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

Anti-bullying bills top Equality Texas’ 2011 agenda

Despite the Republican super majority in the Texas House, advocates hope lawmakers will be too busy with redistricting, budget to push anti-gay measures

Tammye Nash  |  nash@dallasvoice.com

Standing-on-the-seal-2
WAITING FOR THEIR BUSY SEASON | Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, left, and Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will be spending a lot of time at the Texas Capitol once the 82nd Legislature convenes on Jan 11. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

November elections gave Republicans a 19-12 majority in the Texas Senate, while the elections plus defections by two Democrats gave the GOP a 101-49 majority in the Texas House.

In a state where the GOP platform calls for homosexuality to be recriminalized — among other anti-gay planks — such an overwhelming Republican majority would normally be really bad news for LGBT Texans.

But maybe not this year.

“We haven’t seen any anti-gay bills filed so far, and obviously, we hope we don’t see any during this session,” Chuck Smith, deputy director for Equality Texas, said during a December interview.

“If you look at an analysis of the [November election results], only four of the new Republicans taking office campaigned on social conservative issues. And none of them made those issues a top priority,” Smith said. “Most of the new people coming into the Legislature were elected based on issues of fiscal responsibility.”

Lawmakers were sworn in earlier this week and will convene the 82nd Legislature next Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Smith predicted that Texas lawmakers would spend the lion’s share of the session on two issues: passing a budget and redistricting.

The Texas Constitution requires that lawmakers, when they meet every other year, pass a LEGISLATURE balanced budget. And with a looming deficit of between $8 billion and $25 billion this year, that will be a difficult task indeed.

And, thanks to the ever-growing population of the state as recorded in the 2010 Census, Texas will be getting four new seats in Congress. That means lawmakers will also face a redistricting battle to make room for those new seats, and that’s never an easy fight.

“I believe the legislative session will be mostly consumed by the budget deficit and redistricting,” Smith said. “And there are several other contentious issues — things like immigration and reproductive rights — where numerous bills have already been prefiled. So I am not sure how much time for [lawmakers to consider] anything other than these hot-button issues.”

And that’s good for the LGBT community if it keeps at bay the kind of anti-gay measures that have been introduced in the past, like measures to prevent same-sex couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents.

But it could also keep the several pro-LGBT bills that have already been prefiled from getting consideration, too.

“I don’t think we will be as fortunate as we were in 2009 and get as many hearings [on pro-LGBT bills] as we did in 2009, when we had hearings on seven bills,” Smith said.

“I think we will have more good bills filed in 2011, but I think we will see a lot more of them get left pending,” he continued. “What bills get hearings and which ones get sent to the floor for a vote is all a function of the committee chairs and the make-up of the committees.”

Still, Smith said, he hopes that at least the issue tagged as Equality Texas’ top priority will get attention from lawmakers this year.

Former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat, introduced the first anti-bullying legislation has been on Equality Texas’LGBT-inclusive legislation — the Dignity for All Students Act — addressing bullying in Texas’ public schools back in 1997, and Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman has introduced the measure in every session since 2003. That bill was sent to the Public Education Committee in 2009, but never got a hearing.

But Smith said he hopes this year’s new crop of anti-bullying measures may have a better chance, given the attention focused on a recent string of highly-publicized incidents in which LGBT teens — or teens perceived as LGBT — committed suicide after being bullied persistently.

Legislation on bullying

Nine bills addressing bullying, including anti-LGBT bullying, have been prefiled, including, for the first time, nearly identical comprehensive measures in both legislative chambers.

“It would be accurate to say that the current Texas Education Code does not have a modern-day definition of bullying and doesn’t include adequate information on what it is and what to do when it happens,” Smith said.

Fort Worth’s Democratic senator, Wendy Davis, has filed two bills — SB 242 and SB 245 — addressing bullying. The bills define bullying as “engaging in written or verbal expression or physical conduct, including an action motivated by a perceived imbalance of power based on another student’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior or beliefs” that harms a student or a student’s property, or places that student in “reasonable fear of harm” to themselves or their property.

