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

GLBT Broadway pre-show chat at ‘Hair’ tonight

‘Hair’ raising experience

How gay is the musical Hair? Find out at this special performance as the Lexus Broadway series presents GLBT Broadway in Hamon Hall. The pre-show event features Dallas Voice LifeStyle Editor Arnold Wayne Jones discussing issues of gender identity and sexuality within the counterculture musical.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7 p.m.  $30–$150. ATTPAC.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Discussing Modern Families

This post comes from Ellen Kahn, HRC Family Project Director, in celebration of Goodkin’s Modern Family Blogger Week. Check out all the blogs and submit your Modern Family Blogger Week entry today!

Earlier this week a local news channel featured a segment on the emergence of “gay dads” in the Washington, D.C. area.  The reporter visited the home of one gay couple who was hosting a few other couples, with children in tow, to be a part of the scene.  The footage included a sea of adorable toddlers running around, reading books, playing with toys, etc.—the usual “playdate” chaos and fun many of us experience in our own homes.  The dads talked about their journey to parenthood, the sense of community they have, and as one dad put it, the desire to raise children transcends sexual orientation, “it’s just what couples do.”  D.C. is largely viewed as a great place for same-sex parents to start a family because there are “so many of us,” we have good laws (marriage and joint adoption), and a generally progressive political and social climate.  The dads agreed that being connected to the local LGBT parenting group, Rainbow Families D.C., provides additional support –their kids get to hang out with other families like theirs, they can share information about friendly pediatricians, schools, congregations, and can affirm one another’s experiences.  Overall the segment was very positive, not biased at all (thank you to the reporter for not inviting someone to give “an opposing view”!)

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for this piece as well, and in the end had one very brief sound bite.  I don’t take that personally, and fortunately the sound bite was a good one to choose; I shared my observation as someone who has led local “Maybe Baby” groups for over 12 years, that what we thought was just a trend, the so-called “gayby boom” a few years ago was, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg and the number of gay men enrolling in Maybe Baby has steadily increased.  Just last night at an adoption forum hosted by HRC, over 30 adults turned out and the vast majority were gay men.

Further into the interview I shared a story, actually more of an “inside joke” that is common among us queer parents—gay men are destined to become the PTA presidents.  I have several friends for whom this is true, so it has become somewhat of a stereotype.  This led to an interesting conversation, and one that I think gets to an important characteristic of the Modern Family, and one that will have social change implications.  In a family with two dads (or two moms) there are not the same prescribed roles or expectations based on the gender of the parent. In a two-dad family, a dad is going to go to PTA meetings, help with bake sales, go on school field trips, volunteer on committees, and yes, even become the PTA president!  In the typical “straight couple,” it’s the mom who fills this role—it’s the tradition, perhaps the expectation for women: moms do “these things,” and dads do “other things.”

How refreshing for us modern families to break out of these gender “norms” and engage with our kid’s schools, sports teams, play groups, etc. because we want to, because it is important, became we know it’s important to be engaged, and visible.  Modern Families will change the way people think about the role of mothers and fathers, about the way society has limited those roles, and hopefully will inspire straight moms and dads to try out some new ideas.  I can just imagine the PTA moms telling their husbands, “Honey, why can’t you be more like Josh’s dads!  Why do I have to do all the carpooling, lunch-packing, and PTA meetings!”  This is not to suggest that all (straight) dads are disengaged from school life or from the 9 to 5 lives of their kids—the younger generation of dads is definitely more open to sharing the load, even changing diapers without being asked, but I think we would agree that there is still a differentiation of what moms/dads do in a typical family, and most straight moms I know say that they do much more than 50% of the day to day child care and household tasks.  Our gay dads are great role models for other dads and for other families.  Whether motivated by the idea of “proving” ourselves, or by our personality types, or by the more basic drive of commitment to our kids’ lives, our increasing presence in school hallways, on soccer fields, and in community activities both strengthens our own families and helps people stretch their understanding of what it means to be a family.  So hats off to all of the modern families out there, and a special tip to the gay dads who follow their dreams, sometimes against the odds, and bring their love, compassion and creativity to a new generation of children!


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  David Taffet

Guest column by Sara Beth Brooks: ‘Discussing Asexuality & Creating Change’

This is an interesting topic; one we have not discussed on the Blend before (that I can recall). I look forward to hearing your comments. — Pam

Discussing Asexuality & Creating Change

By Sara Beth Brooks

When I signed up online to attend last year’s Creating Change conference in Dallas, I was asked to fill in my sexual orientation. I checked “queer,” but that isn’t wholly accurate; Asexuality wasn’t listed as one of the orientations that you could select.

Throughout the 2010 Conference, I found and bonded with several other asexual LGBT organizers. Each of us expressed concern about the lack of discussion about asexuality at the conference, so we went as a group to the feedback session when the conference ended. I stood up and spoke about the fragmentation of the asexual community, and how useful it would be to collect that demographic at registration so that we could connect to each other. Another person got up and talked about how he’s seen the evolution of LGBT language over time to include the transgender community, and now he hopes it will be no different with the asexual community.

The group of us exchanged information and agreed to get together to submit curriculum for next year’s conference. We recruited David Jay, a preeminent voice in the asexual community, to help create and co-present a workshop which was tailored for the LGBT activist audience.

While we were organizing last summer, a letter surfaced on the internet from an asexual youth, Andi (read the full version here):

“From three o’clock that evening to basically ten o’clock at night I was grilled over my involvement with the Asexual and LGBTQAXYZ communities. After about three hours, I confessed I was asexual. At about five hours, I gave them links to all my account. By the end of the night, almost every account I have online had been purged of asexual references…”


What you don’t know (unless you’ve already clicked through) was that prior to hir parents finding out that ze was asexual, Andi was the visionary leading the charge on what would become the most successful asexuality project of last year, Hot Pieces of Ace. Andi, who prefers gender neutral pronouns, goes on: “Ever since that day, the internet connection from my personal computer has been cut off…. I am no longer allowed to see certain friends… Church service, which I used to enjoy, has become a prison sentence of sorts. I am required to sit next to them during services, and they have to witness my daily prayers and bible readings… My mom is always bringing up just how natural sex is, or “trying to make me feel like a girl” by buying me frivolous things that I never wanted… I love God, and I try to love my parents, but it’s hard.”

Andi’s story is not unique; it serves as solemn reminder of the need for support for asexual youth. Partially in response we built a second workshop about creating safe space for youth to talk about asexuality, called “Asex Positive.”

In September, both workshops were submitted for the 2011 conference. My orientation was asked when submitting the workshops and again I picked queer, because asexuality was nowhere to be found. I was (and am) disappointed that the Task Force did not provide asexuality as an option in their drop-down menu choices this year.

If you attended Creating Change, you did not see these workshops on the schedule. Both were rejected. Despite our best efforts there wasn’t anything at Creating Change this year about the asexual community. Asexual organizers have been excited to engage with LGBT organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force but they have been hesitant to invite us to the table.  We don’t really understand why that is.

There is a lot of crossover between our communities (I make a full case for including asexuals in the LGBT community here). Asexuals often experience a feeling of being different in puberty and have a coming out process that is similar to the LGBT one. There are many transgender and gender non-conforming people, including youth, among us. We talk about our relationships outside of the hetero-normative scope. Many of us identify with the queer movement.

It’s time for the queer movement to be discussing asexuality. We hope that organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will include our curriculum at conferences like Creating Change in the future. We’re excited that a workshop by another presenter was accepted to the Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference in Berkeley this spring and we look forward to more opportunities to work with the LGBT community toward our common goals.


Sara Beth Brooks is a student and activist based in Sacramento, California. She helps produce Asexual Awareness Week which happens in the fall. You can reach her via twitter @sarabethbrooks. For more information about asexuality, please visit the Asexuality and Visibility Education Network at www.asexuality.org.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

Kerry Eleveld’s takes ‘A View from the Hill’ to the air, discussing DADT

The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld writes a weekly column, A View from the Hill, to which we often link. This week, The Advocate started a tv show by that same name. Yes, Kerry is on the air. The shows first segments are online now. The full video is here. I appeared on a panel to discuss DADT with SLDN’s Aubrey Sarvis and Mike Sozan, the Chief of Staff to Senator Mark Udall. We talked about the prospects, the pitfalls and the politics.

Here’s the full clip of our panel. It sets the stage for what will unfold next week:




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin