Participating in Day of Silence? Send us photos!

facebook_shared_DOS15_2Today is the Day of Silence, where thousands of students, faculty and staff at schools around the world take a vow of silence against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey, 85 percent of middle and high school students were verbally harassed in school in the past year and nearly two-thirds frequently heard anti-LGBT language among peers.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance will eat their lunch in silence from noon–2 p.m. in the University Center, according to the Shorthorn, the school’s student newspaper.

If your school or classmates have organized a similar event and you’d like to share any photos, please send them as an attachment to russell(at)dallasvoice(dot)com. We’ll post them on the Instant Tea blog.

—  James Russell

Suicide by McKinney teen recalls series of bullying deaths

raymond-howell-jr

Raymond Howell, Jr., (Instagram)

Raymond Howell Jr., 14, was found dead of an apparent suicide near a culvert beside busy Eldorado Parkway in McKinney on Thursday, April 2. The McKinney Boyd High School freshman is believed to have committed suicide after being bullied by older students.

According to CBS 11, Howell had recently asked for a transfer to a different school to escape the bullying.

School districts throughout Texas have anti-bullying policies as a result of a series of suicides in the fall of 2012, including several in Texas and Oklahoma. It was during that period that Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns rose to national attention with his story of being bullied as a teen.

The McKinney police public information officer didn’t return a call today to confirm whether the bullying that led to Howell’s death was LGBT-related.

The Trevor Project hotline is a toll-free 24 hour LGBTQ suicide prevention line at 1-866-488-7386.

—  David Taffet

REVIEW: ‘Bull’

Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz with Natalie Young, Ian Ferguson (Photo by Karen Almond)

Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz with Natalie Young, Ian Ferguson (Photo by Karen Almond)

Thomas (Ian Ferguson), a schlubby British salesman, fidgets nervously in a stark room. Across from him, Isobel (Natalie Young) sits coolly, dressed elegantly and moving with the stealth of a panther. “Why didn’t you wear your good suit?” she asks Thomas. He thought this was his good suit. Maybe she’s screwing with him. Then Tony (Alex Ross) walks in. “Why didn’t you wear your good suit?” he asks. And from there, the dominoes fall.

Bull, a play by Cock playwright Mike Bartlett, takes its name in equal measure from the bullshit that yuppie business types toss around each other and the bullying that takes place of Thomas, unrelentingly, for an hour. These aren’t playground taunts and gimme-your-milk-money strong-arm tactics; they are acts of outright warfare where words are weapons and victory requires scorching the earth of your adversary. It’s medieval, primal … and completely contemporary.

It’s also gimmicky, though not necessarily in a bad way. It’s easy to make people squirm uncomfortably while watching someone, if not self-destruct, then at least contribute to his own demise through poor decision-making. Just have the characters be unrelenting, the protagonist (? — Thomas is hardly a hero) do the exact wrong thing at each moment. It’s patent audience manipulation, but it does serve a purpose: Just how far will human nature take us? Does compassion ever kick in?

But an even better point raised by this production, directed by Christie Vela and performed through the weekend at the Wyly courtesy Second Thought Theatre, is whether Thomas deserves our sympathies. Awful as it is to say, Thomas projects his weaknesses and allows himself to be victimized by them. You wanna slap him and yell, “Stop being a doormat!” But maybe he can’t help it — maybe he is destined to be forever walked upon. After a while, his whiny lack of survival techniques begins to make you see the point advanced Isobel, Tony and later their bloviating boss Carter (Jeremy Schwartz): If you can’t swim with the sharks, you’d better get out of the water or relent to a life as chum.

Of course, as much of a weakling as Thomas is, the cruel mindgames Tony and Isobel relentlessly inflict upon him — from a homoerotic exercise calculated to emasculate him to bitchy snipes that burrow under his skin — take them to the point where they reject their own humanity. You begin to see this as some elaborate twist on the TV show The Apprentice (Bartlett even mentions the show, which, I wouldn’t be surprised, was his inspiration for writing the play). What they do becomes a form of torture. They are cold-blooded.

Still, the play is better than Mamet’s equally divisive and outrageous Oleanna, in part because the issues seem more present. And the fact the cast delivers all the animus with such steely-eyed makes it all the more shocking. It’s not the kind on play to see on a date, but do it. What, are you afraid you little pussy? Huh … punk?!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Spirit Day: Go purple to take a stand against bullying

Today is Oct. 16. It’s also Spirit Day, when people everywhere are encouraged to “go purple” to take a stand against bullying. There’s even anspirit day selfie app for that: The Spirit Day App, powered by Toyota Financial Services, which provides anti-bullying resources, calls to action and lets you take a “selfie” then turn it purple and add an anti-bullying slogan. That’s my purple selfie right here in this post. I am also using it today as my profile pic on Facebook. I even remembered to wear my purple shirt today.

But see, here’s the day. It takes more that a purple shirt or a purple “selfie” to stop bullying. It takes more than paying attention just one day out of the year.

According to a study published in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 have actually attempted suicide. Overall, the suicide rate among teens climbed from 6.3 percent in 2009 to 7.8 percent in 2011, reflecting the trend gaining national attention as more teen suicides are reported as a result of bullying.

I have two sons, both relatively well-adjusted, considering that they are teenage boys. But both of them have had to deal with some sort of bullying during their lives. The older one, — now almost 18 — got bullied in junior high because he was a “smart kid,” a “nerd” who wore glasses. The younger one, now 15, was the target of a whole gang of bullies throughout his fourth-grade school year because we bought a house in a new neighborhood and he had to go to a new elementary school. “New kids” often get bullied.

We were lucky. Our kids made it through and are OK. A lot of kids aren’t so lucky.

And we have to remember that in a time when social media infiltrates so much of our lives, bullying isn’t limited to the classroom or the playground. It can follow our kids home, into our own living rooms, into their own bedrooms. We have to find whole new ways to protect our children. And that takes more than wearing purple one day a year.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for Spirit Day, for purple selfies and purples clothes. Things like that raise awareness, and change doesn’t happen without awareness. I am just asking that we all remember not to let it stop there.

If you have children, talk to them about bullying. Make sure they know they can come to you for help if someone is bullying them. And make sure they are not bullying anyone else. If you are a young person yourself and you are being bullied, don’t suffer in silence. Find someone who can help. If you can’t find someone, contact us here at Dallas Voice; we can connect you with the help you need.

And remember that bullying isn’t limited to children. Adults are bullied too: by coworkers, spouses, by someone at the gym or on the street.

When you see someone being bullied, step in. Do something to stop the abuse. Don’t turn away. You could be the one who makes the difference, who saves someone’s life.

 

—  Tammye Nash

REVIEW: ‘Gidion’s Knot’ at KDT

Leah Spillman and Jenni Kirk in ‘Gidion’s Knot’ at KDT.

A mother attends a parent-teacher conference to discuss her fifth-grader, who was suspended for a week, but the the teacher doesn’t recall making the appointment … unless the mother is … oh, her.

That’s the first 20 minutes or so of the 80 minutes that make up Gidion’s Knot, a regional premiere now playing at The MAC. It’s a frustrating first quarter, with long, slow, wordless scenes and intentionally obtuse exposition. How can the teacher, Miss Clark (Leah Spillman), childless and new to the classroom not recall a conference set up only three days ago? Then again, when the mother, Corryn (Jenni Kirk) arrives in her class the first time, why doesn’t she just say her son’s name, or Miss Clark’s, and save us all the discomfort and mystery?

The answer is pretty simply, actually: Then the play would only be 62 minutes long, and the author, Johnna Adams, wouldn’t have been able to impress us with her stagecraft — her ability to pull a Mamet out of a hat. It’s a playwrighting gimmick, a first-act conundrum meant to draw us in but which only holds in sharp relief the incompleteness that infests the entire play.

Some of that incompleteness is intentional. Miss Clark and Corryn are both incomplete women, especially when it comes to children: The teacher without any of her own (she has a cat instead), and the single mother, not especially devoted to her only child but trying to make up for it when, alas, it’s too late. No wonder they don’t communicate in full thoughts or engage in sensible dialogue — they are both cut off in some ways, adrift in their work.

It turns out that the reason Miss Clark forgot about the meeting (one for which Corryn is 20 minutes late, a further indication of her lack of parental responsibility) is that she assumed it had been canceled — after all, the child in question, Gidion, killed himself over the weekend. What led to that? And how was it related to his suspension? More mysteries, more drawn-out explanations.

When the reasons are finally revealed — quite astonishingly, if melodramatically (more extended exposition, as if Adams were terrified her play would only last 38 minutes) — it’s a further disconnect for teacher and mom: Gidion was a troubled, Miss Clark says — brilliant says mom … but why can’t he be both?

Gidion’s Knot bulges with literary and mythic references (check out the title itself), and the points it raises are thoughtful and complex, but its weaknesses are just as apparent. “Want to get people on your side? Throw in a dead child!” Corryn hisses at Miss Clark about modern society, but that’s exactly what she’s doing (and what Adams is). A dead kid raises all sorts of troubling questions, and how can outsiders (Miss Clark, the audience) judge the emotional reaction of a distraught mother?

But that’s what the play invites us to do, and Corryn — fiercely played by Kirk, who’s matched with coolness by Spillman — falls short. (Her last name, it turns out, is Fell.) She’s a bundle of contradictions, who demands the participation of the school’s principal but gets angry at Miss Clark when she won’t engage in tit-for-tat sniping, who blames Miss Clark even though she was deaf to her own child’s pain, who wants to play “what’s my line?” guessing games but criticizes efforts at deflection. She’s also critic-proof, because who are we to say her irrationality isn’t justified?

And therein lines the heart of Gidion’s Knot — its unresolvability. All rules go out the window; like the Gordian Knot, it cannot be solved, it can only be destroyed and rebuilt. Sometimes there are no answers, just more questions.

Plays through April 26. KitchenDogTheater.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

American Humanist Association represents Birdville student

Smith protest

Isaiah Smith at a protest last year

An attorney for the American Humanist Association sent a complaint to Birdville ISD in Tarrant County about the suspension of a North Richland Hills student.

Isaiah Smith was suspended after he ripped pages out of his Bible. Smith said the incident began when he was taunted and told he couldn’t be gay and Christian.

The American Humanist Association called the suspension for ripping a Bible a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. The attorney demands any record of the suspension be removed from Smith’s record. The full letter is here.

Comments to a previous Dallas Voice post and emails after that item ran indicate how emotionally charged the issue is. Numerous posters commented on Smith’s behavior in school.

He “doesn’t stand for the pledge or the U.S. national anthem, which shows much disrespect to this country,” one wrote.

“Isaiah Smith is not a saint,” Ashley Wilmot wrote in an email and described disruptive behavior by Smith in class and in band.

Other commenters were blatantly ignorant of the topic or used the language of bullies playing victim.

“I have a question for you, when you get older and have a mate, how are you both going to learn the beauty that lies within the struggle of loving the opposite sex?” Birgit Sellers asked in a comment.

Smith is openly gay and made news last year when he petitioned the Keller City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance.

—  David Taffet

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities kicks off town hall series with bullying panel

Old Bedford School

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities meets at Old Bedford School in Bedford.

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities kicks off a monthly town hall series Wednesday with a discussion on bullying. The panel will include representatives from three local school districts.

Leading the discussion on how the community can come together to create a safer environment for children will be Fort Worth ISD student engagement program specialist Sharon Herrera, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD coordinator of guidance and counseling Carla Docken and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD crisis counselor Robin Davis.

The documentary Bully will also be screened. October is National Bullying Awareness Month.

The panel discussion is the first in a monthly town hall series called Journey Toward Justice scheduled through August 2014. The series will include a guest speaker or panel addressing a variety of topics including access to healthcare, human trafficking and modern day slavery, economic justice and the issue of childhood poverty, LGBT equality, religious and cultural freedom in the U.S., racial equality and minority rights, women’s rights and equality, capital punishment and prisoner rights, reproductive freedom, disability rights, and environmental justice and climate change.

“With the Journey to Justice program, we hope to examine the commonalities that are found among different people and marginalized groups and how, by joining together and aligning resources, we can all work together to be the catalyst for a paradigm shift in the larger community,” said Kristin Robertson, moderator of the leadership advisory team at Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities.

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities is a financially independent parish church of Cathedral of Hope in Dallas and affiliated with United Church of Christ.

The discussion on bullying takes place on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. The town hall takes place the second Wednesday of each month. Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities meets at Old Bedford School, 2400 School Lane, Bedford. 817-354-HOPE.

—  David Taffet

Gay suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents drop suit against school district

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol lobbying for anti-bullying legislation in 2011.

Amy and David Truong, parents of gay teen suicide victim Asher Brown, have dropped their lawsuit against the Cy-Fair Independent School District in Houston.

Brown, 13, committed suicide in September 2010. The Truongs claimed Asher had been bullied based on his Buddhist beliefs, his size and his sexual orientation.

The Truongs became crusaders for passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and testified in favor of the state’s new anti-bullying law, which passed in 2011.

“All of this has been so difficult,” Amy Truong wrote on her blog recently after they dismissed the lawsuit. “Yet, no matter what happens, we have won. Everyone in the state has won. Laws have changed and everyone benefits from it.”

The school district denied the Truong’s allegations about bullying at Hamilton Middle School. Officials claimed Asher’s death resulted from problems at home.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Fort Worth teen suspended for anti-gay comments films NOM video

Dakota Ary

Dakota Ary, the Fort Worth teen who was suspended last year after he made anti-gay comments in class, is featured in a new video from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

Ary was suspended after gay teacher Kris Franks sent him to the principal’s office for making anti-gay comments, which Franks said were part of ongoing anti-gay bullying from Ary.

Ary’s mom later hired Liberty Counsel lawyer Matt Krause — now the Republican nominee for Texas House District 93 — and the suspension was lifted. Franks was suspended for unrelated behavior, but the charges were later dropped.

Ary speaks about the incident in a NOM Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance video, where he talks about how his freedom of speech was violated and he encourages other people to speak up for what they believe in.

Ary’s mom is also in the video and talks about how parents should empower their children to stand up for their beliefs. She said Ary was targeted and called hateful names after his story made national headlines.

“Dakota is not a bigot. He is not someone who hates gay people,” she says in the video. “He’s not a hater in any way. And of all these organizations and companies that promote gay marriage and so on and so forth, for them to come back at him as a child is just ridiculous. I’m extremely proud of the fact that he did stand up for himself.”

Watch the video below.

—  Dallasvoice

Study shows high rate of discrimination against transgender people in Texas

Mara Keisling

Transgender Texans generally face even higher levels of discrimination than transgender people nationwide, according to a state-level breakout from a national study conducted last year.

Equality Texas and the Transgender Education Network of Texas released the state-level figures Tuesday from the study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality. The full national study is available online, and results from the Texas study are below. The national study included 266 Texas respondents.

In Texas, transgender people faced higher rates of harassment and assault in school. Nationally, 78 percent reported being harassed, but in Texas 85 percent faced harassment. Physical assault was also higher in the state at 46 percent compared to 35 percent nationally. Sexual assault in school was comparable at 12 percent nationally and 9 percent in Texas.

Texas doesn’t have LGBT-inclusive employment nondiscrimination or anti-bullying laws. The state’s hate crimes law covers gays and lesbians but not transgender people.

Equality Texas called the rates of workplace discrimination in the state “alarming.” Chuck Smith, Equality Texas interim executive director, said the report graphically demonstrates the discrimination faced by transgender Texans.

“In our state, where the right of self-determination is so valued, it is unconscionable that anyone would be denied the ability to earn a living, to live where they choose or to be educated,” Smith said. “Equality Texas calls on the members of the Texas Legislature to join us in working to ensure that all Texans are given the ability to live as their authentic selves.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said some states have made a lot of progress toward ensuring safety, jobs and homes for transgender people. But she said “this research points out persistent gaps in the fair and equal treatment of transgender people.”

According to the report:

—  David Taffet