What’s Brewing: House to spend $500K or more on DOMA defense; majority back gay marriage

Timothy O’Hare

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Dallas Morning News (paid subscription required) has an extensive recap in today’s edition of the controversy over a Gay Straight Alliance at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton. As we’ve reported, bigoted Farmers Branch Mayor Timothy O’Hare railed against the GSA on Twitter, but O’Hare has since removed those posts from his account and didn’t respond to The DMN’s request for comment. O’Hare wasn’t the only one who spoke out against the GSA, though: school board candidate Randy Schackmann reportedly issued a statement calling the GSA an “agenda-driven, politically motivated, lifestyle-focused” group and said its presence amounts to “an assault by school leadership” on residents. As we’ve noted, the GSA was allowed to form and has been meeting, but The DMN story does shed some light on the difficulties faced by students wanting to start GSAs in North Texas. It also ends with a priceless quote from the R.L. Turner GSA’s 18-year-old president, Arafel Bruce, who was asked by the newspaper whether the GSA has an agenda to promote homosexuality: “I’m sorry. I’m trying not to laugh,” she said.

2. Five hundred and twenty dollars per hour, and up to $500,000 total, unless the cap is raised by written agreement. That’s how much Speaker John Boehner and the House GOP will pay attorney Paul Clement and his firm, King & Spalding, to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign is continuing its assault against King & Spalding — which, by the way, has an office in Houston but not Dallas — for taking the case.

3. Yet another poll has shown that a majority of Americans support marriage equality. A CNN poll released Tuesday found that 51 percent believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. However, the poll found that seven of 10 Republicans are opposed to same-sex marriage.


—  John Wright

Flour Bluff High School GSA to hold inaugural meeting on Day of Silence

Bianca “Nikki” Peet accepts her GLAAD Special Recognition Award from actress Kirsten Dunst on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Great news on the eve of the Day of Silence.

Nearly two months after the Flour Bluff Independent School District made national news by refusing to allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance, the GSA will meet on Friday for the first time, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports tonight.

After the district denied 17-year-old student Bianca “Nikki” Peet’s application to start the GSA, the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action and hundreds of LGBT advocates rallied outside Flour Bluff High School.

The district revised its policies to allow the GSA, but then the group’s faculty sponsor reportedly backed out due to the controversy. Under the new policies, Flour Bluff Principal James Crenshaw will monitor the group’s meetings. The ACLU of Texas says it will also continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the GSA receives equal access.

Peet, 17, was honored by GLAAD for her efforts to start the GSA on Sunday in Los Angeles. She was also was named one of The Advocate magazine’s Forty Under 40. Below is video of Peet accepting her GLAAD Special Recognition Award from actress Kirsten Dunst.

—  John Wright

Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD ignores bigoted Mayor Timothy O’Hare, allows GSA at R.L. Turner

Timothy O’Hare

Last week we told you how bigoted Farmers Branch Mayor Timothy O’Hare had used his Twitter account to rail against the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton. We also mentioned that we’d heard rumors that the GSA at R.L. Turner had not been allowed to meet.

But Angela Shelley, a spokeswoman for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, told us today that those rumors are completely false. Shelley said the GSA was allowed to form at R.L. Turner and has already met three times. She also said it wasn’t the district’s first GSA; there’s one at Creekview High School.

“By policy and actually by federal law, we can’t keep groups from meeting,” Shelley told Instant Tea. “We do not want to be Flour Bluff ISD [the district in Corpus Christi that recently denied a GSA]. The GSA met all the requirements, they have a great mission and a constitution, and they’re an active group.”

O’Hare, on Twitter, had called on parents and students in the district to do something to stop the GSA, but Shelley said she hasn’t heard of any opposition to the club. In fact, she said three people spoke in favor of allowing the GSA at a school board meeting last week.

O’Hare wants Farmers Branch to secede from the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD and form its own school district, an issue that voters will decide in the May election. So we’re pretty sure he was just trying to use the GSA as ammo against the Carrollton Farmers-Branch ISD. But apparently it isn’t working, so we guess now he’ll go back to bashing immigrants.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Joel Burns, Nikki Peet accept GLAAD awards; firefighters fired for nude pics

Joel Burns and Lawrence O’Donnell, via Facebook

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and Bianca “Nikki” Peet, a student at Corpus Christi’s Flour Bluff High School, were among those honored Sunday night during the 22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles. Burns, husband J.D. Angle and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell accepted the award for Outstanding TV Journalism Segment, for their interview on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Peet received a Special Recognition Award for her efforts to organize a Gay Straight Alliance at her school. We’ll post more photos from the event as soon as they are available.

2. Who would have thought Oklahoma would be home to the first transgender person elected to lead a statewide Young Democrats group? Trans attorney Brittany Novotny, who challenged bigoted State Rep. Sally Kern in November, on Saturday was elected president of Young Democrats of Oklahoma.

