Transgender center launches intersex group

When a baby is born the first question most people ask is “is it a girl or a boy?” The doctor takes a look at the baby’s genitals, if they see a penis the child is declared a boy, if the see a vulva the child is called a girl. But sometimes a child’s anatomy is not that clear cut, and sometimes the genetics, physiology or anatomy of person is more complex than the penis=boy, vulva=girl equation. The umbrella term “intersex” is used to describe people whose physical bodies, hormones or chromosomes lie between the male and female ends of the spectrum.

According to the Intersex Society of North America somewhere between 1 in 1,500 and 1 in 2,000 babies born in this country have genitals that fall between the strict male/female dichotomy. Additionally, several genetic conditions exist where people who may appear strictly male or strictly female have chromosomal combinations other than XX or XY, a combination of XX and XY, or the chromosomes associated with one gender and the body associated with another. With so many intersex people walking around, there is a fairly good chance that you know one.

But according to “Koomah,” the founder of the group, very few spaces exist for intersex people to talk about their lives. “Most of the social and support groups that I’ve encountered are online,” says Koomah. “I’ve encountered a handful of people both in and outside of [Houston’s] Transgender Center that are intersex-bodied but didn’t know anyone else who was. When I mentioned I was and spoke with them more in depth about my experience it seemed to be a great relief that their experience isn’t the only one.”

Koomah realised that their was a need for a group that would allow the intersex community to talk about their experiences. This realization led to the founding of the Transgender Centers Intersex group, which will have its first meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 7 pm at the Center (604 Pacific). The group is designed as an informal get-to-gether for those with intersex bodies and their spouses.

Koomah explains that while the transgender and intersex communities share many experiences the terms are not interchangeable. “While some intersex people do identify as transgender and some may choose to transition, sometimes the experience of being intersex is different,” says Kumayama. “Being intersex in childhood is radically different than the experience of other non-intersex folks, explaining your body to doctors can be scary, and making choices on things like transition or relationships are easier when you have people whom you share similar experience to talk with.”

—  admin

Time to vote for the Readers Voice Awards!

Yesterday afternoon, the Readers Voice Awards website went online, which gives you, dear readers, nearly a month to speak out about what matters to you! That means you get to vote for your favorite dining spots, shopping destinations, community leaders, barbers, doctors, Realtors, airlines … all the stuff that makes your life easier or better as a gay Texan. And when you speak, we listen.

The best part? Well, actually there are two. First, you can vote for one of nine images (above) to be our cover when the Readers Voice Awards issue comes out in March … and give one lucky photographer’s charity $1,000 prize. Second, you get a chance at a prize of your own when you vote. Someone wins two round-trip tickets on American to most of North America and the Caribbean just by voting… and you get to see some great photos, too. So vote now!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Bedford school rejects lesbians’ daughter

Dean says Harrisons’ relationship violates St. Vincent’s ‘basic Christian values,’ but mother says discrimination is ‘just not right’

Click here to watch video for this story

Click here to read the full text of Dean Ryan Reed’s responses to our questions

John Wright  |  Online Editor

OLIVIA HAS 2 MOMMIES | St. Vincent’s, a school operated by a Bedford church that left the Episcopal Church USA over the denomination’s policies on ordaining women and accepting LGBT people, waited until just four days before school started to tell a lesbian couple that their daughter would not be allowed to attend classes there. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

BEDFORD — Four-year-old Olivia Harrison was disappointed to learn she won’t be attending St. Vincent’s Cathedral School this year.

“We said, ‘You realize that you’re not going to go to the same school,’” said Olivia’s biological mother, Jill Harrison. “She said, ‘Yes I am, I want to go to that school, I want to play there.’

“They have a fish pond, and she said, ‘Yeah, but I need to feed the fish and take care of them,’” Jill Harrison said.

Regardless of whether Olivia fully understands the decision, she can now tell you why she’ll be starting pre-kindergarten at another school next week, instead of St. Vincent’s.

“They don’t like that I have two mommies,” Olivia says.

“She’s just repeating, so we’re careful about what we’re telling her,” said Jill Harrison. “I don’t want her to think that she in any way shape or form did anything wrong.”

Olivia, who’d been accepted into St. Vincent’s earlier this summer, was set to start on Monday, Aug. 23. But school officials abruptly changed their mind last week after learning that her parents, Jill and Tracy Harrison, are a lesbian couple.

St. Vincent’s is part of the Anglican Church in North America, a group that broke away from the Episcopal Church USA a few years ago, in part over the denomination’s acceptance of gays.

Since the school’s Aug. 19 decision to revoke Olivia’s acceptance, the story has made national news, being picked up by CNN in addition to several media outlets in North Texas.

Jill and Tracy Harrison said despite the initial shock and devastation of the school’s denial, they’re glad they’ve able to get the word out that anti-gay discrimination is alive and well.

“It’s been a whirlwind for the last few days, but it’s been worth every moment,” Jill Harrison told Dallas Voice during an interview at their home on Tuesday, Aug. 24. “I put up a blog on Facebook the other day that said, ‘Today’s probably the proudest day that I could call myself a parent, because I stood up for something that I believe in for my daughter.’”

‘Just not right’

After touring the school in June  — and thoroughly researching it online — the Harrisons settled on St. Vincent’s because of its solid academic reputation and its small class sizes, as well as the fact that it’s so close to their home.

They also said they wanted Olivia to learn the basic tenets of Christianity, such as the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.

However, they were clueless about the school’s history and its split from the Episcopal Church.

Jill and Tracy Harrison were legally married in Canada in 2006. Both Olivia and their 2-year-old son, Spencer, were conceived with the help of a sperm donor.

Jill Harrison said she crossed out “father” on Olivia’s application to St. Vincent’s, replaced it with “mother” and inserted Tracy’s name — something they’ve done routinely on paperwork since Olivia was born.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, the Harrisons attended parents night at St. Vincent’s, and they said they felt it went well. Among other things, Jill and Tracy Harrison requested stickers for each of their vehicles so that Tracy could drop off Olivia and Jill could pick her up.

Two days later — and four days before school was to start — St. Vincent’s officials called Jill Harrison and asked her to come to the school and meet with them.

After inquiring about Jill’s relationship with Tracy, the school revoked Olivia’s acceptance.

“I was absolutely hysterical when I left there,” Jill Harrison said. “It’s her first time in school. We’ve made a really big deal about it.”

Ryan Reed, dean of St. Vincent’s, said in e-mails this week that officials told Jill Harrison that, “the values taught at the school were in conflict with those at home.”

“We thought this might put Olivia in a very conflicted situation to which Jill agreed,” Reed wrote. “We don’t dispute God’s love for this family, just that one of the basic Christian values that we subscribe to is sexual activity inside a faithful, lifelong relationship between a husband and wife. As best we could ascertain, this was not something that Jill was in agreement about.”

Asked why it took so long for school officials to realize the situation, Reed claimed that they tried repeatedly to contact the Harrisons over the summer to inquire about the altered application form.

Reed also said the school would have accepted Olivia if Jill Harrison were single and a lesbian but agreed to remain abstinent.

The decision was pursuant to a strict school policy that was also used to deny admission to a gay couple’s daughter two years ago, to terminate an unmarried teacher who became pregnant, and to ban a parent — a husband who left his wife for another woman, Reed said.

“We are simply asking people to strive toward the traditional Christian teaching in matters of how we live our lives,” Reed said. “We don’t follow people around if they are single and dating to make sure the date stops at the front door,” he said. “We don’t monitor what husband and wives are doing. But if something becomes public, we try to handle it in a pastoral and private way.”

Asked how the school justifies punishing Olivia over her parents’ identity, Reed said, “It seems far from punishment to me, in fact, it seems more loving to refer them to a school that can accommodate their family situation rather than put her in a situation where the moral legitimacy (and still in Texas the legal legitimacy) of her mom’s relationship is called into question.”

Jill and Tracy Harrison agreed that they wouldn’t want Olivia to attend a school that doesn’t accept their relationship.

But they denied that school officials tried to contact them before parents night, and they questioned why it took so long. They’re also still struggling to come to terms with something they said they’d never experienced before.

“If persecution happens to just us, we’re adults, we can handle it,” said Tracy Harrison, who identifies as a “recovering Baptist.”

“But they’ve taken it a step farther than that. They’ve discriminated against us because we’re gay, and took it out on our 4-year-old daughter. And that’s just not right. There’s no part about that that’s right.”

Legal implications

Jill and Tracy Harrison said they’ll likely never forget some of the vicious comments that have been posted about their family online in response to the story.

They also denied rumors raised on some blogs that they plan to sue and try to force the school to accept Olivia, who’s now scheduled to begin attending a local fine arts preschool Monday, Aug. 30.

One LGBT legal expert confirmed that if the Harrisons did try to sue, they wouldn’t have a case, because the school appears well within its constitutional right to religious freedom and expression.

“There are some areas where there is some gray, but pretty much a religious school is off limits,” said Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal who’s based in Dallas. “The truth is, religion is still a very powerful thing in America when it comes to the law. They get a lot of free passes to do terrible things. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the way the First Amendment works.”

Although the Harrisons don’t plan to sue St. Vincent’s, the school remains embroiled in litigation with the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

“They’re occupying Episcopal Church property, and they’re using our name,” said Katie Sherrod, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

Initial media reports referred to the school as St. Vincent’s Episcopal School. As of Thursday, Aug. 26, the school’s website had been changed to say St. Vincent’s Cathedral School, but Reed remained defiant.

“[The Episcopal Church USA] does not own the term Episcopal,” he wrote. “There is in this country the Charismatic Episcopal Church for example or in other places the Scottish Episcopal Church. In conversation, I refer to myself as an Anglican but until the lawsuit is settled we are still the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, ‘province of the Southern Cone’ (which is part of South America).”

Sherrod acknowledged that it could be years before the issues are resolved in court.

“They left the Episcopal Church over the issues of the ordination of women and over the blessing of same-sex unions and the fact that we have two openly gay bishops,” Sherrod said. “I’m not at all surprised that the leadership at St. Vincent’s school made this decision. It’s consistent with what they’ve been doing for years. I’m saddened by it, but I’m not surprised by it.”

Sherrod is among those who’ve contacted the Harrisons to offer her support and condolences.

“Jill had to sit Olivia down and say, ‘Nope, you aren’t going to get to go,’” Sherrod said. “That’s just heartbreaking.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Episcopal’ school in Bedford, Texas, denies enrollment to girl with 2 lesbian moms

A so-called “Episcopal” school in Bedford has denied admission to the daughter of two lesbian parents, reports.

St. Vincent’s Episcopal School turned down the daughter of Jill and Tracy Harrison, just a few days before school starts.

The Harrisons, who were married in Canada in 2006, crossed out the word “father” on the school’s application in June and replaced it with mother, listing both of their names. They attended a parents night at the school this past Tuesday before being notified of the decision, and they’ve been refunded the $100 application fee.

“I am horribly disappointed,” Jill Harrison said. “In fact, we are in the 21st century and we are still dealing with this issue. We should just move on. Denying my daughter education based on who I end up sleeping with at the end of the day makes me furious.”

The school’s nondiscrimination policy doesn’t include sexual orientation. From Kenneth Monk, the head of the school:

“We are a church affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, and it is their policy that we don’t provide services to individuals or families that do not behave properly. We’re going off our canons that say, ‘The Anglican Church in North America affirms our Lord’s teaching that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong of one man and one woman.'”

It’s not uncommon for private religious schools to deny enrollment to the children of same-sex parents. But usually it’s a Catholic school.

In this case, the Anglican Church in North America is one of the groups that’s split off from the U.S. Episcopal Church over the demoniation’s decision to consecrate openly gay bishops. The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which includes Bedford, is one of several that have broken away since Bishop V. Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2004. Which is why we’ve put “Episcopal” in quotations when referring to St. Vincent’s. The school’s website lists it as “A preschool through eighth grade school in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.”

UPDATE: A note we just received from Jason C.N. Smith, a Fort Worth attorney and straight LGBT ally who says he went to elementary school at St. Vincent’s:

“This action definitely not how I was taught to treat others at St. Vincent’s,” Smith wrote. “I was taught love God and thy neighbor as thy self, which includes this little girl and her parents.”

—  John Wright