UPDATE: Speaker and PFLAG display banished from Tyler library

Smoot

Lou Anne Smoot

The Tyler Public Library invited author Lou Anne Smoot to talk as part of the library’s summer reading program. Smoot, who’s from Tyler, wrote A Christian Coming Out: A Journal of the Darkest Period In My Life.

Tyler City Manager Edward Broussard, however, canceled the appearance and ordered the PFLAG display that Smoot and Brenda McWilliams just put up in the library removed.

“The reasons given to us for these actions were that the talk and display were political and that children might see the display or attend the talk.” McWilliams said. “I suppose taking the display down is not political.”

McWilliams pointed out in a letter to Broussard that PFLAG is a non-political 501(c)(3) organization that provides support and education, mostly to parents of LGBT children. However, the actions of a political appointee to block a library from distributing information and stopping an author — one whose book appears in the library’s collection — from speaking certainly is political.

Keeping the level of discussion appropriate shouldn’t have been very difficult for Smoot, who taught Sunday School class at Tyler’s First Baptist Church.

Tyler’s head librarian invited Smoot to speak as part of its summer reading series. In conjunction with the talk, she invited PFLAG to put up a display that consisted of pamphlets, books and other informational resources. After all, libraries are usually places where you find information.

The display was up on Monday (June 1) along with posters advertising Smoot’s appearance. By Wednesday, the display case was down along with the fliers about the author’s upcoming talk.

The librarian said one of the calls she received complained that taxpayer money shouldn’t be going to promote events like this. The librarian explained no taxpayer money was being used — Smoot was not charging for her appearance and the library would already be staffed with the lights on, whether or not Smoot spoke.

McWilliams said another complaint was that the display was too close to the children’s section.

McWilliams wondered why the display wasn’t just moved then. But she also commented that if the display caused children to ask their parents questions, that would give parents the opportunity to give their children the answer they wanted them to have. She called that “parenting.”

On Thursday, Smoot was told the talk can go on, but the library can’t promote it and the PFLAG display remains off the library floor, by order of the city manager. How does the library have an author speak without telling anyone that author is going to be there?

UPDATE: PFLAG got word this afternoon that the display can go back out.

Seems the whole thing was “a big misunderstanding.” In fact, now the city is allowing the library to give Smoot the auditorium to speak in. (That way, it’s behind closed doors).

The city’s still not a sponsor as they are for every other author coming to the library to speak.

—  David Taffet

Vigil set in Tyler for murdered trans woman

Ty Underwood Vigil

Local and state LGBT and allied organizations are holding a vigil at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4., at Bergfeld Park in Tyler in honor of Ty “Nunnee” Underwood, the 24-year-old transgender woman murdered Jan. 26 in Tyler.

Some of Underwood’s family members will speak at the rally, along with representatives of some of the organizations hosting the event.

Tyler Police Department Public Information Officer Don Martin said this morning (Tuesday, Feb. 3) that police there do have leads they are investigating, but have no new information they can release at this time. “There are some things coming up, and if those things come through, we hope to be able to make an announcement” soon, Martin said.

Underwood’s friends and family have said they believe her murder was an anti-trans hate crime, although police have so far not designated it as such. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Tyler Police Department at 903-531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at 903-597-2833.

Underwood worked at a nursing home, and friends and family members said she planned to go back to school to become a nurse. She died early Monday morning, Jan. 26.

Police said a woman called police to report the accident, saying her children had heard gunshots, after Underwood’s car crashed into a telephone pole in the 400 block of West 24th Street in Tyler. Police said they believe Underwood was trying to escape in her car after being shot when the accident occurred.

Underwood died at the scene. She was originally from Lufkin, and funeral services were held Saturday, Jan. 31, at Woods Memorial Chapel Church of God in Christ in Lufkin, under the direction of Colonial Mortuary and Cremation Services. Underwood was cremated.

Organizations participating in the vigil on Wednesday are Transgender Education Network of Texas, Hope for Peace and Justice, Project TAG (Tyler Area Gays), Tyler-East Texas PFLAG, Longview PFLAG, Tyler Transgender Group, Tyler Junior College SAFE (Students Advocating For Equality), UT-Tyler Gay Straight Sexuality Alliance, Life Covenant Church of Tyler, Woodland Christian Church of Longview and Equality Texas.

According to Southerners on New Ground, Underwood is one of six transgender or gender-non-conforming individuals killed since the new year began. The other five include Jesse Hernandez, 17, who was shot by police in Denver, Colo.; Candra Keels, 20, who was allegedly stabbed to death by her girlfriend; Yazmin Vash Payne, 33, allegedly stabbed to death by her boyfriend in Los Angeles; Lamia Beard, shot to death in Norfolk, Va.; and a gender-non-conforming black gay man killed in Louisville, Ky.

