New Stephenville LGBT social group created ‘a comfort zone’ in a ‘conservative, traditional town’

The logo for the Stephenville LGBT group, STRIDE.

Brittany Williams grew up in Stephenville thinking she was the only person like herself.

The daughter of a preacher, Williams, a lesbian, said she grew up in the “very conservative, traditional town” never talking about homosexuality.

While her brother came out to her parents when he was 15, Williams said it took her until she was 21 to tell her parents the truth after they found out about her relationship.

Now 25, Williams decided to unite the Stephenville LGBT community. She started a private Facebook group in February, inviting a few friends that she knew were gay and encouraging them to invite others.

Over time, the group grew in size and attendance at socials and dinners thrived. The group now has 100 members as of Monday.

“We became family overnight,” she said.

The group was initially intended as a social group because the small town about 100 miles southwest of Dallas has so few options for the LGBT community, she said. But after a group of students from Tarleton State University asked for the group’s help with reorganizing the college’s Gay Straight Alliance, Williams said the group grew and adopted the name STRIDE – Stephenville Tarleton Recognizing Individuals in Diversity and Equality.

About a month ago, some members went to Williams to ask for help with changing the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, formally called TPT or Texans Promoting Tolerance. She said about 60 percent of STRIDE’s members attend Tarleton.

Aside from having poor attendance and few events, Williams said the GSA’s name was not welcoming enough of the LGBT students who seek refuge and acceptance by attending.

“We didn’t like the word ‘tolerance’ because we’re already tolerated,” she said. “We want to be accepted, so we’re working on a new name.”

One of the members also wants to start an LGBT fraternity at Tarleton as well, but Williams said that may take about a year to start.

Despite the history of the Tarleton administration canceling a production of Terrance McNally’s gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” two years ago, Williams said the group wants to help the college come back from that and create better relations with the LGBT community.

“We’re trying to come up back underneath all of that and to make our voices heard that we’re here,” she said. “We know there are going to be some disagreement from the community. So, we’re just preparing ourselves for whatever comes our way we’re going to stick together as one big group.”

Williams said that while her family now accepts her being gay and has embraced her efforts to bring the Stephenville LGBT community together, she is thrilled with the fast success of the group and the barriers it has already begun to break.

“It’s just awesome that there are people here that are like us. We’re all one big group and we’re here to support each other,” she said. “We all have the same kind of story. We come form a small town. We don’t feel really accepted in this town, but now that this STRIDE group has started, it’s like a comfort zone.”

One things the group has made Williams realize is that her success can be anyone’s success in a small town.

“You’d be surprised where there are LGBT individuals,” she said. “If we can do it, any small town can get any kind of group started.”

Anyone interested in joining the private Facebook group can email group organizers at LGBTStephenville@gmail.com.

—  Dallasvoice

SA homophobes put new twist on played-out protests of Terrence McNally’s ‘Corpus Christi’

You’ve gotta hand it to the Alamo City. First they brought us Dan Ramos, and now this.

The San Antonio Express-News reports that a group of so-called religious leaders has banded together to denounce a scheduled production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi at the San Pedro Playhouse, which happens to receive a small amount of funding from the city.

As you’re undoubtedly aware, McNally’s “gay Jesus” play has sparked controversy in various places across the country, including in 2010 at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, when a scheduled production prompted Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to intervene.

But to their credit, these San Antonio homophobes aren’t just repeating tired old criticisms of the play about blasphemy, etc. That’s right, even though it’s total bullshit, at least they’ve come up with a new reason for opposing Corpus Christi: The group, which plans a news conference at City Hall this afternoon, claims that in addition to portraying “such a profane and disrespectful depiction of Jesus Christ,” the play is “insensitive” to the gay community because it contains a “crude portrayal of homosexual men.” Here’s an excerpt from the group’s letter:

“It would be easy, but inaccurate, to dispose of our concerns as a homophobic response to the depiction of Jesus as a homosexual leading a band of homosexual apostles. While many may find this characterization troubling, we feel that the crude portrayal of homosexual men in this play is, at best, an exaggerated caricature that is insensitive also to our gay and lesbian community.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Lady Gaga at the Round-Up last night; Joel Burns’ brother killed in wreck

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. What a treat for the little monsters in Dallas. Lady Gaga stopped by the Round-Up Saloon again last night in advance of her show tonight at the American Airlines Center, and this time she performed a song accompanied by backup dancers. Above is a still from video shot by our Brent Paxton. More coming later.

UPDATE: We’ve posted more photos and video here.

2. What a whirlwind year it’s been for openly gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who gained international attention when he delivered his “It Gets Better” speech at a council meeting in October. On Saturday, Burns’ younger brother — 27-year-old Cody Burns of Stephenville — was killed when he lost control of his pickup on a dirt road in Erath County. In a post on Facebook, Joel Burns said Cody “was one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known. I and my family will miss him every day.”

3. State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, squared off with anti-gay Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, on the issue of same-sex adoption on KXAN’s Session ’11 on Sunday. Anchia has filed a bill that would allow same-sex parents to put both of their names on an adopted child’s birth certificate. Watch video of the exchange below.

Session ’11: Reps. Berman and Anchia: kxan.com

—  John Wright

Lt. governor candidates low key on LGBT issues

Dewhurst lists fiscal responsibility as a top issue; Chavez-Thompson says she is focusing on education

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

ON THE ISSUES | Although the candidates for Texas lieutenant governor have been relatively quiet on LGBT issues, a few key statements give an indication on where they stand. Republican incumbent David Dewhurst, left, chimed in to help cancel a student production of the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” last spring. Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic challenger, Tweeted her support for equality when a judge overturned California’s Proposition 8.

LGBT issues are not playing a big role in the race for Texas lieutenant governor between Republican incumbent David Dewhurst and Democratic challenger Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Neither candidate addresses LGBT issues on their website. But while neither campaign returned phone calls from Dallas Voice seeking comment for this story, a Tweet and a recent incident give an indication of their positions.

Dewhurst played a role in last spring’s controversy over the production of the play “Corpus Christi” at Tartleton State University in Stephenville.

“No one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans,” Dewhurst said in a written statement.

In later praising the university for canceling the performance, he claimed he was “a strong defender of free speech.”

Chavez-Thompson has taken a more LGBT-friendly stance.

After the Proposition 8 decision was handed down in California, she Tweeted her reaction to the ruling: “So glad to hear Prop 8 was overturned today. It was discrimination at its worst. I will keep fighting for equality for all Texans.”

Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Darling Ewing said she believes Chavez-Thompson would be an ally to the LGBT community.

“Linda comes from an immigrant family, a poor family,” said Ewing. “On equality, she’ll be right on the issues.”

Dewhurst has been lieutenant governor since 2003 and is running for a third term. He was first elected to statewide office in 1998 as commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas.

On his website, Dewhurst prominently displays a “Petition to Repeal Obamacare” directly under his “Take Action” call for volunteers for his campaign.

Under a pull down list of issues, health care is first. While he claims that an overwhelming majority of people oppose the “2,000-plus page, $1.2 trillion, health care overhaul” and estimates the new law will add $27 billion in costs to taxpayers, he proposes no solution to the lack of health coverage by Texans.

“He isn’t in favor of health care,” Ewing said. “He’s only interested in not paying for it.”

Dewhurst’s other top issues are fiscal responsibility, border security and property rights. He believes the federal government has not stopped the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants into Texas, and he says Texas has stepped in to enhance border security. He does not, however, propose an Arizona-type immigration law for the state.

Chavez-Thompson lists jobs and education as her top issues.

“The state has dropped the ball on education,” Ewing said. “It’s all about saving a buck. They’ve made college education a luxury. The cost of a college education today is ridiculous.”

Chavez-Thompson also addresses the health care debate on her website, saying, “Today, rising health care costs has forced too many Texas families to go without insurance.”

Chavez-Thompson spent most of her career working her way up through union ranks. When she was chosen to serve as the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, she was the first woman and the first person of color to hold that position.

President Bill Clinton appointed Chavez-Thompson to serve on his Race Advisory Board and on the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Today, she is vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“I think what she brings us is a workingman’s perspective,” Ewing said. “Because of her union history, she brings bargaining skills that would bring groups together.”

Local Republicans did not return calls or offered no comment for this article.

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

—  Michael Stephens

‘Corpus Christi’ documentary trailer debuts

Earlier this year, the will-it-or-won’t-it production of Terrence McNally’s controversial gay apostle play Corpus Christi generated tons of local (then national) buzz, first with a student production at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, later with an imported production at the Cathedral of Hope. The team doing the touring show were in the midst of making a documentary about their experiences.

They’ve just released a trailer of the video, and it actually looks pretty good. You can see it here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

'Corpus Christi' to be performed in Fort Worth

John Otte

John Otte

The controversial class production of the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi” will be performed in Fort Worth.

John Jordan Otte, the student who chose the play as a project for his advanced directing class, said that a date has not been set but he wants to finish the semester first. He said the date will probably be sometime in late May.

He is working with Elaine Liner and Mark Lowry of Theater Jones to bring the production to the Metroplex and the production will be held at the Rose Marine Theater west of downtown. The Fort Worth theater is more than 2 1/2 times larger than the space it would have been presented in at Tarleton State University.

—  David Taffet

Tarleton State University cancels performance of gay-themed play, citing safety concerns

So much for free expression.

The much-publicized performance of a gay-themed play at Tarleton State University, scheduled for Saturday morning, was canceled Friday night due to safety concerns, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Tarleton State President F. Dominic Dottavio issued a statement earlier Friday calling the play “offensive, crude and irreverent,” but adding that stopping the production would amount to a violation of free expression. However, the university issued a statement later saying the class’s professor canceled the play due to concerns about students’ safety and the need to maintain an orderly academic environment.

Also, Friday, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued a statement condemning the play, according to The Texas Tribune. Here’s what Dewhurst said:

“Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech, but no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the majority of Americans.

Texans don’t deserve to see their hard-earned tax money used to debase their religion. This lewd display runs completely contrary to the standards of scholastic excellence and common decency that we demand in our publicly-funded institutions for higher learning.”

—  John Wright

Drama continues for Tarleton student

John Jordan Otte
John Jordan Otte

Since my story last week about Tarleton State University student John Jordan Otte directing an excerpt of the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi,” pressure has persisted to stop the production.

Letters to the editor of The Stephenville Empire Tribune have continued to spew hatred.

Several of the actors in the class project have been forced to leave the play.

Another, a freshman whose father is a Baptist minister in Stephenville, refused to quit the production and was thrown out of his house. Otte has taken in the student and given him a place to live.

This morning on KRLD, host Jodie Dean ambushed Otte, asking whether he chose the play just to provoke controversy. Otte said that he did not, and Dean challenged him on that.

The play was chosen as a class assignment and will be presented one time in a theater that holds just 95 people. The excerpt from the play will be shown along with three other 45-minute productions. While open to the public, the show wasn’t meant to be advertised or promoted. It was intended to be seen mostly by friends and family of the actors.

Instead, word got out about the play, and the controversy erupted. The president of the university has issued a statement defending Otte’s freedom of speech.

I’m sure Dean thought he was being very clever on his right-wing talkfest this morning. But Otte had no reason to believe that this project for his directing class would get any more public attention than homework for his math class.

—  David Taffet