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

Applause: Stage pink

Queer highlights from the upcoming theater season

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Anticipation should be strong for the upcoming theater season in general. Ambitious shows like Giant, The Tempest, West Side Story and Hairspray all dot the stage horizon.
But we also like to see some of our own up there. As we look over the upcoming offerings from local theater companies, we always ask, “Where’s the gay?”  In addition to Uptown Players’ first  Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, here are some of the others.

……………………….

Fall

Although the Dallas Opera canceled the opera she was set to star in, lesbian soprano Patricia Racette will still perform at a TDO gala. (Photo Devon Cass)

Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik gave an indie music flair to the musical adaptation of the 1891 play Spring Awakening. Set in 19th century Germany, Awakening follows a group of youths as they discover more about themselves and their rapidly developing sexuality.

The original Frank Wedekind play was controversial in its day, depicting abortion, homosexuality, rape and suicide. Now the show just has an added rock ‘n’ roll score. Along with Sheik’s musical perspective, Steven Slater wrote the book and lyrics in this updated version which debuted in 2006 on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Musical. Terry Martin directs.

WaterTower Theater, 15650 Addison Road., Addison. Sept. 30–Oct. 23. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

It’s almost un-Texan if you’re gay and not familiar with Del Shores’ tales of Southern discomfort.  Southern Baptist Sissies and Sordid Lives are pretty much part of the queer vernacular in these parts, but Shores got his start way back in 1987.

How will those northern folks take to Shores work (And by north, we mean past Central Expressway past LBJ)? Jeni Helms directs Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will for McKinney Repertory Theatre this fall. As the family patriarch suffers a stroke, the Turnover family gathers as they wait for his death. This family may just put the fun in dysfunctional.

McKinney Performing Arts Center, 111 N. Tennessee St., McKinney. Sept. 30–Oct. 7. McKinneyRep.org.

WingSpan Theatre Co. will produce one of the greater comedies of theater-dom this fall: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Nancy Sherrard sparring over the gay wit’s price bon mots as Lady Bracknell.

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Oct. 6–22. WingSpanTheatre.com.

Although A Catered Affair might sound a bit like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it has the added flair of Harvey Fierstein’s wit. That’s because he wrote the book for the show alongside John Bucchino’s music and lyrics. The play is based on the Gore Vidal-penned 1956 film The Catered Affair starring Bette Davis.

When Jane and Ralph decide to get married, Jane’s mom Agnes wants to put on an elaborate spectacle of a wedding. The truth is, she can’t afford it and Jane isn’t all too thrilled about a huge affair. As in most cases, the wedding planning is more about the mom than the daughter and Agnes soon realizes the fact. Jane’s Uncle Winston — the proverbial gay uncle — is left off the guest list and is rightfully pissed. But as most gay characters, he rallies to be the voice of reason and support.

Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street, Ste.168. Oct. 13–Nov. 12. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette was going to be featured in the production of Katya Kabanová but unfortunately the show was canceled by the Dallas Opera. But fear not. Dallas will still get to bask in the greatness that is her voice as Racette will perform An Evening with Patricia Racette, a cabaret show with classics from the Great American Songbook for a patron recital.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Nov. 9. DallasOpera.org

………………………….

Spring

Nancy Sherrard will star as Lady Bracknell in WIngSpan Theater Co.’s fall production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ perhaps the greatest comedy ever written by theaterdom’s gayest wit.

Kevin Moriarty directs Next Fall for the Dallas Theater Center next spring. Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, the play centers on Luke and Adam, a couple with some unusual issues. What’s new about that in gay couplehood? Not much, but when Adam’s an absolute atheist and Luke’s a devout Christian, the two have been doing their best to make it work.
The comedy played on Broadway in 2010, garnering Tony and Drama Desk nominations. And now Dallas gets to see how, as DTC puts it, “relationships can be a beautiful mess.”
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. April 13–May 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Perhaps the most surprising queer offering this next season is Theatre Arlington’s production of The Laramie Project. The show usually creates quite a stir — at least it did in Tyler, thanks to Trinity Wheeler — so how will this suburban audience handle it? Doesn’t matter. Props to T.A. for taking Moises Kaufman’s play about the tragic bashing and death of Matthew Shepard to its community.

Theatre Arlington, 305 W. Main St., Arlington. May 18–June 3. TheatreArlington.org.

Usually the question with MBS Productions is “what’s not gay?” Founder Mark-Brian Sonna has consistently delivered tales of gay woe and love that are sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, but always a laugh.

This season is no different. Playwright Alejandro de la Costa brings back drag queen Lovely Uranus in The Importance of Being Lovely. The last time we saw Uranus, Sonna wore the stilettos and pink wig in last season’s Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp.  This time around, Uranus graduates to leading lady status as the show is all about her as audiences follow her through the changes she makes in her make-up, wigs and men.

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. July 16–Aug. 11, 2012. MBSProductions.net.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

PHOTOS: Christian music duo (and partners) Jason & deMarco Saturday at MCC

I don’ t know how this show snuck in, but I found out about it late last week. Fortunately, one of our photographers got out to the show and snapped a few pics of the night.

The gay Christian pop duo Jason and deMarco came to Dallas for a benefit show Saturday at the Metropolitan Community Church in Carrollton. They headlined a night that also included Ray Norris, Buddy Shanahan and Kim Wisdom among others. The show was a fundraiser for AIDS Interfaith Network.

“Every dollar raised from the concert will go directly to help homeless clients with HIV/AIDS,” said Steven Pace, executive director of AIN. “We are so grateful to MCC-GD for their unwavering support.”

View more of Eric Scott Dickson’s photos from the event after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

Steven Retchless Is America’s Pole Fitness Champion

This is pole fitness, not pole dancing, people. Because one implies what your brother's Vegas bachelor party looks like, and the other is an athletic event requiring ridiculous strength in what my trainer keeps telling me is my "core." Steven "Princeton" Retchless (which is shortened to "Stretchless"; awesome) holds the title of the first-ever Male American Pole Fitness Champion, beating out the competition in October. Yes, this is a real thing. Let's watch him rehearse! Perform! And — in that third video, my favorite — pull it all off in some monster heels. Can we please petition to make this an official Olympic sport?

CONTINUED »


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Queerty

—  admin

Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi – a great profile by the Village Voice’s Steven Thrasher

It’s great to see such a nice long feature on the enigma that is Dan Choi. He has many personas based on your political perspective, but what most people can agree on is that he generates strong reactions all around. Depending on your view he’s a hero, an attention-seeker, a patriot, a man of color, a “newly minted” out gay man (who has had his Grindr profile repeatedly deleted because the staff thinks he’s impersonating “the real” Dan Choi by using his actual name for his profile), an activist, a couch-surfer, you name it.

Village Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher, a friend of the Blend who has spent time in the coffeehouse as both a diarist and a liveblog guest (re: his infamous “White America Has Lost Its Mind” piece), has painted an interesting portrait, “Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi,” that may surprise some, but if you’re a critic of MSM reporting, you’ll understand why this kind of profile hasn’t emerged in traditional media.

He has angered the left by not being lockstep antiwar enough at times, and by warmly welcoming Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager, to the gayborhood when he came out.

In a movement awash with political correctness, Choi decidedly isn’t. He is now speaking out without being asked, sometimes even angering people in his own camp. Rare among gay-rights activists in the national spotlight, Choi mixes an irrepressible sense of humor into his growing militancy.

Choi “has a public role and a private life,” one friend tells the Voice. “In his private life, he sometimes exhibits behaviors that, I fear, if caught on YouTube by somebody who was a conservative spy, would reflect very poorly on him and, by extension, on the movement. On the other hand, I’m just kind of jealous. There’s a lot of me wishing I could be out there and be as open as he is.”

Choi is unapologetic. He says he resents it when anyone, especially those in the gay-rights movement, discourages him from exploring-well, sexually-his newly revealed homosexuality.

“I think our movement hits on so many nerves,” he says, “not just for reasons of anti-discrimination and all the platitudes of the civil rights movement. I believe that it’s also because it has elements of sexual liberation. And it shows people that through what we’re trying to do, they can be fully respectful of themselves, without accepting the shame society wants to throw upon them.”

At Netroots Nation ’10.

And that’s the Dan Choi I’ve become familiar with — he’s the real deal off camera, no BS, all (too much) candor for the Beltway orgs. Think “loose cannon.” I mean that as a compliment, since by and large, many bloggers are seen in the same way, though I’d argue we play it a helluva lot safer than Dan does; he extends himself to represent those who wish they could speak out, as the unnamed friend noted. He could be seen as the Howard Beale of activists, unafraid to speak his mind in dramatic fashion, though perhaps that’s not quite right; he cleans up nicely for those on-air appearances, and he smoothly takes a jackhammer to BS – ask Valerie Jarrett how she felt after the fact-based smackdown she received on CNN last week. The White House is still trying to figure out how to recover from it.

***

At Netroots Nation ’10, Dan gave Harry Reid his West Point ring; the Senate Majority Leader said he would return it when DADT was repealed. Guess he’ll have that ring for a long while…

I was seated at the table with Dan at Netroots Nation when he prepared to go onstage and give Harry Reid his West Point ring. It was a dramatic moment that everyone knew would effectively lock the Senator into some kind of action, but Dan was nonplussed.

But to Choi’s mind, Reid’s gamble of attaching gay rights to a defense bill gave the Republicans a legitimate reason to feel shut out of the debate. So what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.

“Harry Reid is a pussy,” Choi angrily said after the failed vote in the Senate last month, vowing to speak out about the Democratic leader, “and he’ll be bleeding once a month.”

That won’t get him a job as a Beltway mouthpiece, lol. Steven’s profile captures the Dan I have engaged with, a complicated, quite entertaining and in fact lovable (would he like me saying that?) young man who believes in social justice and is willing to pay the price to achieve it in ways most people don’t feel comfortable doing.

Choi says he lives out of a couple of bags and, being used to “falling asleep wherever you have to” in the military, he doesn’t seem to mind the nomadic life. “I’m in a relationship with the movement,” he says. “And in any relationship, sometimes you have to sleep on the couch. And sometimes, even with the movement, the couch is literally a couch.”

I was around him at Netroots not long after he heard about his discharge papers being issued; it was so uncomfortable, even painful to know that he was experiencing a rush of emotions long-suppressed about the prospect of this finality.

“I just wanted to be alone, and I was in the belly of the beast, surrounded by every liberal blogger in America!” he says. With all eyes on him, he thought, “I have nothing else to give.”

Yet he continued to give, even doing TV and radio interviews in the wake of learning about his discharge papers while still in Vegas. Off-camera when I saw him milling about the hotel, he was very much a drained solitary figure in many ways. Those who accuse him of grandstanding or being a publicity hound could not be more off-base. He’s an articulate representative that you know will make the best case for equality when he goes on the air; and we need more Dan Chois to be visible and speaking truth to power — and using the mainstream media is how it’s done. We see too many of the same tired, talking heads who don’t have the experience, poise, and perspective Dan has. It’s not whether Dan should be on less, it’s that we need more diverse voices to counter not only the anti-equality mouthpieces, but the equally dreadful well-paid “conventional wisdomitis” sufferers who engage in embarrassing banter based on conversations in the bubble of the Beltway. You don’t have to always agree with Dan Choi’s rules of engagement, but he’s stepping up to take action with passion where others are content to attend cocktail parties and play it safe.

Anyway, Steven scores a win with this piece IMHO. It’s lengthy, so surf over and tell fellow members of the coffeehouse what you think of the profile.

 
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

News: Penguins, Steven Daigle, Finland, Maggie Gallagher, Shanghai

Road NOM's Maggie Gallagher on anti-gay bullying: "Do I have blood on my hands?"

RoadDNC on track for record fundraising month? "The DNC will file papers on Thursday reporting that for the first 13 days of October it raised .1 million. The total, an aide said, put the committee 'on pace for one of our best months ever for a midterm election.' The DNC also revised its records from September, adjusting the total amount raised during that month from million to million."

Galactic RoadSpace tourism set for lift-off.

RoadHow to meet European men.

RoadNewsweek: Is Obama's excuse for not repealing DADT legitimate? A must read.

RoadRemember Marjorie Christofferson, the manager at L.A. Mexican restaurant El Coyote, who was forced from her job following revelations that she contributed to the campaign to pass Prop 8? She's back.

RoadFacebook forms "network of support" to combat LGBT cyber-bullying.

