Transgender ‘Bully’ teen visits the White House for National Day of Silence

DRIVEN TO THE BRINK Kelby Johnson attempted suicide three times before her parents, with nowhere else to turn, contacted Ellen DeGeneres, who in turn put them in touch with Director Lee Hirsch. (Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

DRIVEN TO THE BRINK Kelby Johnson attempted suicide three times before her parents, with nowhere else to turn, contacted Ellen DeGeneres, who in turn put them in touch with Director Lee Hirsch. (Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

Kelby Johnson, the transgender teen portrayed in the film Bully, will attend a showing of the film at the White House on Friday for National Day of Silence, according to an email sent by GLSEN.

Last week, Dallas Voice ran a story about the film and was the first LGBT media outlet to interview Johnson as a transgender teen. In the film, Johnson is referred to as lesbian and came out as transgender after the production wrapped.

Johnson and his father will be in D.C. today and tomorrow advocating for federal safe schools protections.

GLSEN has arranged meetings for the Johnsons with their Oklahoma representatives, with Rep. Mike Honda who recently started the anti-bullying caucus, with Rep. Linda Sanchez who is the lead sponsor for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

This summer, Kelby will become a GLSEN intern in the D.C. office.

After the jump are additional details of the Johnsons’ D.C. visit:

—  David Taffet

Movie Monday: “Bully” in wide release

It’s hard out there for a kid

There are more than a few raise-your-fist and stand-up-and-cheer moments in Bully; like An Inconvenient Truth, it outrages you at times, and gives you hope at others. While its through-line isn’t as focused as it could be — for an even better youth-centered documentary, check out this year’s Oscar winner, Undefeated — Bully is a must-see experience for parents and kids … and anyone else who cares about justice, and wants to understand what it means to be different today.

3.5 out of 5 stars. Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Directed by Lee Hirsch. Rated PG-13. 100 mins. Now playing in wide release.

—  Rich Lopez

WATCH: Brandon Hilton’s “Set Fire to the Night”

When I heard that Dallas-based singer Brandon Hilton’s newest single was titled “Set Fire to the Night,” I tweeted him asking what would Adele say about it since she has her song “Set Fire to the Rain.” With a confident bravado, he quickly tweeted back:

That was back in December. It was kind of funny, but also significant of Hilton’s self-assurance. Like him or not, Hilton is relentless in his drive to be a viable pop star and his new video released this week proves he’s trying to step up his game. It may not have the slick production value of a major artist, but there is a sense of graduation as he attempts to say something here — or just get your attention. And the visual effects, while not big budget, do make a memorable impression.

But the party beat and slashed to hell editing makes the video work for me. Although I do wish he had followed up with that big smack in the beginning of the video. What happened to that bully? Did he get his? A bunch of different images and looks override the opening and we’re left hanging. Don’t forget the story, Hilton.

Watch the video after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

Houston pastor Joel Osteen and feel-good homophobia

Lakewood Church leader part of new breed who couch anti-gay teachings in forgiveness, love

Osteen.Joel

Joel Osteen

When the Michele Bachmanns or Glenn Becks of the world do their public rants about rampant homosexual perversion and the decay of American values, I’m happy to let them talk.

As painful as it is to keep the free flow of ideas going, it is important to let people fly their colors. This way you know where they stand and you get to fly your own big neon flag in response. When activists called to have the Mormon church’s tax-exempt status yanked for its role in California’s Prop 8, I took the church’s side — not because I approved of their bully tactics, but because I didn’t want to see other churches lose their right to fight for us one day.

So you’d think I’d be OK with Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s recent remarks recently to Oprah Winfrey: “I believe that homosexuality is shown as a sin in the scripture. I do.” I’m so not OK with this I almost foam at the mouth whenever I think about that nuclear white Osteen smile.

True, Osteen was just sick about having to say that we’re sinners, and almost apologized for it. He went out of his way to opine that Christians make too big a deal about homosexuality and that it’s about as sinful as being prideful or fibbing. I’m glad that my marriage only offends God somewhat.

I’ve heard that Osteen has a big gay following, and I know one of those fans well. Once I emailed him to report that Osteen called homosexuality “not God’s best” on Larry King. My friend wrote back, “Well, nobody’s perfect. You take what’s good and leave the rest.” He continues to be inspired.

Dees.Abby

Abby Dees | Thinking Out Loud

This all sounds reasonable, and you could argue that my friend was reminding me of my own professed philosophy about free speech and religion. And yet I shrieked out loud when I read his email.

The reason Fox News gets a pass but Osteen has incurred my wrath is because his message is so insidious. It’s feel-good homophobia, so couched in God-loves-you talk that Osteen avoids all responsibility for the fact that real people take his words to heart. Not everyone can “leave the rest” as my friend does.

Whenever Osteen answers the question about homosexuality he hems and haws, but always comes to the apparently painful conclusion that the Bible is unambiguous about it.

He’s quick to add that he does love gay people, welcomes them in his church, doesn’t judge, that there are worse things to be, etc. The message that it’s still a sin to be gay gets quickly obscured by smiley faces and glitter glue for hope.

Curiously, Osteen is rarely willing to take a stand on any other issues. He’s gotten criticized by the religious right for staying out of politics and being unwilling to talk about sin as much as he talks about positivity. It’s all about being “the best you can be” — God’s plan for you. When Mike Wallace asked Osteen if he thought Mormons were true Christians, he humbly responded, “I haven’t really studied them or thought about them…I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know” and “I’m not one to judge the little details of it.”

Hmm. Why so vague about the folks who have an entirely different set of scriptures, but so damned clear on the disappointing truth about homosexuality? Perhaps some serious re-examination is in order.

Another pastor whose language and selective choice of issues is spookily similar to Osteen’s is the purpose-driven Rick Warren. Also a proclaimed political abstainer, he encouraged his flock to vote against same-sex marriage and has disturbing ties to the recent wave of anti-gay policies in Africa. Warren still insists that he loves gay people and works closely with “a number of gay organizations,” though no one ever asks which ones. These men are entitled to their opinions, but it’s time to call out the hypocrisy of this new breed of influential pastors who want us all to bathe in the light of God’s forgiving love. Except that LGBT people must still deny how God made them if they want “God’s best” for themselves.

California-based writer Abby Dees is the author of  ‘Queer  Questions Straight Talk.’ She can be contacted through her website QueerQuestionsStraightTalk.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

No action from HISD Board on anti-LGBT flier

Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

It’s been 36 days since news first broke that HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriquez was distributing an anti-LGBT flier as part of his campaign, yet the HISD board has still taken to action to reprimand their colleague. As previously reported by Houstini, at some point toward the end of early voting during the fall municipal elections Rodriquez began distributing a flier that encouraged Houstonians to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because Fonseca had a history of activism for LGBT issues, was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, had no children and had a “male partner.” The net effect of the flier was a statement that gay men are not fit for public office. Rodriquez later appeared on Spanish language television and said that he did not understand “why an unmarried 54-year-old man would want access to children.

At the board’s monthly meeting last night trustees considered adopting an ethics policy that would instruct trustees to “make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of all children in the District, regardless of ability, race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sex, age, disability, ancestry, marital status, veteran status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/ or social standing.” The enumerated list of attributes was added to the draft policy after community outrage at Rodriquez’s flier. After trustees raised concerns about other portions of the ethics policy the measure was tabled until an indefinite date. At this time there is no commitment from the HISD Board of Trustees to resume consideration of the policy.

As happened at the board’s November meeting several HISD students spoke to the board requesting that action be taken against Rodriguez. Sergio, a freshman at Milby High School, told Rodriguez “your fliers make me feel inferior,” adding “what makes you think a bully should be my representative?” Micheal, a Milby sophomore, spoke in similar terms “I have been bullied throughout Elementary and Middle School… I don’t want a bully representing HISD.” Christine Farley, the school nurse at Milby and co-sponsor of the schools Gay Straight Alliance spoke eloquently, decrying Rodriquez’s “dirty politicking” and criticizing his lack of contrition: “You have made to attempt to apologize to my students.”

Several community leaders also addressed the board, echoing the call for action or at least a sincere apology. Cristan Williams, executive director of the Transgender Foundation of America, said that she did not believe that Rodriquez understood why the community was upset. “I’ve not yet heard a type of an apology that fully recognizes the message that was sent,” said Williams. “Just because someone is GLBT, or a part of the GLBT community does not mean that they are a pedophile or should be excluded from our culture.” Lou Weaver read a resolution from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus adding his own comments. “Students, faculty and staff should all be held responsible for their actions, board members should be no exception,” said Weaver. “Don’t use your biases to get elected.”

—  admin

Local activists continue effort to remove Rodriguez

Rodriguez Protest

Protesors, led by Mike Pomeroy, outside of the November 10 HISD Board meeting

The controversy over an anti-LGBT flier distributed by HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez continues to snowball. Activists organizing on the website hisdbully.org and led by Mike Pomeroy and Cristan Williams are planning to protest at the HISD Board Meeting December 8. The protest, which begins at 4:30  pm outside the Hattie May White Center (4400 West 18th Street) where the School Board meets, is part of a two pronged approach that includes speakers directly confronting Rodriguez during the period allowed for public comments at the meeting.

As previously reported by Houstini, At some point towards the end of early voting during the fall municipal elections Rodriquez began distributing a flier that encouraged Houstonians to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because Fonseca had a history of activism for LGBT issues, was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, had no children and had a “male partner.” The flier came within a hair’s breadth of saying “don’t vote for gay people” without actually saying it.

The Houston LGBT Political Caucus discovered the flier and began bringing it to the public’s attention on Friday, November 4, the last day of early voting. By election day, November 8, the flier had become national news. Rodriguez received 916 votes in early voting, Fonseca 814. On election day, after the flier became public knowledge, Rodriguez garnered 1,485 votes to Fonseca’s 1,563. Rodriquez’s pre-election day lead was sufficient to put him into office by 24 votes.

On November 10, at the Houston Independent School Board’s monthly meeting, Rodriguez heard from students, parents and teachers in the district furious at him for perpetuating anti-LGBT sentiment. Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus revealed to the board that, in addition to distributing the flier, Rodriguez made additional homophobic remarks to local Spanish-language media.

What you all might not know is that [Rodriguez] also went on television and said that he ‘just couldn’t understand why an unmarried 54-year-old man would want access to children.’ That statement in and of itself and the implication contained within is representable and discusting.”

In response to the public outcry the HISD Board President Paula Harris pledged that the board would reconsider their code of ethics for trustees to address such behavior. The board is scheduled to consider the revised code of ethics next week at the November 8 meeting.

The organizers of the protest ask that people planning to attend RSVP on the Facebook event they created. Anyone wishing to speak at the Board Meeting must sign up online by 4:30 pm on Wednesday, December 7. The Board receives public comments at the end of each meeting, which can be quite late in the evening.

—  admin

Website shines spotlight on Rodriquez

Rodriquez

Manuel Rodriquez

Houston Independent School Board Member Manuel Rodriguez has the dubious distinction of being the sole topic of a new website: hisdbully.org. The site seeks to remove Rodriquez from office for anti-gay comments and literature made during his recent re-election campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, Rodriguez’s campaign distributed a flier that encouraged voters to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because of Fonseca’s history of LGBT activism and because he is gay. Rodriquez also made comments during an interview with a Spanish language station asking why a 50-something year old man with no children was seeking access to children.

“We were encountering so many different people who were outraged by the behavior of Manny Rodriguez, who wanted to do something but weren’t sure what they should do,” said Mike Pomeroy, one of the organizers of the site.  “We needed an easy way to disseminate the information as far and wide as possible, to compile all of the relevant media attention that the issue has received, and to focus the energies of all the disparate individuals who wanted to address the issue, so that we could all work together with the same goal in mind.”

The site includes a petition calling for Rodriguez’s resignation.

—  admin

The growing problem of workplace bullying

Phyllis Guest
Taking Notes

Bullying isn’t just confined to teens; adults in the workplace are targeted, too

I recently met a remarkable woman who has a lot to say about a kind of adult bullying that hits straights as well as LGBTS, that hurts men as well as women, that harms older and less connected workers the most, and that is so pervasive it’s called “The Silent Epidemic.”

Esque Walker, who lives in Corsicana and drove up to Dallas recently to give a Saturday morning presentation on workplace bullying, has an undergraduate degree in health information management, a masters in healthcare/health information management and a doctorate in public policy and administration.

She also has a score of certifications and areas of expertise.

She has been working diligently for the passage of the Texas Healthy Workplace Bill, authored by Dr. David Yamada of the Workplace Bullying Institute. It’s hard going, as you can imagine.

So far, Dr. Walker has been unable to even get a meeting with Gov. Rick Perry. Perhaps he is too busy campaigning. More likely, if his many aides have put her name and credentials before him, he has retreated into his good-hairyness.

Remember: He scraped through Texas A&M with Ds; she has a Ph.D.

But the governor is not the only impediment to getting this bill in place. So far, Dr. Walker and her associates have spoken with a great many Texas state senators and representatives. Not one has agreed to sponsor the bill.

Dr. Walker was herself the target of workplace bullying some years ago. But instead of simply taking the abuse — as most women and many men have done over the years — she aligned herself with others who understood the issues involved.

So, what are the issues?

To begin, Dr. Walker asserts that adult bullying is based on the bully’s need for power and control. It’s closely linked with competitiveness; the bully may resent the target’s appearance, education, personality or any number of facets of the other person’s being. He or she definitely does not want the target to advance.

So how do you know you are targeted, assuming the bully does not actually taunt or threaten you, as happens so often to children and teens?

You start with power disparity; the bully may have a higher status, longer tenure or perhaps corporate protectors to give him or her a sense of strength.

Then you look at four other criteria: repetition, duration, intensity and escalation.

Workplace bullying, says Dr. Walker, usually plays out in a predictable way. First, the bully criticizes you or gets someone above you in the pecking order to do so. Next, the bully involves others, usually four to six people who may see you as a threat or just want to curry favor with the boss.

Then, no matter what you do, it is not enough or not good enough, and coworkers are not allowed to “help” you. Eventually you are fired — after being told, “You are not a team player.”
Here’s how it looks by the numbers:

• 62 percent of bullies are men (who may bully other men, straight women or, of course, LGBTs).

• 58 percent of targets are women.

• 18 percent of adult suicides in the European Union are attributed to workplace bullying.

• An estimated 1 million Texans are bullied at work every year.

As the economy has worsened, pushing out older workers has become the norm; counselors report the escalation, although putting a number to the pain is virtually impossible.
So what to do if you are the target?

First, document everything, with specifics of person, time, place and comment or event. Second, do not go to your organization’s human resources person or department; HR works for the company and could care less about you.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or your union representative — if applicable — can help; the latter may be especially important in education and medicine, where power disparities and bullying are common.

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WorkPlaceBullying.org) publishes a newsletter and other materials that can offer insight plus specifics. The Dallas Public Library has books by Gary Namie and Ruth Namie, Ph.D.’s known for their groundbreaking research and writing on workplace “jerks, weasels and snakes.”

And of course Out & Equal has done and continues doing great work on behalf of our community.

Final thoughts: The worst that can happen is that Texas will continue to allow vast amounts of cruelty in offices, factories, fields and stores. The best that could happen is that our next Legislature will pass the Healthy Workplace Bill, recognizing the problem, mandating anti-bullying education, and allowing victims to sue.

Meanwhile, if a workplace bully is making you frightened and depressed, find a counselor in whom you can confide. And don’t wait ’til tomorrow. Do it today.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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

Lawsuit against SA boarding school says bully threatened to rape boy with lit blowtorch

The parents of a former student have filed a lawsuit against an elite religious boarding school in San Antonio, alleging that a bully threatened to sexually assault their son with a lit blowtorch. The family of the then-15-year-old also says the boy’s classmates bullied him by calling him “gay” and “Nazi.” From the San Antonio Express-News:

The suit describes a night when a group of students burst into his room and pinned him down in his bed while one waved a lit blowtorch in his face and “made repeated threats to rape him.”

The suit names TMI and the San Antonio-based Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. The school was founded in 1893 by an Episcopal bishop.

The suit, which does not specify damages, accuses them of ignoring warnings from the parents and boy despite the school’s zero-tolerance hazing policy.

“You’re entrusting your child to a boarding facility that’s supposed to be one of the best in Texas and the nation and one run by a church,” said Tahira Khan Merritt, the family’s attorney based in Dallas. “You certainly don’t expect to be abused.”

Read a full copy of the lawsuit here.

 

—  John Wright