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TribBlog: A Bill for Asher Brown

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, says it would be "irresponsible" not to act in the wake of the suicide of 13-year old Asher Brown, a student who committed suicide after being bullied for his size, religion and perceived sexuality.

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State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, says it would be "irresponsible" not to act in the wake of the suicide of 13-year-old Asher Brown.

Brown, an eighth-grade student in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, shot himself after, his parents say, 18 months of bullying for his size, religion and perceived sexuality. "My heart breaks for Asher Brown and his family, and every victim of bullying that has to go to school in fear," Coleman said in a statement. "Every student has the right to a public education, and every student has the right to a safe learning environment."

Coleman and fellow Houston Democratic state Rep. Jessica Farrar announced their intention to push an anti-discrimination bill for Texas public schools. Coleman has filed the bill in every session since 2003, but it has gained little traction and repeatedly been killed in the public education committee. "The opposition is from people who believe there is a homosexual agenda," Coleman says. "This is just about protecting kids."

According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 84.6 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students in the U.S. reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation in 2009. Additionally, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school. Nearly two-thirds of students reported feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation. "You can prevent people from doing a lot of things if they know there's a punishment involved," Coleman says.

Coleman's bill would expressly prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin. Currently, schools have the option of adopting such anti-discrimination language, though not all have. "By having it in the state law," Coleman says, "it says to the school district, we think as a state that children dying because of being terrorized at school — this is a serious public health issue."

The bill would also prohibit retaliation against those who report incidents of discrimination or harassment, require school district employees to undergo training on how to respond to and prevent harassment and discrimination, and provide for data reporting on incidents of harassment in public schools.

Coleman has been calling the bill the "Dignity for All Students Act," but says he would be open to changing that. "If Jessica can have a law, so can Asher," he says.

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