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Screw a Kid, Gain a Vote: Texas Politics and the Children Who Make It Possible

J. Lee

The Dignity for All Students Act continues to rot in committee, Grusendorf is making sure that his own

"Think of the children. The CHILDREN," pleads the politician from the podium, staring into the television cameras with quivering lips. "If you support my plan, you will be helping the children." Have you noticed how legislators like to say their agendas benefit children? Go ahead, think of a topic. Somewhere in it you'll find a link to a group of innocent, doe-eyed kids praying you don't let them down. Social Security? Privatize now or your children will have no money for retirement. School textbooks? Include creationism as a theory or your soulless child will grow up praying to Darwin. Public health? Don't even THINK of mentioning condoms to your kids or they will instantaneously sprout pubic hair and become raging whores.

The Dignity for All Students Act continues to rot in committee, Grusendorf is making sure that his own "pro-child" bills don't get tampered with to include gay kids.

Down in the Lone Star State, the latest "kids" issue is, in fact, a kids issue: how the state should raise money for and invest in public schools. Everybody has something to say about it since it touches on the three things closest to every upstanding Texan's heart: children, taxes and education. The latest politician to take the reins on the issue is state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, a conservative Republican who, despite his zeal to shovel his "Roadmap to Results" plan for education reform down the throats of his peers, thankfully stopped short of squeezing into a skintight Superman bodysuit. Conveniently the chair of the House Public Education Committee and a cohort of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, Grusendorf is in an ideal position to grab headlines, take credit for reforming the state's education system and yes, save the children.

Unfortunately, for all of his "it's about the children" speeches (and believe me, there have been many), Grusendorf's plan actually screws those adorable little rugrats. A not-so-close look at his bill shows he is more interested in helping wealthy people pay less in taxes than in reducing soaring school dropout rates or helping an exploding Spanish-speaking population learn how to pronounce "citizenship." As if there's not enough irony in watching Grusendorf hurl himself in front of television cameras and declare himself the quintessential pro-child politician, when his bill actually hurts the kids most in need, another state legislator has filed an actual pro-child bill that was single-handedly killed last session by guess who: Grusendorf.

The bill, known as the Dignity for All Students Act, tackles a simple, seemingly nonpartisan issue: it protects gay kids from being harassed in public schools. The bill's author, Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman, filed the bill in response to the fact that no state law (or Federal law, for that matter) extends protections to gay youth being picked on at school. Statistics weigh in Coleman's favor: national studies indicate 91% of gay youth in public schools regularly encounter homophobic remarks. In addition, gay youth are linked to higher rates of dropout and attempted suicide as a result of harassment.

In a political climate ripe with speeches about benefiting the good children of Texas, this bill is a natural fit. Even so, regardless of what might be a popular issue right now, how could someone oppose a bill that says it's not okay for the teachers and students currently harassing gay kids to continue doing so? Alas, Grusendorf does. As chair of the Public Education Committee, he refused to bring the bill up for discussion last session in his committee, effectively killing it. This session, the bill once again sits in Grusendorf's committee gathering dust and most likely will continue to do so until it dies along with the end of the legislative session in late May.

Being the chair of a committee has its advantages. In Grusendorf's case, it allows him not only to push his "save the children" agenda when trying to pass his own bills out of the committee, but it gives him the ability to avoid taking up bills that involve children who don't meet his standards. Clearly, there is only one reason why the man desperate to be seen as the most pro-child lawmaker west of the Mississippi could not support this bill. He knows what we all know: that anyone who so much as utters the word "gay" or "lesbian" must BE one! What a relief that Grusendorf didn't have to talk about "those" children or else he might have been mistaken for a big flamer!

In the meantime, as the Dignity for All Students Act continues to rot in committee, Grusendorf is making sure that his own "pro-child" bills don't get tampered with to include gay kids. When his sweeping school finance bill reached the House floor for debate, Coleman proposed adding anti-discrimination language to the bill to protect, among others, gay youth. But instead of having an intelligent discussion about documented cases of harassment by teachers and students against gay youth in Texas public schools, one of Grusendorf's colleagues suggested that gay kids deserve no special protection since they are just as likely to be discriminated against as children with freckles.

It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry, but it turns out the majority of Texas legislators agree that freckled children are as much of a target for harassment as gay youth, and therefore just as likely to drop out of school or try to kill themselves in response to the grief they endure at school. Since nobody thought freckles should be added into the state's school finance bill, Coleman's proposed amendment failed by 88 to 59, in the name of melanin.

The moral of the story? Just mention children the next time you want to make a sweeping change that affects millions of people. How could anyone vote against you when you're saving children, no matter how homophobic or self-serving your political agenda may be? After all, one doesn't need a background in public policy to know what Texas needs to do to confront problems with harassment and discrimination in its public schools: look to the strength of freckled children.

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