DISD approves LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

William Morvant, a gay student at Booker T. Washington High School, addresses the DISD board of trustees while other audience members from the LGBT community stand in support on Thursday.

Following a discussion in which several named their own personal schoolyard tormentor, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a comprehensive new bullying policy that specifically protects LGBT students.

Trustees also heard from several members of the LGBT community, including two students, before voting 9-0 to approve the policy, enacted in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides across the nation.

The policy, spearheaded by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, reportedly makes DISD the first district in the state to specifically prohibit bullying based on both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“School should be one of those places that we call a safe haven,” said Blackburn, who said his bully “Brandon” took his lunch money every day. “If we are fearful for our physical being, then our intellectual being is not going to benefit.”

Blackburn said the board tried to make the policy as inclusive as possible and drew on policies from Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles and Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the administration will implement this policy with full vigor whereby all of our students will have protections,” Blackburn said. “Safe schools is one of our goals, it’s always been one of our goals. It’s not only about somebody coming to a school building with a gun or a knife. Safe schools mean being safe from people like Brandon.”

Nutall took the opportunity to apologize to DISD students who’ve been bullied, including those who spoke Thursday.

“I commend you on your courage for coming down here and telling your story,” Nutall said, adding that her bully is now in prison. “I apologize that we didn’t act on this faster.”

William Morvant, a gay student at DISD’s Booker T. Washington High School, told the board he came out in seventh grade and attempted suicide twice. He said his memories of DISD will be mostly of bullying, harassment and being called “inhumane words.”

“I’m here to speak today because if this policy were in tact, I believe I would have had a better growing up experience in school,” Morvant said. “I wouldn’t have had to go taking 20 pain pills to kill myself to get rid of the pain, cutting just to get those words that I was called out.”

Others from the LGBT community who addressed the board prior to the vote were Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas; Omar Narvaez, vice president of LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council; Delaney Hillan, also a student at Booker T. Washington; and Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Dozens more from the community attended the meeting, standing when speakers took the microphone and erupting in applause after the vote.

—  John Wright

Know suicide’s warning signs

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Ann Haas
Ann Haas

In the recent rash of well-publicized LGBT teen suicides, bullying was identified as the cause. But experts note there are a variety of issues and circumstances that can lead to depression and possibly suicidal behavior among LGBT people. Things like being outed and family issues relating to coming out, an HIV-positive diagnosis, a DWI charge, being caught cruising in a park or some other humiliating experience, losing a job or other money problems.

And while the number of suicides among young people has been in the national spotlight lately, almost twice as many suicides occur in the 45-to-54 age group, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The highest suicide rate in the country is among elderly white males.

Many who commit or attempt suicide have a psychiatric illness that can be diagnosed and treated. Often there are warning signs that family and friends can spot.
“Any child subjected to persistent bullying is at risk for depression,” said AFSP Director of Prevention Projects Ann Haas.

The signs of depression include loss of interest in usual activities and changes in weight, appetite or sleep patterns.

She said when someone is talking about suicide or suggesting a desire for death, it should be treated as an emergency situation. Young people, she said, often express that in poetry and it should be taken seriously. Other signs of a decision to commit suicide are someone getting their affairs in order, giving away possessions and saying goodbye to friends and family.

“Someone who is outgoing who begins to be withdrawn — that can be a tip off that something’s going on,” Haas said.

If a teen’s academic performance begins to slack off, that often suggests depression, she said.

Look for any marked behavioral changes that last a couple of weeks, Haas said.

“When people who are quiet become gregarious, it could be a sign of bipolar illness,” she said.

In younger people, that’s often overlooked as a good sign that someone is coming out of a shell. But if that gregariousness is accompanied by lack of sleep and excessive energy, developing into manic behavior, it is a sign of bipolar disorder, which can lead to suicide if it is left untreated.

Haas said it’s difficult talking about mental health issues in the LGBT community because for so many years gay people were branded as mentally ill.

Local professional counselor Candy Marcum of Stonewall Behavioral Health said that warning signs are not always apparent.

And while friends and family should know warning signs, she said, “If we’re assigning blame, it belongs on the person who did it.”

“Almost everyone has thought about it,” Marcum said. But not everyone looks for ways to do it.

Some save pills or get a gun. Others are on the Internet looking at sites that graphically describe ways to commit suicide.

Marcum said to look for signs of hopelessness and helplessness. Commonly heard phrases that indicate self-loathing include talk of “no way out,” “I don’t know how I’ll ever get out of this,” “I’m worthless” or “You’d be better off without me.”

She said it was better to talk to a loved one showing troubled behavior than to ignore it and hope things will get better.

“Seeing you like this worries me,” she said is a way to approach someone you are concerned about. “Go talk to someone.”

Because the depression or erratic behavior suddenly stops, don’t assume everything is suddenly OK. That person may seem calm; friends think the person is better. And then they commit suicide. “When you make the decision, you’re very calm,” Marcum said.

Offer to make an appointment for the person and go with him for a first visit. Marcum suggested speaking to the counselor on the phone ahead of time to make sure they are comfortable and experienced with LGBT-related issues.

Marcum said that counselors in the LGBT community have no agenda other than to help someone heal. She said that some people are afraid that her goal is to help someone come out.

“We just want you to be OK,” she said. “We want you to get to the end of the book. We’re curious how the story will turn out and not interested in writing anyone’s story.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Madonna talks bullying on ‘Ellen’

In case you missed it, here’s the much tweeted-about appearance of Madonna on Ellen where she talks about bullying, teen suicides and how the gay community has helped her along the way.

—  Rich Lopez

TNA Wrestling launches anti-bullying campaign

TNA Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Hardy: “If the bullies have a problem with you, then they have a problem with me.”

We’ve seen a lot of celebrities and political figures get in on the anti-bullying action lately. Fort Worth’s own Joel Burns made a big splash. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made videos. So did folks like Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, financial expert Suze Orman, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt and comedian Margaret Cho. Singers like Gloria Estefan, Adam Lambert and Kesha made It Gets Better videos.

Even Kermit the Frog made a video for the It Gets Better project.

But today I saw something that really caught my attention. It’s an anti-bullying campaign from what I would consider a totally unlikely source: Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling’s new Eliminate the Hate campaign.

“Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling wants to put a headlock on bullying, an epidemic that has gripped the U.S. for decades, but has recently gained national attention this fall with its link to a number of teen suicides,” says TNA’s news release. The campaign will feature public service announcements during TNA programming, including its Thursday night line-up on Spike (TNA iMPACT! and ReAction). The spots will be placed on all other TNA Wrestling platforms, including the website , DVDs and all social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter.

“TNA is also working closely with the hit Sirius XM primetime show Derek & Romaine as well as other Sirius XM® programs, and with broadcast partner Spike, who will air the PSAs across their network,” the statement says.

“Everyone at TNA stands firmly behind this new anti-bullying campaign.  The bullying must stop, and we want to take a stand,” said TNA’s chief marketing officer, Al Ovadia, himself a father of two. “There’s no place in our schools for bullying, be it based on a student’s looks, race, sexual orientation or anything else.”

And there’s more. The statement identifies several TNA stars who were bullied growing up, like Mr. Anderson and Kazarian. “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero says he was bullied when he was younger, but when he got to high school he “turned the tables” by protecting other children from bullies.

And reigning TNA world heavyweight champion Jeff Hardy kicked off the campaign with a videotaped appearance on The Talk, delivering a special message to 11-year-old Tyler Wilson, a TNA fan who was bullied because he was on a cheerleading squad and ended up with a broken arm. The message included an invitation to a taping of TNA Impact! and a backstage meet-and-greet with Hardy and other TNA stars.

Hardy told Wilson he was proud of him for standing up for himself and standing up to the bullies, and that in doing so he had become an inspiration to youngsters around the world. Hardy ended the message with this: “And remember, if the bullies have a problem with you, they have a problem with me.”

Ya know, there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years in North Texas about how the LGBT community is always preaching to the choir by having its rallies and parades and so on always in the gayborhood. The message, critics say, needs to get out there to the rest of the world. Well, I can’t think of any audience further from the gayborhood than the TNA Wrestling fans. And to have these wrestlers tell those fans that bullying is not OK will, hopefully, have a huge impact, on at least a few people who might not have paid any attention to what Tim Gunn or Kermit the Frog had to say.

—  admin

DISD moves ahead on LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

SPREADING THE WORD | Rafael McDonnell, facing camera, speaks to the press Thursday following the DISD  board meeting in which trustees gave preliminary approval to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

District spokesman says new proposal likely to be approved at Nov. 18 board meeting

Click here to read a draft of the proposed policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

In response to a series of gay teen suicides across the nation, the Dallas Independent School District is moving forward with a policy that provides specific protections against bullying for LGBT students.

The seven-page policy discussed by DISD’s board of trustees on Thursday, Nov. 4, would make the district the first in Texas to outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

None of DISD’s nine trustees spoke against the proposal during Thursday’s briefing session, and a district spokesman said afterward that the policy likely will be approved by the board at its next meeting Nov. 18.

“I hope as a district that this sets a trend for others — that this is something that has to end, and let it begin with DISD,” trustee Nancy Bingham said.

District staff had initially proposed a general bullying policy that failed to enumerate categories of protected students, prompting objections from LGBT advocates who’ve lobbied trustees over the last month.

Trustee Eric Cowan said he’s glad the categories were added.

“I wish we were at a point where all students could mean all students, but unfortunately our society isn’t there yet,” Cowan said.

The LGBT-inclusive policy was brought forward by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn. The policy is similar to one that’s in place in Broward County, Fla., home to Fort Lauderdale.

“We finally got a bullying policy where everybody is covered,” Nutall said. “I was bullied as a child, so I don’t want anybody to go through that craziness.”

Nutall said she’s asked staff to develop training on the policy for students, teachers and staff. The policy will be included in the Code of Conduct that’s distributed to all DISD students.

“They need to understand what bullying is and what they can get in trouble for,” Nutall said.

Thursday’s discussion came after trustees heard from three representatives from the LGBT community.

Roger Poindexter, director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, warned that gay students who’ve been bullied have won large monetary settlements from districts in other parts of the nation.

Poindexter said while a general policy might give adults “a warm fuzzy feeling,” it wouldn’t accomplish its goal.

“We need to spell it out so the bullies can understand it,” Poindexter said, before reading off the names of gay teens who’ve taken their own lives in recent months, including 13-year-old Asher Brown near Houston.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said 10 years of research shows that enumerated bullying policies are more effective.

“If it isn’t written, nobody’s going to think about it,” McDonnell said.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told trustees they’re “sorely mistaken” if they think current policies are protecting students from anti-gay bullying.

While DISD has policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, Garcia said he knows a student who was bullied relentlessly for being gay before being “saved” by the LGBT community.

“Don’t make a suicide make you do the right thing,” Garcia told trustees. “The time to act is now.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Tim’m West speaks at UTD and then Queerly Speaking

Tim’m West says hip-hop is gayer than you think —and he plans to prove it

The gay community and hip-hop music often clash over homophobic lyrics, but in the last few weeks, those paths crossed in two different but significant ways. Amid the rash of gay teen suicides, rapper 50 Cent tweeted about how men over 25 who don’t have oral sex with women should kill themselves (he awkwardly tried to backpedal after an outraged response). That was soon followed by Anderson Cooper’s interview with Eminem, who responded to questions about his attitude toward the gay community with, “I don’t have any problem with nobody.”

But gay activist and rapper Tim’m West isn’t buying any of it.

“It’s all part of the necessitated spewing of homophobia in hip-hop,” he says. “It’s like this right of passage for artists to do that.”

The thing is, West says hip-hop — the music and the culture — is gayer than it wants to be. He’ll set out to prove it with Keeping it Real: Hip-Hop Has Gone Gay, a master class discussing the queer side of hip-hop. The Fahari Arts Institute teamed up with UT Dallas to host this two-night session, wrapping up today.

For more on the class, click here. West also appears at Fahari’s Queerly Speaking event tonight at 8 p.m.

DEETS: UT Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson. Visit website for schedule. Open to the public. Free.. Queerly Speaking at South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh. 8 p.m. $5.  RedDirt.biz.

—  Rich Lopez

DISD tables anti-bullying policy

Trustee Lew Blackburn says he will offer a substitute with specific protections for LGBT students, but district spokesman says measure may not be necessary

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

BEING VIGILANT  |  Hundreds gathered for a second vigil in memory of LGBT teens lost to suicide in recent weeks Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Oak Lawn, as Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns continued to make headlines across the country with his passionate plea to troubled youth to remember, “It gets better.” See the full story on Page 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
BEING VIGILANT | Hundreds gathered for a second vigil in memory of LGBT teens lost to suicide in recent weeks Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Oak Lawn, as Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns continued to make headlines across the country with his passionate plea to troubled youth to remember, “It gets better.” See the full story on Page 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Independent School District trustee Lew Blackburn said this week he plans to introduce a bullying policy that provides specific protections for LGBT students.

However, a DISD spokesman said he’s unsure whether a new policy is needed because DISD already has a policy prohibiting harassment of students based on various factors, including sexual orientation.
Bullying policies have taken on added significance after a string of widely publicized recent teen suicides across the country, including several by students who’d experienced bullying and harassment because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

DISD’s nine-member board of trustees has been considering a new anti-bullying policy that would strengthen penalties and clarify definitions. However, as currently written, the proposal doesn’t list factors based on which students would be protected.

In response to the concerns of LGBT advocates, Blackburn said he plans to introduce a substitute proposal that would enumerate those factors, including both sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn said Monday, Oct. 18. “What I’m doing is looking at policies across the nation, not just in Texas. I’m looking for something more wide-ranging. I’m still doing some research, and what I’m hoping to do is come back to the administration with a revision to what they have proposed with some additional language that other states are using.”

Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the district, said Thursday, Oct. 21 that trustees have put off discussion of the new bullying policy until November at the earliest.

“We already have a policy on the books that talks about no harassment of kids for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, all of those things, so I think they wanted to take a step back and do a little more research,” Dahlander said. “I think they felt like, you know what, while the word bullying may not necessarily be there, harassment certainly is and we probably need to go back to the drawing board and revisit whether or not we need this policy based on what we’ve already got.”

DISD’s harassment policy, passed in the mid-1990s, includes sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Meanwhile, DISD’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits “offensive language” related to “gender orientation,” a term which is not defined in the code.

Dahlander said DISD was the first in the state to include sexual orientation in its harassment policy. He also said he believes trustees are open to including sexual orientation and gender identity in the bullying policy, which is one of the reasons they put off discussion.

“They may specifically address different categories of students or different kinds of bullying, or they may not address it because of what’s already there in terms of harassment,” Dahlander said. “The ball, as always, is in their court.”

Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, was among several LGBT advocates who met with Blackburn this week to discuss his proposal.

Cox said RCD officials have heard from at least two other trustees who support a fully inclusive policy. However, she noted that the policy will need five votes to pass.

“My experience tells me that things are never as easy as they should be,” Cox said. “I think with the ongoing need and now the spotlight on LGBT bullying and suicide, passing a policy that doesn’t specifically include LGBT folks would not be prudent. It would essentially have no teeth in it.”

Both Blackburn and Cox encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees and urge them to support a fully inclusive policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on the DISD website at www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm.

ADVOCATING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, speaks at a rally Friday, Oct. 16, in support of stronger anti-bullying laws and policies in Texas’ public Schools. Alonza has pledged to introduce asafe schools measure when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
ADVOCATING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, speaks at a rally Friday, Oct. 16, in support of stronger anti-bullying laws and policies in Texas’ public Schools. Alonza has pledged to introduce asafe schools measure when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Blackburn also said he plans to ask DISD’s administration to come up with proposed guidelines related to gender identity and homecoming court eligibility.

The principal at North Dallas High School recently sparked controversy when she refused to allow transgender female student Andy Moreno to run for homecoming queen.

The district currently has no policy on the matter. In response to the controversy at NDHS, DISD officials released statements saying they supported the principal’s decision and trumpeting the district’s “aggressive” anti-harassment policy — even though it doesn’t include gender identity.

Blackburn said he’s concerned that in the absence of a DISD policy related to homecoming eligibility and gender identity, principals at different schools could reach different decisions.

“I would like for us to be consistent district-wide,” Blackburn said. “We need to start talking about it so that we have something in policy before the start of school for next year. It’s new territory for us, and I think we need to take our time and do it right.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

The hate continues: 3 teens arrested for assaulting gay classmate

This week, we here in the LGBT community in DFW are celebrating the courage of two members of our community: Trans teen Andy Moreno who chose to stand and fight when her high school principal told her she couldn’t run for homecoming queen, and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, whose impassioned and powerful speech on teen suicide and his own struggle as a teen is reaching people around the world.

But elsewhere, the same hatred and bullying and harassment that played a role in a number of highly-publicized teen suicides over the past month was rearing its ugly head once again.

Nassau County police this week arrested three Long Island teenagers for allegedly assaulting a classmate for being gay — not once, but twice, and both times on a school bus, according to reports at WPix.com.

Police have charged 18-year-old David Spencer of North Valley Stream, 16-year-old Chase Morrison of Lakeview both with second-degree aggravated harrassment and third-degree assault, and they have charged 14-year-old Roy Wilson of Baldwin with third-degree assault.

According to reports, the three assailants attacked their 14-year-old classmate on the bus Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 12, as it left Nassau BOCES Career Preparatory High School in Hicksville, kicking and stomping him while hurling anti-gay epithets at him. The next morning, Wednesday, Oct. 13, when the unnamed victim boarded the bus  to go to school, the three attacked him again, using anti-gay insults as they slapped him in the face and head.

The three were arrested later Wednesday afternoon.

—  admin

Gettin’ schooled

Tim’m West says hip-hop is gayer than you think —and he plans to prove it

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

MAN OF ALL TRADES | Activist, author and rapper Tim’m West brings his knowledge to UTD.
MAN OF ALL TRADES | Activist, author and rapper Tim’m West brings his knowledge to UTD.

KEEPING IT REAL
UT Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson. Oct 21–22. Visit website for schedule. Open to the public. Free.  RedDirt.biz.

…………………………..

The gay community and hip-hop music often clash over homophobic lyrics, but in the last few weeks, those paths crossed in two different but significant ways. Amid the rash of gay teen suicides, rapper 50 Cent tweeted about how men over 25 who don’t have oral sex with women should kill themselves (he awkwardly tried to backpedal after an outraged response). That was soon followed by Anderson Cooper’s interview with Eminem, who responded to questions about his attitude toward the gay community with, “I don’t have any problem with nobody.”

But gay activist and rapper Tim’m West isn’t buying any of it.

“It’s all part of the necessitated spewing of homophobia in hip-hop,” he says.

“It’s like this right of passage for artists to do that.”

The thing is, West says hip-hop — the music and the culture — is gayer than it wants to be. He’ll set out to prove it with Keeping it Real: Hip-Hop Has Gone Gay, a master class discussing the queer side of hip-hop. The Fahari Arts Institute teamed up with UT Dallas to host this two-night session, starting Oct. 21.

The event is spearheaded by UTD faculty member Venus Opal Reese, who says now is the time for this kind exposure.

“I think the Dallas community needs this class to have a different experience of blackness, queerness and gender, even,” she says. “If all we ever see is black men killing, gay bashing or dying from HIV, there is no hope. Tim’m is hope.”

West says that hip-hop needs to be exposed and his class works to show people that LGBT culture was a part of the genre in its infancy.

“I argue that the music has always had those elements but the industry has this inability to see how LGBT culture influenced hip-hop,” he says. “In the early days, there was more acknowledgement of gays in rap. Grandmaster Flash referred to ‘gays’ and ‘fag hags’ in his music but with no derogatory notion. He rapped about that as part of the life and the city.”

West, who hails from Houston, boasts the kind of multi-labeling applied more to a medicine bottle: He’s an activist, author, rapper, poet, scholar and professor. Working as a project coordinator for the St. Hope Foundation, he’s now taking his work on the road to make the LGBT/black/hip-hop conversation a national one. He calls Dallas his first stop in this new venture.

“The plan is to advocate on a national scale,” he says. “I’m touring and traveling to speak about diversity, inclusion, bullying. I’m also a suicide survivor, which has risen as an issue recently. I feel the experience I have can lend itself to a bigger conversation.”

Despite the homophobia in hip-hop, West points out prejudices stem from gays themselves. Gay racism and stereotypes have also held back what he considers should be a progressive community. He cites that block as part of what keeps big gay events sanitized with the usual types of performers year after year.

“Parades or Pride events always may have gay artists and definitely have their drag queens, but propose a hip-hop entertainer and nothing,” he says. “I want to talk about how we can mobilize hip-hop as a tool rather than running from scary black men and gunfights. Gay musicians are choosing it as a medium and gay kids listen to it. “

Gay or straight, black or not, Reese says this class is open to as broad an audience as it can get. For her, the message here goes beyond labels, demographics and stereotypes and instead works to shatter those abstract restrictions.

“This class absolutely is for everyone,” she asserts. “If you are a writer, activist, a person interested in gender studies, it would be totally appropriate. You know, race, gender, sexuality, class are all different pieces that make the whole. When we realize that we don’t have one essential self but embody different intersections of those part, you can be moved to tears by who you really are.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Giving peace a chance

Turtle Creek Chorale opens season with an interfaith concert of peace and music

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

FAITH, PEACE AND HARMONY  |  Benny Ruiz, a 17-year veteran of the chorale, is also lay liturgist at Holy Trinity Catholic Chuch on Oak Lawn, where the chorale had its first rehearsal 20 years ago.  (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
FAITH, PEACE AND HARMONY | Benny Ruiz, a 17-year veteran of the chorale, is also lay liturgist at Holy Trinity Catholic Chuch on Oak Lawn, where the chorale had its first rehearsal more than 30 years ago. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

A NIGHT FOR PEACE
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Oct. 18. 8 p.m. $17–$20. TurtleCreek.org.

…………………………..

With the tragic gay teen suicides in recent weeks, the timing couldn’t be better for a message of hope presented through beautiful music.

On Monday, the 300-plus member Partners in Harmony chorus — including the Turtle Creek Chorale, the SMU Meadows School of the Arts Chorale and Concert Choir, the Dallas Wind Symphony and singers from more than 40 religious organizations — will perform three peace anthems for A Night of Peace.

“Seven years ago, the Turtle Creek Chorale began Partners in Harmony to solicit religious organizations in the area to sign a piece of paper affirming the belief that all people are created equal regardless of sexual orientation,” says Jonathan Palant, the chorale’s artistic director. “Fast forward six years, and nothing other than this piece of paper really had been done with our Partners in Harmony.”

Last year, the chorale invited singers from 45 religious institutions — synagogues, Baptist churches, Unitarian churches — to join it onstage for one performance. It ended up being a surprising show of unity between religious organizations and the gay community.

That did not surprise Benny Ruiz Jr., a 17-year member of the chorale and parish liturgist at Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

“Most people who know me at church also know that I sing with the Turtle Creek Chorale,” Ruiz says. “In fact, the Turtle Creek Chorale held its first rehearsals in the choir loft at Holy Trinity back in 1980.”

Ruiz says that due to it location on Oak Lawn Avenue, the parish has always had gay members. “We often use the message ‘all are welcome’ in our communications because that is the truth about Holy Trinity parish. We call ourselves ‘The Uptown Catholic

Community,’ which is almost as diverse as the city of Dallas,” he says. “Our parishioners and volunteers live all over the Metroplex. Some travel a long way every weekend because they have been touched by this open spirit of hospitality to all and they in turn want to spread that message.”

Holy Trinity was approached seven years ago to become a Partner in Harmony with the chorale.

“Our pastor was pleased to do so as an affirmation of the belief that all people are created equal,” he says. “This goes hand-in-hand with our message, just as Jesus was welcoming to all.”

For the second year in a row, the chorale is partnering with the Parkland Health & Hospital System Pastoral Care Department and its director, Linda Wilkerson, will be on hand to talk about the hospital program, which just last year celebrated 50 years of service. The concert is intended to raise money and awareness for the program. After her presentation, Wilkerson will light a candle that will burn throughout the concert.

“The purpose is to light the way toward peace in our community, and that candle will burn just as our desire for peace and goodwill continues to burn,” Palant says.

“Messages of peace and tolerance are great when written, better when spoken and acted upon, but best expressed through music and in our singing,” adds Ruiz. It’s an especially poignant message for gay teens.

“There is a great need for peace in the world and especially for tolerance in our nation,” Ruiz says. “The bullying in our schools and intolerance shown to immigrants and religions has been in the headlines way too much lately,” he says. “This night for peace provides the singers and audience a chance to silence all the intolerance and reflect on what the world can be if we all practice living as peacemakers.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas