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

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle to sign copies of book on LGBT hate crime victims at COH on Sunday

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle

From PR guru Kris Martin:

What: The Interfaith Peace Chapel hosts a lecture by the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle on his new book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims. The lecture will be followed by a DFW panel discussion and community dialogue on the violence and murder of Americans because of their sexual orientation or gender presentation.

Who: Stephen Sprinkle, author of Unfinished Lives, is changing the conversation on LGBTQ hate crimes and showing how bodies matter. Sprinkle is associate professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School, and theologian in residence at Cathedral of Hope. There will be a lecture, book signing and panel discussion, with a reception to follow.

When: Sunday, March 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Cost: Free of charge.

Where: Interfaith Peace Chapel , at the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ
5910 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, TX  75235. http://www.interfaithpeacechapel.org

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

Valentine’s dance set for GSAs

LULAC Rainbow Council is partnering with Youth First Texas to host “Love Conquers All Ball,” a special Valentine’s weekend dance for gay straight alliances in Dallas and Collin counties.

The “Love Conquers All Ball,” will be held Saturday, Feb. 12, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. GSA students, Youth First Texas members and LGBTQ teens ages 14 to 18, are invited. Chaperones will check I.D. at the door. A $2 donation will be requested and donations will go toward The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth. For information, call 214-879-0400.

TREE staging LGBT awareness week

Trinity River Equality in Education presents “a week celebrating the LGBTQA community at TCC [Tarrant Community College] Trinity River Campus” Feb. 14-17.

On Monday, Feb. 14, there will be a tree dedication ceremony at Trinity River Plaza, on the patio across from the bookstore, at 12:30 p.m., an on Wednesday, Feb. 16, English faculty and Justin Brumit present a discussion of William B. Turner’s A Genealogy of Queer Theory ay noon in TREF 1402.

On Thursday, Feb. 17, there will be a TREE panel discussion, “A Conversation About LGBTQA Youth in our Community,” from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Action Suite, fourth floor TR. Also on Thursday, there will be a reception featuring the LGBTQA artists participating in the Synergy Art Show, at 5:30 p.m. in the TR Art Gallery, TREF 1311.

Ongoing exhibits include a LGBTQA books and film display in the library, TREF, 2302; and the Gay Straight Alliance’s poster display at the TR Campus.

For more information contact the Student Life Center at 817-515-1197.

TWCOD holding open rehearsals

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas will hold open rehearsals for women interested in joining the chorus on Monday, Feb. 14, and Monday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. both nights. Interested singers are invited to sit in on a rehearsal, meet with members of the chorus and learn more about becoming a member.

Prior experience or the ability to read music is not a requirement for membership. Regular season rehearsals are held every Monday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Sammons Center for the Arts, 3630 Harry Hines Blvd. Members are expected to attend every rehearsal. The chorus performs a season of three concerts annually, and this season will perform at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center as well as a special concert at the Texas Discovery Gardens.

To sign up for one of the open rehearsals, call 214-520-7828 or e-mail at twcdoffice@twcd.org.

GAIN holding Valentine’s social

GAIN, a program of Resource Center Dallas that provides learning, social and entertainment opportunities for LGBT seniors, will hold its second annual Valentine’s Social Thursday, Feb. 17, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Good Eats Restaurant, 3888 Oak Lawn Ave. The event will include heavy hors d’ouevres and a cash bar.

For more information, call 214-528-0144 or e-mail gain@rcdallas.org.

TDWCC holds February meeting

The next general meeting of Texas Democratic Women of Collin County will be Monday, Feb. 28, at 6:45 p.m. at the Preston Ridge Campus of Collin College, 9700 Wade Blvd. in Frisco, in Founders Hall, Shawnee Room F148.

The agenda includes planning for the upcoming Legislative Lobby Days, with members presenting information about the state legislative agenda and issues that are important to TDWCC.

The goal is for members to commit to attend one Lobby Day this legislative session.

Political appearances

Rep. Jessica Ferrar of Houston will appear at a fundraiser for Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats at the home of Mark Sadlek and Steve Habgood in Kessler Park on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Farrar is the newly elected House Democratic Leader and wrote House Bill 604, which would repeal Texas’ sodomy law eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it illegal.

Information on her appearance is available at their website DallasSYD.org.

Dallas mayoral candidate David Kunkle is the guest speaker at Stonewall Democrats of Dallas monthly meeting on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Ojeda’s Restaurant, 4617 Maple Avenue. Kunkle is the former Dallas Police Chief.

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt will speak at the LULAC 4871 Dallas Rainbow Council meeting at Havana’s, 4006 Cedar Springs Road. Hunt decided this week to run for reelection to her current council seat rather than seek the office of mayor.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

LGBTQ College Presidents: It Gets Better

LGBTCollegePresidentsx390 (Screengrab) | Advocate.comMembers of the group LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education and their partners send a message about the possibility of bright futures in academia.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  admin

Jewish Community Provides Strong Faith-Based Response to LGBTQ Bullying

Back in October I featured an Op-Ed by Orthodox Rabbi Steven Burg titled “There’s no place for bullying in God’s world”.  As the international director of NCSY, the youth program of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Burg’s Op-Ed provides an important counter-balance to the public anti-LGBT voices of other clergy in his sect.  I have since learned that the Rabbi’s very meaningful contribution is only one of many efforts by diverse Jewish faith communities to speak as people of faith in support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) youth and in opposition to bullying.

Last month Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Keshet and Nehirim joined together to launch the “Strength Through Community” project, a Jewish response to LGBTQ youth in crisis. The project brings together the many ways these Jewish organizations have begun to respond to the bullying faced by many LGBTQ teens.

“The energy in the Jewish community around this issue is inspiring – rabbis giving sermons, queer Jews sharing their stories for the fist time, synagogues posting GLBT Safe Zone stickers – and a clear rebuke to the idea that the religious community does not support GLBT members,” said Bonnie Rosenbaum, Deputy Director of Communications and Planning at Keshet.

At the project’s center is an online video campaign highlighting stories by members and leaders of Jewish organizations to provide messages of support grounded in faith. The messages are guided by principles developed with the support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and have received over 9,000 views since their launch.

The project is also promoting “Do Not Stand Idly By“, a Jewish community pledge launched by Keshet stating that bullying of our LGBTQ youth will not be tolerated.  Over 9,200 individuals and organizations have already signed the pledge.

Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives

As members of a tradition that sees each person as created in the divine image, we respond with anguish and outrage at the spate of suicides brought on by homophobic bullying and intolerance. We hereby commit to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. As a signatory, I pledge to speak out when I witness anyone being demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. I commit myself to do whatever I can to ensure that each and every person in my community is treated with dignity and respect.

Related:

* Happy Hannukah from Heschel GSA!

* Shattering the silence surrounding anti-LGBTQ violence

* Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Steven Burg says “There’s no place for bullying in God’s world”
From the websites of participating organizations:

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah is one of the oldest and largest faith based LGBTQ action and community organizations in the country. Serving as New York’s synagogue for the LGBTQ Jewish community, and with an active social justice and educational program, CBST is a renowned leader of progressive religion and LGBTQ Jewish issues.

Keshet is a national grassroots organization dedicated to creating full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life. We offer resources, training, and technical assistance for creating change in Jewish communities nationwide.

Nehirim (“Lights”) is the leading national provider of programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews, partners, and allies.  Our retreats and other programs transform lives, and inspire GLBT Jews to be agents for change in their home communities. Nehirim is an independent, nonprofit, and nondenominational organization which celebrates the gifts of Judaism and sexual & gender diversity.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Protest rally at Friendship-West Baptist Church

Sam Castleberry wrote about a protest that will take place on Wednesday, April 14 at Friendship-West Baptist Church, 2020 W. Wheatland Road in Dallas at 6:30 p.m.

Rally for LOVE is in response to their Urgent Utterances Conference held at the church.

Sam wrote:

Last night at the Urgent Utterances Conference at Friendship-West Baptist Church, a hurtful and ugly message was directed against the LGBTQ community.  Homophobia and heterosexism was preached from the pulpit during this conference as a means to further inflame and harden the hearts of Christians against the LGBTQ community in the name of God. These kind of negative attacks continue to be a powerful voice among many Christian communities claiming to speak for churches about LGBTQ issues.

However, there are many who believe that the love of God is one of radical inclusion and unrelenting grace.  Religious leaders who actively encourage their congregations to deny full equality to LGBTQ people with inflamatory messages must be held accountable. The Bible and other sacred documents can no longer be held hostage by some who use these books as weapons against the LGBTQ community. The Bible has a long history of being hijacked to support the oppression and even at times murder of groups of people. We have only to look at the Inquistion, slavery, denying women equality, etc. to see very clearly what harm has transpired in the name of God. We get that those things were wrong. Today we must reach that same understanding regarding the LGBTQ community.

This will be a peaceful meeting, standing together in solidarity in all of who we are as LGBTQ people, people of faith in all the ways that we celebrate Spirit; calling for an end to the hatred preached from pupilts and calling for an end to using the church as a means to instill fear, inspire hatred and to deny equality to LGBTQ people.

**Please do not bring any negative signs, and refrain from name calling or ugly speak and confrontations.  This meeting is about peace and love.

—  David Taffet