After Gay Latino Suicide, El Paso Schools Target Bullying

More than a month after a 16-year-old El Paso teen committed suicide because he was bullied for being gay - local school district trustees have strengthened discrimination policies to prevent more bullying.

The El Paso Independent School District announced their new policies on Tuesday, a month after the death of Brandon Elizares. But the victim's mother, Zachalyn, and gay activists say it isn't nearly enough.

"Baby step," she said.

The new policy update prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and perceived sexuality. The policy before included race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other basis prohibited by law.

"We can ask about it a year from now and see how well it's worked," Elizares told the El Paso Times. "I didn't see anything at any of the schools my kids attended about any anti-bullying campaign or anything. If they did have it, I as a parent didn't know about it, and I was going to the school every day."

Elizares had said that the Independent school district did everything it could to help solve the problem - even going as far as reprimanding several kids.

But in the end, it wasn't enough.

Elizares said her son, Brandon, was bullied relentlessly with taunts and ridicule from peers for two years at Andres High School since coming out in 2010. On June 2, Zachalyn found her son dead in his room.

"He got bullied simply for being gay," she said to KFOX14. "He's been threatened to be stabbed. He's been threatened to be set on fire."

Tuesday's announcement on new policies also marks the launch of an anti-bullying campaign in the fall, district spokeswoman Renee de Santos said.

"Teachers and staff will be provided with staff development aimed at identifying and addressing bullying at the campuses," de Santos wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "Students in all grade levels will take part in activities aimed at bullying prevention."

For some, it's yet another sign of how behind the curve the El Paso community is in dealing with LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students in schools in a county that is 82 percent Hispanic.

Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso, which stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said three-quarters of bullying cases in El Paso have targeted the LGBT community.

"Schools need to have in-services and talk about issues that surround bullying of all kinds," Rollings said. "Nothing can be done unless it's reported. That's why safe zones are important so reporting can be made. Kids need to feel like they can report these instances."

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