3. Two firefighters in Victoria, Texas have been fired for creating a montage of photos of nude men that was posted at their station. According to The Victoria Advocate, the montage included a scantily clad crotch shot, a shot of one nude man kissing another nude man’s body, a cartoon of two men kissing, a shot of one nude man looming over another with his hands on his shoulders, a bare-chested man,  a shot of a man’s scantly clad rear end, and face shots of two Hollywood actors. The city isn’t releasing details of the incident, other than to say that the employees violated the city’s conduct policy. One expert noted that the incident could be an example of anti-gay harrassment:

“Sometimes in a case where straight people harass homosexual people, it may be an attempt to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ separation; a clumsy or immature attempt to demonstrate their own ‘straightness’ through not-so-subtle intimidation,” University of Houston-Victoria criminal justice professor Casey Akins told the newspaper. “Straight on gay harassment is under-reported and when it is reported, it is often not necessarily classified as ‘sexual harassment in the workplace.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Farmers Branch Mayor Timothy O’Hare rails against Gay Straight Alliance

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Farmers Branch Mayor Timothy O’Hare, best known for his efforts to crack down on immigrants, recently used his Twitter account to rail against the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton (screen grabs above). O’Hare wrote on Twitter on March 23 that the GSA “promotes homosexuality and transgender lifestyles … to our children.” Then he asked children and parents in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, “what do you plan to do about it?” In addition to his immigration crackdowns, O’Hare has led a controversial campaign for Farmers Branch to start its own school district and secede from the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, a proposal that will appear on the ballot in May. O’Hare is not seeking re-election. It’s unclear whether the GSA at R.L. Turner has been allowed to meet. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more on this story.

2. A judge in California has ruled that Target can’t stop a grassroots group from circulating petitions in support of marriage equality outside its stores, according to the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. Last Month the retail giant sought an injunction against Canvass for a Cause, saying the group was scaring away customers and creating the perception that the company supports marriage equality. Target is expected to appeal the judge’s decision.

3. The Delaware Senate approved a civil unions bill on Thursday by a vote of 13-6. The bill, which now goes to the House, would make Delaware the eighth state to legalize civil unions.

—  John Wright

Controversy over GSA at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi scares away faculty sponsor

Nikki Peet

Undoubtedly you’ll recall that earlier this month, Corpus Christi’s Flour Bluff Independent School District reluctantly agreed to allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance.

When the district initially refused student Nikki Peet’s application for the GSA, the ACLU threatened legal action and hundreds of people protested outside Flour Bluff High School.

Almost a month later, KZTV Channel 10 reports that although the district ultimately voted to allow it, the GSA chapter still has not met because the faculty sponsor has backed out:

Peet says the student Gay Straight Alliance did have a sponsor, but the sponsor backed out after the controversy started getting attention. Peet also says Flour Bluff’s Superintendent Julie Carbajal is organizing a committee on Friday to review the policy created in 2005 that does not allow limited open forums at the school.

We’ve got a message in to Peet to get more information. You can sue to force a school or district to allow a GSA, but what do you do when faculty members are scared to sponsor it because they’re afraid of backlash? The irony of this whole saga, of course, is that it demonstrates precisely why the GSA is so badly needed.

—  John Wright

TCC adds gays to nondiscrimination policy

MAKING STRIDES | Tom Anable, left, pictured here with Todd Camp, says that the lack of controversy surrounding the TCC board’s unanimous vote on adding sexual orientation to its employee nondiscrimination policy shows how far the Fort Worth area has come since the Rainbow Lounge raid.

Anable speaks at board meeting on adding transgender protections, says suggestion was well received

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor

FORT WORTH —  The board of Tarrant County College recently changed the school’s employee nondiscrimination policy to add protections based on sexual orientation and is considering another change to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression.

Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said he spoke to the TCC board about the importance of including protections based on gender identity and expression and was well received.

Anable said the impetus for the policy change began, in effect, last year when two TCC students started a gay-straight alliance on campus. This year’s LGBTQA Awareness Week at TCC last month grew out of that, Anable said, and the increased awareness of LGBT issues on campus prompted one faculty member to question whether the school’s nondiscrimination policy included protections based on sexual orientation.

Urged on by those questions, board members began a discussion about expanding the employee nondiscrimination policy that resulted in the March 9 vote.

Anable said that the big story here — as with the Fort Worth Independent School District’s recent vote to amend its anti-bullying policy for employees to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression — is that “there was no story. The change passed on a unanimous vote as part of the consent agenda.

There wasn’t anyone who showed up to try and stop it. It wasn’t even controversial to them.”

Anable said it is also important to note that the change started within the faculty and the board, not because activists broached the subject first. He also said he believes the board’s failure so far to include protections based on gender identity and expression stem from a lack of understanding gender issues rather than a deliberate refusal to include them.

Anable said he heard about the then upcoming policy change vote when he participated in a panel discussion during LGBTQA Awareness Week in February, and asked for the chance to address the board regarding adding transgender protections.

“They said of course I could come speak, that they would love to have more information,” Anable said.

“I gave my presentation and it was a very positive experience. The trustees all seemed very receptive and very supportive and they want to continue the dialog. I think they will add protections based on gender identity and expression; I think they will do it sooner rather than later, and I think they will do it without much controversy,” he said.

Anable said Fairness Fort Worth also hopes to work with TCC to make sure the school complies completely with the U.S. Department of Education’s recent guidelines for anti-bullying efforts.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Polis, Franken tell bullies to ‘pick on someone your own size’ as they introduce SNDA

Rep. Jared Polis, left, and Sen. Al Franken today introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act that would protect LGBT students from discrimination and harassment.

As President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a group of students, parents, teachers and other concerned citizens — including Fort Worth’s own Joel Burns — at the White House today, Openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., introduced identical bills, called the Student Non-Discrimination Act, in the House and the Senate that would protect students from discrimination and harassment based on “actual or percieved sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In an e-mail announcing the proposed legislation, Polis cited recent efforts by school officials in Flour Bluff High School, near Corpus Christi, to prevent a gay-straight alliance from meeting on school grounds.

“It’s bad enough when a school turns a blind eye to bullying. But when a school district in Texas moved to ban all extracurricular clubs in order to avoid having to approve a Gay-Straight Alliance, it really crossed the line,” Polis said in the e-mail. “The school itself became the bully.”

He added, “Our message is clear: Pick on somebody your own size.”

Polis acknowledged that “the odds of this bill passing this session are uncertain” because some Republicans, “regardless of their personal beliefs, are reluctant to vote for LGBT-friendly legislation.

“But, even though the odds are against me, I can’t stay silent in the face of bullying — especially when the people who are supposed to protect students from bullying have become the bullies themselves,” Polis said, encouraging individuals to become “citizen sponsors” by adding their name as a supporter here.

The ACLU has quickly come out in support of the legislation, with ACLU legislative representative Ian Thompson saying that the legislation could have “a profound impact in improving the lives of LGBT students in our schools.”

Thompson pointed to the numerous LGBT teens who committed suicde after being bullied relentlessly in the late summer and fall of 2010 as evidence of the need for the legislation. Seth Walsh, 13, was one of those teens, and his mother, Wendy Walsh, is an ACLU client. She, too, weigh in today on the need for the SNDA.

“I can’t bring my son back. But schools can make a difference today by taking bullying seriously when students and parents tell them about it. It’s time for change. We have to create better schools for everyone,” said Wendy Walsh, who was also among those attending the White House Conference on Bullying.

In a written statement released after the SNDA was introduced, ACLU officials pointed out that while federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, no federal statute explicitly protects students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The SNDA, like Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the various disability civil rights statutes, is not simply legislation that would remedy discrimination after it occurs, but instead would also have the important impact of preventing discrimination from occurring,” the ACLU statement said.

To read the ACLU’s statement in support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, go here. To see video of Wendy Walsh telling her son’s story, go here.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Flour Bluff, Navy DADT discharge, Israel

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A gay-straight alliance will be allowed temporarily at Flour Bluff ISD near Corpus Christi. We reported last week that all clubs had been banned from the school rather than allow a GSA. A resolution passed at a five-hour school district meeting that will allow the club temporarily.

2. A navy petty officer will be discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” after falling asleep in bed with another man. This will be the first DADT discharge since November. Although a repeal has been signed, the policy is still in place until all branches of the armed forces certify it as ready. That should happen in June. They were watching a movie and fell asleep on a twin bed, one under the covers, one over. A roommate of one walked in and reported the incident. No “homosexual conduct” was reported and the incident is being labeled an extreme overreaction.

3. While cities like Dallas are marketing themselves as a great gay destination, Israel is now going after that market as well. At an international tourism fair in Berlin, a delegation from Tel Aviv will invite LGBT tourists to visit their city. The city spent $94 million to promote tourism to the LGBT community last year. The effort will be expanded in 2011.

—  David Taffet

Flour Bluff ISD will allow GSA and other groups on campus — at least for now

Trustees for Flour Bluff High Independent School District approved a resolution late Tuesday night to allow a proposed Gay-Straight Alliance — along with other non-curricular groups — to meet on the school campus, at least temporarily, according to KRISTV, the NBC station in Corpus Christi.

The vote allows the the groups, including a GSA, to meet while the district conducts a study before making a permanent decision. The vote came after nearly five hours, about four of which the trustees spent in a closed executive session discussing the situation.

The decision came after the ACLU threatened legal action against the Flour Bluff High School, where school officials had refused to allow student Nikki Peet to form the GSA, although other groups, like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were allowed to meet on campus. School officials then banned all groups to avoid having to allow the GSA.

Nikki Peet was not able to attend the meeting because she is in the hospital being treated for an infection. But her mother, Maria Peet, and other family members were there to speak for her. Members of the GSA at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi — to whom Nikki Peet had appealed for help — also attended the school board meeting.

Jay Raymond with the TAMU-CC group said his group would be there to “see this through,” and pledged, “There is no chance of this dying down until what we want is what we get.”

—  admin