Letters • 11.05.10

An open letter to KETK

To Bob Brackeen and Callie Wall of KETK-NBC in Tyler:

A friend of mine, a fellow journalism professor in Texas, just pointed me toward a clip of your “news” segment, “Will Homosexuality Be the Downfall of America?” I will be sharing this clip with my journalism class as an example clueless, baseless, inaccurate, stereotypical bigotry. After reading my students a satirical gay-bashing piece from The Onion, I will show them your segment as an example of what not to do.

I am writing to you from a journalistic perspective about why your show is appalling and anathema to everything journalists should strive to do and be.  Ms. Wall begins the segment by noting that the issue of “gays” being appointed in the Obama administration is “not really gettin’ any coverage.” That’s because it’s not news.

News is based in something we call “facts,” which we define as true and verifiable. Also, news is based in something we call “research” — and it is supposed to be objective. Further, news should adhere to ethical tenets. Your segment failed in every one of these, as well as a few others.

Not the least of your errors is the fallacy involving your numbers, which begins when Ms. Wall breathlessly exclaims about the “record number” of “gay appointments” Obama has made. From an editor’s standpoint, I ask you: How do we know this is a record? Do you really believe there weren’t gay and lesbian government officials prior to 2010? Are you willing to entertain the possibility that people, even going as far back as President Abraham Lincoln, were not counted because they were closeted? A responsible reporter would at least mention this historical angle and the concept of social change.

When the radio shock jock begins his segment by saying Obama appointed “a transgender” as a tech adviser in the commerce department, it almost sounds as though he is expressing concern that person will implement gay-friendly technology for commerce issues. Can you see how ridiculous this is?

I’m not going to waste my words dissecting Garth’s so-called contribution, except to say that it made me question the literacy rate in Tyler, Texas. How in the name of factual, objective reporting could you put this on a news show? Real journalists have named, identified, knowledgeable sources in their news stories, not anonymous callers.

Ms. Wall’s segue of “Some great comments this morning Garth, a good topic as always,” was a dim-witted endorsement of the false question of whether “homosexuality will be the downfall of America.” That is not an objective question. That is homophobic propaganda with a question mark at the end. I might as well ask, “Will Bob and Callie’s idiocy be the downfall of journalism?” Thankfully, I know enough real journalists that this is not a concern.

Good journalists talk to people, not simply about people. I would like to direct your attention to some of the tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:

• Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

• Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

• Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.

• Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

• Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

• Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.

• Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

• Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.

In closing, I would like to help educate you so that you no longer fill valuable air time (this was nearly eight minutes) with what amounts to ignorant bullying.

Your station’s slogan is “News you won’t see anywhere else.” I certainly hope that is true.

Carolyn Nielsen, assistant professor,
Department of Journalism
Western Washington University

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Meet the Face of Hate: Midland School Board Member Gives Voice to Bigotry

WARNING: The following contains offensive language that has not been censored to illustrate the outrageous nature of the comments.

Anyone who questions whether we need to do more to create schools that welcome every student need not look any further than Clint McCance – a Midland School Board Member from Arkansas who unleashed an anti-gay tirade on Facebook recently.  Reacting to Spirit Day that encouraged people to wear purple in honor of young LGBT lives lost to suicide and to raise awareness of the bullying behaviors that contributed to those deaths, McCance wrote: “Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed therselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.”

“Clint McCance has put a face on the hate that devastates our young people,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese in a statement. “McCance and his hate shouldn’t be allowed near children, let alone managing their education.  We call for his immediate resignation from the school board.”

He responded to commenters on his original post by further writing, “No because being a fag doesnt give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then dont tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I dont care how people decide to live their lives. They dont bother me if they keep it to thereselves. It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it.”  He further writes, “I would disown my kids if they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone.”

The messages were first brought to HRC’s attention by R. Anthony Turner, a 1998 graduate of Midland High School.

A PDF of the Facebook page with the message is available.

Already a Facebook page has been set-up calling for McCance’s removal.  HRC further calls on Facebook to take appropriate action regarding McCance’s hateful language on the site.

To help stop the name-calling, bullying and gender stereotyping that so many students face every day, the HRC Foundation has also developed the Welcoming Schools initiative.  This innovative program gives elementary school administrators, teachers and parents across the country the tools to prevent bias-based teasing and harassment among elementary school students.  It helps kids learn respect and tolerance early on, to prevent violence later in middle and high school.

HRC recently published a series of guest posts on our blog about the importance of school boards on LGBT-friendly policies.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Kinder and gentler bigotry: Gates makes it little bit harder to discharge gays

I’m sorry, but either we are a threat to morale and cohesion or we’re not. But for Secretary Gates to claim that there will be “enormous consequences” if we let gays serve before his little study is done, and then say that he’s making it harder to kick gays out, would seem rather contradictory. Either it’s a problem having us there or it’s not. But Gates can’t play the game of testifying that we’re not a problem, then telling the court we are, and now once again suggesting we’re not (so more of us can stay, but not everyone!)

This is supposed to appease you. But I fear it’s too little too late. New DADT discharges aren’t what’s driving the community’s anger on this issue – not anymore. The discharges have already slowed down during Obama’s term, it didn’t defuse a thing. People aren’t pissed that too many gay service members are being kicked out, they’re pissed that the promises are not being kept, period. I don’t think this change will help calm things down one bit.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Hope is a dangerous thing …

… And the LGBT community must find a way to give hope to youth struggling against bullying, bigotry and discrimination

“Hope is a dangerous thing,” a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, is a concept our community should embrace.

Like you, I have been deeply disturbed by recent reports of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teen suicides.

As heartbreaking as they are, the greater tragedy may be that such suicides have been happening all along, but no one has paid any attention.

Studies have shown repeatedly that LGBT teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide. But, until recently, that has been a statistic without faces and names. Perhaps now these young men will force our country to pay attention.

That is faint consolation, but it does mean their lives and deaths won’t be in vain.

It is tempting to rail against fundamentalist religions of all stripes that have given the “moral” justification for an atmosphere of bullying and abuse. Fundamentalist Islam leads to suicide bombers, and fundamentalist

Christianity leads to suicidal teenagers.

Our anger at them is justified, but, ultimately, it doesn’t do much to help the problem.

So what can we in the LGBT community do? How can we help?

Well, this is where hope comes in.

For 22 years, I was a leader at the Cathedral of Hope. Although I am no longer there, the memories I relish most are the times I talked to people who discovered that what their fundamentalist parents or church had said about them had been a lie. They were angry, angry enough to get involved and do something.

Too often our anger turns to cynicism, so we practice “horizontal violence,” taking our anger out on one another. Rumors and gossip and catty remarks aimed at one another will not change the world or heal our own wounds.

We are also prone to turn our anger inward, and all too many members of our community struggle with depression.

It is well past time that we put our anger where it belongs. Let it energize us to volunteer, write letters, post Facebook rants and come out. (After all, Monday, Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day.) We must use the energy of our life to change things.

All of us have had times when we felt rejected, oppressed and depressed. Most of us overcame those feelings.

Remember how you did it and then figure out a way you can help others.

Are there places you can volunteer where, as an openly gay or lesbian person, you might give hope to a child who is growing up feeling different? Isn’t it past time you spoke to your family and told them the truth about how right-wing policy and fundamentalist religion is hurting you personally?

Next time a co-worker makes a homophobic joke, pull them aside and tell them that, while you aren’t thin-skinned, it worries you that those kinds of remarks are why so many gay and lesbian kids commit suicide.

I have a dear friend named Daryl who turned 50 this week. He has had AIDS for almost 30 years. At his party, we played that Gloria Gaynor song, “I Will Survive.”

He is my hero because, even before there were any treatments for HIV, he fought the disease and led small group programs for men who had only their attitudes to see them through. He came out as a person living with

AIDS in a day when there were no protections and much bigotry.

It wasn’t enough for him simply to survive; he worked to help others who were in the same boat.

You and I are in the same boat as those teenagers. It isn’t enough for us to have survived to adulthood. We have a moral obligation to challenge and confront oppression every chance we get.

Oh, yes, it might cost us. Many years ago, I was fired as a pastor for being gay and, later, I was fired as a therapist for speaking at a gay Pride rally. I’ve had my tires slashed and the paint on my car scratched nearly off. Two churches I served were firebombed. I have been picketed and spat upon, and have had numerous death threats through the years.

Yes, this fight can cost you, but my only regret is that I wasn’t able to do more.

Hopefully, there is still time. Hopefully, there is still time for you, too.

We can, and must, change the world in which teenage lesbian and gay people are growing up. We must do so in a public way so that they have hope.

It will terrify our fundamentalist and right-wing friends because, “Hope is a dangerous thing.”

The Rev. Michael Piazza is president of Hope for Peace & Justice, a nonprofit organization that is equipping progressive people of faith to be champions for peace and justice. He also serves as co-executive director of the Center for Progressive Renewal, which is renewing progressive Christianity by training new entrepreneurial leaders, supporting the birth of new liberal/progressive congregations, and by renewing and strengthening existing progressive churches. He served the Cathedral of Hope for 22 years, first as senior pastor and later as dean.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Who’s the bigger threat to U.S. national security, Terry Jones or Dallas’ own Robert Jeffress?

Terry Jones is pastor of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., which plans to burn Korans to mark nine years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Robert Jeffress is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, which has been promoting a video (above) in which Jeffress calls Islam a “violent” and “evil” religion that, among other things, “promotes pedophilia.” WTF?

While Jones is making headline news for his dangerous bigotry, Jeffress’ rant seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News had a good column about Jeffress’ rant this weekend, but other than that we haven’t seen much coverage. (UPDATE: Robert Wilonsky notes that Unfair Park covered this before The DMN.)

Gen. David Petraeus, head of Multinational Forces in Afghanistan, has warned that Jones’ church’s plans to burn Korans will jeopardize U.S. military efforts and put us and our troops in greater danger. As Blow pointed out, Jeffress statements do essentially the same thing.

Seriously, folks, someone needs to muzzle Jeffress, who is perhaps best known to the LGBT community for his “Why Gay Is Not OK” sermon a few years back. The scary thing is that while Jones’ church has only 50 members, First Baptist has umpteen thousands.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Talking Points Memo has a post up noting that Jeffress responded to Blow’s criticism during his Sunday sermon:

“Uninformed, I am not,” Jeffress said in his sermon on Sunday as a response.

“It does incite violence. It is used to oppress women around the world,” he added, continuing that he “was not talking about this country” when referencing pedophilia. But, Jeffress said, “the worst thing about Islam is that it is a deception that leads people from the true God.”

Jeffress contended that “we do not hate Muslims” and noted: “I have a very good friend here in Dallas who is a Muslim.”

—  John Wright

Get Equal Now protests Texas GOP platform

Protesters outside Blue Mesa Grill

A group of protesters from Get Equal Now braved the rain to protest the Texas Republican Party and its anti-LGBT platform on Thursday evening.

WBAP talk show host Mark Davis was the keynote speaker inside the Blue Mesa restaurant, at the meeting of a Hispanic Republican group.

Get Equal Now’s Chastity Kirven and Michael Robinson had reservations for the restaurant but were denied service. They were escorted out of the restaurant by Dallas police officers.

“We were met with security who escorted us off the property because they said we would be a threat to the event,” said Robinson. “C.D and I made dinner plans at Blue Mesa that evening at 7 p.m. and were refused service after confirming our reservation. Well at least we know we are a threat to them.”

Once escorted to the street, where they were allowed to protest, the group chanted “Gay, Straight, Black or White! Same struggle, Same fight!”

Kirven wrote to Dallas Voice:

“This protest today by Get Equal Now is a stand against oppression politics. The TX GOP’s divisive platform only creates divides that bind minority communities together. Whether its immigration reform, LGBT issues or an attempt to miseducate our future by rewriting the past in Texas schoolbooks, the platform leaves no room for inclusion and attempts to legalize bigotry. We will stand together and turn this red state blue.

“This is just the beginning and the gloves are off! We are not going to allow the TX GOP to legalize homophobia. We had a win with the federal judge finding parts of DOMA unconstitutional. We are in this to win this because it is about our lives, our families and our allies. We will GET EQUAL NOW!”

—  David Taffet

Phelps clan to leave graffiti on Westboro Baptist Church to show 'face of Topeka'

PhelpsSpray painted on the church were a swastika and the message, “God hates plants,” according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

One of the church’s leaders called the graffiti “graphic” and “filthy.”

But the church is Westboro Baptist Church and the leader who finds the messages offensive is Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps.

The city of Topeka said it would send a crew to remove the graffiti as it does for other locations. Phelps said she would leave it to show the “face of Topeka.” Graffiti has been removed from the church twice since a court ruling in a case about picketing military funerals was handed down in the Phelpses’ favor.

While “God Hates Plants” scrawled across their church is offensive to the Phelpses, “God Hates Fags” and their latest campaign, “God Hates Jews,” is not.

Also painted on church property was “KKK.” However, even the Klan has repudiated WBC on its website.

Another complaint of Phelps-Roper’s are references to God. References by her group, of course, are not offensive.

—  David Taffet

Father of fallen Marine ordered to pay Phelps court costs

god-hates-signsAlbert Snyder, the father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006, sued Fred Phelps after Westboro Baptist “Church” picketed his son’s funeral. A jury awarded the father a $3 million judgment.

Phelps appealed the ruling and on Friday, an appeals court overturned the judgment based on free speech rights. Snyder was ordered to pay Phelps’ court costs of $16,500.

Snyder has said he has no intention of paying Phelps any money and the Supreme Court agreed today to hear this first amendment case. The competing argument that the court will consider is the privacy and religious rights of mourners.

—  David Taffet

Early morning curtain time for controversial play for security

John Jordan Otte
John Jordan Otte

An excerpt from the gay-themed Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi” will be presented at Tarleton State University at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 27.  The production, originally set for afternoon, has been rescheduled for security reasons, and only friends, family and invited guests will be admitted.

The controversy began several weeks ago when members of the community in Stephenville heard  gay student John Jordan Otte has chosen the play as a project for his directing class.

Local preachers denounced the play from the pulpit. Letters to the editor of The Stephenville Empire Tribune claimed blasphemy. Callers flooded the school administration with complaints. None of those who complained claimed to have ever actually seen or read the play.

Otte said that he chose “Corpus Christi” because of its theme of tolerance, and he called McNally a hero of his.

Although the time has changed, the play was always scheduled to be presented in the small 95-seat theater and was never advertised to the public.

The administration has defended the play’s presentation on free speech and academic freedom grounds.

—  David Taffet

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