The definition also says that bullying is behavior that is “sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive enough” to create an “intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student,” to interfere with a student’s education opportunities or disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

The bill also specifically includes cyberbullying, defining it as “bullying that is done using electronic communication, including electronic media,” and specifically covers bullying that occurs not only at school or during school-sponsored trips or events, but also behavior occurring away from school and school-sponsored events.

Dennis-Coleman-hi-contrast
BACK TO THE FUTURE | Since the weak economy forced Equality Texas to make staffing cuts, new Executive Director Dennis Coleman said the organization is going back to its original model, in which the executive director focuses on lobbying as well as fundraising. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

SB 242 also requires school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and to prohibit retaliation against anyone reporting a bullying incident, as well as requiring school districts to develop strategies and training for faculty and staff on dealing with bullying.

SB 245 would amend Section 21.451(d) of the Texas Education Code to include requirements for training of educators in “preventing, identifying, responding to and reporting” incidents of bullying. It also would amend Section 39.306(a) to require an annual “statement of the number, rate and type of incidents of bullying, including cyberbullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination against any student on the basis of the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, national origin or disability of the alleged perpetrator or victim that occurred on each district campus.”

Both Davis’ and Strama’s bills would “do a number of things,” Smith said, aimed at correcting current shortcomings in the Texas Education Code in addressing bullying.

Rep. Mark Strama, an Austin Democrat, has filed HB 224 which is “nearly identical” to Davis’ Senate bills, but which does not include “gender identity and expression” in the section requiring collection of data of bullying incidents that occur.

“Our preferred bill is Wendy Davis’ bill in the Senate,” Smith said. “We want as much data collected as possible, and we want legislation that provides clear guidance into the future on what the school districts need to do to be the most effective in addressing bullying.

“We’d like to see [both bills] read the same way, both have those four words in there — ‘gender identity and expression,’” he added.

Six other bills addressing bullying have also already been filed, but Smith said none are as comprehensive as either Davis’ or Strama’s bills.

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, filed HB 24, Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, introduced HB 170, both of which would also remove bullies from the general classroom and put them in a “disciplinary alternative education program.”

Smith said, however, that Equality Texas is not “just looking to make the bullies the bad guys,” and would prefer legislation that provides counseling or some other help for bullies as well as those who are bullied.

Also in the House, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, introduced HB 130, which would create a bullying hotline.

In the Legislature’s other house, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has introduced two bills addressing bullying: SB 42 adds the word cyberbullying to existing Texas Education Code sections addressing bullying, and SB 49 would require that parents of students transferred to an disciplinary alternative education program be notified of the incidents prompting the move.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has introduced SB 205, which would add certain requirements to the Texas Education Code’s Code of Conduct.

“All these other bills deal with just bits and pieces of the problem,” Smith noted. “None are as comprehensive as Davis’ and Strama’s bills.”

Other bills Equality Texas supports

Smith said lawmakers have again filed three bills that were “part of Equality Texas’ agenda in the 2009 session,” Smith said. But he again added that he doesn’t expect to see any positive action on them this year, either, given the partisan makeup of the Legislature and the likely focus on the budget and redistricting.

The three bills are each authored by lawmakers long considered staunch allies of the LGBT community.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, has filed HB 172 that would create a study on the effectiveness of the Texas hate crime law. Dallas Democratic Rep. Roberto Alonso has filed HB 208, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in insurance, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, another Dallas Democrat, has filed HB 415, which would allow birth certificates to be corrected so that same-sex couples who adopt could have both their names on their child’s birth certificate.

Changes within Equality Texas

Despite Smith’s prediction that budget woes and redistricting worries will keep lawmakers away from any anti-gay bills, the conservative majority in the Legislature this year could be a frightening specter for an advocacy organization that has recently undergone major changes.

Chuck-Smith
Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

The 82nd will be the first legislative session for new Executive Director Dennis Coleman, who left his position as South Central regional director of Lambda Legal last summer to replace Paul Scott as head of Equality Texas. In addition, the recession and the continuing weak economy has forced the organization to cut back on staff.

The former political director, Randall Terrell, is gone, and the staff is down to just three: Coleman, Smith and Operations Manager Allison Jones. Coleman said there are also two interns already working with the organization, “and a third will be coming on.”

Scott, during his tenure, tended to focus on fundraising and maintaining the structure and operations of Equality Texas, while Smith and Terrell put most of their efforts into lobbying and working with lawmakers. Interns and other employees were there to pick up the slack.

But Coleman said recently he firmly believes that, with the help of and active and determined board of directors, the organization can be efficient and effective.

“Up until they hired Randall Terrell, this organization had always functioned without a political director, and they did a very effective job. Plus, Randall was only here for one [legislative] session,” Coleman said. “This organization has a history of the executive director being the chief face of the lobbying effort, and I think we can go back to that and be just fine.”

Board Co-Chair Anne Wynne has experience as a lobbyist, and North Texans Jeanne Rubin and Paul Tran, on the board’s “strong and diverse” legislative committee, have the experience and dedication to “make sure we stay connected at the Capitol and when [lawmakers] go back to their home districts,” Coleman said.

“I definitely have a strong enough board, especially on the legislative side, for us not to miss a beat,” he added. “We will be able to move forward with the structure we have and feel confident in getting bills passed.”

The groundwork for passing anti-bullying bills has already been laid, Coleman said. But in the event that the organization “gets to the point on introducing new, we will consider hiring a contract lobbyist. But since the Legislature only meets every two years, the question is, do we really need a fulltime lobbyist?”

Despite the financial straits of the past two years, Coleman said that monthly donations have begun to increase again, and Equality Texas also recently received a challenge grant from The Gill Foundation “challenging us to raise $25,000 in monthly donations.”

“The board has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to fundraising, which allows the staff to focus on doing what needs to be done at the Capitol,” he said.

Coleman said Equality Texas’ leaders will, in the coming months, be looking at new ways to “beef up our field work and to bring in the cash to, say, deploy someone to work on a ballot initiative in El Paso, or something like that. Our job is to find out how we can make the largest impact with the resources we have.”

Coleman also noted that Equality Texas’ Lobby Day is set for March 7, and that this month he and his staff and board “will start reaching out the community to come to Austin to lobby that day. Stonewall Democrats will be [in Austin] for their annual retreat at the same time. We are reaching out to LULAC, to Log Cabin Republicans — we’re reaching out to everyone to come to Austin that day.

“This is an exciting time for us,” Coleman continued. “There is legislation already introduced that we really have a chance of passing this year. And the more diverse we can be in our efforts to lobby our legislators, the better chance we have.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Equality Texas pushes for anti-bullying legislation

Group also releases poll results showing support for LGBT rights

Tammye Nash  |  nash@dallasvoice.com

Joel-and-Dennis
CITING THE NUMBERS | Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, left, listens as Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman outlines the findings of a poll showing that nearly 80 percent of Texans favor inclusive anti-bullying legislation. Equality Texas kicked off an intensive effort to get such a measure passed during the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature at a press conference in Austin on Monday, Dec. 13. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

AUSTIN — Equality Texas started ramping up efforts to get a comprehensive anti-bullying law passed in the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature with a press conference Monday, Dec. 13, highlighting results from a recently completed poll on LGBT issues.

In the poll — commissioned by Equality Texas and conducted by the national polling firm Glangariff Group Inc. —  79.2 percent of all respondents said they favored legislation that would “provide direction to Texas teachers on how to protect all children from bullying, harassment and
discrimination in school, including the children of gay and lesbian parents or teenagers who are gay,” according to Equality Texas press materials.

Dennis Coleman, Equality Texas’ executive director, said at Monday’s press conference that while bullying in schools is not new, the recent spate of gay teen suicides stemming from such bullying has “moved this issue up the ranks of issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

“The Dallas school district recently approved new policies to address bullying. Now it is time for the state as a whole to do the same,” Coleman said.

Coleman said that some seven bills addressing bullying have already been pre-filed for their 2011 legislative session. But, he added, Equality Texas “will not support legislation that does not include all children.”

Chuck Smith, the lobbying organization’s deputy executive director, said that Equality Texas prefers the language in legislation prefiled by Sen. Wendy Davis, which updates the definition of bullying and includes cyber-bullying, and which specifically includes LGBT students.

The bill also calls for data to be collected on bullying and provides guidelines for teachers and administrators on how to respond.

Rep. Mark Strama of Austin has prefiled a similar bill in the House of Representatives. However, Smith said, Strama’s bill does not specifically include the requirement of collecting data on bullying targeting a student’s gender identity or expression.

“That phrase is very important,” Smith said. “Strama’s bill includes gender identity and expression in the definition of bullying, but not in the section requiring collection of data on bullying.”

“These bills provide a present-day definition of what bullying is, and that is so important because too many lawmakers conjure up an image of a skirmish on the playground. That is not bullying,” Smith said. “Bullying is a repetitive pattern based on an imbalance of power and intimidation.”
Smith also said the data collection requirements are an essential piece of the anti-bullying effort.

“In most districts, if you were to ask them they would say they don’t have a problem with bullying. But if you ask them specifically how many incidents they had last year, they can’t answer because they are not currently required to collect that data,” Smith said.

Collecting such statistics, he added, will allow districts to inform their teachers and administrators, at the campus level on whether their anti-bullying training programs are effective.

“There are a lot of common sense things you would assume are already in the Texas Education Code, but they aren’t,” Smith said. “We want to see legislation passed that fills those gaps.”
Gay Fort City Councilman Joel Burns — who became the face of anti-bullying efforts when video of his Oct. 12 speech on his own experience of being bullied as a gay teen went viral — spoke at the press conference, agreeing with Coleman that bullying “is a problem we cannot afford to ignore another day.

Burns said, “As I stand here, there are Texas children who believe their only escape from the bullying and harassment is to put a gun to their heads and pull the trigger, empty the pill bottle into their mouths and swallow, or tighten the noose around their necks and step off the chair.

“Today and every day, those children, without hope, live in our Texas cities and towns, in our neighborhoods, go to school with our children, and unfortunately, might even be children in your own family,” Burns said.

Anne Wynne, new co-chair of the Equality Texas board, participated in the Monday press conference, reading a statement from former Texas first lady and U.S. first lady Laura Bush in support of anti-bullying legislation.

“Bullying of any kind is terrible, and we as adults have to be the ones to do something about it,” Bush’s statement said.
She also described how proud she was of Burns for having the courage to make such a public statement about his own experiences.

Vicki Baldwin, a retired educator with 42 years in the field, said passage of anti-bullying legislation is “a moral issue. You do not treat people — anybody — badly. You do not pick on people because they are different. This is a moral issue, and Texas needs to take the lead” in addressing it.

“In general, I don’t like policies, and I don’t like legislation” Baldwin said. “But I also know everybody isn’t like me. I try to do the right thing, and I always assumed that other people try to do the right thing, too, just instinctively. But that’s not the way it happens. We have reached the point that people’s lives, their actual lives, are involved here, and it is critical that we do something to address it.”

Burns agreed. “Any one life lost is worthy of us taking action,” he said. “And it is past time to take action now.”

Other issues in the poll

Although Monday’s press conference focused on the need for anti-bullying legislation, Equality Texas also released responses from the poll indicating that support for LGBT equality is higher in Texas than most people would assume.

According to the poll, 88 percent of the respondents support a guaranteed right for lesbians and gays to visit their partners in the hospital, and 75.4 percent support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 69.7 support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination against transgenders.

Surprisingly, the poll found that 63.1 percent of those responded support allowing gays and lesbians to get a civil union.
In other findings:
• 75.1 percent support a guaranteed right for lesbians and gays to make end-of-life decisions for their partners.
• 68.8 percent support giving gays and lesbians the same legal rights as heterosexual parents regarding their children.
• 67.3 percent support hate crime legislation protecting transgenders.
• 65.4 percent support legal rights of gays and lesbians to inherit their partners’ possessions when no will is in place.

Poll results were also examined based on the political party affiliation of respondents:
• Democratic voters support all 12 LGBT rights listed in the poll by a majority above 65 percent.
• 77.8 percent of Democrats support civil unions for gays and lesbians.
• Independent voters give majority support to 11 of the 12 rights, supporting six of the 12 by more than 65 percent.
• The only right independent voters do not support is the right of same-sex couples to marry. However, 59.4 percent of independent voters do support civil unions.
• A majority of Republican voters support nine of 12 of the LGBT rights covered by the poll, including supporting five of the 12 at levels higher than 65 percent.
• Republican voters do not support the right to same-sex marriage, but 57.6 percent do support civil unions for gays and lesbians.
In looking at responses broken down by religiosity, the poll found:
• A majority of respondents who attend weekly religious services support nine of the 12 rights covered in the poll.
• 51.1 percent of those who attend religious services weekly support civil unions for gays and lesbians.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Joel Burns, Laura Bush join Equality Texas’ call for anti-bullying legislation

I was already planning to head to Austin on Monday to talk with Executive Director Dennis Coleman and Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith at Equality Texas about the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature. Then Chuck told me that Equality Texas would be holding a press conference that same morning, and although he did not at first tell me what the press conference was about, I figured I had gotten lucky and could kill two birds with one stone.

Laura Bush

Then this afternoon, I got a press release in my e-mail inbox with a title that linked gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Republican former First Lady Laura Bush and Equality Texas, and my interest level concerning this press conference went even higher.

Here’s what’s going on:

Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Rep. Mark Strama of Austin have already prefiled bills aimed at protecting children from bullying at school, and a scientific poll commissioned by Equality Texas shows that 80 percent of Texans support anti-bullying legislation. So Equality Texas is having a press conference Monday to talk about the problem of bullying, the results of the poll and what this legislation can do to address the problem.

Burns, who made headlines around the country in October with his emotional “It Gets Better” speech at a Fort Worth City Council meeting, will be there at the press conference to offer his perspective. And although the former first lady won’t be there in person, she is sending along a written statement expressing her support for the legislation.

I wish Mrs. Bush were going to be there in person, but having her written support is certainly better than nothing. And while some folks were disappointed that the campaign to get her to participate in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade fell through this year, I’d much rather have her speaking out against bullying than riding in a convertible down Cedar Springs.

The press conference is being held at 10 a.m. Monday in the Speaker’s Committee Room in the Texas Capitol.

—  admin

DOJ appeals injunction halting DADT

Advocates warn LGBT servicemembers not to come out until questions are settled

From Staff and Wire Reports

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday, Oct. 14 asked a federal district judge to allow the military to continue enforcing “don’t ask, don’t tell” pending the government’s appeal of her ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional.

The request came two days after U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction Tuesday, Oct. 12 ordering the Department of Defense to halt enforcement of DADT worldwide.

The DOJ, which is defending the 17-year-old ban on open service, on Thursday asked Phillips to stay the injunction pending its appeal of her September ruling.

“As the President has stated previously, the Administration does not support the DADT statute as a matter of policy and strongly supports its repeal,” the justice department told Phillips. “However, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Administration disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.”

If Phillips denies the request for a stay of the injunction, the DOJ can request an emergency stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which will hear any appeal.

The DOJ has 60 days from the time of Phillips’ injunction to appeal her ruling.
Representatives from Log Cabin Republicans, which brought the lawsuit, and other groups advocating for DADT repeal warned LGBT servicemembers against coming out in the wake of Tuesday’s injunction.

Christian Berle, deputy executive director for Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying his organization had “expected that the Obama administration would continue to pull out all the stops to defend ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” But, Berle pledged, “Log Cabin Republicans will continue to advocate on behalf of the American servicemembers who everyday sacrifice in defense of our nation and our Constitution.  If this stay is granted, justice will be delayed, but it will not be denied.”

Berle said Log Cabin Republicans are urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “do what it takes” to repeal DADT when Congress reconvenes after the midterm elections in November.

“If Sen. Reid treats the minority party fairly, the votes will be there to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ once and for all,” Berle said.

Although the House of Representatives voted this summer to repeal the policy, as an amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill, the measure died in the Senate last month when supporters could not get enough votes to end a Republican filibuster.

Republicans launched their filibuster in protest after Reid added an amendment to the bill dealing with immigration and refused to allow Republicans to add amendments from the Senate floor.

Even though Phillips’ injunction barring enforcement of DADT remains in force, at least for the time being, David Guy-Gainer of Forest Hills, a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his group is urging closeted servicemembers to act with caution.

“If you look at it in terms of gay marriage in California, you remember that sliver of time [between the Supreme Court ruling overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage] and the passage of Proposition 8 [which amended the Constitution], there were couples who were legally married in California. And even after Prop 8 passed, those marriages held up. They are still legal,” Guy-Gainer said.

“There is a chance there could be a window like that created in this case,” he continued. “But it’s too risky. If you have a gay servicemember who stands up while this injunction is in force and tells his commander, ‘Hey, I’m gay,’ and then the injunction is lifted, well the commander isn’t going to just forget that.

“Despite the injunction, we can’t confirm that they have actually stopped discharges, so it’s just too risky to actually come out,” Guy-Gainer said.

Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, criticized the White House for appealing the injunction.

“I am very happy that the judge followed through on her decision and issued the injunction. But I think it is very sad that our ‘fierce advocate,’ President Obama, has filed an appeal, which is contradictory to his claims that he wants the law repealed,” Schlein said.

Rich Hisey, a former M.P. in the U.S. Army who is also a member of Log Cabin Dallas, said he feels “really good, very pleased” about Phillips’ ruling in the case and her injunction against DADT, despite the appeal.

“I think this is a big victory for Log Cabin Republicans, and a big victory for the gay community as a whole,” Hisey said. “It’s been a long, long road. But we’re finally getting close to the end.”

Still, Hisey said, he, too, warns gay and lesbian servicemembers to be “very, very cautious right now.”

“I served three years in the Army, in the military police, back in the 1980s. That was a very different time, and I was closeted the whole time I was in the military. Things are different now, but I think if I were in the military now, I would stay in the closet for a while longer at least. I think everything is still up in the air, and it is still too risky to come out,” Hisey said.

Hisey also echoed Schlein’s frustration with Democrats’ failure to repeal DADT, despite their pledges to do so.

“Obama has not shown any leadership, and he still continues to push the DOJ to appeal this ruling,” Hisey said.

“My real frustration is with the Democrats in the Senate. We had a golden opportunity last month to repeal DADT, but Harry Reid played politics with it and added the Dream Act to the bill, even though he knew it wouldn’t pass. That really bothers me.”

Senior White House officials have said the president wants to end DADT, but believes the change should come through Congress and not through the courts.

Shortly after the appeal was filed Thursday, President Obama sent out a notice on Twitter, reiterating his opposition to DADT and renewing his pledge to end the policy.

“Anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf should be able to,” the president Tweeted. “DADT will end & it will end on my watch.”

The bill passed by the House calls for repeal of DADT, but only after the completion of a Pentagon study that includes a survey on how servicemembers and their family members feel about repealing the policy. That study is due Dec. 1.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas