National CoC honors North Texas business, leaders

NT gay chamber, Burns, American Airlines bring home awards

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

VeddaCarranchoBurns
WINNING SMILES | North Texas Gay and Lesbian Chamber President Tony Vedda, from left,, American Airlines’ George Carancho, Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Burns’ husband J.D. Angle attended the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s awards dinner, where the North Texas chamber, American and Burns were all honored.

The North Texas Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and Fort Worth-based American Airlines all brought home awards.

The NTGLCoC was named Chamber of the Year. Growth, member services and leadership development were cited as reasons for the award. NTGLCoC Board Chair Derrick Brown and President and CEO Tony Vedda were cited for their leadership.

The award had been announced earlier in the year but the award was presented at the group’s national dinner, with more than 800 people in attendance, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

“It was a very good night for North Texas,” said Vedda.

Burns won the NGLCC/American Airlines ExtrAA Mile Award. Past winners include NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and tennis legend Martina Navratalova.  The North Texas Chamber gives its own ExtrAA Mile Award and presented it to Burns earlier this year for his work following the Rainbow Lounge raid.

The national chamber presented the award to him “for courageously sharing his own struggles and desperation as a gay teen during a recent city council meeting in response to the recent epidemic of LGBT youth suicides and bullying.”

American Airlines was named Corporation of the Year by the national chamber. That award honors companies that are committed to expanding economic opportunities for LGBT-owned businesses.

“It’s well deserved,” said Vedda. “But it’s no surprise to us that they would be recognized. They received our first Corporate Ally award in 2006. We’re thrilled to have them as a major supporter of our organization since we started in 2005.”

The airline has also recently received similar awards from three other groups committed to diversity.

“American actively focuses on identifying minority, women-owned, LGBT and other diverse small businesses as potential suppliers,” said John MacLean, American Airlines vice president for purchasing and transportation. “These awards increase awareness of the importance we place on supplier diversity and our efforts to ensure that our supplier base reflects our customer base.”

Manager of Supplier Diversity and Business Strategies at American Airlines, Sherri Macko, was named Supplier Diversity Advocate of the Year from Dallas/Fort Worth Minority Supplier Development Council and Advocate of the Year by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Texas for the second time.

Macko, who is also from the Dallas area, serves on the board of the NGLCC Procurement Council.

The local chamber is accepting nominations for the 2010 Business Excellence Awards. Those honors will be given at the North Texas Chamber’s sixth anniversary dinner in March. Rebecca Covell, who won the 2009 Business Person of the Year award, and Burns are the honorary co-chairs of the event.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Chely Wright answers the call

The country music star and out lesbian may be busy with a new album and tour, but she always makes time for her new-found passion for advocating for LGBT equality

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

When Chely Wright came out this summer, the buzz in the music industry was mixed. But as it turned out, she did it at precisely the right time.

Combining her star power with advocacy, Wright has become the face of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and an outspoken advocate for her new-found community. She has stepped up to the plate and used her stature to focus attention on LGBT issues.

The buzz around Wright’s coming out was quickly eclipsed by head-grabbing issues like same-sex marriage rulings, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the rash of gay youth suicides and bullying.

Still, Wright interjected herself into the conversation and people listened, while other gay celebrities were being supportive, but perhaps less vocal. For her efforts, Wright will be awarded the 2010 Media Award at this weekend’s Black Tie Dinner.

“This is what I felt like I was supposed to do, and it would be wrong of me not do this,” Wright said recently of her work in the community.

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold said that Wright was the unanimous choice for the Med Award this year. As the year progressed, Wright’s work with LGBT youth and her public profile narrowed the choices tremendously until she became the decisive choice.

“The breadth of her activity immediately upon coming out was definitely a factor. She faced issues head on and she’s made an incredible impact in reaching Middle America,” Guillard said.

Wright has most recently chosen to become involved in addressing the seemingly skyrocketing rate of bullying and LGBT youth suicides. Her work with GLSEN helped launch the Safe Space Campaign for schools to provide outright support to gay students and end anti-gay harassment and bullying. She joined a panel of celebrities on Larry King Live calling attention to the issue — which she stressed isn’t new.

“What’s going on now is not a shock to me. The problem isn’t a fresh one. It’s just that now, we have the mainstream media’s attention,” Wright said.

She quoted Kathy Griffin from that panel, agreeing with the comedian that bullying is based in homophobia stemming from a bigger picture that paints a distinct portrait to both straight and gay communities. “I hadn’t thought about it until she said

something amazing. She called it ‘trickle-down homophobia,’ where gay issues and headlines meet. DADT is denied, marriage denied and we’re constantly told we’re ‘less than,’” Wright said. “Not only bullies are hearing that, but young gay people are too.”

And that gives LGBT youth a bleak outlook on their future, while at the same time emboldening the bullies, Wright said.

“We can tell people not to bully, but when mandates are coming down against our rights and headlines show that, how can we expect them not to, when Congress is doing it blatantly?” Wright asked.

When she wrote her autobiography Like Me, Wright’s publishers balked at the chapter on hate crimes. She fought Random House for the chapter to be included, despite them telling her it was too dramatic. In the end, Wright won and the chapter, “Hate Crimes are Down?,” foreshadowed the current issue of harassment.

“If you push a young LGBT person to the point where they take their own lives, it’s a hate crime. If you get them to kill themselves, that’s a hate crime. You aren’t connecting dots that are too far apart and now it’s horrific that it’s come to past,” Wright said.

Wright focused on the Rutgers student Tyler Clemente, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge after his roommate recorded him having sex with another man and streamed it online.

Chely Wright
SHE CAN RELATE | Chely Wright says that after spending years hiding her sexual orientation to protect her career in country music, she understands the anguish that young people struggling with their sexual orientation sometimes feel.

Wright said she faced a similar fear of being outed in the middle of her conservative country music career.

“I know what he felt like and it ripped my heart out,” she said of Clemente. “When you don’t want anyone to know that secret, the thought that runs through your mind is to jump, or pull the trigger. I couldn’t bear someone in control of my timeline for that secret,” she said.

Wright has been open about her faith as well, which brings a fairly new facet to the openly gay celebrity. Where most might dismiss religion as a hindrance, Wright seems to want to let people know that being gay and being religious are not mutually exclusive.

But at the same time, she said it is religion that is responsible for so much bigotry.

“Churches are not being held accountable. They tell young people they are damaged goods,” Wright said. “They tell them not to shoplift, which is a question of morality and making the right decision. But when they tell them not to be gay, that sets them onto a path of self-loathing and hatred and it’s contrary to a healthy life.”

Along with GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign, Wright has given her support to the nonprofit organization Faith in America, which works to counteract the discrimination by religious communities toward the LGBT community.

“When you tell a kid he can’t be that way, it’s just a problem. We have got to hold churches accountable,” Wright repeated. “Really, you can be a good Christian and a gay person,” she said.

Arnold sees how Wright’s passion led to the board’s decision to honor her with the award.

“She is setting a wonderful example for people of all ages right now in this critical time. She’s appreciated the community and we appreciate what she’s doing for it,” Arnold said.

With her political advocacy, it’s easy to forget what Wright does best. She is still making music, but now balances what she loves to do and what she’s called to do.

“At the root of what I do, I like to sing and make records,” Wright said. “But we do the most damage as humans with words. And I’m compelled to support kids as they turn into grownups and help them keep their heads on straight.”

So to speak.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Elliott’s story: How 1 teen survived bullying, suicide attempt

When classmates beat him up for being gay, this Ennis teen and his mom reported it. But the principal told Elliott he brought it on himself

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

IN MEMORY OF ASHER  |  Brian Carter, left, and Sharon Ferranti stand on the corner with signs as the buses let out of school during a human rights demonstration outside of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to protest the treatment of Asher Brown, a gay eighth-grader at the school who killed himself at home Sept. 23. Brown’s parents blamed his suicide on two years of anti-gay bullying they say he had suffered at the school. (Karen Warren/Associated Press-Houston Chronicle)
IN MEMORY OF ASHER | Brian Carter, left, and Sharon Ferranti stand on the corner with signs as the buses let out of school during a human rights demonstration outside of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to protest the treatment of Asher Brown, a gay eighth-grader at the school who killed himself at home Sept. 23. Brown’s parents blamed his suicide on two years of anti-gay bullying they say he had suffered at the school. (Karen Warren/Associated Press-Houston Chronicle)

The suicides of as many as six LGBT youth over the past month have focused a spotlight on the issue of anti-LGBT bullying in schools and online, and the correlation between bullying and teen suicide.

According to a 2003 study by the National Crime Prevention Council, six out of 10 teens witness some form of bullying at least once a day. And much of that bullying is directed at teens who are — or who are perceived to be — LGBT.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network has reported that students hear anti-LGBT epithets an average of 25 times a day, and that in 97 percent of the cases, teachers fail to respond to the comments.

Various studies have shown that LGBT teens are two to four times as likely as their non-LGBT counterparts to attempt suicide, and according to a report to the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, 30 percent of all completed youth suicides are related to sexual identity.

And GLSEN’s 2003 National School Climate Survey reported that more than 64 percent of LGBT students say they feel unsafe at their schools because of their sexual orientation.

The statistics are overwhelming. But for one North Texas gay teen, anti-gay bullying and suicide attempts are far more than just statistics.

Elliott, who lives in Ennis, is 17 now. But he almost did not live that long after enduring bullying that started, he said, when he was in first grade. After years of enduring the abuse, Elliott said, he tried to commit suicide at age 15.

“I live in a small town,” he said. “I’m a ballet dancer. I stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Elliott said he was on the only one in his school being bullied, a fact that left him feeling totally alone.

And the bullying didn’t stop at words. When he was a freshman, Elliott said, a classmate followed him into the restroom at school and beat him up.

Elliott told his mother what happened. She went to the school and spoke to the principal, who told her he would do something about it.

What the principal did was tell Elliott that he had brought it upon himself.

The bullying wasn’t just at school: “I was dealing with a lot of problems,” Elliott said.

His older brother was having drug problems and tormented him at home. He had an abusive stepfather who let his own two children get away with things that he grounded Elliott for.

“He’d ridicule me for being gay,” Elliott said of his stepfather, “and it turned out he was bi.”

So Elliott started cutting himself on his ankles and his wrists. He was never hospitalized, but a nurse noticed the cuts. He told her he injured himself when he fell out of a tree.

Elliott took what he called a “safe overdose,” of a prescription drug, but recovered. He said that was the last time he tried or even considered suicide. But he said he understands how the young suicide victims that have been in the news felt. And it scares him that he came close to meeting the same fate.

Elliott said things began to get better at home for him by the end of his freshman year. His mother finished her degree, started teaching and divorced his stepfather.

His older brother very recently became sober.

For his sophomore year, Elliott transferred to arts magnet Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas. That’s where he first learned about Youth First Texas.

“I took a DART bus over [to Youth First] and I loved it,” he said, adding that for the first time in his life, he was with other people like him.

“It made me feel amazing,” he said. “Whenever I’m not in Ennis, I’m at Youth First Texas.”

Elliott joined a survivors group at Youth First in which LGBT youth discuss how they feel during times of distress. He worked with the fundraising committee and became a member of the Youth Board. He entertained with a YFT group at the Creating Change conference in February and the Gayla Prom in June.

Elliott also modeled in the annual YFT fashion show at the Rose Room and was a runway model for DIFFA.
Elliott began his activist career in April when he participated in Day of Silence in school and Breaking the Silence at Rosa Parks Square in Downtown Dallas. This summer he attended Activist Youth Camp at University of North Texas. An ACLU representative told him that had he reported the principal’s comment about bringing the beating on himself, they would have investigated.

“Just knowing I can do that is important,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do anything about it.”

His mother has become an active volunteer with YFT as well. He called her his biggest supporter.

“A lot of the others are neglected by their parents,” he said. “She acts as a mom to everyone. She gives everyone hugs. She talks to everyone and is there for everyone.”

He said he’d like to see more LGBT community involvement from other organizations.

For his senior year, Elliott is back at Ennis High School. He said the environment is different now, although it’s still difficult to walk down the halls and see other students who tormented him for years.

For protection in school, he said, “I’m starting to repopulate my girl-posse.”

Activist camp left Elliott feeling empowered and safer in school. He said he is not afraid to face the principal who told him he brought on his own beating.

Elliott said he has no personal life in Ennis, although he does teach ballet at a dance studio in town. His students are 6-to 8-year old girls.

“It intrigues them that there’s a male teacher,” he said.

A former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader owns the studio. He said she’s proud to have a male teacher on staff. Now when he goes to into a store and sees one of his students, he said, they call out, “Hi Mr. Elliott!”

After graduation, Elliott plans to attend Navarro County Community College to take his basic courses. Then he’d like to transfer to a school in Dallas to study dance and continue to be involved at YFT.

He said the recent suicides have affected him terribly. “I printed out the headlines,” he said. “It really bugs me.”

Elliott has advice for other teens who have considered suicide: “Whatever you’re going through, it just makes you a stronger person,” he said. “Whatever you go through makes you capable of doing things others can’t.”

And he wants school staff to know how much bullying hurts.

“Everything you say affects someone,” Elliott said. “I want teachers and staff to know it really hurts. Everything you say affects someone. Teachers and principals are ignorant to that. If you ignore it, it will fester.”

……………………………………………

Where to get help

• Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
Dallas, Texas
214-879-0400
YouthFirstTexas.org

• The Trevor Project
866-488-7386
TheTrevorProject.org

• The Promise House
224 W. Page Ave.
Dallas, Texas
214-941-8578
or 214-941-8670
PromiseHouse.org

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK
SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

• Suicide Prevention Help
SuicidePreventionHelp.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Yet another gay teen takes his own life

Raymond Chase

Believe it or not, another openly gay teen has taken his own life, bringing the total to six in the month of September. The latest victim is Raymond Chase, a 19-year-old student at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., who hung himself in his dorm room on Wednesday, Sept. 29. While it’s unclear whether bullying was a factor in Chase’s death, clearly at this point we are witnessing an extremely alarming trend. Chase’s death marks the sixth known suicide by a teenager who was gay or perceived to be gay in the month of September. All of the other five had been victims of anti-gay bullying. They are Asher Brown, 13, of Houston; Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, Calif.; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Ind.; Tyler Clementi of New Jersey; and Justin Aaberg, 15, of Minnesota.

What’s going on here, folks, and what are we gonna do about it? Here’s the full press release from Campus Pride on Chase’s death:

Campus Pride Demands National Action to address LGBT Youth Bullying, Harassment & Suicide

In the wake of two college suicides Tyler Clementi of Rutgers University & Raymond Chase of Johnson & Wales, Campus Pride reissues findings and recommendations from the “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People” released last week at a U.S. congressional briefing on Capitol Hill

(Providence, RI) Campus Pride, the nation’s leading non-profit organization working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally college and university students, offers its condolences and support to the family of Raymond Chase who reportedly hung himself in his residence hall room this past Wednesday, September 29, 2010 on the campus of Johnson & Wales in Providence, RI.

“The loss of Raymond this week is the second college LGBT-related suicide in a week and the fifth teenage LGBT suicide in three weeks. The suicide of this openly gay young man is for reasons currently unknown; however, the recent pattern of LGBT youth suicides is cause for grave concern,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director and founder of Campus Pride. “Campus Pride demands national action be taken to address youth bullying, harassment and the need for safety and inclusion for LGBT youth at colleges and universities across the country. We must not let these tragic deaths go unnoticed.  Together we must act decisively to curb anti-LGBT bias incidents, harassment and acts of violence.”

Through its Q Research Institute for Higher Education, Campus Pride released last week its “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People.” The in-depth research study is the most comprehensive national LGBT higher education study of its kind. Campus Pride surveyed more than 5,000 LGBT students, faculty and staff for the report. Findings demonstrate that these recent suicides and incidents of harassment are neither rare nor fleeting– they are REAL.

Among the findings in the report:

-One quarter (23%) of LGBQ staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with your ability to work or learn). Almost all identified sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of transgender students, faculty, & staff reported experiencing harassment (39%) with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. The form of the harassment experiences by transgender people was more overt and blatant.

-One-third of LGBQ (33%) and transgender (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate.

-More than half of all faculty, students, & staff hide their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation.

-More than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff(43%) and13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety.This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.

For more information about Campus Pride’s “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People” report, visit www.campuspride.org/research.

—  John Wright