DRIVEN TO THE BRINK Kelby Johnson attempted suicide three times before her parents, with nowhere else to turn, contacted Ellen DeGeneres, who in turn put them in touch with Director Lee Hirsch. (Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
Kelby Johnson, the transgender teen portrayed in the film Bully, will attend a showing of the film at the White House on Friday for National Day of Silence, according to an email sent by GLSEN.
Last week, Dallas Voice ran a story about the film and was the first LGBT media outlet to interview Johnson as a transgender teen. In the film, Johnson is referred to as lesbian and came out as transgender after the production wrapped.
Johnson and his father will be in D.C. today and tomorrow advocating for federal safe schools protections.
GLSEN has arranged meetings for the Johnsons with their Oklahoma representatives, with Rep. Mike Honda who recently started the anti-bullying caucus, with Rep. Linda Sanchez who is the lead sponsor for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
This summer, Kelby will become a GLSEN intern in the D.C. office.
After the jump are additional details of the Johnsons’ D.C. visit:
Two Woodrow Wilson High School students from Dallas will participate in GLSEN’s Students of Color Organizing Summit GLSEN in Phoenix this weekend, GLSEN Greater Dallas Chair James Tate said. Tate and another GLSEN volunteer will also accompany the two youth.
GLSEN picks up the cost of transportation, food, meals and lodging for students chosen to attend. The conference has been held annually since 2005. GLSEN divides the country in half and sends students to two conferences. The East Coast summit will be held in Baltimore on April 27–29.
GLSEN described the summit as three days of community and skill-building in a space where they could acknowledge the unique challenges of doing Safe Schools work as people of color. Some participants of past conferences have later gotten GLSEN internships.
“We bring different youth from all of the chapters in our region,” Tate said.
He said they collaborate and engage with others to discuss what minorities experience as part of the LGBT community.
“When they return, they apply what they’ve learned to their GSA work,” Tate said.
The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) executive director Dr. Eliza Byard and GLSEN Student Ambassadors Tommy Surratt and Gabe Maffuz stopped by Great Day Houston last week to talk about the organiation’s efforts. Surratt, who is straight, was joined by his father Jim Surratt who talked briefly about the discrimination that the children of same-sex couples face in schools.
Brandon McInerney, left, has pleaded guilty to shooting his gay classmate, Lawrence "Larry" King to death in February 2008, when McInerney was 14 and King was 15.
More than three years after he pulled out a gun in a junior high computer lab and shot classmate Larry King in the head, Brandon McInerney pleaded guilty on Monday to second-degree murder. Sentencing is set for sometime in December, and prosecutors have said McInerney will be sentenced to 21 years in prison, without time off for good behavior, according to MSNBC.com.
McInerney has already served four years in jail and will be 38 by the time he is released.
The plea deal comes after prosecutors’ first efforts to convict McInerney on murder and hate crime charges in July ended in a mistrial. In planning for a second trial, prosecutors had decided to drop the hate crimes charge because jurors in the first trial did not believe prosecutors’ charges that McInerney was a white supremacist who acted out of hatred for gays.
King, 15 at the time of his death, was an openly gay student at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, Calif., and McInerney, 14 at the time, was angry that King had been flirting with him. On Feb. 12, 2008, McInerney carried a gun to school in his backpack. When he went into the computer lab, he walked up behind King, shot him once in the head and then shot him again as King lay on the floor. King died two days later after being taken off life support.
The murder sparked headlines and outrage around the country. But when McInerney went to trial in July, his defense attorneys denied that he had been motivated by anti-gay hatred and worked to convince jurors the school was at fault for not reining in King’s flamboyant behavior in class. And on Monday, King’s mother, Dawn King, told the LA Times that she had contacted the school four days before the shooting to ask for school officials’ help in “toning down” her son’s behavior. She said school officials told her that her son had a civil right to explore his sexuality.
Authorities had removed Larry King from his home two months earlier because of domestic problems.
Teachers at E.O. Green Junior High also testified at McInerney’s trial in July that they had tried to warn administrators about “growing tensions” between Larry King and some of the boys in his class, but that the administrators had “shunned them.” The LA Times reports that teachers and students alike testified at the trial that King had been wearing makeup and women’s accessories and “flirting aggressively with male students on campus who did not want the attention.”
Following the mistrial in July, Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Executive Director Eliza Byard said prosecutors should have “done the just and merciful thing” and reached a plea agreement with McInenery because the trial created a “painful spectacle that accomplished nothing.”
Following Monday’s announcement that a plea arrangement had been reached, Byard said:
“The plea deal announced today ends a tragic chapter in Ventura County. Holding Brandon McInerney accountable for his actions is necessary and right, but putting him behind bars does not solve the problems that led a boy to become a bully, and then a murderer. Homophobia and transphobia, compounded by the lack of counseling and other supports for struggling young people, resulted in Larry King’s death and the effective end of Brandon McInerney’s life. As adults and as a society, we must find the resolve to fix the broken systems that lost two young lives to hate and fear. The end to this painful chapter must now serve as a new beginning. Ventura County along with communities and school districts everywhere must come together to promote a culture of respect and nurture the true potential found in every individual regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
A judge has officially declared a mistrial in the case of Brandon McInerney, who fatally shot gay 15-year-old Lawrence King in a California classroom in 2008, The LA Times reports.
Following an eight-week trial and 15 hours of deliberations, Judge Charles Campbell declared a mistrial today because the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous agreement on whether to find McInerney guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. The vote was 7-5 in favor of convicting McInerney of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
The mistrial ruling means the prosecution could choose to re-try the case, or the defense and prosecution could reach a plea deal. McInerney’s lawyers have previously refused a plea offer of 25 years to life, according to The Ventura County Star. A first-degree murder conviction would have carried an automatic sentence of 50 years, while manslaughter could have brought as little as 14 years.
The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, a national organization that promotes safe schools for LGBT students, issued a statement Thursday evening saying the mistrial ruling is “hardly a surprise.”
“This was always destined to be a case with little resolution and no winners, whatever the verdict,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “The central facts remain the same: homophobia killed Larry King and destroyed Brandon McInerney’s life, and adults failed both young men because of their own inability to deal forthrightly and compassionately with the multiple challenges they each faced. The jury’s indecision is a sad reflection of our collective inability to find common ground and invest in a better future for all youth and a culture of respect for all.”
There are three keys to successful documentary filmmaking: A good subject, a good story line and good luck. Scott Bloom found all three.
His goal in making Out for the Long Run — a movie about gay high school athletes — was to go beyond “the regular coming-out stories.” Bloom, a former closeted wrestler who had been terrified of being outed, ostracized or beaten up, knew there were “extraordinary individuals” out there. He wanted to highlight their accomplishments, and provide hope to LGBT people of all ages, everywhere.
The first problem was finding those young athletes. The second was convincing them — and their parents — to be filmed.
He asked organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG for help. But although he’d produced one film on Metropolitan Community Church founder the Rev. Troy Perry, and another on the “oldest gay organization in the world” (a motorcycle club), he admits he was “an unknown quantity.”
The project stalled. Then Bloom saw a Facebook page for gay athletes. With permission from creator Lucas Goodman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology rower, Bloom asked for volunteers.
He got a dozen or two responses. Some of their parents objected, and blurring faces or filming in shadows would undercut the idea of openness. Plus, Bloom hoped to include the parents’ stories, too. In the end he settled on four athletes, with a cross-section of experiences.
When he began shooting, some of Bloom’s old fears resurfaced. “I worried all over again about being ‘thrown out of the locker room,’” he says. “But everyone was very gentle to me.”
He learned that today’s gay youth “have fewer hang-ups than my generation did. They define sexuality more fluidly. That’s refreshing. It gives me hope. I was definitely not as self-aware at that age.”
Bloom’s lucky break came when he found Austin Snyder. The track star was entering his senior year at California’s Berkeley High School. (The other three athletes were already in college.) He had a great, supportive family. He was smart, popular and embraced by his teammates.
Snyder’s story would provide a counterpoint to Brenner Green, a Connecticut College runner whose father had a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality, and who stopped being invited to team dinners after coming out in high school; Goodman, who had difficulty coming out to teammates; and Liz Davenport, a soccer player from Maine whose love for sports was undermined by the bullying she endured. (She ended up “probably the most heroic,” Bloom says, “after struggling and maturing the most.”)
Snyder, a very articulate teenager, lives through what is in many ways a typical high school year. He desperately hopes to get into Brown University — but an injury causes both physical and emotional stress. The usually self-confident runner wonders if he is being punished for his sexuality.
It’s not easy being a senior — especially when you’re gay. “I’m a big romantic,” Snyder says. “High school is all about the guys getting the girls. Running helps take away the hurt of not having someone.”
Then Snyder gets the news: He’s into Brown. He goes from “the lowest low to the highest high.” In a scene repeated in homes across the country, he is giddy with excitement.
But as graduation approaches, Snyder says, “All my friends are happy and dating. I want that!”
He creates a Facebook group for cross country and track athletes heading to Brown. He joins another group for all admitted students where, he says, “all the gay men have found each other.”
Suddenly, Snyder finds someone special: a swimmer from North Carolina. Online they flirt, then talk seriously for weeks. Then, in a plot twist that would sound unbelievable in a real movie — except it’s true — Snyder qualifies for a national race. In North Carolina.
Bloom films their meeting. It’s a truly sweet scene. Later, his new boyfriend gives him a tender pre-race kiss.
The final scene also seems right out of a teen flick. Snyder delivers a graduation speech at Berkeley High. He talks about diversity and change, and urges his classmates: “Use your open-minded spirit.” Snyder’s coach says, “Austin’s story gives hope for what can be.” His father adds simply, “I’m extremely proud of Austin.”
Out for the Long Run is a powerful film. “I never expected a sports film to make people cry,” Bloom says. “But people tell me it makes them remember the fears and emotions they buried years earlier.”
And, echoing Snyder’s coach, it generates hope in unlikely places. Five rural school districts in Louisiana have bought copies for each middle and high school. The counseling director will use it as a teaching tool.
Which means its lessons will be remembered by students — gay and straight — for a long, long run.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.
Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts (Michael Chow, The Arizona/Associated Press)
Sports figures’ decisions to come out can push LGBT community one step closer to equality
HARDY HABERMAN | Flagging Left
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell writes about what he calls “social epidemics.” Just like a disease epidemic can blow up and spread very quickly, ideas can suddenly become embraced by the public at large and spread at a rapid pace.
That point when something goes from being just a few people who embrace the idea to the critical mass needed to flood the mainstream consciousness of the country is the “tipping point.”
At its most fundamental level, the LGBT movement begins with opening the closet door. That coming out process is almost always difficult and sometimes it takes years, but it is the beginnings of genuine liberation.
Well, on the coming out front, we may be at the tipping point and for the LGBT rights movement that could trigger a big change
Today I read a story about Jared Max, a sportscaster for ESPN Radio who said this in his morning show:
“Are we ready to have our sports information delivered by someone who is gay? Well we are gonna find out. Because for the last 16 years, I’ve been living a free life among my close friends and family, and I’ve hidden behind what is a gargantuan-sized secret here in the sports world: I am gay.
“Yeah. Jared Max. The sports guy who is one of the most familiar faces in New York sports isn’t quite like the majority. And while you already knew I was a little different, this might help make sense of it. But more so, I’m taking this courageous jump into the unknown having no idea how I will be perceived. …”
This is pretty big news, but even bigger when you consider the other folks who came out in the just the past few weeks:
• Don Lemon, weekend anchor for CNN Newsroom announced last week that he is gay. He did so in advance of the release of his new book, Transparent, in which he discusses his life as an African-American newscaster and as a gay man.
• Look to sports again as the CEO of the Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts, came out in a story in the New York Times. Why? He said that he wanted to do something to help youth struggling with their own sexual identity issues, to assure them they could come out and still have a successful career.
• Former Villanova basketball star, Will Sheridan, kicked open his closet door coming out publicly on ESPN just a day after Rick Welts.
• And all this after former NFL player Wade Davis came out as part of a GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Sports Project a couple of months ago.
Perhaps I am the only one to see a trend here, but when broadcasters and, more specifically, sports figures start feeling it’s OK to come out, we might be nearing that tipping point.
This trend is not that new either. In the past few years dozens of high-profile people have made their sexual orientation known. My hope is that the cumulative effect will push things over the edge.
What would that look like? Well, it would be somewhat of a continuation of what we see now: more and more people publicly coming out until the mere act of announcing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity will become so commonplace that it is no longer news.
That would signal that LGBT people had really taken a major step toward full equality. The day when a celebrity or sports figure comes out and is no longer headline material, or more importantly no longer feels the need to hold a press conference to do it, will be a great day for LGBT rights.
So to all those celebrities, sports figures, actors, politicians who are still in the closet: Come out! You may be the nudge that pushes things past the tipping point — and that is something that will benefit everyone.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This weekend, Texas Christian University is hosting an LGBT leadership conference that started out as a response to bullying and bullying-related suicides, organizer Jamal King said.
Last fall, as news spread about the large number of gay teens who took their own lives in a short period of time, the TCU gay-straight alliance held a candlelight vigil on campus.
But King said they felt it wasn’t enough. “[We felt] there must be something more we could do,” he said.
In November, the GSA invited a speaker from the Trevor Project to come to campus in the spring. That speaking engagement quickly evolved into an all-day conference.
King said there was an overwhelming response, not only from his own campus but also from Texas Wesleyan University and University of Texas at Arlington. Students from campuses around the state and Oklahoma have registered.
In addition to the speaker from the Trevor Project, representatives from Youth First Texas, the AIDS Outreach Center, QCinema, PFLAG, GLSEN, Dallas Voice and Pride in the Truth, a religious group founded by members of LGBT-friendly Crossroads Community Church, will participate. “We had a surprising amount of support from the faculty and staff,” King said.
He was also happy with the corporate support the project received. Pepsico and Wells Fargo are the event’s main sponsors. Z’s Café, located at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center and formed in partnership with Samaritan House, will provide lunch.
