APRIL 28, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
Gay educators group forming in Houston
> Continued from Page 1
group in 1994. There are now 85 local chapters around the country and the organization supports students who start gay-
straight alliances in their schools.
The number of gay-straight alliances has
"exploded" in recent years, especially since
college student Matthew Shepherd was
murdered in 1998, in part for being gay,
Kevin Jennings, GLSEN's founder and executive director, recently told the Pittsburgh
Now, there are an estimated 700 GSAs
around the country.
Murray's effort has the support of
GLSEN, which will send its southern field
organizer, Brenda Barron, to Houston in
early June to talk with local organizers.
Based in Atlanta, Barron's territory
Barron said she will help guide the local
community in starting the chapter.
"Ultimately, it takes the people in the
community to get the chapter started,"
Barron said. "It takes a strong grassroots
voice and grassroots organizing and seeking action using democracy as it should be
used—voices heard for change."
Without the whole community, she cautioned, it won't be effective,
Once a chapter is in place, change is
brought about "by spreading the word and
educating the community for the need to
change the language in school policy," a
process that isn't quick, Barron said.
"The efforts produce a much more open
environment to get policies in place and
training in place," she said.
But efforts to start a GLSEN chapter in
Houston already have the backing of some
"We need an organization to work with
the system to make the system more
responsive," said Harriet Arvey, assistant
superintendent for student services at
HISD. "I would personally like to see a
policy that does address bias regarding
sexual orientation for students and teachers. By not having one, we are not sensitive to gay and lesbian administration
staff, teachers and students."
While HISD has worked with PFLAG to
hold training sessions for counselors, the
school district's record on gay and lesbian
issues is spotty.
HISD received an "F" from GLSEN in a
1998 report grading the nation's 42 largest
school districts on how well they protect
gay and lesbian students and educators.
The report graded the school districts in
six areas, including whether school policies
protected students and staff from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, if staff training includes gay and
lesbian issues, if curriculum is inclusive and
whether gay-straight alliances are allowed.
Houston joined San Antonio and 40
percent of the school systems in reporting
a "no" in all six areas; Dallas earned a
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"B," in part for its written policies protecting gay and lesbian students and staff
and for the district's staff training,
according to the report.
Arvey, a supporter of PFLAG and the
Houston Area Teen Coalition of
Homosexuals, said that although HISD has
gTOup counseling, teacher sensitivity training and language that is intended to protect
all students, protection for gay children is
'It is not specifically spelled out," Arvey said.
But Arvey said she was "personally
offended" by the 1998 GLSEN report.
"We have some of the most sensitive policies toward AIDS and HIV. They are exemplary. But I was really shocked the district
does not have a specific policy that's gender
related," she said.
Terry Abbott, HISD's press secretary, said
the school district has policies in place to
protect "all students," though the policies
don't specifically mention gay and lesbian
students. Abbott said he disagreed with
findings of the 1998 GLSEN report.
But he said he was unfamiliar with efforts
to organize a GLSEN chapter in Houston
and refused to comment.
Murray wants the metro Houston chapter
to be diverse, she said.
"I want everyone to feel welcome,"
Murray said. "They don't have to be gay or
lesbian to be a part of the organization. I want
it to be diverse organization building a coalition across the entire learning spectrum."
Brenda Barron, GLSEN's southern field
organizer, will come to Houston in early June
to help bolster efforts to start a chapter of the
national group here.
Organizers planned their first meeting
this week and are set to staff a booth at
Resurrection MCC on April 30 and May 7 to
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