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

Dallas gets $1.28M HUD grant for HIV/AIDS

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have announced the allocation of nearly $9 million in grants to projects in seven states that provide permanent and transitional housing and support services to people with HIV/AIDS.

Of that total, $1,287,500 will be allocated to the city of Dallas’ Housing and Community Services Department, the only city or agency in Texas to receive one of the seven HUD grants. The money will be used to provide transitional housing support to 60 ex-offenders over the next three years. According to the HUD press release, the Housing and Community Services Department will be working with the city’s Project Reconnect and the Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act in providing the housing and services.

And the city has committed to “creating an Integrated HIV/AIDS Housing Plan through a comprehensive community planning effort that involves 20 local partners operating in the eight county Dallas Metropolitan Statistical Area,” according to HUD. No word yet on whether those partners will include AIDS Services of Dallas, which is located in Oak Cliff and provides housing for as many as 225 men, women and children impacted by HIV/AIDS through 125 units in four complexes.

The largest of the grants, $1,375,000, is going to the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV. The city of Portland, Ore., gets the second-largest total with $1,365,900. River Region Human Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., is getting $1,353,743, and the Corporation for AIDS Research Education and Services Inc. in Albany and Rochester, N.Y., gets $1,344,375.

Dallas is next on the list, followed by Justice Resource Institute Inc. in Boston, which gets $1,223,377. Rounding out the recipient list is the Frannie Peabody Center, a statewide organization in Maine, that is receiving $930,909.

The seven recipients were chosen “through a national HOPWA competition to identify special projects of national significance that will help advance understanding and improve the delivery of housing and care for persons with HIV,” according to HUD.

—  admin

Pride 2011 • Tavern Guild names 5 parade beneficiaries

Organizations provide a variety of services for those in the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities

Draconis von Trapp  |  Intern
intern@dallasvoice.com

Beneficiaries

In recent years, increasing costs have forced the Dallas Tavern Guild to cut back on the number of organizations chosen as beneficiaries of the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, choosing only one each year.

This year, however, the Tavern Guild has been able to expand its list of beneficiaries once again. In addition to Youth First Texas, the sole beneficiary for the last several years, beneficiaries this year also include AIDS Arms Inc., AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Services of Dallas and Legacy Counseling Center.
Each of the agencies is profiled below:

……………..

Nobles.Raeline

Raeline Nobles

AIDS Arms Inc.
AIDS Arms is the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization in North Texas, serving more than 7,000 individuals every year. The agency’s executive director is Raeline Nobles, and John Loza is chairman of the board of directors.

The AIDS Arms offices are located at 351 West Jefferson Blvd., Suite 300. The phone number is 214-521-5191, and the website is AIDSArms.org.

AIDS Arms’s case management programs offer numerous services to assist individuals in learning to live longer and healthier lives with HIV by providing access to medical care and support services specific to them. The agency’s goals are to create and maintain long-term access and adherence to medical care and stabilization so clients can successfully manage the side effects of HIV and AIDS.

Professional case managers are trained to respond to clients’ unique needs by providing a comprehensive assessment of needs and barriers to accessing medical care and support, as well as assessing clients for eligibility for programs such as HIV medication and health insurance assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other benefit programs that may help with the financial issues of HIV treatment. Case managers also develop a long-term care plan with the client.

The Case Management Resource Directory helps clients locate services such as food, housing, counseling, support groups, job training and more.

AIDS Arms offers multiple minority-specific programs for women, youth, substance abusers and those with mental health needs. The agency offers linguistic services with case managers versed in more than 10 foreign languages and dialects, and with a variety of diverse cultural and educational backgrounds and experiences.

The intake program helps newly diagnosed clients navigate the services available to them in Dallas.

AIDS Arms’ Peabody Health Center is an outpatient medical clinic that offers comprehensive medical care in coordination with other services needed to increase access to care and maintain adherence to treatment. The clinic employs physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and others professionals who are experts in the medical field and specify in HIV treatment.

AIDS Arms is currently in the process of opening a second clinic.

One specific support group, WILLOW (Women Involved in Life Learning from Other Women), is a program that brings together HIV-positive women to learn from each other and develop new skills. Activities and group discussion lend to the positive environment where women learn how to live healthier lives and form good relationships.

……………..

Pace.Steven
Steven Pace

AIDS Interfaith Network
AIDS Interfaith Network was founded in 1986. Steven Pace is executive director. The agency’s offices are located on 501 N. Stemmons, Suite 200,
and the phone number is 214-941-7696. The AIN website is AIDSInterfaithNetwork.org.

Among its programs, AIN offers Outreach, a program to guide individuals and gives them access to prevention and care services, make referrals and ensure that those affected by HIV/AIDS have access to proper care. The program specifically targets African-Americans (African American Health Coalition) and Latinos (Manos Unidas).

AIN offers a variety of programs, including linguistic services with interpretation and translation of written materials for Spanish-speaking clients, caregivers and other service providers.

Educational services, including prevention education and risk reduction sessions, are available for at-risk individuals, groups and communities, as well as collaborative HIV testing and prevention programs.

Another program offers HIV education for minority women at high risk of infections. The program specifically targets African-American and Hispanic women, but it is open to all.

AIN’s client advocacy program receives referred clients and enrolls them into the appropriate programs. It also provides direct assistance by making referrals, providing follow up and collaborating with case management. This program collects client data, creates and updates files and provides documentation.

Transportation services are offered to clients living in both metropolitan and rural areas through van rides, bus passes for the DART and train system and taxi rides to ensure access to treatment facilities and support services throughout the prevention system.

AIN also operates the Daire Center, an adult daycare center that provides stabilization services and respite care to relieve caregivers. The center also includes monitoring, individualized support, activities, socialization and nutrition assistance. The meals program provides prepared breakfast and lunch daily in the Daire Center for clients who need assistance to meet or enhance their nutritional needs.

For those interested in taking part in helping affected clients, AIN’s volunteer program recruits, trains and manages volunteers, offering different curricula of buddy and companion services for those affected. The program also provides on-site assignments at AIN to give program, administrative and project support and to participate in fundraising events.

For clients requiring spiritual support, AIN offers pastoral services for care, counseling, education and support. The program refers clients and accepts referrals, collaborates with Outreach, offers prevention education and recruits volunteers.

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Maison.Don1-
Don Maison

AIDS Services of Dallas

AIDS Services of Dallas was founded in 1985. Don Maison is president and CEO. ASD offices and apartment buildings are located in North Oak Cliff, near Methodist Medical Center. The phone number is 214-941-0523 and the website is AIDSDallas.org.

ASD’s housing program provides furnished, service-enriched housing and assisted living in private apartments for people with HIV/AIDS. ASD never turns away clients due to an inability to pay rent and it is the largest licensed provider of medically supportive housing for infected individuals in Texas, with four facilities: Ewing Center, Revlon Apartments, Hillcrest House and Spencer Gardens.

Ewing Center consists of 22 units — five one-bedroom apartments, 15 efficiencies and two special need beds/rooms. Revlon Apartments are designed to accommodate individuals and families, with 20 one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom apartments.
Hillcrest House, which provides service to individuals who are formerly homeless and living with HIV/AIDS, has 64 single-unit efficiencies. And Spencer Gardens, named in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, provides housing for 12 low-income families.

ASD provides morning and lunchtime meals five days a week and coordinates dinner meals through the Supper Club volunteer program. For immobile clients, the program also provides carryout meal services.

For transportation services, ASD provides a 15-person van to provide regularly scheduled trips to a local food pantry, supermarket and second-hand clothing stores. It also carries residents to and from medical appointments and social service appointments and is used to transport residents to recreational activities planned and implemented by the Resident Councils.

ASD’s case management program provides professional social work staff to determine the psychosocial services needed for each individual resident and assist them in accessing community-based service providers. In addition, the social workers provide on-site case management, substance abuse counseling, individual and group counseling and grief support as needed.

The Social Work Department provides recreational activities for the children of ASD and helps their adjustment to the community and public schooling. With funding from the ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program, ASD has hired a children’s activity coordinator to provide recreation during the summer months for the children residing at ASD.

ASD provides 24-hour care and support for its residents. Nurses provide both care and support to residents as well as implement the health maintenance programs. Personal care aides monitor every individual’s needs and habits and provide full-time assistance with routine tasks of daily living for HIV-positive residents.

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Grove,-Melissa11
Melissa Grove

Legacy Counseling Center and Legacy Founders Cottage
Established more than 20 years ago, Legacy Counseling Center provides mental healthcare, substance abuse treatment and housing services for individuals affected by HIV and AIDS. Melissa Grove is executive director. Legacy’s offices are located at 4054 McKinney Ave., Suite 102. The phone number is 214-520-6308 and the website is LegacyCounseling.org.

Legacy Counseling Center provides both individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, individuals receive one-on-one private therapy sessions with licensed professional counselors specially trained in mental health issues of persons affected by HIV and AIDS.

They assist with coping, anxiety, depression and survivor guilt as well as medication compliance.

Group therapy is offered both during the day and the evening and helps HIV-infected individuals contend with many unique issues, and include female-only groups, Spanish-speaking groups and other targeted groups.

Legacy’s Substance Abuse Program provides intensive outpatient substance abuse treatments along with ongoing relapse prevention services for HIV-positive individuals. The program also educates clients about drug abuse and how it ties in with HIV and AIDS in both group and individual therapy. The outpatient therapy schedule can be tailored to the individual’s needs.

To take part in these programs, the individual must be HIV-positive with a letter of diagnosis, at least 18 years old and must remain alcohol and drug-free during the program.

Legacy also operates the Legacy Founders Cottage, a licensed, seven-room special-care facility for people living with AIDS in critical stages of their illness who require 24-hour supervised care.

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Youth First Texas

Wilkes.Sam
Sam Wilkes

Youth First Texas is staffed by Director of Development and Administration Sam Wilkes. The YFT offices are located at 3918 Harry Hines Blvd. The phone number is 214-879-0400 or, toll-free, 866-547-5972. The center is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and the second and fourth Saturday of the month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

YFT offers free counseling to LGBTQ youth ages 22 and younger through volunteer counselors. All counselors are licensed professionals or student interns working under the supervision of a licensed counselor. All legal and ethical guidelines are followed including confidentiality and keeping files. Youth under the age of 18 must have written consent from a parent or guardian before receiving individual counseling services.

Counselors address issues such as coming out, family and school issues, bullying, self-mutilation, depression, isolation, relationships and dating, gender identity and expression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

YFT offers three main groups, but these may be supplemented with other support groups as the need arises. The three support groups are Survivors, Gender Identity and Coming Out.

Survivors’ Group is a peer support group for youth who have suffered isolation, abuse or other trauma, offering them the opportunity to discuss things that are troubling them and receive feedback from peers in a safe space. This group is held on the first and third Thursdays of the month from 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Gender Identity Group is specific to youth dealing with issues related to gender identity and expression. The group is also open to youth who are curious about their gender-variant peers and gender issues in general. It is held on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Coming Out Group deals with thoughts and feelings about sexuality. YFT periodically offers a four-week support group, providing an opportunity to share with a small group of peers about sexuality and coming out.

YFT also offers multiple educational programs throughout the year. Among these are book club, café cinema, GED tutoring, “Our Roots Are Showing,” Youth Defenders and GSA Network. The center also offers many recreational activities, such as Dallas PUMP!, Friday Night Kula Feast, Movie Camp, Open Mic Night, and the YFT Dance Group.

Throughout the year YFT participates in softball through the Pegasus SlowPitch Softball Association, volleyball through Dallas Independent Volleyball Association, concerts by the

Turtle Creek Chorale, theater performances by Uptown Players and other functions. YFT participants are also kept privy to queer-related opportunities such as performing at their annual fashion show Give E’m Heel and the Gayla Prom by Resource Center Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Comprehensive LGBT-inclusive immigration legislation to be introduced this week

How about some good — or at least hopeful — news for binational couples… (The Advocate):

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is expected to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation before the Senate adjourns this week for the midterm recess, according to Politico, and a source tells The Advocate that the legislation will be LGBT-inclusive.

“We fully expect that the Menendez comprehensive immigration reform bill will be inclusive of the Uniting American Families Act,” said Steve Ralls, director of communications for the pro-LGBT Immigration Equality. UAFA would allow American citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency. “We have been in constant communication with Senator Menendez’s staff to ensure that the legislation will include lesbian and gay families,” Ralls added.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright