Al Franken asks public for help passing Student Non-Discrimination Act

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D – Minnesota, is asking the public for help passing S. 555, The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the provisions of S. 555 students who experienced discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with LGBT people could bring a civil suit against the school officials or districts responsible for the discrimination. The bill currently has 34 co-sponsors (none from Texas) and its House companion (H.R. 998 by Rep. Jared Polis, D – Colorado) has 150 (with 7 Texan co-sponsors including Houston’s own Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green) . Both bills have been referred to committee but neither has received a hearing, a crucial step towards becoming law.

In the video requesting the public call their Senators (after the break) Franken points out that federal law already provides protection for school children harassed because of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, but that no protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inclusion of “association” in S. 555 is particularly well thought out. According to the Williams Institute nearly 1 in 5 same-sex couples in the United States is raising children, in Harris County 18% of same-sex couples are.  As these children enter school it’s important that they be able to receive an education without harassment or bullying due to who their parents are.

Franken is asking people to call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and encourage their Senator’s to support the bill.

—  admin

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

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

Teacher accuses TC College of discrimination

Gill says English Department chair at Northeast Campus told her the state and the school ‘do not like homosexuals’

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.

Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.

Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.

Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.

Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.

Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.

The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.

On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.

That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”

Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.

Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.

Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.

She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.

Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”

And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.

Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.

“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Miami Man Held in Murder of Two Men He Perceived Were Gay

A Miami man is in custody, accused of killing two men because he perceived they were gay, WPLG reports:

Guzman "A suspect has been arrested in the fatal shooting of the owner of a South Florida auto shop, and police said the gunman killed the man because he thought the man was gay. Matthew Guzman, 21 (pictured), was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Paul Barrow, 46. Barrow was shot in the head on the morning of Dec. 16 at his business, Devonaire Service, at 122nd Avenue and 112th Street. He later died…Guzman was arrested Sunday in connection with another crime. Police said he then confessed to killing Barrow as well as another man, Harry Ray, on Nov. 18."

WSVN notes that Guzman shot and killed Ray because he perceived Ray was making "homosexual advances" towards him.

Watch an early NBC report on the shooting of Barrow, whom they mistakenly refer to as Morrow, AFTER THE JUMP

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcmiami.com/video.


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

AFA Highlights/Recycles FOTF Campaign Against Perceived Gay Public School Agenda

Oh, the hard-hitting, up-to-the-minute journalism of OneNewsNow, the “news” outlet for the American Family Association‘s (AFA’s) “Reporter” Bill Bumpas.

In the OneNewsNow piece of Bumpas’s (and no, I’m not trying to be funny — I’m not making up the last name for this OneNewsNow “reporter”) , entitled Combating Homosexual Promotion In Schools, Candy Cushman {of Focus On The Family’s (FOTF’s) activism arm — CitizenLink}. recycles her months old talking points. Nothing up-to-the-minute here.

So, for some background: Candi Cushman’s job title at CitizenLink is “Education Analyst.” Although Cushman graduated cum laude from Baylor University with a double major in English and journalism, there doesn’t seem to be any public documentation (at least that I could find) that indicates how and why she is labeled by CitizenLink as…

…a leading national expert on education issues affecting public and private education, including school choice and home school initiatives, the promotion of homosexuality in public schools, censorship of Christian students and the evolution debate.

Her resume, perhaps, is how she became an expert? Maybe her stint at her stint at World Magazine made her “a leading national expert on education issues”? Perhaps an anointing with oil by Dr. James Dobson? Perhaps being a wife and mother who was active in her children’s Parent-Teacher Association?

I actually have no idea how or why Candi Cushman was declared to be “a leading national expert on education issues” on the CitizenLink‘s website. That’s because there is no information included in her CitizenLink profile that indicates how someone who graduated cum laude from Baylor University with a double major in English and journalism became “a leading national expert on education issues.” Instead, we just have a declarative statement in a short bio by a by an unidentified CitizenLink employee declaring Candi Cushman “a leading national expert on education issues” — in other words, we’re all to take her status as “a leading national expert on education issues” on faith.

But, Cushman sure does have her talking points down. “Hard-hitting journalist” Bumpas gives us nothing beyond what one can view and hear in the CitizenLink video Report: Identifying Gay Activism in Public Schools (uploaded August 17, 2010) , and articles that Cushman wrote last June.

Such as, a quote from Cushman in the video (00:58):

[Below the fold: Comparing Candi Cushman's previous statements to her statements for OneNewsNow.]

“But just to really easy way to start researching what’s happening in your school, just go to your school’s online library catalog. Most K-12 public schools nowadays have their library catalog online.

“So, just go to your school district’s website, look for the library section, and put in some key terms in the search function. Like, homosexuality, gay, lesbian — gender identity and sexual orientation are terms that are coming up a lot now too. And if you start pulling up a whole bunch of books with homosexual themes, that’s a really big red flag to you. Because technically, the library is supposed to reflect the overall philosophy of the school and the curriculum, and it’s also a place for teachers to go to pull out resources for their classrooms.”

A quote of Cushman’s in the OneNewsNow piece:

Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink, tells OneNewsNow that one simple way to stay on top of the issue is to go to the school’s online library catalog.

“Enter key terms in the search function like ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay,’ ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’…and if you start pulling up a lot of books with homosexual themes, that’s a real red flag to you because technically, the library should reflect the school curriculum,” Cushman explains. “It’s also a place teachers can go to pull out resources for use in the classroom.”

Cushman also states in a CitizenLink piece she wrote (published online on June 10, 2010), entitled Capturing Children’s Minds:

Watch out for school programs with innocent-sounding titles like “family diversity,” “safe schools” or “tolerance.” Many of these programs contain homosexuality components. By categorizing pro-gay teaching within a subject like “family diversity” or “social justice,” school officials often try to skirt parental control. They argue that since this teaching is categorized as a social issue – and not labeled as sex education – they no longer have to give parents prior notice and/or the ability to exempt their children from the class. You have the right to ask to see lesson plans. And if you find there’s a problem, don’t be afraid to mobilize other parents to take action.

And from another piece at CitizenLink piece (published online on June 23, 2010) entitled More Parental Rights Backlash, Cushman wrote:

Yet more evidence of a parental rights backlash surfaced this week: The Delaware Legislature is considering the Parents Right to Know bill, which would require schools to notify parents before their children are exposed to controversial materials or instruction dealing with sexuality, profanity, drugs, etc. It also provides for parents to exempt their kids from objectionable material.

…It’s also encouraging that Arizona now has a Parents’ Bill of Rights law, signed by the Governor this May, requiring schools to obtain parents’ signed, written permission for children to participate in sex education classes. It also requires schools to notify parents when materials about sexuality are presented in non-sex education classes.

These quotes are mirrored in a quotation of Cushman within “hard-hitting journalist” Bill Bumpas’s OneNewsNow piece (published online on August 30, 2010) that recycles the points found in Cushman’s articles from June:

“A lot of states have policies that allow parents to opt out or exempt their kids from controversial teaching, especially in the sexual realm,” Cushman adds. “So you want to know about that and exercise that right.”

So if “Hard-hitting journalist” Bill Bumpas is not going to do any more than recycle the already available talking points of Focus On The Family/CitizenLink and Candi Cushman, why not just post the video with a transcript? Why not crosspost Cushman’s CitizenLink articles?

This is hardly up-to-the-minute news. And, according to OneNewsNow About Us webpage (emphasis added):

At OneNewsNow.com, you will get your news from reporters you can trust to give the latest news without the liberal bias that characterizes so much of the “mainstream” media.

Damn that liberal bias!

Oh, but on point — what exactly is the “latest news” that OneNewsNow is actually covering in Combating Homosexual Promotion In Schools? And, liberal or conservative bias aside — can Bill Bumpas tell us rationale behind Focus On The Family/CitizenLink claiming Cushman is “a leading national expert on education issues,” and/or why her viewpoints should be taken as having preeminence over other experts with more formal education on primary and secondary education — and with stronger resumes?

In my mind, OneNewsNow appears to be barefacedly recycling old pronouncements from Candi Cushman to promote Focus On The Family’s (and the American Family Association’s) Religious Right Agenda®.

~~

Next: The Problems With Focus On The Family’s And Alliance Defense Fund’s Model Anti-Bullying Policy

~~~~~

Related:

* Focus On The Family/CitizenLink Sees “Sneaky” Gay Agenda In The Public Schools

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Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright