Asher Brown’s parents file federal lawsuit; CPS report raises questions about home environment

David and Amy Truong addressed members of the LGBT community who came from around Texas to lobby for anti-bullying laws on March 7. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The parents of Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from the Houston area who took his own life last fall after being bullied by classmates, are suing Hamilton Middle School and the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District for allegedly failing to respond to their complaints. Brown’s parents, Amy and David Truong, announced the federal lawsuit on the steps of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. From KHOU.com:

“If the bullies were held accountable for their actions, we wouldn’t be standing here right now,” said David Truong, Brown’s stepfather.

The lawsuit reveals details about their son being bullied over being gay and Buddhist.

It includes a claim that their son was kicked down two flights of stairs at school within a day of taking his life.

The lawsuit also claims that evidence of the family’s complaints was destroyed.

Cy-Fair ISD did not return phone calls requesting a comment about the lawsuit.

The Houston Chronicle reports that after Asher’s death, Texas Child Protective Services began investigating the Truongs’ care of Asher and his older brother, who had been hospitalized for mental illness a few weeks before Asher’s suicide.

CPS found that David Truong was a strict disciplinarian who forced the boys to kneel for hours at a time on a brick fireplace hearth, according to the Chronicle. Asher’s older brother told CPS officials that his stepfather once threatened the boys with guns and placed a gun in his mouth. Asher’s parents denied the CPS findings and said David Truong took the guns out to teach the boys about gun safety. They also say Asher’s home environment had nothing to with his death. CPS placed Asher’s older brother in foster care after his suicide.

Click here to download a copy of the Truongs’ lawsuit. Watch KHOU’s report below:

—  John Wright

Alleged serial killer linked to 5 strangulations in Houston, including two transgender women

Lucky Ward

Houston police have arrested a man they say is responsible for five murders last year, including two in which the victims were transgender women. Lucky Ward, 46, is a serial killer who targeted those he perceived as vulnerable, according to police.

Ward’s victims included Gypsy Rodriguez, 40, of Houston, a transgender woman who was found dead Sept. 13; and Myra D. Ical, 51, a trans woman who was found dead Jan. 18, 2010. Both women were murdered near Houston’s heavily LGBT Montrose area.

The Houston Chronicle has published a story that identifies Rodriguez and Ical by their male birth names, refers to them with male pronouns and calls them “men who dressed as women.” Meghan Stabler, a transgender activist from Houston, said on her Facebook page that she’s asked the newspaper to correct the story.

—  John Wright

Asher Brown’s suicide inspires ‘Bring Your Gay Teen to Church’ event in Houston

LGBT-affirming churches in the Houston area are participating in “Bring Your Gay Teen to Church” on Sunday, which aims to counter negative messages gay youth often receive from religion. The Houston Chronicle reports:

“We think it’s important for families to know there’s a safe place to go to worship,” said Jim Bankston, senior minister at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. “Families who have gay members want to make sure they feel welcome in church and aren’t bashed in any way.”

Joanna Crawford, a seminary student at the Houston Graduate School of Theology, said the idea came up after the suicide last fall of Asher Brown, a Cypress-area eighth-grader who killed himself after what his parents said were years of bullying and taunts that he was gay.

It is a project of the Houston Clergy Council, formed last year to allow churches to work together on shared concerns.

“None of us knew Asher, but we felt if we could get families into our churches, where they have support, where they feel loved for who they are, not in spite of it, something good could come of that,” Crawford said.

Organized religion has had a complicated relationship with homosexuality.

To see a full list of churches participating and learn more about the event, go here.

—  John Wright

House GOP caucus endorses Straus for speaker; LGBT community breathes sigh of relief

Although more conservative factions in the state had been calling for the ouster of Rep. Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House, the House Republican Caucus today endorsed Straus — known as a moderate Republican — for the seat.

Rep. Joe Straus

That news comes as something of a relief for LGBT advocates who had feared that someone further to the right would be chosen as speaker and given the chance to control the legislative agenda. Back in November, Reps. Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney both announced they were running for speaker. Chisum has long been known as one of the most anti-gay members of the House, routinely introducing and/or supporting bills on such topics as preventing LGBT people from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Chisum also was the primary author of the constitutional amendment passed in 2005 to ban same-sex marriage in Texas. Paxton was a co-author of the amendment and also voted in favor of banning LGBT foster and adoptive parents.

Among those fighting the hardest to defeat Straus’ bid for another term as speaker were leaders of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum, who had warned lawmakers the group would base half its score for legislators on who they supported for speaker. Others who have been outspoken in opposing Straus are Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford, Heritage Alliance President Richard Ford and Texas Eagle Forum founder Cathie Adams.

And in December, The Texas Observer reported that John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said he was campaigning against Straus — who is Jewish and attends a synagogue that supports LGBT rights — because, “I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office.” Cook also accused Straus of being pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

The Houston Chronicle reported today that 70 of the 100 lawmakers attending the House Republican Caucus meeting today voted to back Straus for speaker. The Chronicle report noted that the caucus vote is non-binding but “virtually guarantees Straus’ re-election Tuesday when the Texas Legislature opens a new session.”

—  admin

Brutal stabbing shocks Houston’s Montrose area

Aaron Scheerhoorn

A 28-year-old man was brutally stabbed to death in a parking lot in the heart of Houston’s heavily gay Montrose area late Friday night. Police say the suspect, described as clean cut and tidy, chased down the victim in the 700 block of Pacific before stabbing him multiple times and calmly walking away. From the Houston Chronicle:

Authorities do not yet have a motive in the killing — or any evidence it was a hate crime — but several people witnessed the attack, in which the victim was stabbed in the chest, abdomen, forearm, left side and  hand, said Houston homicide Sgt. W. Meeler.

“It was brutal. We think there was some sort of confrontation, and the (victim) ran away and was chased by the suspect and killed,” said Meeler, adding the suspect and victim likely did not know one another.

The victim, who was not identified, was attacked in the parking lot of a night club in the 700 block of Pacific. Police, however, believe the two men were likely in the roadway when the altercation started, not inside the tavern.

KPRC Channel 2 reports that the stabbing occurred outside Blur Bar at 710 Pacific St. and was witnessed by security and patrons. The station reports that witnesses described the attacker as a black man wearing a colored turtleneck.

From the Associated Press:

Police said after the stabbing that they were talking to businesses near the scene to determine whether any had surveillance video that could help the investigation. Police spokesman John Cannon on Saturday told The Associated Press he had no information on how that effort has gone.

Although the victim was attacked in the parking lot, police believe he and his attacker were in the roadway when the altercation began and not inside the tavern. …

Cannon told the AP that a man ran to the door of the night club about 11:30 p.m. Friday, saying he had been stabbed. As he pleaded for help, Cannon said, a man wearing an orange turtleneck sweater and black pants approached the victim from behind and stabbed him several more times.

Meeler said investigators believe the man who did the stabbing took the knife with him because they did not find one at the scene.

Club patrons and security workers saw the attack, but Cannon said it’s not clear whether any of them tried to stop the stabbing or go after the assailant.

UPDATE: The victim has been identified as Aaron Scheerhoorn. Police say the incident was not a hate crime or a robbery, but may have been a crime of passion. The suspect, who remains at large, is described as a tall black man between the ages of 25 and 30.

—  John Wright

‘Things have changed, and it’s pretty wonderful’

Phyllis Frye appointed Texas’ 1st transgender judge by Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Brian Rogers  |  Houston Chronicle via The Associated Press

Phyllis Frye
Phyllis Frye

HOUSTON — Thirty years ago, Phyllis Frye, a longtime activist for LGBT causes, could have been arrested for wearing women’s clothing in the Houston City Council chamber.Frye, a transgender Houston attorney born as Phillip Frye, fought back tears last week as the mayor appointed her to a municipal bench in the same room where she helped repeal Houston’s “cross-dressing ordinance” in 1980.

“I almost started crying, because I remembered 31 years ago, in that very same chamber, I was subject to arrest,” Frye said.

The 63-year-old will hear traffic ticket cases and other low-level misdemeanor trials. Municipal judges are not elected, she noted.

Frye said she would be the first transgender judge in Texas. She knows of at least two transgender judges in other parts of the country.
Frye applied for the position several months ago and was vetted before being appointed by Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday, Nov. 17, with seven other new associate judges.

“I think she’s a great addition to our judiciary,” the mayor said. “I’m very proud I was able to nominate her, and she agreed to serve.”
Frye joins 43 other associate municipal judges and 22 full-time municipal judges.

“I don’t want to underplay this, because I understand it is very significant,” Frye said. “But I don’t want to overplay it either. I don’t want people to think I am anything other than an associate municipal court judge.”

Three decades ago Frye volunteered at City Hall where she worked to repeal an ordinance that allowed police to arrest men in women’s clothes and lesbians wearing fly-front jeans.

“Things have changed, and it’s pretty wonderful,” Frye said.

A graduate of Texas A&M, Frye was an Eagle Scout and an Aggie cadet. She also was a husband and a father.

Frye has practiced criminal defense law in Houston since 1986.

She now heads a six-lawyer firm and has parlayed her expertise in LGBT legal issues into a storied legal career — the latest chapter of which is her representation of Nikki Araguz, the transgender Wharton widow embroiled in a legal battle to receive part of her firefighter husband’s death benefits.

Parker’s critics seized on Frye’s appointment to say the mayor, who is a lesbian, is promoting a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender agenda.

“Phyllis Frye is a very well-known radical transgender activist,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, which represents about 300 churches.

“We don’t think it is consistent with the values of the vast majority of the people,” Welch said. “We think it is an anti-family lifestyle and agenda.”

Her appointment, however, was applauded by Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus.

“Phyllis Frye is a true icon in our civil rights movement,” said Kris Banks, Caucus president. “She is an internationally recognized pioneer, and the mayor is to be congratulated for her choice.”

Banks noted that Charles Spain, an openly gay attorney and chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification Issues of the State Bar, also was appointed as an associate municipal court judge. Josh Brockman, an openly gay attorney, was appointed as a hearings officer to resolve contested parking tickets.

New judges go through hours of state-mandated training. Frye said she expects to begin substituting for sitting judges in the spring.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Anti-gay bullying drives Houston teen to suicide; parents say school officials ignored complaints

Asher Brown

A 13-year-old in Houston committed suicide last week in response to anti-gay bullying at school, The Houston Chronicle reports.

The parents of eighth-grader Asher Brown say he was “bullied to death” after officials at Hamilton Middle School ignored their complaints:

Brown, his family said, was “bullied to death” — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said.

The 13-year-old’s parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.

David and Amy Truong said they made several visits to the school to complain about the harassment, and Amy Truong said she made numerous phone calls to the school that were never returned.

Asher Brown shot himself with his stepfather’s 9mm Beretta last Thursday. The Chronicle says Asher had come out as gay to his stepfather on the morning of his death. But KRIV-TV Channel 26 reports that Asher came out to his parents over the summer.

Unlike many states, Texas has no law that prohibits bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

—  John Wright

‘The same-sex marriage fight is just as much a transgender fight as it is (an LGB) fight’

Phyllis Randolph Frye

Phyllis Randolph Frye, the well-known transgender attorney from Houston whose clients include trans widow Nikki Araguz, sent out an e-mail Sunday slamming national gay-rights groups for ignoring the issue of “‘tranny’ same-sex marriage” in Texas.

Referencing an op-ed that appeared in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle about the Araguz case, Frye notes that in the six weeks since the story broke, few people have gotten behind her client’s legal fight. Nikki Araguz is seeking to receive death benefits for her husband, Thomas Araguz III, a Wharton firefighter who was killed in the line of duty early last month. But Thomas Araguz’s family has sued to deny Nikki Araguz those benefits, arguing that their marriage was void because she was born a man, since Texas’ prohibits same-sex marriage.

“Why is it that the Prop 8, same-sex marriage fight in CA and the DOMA same-sex marriage fight in the Northeast are BOTH so well funded by lesbian and gay groups and lesbian and gay individuals, but the same-sex marriage fight in Texas has been thus far supported ONLY by a small number of mostly transgenders plus three LGBT-allied churches, mostly in Houston, all in Texas?” Frye wrote.

“Where is the same national support given for the L and G same-sex marriage struggles?” she added. “Has it remained nonexistent for over six weeks now because this Texas fight is insignificantly and merely a ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fight, so who nationally gives a shit? Then are we a National LGBT-inclusive community, but NOT when it comes to financing the ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fights? From here, it seems to me — still —  that the national L and G groups and the big bucks L and G attitudes haven’t really changed very much. FOLKS, IT IS TIME YOU FIGURED IT OUT THAT THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE FIGHT IS JUST AS MUCH A TRANSGENDER FIGHT AS IT IS A LESBIAN, GAY AND BISEXUAL FIGHT.”

—  John Wright

Do e-mails, witness statement prove that Nikki Araguz’s husband knew she was transgender?

As Nikki Araguz continues her battle to receive death benefits, lawyers for the transgender widow have asked that the lawsuit against her be dismissed. On Monday, they released copies of e-mails between Nikki and Thomas Araguz written on the day of her transition surgery, Oct. 7, 2008. The e-mails appear to refute claims by Araguz’s family that Thomas Araguz didn’t know his wife was transgender.

