Ray Hill kicks off campaign for Texas House with YouTube videos

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

As previously reported by Houstini Ray Hill, the iconic and iconoclastic Houston LGBT activist, announced this year that he would challenge ten-term incumbent state representative Garnet Coleman in next spring’s Democratic Primary. Hill is running what he calls an “unfunded campaign,” relying on social media and support from community members to get his message out.

We haven’t heard much about the campaign since Hill filed at the beginning of the month (perhaps he’s been distracted by his recent arrest during an attempt to prevent the HPD vice squad from harassing strippers), but Hill seems to have gotten back into the campaign saddle, releasing two YouTube videos about his campaign and why he thinks he’s the best choice to represent district 147 (they can be viewed after the jump). The audio’s not the best (tip: taping next to a roaring waterfall does not produce the best sound), but in both videos Hill expresses his belief that the common people of the district will vote him into office. Judge for yourself:

—  admin

Investigation clears gay Fort Worth teacher

Kristopher Franks set to return to work Friday after 4-day leave stemming from allegations of improper behavior

FWISD School board member Carlos Vasquez

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Gay Western Hills High School teacher Kristopher Franks, put on paid administrative leave on Monday, Sept. 26, following allegations of improper behavior, has been cleared of all allegations and was set to return to work today (Friday, Sept. 30).

Franks is the teacher who  became the target of ire from the religious right after he sent a student in his German 1 class to the principal’s office for saying in class that as a Christian he believed “homosexuality is wrong.” The school’s assistance principal then suspended the student, setting off a controversy that made headlines around the country.

That student, freshman Dakota Ary, and his mother enlisted the assistance of Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Krause in fighting the suspension on the grounds that Franks and the school had violated Ary’s right to freedom of speech.

District officials quickly reversed their decision, lifting the suspension.

But Steven Poole, deputy executive director for the United Educators Association of Texas, a teachers union, said Tuesday, Sept. 27, that the allegations leading to Franks being put on leave were unrelated to the incident with Ary.

Franks, who had not spoken to the press previously on the advice of his union representative, said Thursday afternoon that he had just met with Fort Worth Independent School District administrators, who told him the nearly weeklong investigation had determined that the allegations against him were unfounded. He did not elaborate on the substance of those allegations.

Franks also said administrators had given him the option of returning to teach at Western Hills High or transferring to another school in the district.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Franks told Dallas Voice by phone Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, and I will talk to my boss [the district’s world languages supervisor], and see what she says and decide what’s the best thing to ­do from there.”

FWISD Board of Trustees member Dr. Carlos Vasquez told Dallas Voice in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 28, that any time allegations are made against a teacher, those allegations have to be investigated, and it is routine for the teacher in question to be placed on paid administrative leave.

Franks said Thursday that he was pleased with the outcome of the investigation, carried out by an independent investigator, and that interim FWISD Supt. Walter Dansby was “very nice” when they spoke.

“I think they did the right thing,” Franks said. “I can go back to work, which is great. But now I just have to figure out how to fix the damage this whole thing has done to my personal life.”

Franks said since the investigation is closed, he is no longer being represented by a union attorney. He has, instead, retained the services of attorney Stephen Gordon to “represent me on any aspects of this whole thing going forward.”

He also indicated that he and Gordon would be discussing what possible actions he might take against “those people who have lied and made false allegations against me.”

While Franks had previously declined to speak to the media, Daokta Ary, his mother and Krause as their attorney went immediately to the press, telling their side of the story in several TV interviews and saying Franks and the school had violated the student’s right to freedom of speech. The case quickly became a rallying point for the religious right.

Krause this week told Dallas Voice that he and his clients are satisfied with school officials’ decision to rescind the unexcused absences the suspension left on Ary’s record, but “we would still like for them [school officials] to completely vindicate him and say that he did nothing wrong. He should never have been written up for an infraction. He should never have been sent to the office, and he should never have been suspended.”

Ary said in  media interviews that he made the comment quietly to a classmate sitting next to him in response to a discussion going on in the class at the time.

Dakota Ary

But Franks told friends shortly after the incident that there was no discussion involving homosexuality at the time, and that Ary made the comment loudly while looking directly at Franks.

Franks also told friends that the comment was only the latest in an ongoing series of incidents in which Ary and a group of three of his friends have made anti-gay comments to and about him.

Franks told friends that the harassment by Ary and his friends began several weeks ago after Franks, who also teaches sociology, posted on the “World Wall” in his classroom a photo, taken from the German news magazine Stern, of two men kissing. The photo was ripped off the wall and torn in two at some point during Ary’s class, and Franks told friends he believes that Ary or one of his friends tore up the photo.

During a later sociology class students upset that the photo had been torn up replaced it with a hand-drawn picture, and another student then covered that picture with a page bearing a hand-written biblical scripture from Leviticus calling sex between two men an abomination.

Franks told friends that since that incident, Ary and his friends had continued to make derogatory and harassing comments.

Franks’ friends also said that the teacher, a Fulbright scholar, has been the target of anti-gay harassment for at least the last two years, including having hateful messages left in his classroom and, in one case, having his car vandalized.

FWISD teacher Martin Vann, spokesman for the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. that was formed about a year ago to help protect students and teachers in the district from anti-gay discrimination and bullying, said that Franks told his version of the incident last week, before the current investigation was launched and Franks was required to sign a statement saying he would not discuss the incident with other teachers, administrators, parents or students. Vann said Franks denied getting angry and yelling at Ary, as Ary had said, and reiterated that Ary’s comments were not pertinent to any discussion in the class at the time.

Vann said Franks told him that another student had asked him what the German word for “Christian” was, and how, if he moved to Germany, he could find an English translation of the Bible. That’s when, Franks told Vann, Ary looked directly at him and said loudly that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong.

It was not, Franks told Vann, a simple statement of belief or opinion but rather an intentional effort to insult and harass the teacher that Ary perceived to be gay.

Krause this week again said that Ary did not direct his remark in class that day at Franks, and that Ary had nothing to do with tearing down the photo of the men kissing.

The attorney also said that Ary told him he did not know to whom Franks was referring when he talked about Ary’s “three friends.”

The Franks case comes in the wake of months of scandal over allegations by teachers that administrators routinely allowed some teachers and administrators to harass and bully students and other teachers, and that teachers who complained often faced retaliation.

Vasquez, who is openly gay, said Wednesday that he believed the Franks investigation would be fair, that he would watch the situation closely “to make sure all the proper procedures are followed,” and that he believed Dansby would handle the situation fairly.

“Considering all the problems we’ve had, I know he [Dansby] will be watching this closely,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said it is the school district’s responsibility to make sure there is “no harassment in our schools, whether it’s from the teacher to the student, or student to student or even student to teacher. I know that happens, sometimes, too.

“There should be no harassment whatsoever in our schools,” Vasquez , himself a former teacher, said.

Fort Worth ISD has been credited with having one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies in the state, having adopted individual policies within the last year to include prohibitions against harassment and bullying, including that based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, for both teachers and students.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

FEEDBACK: Why I’m supporting Kunkle

Why I’m supporting Kunkle

Thank you for the in-depth expose on the three major mayoral candidates (“Decision in Dallas,” Dallas Voice, April 8).

While there are different opinions regarding the candidates, David Kunkle is my personal choice. I have watched him closely over the last several years and was so impressed with his style of leadership and soft-spoken manner when he was police chief. He went all over this city, listening and getting feedback from not only the GLBT community, but everywhere.

Additionally, he is effective. He may not be the flashiest or most dynamic of the candidates, but he’s a keen thinker and avid reader focused on real world solutions on what works and what doesn’t.

He also appreciates the eclectic aspects of Dallas. That’s an important place to be in my mind, so that we can attract not only Fortune 500 companies but also the small businessman/woman and the budding creative entrepreneurs who want to live in our city.

I don’t know that I necessarily want another CEO as mayor. We hear all the time that government should be run like a business. I think it should not be. Contrary to popular belief today, government is not a business.

Municipal government needs an experienced and competent administrator. In addition to serving as Dallas police chief, David Kunkle also has experience serving as the assistant city manager of Arlington, which will provide him with a skill set from day one that will no doubt serve him well as mayor.

Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings both are pleasant gentlemen and they each bring their own “skill set” to the table and there are good people supporting them. But I’m going to be casting my ballot for David Kunkle.

Jay Narey
Dallas

—  John Wright

BYU student tells truth about why Mormons backed Prop 8; student newspaper axes letter

ABC 4 in Salt Lake City reports that a senior at Brigham Young University recently wrote a letter to the editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Universe, saying Mormons should be honest about whey they supported Prop 8. Cary Crall told the TV station that his letter was initially rejected, then turned into a full-blown op-ed, then pulled from the newspaper’s website and labeled offensive:

Crall wrote that Mormons ought to be honest about the real reasons they put so much time, money and effort into passage of Prop 8. After reading the decision of the federal judge in the Prop 8 case, he concluded there is little rational basis for many of the arguments for Prop 8. So if such arguments were not the real reasons for their support, then what? “The real reason,” he wrote, “is that a man who most of us believe is a prophet of God told us to support the amendment.”

“If the real reason for supporting the amendment is a privately held religious opinion and belief in a prophet — that a prophet is telling us to do it — then we need to be honest about that and take the consequences,” Crall told ABC 4. “I think the Mormon community owes that kind of introspection to the rest of the world for our actions in Proposition 8.”

Read Crall’s full letter at PoynterOnline.

—  John Wright

Tell me what you think …

What constitutes “hate speech”?

A large number of religious leaders opposed the recently-enacted Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law because they said it would make it a criminal offense for them to preach in their churches that homosexuality is a sin. But is that hate speech, or a reasonable expression of religious beliefs?

I don’t think the new law encroaches on anyone’s ability to preach that kind of sermon. I don’t think it’s hate speech, although I know plenty of people disagree with me on that. Many, many people do believe that homosexuality is a sin, and surely they have the right to express that belief.

But if a preacher stands in his or her pulpit on a Sunday morning and tells the congregation that God says homosexuals should be put to death and then encourages the members of that congregation to carry out God’s word — is that hate speech? Is that constitutionally protected?

Would your opinion of whether or not someone expressing their religious views constituted “hate speech” change if the person were an Imam in an Islamic extremist sect saying that the Koran teaches that the U.S. is “the great Satan” and that Allah decrees Americans should be killed, and then encouraging his followers to stage attacks to carry out Allah’s decree?

Where do we draw the line? Do we draw a line at all? Should people be able to say whatever they want just because they believe a religious text tells them to? How do we decide what is “valid” religious text? Is the Bible more valid than the Koran or the Book of Mormon or the teachings of Buddha?

Tell me what you think.

—  admin