee Larry Marshall sees the change as a positive move for the district.
“This should send a message that when you’re in an HISD school, you’re on our turf,” he said, “and on our turf, everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”