E. Texas woman arrested for tricking friend into crazy lesbian relationship

Angela Buchanan

An East Texas woman made national headlines this week in the wake of her arrest last Monday for online impersonation after she pretended to be her doctor and advised her friend to have sex with her.

The story originally reported by The Lufkin News is convoluted and confusing, and contains an editor’s note that it “contains language that could offend some readers.”

Here’s the gist: Angela Buchanan, 30, is believed to have posed as a gynecologist and messaged her 51-year-old friend online under the name “Doc.” Under the online persona, Buchanan advised the friend that she had a pre-cancerous mass that could be delayed or cured by hormone production from sexual activity.

The women had been friends for seven years, and the friend told police she had been lesbian since she was 13 but “no longer identified with the lesbian community because she now feels it is morally wrong.”

—  Anna Waugh

Paris restaurant owner denies anti-gay rant but admits Chick-fil-A promotion

A tipster over in Paris (Texas, that is) alerted us to this Topix.com thread which accuses a restaurant owner in the East Texas town of making “anti-gay hate speech publicly.” The thread provides few concrete details of the allegation, but here’s the first comment:

Those present who heard it were shocked at the homophobic rant that he launched into, hate speech rhetoric such as “fa**ots are taking over everywhere”. Gay and lesbian community- of which HE HAD SEVERAL GOOD CUSTOMERS- will now be boycotting the establishment…

Read all 120 subsequent responses for yourself if you have time, but the restaurant owner, Drew Crawford of Crawford’s Hole in the Wall, told Instant Tea it’s not true.

“It sounds to me like somebody just had a grudge and like they started up something,” said Crawford, who’s owned the restaurant a block from the Lamar County Courthouse for the last 10 years. “Somebody says I made a speech bashing gays. It’s not true. I’ve never bashed anybody.”

Crawford did, however, acknowledge that this summer, at the height of the Chick-fil-A controversy, his restaurant offered free lunches to people who presented receipts from the chicken chain. He said an employee posted the promotion on the restaurant’s Facebook page — and we found the above photo on Flickr of the promotion advertised in chalk on an exterior door of the restaurant.

Crawford compared it to other periodic promotions, such as  free lunch for anyone who works in a hospital. Because the nearest Chick-fil-A is in Sherman, he said the restaurant gave away only one lunch valued at $7. Crawford said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. But he said he doesn’t hate gay people, he has regular customers who are gay, and everyone is welcome in his restaurant regardless of sexual orientation.

“Do I like Chick-fil-A? Yes. do I like waffle fries? Yes. Am I married to a woman? Yes. Do I have kids? Yes. Everybody’s got their opinions,” Crawford said.

“Do I support gay rights or whatever? No, I don’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just like if the gay community doesn’t support something we do, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Crawford said. “Somebody just states their opinion, and then you turn it into, ‘I hate queers and hate faggots.’ … There’s never been a speech. There’s never been nothing.”

Or at least nothing we can verify at this point other than a promotion supporting a company that’s funneled millions to anti-gay hate groups over the last few years.

—  John Wright

1st of 3 suspects in brutal anti-gay hate crime in Reno, Texas, sentenced to 8 years in prison

Burke-Burnett

Victim Burke Burnett is shown after the attack.

James Mitchell Laster

One of three suspects in a brutal anti-gay hate crime in East Texas in October has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

James Mitchell Laster, 33, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to eight years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on Thursday, Feb. 23, a representative from the Lamar County District Clerk’s Office confirmed today.

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young was in a jury trial and unavailable for comment this afternoon, according to his office. However, Young told the Paris News last week that Laster also “pled true to the hate crime allegation.” Young said Laster must serve a minimum of four years before he’s eligible for parole.

Laster was one of three suspects charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, in addition to hate crime enhancements, in the beating of 26-year-old Burke Burnett.

Burnett, who’s gay, suffered second-degree burns and needed more than 30 stitches following the attack at a private Halloween party in Reno, a small town just east of Paris and 100 miles northeast of Dallas, in the early morning hours of Oct. 30.

Burnett said his three attackers yelled anti-gay slurs as they sucker-punched him in the eye, stabbed him in the back and arm with a broken beer bottle, and threw him onto a lit burn barrel. The case made national news after graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries were posted on Dallas Voice’s website.

Burnett, who now reportedly lives in Houston, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment this afternoon.

The other two suspects in the attack, 25-year-old Micky Joe Smith of Brookston, and 33-year-old Daniel Shawn Martin of Paris, are awaiting trial, according to online Lamar County court records.

Laster was initially charged with one count of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, hate crime, repeat offender; and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, hate crime, repeat offender. The other charges reportedly were dropped in exchange for Laster’s guilty plea. Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. However, the hate crime designation could have enhanced the charge to a first-degree felony, punishable by life in prison.

—  John Wright

3 arrested in assault on gay man in Reno

Victim Burke Burnett says he is relieved the men are behind bars and that he believes the attack was an anti-gay hate crime

Burke-Burnett

BRUISED AND BLOODIED | Burke Burnett said he was sucker-punched in the left eye at the beginning of the attack.

JOHN WRIGHT |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

RENO, Lamar County — The victim of a brutal assault last weekend in East Texas said he’s relieved three suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, which he believes was an anti-gay hate crime.

But it remained unclear this week whether the case is being investigated as an anti-gay hate crime by police and whether it will be prosecuted as one by the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office.

Burke Burnett, 26, said he was jumped by several men at a Halloween party early Sunday in Reno — a tiny town just east of Paris and about 100 miles northeast of Dallas. Burnett’s attackers yelled anti-gay slurs as they stabbed him repeatedly with a broken beer bottle and threw him onto a fire.

He needed more than 30 stitches and suffered second-degree burns.

After graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries were posted online by Dallas Voice and drew national attention to the case, Reno police arrested three suspects Tuesday and Wednesday and charged them with aggravated assault.

“I’m grateful that they’re in custody,” Burnett said Thursday. “I’m in a lot of pain, but I am feeling better. I don’t want to see this ever happen to anybody else again.”

Burnett, who lives in Paris and came out as gay when he was 15, said he’s convinced the attack was fueled by his sexual orientation.

“The things they were screaming while they were doing it leave no question in my mind as to what their motives were,” Burnett said. “If that constitutes a hate crime … I don’t know all the laws behind that. It’s not my job to judge these guys or to say what justice is. I just hope that justice is served because what they did was wrong. It would have been wrong no matter who they did it to.”

Burke-Burnett-2

SERIOUS BODILY INJURY | Burnett suffered second-degree burns on his arms when he was thrown onto a lit burn barrel.

Reno police said they’ve arrested 31-year-old James “Tray” Mitchell Laster III, 33-year-old Daniel Martin, and 25-year-old Micky Joe Smith. All three are charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury — second-degree felonies punishable by up 20 years in prison. Each is being held on $250,000 bond.

Police have been tightlipped about their investigation and declined to release written arrest reports this week. A representative from the Reno Police Department indicated it will be up to the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office to decide whether the attack was an anti-gay hate crime.

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young, in turn, said it will be up to a grand jury to make that determination. Under Texas law, a hate crime is not a separate charge but rather an enhancement that could result in the existing charges being bumped up from second-degree felonies to first-degree felonies — punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

“We’re in the process of receiving all the information as a result of the investigation,” Young told Dallas Voice. “We will present all that information to the grand jury, including all the information as to whether it’s a hate crime or not. The grand jury will make a determination whether it [a hate crime] is or isn’t part of the charge. If their actions of committing the aggravated assault are based on race or sexual orientation or whatever it may be, the grand jury can choose to enhance the offense up a level.”

Young declined to further discuss the cases.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, said the quick arrests in the case are a positive sign that Burnett’s attack isn’t being swept under the rug. But Smith said there are always concerns about whether police and prosecutors understand how the state’s hate crime law is supposed to work.

“While it’s true that that’s a prosecutor’s decision, it’s also important that the law enforcement investigators document everything that a prosecutor would need to know in order to elect to prosecute it as such,” Smith said. “The police can investigate it as such, and then the district attorney can prosecute it as such. A grand jury is going to receive proposed indictments from the District Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor would ask a grand jury for an indictment under those terms.”

Equality Texas has long advocated for a legislative study on enforcement of the state’s hate crimes act, rarely used by prosecutors in the 10 years since it passed.

“The reporting from jurisdictions in Texas is not comparable to departments of similar sizes in other states, and that’s a function of the state not adequately training and enforcing and using the hate crimes act,” Smith said. “They don’t aggressively report because they think it would reflect badly on their community, where in actuality the converse is true. In communities that aggressively report, it actually makes those communities safer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

UPDATE: 3rd arrest in gay man’s beating

Burke Burnett

A third suspect has been arrested in the brutal beating of a gay man last weekend in Reno, Texas.

Micky Joe Smith, 25, is expected to face the same charges as the other two suspects — aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury. The charges are second-degree felonies, punishable by up 20 years in prison, and not first-degree felonies as previously reported.

Daniel Martin, 33, and James “Tray” Mitchell Laster III, 31, were arrested late Tuesday in the beating of 26-year-old Burke Burnett. Burnett was stabbed at least twice with a broken beer bottle and thrown onto a fire at a private party early Sunday, by up to four men who yelled gay slurs during the attack.

Martin and Laster are each being held on $250,000 bond, according to the Lamar County Sheriff’s Department. No bond amount had been set for Smith, who was taken into custody today.

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young, whose office is handling the cases, said it will be up to a grand jury to decide whether they are prosecuted as hate crimes. Under Texas law, a hate crime enhancement could result in the charges being bumped up from second-degree felonies to first-degree felonies — punishable by five to 99 years in prison.

“We’re in the process of receiving all the information as a result of the investigation,” Young said. “We will present all that information to the grand jury, including all the information as to whether it’s a hate crime or not. The grand jury will make a determination whether it [a hate crime] is or isn’t part of the charge. If their actions of committing the aggravated assault are based on race or sexual orientation or whatever it may be, the grand jury can choose to enhance the offense up a level.”

Young declined to further discuss the cases.

Burnett couldn’t immediately be reached, but his friend Chivas Clem said they were relieved at the arrests. Clem previously said he felt authorities may try to brush the crime under the rug.

“The fact that they’re taking it seriously is important and shows good faith on their part that they’re treating gays and lesbians as a legitimate minority,” Clem said.

—  John Wright

Drawing Dallas

Cortney Guy makes one of the hottest Texas summers on record a little hotter — and we think that’s pretty cool

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

CortneyFNL_5

Name and age: Cortney Guy, 27

Spotted at: Kroger’s on the Strip

Occupation: CEO/founder fashion P.R. firm

Born in East Texas and raised in Mesquite, this handsome Gemini has a major in marketing/communications and a minor in graphic design. Entrepreneurial by nature, he is co-founder of a public relations company which specializes in branding up-and-coming fashion designers.

An “editorial beauty,” Cortney is comfortable in front of the camera as well and has been commercial, print and promotional modeling since age 15. A highlight of his career was when one of his photos taken by Marta Azevedo garnered international recognition. He considers himself “retired,” but he still models occasionally when a good opportunity arises.

Cortney loves the outdoors and when he’s not working you may find him rollerblading, rock climbing or simply cloud watching or star gazing. Eco-friendly by nature, he’s big on conserving, recycling and minimizing waste. A lover of the arts, he also enjoys all forms of live entertainment, including dancing and music.

Studious by nature, he excelled in school, but also competed in football and track. He has a teaching certificate and future career plans include teaching general communications.

