Lawsuit: High school softball coaches in E. Texas outed lesbian teen to her mom

Two high school softball coaches in East Texas are accused of maliciously outing a sophomore player as a lesbian to her mother, then kicking her off the team.

And Kilgore Independent School District officials are accused of defending the coaches’ actions by arguing that they were “legally obligated” to disclose the girl’s sexual orientation to her parents.

The student, identified as S.W., and her mother have filed a federal lawsuit against the coaches, the school district, and an assistant athletic director, accusing them of violating her privacy. The student and her mother are represented by the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project in the lawsuit filed Dec. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that the two coaches at Kilgore High School, Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell, locked S.W. in a locker room in March 2009 and threatened and interrogated her. The coaches allegedly were angry because S.W. was dating a girl whom Newell may have previously dated.

“Fletcher asked S.W. if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that S.W. was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,’” the lawsuit states. “The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, S.W. was dating that girl.”

—  John Wright

John Travolta likes well-hung Middle Eastern types. Join the club

It’s one of the best-kept, worst-kept secrets in Hollywood that John Travolta is gay (Scientology allegedly promises to “cure” you of your homosexuality) — a fact that, despite evidence (remember the candid lip-lock photographed on him kissing his late son’s male, umm, “nanny”?) that has been respectfully ignored most of the time by the mainstream press.

This is nothing new. I was at the Samar party last week, jawing with some straight male media friends, and all of them were shocked by my “secret” list of commonly accepted gay celebs … including Travolta. People believe what they wanna believe. It’s how Lindsey Graham is still in a leadership position with the GOP.

Anyway, the most salacious of rumors about Travolta have been published on Gawker, and the language used is surprising. Well, not to me, but most hausfraus out there will probably be astonished to find that the man who gained fame in musicals and had his last hit as a cross-dressing woman (in a musical!) likes to go to bathhouses and apparently has a penchant for Middle Easterns (guilty as charged, I admit it).

Some of the allegations made include that Travolta abused himself in a steam room and came onto the author; that he has both given and received oral sex from other men in public; and that he uses his celebrity to attract his type (which usually means well-endowed men of color).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas hip-hop musician T-Cuz responds to gay porn allegations, says images were ‘digitalized’

T-Cuz, left. Real or ‘digitalized’?

On Tuesday, JamWillis of Blog on Blast posted this item about Dallas rapper T-Cuz allegedly doing gay porn. Immediately, I went over to TCuz’s Twitter feed to see what the buzz was. Some people defended him, others told him to own up, and he responded that he likes [women] too much to be gay, cluttering the feed quickly. It became such an issue, that the unsigned rapper started to trend in the DFW Twitter community. That’s major.

In the post, JamWillis said photos had surfaced from the porn of T-Cuz and a dude. T-Cuz claimed the photos had been “digitalized.” But by the looks of the photos at this link, I don’t see how that’s possible. Just sayin’.

JamWillis and cohort Zeralyn caught up with T-Cuz and confronted him about the video in an interview. They posted it online Wednesday and the interview is gold. T-Cuz gives explanations about the magic of filmwork and editing and ponders the idea of Zeralyn’s hypothetical offer of $10,000 for doing gay porn. Part one is below.

It’s all quite the drama. I’ve attempted to contact T-Cuz but have had no response. I can say one thing — on his Twitter feed, I never saw a tweet from him bashing gays or pulling a 50 Cent. Gay or not, I kinda give him props for that. Unless I just missed it, in which case I take it back.

BTW, consider the above NSFW. Especially, the link to the pics.

—  Rich Lopez

WATCH: Rally, vigil for Asher Brown


A rally and vigil were held Tuesday in honor of 13-year-old gay suicide victim Asher Brown outside the middle school he attended near Houston. From organizer Barry Ouellette of the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality:

“It was a great event, very touching. We had about 30 people for the demonstration and about 70 for the candlelight vigil where there were some touching stories and kind and inspiring words from many teenagers as well as concerned parents, clergy and Houstonians.”

However, KTRK-TV reports that other parents weren’t happy about the demonstrations and are defending the school against allegations that it failed to do anything about bullying complaints from Asher’s parents:

“I think it’s terrible because it has frightened all of our children too. For this reason, I am here to pick up my daughter today. Because it has scared my daughter,” said Shay Phillips.

“I don’t worry about bullying in this school or any other school. But I do worry about it in general,” said Sheila McGraw-Hall. “I think the school is being wrongfully blamed in this case. Or at least to the magnitude that it is being put out there right now in the media,” said another parent.

Below is a report from MyFoxHouston.com, and Channel 2 has a report here.

—  John Wright

DPD, W hotel investigating gay man’s complaint against officer

GLBT Chamber chair says officer working security at hotel choked him in anti-gay incident after concert

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Derrick Brown
Derrick Brown

The chair of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint this week against a Dallas police officer who allegedly choked him during a confrontation outside the W-Dallas Victory hotel following a Lady Gaga concert on Friday, July 23.

Derrick Brown filed the complaint on Wednesday, July 28, against Officer F. Phelps, who was off-duty and working security for the hotel at the time of the incident.

Phelps, who was in uniform, reportedly accused Brown of grabbing his buttocks as they crossed paths near the street entrance to Ghostbar, a business inside the hotel.

“A group of us were walking to Ghostbar after the concert,” Brown said in a message posted online Saturday, July 24. “The off-duty officer claimed that I grabbed him (which I did not). When trying to tell him so, he grabbed my neck, pushed and pinned me against the wall by my neck telling me to shut up. Needless to say, I am outraged and will ensure action is taken to prevent it happening to someone else in our community.”

Brown was traveling this week and couldn’t be reached for further comment. Another member of Brown’s group who witnessed the incident didn’t respond to a phone message.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Brown had filed a complaint against Phelps.

“There has been a complaint filed with our internal affairs division and an investigation has begun into the allegations against the officer,” Janse said. “This process will take some time so that we can conduct a very thorough investigation.”

Janse would not provide a copy of Brown’s complaint, saying the newspaper would need to file a formal records request.

The confrontation with Brown was one of two separate incidents involving Phelps and gay hotel patrons that occurred just minutes apart after the concert at the nearby American Airlines Center.

Another gay leader, Malcolm Gage, alleges that Phelps threatened him with arrest after he tried to enter the hotel to visit a friend who was staying there.

Gage, director of finance at Park Place Volvo and a board member for the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said he also planned to file a complaint with DPD.

“I took issue with the attitude of the officer and the way he was treating us and what the W did, but with Derrick it’s considerably more serious because he [Phelps] attacked him,” Gage told Dallas Voice. “This guy screams at Derrick and says, ‘You grabbed my ass.’ Derrick’s issue is a much bigger issue.”

Gage said he and his roommate drove from the Lady Gaga concert and parked their vehicle using the hotel’s valet service. As they walked toward the main entrance of the hotel, they were stopped by a security guard who told them they needed a room key to come in.

When Gage explained that they were visiting a hotel guest, the security guard said they would need to call their friend and have him come down to meet them.

Gage, who says he visits the hotel frequently, questioned why this was necessary and said it was a major inconvenience because their friend was already entertaining other guests.

The security guard then summoned Phelps and another off-duty DPD officer. Phelps reportedly told Gage, “Look here man, if you don’t leave the property I’m going to arrest you for criminal trespassing.”

Words were exchanged between the parties before the second DPD officer pulled Gage aside and said, “If this were off [hotel] property then this probably would have been a little more physical removal, so I’m being nice right now by talking to you,” according to Gage.

The hotel’s night manager arrived and asked Gage and his roommate to leave. When Gage asked for a valid reason, Phelps said, “You need to do what I say.”

As Gage and his roommate left, Phelps said things like, “What you going to do now?” according to Gage.

“I would like to notify you that I plan to not only file formal complaints against the officers mentioned, but I will do everything in my legal rights to make sure that this does not happen to another member of the Dallas LGBT community,” Gage wrote in a letter to the general manager of the W hotel. “I feel that we were discriminated against because we were gay and the hotel staff was just as much at fault as the officers involved.”

The general manager, Thomas Caramucci, told Dallas Voice in a statement that the hotel is investigating.

“We are aware of the incident and are currently looking further into the details of the situation, in cooperation with the Dallas Police Department,” Caramucci said. “Please know that the safety and comfort of our guests is our top priority and any and all situations receive our utmost attention.  … As you are aware W Dallas-Victory and the W brand are a strong supporters of the LGBT community and we appreciate the opportunity to respond.”

The W Dallas-Victory is owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which maintains a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

“As previously stated, the safety and comfort of our guests is a top priority,” Caramucci said in a follow-up statement. “To meet that end, in instances where large crowds are involved (i.e. popular concerts, Victory Park events, New Year’s Eve, etc.) it is our policy to request that anyone entering the front lobby doors present a key card to gain entry after 9:00 PM. Extra security is also hired to help ensure the added safety and enjoyment of our patrons. Though no one involved in Friday’s incident was a hotel guest, we take any situation that occurs on our property very seriously and are continuing to investigate the matter.

“W Dallas-Victory and the W brand are strong supporters of the LGBT community, and the hotel values the relationship and rapport we have built,” Caramucci added. “We have and will continue to demonstrate our support by participating in the local pride parade, Pride in the Park, BubbleQ and other events and fundraisers. Additionally, we offer our Pride 365 Package year-round.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

DART guts transgender policy

Closed-door session leads to proposal that could take protections from gay and lesbian employees and offer none to transgender employees

By John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

LGBT advocates expressed outrage this week after learning that Dallas Area Rapid Transit had effectively gutted a months-old proposal to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Following a 30-minute closed-door session to discuss the new policy on Tuesday, June 15, DART’s Board of Directors hastily approved an amendment stating that the agency won’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no state or federal employment protections for LGBT people, the amendment could allow DART to discriminate against workers based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT legal experts said the amendment would not only nullify the addition to the policy of gender identity, but it would also rescind DART’s protections for sexual orientation, enacted in 1995.

Cece Cox, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said she felt the LGBT community’s “trust has been shattered.”

“Without answers from DART, we are left to speculate that DART does not care about equity for LGBT people and even perhaps that this was deliberately sabotaged,” Cox said in a statement released Thursday. “We have not seen action like this since ExxonMobil rescinded employment protections at their merger in the most crass display of disregard for their LGBT employees in recent corporate history. A final vote has not taken place. DART has time to do the right thing. If it does not, DART should be prepared for outrage from the LGBTA community.”

The DART Board of Directors is scheduled to take a final vote on the new policy Tuesday, June 22. The proposal to add gender identity to the policy came about in response to allegations that the agency discriminated against a transgender bus driver.

RCD spokesman Rafael McDonnell said the nature of the LGBT community’s presence at next Tuesday’s meeting likely will depend on what happens in the meantime.

“The question is going to be, are they going to change the language?” McDonnell said Thursday. “Do they get that the language is bad? And if so, what are they doing about it? I think that will reflect the tone of what we do on Tuesday.”

By noon Thursday, DART officials gave no indication they planned to revisit the amendment, which was caught by Dallas Voice after the agency forwarded a draft of the policy to the newspaper on Wednesday afternoon.

In response to questions about the amendment, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons insisted that the agency’s intent is to add gender identity to the policy and become more inclusive.

But Lyons couldn’t explain the reason for the amendment, and he denied requests for an interview with the agency’s attorneys.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said he felt the community had been “royally screwed” by DART.

“It’s exactly the opposite of what they promised they were doing,” Upton said. “After all the work that’s gone into this, if this is what comes out of it, then we got nothing. They can say that’s not what they intended, but that’s what it says.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

—  admin

Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.

For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.

After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.

But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.

As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.

“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”

Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”

“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”

Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.

The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.

Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.

“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”

Through thick and thin

This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.

Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.

At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.

In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”

“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”

Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.

This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.

“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’

“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.

Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.

Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.

When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.

In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.

Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.

When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.

That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.

Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.

Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.

Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.

But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.

“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”

—  John Wright