In midst of gay teen suicide crisis, Houston’s Kinkaid School removes Safe Space stickers

Texas Monthly‘s March issue features an interesting piece (already available online to subscribers) about the ideological battle that’s gripped Houston’s prestigious Kinkaid School since a parent — who also happened to be one of the highest-paid bankers on Wall Street — wrote an e-mail that went viral in 2009 complaining that the school had become too liberal.

Texas Monthly‘s John Spong concludes that in the aftermath of the e-mail, conservatives appear to have won the day at George W. Bush’s alma mater: At least three openly gay Kinkaid staffers have resigned their posts, sexual orientation is excluded from a new diversity policy at the school, and GLSEN Safe Space stickers were removed from classrooms and offices:

With gay suicides and bullying in national headlines, that move struck many as beyond tone-deaf. For them, the school’s reasoning—that the stickers implied that one group was more protected than others—showed greater concern for some people’s political views than for the welfare of vulnerable students. The same objection was raised when the board clarified its edict on “student exposure to issues relating to sexual orientation.” Faculty had pointed out that kids trying to understand their sexual identity often reach out to them; a gay Kinkaid alum I talked to credited one such teacher with saving his life. Could that conversation now get a teacher fired? The board stressed that the proper place for these sorts of conversations was at home or in a counselor’s office, adding that teachers were not to initiate those discussions. As one current faculty member put it, “We’re allowed to have those conversations; we’re just not allowed to tell the kids we’re allowed to have those conversations. That’s the thing that’s confusing.”

—  John Wright

Students building Equality at Eastfield College

BUILDING EQUALITY | When Philomena Aceto, right, realized that Eastfield College had no LGBT organization on campus, she and another student decided to start one themselves. Judith Dumont, left, signed on as the fledgling group’s faculty advisor.

Snow delays start of Eastfield College GSA, but organizers say first meeting will be rescheduled

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

MESQUITE — Eastfield College was the largest of the area’s community colleges without a Gay Straight Alliance, according to student Philomena Aceto. But now Aceto is working to change that.

Aceto — whose partner is longtime activist Dawn Meifert and who has her own history as an activist — began working on her degree at Eastfield last summer. She met Kris Fleskes, another student, and they realized there was no representation for the LGBT community on the more than 18,000-student campus.

Other area two-year colleges have GSAs and campus LGBT alliances. Last fall, P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities, opened successfully at Navarro Community College in Corsicana. The GSA at Richland College, the largest Dallas County Community College, meets twice a month.

“Let’s start one,” Aceto urged Fleskes.

Any campus group must have a faculty advisor but faculty cannot start a group themselves. So Fleskes and Aceto met with two Eastfield staff members, Judith Dumont and Kristie Vowels.

Dumont, former director of Youth First Texas, is now the faculty advisor for the new group.

When she began working at Eastfield last summer, Dumont said, she tried to make her office the safe space on campus for the LGBT community and indicated that by putting an HRC sticker and “proud ally” stickers on her door.

She said she cheered when the two students approached her about starting the GSA.

Aceto said Vowels told her, “You are exactly what we’ve been praying for.”

The group’s first meeting has been postponed twice because of weather. Aceto said that’s just giving her more time to promote the club in classes and on campus.

“I’m out preaching it every day,” Aceto said. “This isn’t about being gay. It’s about equality.”

To emphasize that point, they’re calling their group Equality.

Aceto said she’s has been running up against some resistance and a lot of indifference in an area she called one of the most conservative in Dallas County.

“We’re curious how the campus will receive us,” Dumont said.

She attended advisor training and said there was no reaction when she announced the name of the group she would facilitate.

“I’m hoping everything will be OK,” she said.

But Dumont agreed that the campus was very conservative.

“There were raised eyebrows on campus when I didn’t change my name after I got married in November,” she said.

Aceto said she would like to bring some interesting speakers to campus and produce some creative programming.

“We want to go after bullying,” she said.

Dumont said the group was important as a safe space not just for students, but for faculty, staff and administrators as well.

She said she’s already planning to participate in National Day of Silence. Last year, Dumont organized that event among students who are active with Youth First Texas.

Eastfield College was closed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, the most recent launch date for Equality. Aceto said the group would reschedule over the next week.

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

—  John Wright

Starvoice • 12.10.10

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Benjamin Bratt turns 47 on Thursday. The hunky actor has always been easy on the eyes, but more so with gay audiences in this past year. He starred in La Mission earlier this year, a film about homophobia within the Latino community of San Francisco. Way back in January 2010, he guest starred on the gay-friendly hit comedy, Modern Family.

………………………

THIS WEEK

Mercury backing into Pluto, Mars and the North Node, all in Capricorn, may unleash a torrent of backlogged work, ancient regrets, old failures and feeling old. Face up to the hard work that remains before you. Learn from past mistakes, shrug off useless distractions and focus on priorities.

………………………

SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Problems with money and errors in accounts are surfacing. They indicate deeper problems and will require work. Focus on the clean up phase for now. You can solve this one step at a time.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19

Neglected duties and responsibilities bite you on the ass if you don’t turn around and face up to them. Worrying takes more energy than dealing with them —stress makes you look older.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18

Your worst nightmares prove a blessing in disguise. Dig deep into your fears and see what’s behind them. To conquer those fears, do charity work for those who have suffered.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
The future is looking dark, but a rude shock will help you see flaws. It could be either worse or better than you imagine. It will be very different. Find a safe space to scream, just to let it out.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Your engine to success is heading toward a train wreck. Backtracking is necessary for course correction. Look at those who’ve gotten where you want and learn from their examples.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
Everything you know is wrong. Joining arguments can help you discard obsolete notions and get more insight. Phrases like “playing devil’s advocate” offer wiggle room.

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
You need a good challenge to explore new depths, whether in the bedroom, in meditation or in a library. Exploring kink is fine, but be very careful. Save erotic asphyxiation for another time.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
Every relationship has problems, and you are hitting a perfect storm. This will pass. Single or coupled, think hard about the necessary work that goes into a good partnership.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22

When you hit the wall, don’t bang your head against it. Life is more like a labyrinth than a racetrack. Take strategic turns, sometimes seeming to go backward. Breathe. Think. Adapt.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22

You can make fun look like hard work, but if you find hard work to be fun, be as productive and creative as you like. Remember: Geeks and nerds rule the world while partiers fall by the wayside.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22

Uncover family secrets if you can stand the shock. Don’t mind upsetting some folks on the way. Interview your oldest relatives — preferably the outcasts — if you want the dirt.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21

You sound harsher than you intend. Write before you speak. Even when you want to blast the stupidity out of some obstructive bubblehead, organize your thoughts on paper first.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

‘The Closer’ cast, Kevin Bacon supporting GLSEN’S ‘Safe Space Kit’ program

I have long been a big fan of The Closer, Kyra Sedgwick‘s show on the TNT network. Now I have even more reason to like the show, Sedgwick and the rest of the cast — and her husband, Kevin Bacon.

The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network — aka GLSEN — has started its Safe Space Campaign, through which individuals can donate $20 and get one of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kits placed in the high school of their choice. The kit, according to GLSEN, “provides educators with tools and resources to address anti-LGBT bullying and create a safe and affirming space for LGBT youth.”

GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey shows that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT youth experienced harassment in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and nearly two-thirds because of their gender expression. The survey also found that having supportive educators drastically improves the school experiences of LGBT youth.

Considering that schools can be such a breeding ground for and hot bed of bullying, I think anything that can help stop the bullying there is a good thing — especially for schools in areas where there aren’t organizations like Resource Center Dallas and Fairness Fort Worth helping get anti-bullying policies and programs in place.

Jonathan Del Arco is the gay actor who plays the gay coroner, Dr. Morales, on The Closer. Del Arco is the one who got Sedgwick and his other castmates to get on board the Safe Space train, and they did it by recording public service announcements encouraging people to support the campaign and donate to it. TNT has posted the PSA on its website.

Then Sedgwick and Bacon went a step further by joining together to film a second PSA about the Safe Space Campaign.

The Closer isn’t the only show to join the Safe Space Campaign, and its stars aren’t the only celebrities involved. You can watch more PSAs here. And even more important, you can donate here to send a Safe Space Kit to the high school of your choice. I’m sending one to my alma mater; I can’t think of a better gift this holiday than to help make LGBT students safer in their schools.

—  admin

Chely Wright answers the call

The country music star and out lesbian may be busy with a new album and tour, but she always makes time for her new-found passion for advocating for LGBT equality

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

When Chely Wright came out this summer, the buzz in the music industry was mixed. But as it turned out, she did it at precisely the right time.

Combining her star power with advocacy, Wright has become the face of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and an outspoken advocate for her new-found community. She has stepped up to the plate and used her stature to focus attention on LGBT issues.

The buzz around Wright’s coming out was quickly eclipsed by head-grabbing issues like same-sex marriage rulings, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the rash of gay youth suicides and bullying.

Still, Wright interjected herself into the conversation and people listened, while other gay celebrities were being supportive, but perhaps less vocal. For her efforts, Wright will be awarded the 2010 Media Award at this weekend’s Black Tie Dinner.

“This is what I felt like I was supposed to do, and it would be wrong of me not do this,” Wright said recently of her work in the community.

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold said that Wright was the unanimous choice for the Med Award this year. As the year progressed, Wright’s work with LGBT youth and her public profile narrowed the choices tremendously until she became the decisive choice.

“The breadth of her activity immediately upon coming out was definitely a factor. She faced issues head on and she’s made an incredible impact in reaching Middle America,” Guillard said.

Wright has most recently chosen to become involved in addressing the seemingly skyrocketing rate of bullying and LGBT youth suicides. Her work with GLSEN helped launch the Safe Space Campaign for schools to provide outright support to gay students and end anti-gay harassment and bullying. She joined a panel of celebrities on Larry King Live calling attention to the issue — which she stressed isn’t new.

“What’s going on now is not a shock to me. The problem isn’t a fresh one. It’s just that now, we have the mainstream media’s attention,” Wright said.

She quoted Kathy Griffin from that panel, agreeing with the comedian that bullying is based in homophobia stemming from a bigger picture that paints a distinct portrait to both straight and gay communities. “I hadn’t thought about it until she said

something amazing. She called it ‘trickle-down homophobia,’ where gay issues and headlines meet. DADT is denied, marriage denied and we’re constantly told we’re ‘less than,’” Wright said. “Not only bullies are hearing that, but young gay people are too.”

And that gives LGBT youth a bleak outlook on their future, while at the same time emboldening the bullies, Wright said.

“We can tell people not to bully, but when mandates are coming down against our rights and headlines show that, how can we expect them not to, when Congress is doing it blatantly?” Wright asked.

When she wrote her autobiography Like Me, Wright’s publishers balked at the chapter on hate crimes. She fought Random House for the chapter to be included, despite them telling her it was too dramatic. In the end, Wright won and the chapter, “Hate Crimes are Down?,” foreshadowed the current issue of harassment.

“If you push a young LGBT person to the point where they take their own lives, it’s a hate crime. If you get them to kill themselves, that’s a hate crime. You aren’t connecting dots that are too far apart and now it’s horrific that it’s come to past,” Wright said.

Wright focused on the Rutgers student Tyler Clemente, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge after his roommate recorded him having sex with another man and streamed it online.

Chely Wright
SHE CAN RELATE | Chely Wright says that after spending years hiding her sexual orientation to protect her career in country music, she understands the anguish that young people struggling with their sexual orientation sometimes feel.

Wright said she faced a similar fear of being outed in the middle of her conservative country music career.

“I know what he felt like and it ripped my heart out,” she said of Clemente. “When you don’t want anyone to know that secret, the thought that runs through your mind is to jump, or pull the trigger. I couldn’t bear someone in control of my timeline for that secret,” she said.

Wright has been open about her faith as well, which brings a fairly new facet to the openly gay celebrity. Where most might dismiss religion as a hindrance, Wright seems to want to let people know that being gay and being religious are not mutually exclusive.

But at the same time, she said it is religion that is responsible for so much bigotry.

“Churches are not being held accountable. They tell young people they are damaged goods,” Wright said. “They tell them not to shoplift, which is a question of morality and making the right decision. But when they tell them not to be gay, that sets them onto a path of self-loathing and hatred and it’s contrary to a healthy life.”

Along with GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign, Wright has given her support to the nonprofit organization Faith in America, which works to counteract the discrimination by religious communities toward the LGBT community.

“When you tell a kid he can’t be that way, it’s just a problem. We have got to hold churches accountable,” Wright repeated. “Really, you can be a good Christian and a gay person,” she said.

Arnold sees how Wright’s passion led to the board’s decision to honor her with the award.

“She is setting a wonderful example for people of all ages right now in this critical time. She’s appreciated the community and we appreciate what she’s doing for it,” Arnold said.

With her political advocacy, it’s easy to forget what Wright does best. She is still making music, but now balances what she loves to do and what she’s called to do.

“At the root of what I do, I like to sing and make records,” Wright said. “But we do the most damage as humans with words. And I’m compelled to support kids as they turn into grownups and help them keep their heads on straight.”

So to speak.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns makes another video, this time for GLSEN

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” video has more than 2 million views, but it’s good to know that his advocacy for safe schools won’t end there. Burns has followed up by filming the above PSA for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Safe Space Campaign, which aims to place a GLSEN Safe Space Kit in every middle and high school in the country. What’s next, a YouTube reality show?

—  John Wright