Yo, big bro: Big Brother Cortney has been a member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters for several years, and he also has a god-daughter with whom he is very close. He wants to leave a legacy for children. He’s interested in instilling morals and values into the younger generation.

This down-to-earth and non-assuming gentleman considers himself “a country guy that lives in a big city.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

COVER STORY: a DIFFERENT kind of CAMP

SADDLE UP | Mitch, right, one of the co-owners of Circle J Ranch, and a camper take the horses out for a ride around the ranch. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Gays defy stereotypes by communing with nature, cowboy style, at Circle J

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Life+Style editor

jones@dallasvoice.com

It’s Mike’s 50th birthday, and so the usual Saturday night dinner bash at the Circle J Ranch is more of a celebration than usual. Not just because of the milestone birthday, either.

Mike, one of the four co-owners of this gay campground, had been in the hospital until earlier that week after a bad turn following chemo treatments, and it was touch-and-go for a while. Today, though, Mike appears to be the picture of health.

It’s hard to say how much of the promise of the outdoors contributed to his recovery, but you won’t find anyone here who doesn’t find something therapeutic about being out in the fresh Texas air.

Don’t expect log cabins and Conestoga wagons, though. Dinner here isn’t served out of a chuck wagon by a toothless cowpoke named Cookie slinging hash. The “farmhouse” (if you wanna call it that) is a rambling ’70s ranch-style with an enclosed porch, swimming pool and air-conditioning; across a field, a spacious but spartanly serviceable bunkhouse holds a dozen or so beds for campers who have neither RVs nor tents.

If it looks less like camping than you recall from John Wayne westerns, it’s still something different from what you expect of the gay community.

Horses are available to rent, and you can see some longhorns grazing in the pasture (though one of the owners says they are “more for ambience”). There are hiking trails, and at night, without light pollution from neighboring cities, the darkness of the primeval, with the starry sky ablaze with twinkling lights is beautiful.

There’s an undeniable connection to the land, a camaraderie borne in the dry winds and piney landscape of East Texas.

This weekend they expect about 40 guests (that’s average, though it’s hard to predict), but on a holiday weekend like Memorial Day, attendance shoots up to 200 or more. It doesn’t feel too busy, though; plenty of folks stake their camp out in the woods, away from the farmhouse, for some commune-with-nature time.

None of the guys who prefer to linger around the bunkhouse seems to mind; it’s not like anyone judges anyone else.

“It’s a different kind of experience within the gay community,” says Randy, another one of the owners. “People come here from the city, escaping stress and work. It really brings the stress level down being out here; you can see it an hour after they arrive.”

Randy is one of six children — the only gay one, but also the only one of his siblings to produce a grandchild for his parents (a daughter, co-raised with a lesbian couple) and the only one to go into the family business of ranching (albeit with a detour as a mortgage banker for a spell).

Circle J is a working ranch of 101 acres in Van Zandt County, about an hour’s drive southeast of downtown Dallas. Gun Barrel City, which for a rural area boasts an astonishing two gay bars (including Friends, deemed one of the friendliest gay joints in the nation by a national gay publication), is the nearest town of note, though about a mile from the ranch is where Ozarka bottles its water from the local aquifer. (The locals all agree that Ozarka is clean, fresh water — but they get it from their taps, and don’t much appreciate the company taking it from them.)

There’s a definite Texas sensibility here, even if almost everyone at the Circle J is gay. Walk by the cars parked outside, you’ll see pickup trucks with “McCain/Palin ’08” bumper stickers alongside rainbow flags and HRC “=” decals.

The men here tend not to fit into the metrosexual stereotype of a gay man; they seem more like the stereotype of a Texas cowboy: Resistol hats, tight-fitting blue jeans, handlebar moustaches and western shirts with mother-of-pearl snap buttons. Except, of course, they are gay.

Which means they don’t fit any stereotype at all.

“We get people from all over. And we are conservative,” says Randy, who fits exactly the physical description of a cowboy. “And by conservative, I mean Sarah-Palin-Tea-Party-supporter conservative. Lots of gay people live rural lives and come from rural roots.”

But that hardly matters. Politics aren’t the main topic of conversation around the campfire.

The campfire, in fact, is one of the highpoints of a weekend here. Located on the upside of a hill just across a pond from the ranch house, it’s nuzzled in a clearing surrounded by a natural outcropping of rocks — a kind of organic henge around which guests commune over beer.

The men — and it’s all men; the Rainbow Ranch a few hours away is co-ed and family-friendly — come from all walks. Gary, the straight brother of one of the owners, is visiting from Chicago; he seems unfazed by what he jokingly refers to as the “overt homosexuality” of the guests.

Although the average age of guests skews toward the 40s, this weekend there are several men in their 20s here as well, out to enjoy what Circle J has to offer.

IMG_0094
GOOD EATS | Circle J co-owner Paul, right, pours out pounds of mudbugs for the ranch’s Saturday crawfish boil. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“We come here a lot,” says one guest, who lives in Allen with his longtime partner. “Being from Kentucky, I like being outdoors. We started with tent camping, then got a pop-up [camper]. Now we have a 34-foot RV,” with all the perks of home (a/c, a kitchen, roomy accommodations).

They go to Rainbow Ranch, too (there are about a half-dozen gay campgrounds throughout Texas, all of which are supportive of each other), but what brings them back to Circle J time and again is the people.

Circle J, which has been around for about seven years, was clothing-optional until last year. That’s when a disgruntled former guest complained to the local authorities and the sheriff came out, telling them they would have to register as a “sexually-oriented business” if they wanted to keep the policy. They decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and canceled it (although, when you’re out in the woods, who’s to know?) The result has actually been an uptick in business.

“Those who had been intimidated by nudity decided to check it out,” says Mitch, one of the co-owners. (It is not a cruisy place, really, though certainly that happens.)

Mitch himself was new to camping — and to gay life — until relatively recently. Originally from Milwaukee, he was in the military and married to a woman for much of his life. He came out with a vengeance in 1996, leaving the service, divorcing his wife and moving to New Orleans; within a year, he was competing as Mr. Louisiana Leather at IML.

That’s where he met Randy; they opened a gay bed and breakfast in NOLA before buying the Circle J eight years ago.

Mitch bristles at the use of the term “resort” to describe the Circle J, almost to the point of taking offense. He doesn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.

“This is rustic camping,” he corrects. The best place to pee, newcomers are informed, is the nearest tree.

But there are some trappings of civilization. Cocktail hour is a nightly ritual, and guys play bocce ball to entertain themselves.

For Mike’s birthday bash, he and his partner Paul drove about 45 miles to pick up 20 pounds of crawfish for an old-fashioned mudbug boil. While Mike cooks — and everyone acknowledges, Mike has a way with Cajun food — many of the others chip in, taping down butcher paper and newsprint over picnic tables, drinking beer out of the complimentary tap.

All the while, the jukebox plays — everything from AC/DC to classical music to Madonna.

Hey, even in the country, gay men still like some Madonna. Some things just don’t change, no matter where you are.

—  John Wright

Navy says ensign from E. Texas suffered unfair retaliation over anti-gay harassment complaint

A while back we told you about Steve Crowston, the Navy ensign from East Texas who accused his commanders of anti-gay harassment after he received a list of potential call signs that included “Romo’s Bitch,” “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister” and “Cowgirl.”

Over the weekend, Crowston sent along word that he’d won a victory in his case.

According to Fox News, the Navy’s Inspector General has ruled that Crowston suffered unfair retaliation after filing a complaint about the harassment, in the form of a bad performance evaluation:

Crowston’s complaint named Commander Liam Bruen, 42, who gave the 37-year-old ensign “the “the worst performance appraisal” in his 16 years of service.

The Navy now says at least one of Crowston’s complaints has been confirmed.

“Department of Navy Naval IG substantiates the allegation that the then commanding officer of VFA 136 gave Crowston an unfavorable fitness report in reprisal for a sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaint he filed,” Navy spokesman Lt. Myers Vasquez told FoxNews.com. The Navy did not name Bruen, but FoxNews.com has independently confirmed his identity.

Vasquez said the department has forwarded its findings on to Bruen’s commanding officer, who will decide what, if any, corrective action to take.

Former Judge Advocate General Jeff Addicott says Bruen’s commander will have little choice but to take strong action.

The story goes on to say that the Navy’s investigation of Crowston’s original complaint is ongoing, and no action will be taken against Bruen until it’s complete.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement we just received from Crowston:

“I’m very pleased to see the system get it right with the reprisal investigation. The system needs to get it right the 2nd time around regarding the anti-gay harassment. It should not take this much effort to have what was clearly anti-gay harassment and hazing by senior Navy leadership be substantiated. I hope my efforts in seeking justice will inspire others out there who have been discriminated against because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Adults can not continue to allow anti-gay harassment and bigotry to occur. We, as adults, must show our children that they are individuals who are allowed to live in America without being prejudiced against, retaliated against, or harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Hatred is not okay.”

—  John Wright

Raunchy videos point to bigger problems in Navy, says ensign who alleged anti-gay harassment

Steve Crowston

We received a note Monday night from Steve Crowston, the Navy ensign from East Texas whose allegations of anti-gay harassment against his military superiors remain under investigation by the Inspector General’s Office. But Crowston wasn’t writing to give us an update on his case, which we wrote about back in September. Instead, he wanted to point out some apparent links between his allegations and the lewd video controversy involving Capt. Owen Honors, who earlier today was permanently relieved of his command. Crowston says members of his squadron — who are accused of hazing him with call signs including “Romo’s bitch,” “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister” and “Cowgirl” — were on board the USS Enterprise when Honors showed the lewd videos. He also says his former commanding officer came up the ranks in the aviation community with Honors. “The Navy has a serious problem on its hands with the aviation community …” Crowston says. Here’s his e-mail:

My former squadron VFA-136 is assigned to the USS ENTERPRISE.  When the aircraft carrier gets ready for deployment and deploys, pilots from VFA-136 are on board the ship. The pilots from VFA-136 would have been on board during the time frame of these videos shot by Captain Honors who was then the XO of the aircraft carrier.

Captain Honors and my former CO from VFA-136 (Commander Liam Bruen) are both F-14 Tomcat pilots who came up the ranks in the aviation community together. Can you tell the CO of my squadron and the CO of the ENTERPRISE act similar as evidenced by their inappropriate behavior! The Navy has a serious problem on its hands with the aviation community, as evidenced by my case with Commander Bruen as CO and Commander Christopher now as the CO of VFA-136 and now Captain Honors, who was then the XO when these videos were shot. Unbelievable!

—  John Wright

Lawsuit: High school softball coaches in E. Texas outed lesbian teen to her mom

Two high school softball coaches in East Texas are accused of maliciously outing a sophomore player as a lesbian to her mother, then kicking her off the team.

And Kilgore Independent School District officials are accused of defending the coaches’ actions by arguing that they were “legally obligated” to disclose the girl’s sexual orientation to her parents.

The student, identified as S.W., and her mother have filed a federal lawsuit against the coaches, the school district, and an assistant athletic director, accusing them of violating her privacy. The student and her mother are represented by the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project in the lawsuit filed Dec. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that the two coaches at Kilgore High School, Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell, locked S.W. in a locker room in March 2009 and threatened and interrogated her. The coaches allegedly were angry because S.W. was dating a girl whom Newell may have previously dated.

“Fletcher asked S.W. if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that S.W. was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,’” the lawsuit states. “The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, S.W. was dating that girl.”

—  John Wright