Friday, February 18, 2011

HB 1386: The Best Solution to Teen Suicide (That Will Never Happen)

HB 1386 filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D - Houston) is a compassionate, well thought out, reasonable approach to the issue of teen suicide, (a problem that has recently captured the nation's attention in the wake of a string of suicides by LGBT young people, including Asher Brown of Houston) and it doesn't have a chance in hell of becoming law.

The bill, co-authored by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D - Houston) would create a statewide training program to help, not only teachers, but also police, nurses, social workers, counselors and school administrators and staff recognize children at risk of suicide and give them tools to provide assistance. HB 1386 also contains a non-discrimination policy for Texas public schools that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression with a provision requiring schools to regularly train their employees on how the non-discrimination policy applies.

Similar to Rep. Strama's HB 224 and Sen. Davis' SB 245, HB 1386 would require schools to compile annual reports of instances of bullying e and would allow bullies to be transferred to different campuses or classrooms (currently the victim may be transferred, but the bully may not). HB 1386 would also allow administrators to address instances of cyber-bullying, but unlike HB 224 and SB 245 it does not contain a provision specifically allowing administrators to address off-campus cyber-bullying.

The single biggest difference between HB 1386 and every other bullying bill filed this session is the non-discrimination policy. HB 1386 has the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for queer kids to be discriminated against in public schools -- that's what's going to keep it from becoming law. The far right in this state has a hard time accepting that teenagers have any sort of sexual orientation, let alone that that orientation might, even on occasion, be towards people of the same sex. Just look at our paleolithic sex education programs that refuse to teach kids how their bodies work or the actual mechanics of how someone might get pregnant. Conservatives don't want to believe that there are queer kids, so it's nigh on impossible for them to believe that those kids need to be protected.

If, perchance, a right winger is able to wrap their head around the concept of queer kids the next argument thrown up is than enumerated non-discrimination policies (policies that list sets of attributes that are protected) amount to a kind of "reverse discrimination", that protecting something like race or gender identity means that white, cisgender kids aren't being protected. This argument is, perhaps, the single most revealing statement ever made by the right: the assumption that white, male, straight, christian, native-born American, cisgender people do not have race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nation of origin or gender identity. Under this assumption white, male, straight, christian, native-born American, cisgender people are "normal" and anyone who doesn't posses those exact attributes is a deviation from the norm who wants special deference for being different.

Despite it's chances of being passed approaching zero I'm extremely happy to see HB 1386 filed. By presenting an alternative approach to addressing the issues of teen suicide and bullying Reps. Coleman and Farrar have made the Strama and Davis bills appear to be the middle ground that they are. This will hopefully give political cover to moderate Republicans who might otherwise be reluctant to support HB 224 and SB 245.

It's too bad that the bolder, more comprehensive approach seems so distasteful to the right, because, if passed. HB 1386 would save lives, maybe even lives dear to those right wingers.

UPDATE: Coleman has refiled HB 1386 as HB 2343 - the language is identical with the exception that the bill has been named "Asher's Law" in honor of Asher Brown, the 13 year old Houston area boy who committed suicide after enduring prolonged vicious bullying at school.

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