The Whole Star
Rick DeChiara can’t undo his daughter’s suicide.
He can’t erase the memory of coming home to find 17-year-old Alex hanging from a tree in their backyard—and having to cut her down. He can’t wipe away the recollection of picking up Alex’s high school diploma a day after receiving her death certificate.
“I can’t undo what’s been done, but maybe I can prevent somebody else from taking the same path,” DeChiara told the Observer this week. “That’s what I want to do. If I can stop some other kid from doing what Alex did, then I’ll be a success.”
Six months after his daughter’s suicide, DeChiara took a major step in that direction Sunday.
Along with his wife and Alex’s younger sister, he traveled from their home in Euless, near Fort Worth, to a Transgender Day of Remembrance observance at the Cathedral of Hope, a predominantly LGBT church in Dallas.
Alex was transgender, and even though she took her own life, the annual ceremony commemorating victims of anti-trans violence was dedicated to her.
“I made a lot of new friends down there. They’re a wonderful group of people,” said DeChiara, a New Jersey native who works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and described himself as the “macho” type.
“I’m going to stay in touch with a lot of people,” he said. “It was good for all three of us.”
DeChiara, speaking publicly about his daughter’s death for the first time with the Observer, acknowledged he wasn’t always so comfortable with the idea that Alex was trans. When she began to come to terms with her gender identity in middle school, she discussed it with her mom but grew distant from him.
“What Alex didn’t realize was that, just because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean I can’t accept,” he said. “I didn’t understand. … It took me a while to come around.”
DeChiara said his relationship with his daughter had improved somewhat prior to her death, but other problems—depression, bullying and isolation—proved insurmountable.
Alex sported long blonde hair and sometimes wore a few items of women’s clothing to Euless’ Trinity High School. Although there was no physical violence, DeChiara said classmates talked behind Alex’s back, and sometimes to her face, calling her a “freak.”
“She was spending a lot of time down at the counselor’s office,” DeChiara said.
“Apparently the counselor was aware and tried to do something about it [the bullying], but I don’t know how much further it got from there. I’ve heard it was teachers that were saying stuff as well.”
Eventually, the DeChiaras agreed to transfer Alex her to an alternative school, KEYS High School. But that move cut her off from friends and something she loved—working with special needs children at Euless Trinity, where she was no longer allowed on campus.
“When she was banned from school, things spiraled out of control,” DeChiara said. “Part of the reason she loved those kids at the special ed building is because, like them, she was in a body she didn’t want to be in, and she could identify with them. That was her passion. She was going to go to school to teach autistic kids.”
Alex, who’d taken several AP courses at Euless Trinity, graduated a month early from KEYS, but being home alone only made things worse. DeChiara said he had no idea how deep his daughter’s depression had become.
On May 8, when DeChiara found Alex hanging from a tree, she’d left a note on her desk saying only that she didn’t want a funeral—a request her parents honored.
“There is no amount of sins I have ever done in this lifetime, that anybody should have to go through what I did that day,” DeChiara said. “Mom? I would have had to bury two people if she got home before me.”
After Alex’s death, one of her friends connected the DeChiaras with a Dallas LGBT group, which invited them to the Trans Day of Remembrance. DeChiara only wishes Alex had found those resources when she was alive.
Studies show roughly half of trans youth have contemplated suicide, and one in four have made an attempt.
The numbers may be even higher in Texas, which has no explicit anti-bullying protections based on gender identity and few resources for LGBT youth outside major cities.
“There definitely needs to be more,” DeChiara said. “They definitely need to have a place where they know they can go.”
DeChiara said there are suicide hotlines, bullying prevention programs and perhaps even a modicum of support for gay teens and their parents.
But he added: “As far as transgender awareness kind of stuff, that’s a different story. I don’t think that’s quite as popular, as out there in the open.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is today, Thursday, Nov. 20. For a list of events in Texas, go here.
In case you missed our post-election, pre-Lege session discussion in Austin last night, we’re posting the audio from the event. You’ll hear the voices of moderator Forrest Wilder, state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report, Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder, Observer writer Chris Hooks and state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas).
In part one, our panelists pick apart the factors that helped make 2014 such a big win for Republicans:
In part two, the panelists look ahead to next session: How will Dan Patrick wield the gavel in the Senate? And how can Democrats influence policy when they’re so greatly outnumbered?
Kriselda Hinojosa recalls how she unintentionally came out to her father in sixth grade.
“He actually saw me kissing my girlfriend at the time,” Hinojosa said. “So he caught me, but he didn’t get upset. He never yelled at me or anything. He was always very open-minded. I’ve never heard him talk bad about the LGBT community.”
Over the years, the now-32-year-old Hinojosa said, her father’s acceptance has evolved into righteous indignation over the fact that his only daughter doesn’t have equal rights. Two years ago, Hinojosa “eloped” to Las Vegas with her girlfriend for a same-sex commitment ceremony. When she returned to Texas, it hit home for her dad that their certificate means nothing in the eyes of the state.
In 2013, Hinojosa’s father, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), authored a bill to legalize civil unions in Texas. And on Father’s Day this year, he penned a heartfelt pro-equality letter to his daughter that was published in newspapers statewide.
On Monday, Sen. Hinojosa took his support a step further, introducing a bill to repeal Texas’ statutory ban on same-sex marriage on the first day of pre-filing for the 2015 legislative session. Hinojosa’s bill, SB 98, was one of several that were set to be filed that—if all were to pass—would have the combined effect of legalizing same-sex marriage in Texas pending a public vote.
“He says he’s proud of me, but I’m more proud of him,” Kriselda Hinojosa said. “He’s taking a risk, also, because he could actually lose supporters, but it doesn’t seem to phase him. He’s doing what he thinks is right.”
Hinojosa is also co-authoring a resolution with Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), SJR 13, that would overturn Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was approved by 76 percent of voters in 2005. To pass, the amendment resolution would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers, as well as a simple majority at the ballot box.
Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), filed a companion to Hinojosa’s statutory repeal bill in the House, HB 130, while Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), filed a companion to Rodriguez’s resolution, HJR 34. The statutory repeal bills filed by Anchia and Hinojosa would have no impact unless and until the constitutional amendment is repealed.
LGBT advocates acknowledge that the marriage-equality bills’ chances of success are slim to none in the GOP-dominated Legislature. But their introduction on the first day of pre-filing, coordinated by Equality Texas, could help alter the tone in advance of a session in which the LGBT community is expected to be on the defensive.
The bills also amount to a significant show of support as the issue of same-sex marriage continues to wind its way through the federal courts—an antidote, if you will, to a court brief signed by 63 Texas Republican lawmakers earlier this year that linked same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia.
That brief was filed by the Texas Conservative Coalition in support of Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott’s appeal of a federal judge’s February decision striking down Texas’ marriage bans as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia stayed his decision, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court has scheduled oral arguments in January. However, it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the issue before the 5th Circuit gets a chance to rule.
Last week, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states, splitting with other circuit courts that have struck down similar laws. Attorneys for same-sex couples in the 6th Circuit plan to seek a review of the decision from the Supreme Court, which could issue a nationwide ruling that brings marriage equality to Texas as early as mid-2015.
Rep. Coleman, who’s filed bills to repeal Texas’ marriage amendment in every session since 2007, said Friday he’s optimistic that the high court will settle the issue once and for all.
“I have been fighting to repeal this ban ever since it passed in 2005, and it remains one of my highest priorities,” Coleman wrote. “The persistent advocacy from the LGBT community and allies have turned the tide in public opinion, and in this way we have already won: most Americans now support marriage equality (a huge turnaround in just a short period of time), and for the first time ever a recent poll found that more Texans support marriage equality than those who do not. Even the majority of young Republicans support marriage equality. When the Supreme Court has its say on this issue, it will do so in an environment that already supports marriage equality.”
Correction: The original story did not accurately reflect the authorship of the various bills. The post has been corrected. We regret the error.
The state of Texas is now recognizing Connie Wilson’s same-sex marriage. In September, as the Observer first reported, the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to issue a driver’s license to Wilson, because her name was changed through a same-sex marriage in California. DPS says the policy is based on Texas’ constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages.
After being denied a license, Wilson renewed her passport in her married name, based on the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages. Last Monday, Wilson returned to a different DPS office and used her passport to obtain her Texas driver’s license in her married name.
“Unbeknownst to them or not, they are recognizing that I have a name that was gained by same-sex marriage,” Wilson said. “Regardless of consequences, they’re still having to recognize that that is my name.”
On her first trip to DPS, Wilson presented her California marriage license to show why her name is different from the one on her birth certificate. After noticing that Wilson’s spouse’s name is “Amy,” a DPS employee refused to issue the license citing DPS policy.
However, DPS policy also states that the agency accepts passports to obtain driver’s license without any additional identification.
Wilson, who moved with her wife from California to the Houston area this summer, said her advice to same-sex couples relocating to Texas is simple: Get your passport and make sure it is renewed.
“Go the extra mile,” she said. “Just relieve yourself of any undue stress. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it’s a fact of life.”
In retrospect, Wilson said she thinks her story, which drew national attention, helped raised awareness about discrimination faced by same-sex couples. She said she faults not only the DPS policy but also the discretion apparently granted to DPS employees. She said she’s heard from others who’ve obtained driver’s licenses using same-sex marriage licenses, so she believes DPS employees decide what documents to accept.
“It’s human nature, we’re going to put our own belief system into that discretion,” Wilson said.
The issue of DPS discrimination against same-sex couples resurfaced last month, when out lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker suggested on Twitter that her daughter had been refused a license because she has two moms. DPS responded by saying the decision to turn away Parker’s daughter was based on insufficient documentation of her residency, not same-sex marriage. But the agency refused to elaborate, citing privacy concerns.
The mayor, whose daughter was eventually able to obtain her license, has also declined to elaborate on what took place beyond her tweets. But based on Wilson’s own experience, she thinks she has a pretty good idea.
“Within my mind, there’s no doubt she was pulled aside because of the fact that she has two moms,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who has children ages 1 and 4, said she sometimes worries about discrimination they might face as they get older. But she noted that she and her wife chose to move here.
“It’s a great place,” she said. “It’s a great state. California wasn’t perfect, either.”