The e-mails said:

Thomas Araguz: “What can i say to make you feel better? The only thing I known (sic) is ‘I LOVE YOU.’ Trevor and Tyler miss you dearly, they love you with all their little heats. (sic) Today has been a hell of day, would you agree? After taking (sic) to you, I called my mother and law (sic) to let her known (sic) the good news, about your opt. An (sic) you know she spead (sick) the good news all the world. HEY I TO GO I A HOUSE FIRE. ILU”

Nikki Araguz: “My sweet husband, I LOVE YOU. It has been a day heck and also God answered prayers. I love you so much. We can now move on with the rest of our livrs (sic)…I just got this thing to work somehow and the pain lady came in and gave me morphine…si I am fading fast. You are my best friend, and Praise God fro (sic) you…this is wild that little thing is gone…I think I am supposed to see it for the first timr (sic) tomorrow….Imiss my boys too…Have a great day at school tomorrow…Love you sweet wife, Mrs. Nikki Araguz”

Read more here from FoxNews.com. Also, the Houston Chronicle reports that the Transgender Foundation of America released a statement from a woman who says she saw Thomas Araguz accompany Nikki to an appointment at a transgender clinic in 2007.

The parents and ex-wife of Thomas Araguz, a volunteer firefighter in Wharton who died while battling a blaze last month, have taken Nikki to court, saying that Thomas never knew Nikki was transgender and that their marriage was not valid. They want all of his $600,000 estate to go to his parents, ex-wife and his two sons from his first marriage.

The family argues that the marriage between Thomas and Nikki was never valid, whether Thomas knew she was trans or not, because Texas law considers Nikki a man, despite the transition, and the state does not recognize same-sex marriage. Nikki’s attorney, Phyllis Frye, however, points to a change in state law that took effect last year that recognizes a sex-change as a form of identification to get a marriage license. Frye says that Thomas and Nikki had, at the very least, a legally recognized common-law marriage.

David Woods, who writes as the “Houston Libertarian Examiner” on Examiner.com, says he has a way to settle the matter. Consider the marriage a contract between Thomas and Nikki, and keep the government out of it altogether.

He writes, in part:

“When it comes down to it, ‘marriage’ is all about love, sex, and romance. What in the world is the State of Texas doing regulating love, sex, and romance? Shouldn’t that be between the partners and God (or if they don’t believe in God, then just between the partners)? Why do politicians, bureaucrats, and judges need to enter this picture?

“One might answer that a marriage partnership does have legal ramifications because it is also a legal contract involving matters such as property dissolution, survivor benefits, and medical decisions. Ok, good point. After all, the enforcement of contracts is a legitimate function of government.

“But there should be no difference between a ‘marriage’ contract, and any other kind of contract, regardless of the relationship between the parties or the reason for the contract. A contract is a contract is a contract, as far as the government is concerned. The word ‘marriage’ is irrelevant and immaterial, and should be stricken from any legal document or statute.

“So, if two (or more) people want to ‘marry,’ that’s their personal business, not the state’s. If they choose to sign a legal contract, the courts will honor it, but keep the word ‘marriage’ out of the discussion. And when we change the law to reflect this simple concept, then courtroom fights such as Mrs. Araguz’s will be history.”

Now, I would say there could still be some conflict and court cases if, as in the case, one party (the family) claims that another party (Nikki Araguz) wasn’t honest and tricked the other person into signing the contract under a false pretense. Still, I think Mr. Woods has the right idea: If marriage is “sacred” and people oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, then take the government out of the marriage business.

—  admin

Fallen fireman’s ex-wife calls press conference to slam transgender widow Nikki Araguz

Heather Delgado, the ex-wife of fallen Texas firefighter Thomas Araguz III, held a press conference Thursday (video above) during which she slammed Araguz’s transgender widow, Nikki Araguz:

“She’s all about publicity and it’s been all about her from the beginning. And basically, she needs to understand it’s not only about her,” Delgado said.

Delgado and Thomas Araguz’s parents are trying to block Nikki Araguz from receiving death benefits. They allege that Thomas and Nikki Araguz’s marriage is void because she was born a man.

Earlier this week, The Houston Chronicle reported that Thomas Araguz testified during a deposition in March that he didn’t know his wife was transgender. Thomas Araguz’s deposition was part of a custody dispute involving his two sons with Delgado, who was seeking to keep the boys away from Nikki:

“That deposition is a lie,” Nikki Araguz said from her Wharton home Monday night.

“At the time, Thomas and I thought it was in the best interest of our children to lie. They were the center of (our) lives,” she said.

—  John Wright