The park, located at West Second Street and South Broadway in Tyler, is the same park from which gay man Nicholas West was kidnapped, then murdered, a little more than 21 years ago in November 1993. A “Stop The Hate” rally in his memory was held at the park about a month after his death, with about 700 people attending. A marker placed in the park commemorated West.

—  Tammye Nash

Volunteer opportunity for Tyler-area gays

If you live in or plan to visit the Tyler-Canton-Longview area, Tyler Area Gays and East Texas PFLAG need your help on July 12. Members of these two organizations will be participating in Trash Off Day on July 12 by cleaning up the portion of U.S. 69 that has been adopted by TAG.Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 10.17.18 AM

Participants should be at New Life Worship Center , 18535 U.S. 69 (1.5 miles south of the light at Loop 49 — the modern-looking church up on the hill) by 8 a.m. The TAG portion of U.S. 69 is about 3.3 miles south of the light at Target on South Broadway and on the south side of Loop 49. According to a press release about the clean-up effort, the clean-up ALWAYS starts on time and takes about an hour.

That stretch of highway has two signs — one on the southbound side of the road and the other on the northbound side — noting that it has been “adopted” by Tyler Area Gays. In return, TAG has “agreed to clean up a two-mile section of highway four times a year.” But as TAG leaders pointed out in a press release about the clean-up effort, “A two-mile section may not sound very long but since we are cleaning both sides of the highway, this immediately becomes four miles of cleaning.” So they need all the help they can get.

In the conservative East Texas town where, in 1993, Nicholas West was murdered in a brutal, anti-gay hate crime that made national headlines, it’s significant that an LGBT organization is so out and so visible. As TAG leaders said in their press release looking for clean-up volunteers, “Our participation testifies to our community spirit, promotes teamwork and exercise and makes our presence known. Another way to put it is we want people to know that we we are here and that we are responsible. citizens.”

—  Tammye Nash

After gay teen’s suicide, El Paso ISD board adds LGBT protections

Brandon Elizares

A unanimous decision to add gender identity and perceived sexuality to the El Paso Independent School District’s nondiscrimination policy brought tears and hope Tuesday.

Board President Isela Castañon-Williams began crying after the vote because her son, Antonio, is gay, The El Paso Times reports.

“I know what it’s like going to school because of people who would bully us because we’re gay,” Williams told the board before the vote. “It can adversely affect the welfare of students who are different and that environment can create hostility.”

The policy previously prohibited discrimination against any student because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other chararistic prohibited by law.

Advocates of the updated policy said it would help prevent LGBT bullying in light of 16-year-old El Paso teen Brandon Elizares, who took his life June 2 after enduring relentless bullying since coming out in 2010.

Elizares’s mother said she thought the policy change was a “baby step” to future prevention and only time would tell if it would help.

“We can ask about it a year from now and see how well it’s worked,” she said. “I didn’t see anything at any of the schools my kids attended about any anti-bullying campaign or anything. If they did have it, I as a parent didn’t know about it, and I was going to the school every day.”

Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso and community liaison for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Anti-Bullying Coalition, said the LGBT community has been the target of three-quarters of bullying cases in El Paso.

The school district will offer safe zone training to teachers with help from PFLAG and University of Texas of El Paso’s Social Work Department so students can know where to go if they need to talk. The district will also begin an anti-bullying campaign this fall with activities and events to help prevent bullying and promote acceptance.

—  Dallasvoice

Oklahoma bill would ban local nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBT people

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City

Last week, Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Reynolds failed to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell” — mostly because the state’s National Guard would have lost $300 million in federal funding. So after that defeat, Reynolds introduced new legislation this week that would eliminate nondiscrimination policies for municipal employees that include classes not protected by the state.

Such categories as marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and political affiliation are not protected by the state but are covered in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Del City, Miami, McAlester, Altus and Vinita. If passed, it would be legal to fire people for getting married, being straight or voting Republican. Of course, Reynolds’ intent is to discriminate against gays and lesbians … and if some Democrats lose their jobs in the process, that would just be a bonus for him.

The Equality Network Chair Laura Belmonte said, “Reynolds apparently thinks it is acceptable for the state government to run roughshod over local governments. Shouldn’t our cities, towns, and counties have the right to determine whom they wish to employ and to ensure the most productive, welcoming workplaces possible?”

“It is bad enough when short-sighted politicians and demagogues stand in the way of progress, but it is even more offensive when those same forces conspire to take away civil rights that have already been won,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

Nancy McDonald of PFLAG Tulsa and the organization’s former national president said: “It is extremely important that Oklahoma address the challenges of our state’s economy and have the ability to attract companies that will utilize our workforce, as well as bring new workers to Oklahoma. One of the factors that companies consider is whether or not our municipalities and counties have proactive and preemptive employment practices This must include nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. By doing so, a welcoming environment is created and all employees are empowered to contribute to the welfare of their company, their city, and their state. Let us move Oklahoma forward!”

—  David Taffet

‘Wicked Haute’ to raise funds for LGBT Youth Scholarship

Wicked HauteThe LGBT community has rallied behind the message that “It Get’s Better” in an effort to prevent teens from hurting themselves during their vulnerable adolescent years. Sometimes those difficult years are followed by the heartbreak of missed opportunity as kids without parental support, or whose academic record is less than stellar due to the pressures of bullying and harassment, struggle to pay for college. One local group is working to change that.

The PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation hosts ‘Wicked Haute’ (pronounced ‘wicket hot’), Thursday, October 27 at F Bar, 202 Tuam Street. The fundraiser, which starts at 9 pm, benefits the foundation’s scholarship programs and features a “wickedly haute” fashion parade modeled by former scholarship recipients. The entertainment is coordinated by Ty Blue, FBar’s Director of Entertainment and includes plus show-stopping performances by vocalists, drag stars and dancers. Additionally, raffle tickets are available (1 for $10 and 3 for $20) for a 40 inch flat screen and other great prizes.

For the people behind the foundation, which is 100% volunteer driven, their efforts are a labor of love. “Whether you want to volunteer your time or donate your money, PFLAG HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation is a solid investment in our LGBT Youth,” says foundation president Linda Enger. “I have been involved since 2003, and I have had the benefit of seeing our recipients complete their college education, and give back to the LGBT Community. This is a WIN WIN!”

The PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation was born out of a collaboration between its two namesake organizations (Parents and Family of Lesbians and Gays and the Houston Area Teach Coalition of Homosexuals), both of which were independently raising funds to send LGBT kids to school. In 1999 they joined forces and created a separately incorporated charity with both parent organizations lending financial and volunteer support. In the last two years the Foundation has distributed over 1 million dollars to LGBT students.

There is no cover charge for the event, but a $10 donation is suggested. For information on sponsoring Wicket Haute, including information on the special VIP area email rkshipman@gmail.com

—  admin

Out on the field

Scott Bloom was closeted during his high school wrestling career, but he found 4 brave gay student athletes to come out for his new documentary

MARATHON MEN | Getting teen athletes and their families to feel comfortable coming out on film was a challenge for documentarian Scott Bloom.

DAN WOOG  | Contributing Sports Writer
outfield@qsyndicate.com

There are three keys to successful documentary filmmaking: A good subject, a good story line and good luck. Scott Bloom found all three.

His goal in making Out for the Long Run — a movie about gay high school athletes — was to go beyond “the regular coming-out stories.” Bloom, a former closeted wrestler who had been terrified of being outed, ostracized or beaten up, knew there were “extraordinary individuals” out there. He wanted to highlight their accomplishments, and provide hope to LGBT people of all ages, everywhere.

The first problem was finding those young athletes. The second was convincing them — and their parents — to be filmed.

He asked organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG for help. But although he’d produced one film on Metropolitan Community Church founder the Rev. Troy Perry, and another on the “oldest gay organization in the world” (a motorcycle club), he admits he was “an unknown quantity.”

The project stalled. Then Bloom saw a Facebook page for gay athletes. With permission from creator Lucas Goodman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology rower, Bloom asked for volunteers.

He got a dozen or two responses. Some of their parents objected, and blurring faces or filming in shadows would undercut the idea of openness. Plus, Bloom hoped to include the parents’ stories, too. In the end he settled on four athletes, with a cross-section of experiences.

When he began shooting, some of Bloom’s old fears resurfaced. “I worried all over again about being ‘thrown out of the locker room,’” he says. “But everyone was very gentle to me.”

He learned that today’s gay youth “have fewer hang-ups than my generation did. They define sexuality more fluidly. That’s refreshing. It gives me hope. I was definitely not as self-aware at that age.”

Bloom’s lucky break came when he found Austin Snyder. The track star was entering his senior year at California’s Berkeley High School. (The other three athletes were already in college.) He had a great, supportive family. He was smart, popular and embraced by his teammates.

Snyder’s story would provide a counterpoint to Brenner Green, a Connecticut College runner whose father had a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality, and who stopped being invited to team dinners after coming out in high school; Goodman, who had difficulty coming out to teammates; and Liz Davenport, a soccer player from Maine whose love for sports was undermined by the bullying she endured. (She ended up “probably the most heroic,” Bloom says, “after struggling and maturing the most.”)

Snyder, a very articulate teenager, lives through what is in many ways a typical high school year. He desperately hopes to get into Brown University — but an injury causes both physical and emotional stress. The usually self-confident runner wonders if he is being punished for his sexuality.

It’s not easy being a senior — especially when you’re gay. “I’m a big romantic,” Snyder says. “High school is all about the guys getting the girls. Running helps take away the hurt of not having someone.”

Then Snyder gets the news: He’s into Brown. He goes from “the lowest low to the highest high.” In a scene repeated in homes across the country, he is giddy with excitement.

But as graduation approaches, Snyder says, “All my friends are happy and dating. I want that!”

He creates a Facebook group for cross country and track athletes heading to Brown. He joins another group for all admitted students where, he says, “all the gay men have found each other.”

Suddenly, Snyder finds someone special: a swimmer from North Carolina. Online they flirt, then talk seriously for weeks. Then, in a plot twist that would sound unbelievable in a real movie — except it’s true — Snyder qualifies for a national race. In North Carolina.

Bloom films their meeting. It’s a truly sweet scene. Later, his new boyfriend gives him a tender pre-race kiss.

The final scene also seems right out of a teen flick. Snyder delivers a graduation speech at Berkeley High. He talks about diversity and change, and urges his classmates: “Use your open-minded spirit.” Snyder’s coach says, “Austin’s story gives hope for what can be.” His father adds simply, “I’m extremely proud of Austin.”

Out for the Long Run is a powerful film. “I never expected a sports film to make people cry,” Bloom says. “But people tell me it makes them remember the fears and emotions they buried years earlier.”

And, echoing Snyder’s coach, it generates hope in unlikely places. Five rural school districts in Louisiana have bought copies for each middle and high school. The counseling director will use it as a teaching tool.

Which means its lessons will be remembered by students — gay and straight — for a long, long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

PFLAG Founding President Dies at 90

ADELE STARR X390 (LA TIMES) | ADVOCATE.COMAdele Starr, who overcame her own negative perceptions on homosexuality to later become an early leader of what eventually became Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, died Friday in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 90.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  admin

Odessa gets a PFLAG chapter — plus, some tips for dealing with family over the holidays

Odessa is the latest Texas city to get a chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians.

According to the PFLAG website, the Odessa chapter is one of about 17 in Texas and 500 nationwide.

CBS 7 reports:

“My daughter told me at the age of 37 that she was gay,” says Shari Johnson.

And Johnson didn’t take the news lightly.

“I fell apart, went to pieces, thought it was the end of the world … begged God to change her … and in the process he changed me,” she claims.

She was changed through PFLAG.

“All of the people involved helped me understand that this wasn’t a tragedy. Found out I was lacking in the love department…and that’s the most important thing.”

That’s why she started a chapter here in her hometown of Odessa.

Also, as we perused the PFLAG site, we couldn’t help but notice these “Tips for a Happy Holiday for GLBT People.” If you plan to come out to family during the holidays or bring your partner home for a visit, they’re probably worth a look. For example:

• If you bring your partner home, don’t wait until late into the holiday evening to raise the issue of sleeping arrangements. Make plans in advance.

—  John Wright

Fort Worth PFLAG member responds to Cornyn’s ‘insulting and degrading’ form letter about DADT

Sen. John Cornyn

So you’ve been a good gay and contacted your senators about repealing “don’t ask don’t tell.” But chances are if you live in Texas you’re not going to be satisfied with their response. You could write them back, but what happens when you just receive the same bullshit form letter response again? This is precisely the dilemma faced by Russell Brown, who contacted us this morning to say that he’s none too happy with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn:

“As a member of Ft Worth PFLAG, I have enrolled to receive e-mail alerts from a couple groups,” Brown wrote to Instant Tea. “I signed an online petition and filled out an on-line request forwarded to my congressional representatives favoring the repeal of DADT. I received e-mail form letters and I felt the one received from Sen. Cornyn’s office was insulting and degrading to our gay servicemen and women. I was angered enough that I wrote a two-page letter back to Sen. Cornyn refuting comments he made in his e-mail. I thought it was a good letter. Yesterday in the mail, I received a letter response from Sen. Cornyn’s office thanking me for contacting his office and reiterating the same insulting and degrading message — word for word — that I had received from him earlier by e-mail. Now, I’m even more incensed!”

We sympathize with you, Mr. Brown, and it’s nice to know we have allies like you. We don’t have a solution, but at the very least, we thought we’d go ahead and publish your letter to Cornyn here. Read it below, followed by the form letter.

—  John Wright