by PlanetOut, www.PlanetOut.com, a Worldwide Online Community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans People
Case Teacher Cleared
The California state Commission
on Teacher Credentialing has
declined on the grounds of insufficient evidence to investigate allegations against a fifth grade teacher whose class talked about the "Ellen" coming out episode. The Commission notified the attorney of Alameda teacher Victoria Forrester on December 12 by phone, although official written notifications have not yet been distributed. Forrester, who has an outstanding reputation in her field, had previously been exonerated by Alameda's school superintendent and school board, which declared October 28 that, "the parents' allegations were not supported by the evidence. No student was harassed, intimidated, ridiculed or intentionally embarrassed."
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Kelli Evans assisted in Forrester's defense, and told the "San Francisco Chronicle" that, "[Parents] do not have the right to prohibit their children from ever hearing any idea with which they don't agree. Some parents are asking public schools to be I 00 percent a reflection of their values. That is not public education."
Forrester opened her May I class at Amelia Earhart Elementary School as she always does, asking students, "Did anything exciting happen to you?" In response, a student initiated what proved to be a seven-minute discussion relating to the sitcom character's coming out as a lesbian. Student Heather Trelow's parents had given the school instructions that they did not want the 11-year-old exposed to discussions of human sexuality, but Forrester apparently had not been informed of that (an oversight for which her principal Don Buchheit has accepted responsibility), and even Heathet's parents admit that no sexual activities were discussed in the classroom. Apparently Heather took issue with students' perception of Ellen DeGeneres' character "Ellen Morgan" as "brave" and "proud" and Forrester suggested that Heather might try to keep an open mind, quite in accord with the school district's anti-bias policy. Forrester had been Heather's favorite teacher up until then, but that day the child went home in tears. Heather has not returned to Earhart since, first schooling at home and then transferring into a private school.
Heather's parents, Mike and Judy Trelow, filed complaints against Forrester and have now appealed as far as they can go within the school system. They had previously threatened a lawsuit against Forrester if no education authority acted against her, but although they have for some time retained an attorney in the case, it is not yet known whether they will follow through. From May through October, while the school district was legally unable to discuss the issue publicly, the Trelows became regular guests on local media, complete with press packets.
Gay Charges Harassment By
Attorney W. Randolph Kraft
sought to add open gay
Ernesto Medina as a plaintiff in a sexual harassment lawsuit against talkshow host Montel Williams, but U.S. District Judge John Martin responded by socking Kraft with a $15,000 fine, according to an Associated Press report. Kraft had originally filed the suit last year for two women employees of "The Montel Williams Show" and four more women joined them later, but by March all but Williams' former nanny and housekeeper had either quit the case or fired Kraft. Judge Martin believed that Kraft was adding Medina simply to maintain his own involvement in the case, although Kraft denies it. Medina was Williams' executive Assistant for seven months in 1994 - 1995, and charges that during that time Williams groped and ridiculed him.
Fierstein to Star
Universal has ordered the production of a new sitcom for
the 1998 fall season to star openly gay actor Harvey ("Torch Song Trilogy) Fierstein as an openly gay man. In "Rescue Me," Fierstein and co-star Lisa Amsterdam are a brother and sister team who write self-help books; in real life, they'll be teaming up to write the scripts. "He's the one in a healthy relationship, and I'm the one who's all screwed up," Amsterdam told "TV Guide." Amsterdam credits Ellen DeGeneres for paving the way, but it remains to be seen if any of the networks will be willing to take the road less travelled.
Ellen a Role Model
In the first edition of what it plans to
be an annual event, the New York
City-based Ms. Foundation on December I I issued a list of top ten women role models - and Ellen DeGeneres was among them for coming out as a lesbian both in real life and as her sitcom character. Ms. Foundation President Marie Wilson said of the women listed, "Their achievements create new opportunities for today's girls." The other nine were Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the U.S. government; the Army's first three-star general, Claudia Kennedy; anti-land mine activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams; Million Woman March organizer Phile Chionesu; Oprah Winfrey, for encouraging reading with the book club segment of her talk show; Irene Ng, star of Nickelodeon's "The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo" and currently the only Asian-American lead in a U.S. TV series; the National Basketball Association's first women referees, Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer; Christy Haubbeger, for starting "Latina" magazine; and 8-year-old Kira Colvin, for her perfect score on the Grade 4 National Science Olympiad.
Another Catholic University
Openly gay Washington, DC
attorney Alan Yount this week
followed film actress Susan Sarandon in returning an award to their mutual alma mater, Catholic University. Like Sarandon, Yount is protesting the school's withdrawal of an Alumni Achievement Award from openly gay actor-producer Joseph Sicari after he identified himself in an autobiographical statement as a founding member of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Yount, who graduated from CU's law school last year, returned his Law School Alumni Society Award with a letter to CU President Patrick Ellis saying, "I can no longer be proud of my association with Catholic University because of its continued intolerance and persecution of students and alumni who are gay." In aborting its plans to honor Sicari, CU cited ACT UP's controversial 1989 protest which disrupted a service in New York City's Saint Patrick's Cathedral.
Greek DA Disbarred for Transexual Love
Athens District Attorney
was disbarred recently by Greece's high court for his extramarital affair with Jenny Hiloudaki, a high profile transsexual former sex worker, but public sentiment is on his side, according to an Associated Press report. Sakellaropoulos, whose "social character" was questioned by the court because of the affair, is considering appealing his punishment to the European Court of Human Rights in the belief that he has a right to privacy.
Hiloudaki has become a familiar figure in the Greek media since undergoing gender reassignment in 1990, making frequent appearances to speak on sex and gender issues. The current uproar naturally brought her an appearance on television, in which she said, "It is as if he sacrificed his career on the altar of love." She went on to claim that the affair has not ended, propose marriage to Sakellaropoulos, and remark that, "I will be hurt if he stays with his wife now."
Sakellaropoulos' wife is currently expecting their second child.
In a supportive open letter to Sakellaropoulos which appeared Dec. 1 in Athens' Vradini newspaper, columnist Nikos Mastorakis declared that, "The system destroyed you because you fell in love with a woman who wasn't always a woman." One television station had listeners call in to "vote" on the situation and received 20,000 responses, 82% of them opposing Sakellaropoulos' firing. Many people believe that he would have been treated differently had he carried out the same affair with either a woman or a man who had not undergone gender reassignment.
Faces Change in Colorado Springs
Look for old battles and new
faces in Colorado Springs in
the coming year: the anti-gay organization Colorado for Family Values has hired an executive director for the first time since 1996, while the executive director of the gay and lesbian group Ground Zero has stepped down. Both groups are based in Colorado Springs, CO, sometimes known as "The Vatican of Fundamentalism" because it's home to the headquarters of Focus on the Family and other national right-wing Christian organizations.
Colorado for Family Values was the sponsor of the 1992 statewide ballot initiative Amendment 2, which would have overturned and prohibited any laws by local governments recognizing gays, lesbians and bisexuals as a minority group. Although Amendment 2 succeeded at the ballot box, court orders prevented its enforcement until it was finally struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in an historic decision last year. The group has not attempted anything on the same scale since, although it has been visible on more local issues, notably creating a flap last year when a high school newspaper featured a cover story on gay and lesbian youth.
But CFV hasn't had an executive director since Kevin Tebedo's resignation in 1996, and now Paul Jessen, pastor of the Colorado Springs Restoration Fellowship Foursquare Church, has been appointed to the post. Although Jessen has only been in Colorado Springs for about a year, he's a volunteer chaplain for the Colorado Springs Police Department, as well as a member of the Colorado Springs Association of Evangelicals. Previously, he served for almost 10 years as pastor of the Foursquare Church in Long Beach, CA, where he was an active opponent of a domestic partners registry (which was eventually adopted).
In making an acceptance speech December 10, Jessen promised renewed activism opposing "the forced affirmation of homosexual behavior in our communities," along with defense of the "traditional legal definition of marriage" and support to change people "trapped in homosexual behavior."
The group was cagey about any further details. Used car salesman Will Perkins, always the group's leading spokesperson, has been acting as executive director since Tebedo's resignation. He said of the appointment, "We've been looking for the timing. The time is right now."
Frank Whitworth helped found Ground Zero in 1992 in response to Amendment 2 as an educational organization supporting equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. As the organization's leading spokesperson, he naturally stepped into the executive director position (which now pays all of $24,000 per year) when the group grew large enough to support it. He's also been the editor of its monthly newsletter. The 1995 Stonewall Award winner denies having any ambition for public office, although part of his desire to leave his job at this time is his chafing at the legal restrictions on the activities of a 50 (c)3 non-profit organization.
Before coming to Colorado, Whitworth was an activist in his native Virginia, where he helped with the incorporation of that state's first gay and lesbian rights organization. His civil rights activism has always extended beyond gay and lesbian concerns, and he won praise from other Colorado Springs human rights groups for developing Ground Zero's connections with them. Of his resignation effective December 31, he says that he both feels a need for a personal change and believes that Ground Zero should have "new blood." Ground Zero's other paid position is also currently vacant.