HCC Board of Trustees unanimously approves trans protections

The Houston Community College Board of Trustees unanimously approve trans protections during their regular meeting last week. The measure to include Gender Identity and Expression in the college’s system-wide nondiscrimination policy was voted on as part of a group of noncontroversial actions considered by the board.

Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, attended the board meeting and said the vote happened so quickly, and with so little discussion, that he almost missed it. “As an HCC alumni, I can’t express how thankful I am to the HCC Board of Trustees for taking this step,” said Weaver. “I look forward to working with the school to insure that the new policy is fully implemented in a way that insures that members of the transgender community have the same educational opportunities as everyone else.”

—  admin

DCCCD considering transgender policy

College district would become second in state to add protections

DCCCD2

PROTECTING EVERYONE | A DCCCD student studies on a bench outside El Centro Community College in Downtown Dallas. El Centro is part of the Dallas County Community College District, which is considering adding protections for transgenders to its nondiscrimination policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, Dallas County Community College District board of trustees was briefed in closed-door session about adding gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy.

The district already has protection based on sexual orientation.

If the board votes to approve the change, DCCCD would become only the second community college in Texas to add gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policies. San Jacinto College, with three campuses based in Pasadena, east of Houston, is currently the only two-year college in the state to offer those protections.

Resource Center Dallas Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said he has been talking to DCCCD Trustee Diana Flores since spring about adding transgender protections, and had hope the changes would be in place for the fall semester.

But the issue was not added to the agenda at the September meeting as hoped. Staff told McDonnell they expected it to be on the consent agenda at the October meeting. Instead the board received a briefing.

McDonnell said he didn’t think the policy would have a problem passing, and that the briefing was about how to implement the change.

He said he hopes the policy would come up at next month’s meeting and be in place by the start of the spring semester.

DCCCD is the largest school in Texas, with 72,000 students in seven colleges on 13 campuses. The school employs 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators.

The district is governed by a board of trustees who are elected for six-year terms and serve without compensation.

McDonnell said Flores, one of the seven elected trustees, has been the champion of adding transgender protections.

The University of Texas at Austin website lists 55 community colleges or community college districts in Texas. Just six of those districts have nondiscrimination policies that specifically include sexual orientation.

In addition to DCCCD and San Jacinto College, Tarrant County College, Austin Community College, Houston Community College and Lone Star College System in North Harris and Montgomery Counties north of Houston offer protection based on sexual orientation.

Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance has approached Collin County Community College in the past about adding LGBT protections to its nondiscrimination policy, but the school has not done so.

With the growing LGBT population in the suburbs north of Dallas, McDonnell thought that school would be one of the next to add protections.

Other two-year schools in the area include Corsicana-based Navarro College with campuses in Waxahachie and Midlothian and Gainesville-based North Central Texas College with campuses in Flower Mound and Corinth. Neither has policies specifically protecting LGBT students, faculty and staff.

Among its student activities, Navarro College lists P.R.I.S.M. (GSA). That gay-straight alliance group formed last year. The listing links to no additional web page. With its active LGBT student group, McDonnell thought Navarro College might be among the next schools approached to add protections.

Out at Collin is an LGBT group at CCCC and under that organization’s membership requirements, a nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

That is the only student group that does include such a policy, however.

Although the CCCC listing links to a page, the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are not found on there. Only goals of the group, such as “Empower the misunderstood and give a voice to the under-represented” and “Bring awareness and dispel stereotypes to the larger community” are listed.

NCTC has fewer student activities than the other area colleges and lists no organized LGBT group. But most of the 13 “Official Student Organizations” listed on the Corinth and

Flower Mound campuses are curriculum-related. The only social groups are Christians In Action and Latino Leadership Council.

Although a written nondiscrimination policy doesn’t insure equal treatment, it does give an employee or student some recourse.

Protections in the Tarrant County College policies were added after instructor Jackie Gill was fired because of her perceived sexual orientation. She filed a lawsuit against the school on Sept. 7. Lambda Legal is representing her in the case.

Lambda Legal staff attorney Ken Upton said that the school has retained an attorney and has another month to answer the charges. He said that they will have 90 days to six months to do discovery.

“Then I suspect they’ll order alternative dispute resolution,” he said, meaning mediation or arbitration.

Upton said Gill’s case is interesting because she was fired before TCC had sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.

He said the school would have to show that they have a legitimate reason to dismiss faculty based on their sexual orientation. But if they did have a legitimate reason, why would they have added the category to their nondiscrimination policy?

“Private companies have great policies that are not enforceable in court,” Upton said. But a government agency that has a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation would have to show a compelling interest to fire gays and lesbians.

Despite her treatment by one faculty member, Gill “wants to teach and she loves the school,” Upton said. “They have five campuses and they have a demand. They’re looking for instructors.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

Oak Lawn psychologist elected to TPA board

Dr. Gregory Simonsen

From Staff Reports

Officials with the Texas Psychological Association this week announced that Dr. Gregory Simonsen has been elected to the Texas Psychological Association’s Board of Trustees.

Simonsen starts a three-year term on the board this month after being elected by members of TPA in the fall of 2010. In his capacity as board member, he coordinates psychologists in North Texas and their contacts within the Texas Legislature as well as disseminating information regarding the Texas Psychological Association to members through various local psychological associations.

Simonsen has been in private practice in the Oak Lawn area for 10 years. He has been active in the psychological community of Dallas as a member of the Dallas Psychological Association and is currently serving as the past president of that organization.

Simonsen specializes in LGBT issues and he presents to the community on various psychological topics.

He is also adjunct professor for local universities on occasion.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright

Anti-bullying bill leaves out trans protections

Rep. Mark Strama, who’s considered an LGBT ally, may not realize how big a mistake he’s making by omitting gender identity/expression from his bullying bill.

Later today the Dallas ISD’s board of trustees will vote on a bullying policy that, if approved, would make the district the first in the state to specifically outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Obviously one of the keys here is gender identity/expression, which covers not only students who are transgender, but also students who are perceived by classmates as not meeting gender stereotypes. Clearly, this is a major factor behind bullying — students who are made fun of, for example, for being “sissies” or “tomboys.”

So why, then, would a state representative who is considered an LGBT ally file an anti-bullying bill that includes sexual orientation but NOT gender identity/expression?

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, last week filed HB 224, this session’s version of the comprehensive anti-bullying legislation that Strama authored in 2009. But for some reason, and we still aren’t exactly sure why, Strama has left out gender identity/expression this time. The 2009 version of Strama’s bill, HB 1323, which almost made it to the House floor, included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. However, this year’s version includes only sexual orientation.

We contacted Strama’s office on Wednesday, but we still haven’t heard back. Earlier today we spoke with Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, who assured us he’s well aware of the omission. Smith said “gender identity/expression” was in every version of Strama’s bill  that Equality Texas reviewed, but suddenly disappeared from the version that was filed.

Smith said he was in the office this afternoon despite the fact that he’s supposed to be on vacation — for a meeting aimed at getting a trans-inclusive version of Strama’s bill filed in the Senate. Smith said Strama’s bill can’t be amended until it goes to committee, which might not be until March, and Strama isn’t willing to pull the bill and re-file a trans-inclusive version.

“We’re aware of it, we’re disappointed in it and we’re trying to fix it by having a Senate version of the bill that would be what we want it to be,” Smith said. “Our policy is that we don’t support bills that don’t include both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. We’ve been working on this since HB 224 got filed on Nov. 9 and we realized that it wasn’t in there anymore.”

—  John Wright

‘Come see history being made’

LGBT advocates are encouraging people to attend this Thursday’s DISD board of trustees meeting, where a final vote is expected on an LGBT-inclusive bullying policy.

“Come see history being made,” said Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas. “We would certainly like to see a packed crowd of people supporting the policy. You can stop by on your way home.”

The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

If the measure is approved, the district will become the first in the state to adopt an LGBT-inclusive bullying policy.

McDonnell said RCD Executive Director Cece Cox is slated to address the board of trustees prior to the vote. The center was also working to line up DISD students to speak.

None of the school district’s nine trustees objected to the proposed policy when it was first discussed in a work session two weeks ago, but McDonnell said he’s not taking anything for granted.

To read the policy, go here.

—  John Wright

A revised draft of DISD’s new bullying policy

Lew Blackburn

If you’ll remember, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees moved forward last Thursday with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. The LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, which would be the first in the state, was brought forward by trustees Lew Blackburn and Bernadette Nutall after a previous proposal from the administration failed to enumerate protected groups.

Today, Blackburn was kind enough to send over a revised draft of the LGBT-inclusive policy, which reflects some minor changes suggested by trustees during Thursday’s meeting.

“The changes are mostly formatting, with a few wordings that individual trustees wanted to add for greater clarity,” Blackburn said. “We are scheduled to vote on the policy next week.”

Read the revised draft of the policy by going here. Next week’s meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium, at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

DISD moves ahead on LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

SPREADING THE WORD | Rafael McDonnell, facing camera, speaks to the press Thursday following the DISD  board meeting in which trustees gave preliminary approval to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

District spokesman says new proposal likely to be approved at Nov. 18 board meeting

Click here to read a draft of the proposed policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

In response to a series of gay teen suicides across the nation, the Dallas Independent School District is moving forward with a policy that provides specific protections against bullying for LGBT students.

The seven-page policy discussed by DISD’s board of trustees on Thursday, Nov. 4, would make the district the first in Texas to outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

None of DISD’s nine trustees spoke against the proposal during Thursday’s briefing session, and a district spokesman said afterward that the policy likely will be approved by the board at its next meeting Nov. 18.

“I hope as a district that this sets a trend for others — that this is something that has to end, and let it begin with DISD,” trustee Nancy Bingham said.

District staff had initially proposed a general bullying policy that failed to enumerate categories of protected students, prompting objections from LGBT advocates who’ve lobbied trustees over the last month.

Trustee Eric Cowan said he’s glad the categories were added.

“I wish we were at a point where all students could mean all students, but unfortunately our society isn’t there yet,” Cowan said.

The LGBT-inclusive policy was brought forward by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn. The policy is similar to one that’s in place in Broward County, Fla., home to Fort Lauderdale.

“We finally got a bullying policy where everybody is covered,” Nutall said. “I was bullied as a child, so I don’t want anybody to go through that craziness.”

Nutall said she’s asked staff to develop training on the policy for students, teachers and staff. The policy will be included in the Code of Conduct that’s distributed to all DISD students.

“They need to understand what bullying is and what they can get in trouble for,” Nutall said.

Thursday’s discussion came after trustees heard from three representatives from the LGBT community.

Roger Poindexter, director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, warned that gay students who’ve been bullied have won large monetary settlements from districts in other parts of the nation.

Poindexter said while a general policy might give adults “a warm fuzzy feeling,” it wouldn’t accomplish its goal.

“We need to spell it out so the bullies can understand it,” Poindexter said, before reading off the names of gay teens who’ve taken their own lives in recent months, including 13-year-old Asher Brown near Houston.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said 10 years of research shows that enumerated bullying policies are more effective.

“If it isn’t written, nobody’s going to think about it,” McDonnell said.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told trustees they’re “sorely mistaken” if they think current policies are protecting students from anti-gay bullying.

While DISD has policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, Garcia said he knows a student who was bullied relentlessly for being gay before being “saved” by the LGBT community.

“Don’t make a suicide make you do the right thing,” Garcia told trustees. “The time to act is now.”

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

—  Michael Stephens

Trustee says DISD administration resisting protections for gay students in bullying policy

Bernadette Nutall

The Dallas Independent School District’s administration is reportedly resisting an effort to include specific protections for LGBT students in a new bullying policy, setting up a possible showdown over the issue during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday that the district’s attorneys are objecting to her proposal to list categories of protected students in the bullying policy, because they say it could open up the district up to lawsuits from those who are left out.

Nutall said she submitted a fully inclusive policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the administration on Tuesday, Nov. 2. However, the administration has posted a noninclusive version of the policy that doesn’t list any categories of protected students on Thursday’s agenda.

Nuttall encouraged people in the LGBT community to attend the board meeting and speak in support of the substitute policy she’s proposing along with Trustee Lew Blackburn. Those who wish to speak at the meeting must sign up by calling 972-925-3720 before 5 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the board room at district offices, 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to put it in there,” Nutall said. “I was very frustrated. I really don’t understand the resistance. I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer, but I’m finding out that it’s not. … The community needs to drive this policy.”

A DISD spokeswoman said the board of trustees will discuss the proposed bullying policy on Thursday but will not take a final vote.

“They will be talking about the policy that you see [on the agenda], and they can add or change the language as they see fit,” the spokeswoman said. “Tomorrow’s briefing will kind of determine what direction this is going to take and what additional language, if any, they want to see.”

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said Wednesday that at least three LGBT leaders, including himself, plan to speak at Thursday’s meeting. The others are Jesse Garcia, president of the LULAC Rainbow Council, and Roger Poindexter, the new director for Lambda Legal’s South Central Region.

McDonnell said he’ll request that the board of trustees delay consideration of the bullying policy until it can further discussed.

“Even if people don’t want to speak, I think we need to pack the chambers,” McDonnell said, noting that many other school districts around the nation have adopted fully inclusive bullying policies without objections from attorneys. “Clearly there are other legal minds who come to a different answer.”

—  John Wright

Is DISD refusing to protect gay kids from bullying?

We’ve been told repeatedly in recent weeks that DISD’s board of trustees planned to put off a vote on a new bullying policy until officials could further discuss whether it should enumerate specific categories of students who would be protected, including those who are targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

So it comes as quite a surprise that this Thursday’s board agenda includes an item calling for approval, on second reading, of the same non-inclusive bullying policy that was initially proposed by the DISD administration. If you’ll recall, the non-inclusive policy prompted objections from LGBT groups, and at least two DISD trustees responded by saying they’d propose a substitute that enumerates specific protections.

We’ve got calls in to district spokesman Jon Dahlander, as well as trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, to find out what’s going on. But for the record, Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas is concerned:

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Based on the conversations with several board members, this proposed policy doesn’t reflect the information we gave them and how they responded to us.”

McDonnell notes that the only apparent change in the proposed policy since it was first introduced is the addition of the following paragraph at the very top:

—  John Wright