Just as Superintendent Walter Dansby thought the firestorm over derogatory remarks made against Kristopher Franks,a gay faculty member at Western Hills High School, had been tamped out, another one broke out across town. It was the second major incident aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and faculty since school started in late August — in spite of a district policy against such attacks that has been called the “most progressive in the country” by gay activists such as Marvin Vann, an English teacher and the spokesperson for LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., a recently formed organization that offers a safe haven for students whatever their sexual orientation happens to be.
This latest dust-up surrounds an email sent out by a secretary at Carter-Riverside High School to the staff there last week that called homosexuality an “abomination.” In the email, the secretary, using the district server, was upset over a group of students plan to have a “gender-bending day” during the school’s homecoming week activities. The event was planned to have some fun with gender stereotypes—but the secretary (who could not be reached for comment) did not find it amusing.
She peppered her email with passages from the Old Testament condemning homosexuality while raising concerns about causing “confusion with those who are struggling with their own sexuality, which is common for teens,” she wrote.
“As representatives of FWISD, I would hate to think we are partakers of encouraging a lifestyle, which is an abomination unto the LORD, (her emphasis) and which may not be acceptable to many parents of our children. We should strive to keep our students’ focus on academics and not what they or others are doing in the bedroom.”
Vann was outraged. In an email to this writer, Vann vented his anger at the district leadership. There has been “not so much as a reminder to the school staff that district policies prohibit using the district-owned and -endorsed email to spread hate messages against gays or other groups,” he wrote.
“It is impossible to know if [the secretary] was motivated mainly by her anger over the recently announced formation of a new Gay Student Alliance under the leadership of [a]fellow teacher. … It would not be unprecedented in this area: In Keller ISD, a Facebook campaign is underway seeking to persuade Keller High School’s authorities to shut down their GSA,” he wrote.
School board member Carlos Vasquez, who is gay, defended the administration. He told the Dallas Voicelast week that when he heard of the email and reported it to Dansby, “the superintendent took immediate action.” The offending email was removed from the server, he said, and the secretary was reprimanded. Vasquez expressed “disappointment that the incident was reported to the press by Tom Anable of Fairness Fort Worth and other gay activists. “We have already solved most of the issues and concerns [the LGBT community is] bringing up,” Vasquez said, pointing out that under Dansby, the district has been more responsive to these issues than at any other time.
But for local gay rights activist Sharon Herrera, the former diversity and sexual harassment trainer for the district before she was removed from that job by former superintendent Melody Johnson, the discrepancy between the way the secretary, who spelled out a litany of insults against gays, was treated — a reprimand — and Franks, who was the alleged object of a gay-bashing student — suspended with pay while the district conducted a full investigation — is more than telling. “It is outrageous,” she said. The secretary clearly violated district policy for both students and employees, Herrera said, that forbids language or actions designed to insult, threaten or bully students or faculty who are members of a protected class.
Franks, who is gay, was harassed, he said, for weeks by a small group of students in his German and sociology classes, with taunting remarks about gays not being able to be Christians and about homosexuality being “wrong” and against God. He finally wrote a reprimand against one of the students, and sent him to the office. The student was suspended for two days by an assistant principal, and the suspension was upheld by the principal, until the mother hired a lawyer with the Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal group that opposes homosexuality. With a lawsuit threatened over the student’s free speech rights, the district rescinded the student’s suspension and cleared his record. Franks was still subjected to three days out of his classroom and an internal investigation. He was ultimately cleared by Dansby even though he wound up with a “letter of concern” in his file, the lowest form of disciplinary action, and was required to take a course in classroom management.
Further on the day he returned to work, one of his male students came dressed in pink with a pink garden hat on and “pranced around the room obviously mocking me,” Franks said. His principal witnessed the display of the student, and did nothing, he said.
. His supporters here, including Herrera, say the contrast between the way the secretary was treated and Franks shows just how much farther this district has to go in providing equal treatment to its gay members.
Anable, Vann, Herrera and others have praised the district for expanding the district’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression. This week, however, Anable told the Voice, that advocates have become frustrated with the district’s slow progress in implementing training regarding the policies and in enforcing them. The fact that there have been no training sessions set up for administrators and teachers to fully understand the policies and to know when and how to recognize hate speech and to understand that expressions such as those voiced by the secretary thru the district’s email system are not allowed, led to the unfortunate outcomes for both Franks and the secretary, Herrera said. “This is a clear failure of leadership,” she said.
“They are talking the talk, now we want them to walk the walk,” Anable told the Voice.
With that goal in mind, Herrera, said, representatives of Fairness Fort Worth will meet with Dansby next week to discuss how to help the district implement training and enforcement programs for the newly adopted policies.
It is one more issue on Dansby’s plate, that is now looking more like a platter large enough for the Thanksgiving bird.