Announcement banning same-sex couples from Port Arthur prom not ‘meant to be a joke’

Memorial High School

Confusion about an announcement made last week at a Port Arthur high school that stated gay students would not be welcome at the dance has been resolved, according to school district officials.

Deputy Superintendent Mark Porterie previously emailed Dallas Voice a statement that stated the school would “handle the situation with staff to ensure that no student is inappropriately prevented from participation in prom.”

In a phone interview Thursday, Porterie said the announcement heard over Memorial High School’s intercom “was just a conversation-type mix-up,” adding that he is uncertain of the specific situation that prompted the announcement.

“I’m not clear to this day how it happened. It shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It’s not something we promote.”

The intention of the announcement, however, was anything but funny to the student body, administration and the announcer.

“It was not a joke,” he said. “ It wasn’t meant to be a joke.”

Porterie declined to clarify if the person who made the announcement was a student or faculty member, only saying that the school is abuzz with preparations for the May prom and mentions of the event are common during the months leading up to it.

While the situation was “handled the same day,” Porterie would not elaborate on the method or whether the announcer was told that the remark was inappropriate.

Various students at the schools throughout the Port Arthur ISD make announcements daily, Porterie said, and different methods of approval are used and occasional announcements not approved slip through the approval processes.

“Sometimes announcements come through that aren’t supposed to,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t catch them.”

—  Anna Waugh

WATCH: Leaders of gay student group at Baylor react to school’s decision to deny their charter

As we noted the other day, Baylor University has denied a charter for an LGBT student group called the Sexual Identity Forum. The university apparently doesn’t think college students are mature enough to talk about sexuality issues unless the discussion is “professionally facilitated,” whatever that means. Baylor has a policy prohibiting students from participating “in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” The Sexual Identity Forum, which insists it isn’t an advocacy group, plans to appeal the denial of its charter and will continue to meet informally in the meantime — at least until the administration tries to shut it down completely. Openly gay and extremely brave Baylor senior Samantha Jones, the president of the Sexual Identity Forum, tells News Channel 25 that she decided to launch the group after the school’s administration failed to respond to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose death was a wake-up call to gay students around the country: “We didn’t get an e-mail saying, ‘This is someone who you can approach if you’re struggling with this,’ …nothing,” Jones says.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Marriage on rocks in Maryland; Lady Gaga premieres ‘Government Hooker’

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. It’s all hands on deck in Maryland, where the fate of a marriage equality bill may be decided today. One pro-marriage equality lawmaker says if a committee vote doesn’t happen, the bill will die. The House committee vote was delayed Tuesday when two supporters of the bill didn’t show up. Now, other co-sponsors are backtracking on their support. As someone who spent part of his childhood on a sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay, I sincerely hope this ship can be righted and sail safely through the stormy waters of Annapolis.

2. Gay students at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., launched an online magazine Wednesday called HU Queer Press, only to have the administration immediately block access to the website on school computers. Change.org has launched a petition, but this is hardly the first time the Church of Christ-affiliated school has tried to stifle free speech.

3. Lady Gaga made her runway debut in Paris — and premiered a song called “Government Hooker.” Watch video from the Thierry Mugler fashion show above and listen to the song here.

—  John Wright

Rutgers to offer co-ed dorms in response to gay student Tyler Clementi’s suicide

Associated Press

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — New Jersey’s flagship state university has decided to allow male and female students to share rooms in three dorms in an effort to make the campus more inclusive for gay students after a highly publicized suicide last year.

Starting this fall, all students — whether gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — can choose either male or female roommates under the pilot program. Men and women will share bathrooms.

A similar, but smaller, pilot program is being launched at the Newark campus.

A number of other schools, including the University of Maryland, New York’s Columbia University and Washington’s George Washington University, offer similar housing options, according to the National Student Genderblind Campaign.

The organization is pressing for more programs like them, saying they’re a way for students to have roommates they’re comfortable with.

Rutgers got wide attention last year after freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. Authorities say that days before, his roommate in a dorm used a webcam to capture Clementi during an intimate encounter with another man.

The roommate and a third freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy in the case. Their lawyers say they’re not guilty of any crimes.

Gay student groups have pushed for Rutgers to be friendlier to gay, lesbian and transgender students — including by offering gender-neutral housing — since Clementi’s death.

—  John Wright

Students launch gay group at Baylor University

More than 50 students reportedly met last week to discuss forming an LGBT student group at Baylor University. (Baylor Lariat)

Patti Fink, a Baylor University alum who serves as president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, alerted us to this story from the Baylor Lariat newspaper about a new group for LGBT students at the Baptist school in Waco:

The group, named the Sexual Identity Forum, is in the process of applying to be an officially chartered student organization at Baylor, and its founding members expect a final decision on the chartering to be made before the end of the month.

Alvarado senior Samantha Jones, the organization’s president who affirmed during the meeting that she is openly gay, said she was motivated to start a discussion group because she believes the administration has not always been accepting of students with alternative sexual identities.

“I feel as though the student body in and of itself is very welcoming,” Jones said. “Everyone I’ve come out to or approached has been very welcoming and very compassionate and tolerant. I feel as though the high administration … refuses to recognize that there are gay students on campus, and they refuse to allow a group like this to exist.”

The story goes on to say that Baylor prohibits students from participating “in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” However, the university’s director of students services wouldn’t comment on whether the Sexual Identity Forum is likely to receive a charter.

This is a remarkable development at a school where Kenneth Starr is president and where, in the past, students have been expelled for being gay.

UPDATE: The group’s charter has been denied. Read more here.

—  John Wright

Twitteresolutions

We look at 2011 resolutions through the eyes (and tweets) of queer celebs

We know celebrities are busy, but somehow they are never too busy to pop out a tweet. Whether it’s to promote world peace, equal rights or simply themselves, celebs know the power of a good Twitter feed.
We scoured the feeds of various LGBT celebs and allies to see what they have in mind for 2011. Some started their 140-character resolutions for the New Year. Others, well, haven’t. That didn’t stop me from re-imagining some of their older tweets from December (minus any accompanying tiny URLs), nor did it stop me from either replying (@celeb) or retweeting (RT) from my own feed (indicated under theirs in italics). Because you know they’ll read it — or at least the person they’ve hired to manage it will (@theellenshow).
— Rich Lopez (@GetRichinDallas)

Twitter-images
TWEETS FOR 2011 | Queer celebs who gave us some 140-character food for thought while beginning the new year include, Margaret Cho, Cazwell, Jay Brannan, Queen Latifah, Reichen Lehmkuhl, Kathy Griffin and Chely Wright.

JAY BRANNAN, orally gifted indie movie actor and musician (@Jaybrannan)
My NewYear’s res for2010 was2have a bf by the end of the year. Fail. I give up. In 2011 I accept I will
b alone4ever. Just me n the Griffins.
@jaybrannan There’s probably a song in there somewhere. #justsaying

CAZWELL, sexy musician and viral video hunk (@Cazwellnyc)
Thanks to everyone that gave me bong smoking advice. Too bad I’m too faded to follow any of them.
Did @xMileyCyrus offer any suggestions RT @Cazwellnyc Thanks to everyone that gave me bong smoking advice…

CHELY WRIGHT, recently outed country singer (@Chelywright)
Faith in America invites Christian university to join public dialogue about religion-based bigotry toward
gay [students]
@chelywright I totally mentioned this like you asked in my article. But you couldn’t get me in to Black Tie? #burn #ouch

CHI CHI LARUE, porn director and spin doctor (@DJChiChiLaRue)
@GetRichinDallas I will try to curb my shopping addiction in 2011 And try not to fall in drag!
@DJChiChiLaRue Just keep bringing back those hot porn boys of yours. Better yet, bring the daddies! #beefcakediet

REICHEN LEHMKUHL, perennial reality TV personality and putative A-lister (@ReichenLehmkuhl)
In honor of ArmPit Wednesday (which I am officially starting right now).
@ReichenLehmkuhl Um, not sure how A-list ArmPit Wed is. Aren’t those gays supposed to be kinda pristine. Fetish boys don’t seem the show’s type. #justsaying

JUDY TENUTA, strange comedian and self-appointed love goddess (@JudyTenuta)
I plan 2 get arrested 2 get a show. Hard cuz I’m law-abiding citizen. A sex video? Or I’ll gain 500 lbs 2 b on Biggest Loser. #comeback
@JudyTenuta Please use the big hunky guy from your @LadyGaga spoof in your sex video.
#beefcakediet

QUEEN LATIFAH, rap artist and Oscar nominated actress (@IAmQueenLatifah)
Happy Sunday. Cleaning out my closet. I have so many great things for people in need. Somebody is about to come up!
@IAMQUEENLATIFAH Come up? Girl, don’t you mean come out? #typo

ANDERSON COOPER, silver fox news hunk and Kathy Griffin New Year’s Eve sidekick
(@Anderson cooper)
I threw out my back working out. An old spine injury that has flared up. I can walk but it hurts a lot.
I’m getting old.
I know that feeling! #hayyyyy RT @andersoncooper I can walk but it hurts a lot.

KATHY GRIFFIN, Emmy-winning D-lister and lover of “her gays” (@Kathygriffin)
Live on CNN w Anderson Cooper. How gorgeous is YOUR date?RT @OkKaiser: @kathygriffin, what’s ur New Years Eve plans? #CNN
@kathygriffin Not sure if @andersoncooper can still be your date. He “threw his back out.”
#newyearseve

MARGARET CHO, queermedian and failed Bristol Palin dance rival (@Margaretcho)
There’s something about a bidet that is so invigorating and soothing. Instead of coffee — wash your hole!!
@margaretcho Thought you said wash your hole with coffee. Taking this off my resolutions
#scaldedlining

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Officials at Okla. high school accused of bullying lesbian students into dropping out

What happens when anti-gay bullying comes not from students but from a school’s administration?

Several lesbian former students say administrators at Del City High School, southeast of Oklahoma City, are discouraging gay students from graduating.

One girl, Kelsey Hicks, says the principal told her to drop out and get her GED because, “You’re gay, you’re not going to do anything with your life.”

Another, Melissa McKenzie, said she was expelled from Del City after moving in with her girlfriend. “He [the principal] said if you go back to your mom’s house, you can go back to school.”

Both Hicks and McKenzie also say they were kicked off the Del City High School softball team.

A third girl who graduated from Del City High School said a school official once told her that being gay is an “unhealthy lifestyle.”

“He had found out that I was gay and he was on my case about every little thing,” she said.

According to KWTV Channel 9 in Oklahoma City, the school district issued a statement saying the three girls aren’t current students and none of them has filed a complaint.

—  John Wright

Chely Wright answers the call

The country music star and out lesbian may be busy with a new album and tour, but she always makes time for her new-found passion for advocating for LGBT equality

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

When Chely Wright came out this summer, the buzz in the music industry was mixed. But as it turned out, she did it at precisely the right time.

Combining her star power with advocacy, Wright has become the face of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and an outspoken advocate for her new-found community. She has stepped up to the plate and used her stature to focus attention on LGBT issues.

The buzz around Wright’s coming out was quickly eclipsed by head-grabbing issues like same-sex marriage rulings, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the rash of gay youth suicides and bullying.

Still, Wright interjected herself into the conversation and people listened, while other gay celebrities were being supportive, but perhaps less vocal. For her efforts, Wright will be awarded the 2010 Media Award at this weekend’s Black Tie Dinner.

“This is what I felt like I was supposed to do, and it would be wrong of me not do this,” Wright said recently of her work in the community.

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold said that Wright was the unanimous choice for the Med Award this year. As the year progressed, Wright’s work with LGBT youth and her public profile narrowed the choices tremendously until she became the decisive choice.

“The breadth of her activity immediately upon coming out was definitely a factor. She faced issues head on and she’s made an incredible impact in reaching Middle America,” Guillard said.

Wright has most recently chosen to become involved in addressing the seemingly skyrocketing rate of bullying and LGBT youth suicides. Her work with GLSEN helped launch the Safe Space Campaign for schools to provide outright support to gay students and end anti-gay harassment and bullying. She joined a panel of celebrities on Larry King Live calling attention to the issue — which she stressed isn’t new.

“What’s going on now is not a shock to me. The problem isn’t a fresh one. It’s just that now, we have the mainstream media’s attention,” Wright said.

She quoted Kathy Griffin from that panel, agreeing with the comedian that bullying is based in homophobia stemming from a bigger picture that paints a distinct portrait to both straight and gay communities. “I hadn’t thought about it until she said

something amazing. She called it ‘trickle-down homophobia,’ where gay issues and headlines meet. DADT is denied, marriage denied and we’re constantly told we’re ‘less than,’” Wright said. “Not only bullies are hearing that, but young gay people are too.”

And that gives LGBT youth a bleak outlook on their future, while at the same time emboldening the bullies, Wright said.

“We can tell people not to bully, but when mandates are coming down against our rights and headlines show that, how can we expect them not to, when Congress is doing it blatantly?” Wright asked.

When she wrote her autobiography Like Me, Wright’s publishers balked at the chapter on hate crimes. She fought Random House for the chapter to be included, despite them telling her it was too dramatic. In the end, Wright won and the chapter, “Hate Crimes are Down?,” foreshadowed the current issue of harassment.

“If you push a young LGBT person to the point where they take their own lives, it’s a hate crime. If you get them to kill themselves, that’s a hate crime. You aren’t connecting dots that are too far apart and now it’s horrific that it’s come to past,” Wright said.

Wright focused on the Rutgers student Tyler Clemente, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge after his roommate recorded him having sex with another man and streamed it online.

Chely Wright
SHE CAN RELATE | Chely Wright says that after spending years hiding her sexual orientation to protect her career in country music, she understands the anguish that young people struggling with their sexual orientation sometimes feel.

Wright said she faced a similar fear of being outed in the middle of her conservative country music career.

“I know what he felt like and it ripped my heart out,” she said of Clemente. “When you don’t want anyone to know that secret, the thought that runs through your mind is to jump, or pull the trigger. I couldn’t bear someone in control of my timeline for that secret,” she said.

Wright has been open about her faith as well, which brings a fairly new facet to the openly gay celebrity. Where most might dismiss religion as a hindrance, Wright seems to want to let people know that being gay and being religious are not mutually exclusive.

But at the same time, she said it is religion that is responsible for so much bigotry.

“Churches are not being held accountable. They tell young people they are damaged goods,” Wright said. “They tell them not to shoplift, which is a question of morality and making the right decision. But when they tell them not to be gay, that sets them onto a path of self-loathing and hatred and it’s contrary to a healthy life.”

Along with GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign, Wright has given her support to the nonprofit organization Faith in America, which works to counteract the discrimination by religious communities toward the LGBT community.

“When you tell a kid he can’t be that way, it’s just a problem. We have got to hold churches accountable,” Wright repeated. “Really, you can be a good Christian and a gay person,” she said.

Arnold sees how Wright’s passion led to the board’s decision to honor her with the award.

“She is setting a wonderful example for people of all ages right now in this critical time. She’s appreciated the community and we appreciate what she’s doing for it,” Arnold said.

With her political advocacy, it’s easy to forget what Wright does best. She is still making music, but now balances what she loves to do and what she’s called to do.

“At the root of what I do, I like to sing and make records,” Wright said. “But we do the most damage as humans with words. And I’m compelled to support kids as they turn into grownups and help them keep their heads on straight.”

So to speak.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Feedback • 10.29.10

Forget “firing” Arkansas school board member Clint McCance or simply “reprimanding” him (“Joel Burns responds to Arkansas school board member who encouraged gays to kill themselves,” Instant Tea, posted Oct. 26). He should be arrested for inciting violence.

He doesn’t understand the uproar because he actually does not believe gay people are “real” people. That is how intense his hate is.

I understand about “free speech,” but if you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater or make terrorist threats on a plane, then you shouldn’t be able to use a high school campus as a platform to tell gay kids they don’t deserve to live.

I grew up in South Arkansas, so I am very familiar with how small towns in the South can serve as a breeding ground for hate and violence against gay people. I thank God I survived. I had no one to turn to, not even my own parents, which is often the case with gay adolescents.

People in Midland who genuinely care about their young people need to march in the streets over this and take advantage of this opportunity to learn and grow and dispel the myths that cause so much hatefulness to be directed toward young gay people. Children do not “turn gay” or “choose to be gay” or “become gay.” They are just gay, and terrified to be honest about it around people who have a lynch mob mentality. And sadly, it is the adults who claim to be Christians who actually pass these violent ideologies and misinformation on to their children.

These comments would never be acceptable if they were spoken about heterosexual students, so why are they accepted when they’re directed at our young gay students? Slap some handcuffs on this person immediately and find something to charge him with — even if he just has to sit in jail overnight — and send a loud and clear message to students on the brink of suicide that Midland School District unequivocally does not tolerate this hate speech and before another amazing student decides jumping off a bridge tonight would be better than going to class tomorrow.

Randy in Dallas

—  Kevin Thomas

Focus on the Family says bullying issue being hijacked to bring homosexuality into schools

Associated Press

DENVER — The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is accusing national gay advocacy groups of using bullying-prevention initiatives at public schools to introduce the viewpoint that homosexuality is normal.

Focus on the Family education expert Candi Cushman told The Denver Post for its Saturday, Aug. 28 editions that the Christian group supports bullying prevention but that the issue “is being hijacked by activists.”

“We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled,” Cushman said. The Colorado Springs-based group said conservative Christians are portrayed as bigots for their opposing viewpoints, while public schools increasingly teach students that homosexuality should be accepted.

The national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network says it wants all students to be treated with respect regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or race, ability or national origin.

“Bullying is a serious public health crisis in this country, according to no less an authority than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, told The Denver Post.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a 2008 report that about 30 percent of sixth-to- 10th-grade students in the U.S. report being bullied, and Byard said the problem is more common with gay students.

Focus on the Family took aim at a 24-page GLSEN booklet titled, “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth.” It will be delivered to public school superintendents around the country, Focus on the Family said.

“The theme: Schools are only allowed to provide one message about homosexuality — that it’s normal and should be embraced,” Focus on the Family said.

Byard said the idea for the booklet came from GLSEN but that it was authored by a coalition of medical, mental-health and education organizations.

—  John Wright