Eric Russell is a junior at TCU and vice president of the GSA. He is coordinating committees from check-in to food, entertainment and programming. “It surprised me how quickly we did this,” Russell said.
Russell said he knew they were on the right track when he heard from a psych professor that she was letting all of her students know about the conference. He said the diversity and acceptance on the TCU campus has surprised him.
Amanda Moten is president of her GSA at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, and she said she is “expecting to learn a lot” at the day-long conference.
She said that she’s been encouraging people from her campus and others in the area to attend. She said she’s been a member of a GSA since she was in high school and has opened her school’s group up as a safe space for high school students who don’t have a place in their own school. “People can come and talk,” she said. “No matter what other people have told you that you are, you’re accepted here.”
Moten said she is helping sponsor high school students who cannot afford to attend the conference. She also commented on the relationship her group has developed with TCU’s. “I love that our GSAs are becoming BFFs,” she said.
King said that it was important for TCU’s GSA to become more visible on campus. He said he hopes that students just coming to terms with coming out would be helped by just knowing the LGBT leadership conference was taking place on campus and that they are not alone.
The conference begins with a kick-off party on Friday, March 4, at 7 p.m. The $20 registration fee for the Saturday conference includes lunch. The party and conference will be held in TCU’s Brown Lupton University Union.
To register or for more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.
It should come as no surprise that singer Clay Aiken would be a gentleman. With his Southern twang and clean-cut persona, he’s both personable and professional in an interview. But the kid is also pretty slick.
“Not many people can deal with the scrutiny of bullshit.”
Whoa — did Clay Aiken just drop the “S” word? The remark comes on the heels of a question about his much blogged-about new relationship with Jeff Walters, a local actor with recent parts in such shows as Uptown Players’ Closer to Heaven and Ohlook’s The Rocky Horror Show. Perez Hilton and many others (our own Instant Tea blog even got in on the action) were quick to highlight the guys’ night out on the town, complete with pics at Theatre Three and the Gaylord. What soon followed were pics of Walters from Grindr and his work as an underwear model.
“I’ll save you the trouble of asking and not answer,” Aiken laughs with that underlying tone that he’s tight-lipped about his personal life.
Fair enough. There is much more to Aiken, after all, than mere gossip fodder, as he’s proven with his staunch activism for the welfare of children and youth. His service with the National Inclusion Project (formerly the Bubel/Aiken Foundation) and UNICEF has been notable, but his work with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) may have his most personal vested interest at heart.
“I think that I chose to work with GLSEN more vocally than other equality organizations because it hits home more,” he says. “All the organizations are incredible, but I got picked on growing up as a kid. For being a nerd, for being gay before I knew I even was. And I still get picked on. Being a celebrity doesn’t protect you and it can be worse when it’s more public.”
Aiken says that without any sign of whining. He focuses less on what people are saying about him (there is a lot out there that’s not-so-nice, starting when he was still an American Idol contestant) and is more interested in directing his attention to anti-bullying causes and making schools safe.
“I understand that mission from my personal standpoint. From the scars,” he chuckles. “But as a former teacher, I want to be sure schools are safe places for kids.”
Interestingly, as a fairly new dad (his son is 2 now), Aiken says his passion didn’t necessarily grow from parenthood. Instead, he says he’d like to think he was always that passionate. But having a son did add a perspective that he thinks might be missing in today’s LGBT parents.
“Well, it’s one thing to protect yourself, but an entirely different thing to protect your child,” he says. “I understand that if my son is gay, I want him to have rights and protections. I think that idea is somewhat lacking within the community. It’s easy to forget that the rights we’re fighting for are for another generation.”
Aiken hesitates to liken the struggle for equal rights for LGBT citizens now with the civil rights movement of Black America in the ‘60s, but he connected with the idea that then, people were working and fighting for rights so that generation’s children didn’t have to. Aiken encourages that thought for LGBT parents.
“We don’t have as many opportunities to look at it that way,” he says. “The generation before us may not have been able to get married and we may in this lifetime, but as a father now, I want to make sure and set up a future for my son.”
Lest we forget, Aiken is first and foremost a musician and singer. He’ll remind North Texas of that as his tour stops at Verizon Theatre on Tuesday in support of his fifth full-length studio release, Tried and True. He recorded old-school tunes from the ‘50s and ’60s, putting his indelible vocal stamp on classics like “Mack the Knife” and
“Unchained Melody.” Ironically, Aiken doesn’t listen much to any music. He’s more of a news junkie.
“I really don’t. I listen to NPR and watch CNN,” he admits. “I love top 40 stuff like Katy Perry and Gaga when it’s on in the car, but I guess I’m kind of a music-less musician.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.