Softball coaches accused of outing E. Texas teen

Trial set for January after federal judge rules privacy claim can move forward in court

Wyatt.Skye

Skye Wyatt

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

TYLER — Before Skye Wyatt’s softball coaches outed her as a lesbian to her mother in 2009, she was a straight-A student who loved going to school, Wyatt alleges in court documents.

Then a 16-year-old sophomore at Kilgore High School in East Texas, Wyatt wanted to continue playing softball and maybe even become a coach.

But after coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell locked Wyatt in a locker room on March 3, 2009 — where they allegedly threatened and interrogated her, before kicking her off the team and outing her to her mom — Wyatt said she became depressed and anxious.

“I had trouble sleeping,” Wyatt wrote in a sworn statement dated Oct. 3, 2011. “I even cut myself and contemplated suicide. My grades went down, and I started skipping school.

“As a result of Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Newell telling my mom I was gay, she and I didn’t speak for months,” Wyatt wrote. “Our relationship was totally destroyed for almost two years. It was incredibly difficult for me to go through all of the pain of being outed and kicked off the softball team without feeling close to my mom.”

In December 2010, Wyatt and her mother, Barbara, filed a federal lawsuit against Fletcher, Newell and the Kilgore Independent School District, accusing them of violating her privacy.

Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Love, of the Eastern District of Texas, denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in the case, which is now set for trial in January.

Wayne Krause, an attorney with the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing Barbara and Skye Wyatt, called Love’s decision to deny summary judgment “a huge victory.”

Krause said it marks the first time a court in the 5th U.S. Circuit — which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — has identified a constitutional right to privacy for sexual orientation information.

“It’s one thing to say that conduct by LGBT people can’t be criminalized under the Constitution,” Krause said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the state’s sodomy ban. “It’s another to say there’s an explicit constitutional right to have information about sexual orientation be kept confidential.”

Attorney Robert S. Davis of Tyler, who’s representing the defendants, downplayed the significance of Love’s 23-page decision.

“I think the court found that there were some contested fact issues, and that’s fairly common, so we’re ready to go to trial on it and think we’ll get a good result,” Davis said.

In court documents, the defendants allege that Skye Wyatt had been openly gay for several years and never attempted to keep her sexuality secret.

They also argue that the coaches had a legitimate interest in revealing Wyatt’s sexual orientation to her mother, because they were concerned about her safety. The coaches said they believed Wyatt was in a potentially illegal relationship with an 18-year-old named Hillary Nutt.

But the plaintiffs responded that if the coaches thought Wyatt was in an illegal relationship, they should have reported it to law enforcement, not her mother. The defendants also note that the school district doesn’t routinely investigate heterosexual relationships between 16- and 18-year-olds.

Instead, the coaches were merely retaliating against Wyatt and trying to intimidate her, the plaintiffs allege. The coaches believed Wyatt had started a rumor that Nutt was Newell’s ex-girlfriend and that the coach herself was gay.

According to the original lawsuit, Fletcher and Newell called an unscheduled team meeting on March 3, 2009. The coaches dismissed the rest of the team before leading Wyatt, identified as “S.W.” in court documents, into a locker room and locking the door behind them.

“Fletcher asked S.W. if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that S.W. was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,’” the suit states. “The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, S.W. was dating that girl.”

When Wyatt denied the allegations, the coaches reacted angrily, threatening to sue her for slander and making menacing gestures. “S.W. was very afraid, and feared they might strike her,” the complaint states.

After Fletcher and Newell finally allowed Wyatt  to leave the locker room, they promptly phoned Barbara Wyatt and asked her to meet them at the field.

When Barbara Wyatt arrived, the coaches told her that her daughter was a lesbian and gave her the phone number of the girlfriend.

The coaches kicked Skye Wyatt off the softball team, but lied to other players by saying she had quit, according to the lawsuit. Their actions resulted in “severe mental and emotional anguish, resulted in social isolation, and robbed her of the freedom to deal with her sexuality privately, at her own pace and on her own terms.”

Barbara Wyatt eventually filed a complaint with the school district’s superintendent, who dismissed it saying that the coaches were “legally obligated to share this information with the parent.”

“In other words, KISD’s policy mandates that teachers disclose students’ sexual orientation to their parents,” the suit alleges.

“Discrimination, bullying and the infliction of emotional trauma against students who are gay or believed to be gay is a nationally recognized problem,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ actions and policies exacerbate this problem and set a very harmful example to students, teachers, and parents in Kilgore ISD.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lawsuit: High school softball coaches in E. Texas outed lesbian teen to her mom

Two high school softball coaches in East Texas are accused of maliciously outing a sophomore player as a lesbian to her mother, then kicking her off the team.

And Kilgore Independent School District officials are accused of defending the coaches’ actions by arguing that they were “legally obligated” to disclose the girl’s sexual orientation to her parents.

The student, identified as S.W., and her mother have filed a federal lawsuit against the coaches, the school district, and an assistant athletic director, accusing them of violating her privacy. The student and her mother are represented by the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project in the lawsuit filed Dec. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that the two coaches at Kilgore High School, Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell, locked S.W. in a locker room in March 2009 and threatened and interrogated her. The coaches allegedly were angry because S.W. was dating a girl whom Newell may have previously dated.

“Fletcher asked S.W. if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that S.W. was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,’” the lawsuit states. “The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, S.W. was dating that girl.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: Officials at Okla. high school accused of bullying lesbian students into dropping out

What happens when anti-gay bullying comes not from students but from a school’s administration?

Several lesbian former students say administrators at Del City High School, southeast of Oklahoma City, are discouraging gay students from graduating.

One girl, Kelsey Hicks, says the principal told her to drop out and get her GED because, “You’re gay, you’re not going to do anything with your life.”

Another, Melissa McKenzie, said she was expelled from Del City after moving in with her girlfriend. “He [the principal] said if you go back to your mom’s house, you can go back to school.”

Both Hicks and McKenzie also say they were kicked off the Del City High School softball team.

A third girl who graduated from Del City High School said a school official once told her that being gay is an “unhealthy lifestyle.”

“He had found out that I was gay and he was on my case about every little thing,” she said.

According to KWTV Channel 9 in Oklahoma City, the school district issued a statement saying the three girls aren’t current students and none of them has filed a complaint.

—  John Wright

Looking back on 20 years of LifeWalk

By Dan Gueths Special contributor

Dan Gueths and Del Shores
2008 MEMORY | Dan Gueths, left, with 2008 LifeWalk Honorary Co-Chair Del Shores.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four columns by past co-chairs of the AIDS Arms LifeWalk that will be published in Dallas Voice, leading up to the 20th anniversary event on Oct. 10.

What is now the start of my 16th  year of involvement with LifeWalk started with just a simple question from two friends and co-workers. In 1994, James Youngblood was LifeWalk co-chair and Leigh Ann Stockard, who went on to also serve as co-chair, approached me and asked if I would like to help with LifeWalk.

For us, as for many, the reason to get involved was very personal. The three of us had two incredibly funny, personable and dear co-workers, Todd LeBlanc and Marty Rizzo, that we lost too soon to HIV/AIDS. Leigh Ann and I went and sat many an afternoon with Marty when he was homebound. But we lost many more friends and acquaintances, too, and there were more to come, including, over the years, many of my good friends that used to play for the Hunky’s softball team.

The first year I was involved, I set out cones along the LifeWalk route. I enjoyed the experience, so I agreed to help out again the next year, and then the next, etc. For the next several years, I served on the steering committee in logistics and recruitment, eventually being the committee chair for Operations.

I am honored to have served as LifeWalk event co-chair in 2008 and 2009. I had to think long and hard about being agreeing to fill the position — the duties are not easy. But the rewards I reaped in personal satisfaction far outweighed the workload and responsibility.

Another huge reward along the journey has been working with some very dedicated people who volunteer their time and talents, people like Mary Marshall, Jay Nolen, Keith Hickman, Terry Walker, Sandra Howell, Carter Brown, the TGRA (which always responds to the call for help), just to name a very few. But the list has no end.

As LifeWalk marks its 20th year, it is for me both monumental and bittersweet. It is a great achievement that LifeWalk has grown and raised millions of dollars that has provided for so many. But it is bittersweet that it continues to be a necessary that LifeWalk has more anniversaries.

This 20th anniversary year is also a time to reflect and remember: To remember the need for the event, to remember those that we have lost, to reflect on how we can move forward and encourage and educate a new generation and populations that are still unaware of the facts about HIV. Now is the time to remember those that took the initiative and accepted the challenge and the responsibility of creating and forming a community event to answer the needs of those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

When it first started, LifeWalk was organized under the auspices of Oak Lawn Community Services. Many people in the community received invaluable services from OLCS and many individuals that served and volunteered for that agency, among them the incredible, inspirational Martha Dealey, have established themselves as great assets to the LGBT community and continued to provide service and mentorship to countless numbers.

AIDS Arms partnered with, and eventually assumed full sponsorship of LifeWalk. AIDS Arms has guided and nurtured the event so that the awareness and monies raised have continued to assist those that are in need.

There is a treasure trove of memories I have from this time, and some that truly stand out: Lisa Loeb performing for three years; walking through Neiman Marcus as part of the route; port-a-potties being blown over into the street the years the event was held in downtown; the return to Lee Park; the year the radios were delivered with no antennas and the Dallas Amateur Radio Club pulled us through; Jason Huff singing the national anthem; the Turtle Creek Chorale and Women’s Chorus of Dallas performing; Margaret Byrne and Scott Duncan meeting in Lee Park and getting married this year; and so many more. These are memories that will last me a lifetime.

But the thing that stands out and means the most — and this happens every year — is someone coming up and saying, “Thank you for all you are doing; it means the world to me.”

I could write volumes about the commitment and dedication of those individuals that co-chaired the first LifeWalk and those that followed. One of the focuses for the 20th anniversary is the opportunity to honor these individuals, and I cannot say enough to thank them for their service, and I hope that everyone who reads this article will take the time and effort to pass along a thank you, as well.

The co-chairs that have served over the last 20 year are Fred York, Barbara O’Brien, Carolyn Roney, Bruce Russell, Roger Bolen, Sara Reidy, James Youngblood, Kathy Hewitt, Steve Habgood, Leigh Ann Stockard, Gregory Pynes, Deiadra Burns, John Woodyard, Wendi Rothschild, Jerry MacDonald, Elizabeth Brown, Bill Carter, Ray Warner, Scott Kersh and Fred Harris — and me.

This 20th anniversary LifeWalk is both call to action and a time to celebrate. There is still much work to be done.

We have a saying that we hope some year we won’t need LifeWalk  — because the work and dedication of researchers, doctors, caregivers, advocates, case workers, service agencies and volunteers will have come to fruition and we will have eliminated HIV/AIDS. What a celebration that would bring!

But for now we celebrate our small successes both past and present. I can’t say enough about the importance of everyone getting involved. The community is what its peoples contribute, and the community is you!

The 20th anniversary LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 10, at Lee Park. For more information or to register to participate, go online to AIDSLifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

14 men, out

Dallas’ TKO softball team surprises everyone to win the NAGAAA World Series

BATTER UP | Members of the TKO team, from left to right: Dewitt Myers, Roger B., Chris Vogel, Mo Stephens, Woody Morrow (with ball), Chris Williams, John Gordon, Jason Taylor, Patrick Phelan (with trophy),Mark Beck, Ben Johnston, Ken Keistler, Grady Callaway and Marcus Nunn (seated). (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Although they’d just won the World Series, members of the Pegasus Slowpitch Softball Association team TKO did not go to Disney World. Instead, they headed back to Dallas, heads held high, just in time for Pride. With three injured players and a near comeback by the other team, confidence pushed the team to dominate the Long Beach Rounders and bring home the B-division trophy at the NAGAAA championship in Columbus, Ohio, last month.

With a strong  start in the first inning, Long Beach tied TKO in the bottom of the sixth.  Then third baseman Dewitt Myers swatted one for a double with runners on first and second. With four consecutive hits, the team pulled away from Long Beach and the buzz began.

“I felt confident after Dewitt’s double, “ coach and pitcher Woody Morrow says. “Then [hitter] Patrick [Phelan] led off strongly in the last inning.”

The winning moment was different for catcher Chris Williams. “I knew we had it when Chris Vogel, our shortstop scooped the third out up,” he says. “But even then, I felt shocked and did not believe it.”

As great as the victory was for TKO (sponsored by Uptown Vision), the entire league has reason to be proud. Four teams from Big D placed in the top five in the other two divisions: The Round-Up Fuse placed second in C-division and Woody’s Wrecking Crew took home fifth; that was mirrored in D-division, with Dallas Thunder in second and Round-Up Diesel in fifth.

But this is TKO’s moment.

“The biggest thing I like about this team is the camaraderie we have,” first baseman Marcus Nunn says. “I’ve been to the World Series 13 years in a row, and this is the first time I won.”

……………………………..

I’m really excited after 11 years to win the World Series. Credit goes to Woody our coach. He’s the reason we’ve been winning consistently.
— Ben Johnston, outfielder

We lost our best player on the first play of the first game. He recovered and contributed huge on that final day.
— John Gordon, catcher

When we dog piled around the pitchers mound is etched in my mind forever!
Patrick Phelan, utility player

— Rich Lopez

For more information, visit DallasPSSA.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas