Laura Hughes, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center, asks the DPS board to add LGBTQ students to the anti-bullying policy. Brandon, 16, (middle) told the board he was sometimes afraid to go to school because of constant anti-gay bullying. Quinten Savwoir, project coordinator of REC's Out & Up Front Project, explained that 39 percent of the REC clients missed at least one day of school per month due to bullying.

DPS poised to expand anti-bullying policy

By Jan Stevenson

UPDATED Feb. 15, 6 p.m. See end of article

DETROIT - The freezing weather outside couldn't chill the warm reception the Detroit School Board members gave to Laura Hughes, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center, and several youth representatives at the Feb. 10 school board meeting. The REC team requested the DPS board to include LGBTQ students in the district's anti-bullying policy.

"I applaud you for having the courage to hang in there and go to school," said Anthony Adams, DPS board president in response to Brandon, 16, who described years of bullying in the DPS public schools because he is gay. "We need young people like you who want an education and are willing to fight for your right to a safe school environment."

Adams then shared a surprising and heart-wrenching story.

"I am the father of a daughter who was trans, and four years ago she committed suicide," Adams said. In a brief phone interview after the meeting, Adams said that was the first time he talked publicly about his daughter's suicide. "I am very impressed with what Ms. Hughes is doing with at the Ruth Ellis Center, and I think by getting involved there it could be very therapeutic for me and help me with my grief."

Adams, an attorney, was appointed to the board in 2009 and is the former deputy mayor of Detroit during the Kilpatrick administration. He said his experience with his daughter has sensitized him the pressures that LGBTQ youth face at school. "We need our schools to be safe for all students," he said.

Adams requested that Hughes recommend verbiage to change their existing anti-bullying policy to include LGBTQ students, and he promised to bring an inclusive policy up for a vote at the next board meeting March 10.

Later, Hughes said that she already has reviewed the current policy, prepared the recommended language and will give it to the DPS board secretary on Feb. 11. "We needed to do this public request at a DPS board meeting before we could submit the language formally. We're all ready to go," said Hughes.

The Detroit City council is also prepared to pass a city-wide anti-bullying policy. Council member Saunteel Jenkins sent her staffer, Carina Yanish, to the DPS meeting to voice support for an inclusive policy.

"Maybe we can schedule a joint ceremony with the City Council, and announce both policies at the same time," said Adams. "It would be a strong public statement that both the city and the schools will not tolerate bullying."

UPDATE: On Feb. 15, inspired by support of the DPS school board to include LGBT students in the anti-bullying policy, the Detroit City council passed a resolution "in support of the enactment of an anti-bullying ordinance in the city of Detroit." BTL will keep you updated on the official enactment of the anti-bullying policies in both the public schools and the city of Detroit.

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