RoadSaudi media silent on murder conviction of gay prince: "If it has been reported in the kingdom's mainstream media I'll be interested to know where. Some of the Lebanese and Emirati media (Gulf News and Emirates 24/7) have carried reports from international agencies but mostly the Arab media seems to be showing a distinct lack of interest in the crime."

Daigle RoadFormer Big Brother contestant-turned-porn actor Steven Daigle arrested in domestic incident at Abbey in West Hollywood (site nsfw). Mugshot.

RoadNaomi Davis is producing an NYU thesis film on DADT.

RoadClarence Thomas' wife harasses Anita Hill for apology in voicemail message: "I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband."

Homme RoadArena Homme + heralds return to glamour.

RoadSarah Palin really gets off on mama grizzlies.

RoadGay philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah on how conservatives like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are missing the mark on "America's honor."

RoadThe Village Voice's Steven Thrasher and Gay City News' Duncan Osborne receive Courage Awards from the NYC Anti-Violence Project.

RoadRobyn reveals details for Turbo Body Talk album

RoadMembers of Finland's Evangelical Lutheran Church leave in droves after anti-gay remarks on TV: "The number of people resigning from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the wake of last week’s TV discussion programme on homosexuality and the church continues to rise. The number of resignations has now exceeded 20,000…"

RoadMedia Matters looks at Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's treatment of hate crimes. Cohen: "Almost as bad as hate crimes themselves is the designation. It is a little piece of totalitarian nonsense, a way for prosecutors to punish miscreants for their thoughts or speech, both of which used to be protected by the Constitution (I am an originalist in this regard)."

Penguins RoadKing penguiins flirt with homosexuality.

Road Fan requests werewolf saliva from Joe Manganiello.

RoadShanghai gay bar receives shutdown warning over alleged rowdy behavior, public sex.

RoadWATCH: Rihanna's "Who's That Chick?" video, the day and night versions.

RoadHelp it get better now.

RoadThe window for civil unions in Illinois is brief if GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady wins in November. Brady and his challenger Pat Quinn squared off on that issue in a recent debate. "Brady defended his position against protecting gay people from discrimination or letting gay couples marry. He said his beliefs are his beliefs, and believes the people of Illinois respect that. He said his agenda is about jobs and the budget, not social issues."


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Steven Slater And JetBlue Officially Part Ways

While it's unclear if he was let go or was fired, what we do know is that Steven Slater's no longer a JetBlue employee.

Slater CNN reports: "JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin told CNN on Saturday that Steven Slater no longer works for the airline. She said that the separation occurred last week, but declined to elaborate how Slater and the company parted ways."

But according to ABC News, Slater's lawyer gave a different account on how things went down:

"…Slater's lawyer said that when the flight attendant left JetBlue on Wednesday, it was not the airline's decision. 'He was not fired,' attorney Daniel J. Horwitz told The Associated Press. The lawyer told the AP that he and Slater were still working out details with the airline, but wouldn't elaborate."

This begs the question, what's next for Slater? With his new found fame, this means he might be a season away from being a contestant on Big Brother.

An AP news report, AFTER THE JUMP.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

Watch: RNC References Steven Slater in Obama Escape Chute Ad

Rnc

A new ad from the Republican National Committee depicts Democrats as JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, opting for the emergency slide when faced with a fundraising visit from Obama.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP

NYMag notes that the ad is unusually "hip" to current events for the GOP.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

Who’s Going to Dole Out Pieces of Steven Slater? Quisling Flack Howard Bragman

Internet fame. A reality TV show offer. And surely countless offers to get laid via Facebook. Clearly flight attendant Steven Slater needs a handler, and he's found one in Howard Bragman, Hollywood's most self-aggrandizing gay rep — and Slater doesn't even need to come out! Bragman already hooked Slater up with Barry Manilow, so you know he's earning his retainer. May Slater's inevitable press junket take place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Well, Slater, nothing is going to unravel your folk hero status more than working with this guy.


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Queerty

—  John Wright

Steven Slater Offered Reality TV Show

Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who walked off the job via emergency slide last Monday, has been offered a job as host of a reality TV show about quitting jobs in flashy ways.
Daily News

—  John Wright