Gay teens win ‘cutest couple’

CutestCouple

We all remember those “senior superlatives” in the high school yearbook — you know, “most likely to succeed,” “class clown,” “best dressed.”

“Cutest couple.”

And wasn’t your cutest couple always the hunky quarterback and his perky blonde cheerleader girlfriend?

Well, at one high school, Brad Taylor and Dylan Meehan, two gay teens, won the title “cutest couple.”

After one of their classmates posted a screen capture of the yearbook item on her Tumblr account, the photo went viral.

Its widespread popularity, especially after appearing on the Huffington Post (here), is great. But I’m really more impressed by the school — its leadership and its student body — that this could happen without controversy. It’s an inspiring little story no matter how you look at it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

LGBT teen suicides continue — and so does harassment of Asher Brown’s parents

The It Gets Better Project project has helped a number of teens who are bullied in schools and churches. Legislation to stop bullying has passed in a number of states including Texas.

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol

But the bullying continues and so does teen suicide. Here are four gay teens who took their own lives in January. Others may have gone unreported as LGBT-related.

• Jan. 1 — Jeffrey Fehr, 18, hanged himself at his family’s home in Granite Bay, Calif.

• Jan. 11 — Eric James Borges, 19, an intern at The Trevor Project, committed suicide after being bullied, tormented and terrorized for most of his life. His religious-extremist parents did not to attend his memorial.

• Jan. 20 — Phillip Parker, 14, of Gorndonsville, Tenn. committed suicide. His parents said he was constantly bullied because he was gay.

• Jan. 29 — Rafael Morelos, 14, of Wenatchee, Wash., who was openly gay, hanged himself after constant bullying.

But the bullying doesn’t stop there. Dallas Voice reported in March 2011 that Asher Brown’s parents, Amy and David Truong, were being harassed for speaking out against the Cy-Fair Independent School District and pushing for anti-bullying legislation.

Asher was one of the teen’s whose suicide brought national attention to the issue. His parents lobbied Texas legislators and testified before the Senate Education Committee about the bullying Asher endured.

Fox News in Houston reports that the Truongs continue to be the victims of bullying and vandalism at their house. Watch the Fox video here.

—  David Taffet

Israel appoints gay activist as labor court judge

(Dori Spivak) דורי ספיבק

While Israel’s executive branch has become quite conservative, it’s judicial branch always has been very liberal.

This week, LGBT rights activist Dori Spivak was appointed to the national labor court in Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli newspaper Ma’Ariv. While other openly gay judges have been appointed in the past, his appointment is being hailed as the first appointment of someone who has advocated for LGBT rights.

Spivak, a graduate of Harvard, is best known for serving as chairman of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In 1997, he won a case in the Supreme Court that allowed Israeli television to air a program about gay teens.

Ma’Ariv, a moderate Israeli newspaper, opens its coverage of the appointment by saying, “The appointment of attorney Dori Spivak as judge to make waves.”

But the concerns the newspaper details have nothing to do with Spivak’s sexual orientation. They worry about his appointment to a court that has ruled in the past that a company doesn’t have a religion so that forbidding work on Sabbath is not relevant. They also voice concern over how he might rule on cases brought by settlers in the West Bank.

“Nevertheless, controversial political views should not disqualify a candidate for judicial office,” the newspaper concludes without mentioning anything about his sexual orientation.

All of Israel’s LGBT rights have been gained through the courts, including pension benefits for same-sex partners of military personnel, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and adoption rights.

—  David Taffet

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

Bill would ease sexting penalties, but consensual gay sex can still be a felony for teens in Texas

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is endorsing legislation that would ease criminal penalties for teens who are convicted of sexting — transmitting explicit photos of themselves or other minors using computers and mobile devices.

Currently, teens who send or receive photos of someone who is underage can be charged with third-degree felony child pornography, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and forced to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Under SB 408, which was filed today, sexting would become a class-C misdemeanor for first-time violators who are under 18.

“Studies show that teenage students are increasingly taking, sending and receiving explicit pictures of themselves on their mobile telephones,” Abbott said in a press release. “This dangerous trend is harmful to young Texans. We are joining with Sen. Kirk Watson to address the growing problem of sexting and educate – not criminalize – young Texans who make the unwise decision to participate in it.”

For once we agree with Abbott here. This bill makes sense for both straight and LGBTQ teens, and perhaps especially for gay teens in the age of Grindr, etc.

But if our attorney general truly supports the concept of not criminalizing teens, he should also support efforts to fix the state’s discriminatory age-of-consent laws, commonly referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” provisions.

As we’ve noted before, if a 17-year-old MALE has consensual sexual contact with a 16-year-old MALE in Texas, the older individual can be charged with a second-degree felony and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On the other hand, if the older individual is MALE and the younger person is FEMALE (or vice versa), the older person can argue an “affirmative defense” and have the charge dismissed on that basis.

In other words, while SB 408 would make sexting a class-C misdemeanor, gay teens who have consensual sex, unlike their straight peers, have no defense against a charge of indecency with a minor.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has introduced bills in previous sessions that would fix this discriminatory law, but there’s no word on whether he plans to do so this year.

Even if he does, don’t expect Abbott to support it.

UPDATE: Coleman’s office confims that he does plan to file the bill again this year.

—  John Wright

Speaker at Fort Worth City Council meeting to ‘air disapproval’ of Joel Burns’ It Gets Better speech

Joel Burns

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns has said repeatedly that he was moved to deliver his Oct. 12 It Gets Better speech when he read about the death of Zach Harrington, a gay teen who took his own life after hearing hateful anti-gay comments during a City Council meeting in Norman, Okla. Now, someone reportedly plans to protest Burns’ passionate speech — and undoubtedly make more hateful comments that could drive LGBT teens to suicide — during this Tuesday’s Fort Worth City Council meeting. Unbelievable.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Sunday that at least one person plans to speak during Tuesday’s meeting to “air disapproval” of Burns’ speech four weeks ago. The brief report in The S-T doesn’t identify the person or persons who plan to speak. It also doesn’t say where the newspaper got the information, which is strange:

At least one person — and possibly more — plans to be in attendance to air disapproval of the much-talked-about speech by Councilman Joel Burns last month in council chambers.

Burns, the first openly gay council member, gained national attention after delivering a stirring address, in the wake of recent incidents, pleading with gay teens not to resort to suicide.

Video of the speech became an instant sensation online.

Within a week, more than 200,000 people had posted the link to the speech on Facebook, and a media tour followed. Burns appeared for interviews on CBS’ Early Show, CNN, the Today show on NBC and the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Burns was among the speakers during Saturday night’s Black Tie Dinner in Dallas. Burns choked up as he talked about how he’d been contacted earlier in the day by Harrington’s father.

“Mr. Harrington said that Zach’s mom, a teacher, is having a particularly difficult time these days, and that he wishes he could let Zach know how much they miss him, but they can’t because he killed himself — after attending a City Council meeting,” Burns said. “As I said on Oct. 12, no child should be made to feel that they are without worth. Let us remind them of their value while we still can.”

Burns then led a moment of silence “in remembrance of the needless loss of teens who found the bullying too much to bear.”

Today we can add 14-year-old Brandon Bitner to the list of those teens.

Tuesday’s council meeting, should you wish to attend, is at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers at City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Laura Bush speaks out against anti-gay bullying, says she’s proud of Joel Burns

Last week we noted that former first lady and Dallas resident Laura Bush, despite her stated support for equality for same-sex couples and her longtime focus on education, hadn’t said anything about the gay teen bullying and suicide crisis. Well who knows, maybe she was listening, because while Bush hasn’t yet made her own “It Gets Better” video, she did say this about the subject in an interview with ABC News (video above):

“Bullying in every kind, certainly gay teens, is really, really terrible, but any children, is terrible. And schools really need to make sure that bullying is not going on,” Bush says. “I was proud of the Fort Worth city councilmember [Joel Burns] that talked about it. I think that’s part of the ‘It’ll get better’ project. I think that’s what he said to children, to young gay teenagers is, ‘It will get better,’ and it’s really important for us to not allow bullying of any kind in schools.”

Coincidentally, Bush goes on to talk about a recent visit to North Dallas High School, which is where transgender student Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen. Have a look.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Oral Roberts’ gay grandson Randy Potts records ‘It Gets Better’ video message

Randy Potts recording his “It Gets Better” video.

Earlier this year we profiled North Texas’ Randy Potts, whose grandfather was anti-gay evangelist Oral Roberts.

Randy Potts is gay, and so was his uncle, Ronnie, who committed suicide in 1982. Now, using a letter to his deceased uncle as a backdrop, Randy has recorded an “It Gets Better” video message to LGBT youth.

Potts lives in Farmers Branch. He moved to the area to be near his three children. He has little contact with the Roberts family although last year he did attend his grandfather’s funeral. In the video, he describes how, in front of 4,000 mourners, his mother told him he’d be going to hell.

NPR’s “The Story” interviewed him for an upcoming episode. He expects it to run later this year on the anniversary of his grandfather’s death.

—  David Taffet

Spirit Day couture became fashion statement

Yesterday, like a lot of people nationwide, I wore purple in memory of gay teens who have committed suicide recently, many as the result of bullying.

Now, wearing purple is not a biggie for me. I have purple suede Ralph Lauren sneakers and purple Levi’s that I joke came from The Joker’s yard sale. I wear them often, to the chagrin of my plus-ones and co-workers. But last night, it proved to get me more notice than usual.

I attended the opening of the new Montblanc store at NorthPark clad in the sneaks and the jeans, plus a pale green shirt as well as my signature red-and-black Alain Mikli eyeglasses. I was a walking Crayola box.

“You are the most interestingly dressed man at this event,” said a woman I had never met before, a Highland Park Realtor. “You must be a designer or someone deeply involved in fashion.”

“No,” I explained. “Just gay.”

So, for all my friends who criticize my fashion sense I say this: How often have you had someone who can afford couture tell you your off-the-rack wardrobe made you look like a fashion trendsetter? … Hmmm? … Didn’t think so.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones