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

Teacher accuses TC College of discrimination

Gill says English Department chair at Northeast Campus told her the state and the school ‘do not like homosexuals’

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.

Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.

Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.

Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.

Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.

Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.

The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.

On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.

That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”

Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.

Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.

Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.

She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.

Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”

And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.

Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.

“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Texas: A not-so-great state

As Perry eyes the presidency and Dewhurst makes a bid for the Senate, let’s look at the story the numbers really tell

Phyllis Guest | Taking NoteGuest.Phyllis.2

It seems that while David Dewhurst is running for the U.S. Senate, Rick Perry — otherwise known as Gov. Goodhair — is planning to run for president. I wonder what numbers they will use to show how well they have run Texas.

Could they cite $16 million? That’s the sum Perry distributed from our state’s Emerging Technology Fund to his campaign contributors.

Or maybe it is $4.1 billion. That’s the best estimate of the fees and taxes our state collects for dedicated purposes — but diverts to other uses.

Then again, it could be $28 billion. That’s the last published number for the state’s budget deficit, although Perry denied any deficit during his last campaign.

But let’s not get bogged down with dollar amounts. Let’s consider some of the state’s other numbers.

There’s the fact that Texas ranks worst in at least three key measures:

We are the most illiterate, with more than 10 percent of our state’s population unable to read a word. LIFT — Literacy Instruction for Texas — recently reported that half of Dallas residents cannot read a newspaper.

We also have the lowest percentage of persons covered by health insurance and the highest number of teenage repeat pregnancies.

Not to mention that 12,000 children have spent at least three years in the state welfare system, waiting for a foster parent. That’s the number reported in the Texas-loving Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has agreed to put several amendments to the Texas Constitution before the voters. HJR 63, HJR 109 plus SJR 4, SJR 16, and SJR 50 all appear to either authorize the shifting of discretionary funds or the issuance of bonds to cover expenses.

Duh. As if we did not know that bonds represent debt, and that we will be paying interest on those bonds long after Dewhurst and Perry leave office.

Further, this spring, the Lege decided that all voters — except, I believe, the elderly — must show proof of citizenship to obtain a state ID or to get or renew a driver’s license. As they did not provide any funds for the issuance of those ID cards or for updating computer systems to accommodate the new requirement, it seems those IDs will be far from free.

Also far from free is Perry’s travel. The Lege decided that the governor does not have to report what he and his entourage spend on travel, which is convenient for him because we taxpayers foot the bill for his security — even when he is making obviously political trips. Or taking along his wife and his golf clubs.

And surely neither Rick Perry nor David Dewhurst will mention the fact that a big portion of our state’s money comes from the federal government. One report I saw stated that our state received $17 billion in stimulus money, although the gov and his lieutenant berated the Democratic president for providing the stimulus.

And the gov turned down $6 billion in education funds, then accepted the funds but did not use them to educate Texans.

The whole thing — Dewhurst’s campaign and Perry’s possible campaign, the 2012-2013 budget, the recent biannual session of the Texas Legislature — seems like something Mark Twain might have written at his tongue-in-cheek best.

We have huge problems in public school education, higher education, health care, air pollution and water resources, to mention just a few of our more notable failures.

Yet our elected officials are defunding public education and thus punishing children, parents, and teachers. They are limiting women’s health care so drastically that our own Parkland Hospital will be unable to provide appropriate care to 30,000 women.

They are seeking a Medicaid “pilot program” that will pave the way for privatized medical services, which will erode health care for all but the wealthiest among us. They are fighting tooth and nail to keep the EPA from dealing with our polluted environment. They are doing absolutely nothing to ensure that Texas continues to have plenty of safe drinking water.

They are most certainly not creating good jobs.

So David Dewhurst and his wife Tricia prayed together and apparently learned that he should run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat. Now Rick Perry is planning a huge prayer rally Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

God help us.

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

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Guest Column: The freedom to marry is denied to Ben & Danny on Valentine’s Day

Note from Lurleen: On Valentine’s Day 2011 Ben Crowther and Danny Canham joined dozens of other LGBT couples in over 13 states taking part in GetEqual’s direct action “drawing attention to the fact that loving couples – some of whom have been together for decades – are still living as second-class citizens without the right to marry.”  I asked Ben and Danny to describe their experience and they kindly agreed.  Here is their story in their own words.


On Valentine’s Day, two students marched down to the local courthouse in Bellingham, WA and demanded they be given a marriage license. As expected, they were denied and turned away, but not without giving bystanders a show first.

As the Washington State Co-Lead of GetEQUAL, Ben Crowther started hearing about Valentine’s Day protests several weeks ago. The stories and plans of other activists from around the country and the energy, passion, and creativity he heard from them inspired him to organize an event where he lives in Washington. The night before the action was to take place, he asked who among his friends wanted to try and marry him the next day.

His friend, Danny Canham, volunteered to be his partner in crime. While Danny doesn’t view marriage as a necessity for equality or something that should be aspired to, actions for equality are still actions for equality. No matter the cause, even if one doesn’t believe in marriage equality specifically this was an action worth participating in.
While neither intends to get married in the near future, they want the opportunity for this to be available in the future. Additionally, institutional inequality is inherently damaging because it establishes a system wherein some identities are designated as inferior.

That afternoon, Ben and Danny met to plan their action. Together they filled out their application for a marriage license. As they reviewed the application, Ben noticed the gendered language of the form and quickly decided to correct it so the form read “male” and “fe male.” They alerted their friends and reporters from the campus newspaper and within an hour were headed to the courthouse.

Knowing the reality that they would be rejected, Crowther and Canham approached the demonstration to prove a point. They wanted to challenge the state office, forcing them to justify the law while simultaneously showing how ridiculous it was. Further, they aimed to raise awareness of this as an important issue. As they learned from reading the article in the school paper the next day, this was the first time the Whatcom County state auditor had had a same-sex couple apply for a marriage license in her 23 years.

Entering the Licensing Office with an entourage of media in tow and forms in hand, they took their place in line. A county records clerk called them forward, and as they explained their intent to apply for a marriage license, the clerk became uneasy and explained that Washington does not allow same-sex couples to marry. The clerk suggested that they instead apply for a domestic partnership, which offers all the state benefits of marriage. When they questioned the value of domestic partnerships and demanded to know why they were excluded from marriage, the clerk quickly called in the state auditor.

By this point, others in the office were taking notice of the fuss being made at the counter, their heads peaking over cubicle walls. The state auditor approached the counter. When Ben asked why the pair couldn’t get married that day, she urged them to speak to the state legislature attempting to remain polite as possible while clearly becoming increasingly frustrated.

Ben immediately pointed out that she was the one who ultimately decided whether or not they would walk away with a marriage license that day. As the person in a position of authority at the moment, she was the one saying no, and he would be approaching the legislature regardless.

When she made the argument that she was not legally allowed to give them a marriage license, Ben countered with the fact that she was under no obligation to follow a law that is unconstitutional under multiple court rulings specifically that stating laws against marriage equality are against the constitution. Ben made similar arguments to President Obama at a protest before the fall elections when it was first ruled that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was unconstitutional.

He asked how she would react if they were an interracial couple. Would she deny them in that instance even though it has been ruled unconstitutional? He was met with the same lines. Talk to the legislature to change the laws, talk to the Secretary of State office about getting a domestic partnership. The problem with domestic partnerships is that they create a separate but equal system that is inherently flawed. If it were actually equal to marriage, there would be no reason for different names.

He brought up the point that even if he and Danny had been together for 20 years, regardless of their relationship, they would still be denied access to the 1138 Federal rights associated with marriage, simply because they both had penises. Yet he could have married Eliza Chan who Ben only known for about a week simply because she has a vagina. Comically, he stood between Eliza and Danny saying “marriage” and “domestic partnership” as he stepped from one to the other.

After one final question, Ben wished the room a happy Valentine’s Day and walked out the door. He was told later that as the debate escalated, a security guard had entered the office.

Outside, they were asked what they would have done if the auditor had granted them a marriage license. Both approached the action presenting themselves as a hypothetical couple, the idea being to bring light the failures within the system not to actually get married. Had they been offered, they would have accepted the license, being the first same-sex couple in state history to have received a license.  
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

KENTUCKY: Gay Couple Denied Admission To Creation Museum’s “Date Night”

On Friday a couple gay was turned away from a special “Date Night” event at Kentucky’s Creation Museum after being told that their presence would add an “un-Christian element” to the venue. Blogger Joe Sonka describes his evening:

I rushed back from DC to my old Kentucky home last night to attend the spectacular “Date Night at the Creation Museum”, where my date and I were to take in a nice dinner and listen to Ken Ham explain what makes a good relationship work. Unfortunately, we were told at the door that we would not be allowed entry. They explained to us that the Creation Museum Date Night was a “Christian environment”, therefore the presence of two men eating dinner together would not be allowed. The very sight of this would “add an un-Christian element to the event” and “disrupt the evening for everyone”. The Creation Museum rep further informed us that you cannot be a Christian if you are gay, asking “can you tell me what exactly is Christian about being gay?”

Sonka and his date were also denied refunds on their $ 71 tickets.

RELATED: In December the museum announced the construction of $ 25M “full-scale replica” of Noah’s Ark.

Joe. My. God.

—  David Taffet

Gay Couple Denied Wedding Announcement by Major NH Newspaper

Nh

Dan Savage points us to this unfortunate story from New Hampshire.

Greg and Aurelio, who are marrying this weekend in Manchester, New Hampshire, where same-sex marriage became legal on January 1, are being denied a wedding announcement by the Union-Leader, New Hampshire's second-largest paper.

Kate Parker writes:

The wedding is this Saturday and I received a phone call from Greg yesterday letting me know that he tried to get their wedding announced in the Union Leader, since Greg was from the Manchester, NH area.  He was told that they don’t allow gay weddings to be announced and he asked to talk to the editor.  The editor simply told him it has been the “policy of the newspaper” and that as the editor, he has the write to print whatever he’d like.  This immediately outraged me, as Greg and Aurelio are legally allowed to marry in NH, NH has anti-discrimination laws in place that include sexual orientation, but because of the 1st Amendment, they were out of luck.

This is where this story gets so much more upsetting, and I thank Greg and Aurelio for allowing me to share their situation:

Aurelio is in the process of becoming a US citizen.  He has his social security number, and his driver’s license.  Venezuela is a very conservative country and many citizens don’t support gay marriage or homosexuality in general.  Actually, this fact is so true, that half of Aurelio’s family just discovered he was gay when we sent their wedding invitation to them last week.  Because of this fact, Greg and Aurelio wanted to make their wedding as public as possible in the US in order to plead to a judge to allow him to stay in the US for fear of his safety from his countrymen should be return to Venezuela as an openly gay man.

Contact information for the Union-Leader, should you wish to use it, is here.


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Gay Dad Denied Scout Leadership Post

CubScoutsx180 (Screengrab) | Advocate.comA Dallas father was denied a leadership post with his son’s Cub Scouts pack because he is gay.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  John Wright

Appeals Court: Man Cannot Be Denied Asylum For Simply Not Looking Gay Enough

Mladen Todorovic, the gay Serbian hoping to secure asylum in the U.S., was denied refugee status because the immigration judge overseeing his case did not think he appeared gay enough. Thankfully Todorovic just won his appeal.

CONTINUED »


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—  John Wright

Pacific Justice: Denied

Everyone say “waah waah” to the Pacific Justice Institute:

6A00D8341C730253Ef0133F386729D970B-800Wi

CALIFORNIA APPEALS COURT REJECTS ATTEMPT TO FORCE SCHWARZENEGGER AND BROWN TO DEFEND PROP 8 [Towle]




Good As You

—  John Wright

Chinese Man Sues To Get The Teaching Job He Was Denied For Being HIV-Positive

In a reported first, a Chinese court has agreed to hear a case brought by an unidentified twenty-something man who says he was denied a school teaching job because a medical screening revealed he's HIV-positive. He passed written tests and interviews. Rather than monetary compensation, he just wants to be hired. In 2006 China installed a federal regulation barring HIV discrimination by employers.


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—  John Wright