AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Five queer alternatives to the Super Bowl

Yes, Yes… I know… plenty of gay men enjoy football, are fans even, and there are lots of LBT fans as well, but if you’re like me you greet all the hoopla over the Super Bowl with a resounding “meh.”

So if you’re looking for a way to avoid a (morning) afternoon (and evening (seriously, how long are football games supposed to be?)) of indecipherable sports jargon, over-hyped commercials and disproportionate passion for the accomplishment of moving dead pig parts 300 feet here are some alternatives with a decidedly queer bent you might enjoy (don’t worry, you can Tivo Madonna’s half time show):

1. ¡Women Art Revolution at The Museum of Fine Arts

Starting from its roots in 1960s in antiwar and civil rights protests, the film ¡Women Art Revolution details major developments in women’s art through the 1970s. The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston presents this documentary at 5 pm on Sunday at the The Museum of Fine Arts’ Brown Auditorium Theater (1001 Bissonnet). Artist Lynn Randolph and U of H art history professor Jenni Sorkin will be on hand to provide insight into the film

!W.A.R. features Miranda July, The Guerilla Girls, Yvonne Rainer, Judy Chicago, Yoko Ono, Cindy Sherman, and countless other groundbreaking figures. Tickets are $7 and are available at mfah.org.

2. The Rape of Lucrecia at Houston Grand Opera

Written by gay composer Benjamin Britten and scored by Ronald Duncan, The Rape of Lucrecia is set during the decline of the Roman Empire. When a group of soldiers unexpectedly returns home to Rome they find that their wives have all been unfaithful, with the excpection of Collatinus’ wife Lucretia. Later that night the king’s son, Prince Tarquinius, accepts a drunken dare to seduce Lucretia. After she rebuffs his advances Tarquinius forces himself on her spurring Collatinus to rebellion against the king.

The dialogue of the Opera (which is in English by the way) is punctuated by two choruses, one male and one female, who engage the audience in the emotional responses of the male and female characters respectively.

The Rape of Lucretia plays at the Houston Grand Opera (510 Preston) at 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets start at $38 and may be purchased at HoustonGrandOpera.org.

4. The Drunken City at the Rice University, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts

“The city’s like a monster, like a sleeping dragon or some dark creature in the night that cracks open an eye, and whispers dark dangerous dark ideas into your ear.”

The Drunken City is populated by thoroughly unpleasant people, the kind of loud sequin-wearing party girls who can immediately turn a hip bar passe and the men who hunt them. Marnie, the alpha-female and soon-to-be bride, has taken her co-worker bridesmaids out on the town for a ladies night. Seriously inebriated, they soon run into Frank and Eddie. Frank quickly takes a shine to Marnie, despite her girlfriends objections. Eddie, on the other hand, isn’t interested in any of the girls but seems to know their shared boss quite well (if you catch my drift). The play is sprinkled through with warnings about human desire and the dangers of consumption.

The Drunken City is presented by the Rice University College of Visual and Dramatic Arts at Hamman Hall on the Rice Campus (6100 Main) at 3 pm. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door or by calling 713-348-PLAY .

Steve Bullitt as Hay and Mitchell Greco as Gernreich

4. The Temperamentals at Barnvelder Movement/Arts Complex

The off-Broadway hit The Temperamentals, by Jon Marans, explores the events surrounding the founding of the Mattachine Society, one of the first “gay rights” groups in America (although the Society for Human Rights has it beat by a quarter of a century). The story centers on Harry Hay (Steve Bullitt), a communist and Progressive Party activist and his lover Rudi Gerneich (Mitchell Greco), a Viennese refuge and costume designer. Set in the early 1950′s in Los Angeles, the play is an intimate portrayal of two men who created history and the epic struggle they overcame.

Sunday’s curtain for the Celebration Theater produced play is at 3 pm at the Barnvelder Movement/Arts Complex. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased at buy.ticketstothecity.com.

5. Closing Night of Bring It On: The Musical at Theater Under the Stars

Bring It On: The Musical finishes up its run at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (800 Bagby Suite 300) on Sunday. Theater Under the Stars (TUTS) presents this musical re-imagining of the 2000 film with a matinee at 2 pm and an evening showing at 7 pm.

Two rival cheer-leading squads are out for the national championship, and neither is going to give up without a fight. The ensemble for the show features some of the nation’s most skilled competitive cheerleaders led by Taylor Louderman and Adrienne Warren as the leaders of the rival squads.

Tickets start at $24 and are available on-line at TUTS.com, by phone at (713) 558-TUTS (8887), or in person at the Theatre Under The Stars Box Office (800 Bagby).

—  admin

Takei, Aiken adding gay fabulosity to new “Celebrity Apprentice”

George Takei

I have sincerely admired George Takei ever since 2005 when he publicly came out as a gay man. And I have been a real fan for the last several months, ever since I “liked” his Facebook page and got the chance to see and appreciate his unique sense of humor.

But I am not a big enough fan to watch George in his new gig, because his new gig is being a cast member of the new season of Donald Trump‘s Celebrity Apprentice. And I hate Donald Trump and I hate Celebrity Apprentice way to much to ever watch the show, even for George T. I made myself a promise after listening to Trump’s “presidential campaign” tripe that I would never watch this show, because I never want to do anything that might even remotely put money in his bigoted pockets.

So, love ya George, but I just can’t watch that show.

There will be at least one other gay in the cast to keep George company: Clay Aiken of American Idol and Spamalot fame. And other “gay interest’ cast members are ’80s pop star Debbie Gibson and equal-opportunity-insult comedian Lisa Lampanelli.

I’m not gonna list the whole cast here. You can go over to FoxNews.com to get that (where, by the way, the describe Takei as “Star Wars actor George Takei”). Let it suffice to say that the cast does include Mafia princess Victoria Gotti and Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider.

—  admin

Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

HGG 2011 Gift-A-Day: Last minute gifts and stocking stuffer roundup

COUNTING IT DOWN

Whether you need to give to the coworkers, neighbors or just add to the gift stock pile by stuffing the stocking, these might help out on your decision making.

SPIRITS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH

Moon Mountain vodka makes this holiday season more “green” that is certified organic by the USDA. Made in America, the artisanally crafted vodka is made from Midwestern corn, but in small batches creating the right taste to make it the perfect spirit to toast the season. The vodka is priced at $19.99.

Available at major spirits retailers.

FORGET SANTA

These Biscoff cookies are a surprisingly addictive treat, that it may be hard to give away. The crispy biscuits with the caramel flavor are ideal with coffee or even on their own. And a welcome alternative to usual holiday sweets with their light touch. Made from Belgium, these treats are vegan and contain 0 grams trans fat and 0 cholesterol per serving. So your recipients will be quite happy about these. Coming in a variety of counts and packages, these Biscoff Cafe Totes house eight packages of two. So you can get one for yourself and then try to give the other one away. You could leave them out for Santa but try not to eat them before he does. Ten percent of the purchases of this item go toward Teach for America. A set of three is priced at $16.95.

Available through Biscoff.com.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

For the Star Wars gamer geek — er, loved ones — comes this quirky stylus set. Made for Nintendo DS products, Star Wars fans can have their very own Clone Wars with these character-designed stylus lightsabers.  The stylus can be used for DS Lite, XL and 3DS and is for ages six and up. Priced at $9.99.

Available at Best Buy, Walmart, Target and other major video game retailers.

 

GAY FILM FEST

Breaking Glass Pictures has made gift giving for your LGBT movie fan rather enticing. The company that distributed the locally-made Ticked Off Trannies with Knives is offering a 30 percent off purchases made during the holiday season. Stack up on indie gay movie faves like Violet Tendencies, The Big Gay Musical and the 30th anniversary edition of the gay classic Taxi Zum Klo. Head to the site withthe promotion code “holiday” and snag a bargain on the films. Hey, you might even get one for yourself.

Available at BreakingGlassPictures.com.

 

 

 

BRUSH AWAY

Expect an eye roll if you give kids a toothbrush, but once they start handling his Arm & Ammer Spinbrush Proclean, they might get more on board. The battery-operated brush is a simple, but effective way to keep those pearly whites, um, white, with the appeal of being a whirring gadget. Don’t talk about how better it is than a manual toothbrush and dental health. Yawn for days. Hype up the dual action technology, the durable body style and what a grown-up “toy” it is. Because, of course, adults can use it to. Retails between $8–9.

Available at retailers nationwide.

 

—  Rich Lopez

25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at texashiv.org

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

Fire Island reality series seeks gays to audition

If you think reality TV has made gay Dallas look a little crazy lately, well, here’s you chance to bring a little Texas-crazy to New York.

You have until Friday to apply to become a cast member of the Fire Island Summer Project (a working title, we’re assuming), a new series from the producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And here’s the best part: You don’t need to be from the NYC area — they want folks from all over to apply!  Filming begins this summer, probably in a beach house the Pines (despite a fire recently that scorched parts of the island).

The application has some pretty straightforward questions, plus a few that indicate the casting agents’ interest in seeking diverse and charged action on the show, such as “What do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?,” “What role do you play in your social circle?,” “Do you have any quirks or strange habits? and “What is your craziest Spring Break story?” And you never have to have vacationed on Fire Island before to be eligible.

If you think you might be interested, click here. And if you end up getting cast and turn out to be the asshole villain on the series, do us all a favor — say you’re from San Antonio!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Show vs. Show

In this installment of Show vs. Show, we take a look at two bands both welcome at any party. It’s the battle of young and not-so-young as The B-52s bring out their campy tunes and CSS turn on their Brazilian beats for Dallas audiences.

Despite a healthy discography, we might always know The B-52s for “Love Shack,” but there are worse tunes on which to hang a legacy. Now a classic party anthem, the song has held up for more than 20 years.

The band’s talent shouldn’t be overlooked for its camp factor. When the late Ricky Wilson threw down that riff for “Rock Lobster,” he made music history with a strong sound. It’s easy to blow off, but over the years, has proven unforgettable. Guitarist Keith Strickland stepped in and filled those shoes with the perfect blend of musicality and whimsy.

Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson always keep our attention with their mod outfits and high-to-heaven ’dos, but Fred Schneider symbolizes the band most with his outrageous flair.

But don’t count out CSS for party ’peal. The Brazilian popsters may be the heirs apparent to The B-52s (if not LMFAO), infusing a comic touch on their songs. They don’t offer as much of a punchline as The Bs do, but with tunes like “Let’s Reggae All Night” and “City Grrrl,” they add their own panache. Another point in their corner is opening dance band and performance artists MEN, led by lesbian JD Samson.
This should be more like Party vs. Party. All that’s missing are the party favors, confetti and punch bowl.

— Rich Lopez

Artist: The B-52s

Concert-2

The B52's

 

Known mostly for… being the premiere party rock band veterans, churning out hits “Rock Lobster,” “Love Shack” and “Roam.”

Good for the gays? As gay as it can get. Their camp factor is off the charts.  And of course, there’s queer singer Fred Schneider.

What to wear? Anything but beige or gray. And lots of hairspray.

Relevance: The B-52s haven’t delivered big since 1989’s Cosmic Thing, but their songs are timeless fun.

Reason to be there: This is one resilient band that wholeheartedly still delivers. And how awesome is “Love Shack” going to sound live?

Reason to not: It’s in Frisco.

Deets: Dr. Pepper Arena, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco. Nov. 3
at 7:30 p.m. $27–$77. Ticketmaster.com.

Artist: CSS

Concert-1

CSS


Known mostly for… their Brazilian dance pop. Hipsters party out to this band
that wants nothing more than to have a good time.

Good for the gays? With openers MEN, both are queer-centric with refreshing
but catchy tunes.

What to wear? Ironic T-shirts and colorful Converse Chuck Taylors.

Relevance: Their latest album, La Liberacion, strikes an unusual dance chord that’s also infectious and irreverent.

Reason to be there: While CSS has a strong fan base, they are still off the gaydar. You can be the one to tell all your friends about them.

Reason to not: With this one-two punch of catchy alterna-pop, there really isn’t a reason not to be there.

Deets: With MEN. House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar St. Oct. 28
at 8 p.m. $18–$20. HouseOfBlues.com.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

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