Investigation clears gay Fort Worth teacher

Kristopher Franks set to return to work Friday after 4-day leave stemming from allegations of improper behavior

FWISD School board member Carlos Vasquez

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Gay Western Hills High School teacher Kristopher Franks, put on paid administrative leave on Monday, Sept. 26, following allegations of improper behavior, has been cleared of all allegations and was set to return to work today (Friday, Sept. 30).

Franks is the teacher who  became the target of ire from the religious right after he sent a student in his German 1 class to the principal’s office for saying in class that as a Christian he believed “homosexuality is wrong.” The school’s assistance principal then suspended the student, setting off a controversy that made headlines around the country.

That student, freshman Dakota Ary, and his mother enlisted the assistance of Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Krause in fighting the suspension on the grounds that Franks and the school had violated Ary’s right to freedom of speech.

District officials quickly reversed their decision, lifting the suspension.

But Steven Poole, deputy executive director for the United Educators Association of Texas, a teachers union, said Tuesday, Sept. 27, that the allegations leading to Franks being put on leave were unrelated to the incident with Ary.

Franks, who had not spoken to the press previously on the advice of his union representative, said Thursday afternoon that he had just met with Fort Worth Independent School District administrators, who told him the nearly weeklong investigation had determined that the allegations against him were unfounded. He did not elaborate on the substance of those allegations.

Franks also said administrators had given him the option of returning to teach at Western Hills High or transferring to another school in the district.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Franks told Dallas Voice by phone Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, and I will talk to my boss [the district’s world languages supervisor], and see what she says and decide what’s the best thing to ­do from there.”

FWISD Board of Trustees member Dr. Carlos Vasquez told Dallas Voice in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 28, that any time allegations are made against a teacher, those allegations have to be investigated, and it is routine for the teacher in question to be placed on paid administrative leave.

Franks said Thursday that he was pleased with the outcome of the investigation, carried out by an independent investigator, and that interim FWISD Supt. Walter Dansby was “very nice” when they spoke.

“I think they did the right thing,” Franks said. “I can go back to work, which is great. But now I just have to figure out how to fix the damage this whole thing has done to my personal life.”

Franks said since the investigation is closed, he is no longer being represented by a union attorney. He has, instead, retained the services of attorney Stephen Gordon to “represent me on any aspects of this whole thing going forward.”

He also indicated that he and Gordon would be discussing what possible actions he might take against “those people who have lied and made false allegations against me.”

While Franks had previously declined to speak to the media, Daokta Ary, his mother and Krause as their attorney went immediately to the press, telling their side of the story in several TV interviews and saying Franks and the school had violated the student’s right to freedom of speech. The case quickly became a rallying point for the religious right.

Krause this week told Dallas Voice that he and his clients are satisfied with school officials’ decision to rescind the unexcused absences the suspension left on Ary’s record, but “we would still like for them [school officials] to completely vindicate him and say that he did nothing wrong. He should never have been written up for an infraction. He should never have been sent to the office, and he should never have been suspended.”

Ary said in  media interviews that he made the comment quietly to a classmate sitting next to him in response to a discussion going on in the class at the time.

Dakota Ary

But Franks told friends shortly after the incident that there was no discussion involving homosexuality at the time, and that Ary made the comment loudly while looking directly at Franks.

Franks also told friends that the comment was only the latest in an ongoing series of incidents in which Ary and a group of three of his friends have made anti-gay comments to and about him.

Franks told friends that the harassment by Ary and his friends began several weeks ago after Franks, who also teaches sociology, posted on the “World Wall” in his classroom a photo, taken from the German news magazine Stern, of two men kissing. The photo was ripped off the wall and torn in two at some point during Ary’s class, and Franks told friends he believes that Ary or one of his friends tore up the photo.

During a later sociology class students upset that the photo had been torn up replaced it with a hand-drawn picture, and another student then covered that picture with a page bearing a hand-written biblical scripture from Leviticus calling sex between two men an abomination.

Franks told friends that since that incident, Ary and his friends had continued to make derogatory and harassing comments.

Franks’ friends also said that the teacher, a Fulbright scholar, has been the target of anti-gay harassment for at least the last two years, including having hateful messages left in his classroom and, in one case, having his car vandalized.

FWISD teacher Martin Vann, spokesman for the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. that was formed about a year ago to help protect students and teachers in the district from anti-gay discrimination and bullying, said that Franks told his version of the incident last week, before the current investigation was launched and Franks was required to sign a statement saying he would not discuss the incident with other teachers, administrators, parents or students. Vann said Franks denied getting angry and yelling at Ary, as Ary had said, and reiterated that Ary’s comments were not pertinent to any discussion in the class at the time.

Vann said Franks told him that another student had asked him what the German word for “Christian” was, and how, if he moved to Germany, he could find an English translation of the Bible. That’s when, Franks told Vann, Ary looked directly at him and said loudly that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong.

It was not, Franks told Vann, a simple statement of belief or opinion but rather an intentional effort to insult and harass the teacher that Ary perceived to be gay.

Krause this week again said that Ary did not direct his remark in class that day at Franks, and that Ary had nothing to do with tearing down the photo of the men kissing.

The attorney also said that Ary told him he did not know to whom Franks was referring when he talked about Ary’s “three friends.”

The Franks case comes in the wake of months of scandal over allegations by teachers that administrators routinely allowed some teachers and administrators to harass and bully students and other teachers, and that teachers who complained often faced retaliation.

Vasquez, who is openly gay, said Wednesday that he believed the Franks investigation would be fair, that he would watch the situation closely “to make sure all the proper procedures are followed,” and that he believed Dansby would handle the situation fairly.

“Considering all the problems we’ve had, I know he [Dansby] will be watching this closely,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said it is the school district’s responsibility to make sure there is “no harassment in our schools, whether it’s from the teacher to the student, or student to student or even student to teacher. I know that happens, sometimes, too.

“There should be no harassment whatsoever in our schools,” Vasquez , himself a former teacher, said.

Fort Worth ISD has been credited with having one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies in the state, having adopted individual policies within the last year to include prohibitions against harassment and bullying, including that based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, for both teachers and students.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Bryan Fischer: FW teacher is ‘pro-homosexual bigot’ who committed ‘hate crime’ against student

Bryan Fischer

As we noted earlier, there are now major questions about the accuracy of news reports from last week stating that a high school teacher in Fort Worth suspended a student simply for stating his belief that homosexuality is wrong. Needless to say, those questions haven’t stopped the religious right from running full speed ahead with the story, which was largely concocted by an attorney from the Liberty Institute in the first place.

During his radio show on Friday, American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer called the teacher in the case a “pro-homosexual bigot” who committed “a hate crime” against the student. Fischer also seized upon the fact that the incident took place in a German class — launching into a rant about his infamous theory that Hitler was gay and the Nazi party was started by homosexuals. Here’s a partial transcript of Fischer’s remarks, which you can watch below.

“What in the world is a German teacher doing talking about homosexuality in his classroom in the first place?” Fischer said. “Apparently the tenuous link was that the teacher brought up the subject of homosexuality in Germany. And this brings up what I mentioned to Matt Krause [the Liberty Institute attorney who's representing the student], does this German teacher tells his students in German class that Adolf Hitler was a homosexual, that he developed a police record as a homosexual prostitute on the streets of Vienna? Doe this German teacher, when the subject of homosexuality in Germany comes up, does he tell his students that the the Nazi party started in a homosexual bar in Munich? Does this teacher tell his students that virtually all of the brown shirts — the storm troopers who were Hitler’s thugs and enforcers — that virtually all of them were homosexuals? Does he tells his students that students in German schools today are taught these things because they never want a repeat of the Nazi horror? And that’s why I say this illustrates a point that I’ve often made, that we have to come to grips with the simple truth that we’re going to have to choose between the homosexual agenda and freedom, because we cannot have both.”

—  John Wright

It’s not easy being ‘Green’

First-time filmmaker Steve Williford teams with the Verizon Guy (seriously!) for ‘The Green,’ a movie about homophobia and suspicion

Jason_Butler_Harner_and_Cheyenne_Jackson
IDYLLS OF THE QUEENS | A quiet couple (Dallas theater veteran Jason Butler Harner and ‘30 Rock’s’ Cheyenne Jackson) becomes immersed in controversy when one is accused of an affair with a teen in the USA Film Festival entry ‘The Green.’

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

Although Steve Williford never felt any homophobia directed at him when he lived in southwestern Indiana, his perception of what others thought of him as a gay man was something that stuck with him for many years. At dinner parties and social events, his sexuality was a subject that came up often, usually as a result of others’ curiosity.

“Months went by and I started to wonder if I was the poster boy for gay,” he says. “I always wondered what would happen if something in my life happened that brought my sexuality to the forefront, like if I was at a party and kissed my partner.”

That question would eventually lead him to his first feature film as a director, The Green, currently on the festival circuit and screening at USA Film Festival Saturday. The screenplay is written by Paul Marcarelli, best known as Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” guy, who recently came out publicly.

The story they ended up with concerns a high school teacher, played by Jason Butler Harner, who is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. It causes tension with the teacher’s partner, played by out Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson (also known for his recurring roles on 30 Rock and Glee), and in the community.

Williford directed nearly 150 episodes of the recently axed soap opera All My Children from 2004 to 2011, but his background is in theater (he directed a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s at Dallas’ Park Cities Playhouse, back when it was called the Plaza Theatre). So it’s not surprising that his cast is filled with actors who come from the theater world, too — not just Jackson, but Harner, who played Hamlet at the Dallas Theater Center in 2003. That may explain why Williford’s film has something in common with several plays, notably Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.27.05 PM“We’re a proud cousin of all of those works,” Williford says. “We are trying to examine a situation that can illustrate to us how slippery truth and clarity really is and how quickly it can slip away from us.”

“Paul and I are both big lovers of ambiguity to a certain degree,” he adds. “I had always modeled this story in my heart and mind on what I love about the Chekhov short stories: We leave certain things open and free to be interpreted. For the bulk of the story, you’re really not sure if he has done what he’s being accused of, but there are some significant issues that do get resolved, quite clearly I think.”

And of course, he knows the audience won’t trust if they don’t believe in the relationship as portrayed by Harner and Jackson, and takes a dramatic turn from the comic roles he has done on TV.

“I completely believe in Jason and Cheyenne as a couple. That’s one of my complaints when I see LGBT couples represented in film: I feel like there’s a link missing a little bit. I don’t feel that way about them, in the work environment or what has come together for the film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Gay teen defends suspended teacher

Perhaps you’ve heard about the case of Jay McDowell, the high school teacher in Michigan who was suspended without pay after he kicked two students out of class for making anti-gay comments. Dozens of people packed a school board meeting in Howell, Mich., on Monday to express their support for McDowell, and they included 14-year-old Graeme Taylor. Watch Graeme’s remarkable speech to the school board above.

—  John Wright

Opening ‘Closets’

Patrick Moseley’s debut novel also begins a new chapter in his (gay) life

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Patrick Moseley
ADVENTURE OUTING | North Texas teacher and first-time novelist Patrick Moseley comes (further) out of the close with his new book. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

When closets become a recurring theme in a gay novel, let’s just say it’s fair to think the author is working through some issues. With Locked in Closets and Other Fairy Tales, Dallas author Patrick Moseley has not only written his first book, but also takes a leap of faith as a gay man.

“I think we create culture that forces people into the closet and forces them into the recklessness,” he says. “Society still drives or keeps people into those places.”

This is an issue he’s dealt with all of his 36 years — until recently. He has been slowly coming out for a while, but Closets could be his rainbow moment. If only it were that easy.
“It’s one of those complicated things,” he says. “I know I can’t get fired for my orientation and if I’m out, there isn’t so much that can be done about it. But it does complicate things. So I just don’t make those issues at school.”

Moseley is a high school teacher, so his outness has to be, well, different. As an educator, the gay thing can demand a delicate balance. Moseley knows he’s a good teacher and has found success as a coach, but even a slight misstep could affect his career. He experienced a kind of quiet discrimination at his last school, so he remains on guard.

“Because I teach and coach, I tend to be more discreet than others,” he says. “I worked in a very conservative district. I was moved out of my head coaching position with the intention that I’d leave. There are things I don’t talk about but I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding. And I wouldn’t discuss [being gay] with a student at school anyway.”

In Closets, the reader follows Roger, a 70-something gay man who has so locked himself away from life that he crashes into other people’s lives. But how does a 30-something come close to relating a septugenarian’s gay life story and drag queen adventures?

“Roger and I have experienced a lot of the same things,” Moseley says. “All the characters interweave with what I’ve dealt with, especially that fear of taking the next step. I feel like the book exposed me and I lost some things that were important to me. The sadness of the characters and their fear is by far mine.”

Funny, since the original intention was for the book to comedic. Conjuring Monty Python, he based his title on the notion that locking yourself away was prevalent. As he proceeded, Roger’s tale went into darker territories.

“I liked that idea of someone being locked in a tower and that fairy tale rescue kinda deal,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to lock ourselves in situations, but then closets become a theme in the book and not just dealing with the usual homosexual issue.”

Moseley’s personal experiences of growing up strongly religious, being outed at 24 and having to ask people to stop trying to fix him naturally found their way into his novel. He says that although it’s not Christian fiction, God becomes a dominant character as the characters do battle, trying to figure life out.

“One thing I struggled with along the way is figuring out how God plays into our sexuality,” he says. “I believe and always have that sexuality is created. How can He create you and tell you you’re no good?”

Questions like these seem to strike the author. Moseley has a fun-loving sense of self, but when he delves just a bit to deep, his eyes shift for a moment. He searches for an answer and in his eloquent way, finds one.

“Roger is learning to embrace himself. I guess at times, we hide and shy away from things that could have been great.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens