Spectrum again seeks LGBT senator at SMU

Members of gay student group speak out after registrar cuts off talks over diversity seat proposal

SEEKING REPRESENTATION  |  Spectrum members, from left, Jessica Barner, Eric Douglas, Danielle Palomo, Breanna Diaz, Jakob Schwarz and Kristen Baker-Fletcher outside an SMU Student Senate meeting this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

SEEKING REPRESENTATION  | Spectrum members, from left, Jessica Barner, Eric Douglas, Danielle Palomo, Breanna Diaz, Jakob Schwarz and Kristen Baker-Fletcher outside an SMU Student Senate meeting this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK — Progress toward an LGBT Student Senate seat at Southern Methodist University came to a halt last week when the school registrar cut off talks with Karen Click, director of the Women’s Center for Gender and Pride Initiatives.

“I need to put this project on hold for a while, as I don’t have the resources now,” Joe Papari, SMU’s director of enrollment services for student systems and technology, wrote in an email to Click.

Papari couldn’t be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, members of the LGBTQA student group Spectrum addressed the Student Senate to ask for help in restarting the talks about a Senate seat.

“Show how progressive our campus can be,” Spectrum President Harvey Luna urged the Senate.

Tom Elliott, who now works for the Travis County Democratic Party in Austin,  first brought the idea of an LGBT seat to the Senate in 2009 when he was a senior.

Elliot said when he served on the Senate’s Diversity Committee, it dealt with finding more resources for minorities and better ways to recruit new students from those communities.

He thought that with the negative publicity SMU gets from the Princeton Review rating of the school as one of the 20 most homophobic campuses in the U.S., an LGBT senator would send a positive signal to potential incoming students that while the student body remains conservative and seems lacking in diversity, everyone is actually welcome at SMU.

The Princeton ranking is based on student surveys. In many ways, SMU doesn’t fit the profile of other schools on the list. SMU is the only school on the list with inclusive nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner benefits for employees, sanctioned LGBT student groups and openly gay faculty and staff who are embraced by the administration.

In December 2009, the Student Senate voted against adding the LGBT diversity seat. The vote was 19-19, but a three-fourths majority was needed to pass the resolution that would have then gone to the entire student body for a vote.

But the perception of the school remains one where gays and lesbians are not welcome, according to members of Spectrum who believe that a diversity seat would help change that.

Last year, Spectrum again urged the Senate to add the seat but they again voted it down citing the difficulty in identifying LGBT students and uncertainty about how many students the senator would represent.

“They were concerned with numbers,” said Spectrum member Eric Douglas. “They threw out 150 as a number.”

He laughed at the idea that on a campus with 11,000 students, fewer than 150 would be LGBT.

Senate Secretary Martha Pool said that there’s concern about double representation and questioned all diversity seats.

“Special interests are supposed to have liaisons,” she said. “There’s supposed to be a senator [assigned to] every student group. That way, everyone is fairly represented.”

However, no one from Spectrum who attended the Senate meeting on Tuesday had ever met a senator assigned to their group.

Spectrum member Kristen Baker-Fletcher objected to the idea that a senator who isn’t a member of the LGBT community could represent those students well.

She mocked the idea, characterizing it as, “We have efficient people who can speak for you.”

Spectrum’s activist chair Breanna Diaz said that a diversity senator would represent all LGBT students, not just the few who belong to one of the school’s several gay groups. She said an LGBT representative would bring issues to the Senate that aren’t currently being addressed, including health, mental health and safety.

Diaz said a major concern from last year seems to be resolved. In talks with the registrar, an optional slot could be added to the online student information profiles. Students could indicate their sexual orientation or gender identity on a confidential page. Those who self-identified as members of the LGBT community could vote for the diversity senator but wouldn’t have to belong to a campus LGBT organization.

Several senators asked whether a resolution to the registrar would make a difference.

Spectrum member Jakob Schwarz said, “The only leg the registrar’s office can stand on is that students don’t want it. A resolution by the Student Senate would be an indication of students do want.”

Click wasn’t sure that registration on the campus database was necessarily the answer.

“Is this the one stumbling block?” Click asked, adding that she doesn’t know the answer.

Click said the question of who would vote for the LGBT seat is complicated since a lot of allies attend Spectrum, many LGBT students don’t belong to any of the campus groups, and reaching out to them all is difficult because of the transience of an undergraduate population.

“There’s no easy fix,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Performance artist John Michael performs solo show tonight at Magnolia Lounge

Last May, John Michael completed his junior year at Oklahoma State University, where he was the recipient of a grant from the LGBT student group to produce a show about coming out while working at McDonald’s. Now, Texas has him: Michael transferred to U.T. Dallas in August, to study with Fred Curchack. And in just three months’ time, he already has a show being produced.

I hate guys like this.

Well, not really; I’m just hugely jealous. Which is a good thing. The show, 069, is being produced by Nouveau 47 Theatre in a one-night-only show. The performance will include an excerpt from his McDonald’s piece, Would You Like Guys with That? A McTolerant One-Man Show.

The show is at the Magnolia Lounge inside Fair Park starting at 7:30 p.m., and runs 70 minutes. Tickets are only $5 and it’s BYOB. Gotta love a play that encourages drinkin’.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Local youth plan Day of Silence observances

SILENT DAY | Members of Youth First Texas gathered at Rosa Parks Plaza in Downtown Dallas for the 2010 Day of Silence. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Youth First Texas to ‘break silence’ with candlelight vigil, dinner, dance

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

National Day of Silence takes on special meaning this year after a number of highly publicized suicides highlighted the bullying faced by LGBT youth in schools. The observance is held on Friday, April 15, this year.

During the day, hundreds of thousands of students nationwide bring awareness to the problem of bullying and harassment in schools by taking a vow of silence. Some wear tape over their mouths.

Participating students hand out cards to explain the reason for their silence. In less sympathetic school environments, some are silent only during lunch or before and after school. The event is organized nationwide by GLSEN.

Youth First Texas will hold a breaking the silence candlelight vigil at the YFT center at 5:30 p.m. Then they will go to Cathedral of Hope for dinner and a dance at the Interfaith Peace Chapel.

Last year, a group from YFT met at Rosa Parks Plaza in Downtown Dallas to break the silence. During the evening commute, they sat in a circle near the West End DART station with mouths taped and handed out information to those who stopped.

At University of Texas at Dallas, National Day of Silence will be observed at the Women’s Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.

At Southern Methodist University, students held a silent worship service followed by an open mike talent show sponsored by the LGBT student group Spectrum in the Hughes Trigg student center on Thursday in advance of the official day. Then on Friday they planned to set up a table in the middle of campus to hand out information silently about Day of Silence.

GLSEN advises students that they have a right to participate in Day of Silence between classes and before and after school but not necessarily in class.

According to a document for students prepared by Lambda Legal, the right to free speech includes the right to not speak. But free speech doesn’t necessarily extend to the classroom. If a teacher tells a student to answer a question during class, the student doesn’t have the constitutional right to refuse.

According to GLSEN, Day of Silence encourages schools to adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies. Staff needs to be trained to recognize anti-LGBT harassment and implement these policies.

Students are encouraged to form Gay-Straight Alliances on campus to address bullying at school. GLSEN works with GSAs and schools to create curricula to help students respect and understand differences within the school community.

This is the 15th year of Day of Silence, which started at the University of Virginia. Over the next few years, more schools began to participate and GLSEN took over the event in 2001.
GLSEN estimates that students in 10 percent of schools nationwide participate.

Ryan Schwartz of GLSEN’s national office in New York said that as of early this week, 362 students in Texas including participants from 12 schools in Dallas had already registered.

“There are usually dozens of students that participate for every one that registers,” he said.

Last year, 20,000 students registered with GLSEN, according to Schwartz, but hundreds of thousands participated.

GLSEN conducted a survey of 7,000 LGBT youth. Their research shows that bullying in middle and high schools has reached epidemic proportions. Four out of five LGBT students report being harassed because of their sexual orientation and two-thirds because of their gender identity.

The study also found that three out of five LGBT youth feel unsafe at school and a third have missed school over the last month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

—  John Wright

Pink Noise: The Dallas Voice Podcast

 

In this week’s episode, John Wright and Rich Lopez discussed the GSA controversy in Corpus Christi, Baylor University’s decision to deny the charter for an LGBT student group, anti-bullying bills in the Texas Legislature, Rich’s interview with Clay Aiken this week, Mardi Gras celebrations this weekend in Dallas, and more.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Leaders of gay student group at Baylor react to school’s decision to deny their charter

As we noted the other day, Baylor University has denied a charter for an LGBT student group called the Sexual Identity Forum. The university apparently doesn’t think college students are mature enough to talk about sexuality issues unless the discussion is “professionally facilitated,” whatever that means. Baylor has a policy prohibiting students from participating “in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” The Sexual Identity Forum, which insists it isn’t an advocacy group, plans to appeal the denial of its charter and will continue to meet informally in the meantime — at least until the administration tries to shut it down completely. Openly gay and extremely brave Baylor senior Samantha Jones, the president of the Sexual Identity Forum, tells News Channel 25 that she decided to launch the group after the school’s administration failed to respond to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose death was a wake-up call to gay students around the country: “We didn’t get an e-mail saying, ‘This is someone who you can approach if you’re struggling with this,’ …nothing,” Jones says.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Baylor U. denies charter for gay group, says forums should be ‘professionally facilitated’

Earlier today we told you about the new LGBT student group at Baylor University, called the Sexual Identity Forum. Shortly after our post went up, the group reported on its website that its charter has been denied by the school:

As of 1:53pm on March 2nd, 2011, we have been denied a charter. Student activities thinks that open forum discussion on sensitive topics such as those involving gender and sexuality are better handled by “professionally facilitated” organizations.

They don’t seem to realize that the frequency with which ”professionally facilitated” organizations host open forums is far less than the frequency with which students come up with questions about gender and sexuality or with which relevant politics develop. We are in the process of appealing this decision to Dr. Kevin Jackson.

Thank you for sticking with us through all of this–we won’t give up without a fight (and even then we won’t give up)! Remember, we are still meeting unofficially in the SUB Den on Thursday evenings, 8:30pm, without a charter.

 

—  John Wright

Students launch gay group at Baylor University

More than 50 students reportedly met last week to discuss forming an LGBT student group at Baylor University. (Baylor Lariat)

Patti Fink, a Baylor University alum who serves as president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, alerted us to this story from the Baylor Lariat newspaper about a new group for LGBT students at the Baptist school in Waco:

The group, named the Sexual Identity Forum, is in the process of applying to be an officially chartered student organization at Baylor, and its founding members expect a final decision on the chartering to be made before the end of the month.

Alvarado senior Samantha Jones, the organization’s president who affirmed during the meeting that she is openly gay, said she was motivated to start a discussion group because she believes the administration has not always been accepting of students with alternative sexual identities.

“I feel as though the student body in and of itself is very welcoming,” Jones said. “Everyone I’ve come out to or approached has been very welcoming and very compassionate and tolerant. I feel as though the high administration … refuses to recognize that there are gay students on campus, and they refuse to allow a group like this to exist.”

The story goes on to say that Baylor prohibits students from participating “in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” However, the university’s director of students services wouldn’t comment on whether the Sexual Identity Forum is likely to receive a charter.

This is a remarkable development at a school where Kenneth Starr is president and where, in the past, students have been expelled for being gay.

UPDATE: The group’s charter has been denied. Read more here.

—  John Wright

Genderqueer student Skye Newkirk among candidates for homecoming king at TCU

Skye Newkirk

We’ll have more on Andy Moreno — the transgender girl who’s reportedly been told she can’t run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School — in Friday’s Voice.

But for now we wanted to note that Skye Newkirk, a genderqueer student at Texas Christian University, is apparently running for homecoming king. Genderqueer is a catch-all term for gender identities other than male or female.

Newkirk declined to comment for this story because she said homecoming king candidates are barred from promoting their campaigns anywhere except on Facebook, which is where we learned about it.

Anyhow, it looks like the first round of voting for TCU homecoming king got under way today and will continue until midnight tonight. Then there’ll be more interviews Oct. 14 before final voting on Oct. 20 and 21. Voting is open only to TCU students.

If Newkirk wins, it will be interesting to see how the school handles it. If you’ll remember, she was at the center of a major flap last year over a gay dorm at TCU.

The winner will be announced at halftime of TCU’s home football game on Oct. 23 — when the Horned Frogs’ take on Air Force.

—  John Wright

More info on Saturday’s Prop 8 protest in Dallas

If you’re interested in helping out with Saturday’s Prop 8 protest in Dallas but couldn’t make last night’s organizational meeting, there’s plenty of contact info and volunteer opportunities after the jump.

—  John Wright