Houston Press Article

This is a repost of my myspace blog so some of it is about our school problem and some of it is about unrelated stuff. Thanks for reading. 🙂



Paul Knight at The Houston Press wrote an article about our problem. I think its a well written article that manages to show both sides in an unbiased way. I need to go out and pick up a copy or two since there is also an article about the local Goth scene that mentions a couple of friends of ours. Anyway, here is the link to the article on Adriel’s hair.



A Native American Family Fights Against Hair Length Rules

When five-year-old Adriel Arocha ran afoul of the Needville school district, getting cut off wasn’t an option for his parents

By Paul Knight

published: July 10, 2008

Five-year-old Adriel Arocha has been mistakenly called a pretty little girl. 

“No, I’m a boy,” Adriel told one stranger. “I have a penis.”

Adriel’s long, ink-black hair caused the confusion. He’s never had a haircut.

His father, Kenney Arocha, is part Native American. He teaches spiritual beliefs to his son that his grandfather and uncles taught to him. Michelle Betenbaugh, Arocha’s wife and Adriel’s mother, isn’t Native American, but she supports raising her son as such.

“I’m an Indian,” Adriel says. “How long my hair is, it tells me how long I’ve been here.”

Currently living in Stafford, Arocha plans to move his family to Needville, a town of about 3,000 residents, 40 miles southwest of Houston. The family owns about 50 acres in Needville, and Arocha and Betenbaugh want to turn the land into a sustainable farm, teaching Adriel where food comes from and the importance of conservation.

“We like the idea of trying to minimize our impact,” Arocha says.

Adriel’s parents want to enroll him at Needville Elementary School. Betenbaugh sent an e-mail to the principal, asking about kindergarten and explaining Adriel’s long hair. The principal replied that the district doesn’t allow long hair on boys.

On June 9, the family met with Curtis Rhodes, the Needville superintendent. Rhodes asked what religion upheld that Adriel could not cut his hair. The family explained there wasn’t a church or doctrine they followed, but they believe that Adriel’s hair is sacred.

Arocha said that his belief is to cut his hair after life-changing events, such as mourning the death of someone he loves.

Rhodes told the family Adriel’s hair would have to go.

“I’ve got a lot of friends that are Native-American Indians from Oklahoma, South Dakota, lot of places, some over in ­Louisiana in the Choctaw Nation, and they all cut their hair,” Rhodes says. “We’re not going to succumb to everything and just wash away our policies and procedures.”

Since the meeting, Arocha and Betenbaugh have been preparing to fight Rhodes and the school district. The family contacted the American Indian Movement, which has offered to speak to district officials. They also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which is deciding whether to take the case.

The superintendent has suggested a possible solution would be to put Adriel in a classroom apart from other students with his own teacher. The district has an alternative disciplinary school, but Adriel is too young to be assigned to that.

“In my 20 years in education, I’ve never had a kindergartner refuse to follow the rules of the school district,” Rhodes says. “So this is uncharted territory for us, too.”

Arocha and Betenbaugh aren’t budging. They plan to take Adriel to kindergarten once the school year starts, even if his teachers send him home every day.

“In my fantasy world, I would have went in, pled my case, let them meet my son, and the community I’ve chosen to live in would have said, ‘Hey, I want to be progressive.’ Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened,” Arocha says. “We had one person tell us it would be easier to sell the property and move. They didn’t say it maliciously. They just said it would be easier on ourselves and our son if we moved to a more tolerant ­environment.”

Needville promotes itself as the town “where thousands live the way millions wish they could.” The slogan is painted on signs around town and posted on the city’s Chamber of Commerce Web site.

The sprawl from Houston to Sugar Land to Richmond hasn’t touched the community. A couple feed supply stores and a family-owned hardware store remain downtown. Needville celebrates its annual Harvest Festival in October.

The population has grown some in recent years, but Rhodes believes it’s the town’s old-fashioned values that keep Needville appealing.

“We have a lot of people tell us all the time that they move here strictly for the school system. This is just from the opposite side. [Arocha and Betenbaugh] want to move in, yet they want to change this part to fit how they practice or what they believe in,” Rhodes says. “A school district is a reflection of the community. We’ve consistently been very conservatively dressed, very conservatively disciplined. It’s no secret what our policy is: You’ll cut your hair to the right point. You’ll tuck in your shirt. You’ll have a belt.”

He continues, “How can it be outdated? How many doctors, professionals, lawyers, look at your military branches, look at bankers, how many of them have long hair? How many have beards? How many have body piercings all over their face?”

Rhodes graduated from Needville High School in 1983, when his father was superintendent in the neighboring town of Damon. His grandfather had been a superintendent as well.

“I’ve never had a hair past my ears,” Rhodes says. “I’m pretty much a rule follower. I’m not out to, just because there’s a rule I got to try to break it. I wasn’t raised that way, I wasn’t genetically put together that way. If they say do this, I’m going to do it.”

When Rhodes married, he married a woman born and raised in Needville. The couple left the town when they were younger, but returned to raise their kids.

“If you want to think we’re backwards…no one is asking you to move to Needville and have these opinions invoked on you,” Rhodes says. “All the kids I graduated with — there’s a bunch of us back in Needville — we never thought we’d come back. Backwards isn’t all that bad when you become the parent.”

Arocha’s father and mother didn’t embrace their Native American heritage. By Arocha’s calculations, his family descends from a southwestern Apache tribe that split for Mexico in the 1880s, in fear of being herded onto a reservation. His ancestors are mixed Spanish-Apache, and a DNA profile has confirmed this.

Arocha’s family presented itself as Mexican to blend in with families in Rosenberg, where Arocha was raised.

But he remembers a grandfather and uncles who wore long hair and spoke of Apache culture. Arocha’s hair grew long when he was a child. The day before kindergarten started, however, Arocha’s mother took him to the barber for a buzz cut.

“I remember screaming, because I didn’t understand. Then I went home, and my mom said I could go to school,” Arocha says. “I don’t fault her for it. It was easier for her; it was what was expected to do.”

Arocha hasn’t cut his hair since he met Betenbaugh about ten years ago. Today he owns a clothing company in which he designs corsets and other pieces of exotic clothing. Betenbaugh is his seamstress. They sell many of their designs to shops in the Montrose area.

A few years ago, Arocha had several surgeries to correct malformations in his brain, and he pleaded with the doctors not to shave his head. The doctors eventually agreed.

“When we found out Michelle was pregnant, it lit a fire under me,” Arocha says. “I had tried assimilating, but it never quite worked.”

“To some, long hair may seem to be a trivial issue,” writes Timothy Zahniser in the American Indian Law Review. “What is not trivial is a study of Big Sandy…which provides an excellent academic study of constitutional personal liberty.”

Zahniser’s article covers a court case from about 15 years ago, when a group of students from the Alabama and Coushatta Indian tribes sued the Big Sandy Independent School District in Polk County.

The case started when a tenth grader was instructed by the principal at Big Sandy High School to cut his hair. The student refused and was sent to in-school detention. Other male students were later placed in detention for the same reason.

Parents of the students approved of the long hair, citing religious beliefs, though most of the parents openly practiced ­Christianity.

The judge in the Big Sandy case ruled that “the wearing of long hair for religious reasons is protected, even though it is not a fundamental tenet of Native American religion.”

“To [Native American] students, the wearing of long hair can have a religious significance and can be regarded as representative of pride in their culture and traditions. Parents have a right to encourage and supervise that pride,” Zahniser writes. “The right of Native American students in public schools to wear long hair should not be infringed.”

The Needville school district had a taste of lawsuit over its policies in 2004. In that case, a middle-school girl wore a T-shirt displaying the phrase, “Somebody went to HOOVER DAM, and all I got was this DAM shirt.”

The first day the girl wore the shirt, the principal told her to change or go home. She had an extra shirt and changed.

But the girl wore the shirt for six consecutive days. The principal continued to tell the girl to change, and her parents took her home each day.

“We’ll let her come to school as long as she can wear her T-shirt,” J.R. Mercer, the girl’s father, told the Fort Bend Herald-Coaster.

The family sued for $10,000 for each day the girl missed school, and wanted the school board to stop opening its meetings with prayer. The suit was eventually ­dismissed.

Rhodes wasn’t superintendent during the T-shirt lawsuit, and he doesn’t see any parallels between that case and Arocha’s ­argument.

“As we look at it, we have an individual from Stafford who is unhappy, or doesn’t agree with my decision that if their child were to come here, we would have him cut his hair. I haven’t seen where religion comes into this yet,” Rhodes says. “We want to be fair and nondiscriminatory, yet it has to have standardization to it. Otherwise, I’m going to come in and say, ‘Well, my child doesn’t believe in listening to teachers.’ How bizarre can you get? You’ve got to have rules and order anywhere you go and anything you do.”

After Rhodes ruled that Adriel would have to cut his hair, he also said the family could appeal his decision. Rhodes sent the family appeal forms, and Arocha and Betenbaugh will present a case to the Needville school board at a meeting on July 16.

“[The school board is] pretty solid, and they’re proud of the Needville heritage we have here,” Rhodes says. “There’s a lot of school districts that have lost their discipline and all their beliefs. Needville’s pretty tight about that, they’re pretty tight about the traditions they have.”

Arocha and Betenbaugh expect the school board to uphold the ruling, and the next step is a lawsuit. If the American Indian Movement or the ACLU doesn’t provide lawyers, Betenbaugh says the family will hire its own.

“I don’t want this to go to trial; I don’t want them to have to waste their money to defend this,” Arocha says. “They had an individual burn down part of their high school last year. I would much rather them spend their money fixing the high school than having to hire a lawyer to defend something that’s constitutionally protected.”

When the family started dealing with the school disrict, Betenbaugh launched a blog, thestitchwitch.wordpress.com. Rhodes says the Web site has passed through Needville like hot fire.

“There’s been some statements thrown by the family about bashing Needville,” he says. “I’ve heard about it at the feed store and downtown at the restaurants. Needville is going to stand tight and unified. We’re still going to be Needville.”

Arocha says that when this started, he explained the problem to Adriel. And he believes that his son understands.

“I don’t want to cut my hair, so we’re having an argument,” Adriel says. “I want to go to school. I don’t know how to read. I’ve never gone to daycare, so I really want to go.”

Arocha and Betenbaugh bought the land in Needville in October. Neither expected such a problem, but now that one exists, Arocha believes the issue has become bigger than him or Adriel.

“The Native American Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 1978. I was three. I was three when my people were finally given the ability to express their religious beliefs,” he says. “Here we are, 30 years later, and they want me to give it back. I don’t feel like I can waver on this.”



The only corrections I have are that Adriel’s hair is brown not black and we only do custom corsets, not sell to local stores. I probably would if I had more time though.

Just for fun, here is the local Goth scene article. I’m sure I’ll get all kinds of “OMG! Ur a devil worshipper!” shit now. Oh well, see you at Underworld!


Peeking Inside the Shadowy Crypt of Houston’s Goth Community

By Chris Gray

published: July 10, 2008

Thursday is a red-letter day for a curious, long-lived musical subculture that, the rest of the year, generally favors black. Bauhaus founder and frontman Peter Murphy is playing Meridian, his first Houston performance in several years. In certain circles, it’s like Elvis or the Dalai Lama dropping by. Seriously. 

“There is no one like him right now,” says Jill McKee, Meridian promotions manager and a Murphy/Bauhaus fan for some 20 years. “Icon is the only word I can think of. He’s a consummate performer.” 

Bauhaus formed in Northampton, England, in 1978, in the immediate wake of the UK’s punk-rock explosion. Their music fused elements of punk, David Bowie-style glam-rock, Hammer horror-film imagery and the audience-provoking aesthetic of “Theater of Cruelty” founder Antonin Artaud, in whose honor Bauhaus named a song on their 1983 album Burning from the Inside.

Especially after the band appeared performing nine-minute opus “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in The Hunger — Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire film starring Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon — Murphy and Bauhaus have come to represent the macabre strain of post-punk known as Goth in many, even most, people’s minds. And ever since, both musically and visually, Goth has been one of the easiest styles to identify and also one of the trickiest to define.

Goth likely first trickled into Houston on the airwaves of KTRU’s “S&M” program, the famous three-hour punk and New Wave show that ran Friday nights from 1979 to 1990. David Sadof, who would later spin several of the bands he heard on “S&M” on shows for Houston stations such as KLOL and The Buzz, remembers tuning in while still in high school, around 1980 or ’81.

“It was not a Gothic show at all, by any means, but it was where you might hear XTC, and you might hear Siouxsie & the Banshees and some of these groups,” he says. “It’s quite possible the bands who were in existence at that time may have been played on that show.”

From 1982 to 1986, Sadof was a DJ on KSHU, the student-run radio station (90.5 FM) at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Again on Friday nights, he played what was then known as “alternative” music for an audience comprised of both college students and guests of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Some prisoners would write letters saying how much they enjoyed the show, he recalls, “but we weren’t allowed to answer, for obvious reasons.”

Sadof played mostly what he calls the “neo-psychedelic” music of R.E.M., Echo & the Bunnymen and Robyn Hitchcock, for example, but also groups like Bauhaus, Joy Division, the Cure and Mission UK, bands who took the remnants of punk rock in a decidedly darker direction and began being labeled “Goth” or “goth-rock.” He left heavier, less radio-friendly bands like Christian­ Death and the Virgin Prunes alone, but continued incorporating Goth’s more accessible strains into his “Exposure” program on KLOL upon graduating and moving back to Houston.

“I would definitely include that music in my show,” he says. “I would play Sisters of Mercy, songs like ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ and ‘This Corrosion,’ Mission UK and several other groups of that ilk. I found that because that music was included, I definitely had a segment of my audience that was the Goth crowd.”

This crowd rapidly began making itself at home at Numbers, which hosted Siouxsie & the Banshees as early as 1980 and brought in a wealth of other Gothic acts — Killing Joke, Mission UK, Shriekback, Love & Rockets, Clan of Xymox, even some of the Cure’s first Texas shows — over the ensuing decade. It was the club’s weekly DJ nights, though, where Sisters of Mercy, the Cure and Bauhaus were in heavy rotation, attracting dark-minded youth from across the area.

“There were always these 15-year-old goth-rockers,” Sadof says. “It didn’t matter what year it was, you’d go to Numbers and there’d always be these 15-year-old Goth girls. They were ubiquitous.”

One such “Goth girl” was a young Clear Creek High School student who, once upon a time, found a Sisters of Mercy cassette at Sound Warehouse’s Baybrook Mall store. Today, as DJ Mina, she oversees Numbers’ Underworld nights, one of the local Goth community’s main gathering spots. Underworld began about nine years ago, and although the crowds ultimately proved too sparse to sustain it as a weekly event, Mina says it’s found better success every third Saturday (unless preempted by a special event), averaging between 200 and 300 people.

However, when it comes to how many of her Underworld flock actively identify themselves as Goth versus people who just show up because they like the music, Mina isn’t sure. This “Who’s more Goth?” debate began almost at the moment the genre was coined and intensified when many Gothic artists’ natural affinity for synthesizers, drum machines and dance music led to the rise of subgenres such as industrial (Ministry, KMFDM) and Electronic Body Music, or EBM (And One, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb) in the late ’80s and early ’90s. A few years after that, the mainstream popularity of artists like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, who used heavy Goth imagery in many songs and videos, muddied the waters even further.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Mina admits. “When I was younger, when I discovered the whole Gothic genre of music, it crossed over into the style of dress, but at that time that was kind of typical.

“If you were punk, you dressed punk,” Mina continues. “There was that kind of thing where your music represented you. Whereas now, as Goth has become more popular and mainstream, I think Goth is a form of expression for some people and not necessarily about the music.”

If Houston’s Goth community has never been especially large — especially when compared to places like New Orleans, hometown of Goth figureheads Marie Laveau and Anne Rice — it’s had its share of colorful characters. Sadof remembers a pale blond woman named Sarah whom he approached at a Dead Can Dance show about hosting a Goth episode of his Buzz show “What the Hell Is This?” Everybody knew Sarah, he chuckles, because she drove a hearse. Another key figure in local Goth lore is DJ and model Dana Dark, who Mina says has temporarily dropped out of the scene after having a baby.

Over the years, besides Numbers, local Goths have gravitated to places like Laveau’s in Montrose, the Vatican on Washington, the Axiom on McKinney and especially Power Tools, the dank basement club on Franklin Street downtown that to date is Numbers’ only serious rival as Goth’s Houston home base. (“I don’t know how many times I fell down those stairs,” laughs Mina.) Today, besides Underworld, the other major Goth outfit in town is the Havok collective headed by DJ Naika, which hosts the more industrial-leaning Ataxia night at Jet Lounge on Tuesdays, as well as special events at the Engine Room and its own recently acquired warehouse on Luell Street.

Similarly, the roster of local bands who qualify as Goth is fairly thin. Houston birthed bygone bands such as Bozo Porno Circus, Dethkultur BBQ and the Pain Teens, who married Goth to industrial, noise and metal. Still extant, though rarely playing out, is Asmodeus X, who made enough waves to warrant a 1999 Houston Press article. Today, Opulent, which also combines Goth with generous amounts of industrial, metal and dance music, is one of the few Houston Goth practitioners that books shows on a regular basis.

“Our scene is kind of low-key,” says Opulent frontman Allison Scott, whose band shares a practice space with Asmodeus X. “There’s bands out there, but they don’t play that much. It’s kind of hard to get support for it, to be quite honest with you. Some venues can be hard to get in, and because you’re not always playing with other Goth bands, it can be hard to match you up with somebody that you fit in with.”

Luckily, if there’s one thing Goths are used to by now, it’s not fitting in. Years of constant misconceptions and outright stereotyping have given rise to a community that’s unusually tolerant and accepting of outsiders. Besides, adds Mina, it’s not always that easy to spot a Goth. They’re not always the guy with too much eyeliner or the girl in fishnets.

“There are a lot of people that are into Gothic music that don’t look the part,” she says. “The way we feel about it, as far as my general group of people I hang out with and the people I attract to the club, is it’s more about the music. You don’t have to wear a certain color or fit a certain style. You don’t have to wear a corset.”



5 Responses to “Houston Press Article”

  1. lakotagrl Says:

    After reading this article I just had to send a letter to the Houston Press editor. Although I doubt it will get published, here is what I said:

    In response to several comments by Mr. Rhodes in the article concerning Needville School District’s choice to discriminate based on a euro-centric Caucasian cultural bias, I must ask, what century is he living in? I live in a very rural area of Northern Maine where there is little or no crime. We don’t lock our doors. I’ve left my car running with my purse on the front seat when I’ve run into the Post Office and it is always there when I come out.
    I also work at a professional workplace with numerous men, all veterans of the US Armed Forces, who have long hair. I can send photos if necessary since Mr. Rhodes is unaware that this phenomenon exists.
    We also don’t force non-whites to conform to white cultural norms. African American and Native children have attended our very small local schools with afros, dreadlocks, cornrows, and braids.
    If recognizing the cultural beliefs of another will bring about the downfall of this small town, I’m amazed they even adhere to the laws of integration, since they are determined to dismiss other federal statutes regarding civil rights and American Indian religious freedom. Why didn’t the abolishing of other traditions such as Jim Crow laws and separate but equal segregated schools bring about the towns downfall?
    Shame on you, Mr. Rhodes. I hope someday you realize how foolish and ignorant you have made your community look in the eyes of some of the rest of small town America. Your reference to knowing Natives with short hair shows that ignorance. There were many, many different tribes in North America. We all had our traditions and language. What is not tradition for one cannot be used as a basis for all Natives.
    I’m sure there are other small minded, bigoted communities that will agree with you, but as for my part of this great nation your attitude is disgraceful.

  2. Krystina Says:

    The Internet is an amazing thing! I just finished reading the article regarding your son in the Houston Press, even though I live in Arizona. I commend you for not backing down from the bigotry and ignorance of the superintendent and his fellow board members.

    Somewhere in my ancestry there were Native Americans…although my blood has been so diluted as to have little physical connection any longer, I still feel a deep and abiding respect for my predecesors and their beliefs.

    I lend you my support and encouragement.

  3. Dorothy Says:

    Why fight this on the morally and factually questionable religious basis? Why not go after it (if go after it you must) on the crystal clear sex-discrimination basis. I bet if you did that a) the district would back right down and b) the ACLU would pick this up tout-de-suite if you needed their assistance.

    Since the NISD rule is “Boys . . . ” they need either to jettison the notion altogether or change it to “Students . . . “. And I seriously doubt they’d even consider banning long hair for girls.

  4. thestitchwitch Says:

    While I agree that it is also gender discrimination, it seem that the courts are not interested in school dress code issues when it pertains to gender. The fact that it is part of our own religious beliefs makes it the strongest reason to fight for it. If it wasn’t something we believed in, we would just cut his hair and he could grow it out after he got out of school.

  5. halo Says:

    Michelle, I came upon this article when the issue was going on and I wasn’t really a regular at Underworld at the time. Having come to know you and your family it makes it all the more meaningful that it was happening so close to “home”. I find it disgusting that, first of all, Indian culture isn’t held with more regard since the country was stolen from the Native Americans in the first place. That should have been first and foremost. As far as Native American beliefs, it’s a shame that they are getting into literalism between “spiritual” and “religion”. Native Americans believe that there are spirits in everything, from what I do know (albeit, not extensively). I also know that telling a person to cut a piece of their “person” should not only be illegal but immoral. Next they’ll be insisting that every male child undergo inspection to ensure they are circumsized. I don’t know how this turned out for you but I do hope you kicked ass and took names. You have a beautiful family and I admire you for not only supporting your son/husband but also for the recent undertaking of your mother’s funeral arrangements. Well wishes to you and yours.

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