BREAKING NEWS: Robin Williams is dead

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Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman and Diane Wiest in The Birdcage.

Robin Williams, 63, is dead of an apparent suicide. Marin County Sheriff’s Office officials have confirmed  that the Oscar-winning actor was found just before noon at his home in Tiburon in Northern California.

TMZ reports that Williams is believed to have died of asphyxia, and notes that he had recently gone into rehab to “focus on his sobriety.” Williams battled alcohol and drug addiction in the 1980s but had been sober for 20 years.

Los Angeles Times reports note that Williams rose to fame in the 1980s as an alien wearing suspenders in the TV sitcom Mork and Mindy and was named the “funniest man alive” in 1997 by Entertainment Weekly. But it was his serious roles that won him critical acclaim: He won a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting in 1997 and was nominated for Oscars for his roles in The Fisher King in 1991, Dead Poets Society in 1989 and Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987.

LGBT fans also remember him for his role as Nathan Lane’s husband in The Birdcage in 1996 and a divorced father who dons old lady drag to get to spend time with his kids in Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993.

Susan Schneider, Williams’ wife, told TMZ: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings.  I am utterly heartbroken.”

—  Tammye Nash

REVIEW: ‘Gidion’s Knot’ at KDT

Leah Spillman and Jenni Kirk in ‘Gidion’s Knot’ at KDT.

A mother attends a parent-teacher conference to discuss her fifth-grader, who was suspended for a week, but the the teacher doesn’t recall making the appointment … unless the mother is … oh, her.

That’s the first 20 minutes or so of the 80 minutes that make up Gidion’s Knot, a regional premiere now playing at The MAC. It’s a frustrating first quarter, with long, slow, wordless scenes and intentionally obtuse exposition. How can the teacher, Miss Clark (Leah Spillman), childless and new to the classroom not recall a conference set up only three days ago? Then again, when the mother, Corryn (Jenni Kirk) arrives in her class the first time, why doesn’t she just say her son’s name, or Miss Clark’s, and save us all the discomfort and mystery?

The answer is pretty simply, actually: Then the play would only be 62 minutes long, and the author, Johnna Adams, wouldn’t have been able to impress us with her stagecraft — her ability to pull a Mamet out of a hat. It’s a playwrighting gimmick, a first-act conundrum meant to draw us in but which only holds in sharp relief the incompleteness that infests the entire play.

Some of that incompleteness is intentional. Miss Clark and Corryn are both incomplete women, especially when it comes to children: The teacher without any of her own (she has a cat instead), and the single mother, not especially devoted to her only child but trying to make up for it when, alas, it’s too late. No wonder they don’t communicate in full thoughts or engage in sensible dialogue — they are both cut off in some ways, adrift in their work.

It turns out that the reason Miss Clark forgot about the meeting (one for which Corryn is 20 minutes late, a further indication of her lack of parental responsibility) is that she assumed it had been canceled — after all, the child in question, Gidion, killed himself over the weekend. What led to that? And how was it related to his suspension? More mysteries, more drawn-out explanations.

When the reasons are finally revealed — quite astonishingly, if melodramatically (more extended exposition, as if Adams were terrified her play would only last 38 minutes) — it’s a further disconnect for teacher and mom: Gidion was a troubled, Miss Clark says — brilliant says mom … but why can’t he be both?

Gidion’s Knot bulges with literary and mythic references (check out the title itself), and the points it raises are thoughtful and complex, but its weaknesses are just as apparent. “Want to get people on your side? Throw in a dead child!” Corryn hisses at Miss Clark about modern society, but that’s exactly what she’s doing (and what Adams is). A dead kid raises all sorts of troubling questions, and how can outsiders (Miss Clark, the audience) judge the emotional reaction of a distraught mother?

But that’s what the play invites us to do, and Corryn — fiercely played by Kirk, who’s matched with coolness by Spillman — falls short. (Her last name, it turns out, is Fell.) She’s a bundle of contradictions, who demands the participation of the school’s principal but gets angry at Miss Clark when she won’t engage in tit-for-tat sniping, who blames Miss Clark even though she was deaf to her own child’s pain, who wants to play “what’s my line?” guessing games but criticizes efforts at deflection. She’s also critic-proof, because who are we to say her irrationality isn’t justified?

And therein lines the heart of Gidion’s Knot — its unresolvability. All rules go out the window; like the Gordian Knot, it cannot be solved, it can only be destroyed and rebuilt. Sometimes there are no answers, just more questions.

Plays through April 26. KitchenDogTheater.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Texas state legislators tell LGBT youth, ‘It Gets Better’

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Several LGBT allies in the state Legislature have teamed up to make a two-part “It Gets Better” video to encourage queer youth that even in Texas, times are changing.

Lawmakers featured in the video are Rep. Mary Gonzalez, Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Mark Strama, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Rep. Rafael Anchia, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Sen. Kirk Watson, Sen. Royce West, Rep. Chris Turner, Sen. Jose Rodriguez, Rep. Garnet Coleman, Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Donna Howard, Rep. Justin Rodriguez, Rep. Gene Wu, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia.

The video was made in memory of Asher Brown, a gay Houston teen who committed suicide after being bullied. It was produced by Omar Araiza and Brianna Roberts, with filming and editing by Nathan Burkhart.

Araiza said coming out to his family at 16 was the hardest thing for him because many people in his life has homophobic beliefs. But things changed and he made it through the dark times when he wanted to end his life.

Now, he said he has hope because of the changing attitudes across the state, which was reflected by the strong support for LGBT issues in this year’s legislative session with a record number of pro-LGBT bills filed.

“This change in conversation needs to be made visible to LGBT youth who believe they are alone,” Araiza said. “Because they are supported and cared for by many. These videos are proof that in Texas, we have brave elected leaders willing to stand and support what many call today’s civil rights movement. While Texas may not be on the forefront of civil rights, change experienced here is a sign that full LGBT rights are inevitable.

“Things will continue to get better. We will all make it better.”

Watch the videos below.

—  Dallasvoice

Porn actor Wilfred Knight kills self after screed on immigration inequality

WKJust last month, we reported that gay porn actor Arpad Miklos had died of an apparent suicide — the latest in a string of deaths to hit the adult film community. Then last week, we learned that another porn legend had killed himself.

Wilfred Knight, known for his videos for Lucas Entertainment and Colt Studio, took his own life just two weeks after the suicide of his partner. He had just turned 35. What makes Knight’s death especially poignant were the reasons behind it.

See, Knight — a French citizen — had moved with his partner to Canada once his U.S. student visa expired, because even though the two were legally married in Canada in 2011, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge it, due to the Defense of Marriage Act. That meant they had to leave for the Great White North, where Knight’s partner accepted a job that included same-sex partner benefits.

Knight’s husband, however, lost his job about six months ago, and last month, took his own life. Knight found the body. The adult film actor then took his own life, angered by the unfair treatment of gay couples by the federal government.

How do we know all this? Because Knight said so. In a screed published on his blog, Knight railed against American immigration laws, blaming his partner’s death on the lack of same-sex rights. It was practically a suicide note.

Because Knight was most famous for his involvement in the porn industry, it’s unlikely the story will have much resonance outside the gay press. But isn’t this exactly what should be pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court when deciding DOMA’s constitutionality? How many couples like this much meet the tragic consequences of homophobic immigration policies?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

TEX’N THE CITY: Item No. 9 — BFF

When Brandon James Singleton began his list of 10 things he needed to accomplish before his 30th birthday later this month, the one thing he knew was already lined up in his life was having a BFF. But sitting down and thinking about what that means has its own consequences ….  

You remember the movie Now and Then with Rosie O’Donnell and Demi Moore? Oh yeah, and Tom Hanks’ wife …. About those four girls who became best friends over a summer and swore to each other they’d always stay in contact and return home for the most important times in each other’s life …. And when Rita Wilson’s character gets pregnant, they all show up for the birth of her baby?

No? … Well I love that movie. It was always like the foundation — the quintessential example — for what I thought friendship should be. And hoped it would be for me.

Well, it’s not.

I mean, I’m (surprisingly) still in contact with a few of the kids I used to play Red Rover with back in the day, thanks to Instagram and Facestalk … I mean Facebook.

I met my best friend almost seven years ago in New York City through a mutual associate and it’s been everything, even dealing with a jealous mutual “friend” who’s tried several times to turn us against each other. Fortunately, we always trusted each other more.

We’ve dealt with the difficulty of not living in the same city. But thanks to cells and social media, feels like we’re never too far away. And let’s not forget that crazy ex of his that threatened my life out of insecurity. Ohhhh, person who referred to himself as, “E-Dogg” — ya never stood a chance. Ha.

But a month ago, I almost lost him.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Montana Lance’s mom dies

Montana Lance

Debbie Lance, mother of bullying-suicide victim Montana Lance, died suddenly over the weekend, according to Channell 11 news. She suffered from the genetic disorder Marfan’s Disease. She also had several heart surgeries over the last few years.

After being bullied repeatedly, Montana hung himself in the school nurse’s office in The Colony in 2010. Debbie and her husband Jason became crusaders for anti-bullying legislation. Along with parents of Asher Brown, the Truongs of Houston, the Lances were among the most outspoken parents of suicide victims and testified before the Senate Education Committee.

From our March 2011 coverage of the hearing on the bill:

Montana Lance’s parents both testified before the committee. His father said that when Montana went to teachers or administrators, they told him not to be a tattletale. Jason Lance said he called the school and followed up every time he knew his son was bullied. Deborah Lance, his mother, said her son was simply overcome by bullying before he went into the nurse’s bathroom and hung himself. She said that in a year, four children in Texas have taken their own lives because of bullying. If legislators don’t act, they can expect another eight to commit suicide before they meet again.

And according to Channel 33 News, which interviewed her two weeks ago, she was planning to be back at the Legislature in 2013 lobbying to strengthen the law.

—  David Taffet

Soldier commits suicide after being bullied — and the soldiers who bullied him face criminal charges

Eight U.S. Army soldiers are facing charges including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault, dereliction of duty, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, maltreatment and making a false officials statement after having allegedly bullied and hazed another soldier until he was driven to suicide, according to reports published in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Pvt. Danny Chen

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, born and raised in Lower Manhattan, was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Although based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, the division is serving in the Kandahar province in Afghanistan.

Chen found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a guard tower on Oct. 3.

Although military officials are not discussing details of the investigation or the charges, Chinese community activist Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said that according to information gleaned from emails, Facebook posts, discussions with cousins and pages of Chen’s journal that have been released by the Army, Chen faced incessant bullying based on his ethnicity.

OuYang said Chen’s fellow soldiers dragged him across the floor, threw rocks at the back of his head and mocked him by calling him “Jackie Chen” — a reference to Chinese martial arts star Jackie Chen — in a bad Chinese accent. OuYang also said that once after Chen left the water heater on after showering, the other soldiers forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down.

Five of the eight soldiers charged in connection with Chen’s death are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and assault consummated by battery, as well as other charges. Those five are Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Specialist Thomas P. Curtis and Specialist Ryan J. Offutt.

Sgt. Travis F. Carden was charged with assault and maltreatment, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement. The only officer facing charges, Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, was charged with dereliction of duty.

I know that the bullying and hazing directed at Chen was reportedly based on his Chinese ethnicity, with no mention made of anything related to his sexual orientation, But bullying is bullying, no matter what the bullying is based on, and bullying kills. This story also makes me think of those folks who say that bullied children and teens just need to grow a set and get over it. But if a trained soldier stationed in Afghanistan can be bullied into suicide, what chance does a lonely kid questioning his or her sexual orientation or gender identity have against those who think might makes right?

—  admin

Bullying apparently claims another victim

Ashlynn Conner

Funeral services were scheduled for today in Ridge Farm, Illinois, for 10-year-old Ashlynn Conner, who committed suicide Friday, Nov. 11, after enduring taunts and teasing from her classmates and children in her neighborhood for several years, according to this report in the Chicago Tribune.

Ashlynn’s mother, Stacy Conner, told the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette this week that as recently as the day before her death, Ashlynn had complained about being taunted and harassed by classmates, and had asked if she could be home-schooled so she wouldn’t have to be around those who had bullied her.

The child’s grandmother, Lory Hackney, said that the taunts began when Ashlynn was about 7 years old, after she started cheerleading for a youth football league and got her hair cut in a short bob. Hackney said the other children would laugh at Ashlynn and call her a boy, and as she got older, her tormentors progressed to calling her fat, ugly and a slut.

Family members said although Ashlynn had been upset most of Thursday night, by Friday — when school was out for Veterans Day — she seemed in a much better mood. However, later that evening when the family realized they had not seen Ashlynn for some time, her older sister, 14-year-old Michaila Baldwin, went looking for her. She found Ashlynn in a bedroom closet where she had hung herself.

Sheriff Pat Hartshorn told the Tribune that while investigators are not ruling out the possibility of bullying as a contributing factor, they have found no evidence of the bullying so far.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200 children between the ages of 10 and 14 committed suicide between 1999 and 2005, the most recent numbers available. But those numbers do not include the scores of children and teens who have killed themselves in the last 18 months in a spate of highly-publicized suicides — including the suicide of Asher Brown in Houston — that have focused the country’s attention on the problem of bullying.

—  admin

WATCH: HISD Board gets earful on anti-gay flier

Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

A standing-room-only crowd greeted the Houston Independent School Board last night. While the board’s monthly meetings often attract an assortment of parents, community members and gadflies many in the crowd were there with a decidedly non-educational issue on their minds: the anti-gay flier distributed by Trustee Manuel Rodriguez during his recent reelection campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier encouraged Houstonians to vote against Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. because of his sexual orientation.

The first to address the issue were Rodriquez’s fellow trustees, Anna Eastman and Juliet Stipeche. Eastman spoke passionately of the importance of HISD’s anti-bullying policy which “protects people from harassment and bullying based on attributes we all have,” and said that she felt Rodriguez’s actions violated the spirit of that policy. Stipeche, near tears, read the names of teens who had committed suicide after enduring anti-LGBT bullying.

The board had planned to vote on a new ethics policy at the meeting that covered behavior by trustees. At the encouragement of two speakers, and the motion of Eastman, the board decided to delay that vote until December so that a policy stating that encouraging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression could be added.

After three and a half hours the crowd in the board’s chambers had dwindled, with most of those who had come to confront Rodriquez still waiting. When Board President Paula Harris finally opened the floor for public comment the first person to step up was Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman. Freeman told the board that the extant of Rodriquez’s homophobic campaigning was far greater than the flier which had drawn so much media attention. “What you all might not know is that he also went on television and said that he just couldn’t understand why a 54 year old unmarried man would want, quote ‘access to children,’” said Freeman. “That statement in and of itself, and the implications made therein is reprehensible and simply disgusting.”

Freeman asked that the Board remove Rodriquez as their representative on the Texas Council of School Boards, and as the board’s vice president. He went on to criticize the apology issued by Rodriquez after the election, saying that it did not address the concerns of the GLBT community, nor was it delivered to the community but rather to the press. “You cannot simply say ‘oops, I’m sorry’ and this all goes away,” said Freeman. “We will never forget what you did!”

Board President Harris had made frequent reference throughout the meeting to a group of students from HISD’s Milby High School, letting them know that their time to speak would come. As the students’ designated speaker stepped to the podium his hands visibly shook in nervousness. “When I first heard about [Rodriquez's flier] I did not agree with it because I believe that the message was that a gay person could not be as successful as a straight person and that really hurt me,” said the student. “My question to you is are you going to help us stop the bullying, or are you going to be a bully yourself?”

Perhaps the strongest response from the board was garnered by Paul Gonzales, who choked back tears as he described the challenges he faces as a gay man and parent of an HISD student. “I have a kid, and I have a kid that I have enrolled in HISD, and I love her. Me and my partner every single day are trying to show her that there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong with our family. So for a board member to say that my family is reprehensible to him… I have to explain [to her] that there are still people who consider us not the kind of family that deserve respect,” said Paul to the board, who were fighting back tears of their own. “GLBT parents like myself trust HISD to give us that haven for our children, that they’re not going to be looked at any differently. But the words that we saw on this flier just made me cringe to think that this isn’t the place that I thought that it was.”

After the jump, watch some of the eighteen people who spoke to the board.

—  admin

Chronicle blogger blames ‘It Gets Better” project for LGBT teen suicides

Kathleen McKinley

Kathleen McKinley

Kathy McKinley is a self-described “conservative activist” who blogs for the Houston Chronicle under the monicker “TexasSparkle.” In a recent post McKinley took the “It Gets Better” project to task for what she believes is their culpability in the suicides of LGBT teens:

“These kids were sold a bill of goods by people who thought they were being kind. The “It will get better” campaign just didn’t think it through. They didn’t think about the fact that kids are different from adults. They handle things differently. They react differently. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS. You can grumble all day long how unfair it is that straight teens can be straight in high school, and gay kids can’t, but life is unfair. Isn’t the price they are paying too high?? Is it so much to ask them to stand at the door of adulthood before they “come out” publically? Because it may save their life.”

McKinnley’s primary confusion about the “It Gets Better” campaign (other than its name) is the assumption that the goal is to encourage teens to come out of the closet, or encourage them to become sexually active:

“Why in the world would you give teenagers a REASON to tease you? Oh, yes, because the adults tell you to embrace who you are, the only problem? Kids that age are just discovering who they are. They really have no idea yet. The adults tell you to “come out,” when what we should be telling them is that sex is for adults, and there is plenty of time for figuring out that later.”

I would like to encourage Ms. McKinley to watch the “It Gets Better” project’s founder Dan Savages’ video. Please, Ms. McKinley, listen, and tell me if you hear Savage or his partner Terry say anything about teens coming out or having sex. I think what you’ll hear them say is that all of the things that most kids, gay and straight, dream of (falling in love, starting a family, having the support of their parents, co-workers and friends) are possible for LGBT teens. I think you’ll hear them talk about how difficult their teen years were, and about the fears they had that their parents would reject them, that they’d never find success and that they’d always be alone.

Choosing to have sex is one of the most personal decision a person will ever make. For LGBT people, choosing to come out is another. I have not watched all of the thousands of videos from people who have participated in the “It Gets Better” project. It’s possible that there are a few that tell kids to come out right away, or to become sexually active, but I doubt it.

Every video in the project that I have seen has had the same simple message: that the person making it understands how tortuously awful the experience of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender in Junior and High School can be, but there is a wonderful world of loving, vibrant, successful, engaged LGBT adults out there and if queer teens can just hang on, just for a few years, they can join it. I doubt that any of the contributors to the project think that hanging on for a few years will be easy. I suspect that most of them remember, with excruciating clarity, contemplating ending those temporary years of terror with a permanent solution and that is why they choose to reach out.

I grew up without role models, where people like Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk didn’t exist . I grew up in a small town where the two men with the pink house were talked about in hushed tones that immediately fell silent when I walked into the room, because it wasn’t appropriate for children’s ears. I grew up in a world where my mother wouldn’t tell me what “gay” meant, where the evening news was turned off if it reported on the AIDS crisis, where I wasn’t given words to describe who I was, and so the only word I could find was “alone.”

I was lucky. My suicide attempt failed.

I was lucky, I survived, and went to college, and found a church that embraced and loved LGBT people. That’s where I met doctors and lawyers and business owners and teachers who were like me. That’s where I met two wonderful women who had built a life together for over 50 years. That’s where I discovered I wasn’t alone and that being gay didn’t mean that i couldn’t have all of those things I’d dreamed of.

That is what McKinley missed in her blog post. In her haste to lay blame on anything other than the overwhelming prejudice perpetuated by schools, churches and governments against LGBT people McKinley missed the fact that kids need role models. In her rush to shove queer teens back into the closet she forgot that human beings need the hope of a better world, lest they give up in despair.

McKinley got one thing right in her post. She titled it “Are Adults Also To Blame For Gay Teen Suicides? Yes.” Adults are to blame for LGBT teen suicides. When adults hide the stunning diversity of God’s creation from their children they create a vision of reality that some of those children can’t see themselves in. When adults tell LGBT teens that they should be invisible then it is all too clear who is to blame when those teens believe them, and take steps to make themselves invisible permanently.

To all the LGBT kids out there: it does get better. There are adults who care about you and want all the wonderful things you dream of to come true, but you have to hang on. If you need to keep who are secret to remain safe then do so. If you need someone to talk to please call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-Trevor (866-488-7386).

—  admin