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

Top 10: Perry, Dewhurst were tied to cancellation of gay-themed play at Tarleton

Otte-John
John Otte

No. 7:

View all of the Top 10

A Tarleton State University student’s choice to present a play with gay content for his theater directing class stirred controversy in the local community.

Tarleton State is in Stephenville, 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

John Jordan Otte, a junior, was assigned to choose a play meaningful to him to direct for his theater class. He selected Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi.

A 45-minute excerpt from the play was scheduled to be performed on March 27 along with selections from three other plays directed by other students in his class in a theater that held just 95 people. The public was never invited to attend.

Corpus Christi has a modern Texas setting and depicts a gay man whose life parallels that of Jesus. The character, named Joshua, performs a same-sex wedding.

When the community heard about the play, they flooded the school with complaints. Alumni threatened to withhold donations. Otte was denounced from local pulpits.

At first, Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio defended freedom of speech on his campus.

One of the actors in the play was given the choice by his parents of withdrawing from the play or getting out of the house. Otte took in his 18-year-old actor.

As the performance day approached, the time was changed from afternoon to 8 a.m. for security reasons, with only friends and family allowed to watch.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the controversy, issuing a statement condemning the play and use of state money.

State money, however, was not being used. Otte paid for performance rights for the play out of his own pocket.

After a final run-through, the professor canceled the production and a grade was given based on that rehearsal.

He cited safety and security reasons. Though not confirmed, several people called Dallas Voice and claimed pressure was put on the professor and on the president of the school by the governor’s office.

Rachel Dudley, a student reporter at Tarleton State, connected Gov. Rick Perry to the controversy when she obtained a copy of note from Steven Hotze, who heads a group of clergy in Houston that had been one of Mayor Annise Parker’s biggest detractors.

“We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled,” said the note from Hotze.

In response, Cathedral of Hope brought a national touring company of Corpus Christi to Dallas. QCinema, which started a live performance group, promises a production in Fort Worth next year.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

DVtv: In wake of Tarleton State controversy, 'Corpus Christi' arrives at Cathedral of Hope

Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi” is set in Texas, but it’s never before been staged in the Lone Star State. That will change this weekend, when the Cathedral of Hope hosts a Los Angeles-based production of the play about a gay Christ-like figure named Joshua. This weekend’s shows grew out of the recent controversy at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. TSU student John Jordan Otte wanted to stage an excerpt from “Corpus Christi” as a class project, but the university canceled the production, citing security concerns. We later learned that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and even Gov. Rick Perry may have been responsible for cancellation of Otte’s project.

For the DVtv segments previewing this weekend’s shows, we sat down with the Los Angeles-based co-producers of “Corpus Christi,” Nic Arnzen and James Brandon (who also plays Joshua); with Otte and with the Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor at the Cathdral. Our interviews with Otte and Hudson are after the jump. Showtimes are Friday through Sunday at 7 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets are $32–$52 and can be purchased at the door of the Cathedral, 5910 Cedar Springs Road.

—  John Wright

Shocker! Dewhurst ignores request for meeting from student behind gay Jesus play

John Jordan-Otte
John Jordan-Otte

John Jordan-Otte, the Tarleton State University student whose production of the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” was cancelled amid controversy in March, issued a press release last night alleging that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is ignoring his request to meet and discuss how to prevent a similar episode in the future.

Otte says he submitted a letter to Dewhurst’s office last Thursday, letting the lieutenant governor know that he’ll be in Austin this weekend and would like to chat. Dewhurst has been accused of prompting cancellation of the “gay Jesus play” by issuing  a press release condemning it and possibly contacting TSU administrators and threatening their jobs. It’s also been suggested that Dewhurst was merely doing the dirty work of his buddy Rick Perry.

“The torrent of media and political attention changed my life forever, and I don’t want another student to face the same criticism,” Otte wrote in his letter to Dewhurst.

Last week, Dewhurst claimed he was exercising his right to free speech when he squelched Otte’s free expression. Dewhurst also said he would have intervened regardless of what religious leader was portrayed as gay, even Buddha, because the school receives state funding and shouldn’t be allowed to “denigrate” anyone’s faith. Read Otte’s full letter to Dewhurst after the jump.

—  John Wright

Dewhurst says he was exercising free speech when he stifled free expression and got the gay Jesus play canceled at Tarleton State

I rushed into the office at 8 a.m. this morning, hoping to catch The Texas Tribune‘s interview with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, because I knew they’d ask about his recent decision to issue a press release calling for the cancellation of a gay-themed play at Tarleton State University. As it turns out, The Tribune doesn’t broadcast its live chats live, but they have now posted Dewhurst’s response to the question on YouTube. Above is the video, and below is my transcript.

Dewhurst: First of all if that particular play had been in any other venue, a private school, some theater, none of my business. None of my business. I exercised my First Amendment right to say something when a lot of people were calling all around the state of Texas saying, “What in the world is going on at a state school that receives state money?” That was the only reason I said something. There were two elements. One, it was at a state school that was receiving state money. Two, it was ridiculing, in my judgment, you may not agree, but ridiculing one religion. It doesn’t make any difference to me — on this, and I want to use this word carefully, I’m agnostic on this — it doesn’t make any difference, in my judgment: If a play ridiculed anybody’s religion, I would have reacted the same way.

TT: So a play about gay Buddha would have received the same press release?

Dewhurst: Yes, it would have, because I don’t believe it’s right to denigrate anybody’s religion.

—  John Wright

Rick Perry killed the gay Jesus

Yesterday I suggested that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — who issued a hateful statement condemning a planned production of the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” at Tarleton State University last month — was merely doing the dirty work of Gov. Rick Perry. Well, today, we have further evidence of Perry’s likely involvement behind the scenes.

Steve Hotze, president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, wrote a note shortly after the play was canceled. The note was posted on the Web site of the right-wing blog Texas GOP Vote. Here’s what the note said:

“Greetings! Thank you for getting the information about the blasphemous, homosexual play, “Corpus Christi,” to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Please be sure to thank Lt. Gov. Dewhurst for issuing a press release condemning the play. With much appreciation for your support in this matter.

“We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled.”

Despite the note, which was uncovered by Tarleton State student reporter Rachel Dudley, school officials continue to deny that Dewhurst and Perry had anything to do with the cancellation. Meanwhile, those same officials are blocking public access to thousands of e-mails they received about the play by demanding that the student publication Texan News Service pay $2,627.50 for copies of the records. Tarleton State has also suspended the Texan News Service’s access to the the university’s YouTube account, which was used by student journalists to post stories about the controversy involving the play. Shocking!!!

Hat tip: Texas Tribune.

—  John Wright

Otte: Safety on campus was the main concern

john 1John Otte, the student involved in the “Corpus Christi” controversy, reflected on the incident in a recent e-mail to Dallas Voice. He said if campus safety was the main concern, he’s happy with the decision to cancel the production at Tarleton State University in Stephenville.

A plan to bring the production to Fort Worth has not moved forward this week, although Todd Camp said other theaters have stepped forward to offer space after Rose Marine Theater “rescinded” their invitation.

Here’s what Otte said in the e-mail:

Innuendo and rumor exists in political and populous opinion claiming there were other reasons for canceling the Tarleton class production of “Corpus Christi,” but I want to make it clear that I have no factual knowledge of any interference.

That being said if pressure was or was not received, I know the Tarleton administration, my dean and my professor did everything in their power to preserve academic freedom and to ensure the safety of all students at Tarleton State University.  They fought for as long as they could to stave off censorship and preserve this institution of higher learning.

In no way do I blame them for their decisions. I know that my professor, caring deeply about each one of his students in the department, weighed every issue before him and in the end our safety was much more important than the presentation of a play.

While I fear this can set a precedent for censorship through fear mongering, I in no way judge the decision of my professor. If our safety could not be ensured I am happier with the outcome at hand.

I hope that we can simply move forward and learn from everything that has occurred. After all why else are we pursuing knowledge in a higher education setting? The message remains clear from “Corpus Christi” unconditional love through all adversity.

—  David Taffet

'Corpus Christi' canceled in new venue

john 1
John Otte, director of Tarleton State production of “Corpus Christi”

After announcing that they would host a production of the canceled Tarleton State University production of “Corpus Christi” and three other student-directed plays, the Rose Marine Theater has “recinded the offer” to stage the production.

Rose Marine Executive Director Adam Adolfo said the decision was made due to a “combination of factors.” He did not characterize it as a cancellation, since a date had not been set.

The theater made this statement:

Statement Concerning Tarelton State University Theatre Students:

April 8, 2010 – The decision was reached by the Board of Directors of Artes de la Rosa to withdraw the offer of the venue, The Rose Marine Theater, which had hoped to host the 4 theatre student directors from Tarleton State University in their continued Academic Directing Theatre Projects.  The Rose Marine Theater will not be hosting these 4 students and their casts at any time in the future. We appreciate the public response on both sides of this debated issue.

Also announced yesterday by QLive was a full-scale production of the play during the summer at the same theater.

“Discussions are occurring,” Adolfo said, regarding that production.

The Christian press has been touting its “non-violent protests” that led to the cancellation at Tarleton. Apparently threats of violence are what they claim are peaceful protests.

Adolfo confirmed that one threat had been received via Facebook.

—  David Taffet

McNally and partner wed in DC

Tom Kirhady and Terrence McNally

Tom Kirhady and Terrence McNally

Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi” has been in the news quite a bit recently after a class project directing an excerpt of it was canceled at Tarleton State University in March.

Well, now news that should warm the hearts of the religious right in Stephenville is about McNally himself. In his play that riled the city, two characters marry. Now McNally and partner Tom Kirdahy married in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. where same-sex marriage is legal.

Kirdahy is an attorney and Broadway producer. McNally is a playwright whose other works include “The Ritz” and “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and books for the musicals “Ragtime,” “The Full Monty” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

—  David Taffet