Jarrett, Holder vow to fight anti-gay bullying, hate crimes at White House conference in Arlington

Holden-Jarett

UNITED FRONT | U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett were keynote speakers Tuesday during the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities at the University of Texas at Arlington.

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

ARLINGTON — Hundreds of Texas educators, politicians and LGBT activists attended the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities to hear about the Obama administration’s efforts to fight bullying and prevent hate crimes and to discuss local progress.

The conference at the University of Texas at Arlington on Tuesday was the third in a series of eight LGBT conferences hosted by the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The first conference Feb. 16 in Philadelphia focused on LGBT health, and the second in Detroit on March 9 focused on LGBT housing and homelessness. The next five conferences are expected up until the end of June.

Two hour-long morning panels opened the conference, bringing together local, state and national leaders to discuss efforts to ensure safe schools and communities.

White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett was then introduced by Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, who told the story of how his “It Gets Better” speech in 2010 about being bullied and beaten up when he was 13 attending Crowley High School gained national attention.

“It changed my life in ways I could’ve never imagined, and it changed my life for the better,” Burns said of the video.

Burns added that Tuesday was also his 19th wedding anniversary with his husband, J.D. Angle, and he’s proud to “have a president and an administration that celebrates with us, one that gets us and one that actually honors our relationship.”

Jarrett called Burns “a leader in the fight against bullying,” and said efforts in Fort Worth and Dallas schools helped bring the conference to the area. She assured local leaders that the administration would help them.

“I know that you still face tremendous challenges as you implement your new policies and create an environment where those policies are fully embraced by the community, but you’ve already made great progress, and I know that working together, there are even better days ahead,” Jarrett said.

Recognizing the handful of students who attended, Jarrett asked them to stand, honoring them for their “courage and willingness to stand up for what’s right.”

Jarrett then shared personal stories of meeting others who had championed for change, such as Judy Shepard, who was set to speak at the close of the conference this afternoon, and Tammy Asberg. Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998.

Jarrett said she met Aaberg last year and heard her story of how she found her 15-year-old son Justin after he’d killed himself from the torment he’d received in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin student district for being gay. Aaberg now advocates for anti-bullying efforts.

“It’s people like Joel, people like Judy, people like Tammy who inspire President Obama, who motivate him, and who make him determined that his administration will do everything possible to fight for safe schools and safe communities for our children,” she said.

Saying that change rarely happens in Washington, Jarrett told the audience how Tempest Cartwright “changes the world around her” every day, bit by bit, and she called for the 18-year-old Oklahoma student to stand up. Jarrett explained how Cartwright refused to allow bullying in her high school to overcome her, pressing forward after losing friends and facing bullies to quadruple the size of the Gay Straight Alliance.

Jarrett said the administration has issued guidance to schools, colleges and universities to clarify that civil rights laws apply to bullying, and has helped states craft anti-bullying bills.

“Schools have not just a moral responsibility, but a legal responsibility to protect our young people from harassment,” she said, adding that the Obama administration supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act, federal legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBT harassment in public schools.

Jarrett then explained the resources and partnerships that have grown out of the fight against bullying.

Facebook launched a $200,000 digital citizenship research grant that rewards people who use technology to prevent bullying. MTV’s “Over the Line?” app allows students to share their bullying stories and combat those who instigate hateful environments in school.

And even Lady Gaga, who Jarrett met recently, launched the Born This Way Foundation.

“Every day we’re striving to do our part to make progress and I believe that day by day, step by step, we will change not just our laws and our policies, but our behavior, our attitudes, our tone, so that every young person is able to strive at school without worrying about people bullied,” she said.

Speaking after Jarrett, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder explained that the conference series is designed “to help shine the light on some of the unique challenges lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals face.”

Holder said the administration has “created a record we can all be proud of” in terms of protecting LGBT rights and “a sense of momentum that today we stand poised to build upon.”

“This morning I’m proud to join you in affirming a very simple truth and renewing this administration’s commitment, as well as my own, to an essential idea that no one, no one, deserves to be bullied, harassed or victimized because of who they are, how they worship or, and hear it when I say it now, or who they love,” Holder said.

Equal opportunity and equal justice under the law “are anything but novel concepts,” Holder said. “They are written into our founding doctrines.”

Since its creation in 1957, Holder said the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has been examining the motivation behind violent acts. The Department of Justice set a record last fiscal year with the number of hate crimes cases filed and the number of defendants charged, Holder said.

Since the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, seven cases have been indicted, 24 defendants have been charged and 18 have been convicted, Holder said.

Explaining that officials are constantly investigating hate crimes including those that target actual or perceived sexual orientation, Holder mentioned the hate crime in Northeast Dallas March 13 where two men in their 20s were beaten with baseball bats by five men because they were gay.

“When incidents like this occur, we want to hear about it,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure that justice is served.”

Sharing the tragic story of gay 13-teen-year-old Seth Walsh in California who hung himself in the fall of 2010 after years of physical, verbal and sexual harassment at school, Holder said that tools must be in place to prevent such incidents from happening.

Holder said the “It Gets Better” campaign is more than a slogan, but something the administration is backing up with “robust action,” like the five-year settlement with the Anoka-Hennepin school district reached March 5.

Holder called the settlement, which brought resolve for six students for the harassment they had endured for years, “a blueprint for sustainable reform.”

The administration is continuing to focus attention on LGBT youth with studies, outreach campaigns and support for the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Violence Against Women Act, Holder said, ensuring that equal justice under the law “is a guarantee for all time and for all Americans.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the conference continued with workshops presenting solutions to the problem of bullying in schools.

Bob Kim from the U.S. Department of Education said that Title IX, usually used to require equal funding for women’s sports on campuses, also covers gender nonconformity issues.

He also explained the Equal Access Act, passed under the Reagan administration with the support of religious groups that wanted access to school facilities, is what gives GSAs the right to meet on campus.

A variety of suggestions came from attendees. A college coach said that anti-bullying training for coaches who spend several years with the same group of students should be implemented by school districts serious about ending bullying.

Several teachers talked about having to argue with their school administrations to be allowed to come to the conference. Their principals didn’t see the connection between a White House conference on bullying in schools and teaching.

Cartwright, a GLSEN student leader from Broken Arrow, Okla., introduced Shepard at the closing plenary. Cartwright described herself as “ostracized by people I thought were friends.” But she said she is getting through school with the support of her parents.

“If my mom isn’t the best mom in the world, then the next person on stage is,” she said.

Shepard closed the White House conference by telling attendees, “You are who you are. You love who you love. That’s just the way it is.”

She described herself as the token Democrat living in Wyoming. She said that when she hears anti-gay talk, she comes out to that person.

“Call them to task,” she said. “We have to come out over and over and over again.”

She said the only difference between the LGBT and straight community is who they love.

Then she asked, “How does that matter to anyone else?”

Staff Writer David Taffet contributed to this report.

—  Dallasvoice

BTD beneficiary applications begin Feb. 1

30TH ANNIVERSARY | Nan Arnold and Ron Guillard chaired the 2010 Black Tie Dinner that distributed more than $1 million to 20 beneficiaries.

Organizers promise more announcements are coming soon about 30th annual dinner

From Staff Reports
editor@dallasvoice.com

Officials with Black Tie Dinner this week announced that the organization will begin accepting applications Feb. 1 from potential beneficiaries of the 30th annual event, set for Nov. 12 at Sheraton Dallas hotel.

Each year, money raised by the dinner is divided between the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and local beneficiary organizations. As many as 20 local beneficiaries are chosen each year.

Beneficiary applications will be available on the BTD website on Feb. 1, and the deadline for submitting applications is. Feb. 25.

The names of those organizations chosen as beneficiaries will be announced March 30.

Eligible groups must have tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status with the IRS and must demonstrate service to the LGBT community, using a majority of their funds for direct programs and services.

Officials also said this week that other announcements about plans for the 30th annual Black Tie Dinner can be expected in the next week.

The dinner began in 1982 when organizers donated about $6,000 to HRCF and has grown into the largest LGBT fundraising dinner of its kind in the country. More than $15 million has been distributed to beneficiaries since then.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin was the headliner of the 2010 Black Tie Dinner. Others that have appeared include Gov. Ann Richards, Maya Angelou, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Gavin Newsom.

The dinner committee honors individuals and corporations that have made contributions to the fight for LGBT rights both locally and nationally. Rev. Carol West and singer Chely Wright were 2010 recipients. Others have included Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Shepard and Bishop Gene Robinson.

Chris Kouvelis and Nan Arnold are this year’s Black Tie Dinner chairs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Judy Shepard statement on gay-bullying suicides

There’s a national conference call under way as we write this to coordinate vigils in honor of the four gay-bullying suicides of the last three weeks. Since we’re not taking part in the call, we figured we’d share this statement that just came across from Judy Shepard. We’ll update you on any plans for local vigils as soon as they’re announced. Shepard is, of course, the mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998. Here’s her statement:

Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide

Our family, and the staff and board at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, are all deeply saddened by the devastating report of at least the fourth gay or gay-perceived teen to commit suicide in this country in the last month.

Reports say that Tyler Clementi, 18, leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge near his New Jersey college campus after a roommate allegedly broadcast him in a same-sex encounter behind closed doors in his dorm room, and apparently invited others, via Twitter, to view it online. Regardless of his roommate’s alleged tweet, Tyler had apparently made no statement about his own sexual orientation. I’m sure we will all learn more about this terrible tragedy as legal proceedings unfold, but the contempt and disregard behind such an invasion of privacy seems clear. In the meantime, we send our thoughts and prayers to Tyler’s family as they mourn their loss.

In the last month there has been a shocking series of teen suicides linked to bullying, taunting, and general disrespect regarding sexual orientation, in every corner of America. Just a few days ago, Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., passed away after 10 days on life support after he hanged himself. Police say he had been mercilessly taunted by fellow students over his perceived sexual orientation.

Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself a few weeks ago at his Indiana home after years of reported harassment by students who judged him to be gay. Asher Brown, a 13-year-old in Harris, TX, who had recently come out, took his life with a gun after, his parents say, their efforts to alert school officials to ongoing bullying were not acted upon.

Many Americans also learned this week about Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old boy in Ohio who decided to join a cheerleading squad that had been all-female. As a gymnast, he was interested in the athletic elements of cheering. He was taunted with homophobic remarks and had his arm broken by two schoolmates who apparently assumed him to be gay. He told “Good Morning America” that since returning to school, he’s been threatened with having his other arm broken, too.

Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Suicide is a complicated problem and it is too easy to casually blame it on a single factor in a young person’s life, but it is clear that mistreatment by others has a tremendously negative effect on a young person’s sense of self worth and colors how he or she sees the world around them. Parents, educators and peers in the community need to be vigilant to the warning signs of suicide and other self-destructive behaviors in the young people in their lives, and help them find resources to be healthy and productive. We urge any LGBT youth contemplating suicide to immediately reach out to The Trevor Project, day or night, at (866) 4-U-TREVOR [866-488-7386].

Judy Shepard
President, Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors
September 29, 2010

—  John Wright

Baldwin named as BTD keynote speaker

First open lesbian member of Congress will appear at the Nov. 6 fundraising event for HRC

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor  nash@dallasvoice.com

Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Choosing speakers and award recipients for Black Tie Dinner each year requires a delicate balancing act between big names with the drawing power of celebrity and deserving individuals who can “speak to the issues of the LGBT community,” Black Tie co-chairs Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold explained.

In 2009, the dinner committee brought in a slate of LGBT allies who hit that mark well: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as keynote speaker, Judy Shepard, mother of anti-gay-hate-murder victim Matthew Shepard as the Elizabeth Birch Award winner and singer/songwriter/activist Cyndi Lauper as the Media Award winner.

Each of them, the co-chairs said, not only had the star power to draw attention, they also could — and did — speak eloquently on the community’s issues.

But while 2009 was “all about the allies,” this year it’s “all about the community,” Guillard said this week when he and Arnold announced the last two names in Black Tie’s list of award winners and speakers.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin Democrat who is the only out lesbian in Congress, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s annual fundraising gala, set for Nov. 6 at the Sheraton Dallas hotel.

And this year’s Media Award goes to country/western star and newly-out lesbian Chely Wright.

“It’s been mine and Nan’s mantra this year to ‘fill the room’ for Black Tie Dinner,” Guillard said. “We think that Rep. Baldwin and Chely Wright will certainly help us do that.”

Activist and businessman Mitchell Gold will also attend to present the Media Award to Wright.

Baldwin and Wright join a line-up of award winners and entertainers that already included the Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, as the Kuchling Memorial Award winner, American Airlines as the Elizabeth Birch Award winner and Broadway star Gavin Creel and Dallas’ own Turtle Creek Chorale to provide entertainment.

Guillard said organizers chose Baldwin as keynote speaker in recognition of her years of service in Congress and her status and the first openly LGBT person elected to office at the national level. (Although there were openly gay men in Congress before Baldwin was elected, they were not out when they were first elected, while Baldwin was.)

“Plus, we felt that, especially with the dinner happening the first weekend after the midterm elections on Nov.  2 and the fact that we could very possibly be facing a drastically changed political landscape, Tammy will be able to provide us with some very clear leadership and vision going forward,” Guillard said.

Arnold added, “She can do that for us regardless of the outcome of the elections. Last year, Gavin Newsome very clearly spoke to our community. But he is not gay. Tammy Baldwin can not only speak to the LGBT community, she is the LGBT community.”

Baldwin, who is out of the country, sent a statement via her office. She said:

“I’m simply delighted to have been invited to deliver the keynote at this year’s Black Tie Dinner. After a tough election season, it will be a pleasure to relax among DFW friends and celebrate how far we’ve come in our quest for LGBT equality. It’s also a night to show our support for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the many local organizations that serve the north Texas LGBT community. On top of all that, the musical entertainment sounds great, so I’m really looking forward to the evening.”

Voters in Wisconsin’s Second District first elected Baldwin to Congress in 1999, after she had spent several years in the state’s legislature. Since then, Baldwin has co-founded and co-chaired the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and in 2009 she helped lead the successful effort to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act.

Baldwin has also worked for passage of a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes protections for transgender people and full repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

She is the author of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and the first comprehensive approach to improving all areas of the health-care system where LGBT Americans face inequality and discrimination.

Although Wright is “clearly in a very commercial business,” Guillard said, he and Arnold said they were impressed by the singer’s consistent efforts, since she came out, to help LGBT youth “who are being taught they are damaged goods.”

“She makes the point, time and again, that country music is right in the heart of Middle America, a more blue collar audience, and those [LGBT] children, those families, really need someone to identify with,” Guillard said.

“She goes out of her way to say that it’s important to her to not only be her whole self but to also reach out and be a role model to young people who are struggling to come out,” he said. “She hasn’t been out very long, true, but it was the consistency of that message and her obvious passion for it that made us choose her.”

Arnold said that Wright’s decision to come out is “creating an opportunity for the voices of acceptance and equality to be heard.”
(For more about Wright, read Rich Lopez’s interview with her on Page 1.)

Gold is the founder of the nonprofit organization Faith in America, which is dedicated to educating people about how religious-based bigotry is used to justify anti-LGBT discrimination, will present the Media Award to Wright, who recently joined the board of Faith in America.

Gold, chairman and founder of the furniture manufacturer Mitchell Gold Company, has also authored “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” and books on home furnishings.

Arnold said Black Tie organizers are “ahead of where we were at this time last year” in terms of ticket sales for the fundraiser.

“We are focused on filling the room, and it definitely looks like we are headed in that direction,” she said.

Guillard said, “We are doing a lot of innovative things this year to fill the room — happy hours, using Facebook a lot more to attract new people.

“There was a time when our whole community was galvanized by AIDS and by the oppression we faced. But with Black Tie ending its third decade now, we realize that reaching a new, younger audience requires using new tools. And we are doing that,” he said.

Arnold said organizers have also focused this year on making sure that the dinner’s beneficiaries remember that “this dinner is for them. They are why we do this.”

Guillard noted, “We want to fill the room, because when you get down to the basics, filling the room means maximizing the dollars for our beneficiaries.”

The announcement of Baldwin as keynote speaker and Wright as Media Award winner came Thursday night, Aug. 5 during an announcement party held at Park Place Motorcars on Lemmon in Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens