Texas School District Faces Two Lawsuits Over Sexual Assault

The La Vernia, Texas, Independent School District is facing two lawsuits from families who say their children were raped by high school athletes while adults knew of the assaults and failed to take action.

The latest suit was filed January 23 but reported just last week by the San Antonio Express-News. The previous one was filed in April. There are also criminal charges against several students in the small town of La Vernia, about 30 miles from San Antonio.

The most recent suit alleges that a member of the La Vernia High School basketball team, identified only as John Doe, “was sexually assaulted more than 30 times between October 2016 and February 2017,” The Daily Beast reports. The assaults involved penetration with fingers and objects including a flashlight, and took place in the high school’s locker and shower rooms, at other schools, and in teammates’ homes, according to the suit. The student claims a coach heard him screaming during one assault and actually witnessed another but did nothing.

In the suit, John Doe’s parents say there was a “deliberately indifferent response to multiple events of student-on-student sexual assault and subsequent sex-based harassment.” The contend that by allowing the abuse, the school was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting sex discrimination in education. Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Education held that Title IX also banned anti-transgender discrimination, a stance abandoned under Donald Trump – but some courts have upheld the broader interpretation of Title IX.

Thirteen players on the high school’s varsity basketball, football, and baseball teams face criminal charges of sexually assaulting other students, according to The Daily Beast. John Doe’s suit names some of the same athletes who have been arrested on these charges. They have all denied participating in the assaults.

The suit filed in April, by the family of a school football player identified as Child Doe, tells of sexual assault with a Gatorade bottle and other objects, The Daily Beast reports, and claims that coaches “sanctioned these rituals,” while other school officials “turned a blind eye toward the abuse, even after the abuse was reported to them.”

“After our careful investigation regarding this filed lawsuit, we believe we are on solid ground that our minor client suffered severe and permanent mental and physical injuries as a result of this,” said Fidel Rodriguez, an attorney for family in the most recent suit, told the Express-News. “These types of cases need to be brought out into the light so that they don’t happen again to any other student-athlete in the state of Texas.”

At least 10 students have reported sexual abuse in the school, and the Texas Rangers and the state attorney general’s office are continuing to investigation, according to the paper. Superintendent Jose Moreno, criticized for his response to the abuse allegations and resigned in November.

Interim superintendent Gary Patterson told the Express-News he has been briefed on the lawsuits. “We’re looking forward to resolution of these issues and are awaiting the results of the Texas Ranger investigation to assist the district as we move forward,” he added. “The district’s internal investigation is ongoing and in conjunction with the Rangers investigation.”

Did an Antigay Church Force the Closure of a 30-Year-Old Gay Club?

It was bad enough when Toledo, Ohio’s 30-year-old Bretz nightclub closed in December; now a Christian group that places homosexuality and bestiality on the same moral plane will take over the space.

The Greater Toledo House of Prayer purchased the nightclub’s building on January 3 for $148,000. The small Christian denomination denies it forced the club’s closure, saying in a statement that the congregation simply outgrew its current space and snapped up the gay club to hold its services.

That denial is being questioned, since as The Toledo Blade reports, the House of Prayer has ties to several extremist anti-LGBT and anti-abortion organizations — a director and a member of the House of Prayer are also directors of Agora Toledo, which unsuccessfully attempted to raze a closed abortion clinic and replace it with a “memorial garden to the unborn.”

The House of Prayer makes it clear that it has no room for LGBT people or anyone who doesn’t conform to their rigid view of spirituality. According to their Statement of Beliefs:

“Persons who choose to become members of the Corporation, are agreeing to support… basic biblical values derived from Scriptural and historical Christianity. These values oppose and prohibit living in, practicing, condoning, or supporting sex outside of marriage, adultery, homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, gender identity different than the birth sex chromosomal level, pornography, or other sexual immorality.”

The statement includes more details on their opposition to LGBT people, referring to their “rejection of the image of God.”

Bretz’s former owner was trying to sell the business and keep the club open, but couldn’t find a suitable buyer, House of Prayer officials told the Blade. The club’s owners closed Bretz in December and then apparently sold the real estate to the Christians.

Bretz’s Twitter profile described the club as, “Toledo’s number one #gay nightclub. Spending our 30th year in service by offering up the best in entertainment, and events.”

Twitter Revolts Over Timothée Chalamet's SAG Loss to Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman won big at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday — and fans of Call Me by Your Name are not pleased.

Oldman, 59, was honored with the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, besting category competitiors James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.), and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name).

The win follows Oldman’s triumph at the Golden Globes, where he garnered Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, as well as the Critics Choice Awards, where he got Best Actor. The successive victories for his leading role in Darkest Hour, in which he portrays Winston Churchill, have cemented him as the frontrunner in the Oscar race for Best Actor.

For those who loved Call Me by Your Name — the critically acclaimed coming-of-age tale starring Chalamet and Armie Hammer as lovers in northern Italy — Oldman’s success at the SAG Awards is a disheartening turn of events.

Early in the awards race, Chalamet, 22, gained steam by winning a Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor. But the lack of awards recognition since has left Chalamet’s and the film’s Oscar prospects in doubt.

Fans turned to social media to express their greivances that Chalamet was “robbed.” Others pointed to a resurfaced report that Oldman’s ex-wife accused him of assault in 2001 — allegations he’s denied.

How do you feel about Chalamet’s loss? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Russian Senator Argues that Protecting Animals Will Lead to LGBT Rights

Earlier this year the chief executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board alleged that a pair of male lions who appeared to be mating at a reserve there must have learned the behavior from gay people who visited the park. 

Now, Russian Senator Sergei Kalashnikov, who has no interest in protecting animals or LGBT people, said that maintaining rights for animals would lead to protecting gay rights.  During the Federation Council’s attempt to strike down a bill to protect against cruelty to animals, Kalashnikov said that keeping protections in place for animals could lead to protecting rights for LGBT people. 

“We treat many western fads with humor, including political correctness, the rights of sexual minorities and others,” Kalashnikov said prior to the vote, according to The Moscow Times. “Any thought, however humanitarian, becomes absurd when carried to its logical conclusion.  We’re not only passing a law that won’t work for many reasons, but we’re also demonstrating that we’re following the same path, so to speak, of defending the rights of sexual minorities.”

Russia’s anti-gay stance is well documented especially since the implementation of the “Gay Propaganda” law adopted in 2013 that bans any positive mention of LGBT issues in venues accessible to minors and has been used against Pride parades and other events. Just this November a study by the Center for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg found that anti-LGBT crimes in Russia had doubled since the law was passed. 

When it seemed like Kalashnikov’s comments were at the zenith of anti-LGBT rhetoric in the discussion about animal versus LGBT rights, the vice-chairman of the Agrarian Committee, Sen. Stepan Zhiryakov, offended by the comparison of animals to LGBT people for all of the wrong reasons said, “should not be equated to sexual minorities,” according to The Moscow Times.

Sweetheart Measure for Churches Stripped From GOP Tax Bill

Republicans pushed for a repeal of the 1954 Johnson Amendment — which prohibits churches and nonprofits from engaging in partisan politics, such as lobbying and campaigning for specific candidates — in the proposed tax bill, but failed to get their way.

A Senate parliamentarian stripped the tax bill, which gives numerous breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals, of the Johnson Amendment repeal, Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon told The Hill. The Johnson Amendment repeal didn’t have enough to do with the actual budget to be included in the legislation, according to the parliamentarian.

“I will continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision that keeps the sanctity of our religious institutions intact, prevents the flow of dark money in politics, and keeps taxpayer dollars from advancing special interest biddings,” Wyden said in a statement first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The repeal of the Johnson Amendment, named for then-Sen, Lyndon Johnson, was pushed by right-wing Republicans like President Trump and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. LGBT organizations bristled at the thought of churches being granted even more political clout and pastors being allowed to endorse candidates from the pulpit.

'Super Size Me' Director Morgan Spurlock Tweets Confession of Sexual Abuse

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is the newest domino to fall amid the #MeToo movement, but unexpectedly, at his own hands. In a tweet on Wednesday, the Super Size Me star admitted to having been accused of rape, among other sexual offenses. 

“As I sit around watching hero after hero, man after man, fall at the realization of their past indiscretions, I don’t sit by and wonder, Who will be next? I wonder, When will they come for me?” Spurlock wrote in his article, I am Part of The Problem. “If I’m going truly represent myself as someone who has built a career on finding the truth, then it’s time for me to be truthful as well.

In the memo, Spurlock details his experience with rape accusations in college from another classmate, who did not file charges.

“When I was in college, a girl who I hooked up with on a one night stand accused me of rape. Not outright. There were no charges or investigations, but she wrote about the instance in a short story writing class and called me by name. A female friend who was in the class told be about it afterwards. I was floored. ‘That’s not what happened!’ I told her. This wasn’t how I remembered it at all. In my mind, we’d been drinking all night and went back to my room. We began fooling around, she pushed me off, then we laid in the bed and talked and laughed some more, and then began fooling around again. We took off our clothes. She said she didn’t want to have sex, so we laid together, and talked, and kissed, and laughed, and then we started having sex.”

The filmmaker described how he stopped having intercourse after his partner started crying. He also admitted to settling a sexual harassment case eight years ago with a former assistant he referred to as “hot pants” and “sex pants,” after she threatened to go public with her experience.

Later in the piece, Spurlock offers excuses for his misconduct, asking:

“What caused me to act this way? Is it all ego? Or was it the sexual abuse I suffered as a boy and as a young man in my teens? Abuse that I only ever told to my first wife, for fear of being seen as weak or less than a man?  Is it because my father left my mother when I was child? Or that she believed he never respected her, so that disrespect carried over into their son? Or is it because I’ve consistently been drinking since the age of 13?”

Unfortunately, none of these qualify as a legal defense for raping a woman. The Internet also thinks Spurlock’s admission is a non-apology, and is wondering if this is a stunt for his next documentary film.

7 Women the Golden Globes Snubbed for Best Director

The Golden Globes Best Director nominations, announced Monday, are nothing if not boring and predictable choices that fail to recognize women. While Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water has garnered solid reviews and is a fantasy piece that celebrates otherness, the others are more predictable. A few of Hollywood’s favorite men are nominated: Steven Spielberg picked up a nomination for The Post, Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, and Ridley Scott for All the Money in the World (which was reshot with Christopher Plummer so recently it’s hard to believe many critics have seen it) while Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘s Martin McDonagh appears to be the dark horse of the nominees for directing a film about a woman seeking justice/revenge for her daughter’s rape and murder. 

But if the Globes wanted to reward a woman’s story or even a story interpreted through the eyes of a woman, there were plenty of female directors the Hollywood Foreign Press could have recognized. But in the year of the #MeToo movement, when Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird nabbed the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of all time and Wonder Woman captivated critics and audiences for an entire summer moviegoing season, the Globes directing nominations are sadly and stupidly shortsighted.

In a year that was loaded with excellent films from women, including documentaries like Agnes Varda’s Faces Places, Catherine Gund and Dareshi Kyi’s Chavela, and Sabaah Folayan’s Whose Streets? as well asforeign films like Petra Volpe’s The Divine Order and small films like Maggie Betts’s Novitiate, we compiled a list of women directors who could/should have been on the collective radar of Globes voters but who were ignored in a category that is disappointingly trite and male. 

Angela Robinson for Professor Marston and the Wonder Women 

Out director Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.) and a powerhouse producing team that includes Jill Soloway and Andrea Sperling retell the story of the professor who created the Wonder Woman comics and the women who loved him and each other. The period piece stars Luke Evans as Professor James Marston, Rebecca Hall as his wife, Elizabeth Marston (an attorney and psychologist), and Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne, the student they love. The film intertwines the rise of their polyamorous relationship with the creation of Wonder Woman, which was loaded with bondage and kink it its nascent stage. Connie Britton and Oliver Platt costar in this thoughtful film. 

Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled 

All of Sofia Coppola’s auteur markers were on display in the eerie female-centric reboot of a 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle that was helmed by Don Siegel. Colin Farrell plays a wounded Irish-American soldier adrift in the South during the Civil War until Nicole Kidman’s Martha, the head of a school for girls, offers him shelter. Psychosexual games and torture ensue in the deliciously twisted flick that costars Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, and Oona Laurence. While the film, in and of itself, is a shrewdly helmed, delicious slice of revenge fantasy, Coppola was rightly, roundly censured for her decision to write out a slave character who appeared in the book and original film. 

Kathryn Bigelow for Detroit 

The only woman to ever win a best directing Oscar (for The Hurt Locker) out of just a few who’ve been nominated throughout history, Kathryn Bigelow, who also directed Zero Dark Thirty, excavated the true events around police brutality that resulted in the deaths of three black men in 1967 in Detroit. The film, the message of which was that history repeats itself and that society should learn from it, was not exactly a critical darling, but Bigelow is as capable a director as any, and she could certainly give someone like Martin McDonagh, nominated for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a run for his money. 

Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton for Battle of the Sexes

Beyond trouncing proud male chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the legendary 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match, Billie Jean King was a proponent for equal pay early in the game. The crowd-pleasing film from Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the directing team behind Little Miss Sunshine, recounts the story of how that famous battle came to pass at the same time it tracks King’s love affair with hairstylist Marilyn Barnett. And it does it with a whole lot of heart and the hope that is indicative of King’s brand of do-something-about-it feminism. Emma Stone (who is nominated for a Globe) stars as King, while Steve Carell (also nominated) plays Riggs and Andrea Riseborough portrays Barnett. Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, and Natalie Morales costar. 

Dee Rees for Mudbound 

Pariah and Bessie director Dee Rees should be Oscar bound with this epic, important look at the lives of black sharecroppers and white landowners in the Mississippi Delta following World War II, but the Golden Globes failed to recognize her. However, Mary J. Blige earned two nods, one for her breakout role as Florence Jackson in the film, and one for “Mighty River,” the song she wrote for the movie.  Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, and Jason Clarke round out the cast of this modern masterpiece. 

Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman 

A critical favorite and a blockbuster smash, Wonder Woman is so deeply of the moment, shattering the myth that women can’t direct big action or superhero flicks. Wonder Woman is not only the first film starring a female superhero in more than a decade; it’s the first-ever superhero film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, who directed Charlize Theron to Oscar (really, all of the acting awards that year) glory in Monster. Gal Gadot donned Wonder Woman’s bracelets and lasso of submission to lead a cast that includes Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and Lisa Loven Kongsli (Force Majeure) as the women who advise young Diana on existing in the world of men in this origin story that inspired little girls and boys around the world to aspire to be like Wonder Woman. Action films are rarely nominated for Best Picture awards, but if cultural significance in a really well-directed package won prizes, then Wonder Woman should be the recipient.  

Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

Actress Greta Gerwig’s first feature as a writer-director stars Saoirse Ronan as a sardonic, recalcitrant Northern California teen navigating family, love, sex, and college applications and is universally critically acclaimed, earning it the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of all time. A pristinely executed bildungsroman, Lady Bird bears the markers of films that have come before it but with surprises, twists, and subtlety. The film costars Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Timothée Chalamet, and Lucas Hedges. Gerwig was nominated for a Golden Globe for her screenplay, but snubbing her for best director is a particularly out-of-touch move on the part of the Hollywood Foreign Press. 

5,000 Artists Sign Letter Condemning Artforum Publisher for Sexual Harassment

Hollywood, Silicon Valley, politics, and television journalism are just a few of the industries that have recently been upended by allegations of rampant sexual harassment and abuse. Now it’s time to add the art world to the list of industries rocked by survivors of sexual harassment and assault coming forward to name their abusers. More than 5,000 artists, writers, curators, art historians, and more signed an open letter condemning former Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, who resigned last Wednesday after a lawsuit was filed in which nine women alleged he’d sexually harassed them, according to The New York Times

The letter, begun by 10 members of a WhatsApp group that grew to 125 people within 24 hours, has been signed by luminaries including Cindy Sherman, Laurie Anderson, Lynn Nottage, Phyllida Barlow, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Tania Bruguera, and Jenny Holzer, whose work Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise is on the landing page for the letter, which reads:

We are not surprised.

We are artists, arts administrators, assistants, curators, directors, editors, educators, gallerists, interns, scholars, students, writers, and more — workers of the art world — and we have been groped, undermined, harassed, infantilized, scorned, threatened, and intimidated by those in positions of power who control access to resources and opportunities. We have held our tongues, threatened by power wielded over us and promises of institutional access and career advancement.

We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favors. We are not surprised when gallerists romanticize, minimize, and hide sexually abusive behavior by artists they represent. We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying. We are not surprised when Knight Landesman gropes us in the art fair booth while promising he’ll help us with our career. Abuse of power comes as no surprise.

Since the lawsuit was filed last week and Landesman subsequently resigned, Artforum’s editor in chief Michelle Kuo has also resigned and the magazine staff wrote and signed their names to a note condemning his behavior. 

“We are committed to gender justice and to the eradication of sexual harassment in the art community and beyond. We are now gravely aware of the work that needs to be done at our own publication, and call on the publishers to work with us to create radical and lasting change,” the note from the Artforum staff read. “There is much more to be said, and in the future, we will be addressing these events in greater depth. Our intent right now is to state our position unequivocally.”

The lawsuit, filed in State Superior Court in Manhattan, “included accusations that he had harassed nine women, groping them, attempting to kiss them, sending them vulgar messages and, on occasion, retaliating against them when they spurned his advances,” the Times reporrs. The women who accused Landesman of harassing them ranged from employees of the magazine and women he met at art events, but all of them contended that he took advantage of them at “the start of their careers” when they were “economically and professionally vulnerable.”

Landesman, 67, who was not only the publisher of Artforum but a powerful player in the international art scene going back decades, according to the Times

Cate Blanchett Deliciously Slams Predatory Men While Accepting Style Award

It’s been nearly two years since Carol hit theaters but Cate Blanchett is the gift that keeps giving. The outspoken Oscar winner not only dressed for the part of the Style Icon Award In Style bestowed upon her this weekend but she managed to roll up current events and politics into her wonderfully refreshing speech. 

Blanchett, dressed in Givenchy, thanked the designers along the way who helped her earn the moniker of a style icon, especially Giorgio Armani, whose clothes she’s often donned. Then she launched into praise for women who are fearless in their style choices.

“For me, it’s always those women who’ve been utterly themselves without apology, whose physical presence and their aesthetic is really integrated in a non-self-conscious way into part of who they are,” Blanchett said. “And women who know how they look is not all of who they are but just an extension of that.”

But the best part of Blanchett’s speech, which has been retweeted more than 3,000 times and by actresses including Jessica Chastain and Tessa Thompson, took aim at predatory men like recent pariahs Harvey Weinstein and James Toback who take women’s personal expression as a cue to pounce and to degrade them. 

“It [style] is about women who feel free to wear what they want when they want and how they want to wear it,” Blanchett said. “I mean, we all like looking sexy, but it doesn’t mean we want to fuck you.” 

The actress, who can be seen up next as the villain in Thor: Ragnarok, also dropped a political bon mot mixed with some deliciously vicious humor while commenting on the treatment of women versus men in the public eye.  

“No one says to Steve Bannon, ‘You look like a bag of trash. Do you want me to throw you out?’ But the comments that get said about women on the red carpet…” Blanchett said. 

Watch part of Blanchett’s speech below. 

Major League Baseball Crowd Cheers for Gay Couple's Engagement

At a time when sporting events have become contentious with Donald Trump drumming up ire over NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, something really beautiful happened when a gay couple got engaged at a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, according to the Washington Blade

The couple, Ty Fleming and Tyler Garrison, was sporting Nationals gear at a game when one of them got on his knees and proposed to the other while the camera captured the moment. 

Even Screech, the Nationals’ mascot, was on hand to congratulate the happy couple, but what was most heartwarming about the moment was that fans in the stands stood up and whistled, cheered, and clapped as Fleming and Garrison kissed and hugged.