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

PHOTOS: Response to ‘The Response’ begins

Riki Miller, Zombie McZee and Britney Miranda.

The responses to “The Response” are under way in Houston. First out of the gate was Friday night’s LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally.  Despite temperatures that had barely come down from the triple digits, Houstonians thronged to Tranquility Park in downtown. Beyond commenting on the temperature, the common theme of most of the speakers was that the American Family Association and Gov. Perry’s rally is not representative of Houston and is not welcomed.

Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said: “I kinda think Rick Perry chose the wrong city!”

He continued “They are the bigots, we are not … we are Houston.”

“I guess we should take comfort in the fact that, except for some of his staffers, [Gov. Perry] couldn’t find enough homegrown bigotry in the state of Texas to put on the event himself,” said Mike Craig, co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. “He had to bus them in from Tupulo, Miss., and Colorado Springs, Colo.” Craig was referring to American Family Association (based in Tupulo) and Focus on the Family (based in Colorado Springs), both co-sponsors of “The Response.”

State Rep.  Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, provided the closing address. He criticized Gov. Perry for using divisive religious rhetoric for political gain. “Being here today I’m proud that we are fighting back against a narrow, theocratic view of the world that we live in and of our country that says that people are not welcomed — that says that people are bad because of who they are. That is not America,” said Coleman. “That is what is dividing our city, our state and our country.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more coverage of the LGBT community’s response to “The Response.” More photos from the LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally below (click to enlarge):

—  admin

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Dralion’ closes today in Frisco

Cirque work

Traditional Chinese circus meets the modern circus in Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion. Filled with the usual jaw-dropping feats, Dralion goes beyond circus tricks. The flying acrobats, the haunting (and gay) vocalist and the trio of clowns come together to bring a moving work of art. Two things to be aware of. Even though it’s in the Dr. Pepper Arena where hockey teams practice and play, they could turn the air up a bit. And the parking garage is, well, a challenge. But Dralion makes it all wortwhile.

DEETS: Cirque du Soleil: Dralion at Dr. Pepper Arena, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco. 5 p.m. $40–$95. Ticketmaster.com.

—  Rich Lopez

‘Five Women’ today at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas

No catfights over these outfits

Being a bridesmaid is a thankless job, as the ladies know in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. The Alan Ball (American Beauty, True Blood) play shows irreverence toward the custom as the ladies hide away from their duties and begin to bond over their experience in lamé.

DEETS: Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears St. 2 p.m. Through July 17. $27–$32. ContemporaryTheatreOfDallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Jack’s Back Patio with Ciao Bella at Woody’s

Confused? Don’t be

Although it’s hardly a backyard, Jack’s Backyard is setting up shop in Woody’s. The venue shut its doors last weekend but their first day as Jack’s Back Patio is today and that the originally scheduled band, Ciao Bella, will perform. Not bad for a quick turnaround. By the sounds of it, even former JB employees will be helping out with the drinks.

DEETS: Woody’s, 4011 Cedar Springs Road. 8 p.m. DallasWoodys.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Starvoice • 06.17.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Meredith Baxter turns 64 on Tuesday. For most of the ’80s, Baxter played Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. She’s mostly been seen in TV films and guest-starring roles. In an interview with Matt Lauer on Today back in 2009, she came out of the closet as lesbian. Her memoir Untied was released this past March.

THIS WEEK

For the next few months we get a taste of the Uranus-Pluto square that will dominate the next five years. Recent political turmoil has just been the set-up for major crises and changes ahead. Astrologically it looks a lot like 1848, 1939 and the ‘60s. Buckle your seatbelts; it’s gonna get bumpy.

………………….

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
As dystopian as the future looks, you’ll find a way to thrive. Trust your instincts and reconsider the most important lessons you learned from your mother. Talking with siblings can clarify that.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
Frustrations in love and career are too big to solve by yourself. Fortunately you have some very wise and resourceful friends. As odd as their ideas may seem, they will likely help.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
It’s easy to worry yourself sick. Arguments make it worse. Focus on your career. Working through sexual issues is healing. Quiet time alone gives you space to think about what you need to do.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
Sharing your innermost thoughts will open up ideas for creative fun. On the way, you open up some difficult childhood memories. Resolving an ugly past can clear the way for a better future.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
Your home and partnership are heading for big changes. Be generous and comforting in bed. Family commitments need to change. Be clear on what those are. Be adaptive at work.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
Obsessing on details leads to accidents and misunderstandings. Don’t neglect the important details; just keep it all in perspective. Your partner’s advice and practical support will prove helpful.

SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Now’s the time to find a job you enjoy. Channeling your sexual charisma into the job search is helpful, but if you already like your work that charisma can go back to what it does best.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
Trying to manage your family or community will backfire. Focus on having fun. If you’re looking for love, play at being moody, broody and intense; but remember, you’re playing.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
Conversations open up deep psychological insights. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your family, no matter how odd. Releasing old tensions could have surprising health benefits.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
Reality is challenging your values and your plans, but that’s life. Adaptability and a sense of humor will help you stay true to your core while everything else goes crazy.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Be very sure that your career is in line with your ambitions. Being unhappy on your job track will get you derailed. Contempt for authority is well-deserved but pick your battles strategically.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
“Bad religion” is a subjective experience. Focus on your own personal beliefs; know where you find clarity, support and reassurance. Respect others’ paths while finding your own.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

DOMA ruled unconstitutional by bankruptcy court

A federal bankruptcy court in California on Monday ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles ruled that it is discriminatory to prevent a legally married same-sex couple from filing for joint bankruptcy.

The couple, Gene Balas and Carlos Morales, filed a joint chapter 13 petition. They were married in 2008 in California and remain legally married.

In his ruling, the judge wrote: “This case is about equality, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, for two people who filed for protection under Title 11 of the United States Code (Bankruptcy Code).”

It is “undisputed that the Debtors are a lawfully married California couple,” the judge wrote, adding that the couple came to the court to restructure and repay their debt following extended illnesses and long periods of unemployment.

The U.S. trustee for the case filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that two men cannot file jointly for bankruptcy. The judge ruled the trustee did not ask for dismissal based on one of the 11 causes listed in bankruptcy law to dismiss, but simply because the couple are two men.

The judge said the trustee filed no relevant case law supporting his position and said the couple should not be singled out for discriminatory treatment. He cited the Obama administration’s position that DOMA is unconstitutional and ruled that, indeed it is.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Is this Bud for us? New Budweiser ad appears to support gays in the military

Budweiser has released a new military-themed ad that some folks are saying is also a “pro-gays-in-the-military” ad.

The ad starts off with a soldier calling another guy and saying, “Hey man. I’m coming home.” Then in a split-screen, continues with scenes of the soldier making his way home while the other guy goes about planning and organizing a welcome home party, and then being the first one to step forward and hug the soldier when he gets home.

If it is a “gay” ad, it isn’t, well, flamboyantly gay. And that’s perfectly fine, since there are many, many, many LGBT people out there — including many of our men and women in uniform — who are definitely not flamboyantly gay themselves. We deserve to have our diverse community portrayed (and honored and celebrated) realistically in all our diversity.

Is this a gay ad? Did Budweiser mean for it to be a gay ad? Huffington Post has a poll up, and readers there are pretty evenly split, with 33 percent saying it is totally gay, 25 percent saying no way it’s gay, and 41 percent saying probably not but I can see why some folks think it is.

And AfterElton.com points out that “if you substituted a woman for [the guy the soldier calls first], it would read pretty much exactly like a heterosexual relationship.”

Only Budweiser knows for sure, of course. But — again, as AfterElton notes — this is a mega-big company with some pretty experienced advertising folks working for them, and do you really think they would let something so very obviously possibly gay slip through inadvertently?

Watch the ad yourself (below) and see what you think. All I know for sure is that I don’t drink beer of any kind, but if I did drink beer, I think I’d probably drink Bud.

—  admin

Great Spaces: Conditioner love

Yes, you can have a cold house without the big bills — and that’s not hot air

By David Taffet

Perhaps the one thing we loathe the most besides triple digit temps in summer is that dreaded electric bill. The air conditioner is a must for summer in Texas, but the wallet sure takes a beating. One local expert recommends these simple tips to help you keep your cool and some green.

Todd Ylen of TNS Mechanical in Arlington said that only half the air conditioning complaints his company receives could be traced to the main unit. The first thing he checks is the overall cleanliness of what he calls “the guts.” He recommends a professional cleaning with caustic chemicals.

“It should be done professionally,” he says, “The chemicals won’t hurt the plants but it can melt the rubber off your sneakers.”

During the season, he said, don’t be afraid to wash the unit with a hose, but not a pressure washer. A garden hose will not damage an outdoor air conditioning system. They’re made to withstand gale-force winds.

Keep grass and weeds off outdoor condensers. They clog the system and decrease efficiency.

Next, Ylen said he checks the house.

“How efficient is the ductwork?” he says. “How efficient is your house?”

The outer lining of much of the ductwork installed in the 1980s has deteriorated. Squirrels, raccoons and other animals that get into the attic can cause a tremendous amount of damage to the ducts as well.

Cold air will blow in the attic but never reach the living areas of the house if the ducts are torn or worn. He recommends modern, high-insulated ductwork.

Next, he suggests an energy audit company to check for leaks around doors and windows.

“Seal the house,” he says. It pays off in lower energy bills quickly.

And ventilate, he said. Ylen called the old whirlybirds on most roofs worthless.

He recommends solar-powered, fan-driven ventilators. A year ago, he said, they were $1,800. Today they sell for $400, an amount that will pay for itself in one season. He calls it an upfront investment that continues to pay off by lowering electric bills on air conditioning and never costing a cent to operate.

Filters should be changed monthly. Dirty filters prevent the system from drawing air easily, making it work harder and use more energy.
Programmable thermostats are also useful in keeping the system from cooling the house when not needed.

Ylen calls radiant barriers ineffective with a 50-year payback, but insulation very useful.

“A preventive maintenance program is crucial,” he says. He sums up his energy-saving tips to all homeowners — insulate, ventilate and stop air leaks.

TNS Mechanical services homes throughout Texas and has other tips at AirConditioningRepairArlington.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Complaint: LGBT immigrants abused, neglected at detention centers run by Homeland Security

The National Immigration Justice Center has filed civil rights complaints on behalf of 13 LGBT immigrants who were allegedly abused and neglected at detention centers run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in nine states, including one in Houston. The Heartland Alliance’s NIJC filed the complaints today in a letter addressed to Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, calling on the department to investigate and implement new policies.

The group has also launched a petition calling on the DHS and President Barack Obama to end the abuse of LGBT immigrants in detention.

The 13 complaints include allegations of sexual assault, denial of adequate medical care, long-term solitary confinement, discrimination and abuse, and ineffective complaints and appeals process. Below are a few examples from the letter, which you can download in its entirety here:

• [Juan] was sexually assaulted by two other detainees. Despite repeated requests for a transfer to another facility because he feared for his safety [Juan] was not transferred until three months after the incident, when ICE Headquarters intervened. In the meantime, the only “protection” that the Otero County Detention Center offered was placement in the “hole.” (Otero County Detention Center, New Mexico)

• [Delfino] was held in segregation for four months, justifying their decision on the basis that [Delfino] presented “effeminately.” Facility staff refused to provide [Delfino] a Bible and permitted him only one hour of recreation – in a cold nine- by-thirteen-foot cell – per day. (Houston Processing Center, Texas)

• [Monica] continues to be denied hormone therapy, despite her use of hormones for ten years prior to immigration detention, and her physical and psychological reliance on them. [Monica], now detained for over five months, told NIJC staff, “I can’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore,” due to returning facial and body hair and other distressing changes. [Monica], an asylum seeker who has suffered grave past abuse in Mexico, also received no treatment for her trauma- related depression. She attempted suicide in February 2011 – the facility put her in solitary confinement as punishment. (Santa Ana City Jail, California)

• [Alexis] was repeatedly called a “faggot” by guards, who also made jokes about her dying of AIDS. They singled her out for public searches in which they forced her to remove her outer clothing and mocked her exposed breasts. (Theo Lacy Facility, California)

—  John Wright