TCU’s LGBT Leadership Conference aims to become ‘the big gay conference in our region’

TCU students at the 2011 conference

After last year’s well-received LGBT Leadership Conference on the TCU campus in Fort Worth that focused on empowering LGBT youth after several suicides in the fall of 2010, this year’s conference will continue the inspiring message of the “It Gets Better” campaign.

But instead of inviting only Texas schools like SMU and UTA, this year will have a regional focus with the Southwestern Association of Gay-Straight Alliances, an organization that grew out of the success of last year’s conference, said Jamal King, treasurer and historian of the TCU gay-straight alliance.

Schools like Kansas State and Arizona State universities will join local schools, and the turnout is expected to be similar to last year’s event, which brought in 75 students from about nine colleges, King said. After the word about a large conference in Texas spread, he said other schools wanted to participate, leading to the creation of the regional organization.

King was the mastermind behind the first conference and served as co-director for the event this year, which will once again bring several LGBT organizations like PFLAG, Q Cinema and the AIDS Outreach Center together to discuss issues affecting the community.

Last year’s highlight was a presentation from the Trevor Project, but this year the keynote address will come from Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride, a nonprofit that helps students establish safe campuses for students.

Windmeyer was an obvious choice for the conference, King said, because his organization portrays acceptance on campuses nationwide, something that became a focus this year with the regional college attendance.

“We were looking for someone who had a lot of experience with the issue of LGBT suicide on a larger scale and working with Campus Pride is a much larger scale on a national level,” King said. “We’re going bigger and so is our scope.”

—  Anna Waugh

TX school official says Tolerance Week too gay

Superintendent Steve Murray

A school superintendent in Bastrop, Texas, reportedly has canceled Tolerance Week activities planned by two high school Gay Straight Alliances after his office received complaints. The Tolerance Week activities, including a dance that had been scheduled for Friday night, were planned by GSAs at Cedar Creek and Bastrop high schools. However, Bastrop HS junior Lilly Dunn told KVUE that the groups found out Monday the superintendent had canceled them:

After three weeks of planning, Lilly and her classmates were ready to go. Then they got a text message Monday night.

“What we were told by our president was that the superintendent had said he thought it was just a dance for gay people, and that’s why he canceled it,” said Lilly.

KVUE News tried to talk with Superintendent Steve Murray, but he is out of town. The principal of Cedar Creek High School, Russell Sassin, did agree to speak with KVUE, but only over the phone.

He says the superintendent called him Monday afternoon after his office received complaints and concerns about the events.

“He was asking questions about it, and the decision was made that we would postpone all activities, not cancel them, but postpone them, until I could get more information together to give to the superintendent’s office,” Sassin said.

Principal Sassin says he expects the dance and Tolerance Week to be rescheduled to sometime in March. Still, it’s leaving some students and their parents unhappy.

“It’s sending the wrong message out to the, to the students, and saying ‘Oh, if enough people hound on you, it’s okay to, just, you know, completely cave in,’” said Lilly’s stepfather Jesse Torres.

In case you’re interested in contacting Superintendent Murray, it looks like he can be reached via an “Ask the Superintendent” page on the district’s website. The site lists his phone number as 512-321-2292 and 800-247-5308. Watch KVUE’s report below.

—  John Wright

SMU sends 18 to Midwest LGBT conference

Iowa State University is hosting the 2012 Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay Transgender Ally College Conference Feb. 10-12. One student from Texas Women’s University, 17 from Southern Methodist University’s LGBT group Spectrum and an SMU professor are attending, according to the Daily Campus. Spectrum Co-President Harvey Luna put the group together after attending last year’s conference, according to the SMU newspaper.

Karen Click at SMU Women’s Center for Gender and Pride Initiatives called it a national conference for student leaders. She said this is the second year SMU has participated.

“They come back inspired to create change on campus,” she said.

Registration for the event is $80 per person and the group chartered a bus from Dallas.

“The SMU Student Senate paid for them to go,” Click said.

The MBLGTACC conference began in 1991 and takes place annually in the upper Midwest. The goal is to learn new strategies to face problems LGBT students face on campus daily.

Two weeks ago, Youth First Texas hosted a conference of North Texas gay-straight alliances.

—  David Taffet

Thanks to opposition, Keller High School GSA outgrows its old digs, moves into Lecture Hall

(From the KHS Gay Straight Alliance's Facebook page)

Just days after we published Andrea Grimes’ cover story about Gay Straight Alliances in the Fort Worth school district, WFAA-TV aired this report about the controversy over the formation of a GSA just up the road in Keller. Turns out some students opposed to the new GSA at Keller High School recently launched a Facebook page called, “Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.”

“This page is for Keller High School students who disagree with the recent formation of a GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliance, at our school for religious, personal, political and various other such reasons,” states the FB page, which currently has all of 49 fans.

The page claims it isn’t a hate group, but the creator later acknowledged it had offended people and apologized for the misunderstanding. The creator also stated that the page will be taken down — but not for two weeks because Facebook won’t allow it to be removed sooner:

“Just cause I’m shutting the page down doesn’t mean I won’t stop battling the GSA at Keller, this was taken as a hate page, of which it was NOT intended to be, so therefore a page with a misleading message should not be allowed. The GSA WILL be abolished, unless a counteracting straight/heterosexual/conservative club is organized. If y’all think y’all have won, you haven’t. Have a nice day! : )”

Another anti-GSA Facebook page, “Straight Club,” has also popped up. But the Keller school district says the creators of the pages won’t be disciplined because they were created after school hours.

So, how has all of this affected the Keller High School GSA itself? Well, it would appear as though the anti-GSA pages have backfired quite miserably. On Tuesday, the KHS Gay Straight Alliance wrote the following on its own page: “We are growing, and hopefully continue to grow as time moves on. A side effect of this though is we no longer fit in room 145. Meetings will now be held in the Lecture Hall, same date and time, new awesome location.”

Watch WFAA’s report below.

—  John Wright

Safe haven

For 10 years, Gay-Straight Alliances in Fort Worth schools have given LGBTQ and their straight friends a place to go for support and safety

GATHERING | Rebecca Cooper, front center, opens her classroom at Southwest High School to LGBT students and their friends looking for someplace where they feel safe enough to talk openly, and where they can find friendship and support from others like them. (Andrea Grimes/Dallas Voice}

ANDREA GRIMES  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

It’s been 10 years since two high school boys started the first Gay-Straight Alliance club in Tarrant County at Fort Worth’s Southwest High School, and membership is way, way up.

This year, on any given Friday, dozens of kids show up to Rebecca Cooper’s classroom in a cramped, low-ceilinged portable building to do what a lot of kids do — braid each other’s hair or practice gymnastics in the grass outside.

But they also do what a lot of kids will never have to do: trade phone numbers so that when they come out to their family, they’ve got a place to go and a support group if the conversation ends in a fight, or worse — homelessness or even a suicide attempt. (An estimated 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.)

Between the hair braiding and the back flips, Gay-Straight Alliance clubs save lives. It’s as simple as that.

Southwest High School sponsor Rebecca Cooper says she’s seen it with her own eyes: GSAs serve as safe spaces where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students can feel empowered rather than intimidated.

“Because there’s a lack of fear [at GSAs],” says Cooper, students are confident in sharing their own personal experiences to help their peers.

At a meeting, says Cooper, you might have a kid who says, “I thought about suicide three days ago.” But “before you know it,” she says, “You’ve got six, eight, 10 kids around him, like swoosh. They’re going, ‘Here’s my phone number, I’ve been there.’”

Anti-bullying efforts have moved to the forefront of the national conversation in the past couple of years, thanks in part to high-profile campaigns like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which inspired Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns to tell his own story, during an October 2010 City Council meeting of contemplating suicide after being bullied.

But every week — and every night, and every day, really whenever a student needs a help or a hug or a sounding board — since December, 2001, students in Fort Worth’s Gay-Straight Alliances have been telling each other that it gets better, that there’s someone out there who cares.

As of this year, there are three active GSAs in the Fort Worth Independent School District: Southwest High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Western Hills High School’s Q-Status and Paschal High School’s G.L.O.W. (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever), with two more inactive high school groups seeking sponsors.

Cooper estimates that up to 70 percent of her club is straight. The unity and cooperation between straight and non-straight students is part of what makes the simple existence of GSA’s so impactful.

Not only are GSAs safe spaces for LGBTQ students, they also build rapport and trust between the LGBTQ community and the straight majority.

“Straight people want to be part of the change,” says Western Hills’ Q-Status President Italia Salinas, a junior. “You don’t have to be gay to help others have respect and support.”

Often, hurtful and hateful speech comes out of what English teacher Marvin Vann calls anti-gay individuals’ sense of a “mandated right” to denounce homosexuality because of their religious beliefs. He says Gay-Straight Alliances help give strength to students who might otherwise feel swamped and surrounded by Christians with “loving” messages — like the employee who told Italia Salinas’ friend she was going to hell for being a lesbian.

Last year, recalls Salinas, a school employee — not a teacher — told a friend of hers that she’d go to hell because of her sexuality.

While Salinas and her friend were walking down the school hallway one day, an employee asked the two girls where they were headed. When they talked about going to a Q-Status meeting and explained what it was, the employee asked Salinas’ friend if she went to church. She said she did, a Catholic church.

Salinas remembers the employee, someone they’d laughed and joked with since their freshman year, telling her friend, “I love you, but being gay is not okay, and I care about you so I don’t want you to go to hell for doing that.”

Salinas says her friend was “in shock” that a school employee would say such a thing to a student.

Cooper says she’s had to correct other teachers who would tell students it’s not okay to be gay — teachers who didn’t even realize that Cooper herself was gay.

Tensions between teachers, administrators and school employees have heightened in Fort Worth over the years, so much so that Sharon Herrera, an out lesbian herself, was brought in to teach training seminars and handle complaints.

But, as reported by the Fort Worth Weekly, Herrera was perhaps too good at her job.

Her position was eliminated at the beginning of this year, and although she’s still an employee of the district, she’s no longer conducting the seminars and handling the multitude of complaints that came across her desk, which included instances of anti-LGBTQ bullying as well sexual and racial harassment.

Everything, it seems, has gone silent. But that doesn’t mean everyone’s problems have been solved.

Herrera says that quality training that is LGBTQ-specific is vital in Fort Worth, and programs like their “It’s Not Okay” campaign, launched in June of 2010, simply do not address LGBTQ issues in a meaningful way — or at all.

Instead, it is often left up to the more-than-capable students to stand up for themselves when something goes wrong. That’s one of the wonderful things about GSAs, say participants: They get to learn real-world activism in high school.

This year, Italia Salinas says, Q-Status has not been allowed to make public announcements and hang signs in the hallways, ostensibly because they’re a non-academic group. However, a conservative Christian extracurricular group for boys at the school has been able to do those things.

Salinas and her group will have to actively fight to get their school to respect the Equal Access Act, which guarantees that if one extra-curricular club has access to school resources, all of them must.
Nine students from Fort Worth ISD marched in the city’s recent gay Pride parade, and when the Dallas Voice stopped by Southwest High School to talk to their Gay-Straight Alliance, the room positively lit up when the march was brought up.

Hands shot into the air, attached to squirming bodies, each student anxious to talk about the amazing feeling they got from being accepted in an adult space.

In fact, says Western Hills’ Q-Status teacher sponsor Bernardo Vallarino, showing kids that the LGBT community is more than just dance clubs and drugs — something he was exposed to very early on as a young man — is an integral part of what GSAs do for students.

In forming GSAs, he says, “it creates a right way of learning about the LGBTQ community that doesn’t include drugs, alcohol or inadequate sex.” The biggest take-away from GSAs, says Herrera, is that they prevent bullying and, again, save lives because of their specific focus on the needs of LGBTQ students.

Inclusivity, says Herrera, is not enough; LGBTQ kids need programs tailored to their specific challenges — challenges that are made ever more apparent every time the local news reports on yet another bullied teen’s suicide.

Southwest junior Ryan McCaleb says being gay “is the way we live, think, breathe.” But because of the social stigma and pressure from religious and conservative students and teachers, he says, “You’re the talk of the school, and everything that’s said comes back times 10.”

The Gay-Straight Alliance is a place where kids understand what that feels like — that unique feeling of shame and pain that LGBTQ kids deal with, especially LGBTQ kids in conservative cities like Fort Worth, and that their straight friends want to help alleviate. As president of Q-Status, Italia Salinas says her GSA “gives [her] hope for humanity,” that hatefulness and bullying can be prevented before it begins.

Vallarino says that in 10 years of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in FWISD, some goals may have shifted. Last year, they successfully focused on getting written policies in place against workplace and schoolharassment and supporting equal treatment, while this year they’re hoping to get a GSA in every high school and middle school.
………………………………….

MISSION STATEMENTS

• Q-Status: “Q- Status is a group built on the human differences of its members, a safe place where everyone is welcome and no one is turned away. Our focus is centered on the education of our members and the community around us. We thrive by making new friends and by accomplishing our goals of informing and educating others of the cultural and legal inequalities faced by many groups including the homosexual community and their families. Everyone is welcome (heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, questioning, confused, curious, etc.)”

• LGBTQ Saves (district-wide): “LGBTQ  S.A.V.E.S. (Students, Administrators, Volunteers, Educators Support) fosters the well-being of LGBTQ K-12 students, administrators, volunteers and educators in Tarrant County by eliminating discrimination, bullying and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. S.A.V.E.S. is an autonomous, all-volunteer group and not affiliated with any local school districts.”

• Southwest High School GSA Vision Statement: “The Gay-Straight Alliance GSA at Southwest High School is a student-led and -organized club that aims to create a safe, welcoming and accepting environment for all youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The GSA brings together gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) youth with their straight peers to address issues such as bullying, harassment, discrimination and bias. GSA allows youth to build coalitions and community that can work towards making a safer school environment for all people. Motto: Come as you are.”

But ultimately, “One thing that has never changed is that GSA’s are a safe haven.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Local Briefs

Valentine’s dance set for GSAs

LULAC Rainbow Council is partnering with Youth First Texas to host “Love Conquers All Ball,” a special Valentine’s weekend dance for gay straight alliances in Dallas and Collin counties.

The “Love Conquers All Ball,” will be held Saturday, Feb. 12, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. GSA students, Youth First Texas members and LGBTQ teens ages 14 to 18, are invited. Chaperones will check I.D. at the door. A $2 donation will be requested and donations will go toward The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth. For information, call 214-879-0400.

TREE staging LGBT awareness week

Trinity River Equality in Education presents “a week celebrating the LGBTQA community at TCC [Tarrant Community College] Trinity River Campus” Feb. 14-17.

On Monday, Feb. 14, there will be a tree dedication ceremony at Trinity River Plaza, on the patio across from the bookstore, at 12:30 p.m., an on Wednesday, Feb. 16, English faculty and Justin Brumit present a discussion of William B. Turner’s A Genealogy of Queer Theory ay noon in TREF 1402.

On Thursday, Feb. 17, there will be a TREE panel discussion, “A Conversation About LGBTQA Youth in our Community,” from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Action Suite, fourth floor TR. Also on Thursday, there will be a reception featuring the LGBTQA artists participating in the Synergy Art Show, at 5:30 p.m. in the TR Art Gallery, TREF 1311.

Ongoing exhibits include a LGBTQA books and film display in the library, TREF, 2302; and the Gay Straight Alliance’s poster display at the TR Campus.

For more information contact the Student Life Center at 817-515-1197.

TWCOD holding open rehearsals

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas will hold open rehearsals for women interested in joining the chorus on Monday, Feb. 14, and Monday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. both nights. Interested singers are invited to sit in on a rehearsal, meet with members of the chorus and learn more about becoming a member.

Prior experience or the ability to read music is not a requirement for membership. Regular season rehearsals are held every Monday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Sammons Center for the Arts, 3630 Harry Hines Blvd. Members are expected to attend every rehearsal. The chorus performs a season of three concerts annually, and this season will perform at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center as well as a special concert at the Texas Discovery Gardens.

To sign up for one of the open rehearsals, call 214-520-7828 or e-mail at twcdoffice@twcd.org.

GAIN holding Valentine’s social

GAIN, a program of Resource Center Dallas that provides learning, social and entertainment opportunities for LGBT seniors, will hold its second annual Valentine’s Social Thursday, Feb. 17, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Good Eats Restaurant, 3888 Oak Lawn Ave. The event will include heavy hors d’ouevres and a cash bar.

For more information, call 214-528-0144 or e-mail gain@rcdallas.org.

TDWCC holds February meeting

The next general meeting of Texas Democratic Women of Collin County will be Monday, Feb. 28, at 6:45 p.m. at the Preston Ridge Campus of Collin College, 9700 Wade Blvd. in Frisco, in Founders Hall, Shawnee Room F148.

The agenda includes planning for the upcoming Legislative Lobby Days, with members presenting information about the state legislative agenda and issues that are important to TDWCC.

The goal is for members to commit to attend one Lobby Day this legislative session.

Political appearances

Rep. Jessica Ferrar of Houston will appear at a fundraiser for Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats at the home of Mark Sadlek and Steve Habgood in Kessler Park on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Farrar is the newly elected House Democratic Leader and wrote House Bill 604, which would repeal Texas’ sodomy law eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it illegal.

Information on her appearance is available at their website DallasSYD.org.

Dallas mayoral candidate David Kunkle is the guest speaker at Stonewall Democrats of Dallas monthly meeting on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Ojeda’s Restaurant, 4617 Maple Avenue. Kunkle is the former Dallas Police Chief.

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt will speak at the LULAC 4871 Dallas Rainbow Council meeting at Havana’s, 4006 Cedar Springs Road. Hunt decided this week to run for reelection to her current council seat rather than seek the office of mayor.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gay teens get their own Valentine’s Day dance; now they just need a photographer and a florist

LGBTQ youth in North Texas are getting their very own Valentine’s Day dance this year.

Chapters of the Gay Straight Alliance from five high schools in Dallas and Collin counties are coming together for the first-ever “Love Conquers All Ball,” hosted by LULAC #4871 and Youth First Texas.

The event will be from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12 at Youth First Texas, and a $2 requested donation at the door will benefit the Trevor Project.

Jesse Garcia, president of LULAC #4871, said all teens ages 14-18 are invited regardless of whether they’re members of GSAs — and regardless of whether they have dates.

Garcia also said organizers are looking for a photographer to take digital images of the couples, as well as a florist who can donate 50 to 60 flowers. Those interested in providing photography or flowers should e-mail jessegarciadallas@gmail.com.

A full press release is after the jump.

—  John Wright