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.

—  Anna Waugh

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

WATCH: Joel Burns on new bullying law

Almost two years after a viral speech made him an instant celebrity, gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns is enjoying another round of TV appearances this week to discuss the state’s new anti-bullying law.

Burns has been vocal about his personal experience with bullying when he was teen at Crowley High School and about the need for bullying legislation. He was on WFAA last week and KTVT this morning to discuss House Bill 1492, which the Texas Legislature passed last year. It went into effect Sept. 1 of this year.

During today’s interview, Burns talked about being beaten up his high school gym as a freshman at 13 and his speech before City Council almost two years ago.

“And I realized that that is a lifelong impact,” he said about bullying. “It’s something you carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Burns said he is “very proud” of the new bill, which he lobbied for in Austin, but he called it a baseline and encouraged parents to contact their school boards to help add on to the bill’s requirements.

The bill does not include LGBT protections, but both Dallas and Fort Worth ISD have included LGBT protections in their policies.

Burns will be back on KTVT at 4 p.m. today.

Watch the videos below.

—  Anna Waugh

After gay teen’s suicide, El Paso ISD board adds LGBT protections

Brandon Elizares

A unanimous decision to add gender identity and perceived sexuality to the El Paso Independent School District’s nondiscrimination policy brought tears and hope Tuesday.

Board President Isela Castañon-Williams began crying after the vote because her son, Antonio, is gay, The El Paso Times reports.

“I know what it’s like going to school because of people who would bully us because we’re gay,” Williams told the board before the vote. “It can adversely affect the welfare of students who are different and that environment can create hostility.”

The policy previously prohibited discrimination against any student because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other chararistic prohibited by law.

Advocates of the updated policy said it would help prevent LGBT bullying in light of 16-year-old El Paso teen Brandon Elizares, who took his life June 2 after enduring relentless bullying since coming out in 2010.

Elizares’s mother said she thought the policy change was a “baby step” to future prevention and only time would tell if it would help.

“We can ask about it a year from now and see how well it’s worked,” she said. “I didn’t see anything at any of the schools my kids attended about any anti-bullying campaign or anything. If they did have it, I as a parent didn’t know about it, and I was going to the school every day.”

Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso and community liaison for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Anti-Bullying Coalition, said the LGBT community has been the target of three-quarters of bullying cases in El Paso.

The school district will offer safe zone training to teachers with help from PFLAG and University of Texas of El Paso’s Social Work Department so students can know where to go if they need to talk. The district will also begin an anti-bullying campaign this fall with activities and events to help prevent bullying and promote acceptance.

—  Anna Waugh

Flour Bluff teen commits suicide; family blames school district for not addressing bullying

Ted Molina

A year after the Flour Bluff Independent School District received national attention for refusing to allow students to form a Gay Straight Alliance, the district is accused of not handling bullying that led to a former student’s suicide on Sunday.

Ted Molina, 16, faced bullying since fifth grade from a group of boys who used racial epithets and threatened to fight him. Molina’s mother is Asian. The family blames the school district for not handling the bullying properly, his aunt told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Molina played football in middle school, but quit his freshman year hoping the taunting would stop. When it continued, he withdrew from Flour Bluff High School on March 5. While he seemed to improve, he posted several grim photos of himself on Facebook hours before he killed himself in his bedroom. He did not leave a note.

From the Caller-Times:

—  Anna Waugh

Survey: How safe are LGBT youth in TX schools?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Gay-Straight Alliance Network are conducting a school climate survey on anti-LGBT bullying and discrimination.

The survey has a short version and a long version.

Participants will remain anonymous and findings will help the ACLU of Texas “share ways that schools have successfully addressed issues of discipline, bullying, and engendered a safe learning environment.”

According to the ACLU, one recent survey showed that only 32 percent of Texas students felt school officials intervened effectively in response to a report of bullying.

For more information, visit the ACLU of Texas website.

—  Anna Waugh