Members of the LGBT Community (and ally Judge Ken Molberg) gather in the lobby outside the Dallas County Commissioners Court to celebrate Pride Month in Dallas County (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
County Commissioner Mike Cantrell has made it a routine to skip the Dallas County Commission’s proclamation of June as LGBT Pride Month. But the court continues to issue the proclamation. And today (Tuesday, June 21), in addition to issuing the proclamation, the commissioners spent time remembering the victims of the Orlando massacre and the one year anniversary of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (Cantrell couldn’t be bothered with that either.)
County Judge Clay Jenkins noted this was the first meeting of the commissioners since the Orlando shooting. He called for a moment of silence for those who died in the attacks.
But Commissioner Theresa Daniel, who presented the Pride Month proclamation, was clearly tired of moments of silence that get nothing done: “Instead of a moment of silence, let’s have a moment of action,” Daniel said. “At this table, we have a responsibility for public safety.”
She said when someone comes to a county facility for a flu shot, to serve jury duty, to pay taxes or interact with the county for any other reason, citizens have an expectation of safety. The best way to achieve that is to create an environment where all are welcome.
“Diversity in our society is our strength,” she said.
Commissioner Elba Garcia expressed horror that last night (June 20) the Senate voted to allow people on the terrorist watch list to buy assault weapons.
Commissioner John Wiley Price commented on Mother Emanuel and the history of bombings against the black community.
In her proclamation, Daniel noted the Stonewall riots and the one-year anniversary of marriage equality. She called Dallas County a beacon of light, where same-sex couples are welcomed. Harassment and job discrimination are still problems, Daniel’s proclamation points out, and must be ended.
Once the proclamation passed unanimously (minus the absent Cantrell), Lambda Legal’s Omar Narvaez spoke for the group of LGBT community members and allies who attended the meeting. He talked about the gut-wrenching week the community has endured since the Orlando massacre, but thanked the commission for being allies.
The Dallas Police bomb squad said suitcases left at Cathedral of Hope were harmless.
Message from Cathedral of Hope:
The packages have been deemed harmless, and we are headed back inside just in time for the 11 a.m. service! A special thanks goes out to our Dallas Police Department and law enforcement that have done everything to ensure the safety of our community and church family.
Cathedral of Hope was evacuated at 8:05 a.m. where three suspicious suitcases were found in the building. The 9 a.m. service was held under the trees behind the Interfaith Peace Chapel.
Dallas Police Department, including the bomb squad, responded and removed the packages. An all-lear was given before 11 a.m.
The statement from the DPD’s Public Information Office reads:
On June 19, 2016, shortly after 8:00 a.m., Dallas officers responded to a suspicious package call at the Cathedral of Hope located at 5910 Cedar Springs Road. When officers arrived, they were informed that a security personnel, employed by the church, was making his rounds of the outer perimeter when he came across what he believed to be a suspicious package. The package was located near an adjoining construction site on the east side of the church. The church was in service at the time and a decision was made to evacuate the parishioners as a precaution.
Officers cordoned off the area and notified the Explosive Ordinance Unit (EOD). Once EOD arrived, they were able to determine that the package did not contain any explosive material.
Dallas Voice will continue to monitor the situation and update with more information — What was in the packages? Who left them outside the church? — as that information becomes available.
Barb Nunn posted: If you are coming for the 11 am service, dress for warm weather. Bring bottled water! Due to suspicious suitcases, the service will be behind the Interfaith Peace Chapel under the trees. Come be a voice and be community as we face our anxieties.
Daniel W. Peeler posted: An interesting morning. We have had our 9 o’clock church service in complete safety on the grounds behind the Interfaith Peace Chapel while we wait for the bomb squad to arrive and investigate a suspicious package.
Before it’s 9 a.m. Sunday service began, a suspicious package was found at Cathedral of Hope and the church was evacuated, according to posts on Facebook.
Scott Adams left the following message on his Facebook wall with the accompanying picture:
“Cathedral of Hope
Suspicious package left at front door and we have been evacuated, sad day”
Cathedral of Hope posted:
“The Cathedral of Hope was evacuated this morning at about 8:05 this morning following some suspicious packages found on the premises. This will not deter us from worship this morning and we will continue to not walk in fear or allow instances of hate to overcome the promise to love.”
North Texas mourns for Orlando, plans for preventing a similar attack here
More than 1,000 marched in Dallas, and at least 500 gathered for a candlelight vigil at Fort Worth’s Celebration Community Church, pictured above, to honor the Orlando victims. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, opposite page, participated.
Dominguez survived an attack in Oak Lawn last October and co-founded the group SOS–Survivors Offering Support in response.
While the LGBT community around the country has been grieving all week, the Orlando massacre in which 49 people were murdered in a gay bar was particularly difficult for survivors of the Oak Lawn assaults.
“It stirred up residual emotions,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez was attacked from behind on Cedar Springs Road with a bat and a knife. He said word of the massacre set him back emotionally to the days right after he was attacked.
“It could easily have been me,” he said. “My heart went out. Had he used a gun instead of a knife, I wouldn’t be here.”
Had the carjacker who attacked Michael Redman outside the Tin Room days later pulled the trigger, he wouldn’t be here, Dominguez said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings
“My emotions are all over the place,” Dominguez said. “I know what the survivors [in Orlando] are going through.”
More than 1,000 people gathered in pouring rain at Resource Center’s new LGBT Community Center on Cedar Springs Road on Sunday night, just hours after the attack at the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse.
Former and current elected and appointed officials joined the crowd, including half the Dallas City Council members who stood with Mayor Mike Rawlings. County Judge Clay Jenkins, County Commissioner Teresa Daniel and County Treasurer Pauline Medrano represented Dallas County.
As flags flew at half-staff at Dallas City Hall, Rawlings said he secured a $1 million donation to cover counter-terrorism operations around Oak Lawn and pay overtime hours for police protection around LGBT bars, businesses and community organizations.
Rawlings called the massacre “an illustration of what our LGBT community fears everyday” and said each crime against the community in Oak Lawn is “an individual act of terrorism.”
Referring to a tweet sent by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick condoning mass murder by blaming the victims, Rawlings said,
“Words matter. Words that come out of our mouths make a difference.”
As word of the massacre was being announced on the news, Patrick tweeted, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Resource Center CEO Cece Cox responded to Patrick’s attack on the LGBT community at the vigil.
“When we hear messages of hate, we must speak up,” Cox said. “We need to call out Dan Patrick. We’re going to call you out.”
“My job is hate,” said Alia Salem from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Not to hate but to address hate against all communities. While this day has brought us so much heartache and grief, we spit in the face of criminals and say, ‘You only make us stronger.’”
In Fort Worth, about 500 people attended a vigil at Celebration Church on Monday night
Fort Worth Mayor Besty Price
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price spoke of overcoming the kind of evil that lies at the root of the Orlando massacre.
Newly-appointed Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald pledged that his department would take every effort to keep similar attacks from happening there, and asked the community to always contact his department with any concerns.
Fitzgerald also introduced a member of FWPD’s Code Blue Training program who then spoke of her nephew, who was killed in the Orlando shooting.
In Dallas, churches with active LGBT membership also responded to the attack.
Episcopal Bishop George Sumner joined members of St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church on Inwood Road for a prayer vigil on Monday.
St. Thomas member Fred Ellis said Sumner has been struggling with the marriage equality issue. In the Episcopal Church, the bishop decides whether or not same-sex marriages may take place in that diocese. Sumner has not allowed marriage in Dallas.
But Ellis said on an issue like the Orlando massacre, the bishop stood with members of St. Thomas to express his own grief over the violence.
Ellis said he heard from other churches in the diocese including the conservative St. Andrews Episcopal Church in McKinney, which sent the message that they lit a candle in memory of the Orlando victims, saying, “We’re there with you in spirit.”
At Northaven United Methodist Church, the Rev. Eric Folkerth reworked his Sunday sermon to include information about the massacre. He said for many people in the congregation, it was the first they had heard about it.
On Tuesday, Cathedral of Hope hosted the Turtle Creek Chorale for an evening of Songs for Healing. The concert was put together quickly from material from the Chorale’s existing repertoire. The music included “I Love You More” from Tyler’s Suite, a piece commissioned by the Chorale about the death of Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after being bullied on the Internet. The song is about the emotional trauma of a mother who loses her son.
Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and the SMU Office of the Chaplain and Religious life hosted A Midday Service of Lament and Prayer in Response to the Tragedy in Orlando on Wednesday in Perkins Chapel.
Pride at City Hall had already been scheduled for Wednesday by members of the Mayor’s LGBT Task Force.
Rawlings used that occasion to announce that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made the $1 million donation on Sunday. The mayor said the city will use that donation to leverage more funding for counter-terrorism purposes to protect the LGBT community.
“I know the atrocities in Orlando have created stress in Dallas and across the country,” Cuban told Dallas Voice in an email, explaining why he made the donation. “I owe a lot to Dallas and wanted to try to help a little bit.”
Omar Narvaez, Jesse Vallejo and Dallas Police Department Sr. Cpl. Brittani Pilcik read names of the dead at the City Hall event that also recognized groups such as SOS and Take Back Oak Lawn for their work to help attack survivors and create a safer Oak Lawn.
Tyler Area Gays, East Texas PFLAG, Pineywoods Voice/Tyler Transgender Support Group, East Texas Islamic Society and Life Covenant Church joined forces to hold a memorial on Thursday in Bergfeld Park in Tyler. That was the site of a 1993 anti-gay murder that marked a turning point in how hate crimes against the LGBT community were handled in Texas when police pursued the murderers and the district attorney prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Target, which lost two employees in the massacre, held a moment of silence in all of its stores on Tuesday.
A vigil is planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 20, at the Henderson County Courthouse in downtown Athens, Texas.
SAFETY IN DALLAS
Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said Dallas clubs are already better prepared for an attack than bars in most cities as a result of the Oak Lawn attacks.
“All of the bars have beefed up security, lighting, added cameras,” he said.
In addition, the city has placed monitored police cameras at key intersections in the gayborhood.
Doughman said each bar has put an emergency plan into place in case of an armed intruder, explosion, fire or other incident. Those plans include detailed instructions on who’s responsible for doing what.
“They’re as prepared as they can possibly be,” he said of the city’s LGBT nightclubs.
Doughman said his best advice for keeping the bars safe is, “If you see something, say something.”
Because bartenders may be busy serving throughout the night, patrons are more likely to see or hear something suspicious. Doughman said patrons should report any suspicious activity to a bartender or doorman. They’ll know the procedure to act on that suspicion.
“Be prepared to report and point out the person,” Doughman said.
He said Dallas bars already ban backpacks, which the Orlando shooter used to bring his weapon into Pulse.
As for this year’s Pride parade, Doughman said he’s confident security will be in place. Since assuming his position, he said the number of police officers along the parade route and in the festival park has increased from 40 to more than 100. Cuban’s donation will allow a record number of officers to protect parade-goers.
Over the summer, Doughman will talk to Homeland Security about recommendations for any additional security needed and plan with DPD to keep the event safe. Since most Pride celebrations are in June, Homeland Security will have time to learn from events around the country before the Dallas event in September.
Charles Bassett, AT&T’s senior public relations manager, said, “AT&T wireless customers can text ‘Orlando’ to 20222 to donate $10 to Orlando Regional Medical Center Level One Trauma Center to help with on-going medical support needs.” No text message fees apply.
SOS–Survivors Offering Support collected $5,000 during the vigil at Resource Center to send to the Orlando LGBT Community Center for victims’ families and survivors.
Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page that had raised $4.7 million by press time through donations from more than 100,000 people. GoFundMe waived all transaction fees for this fundraiser, so all money will go to the survivors to cover medical expenses or to families to cover funeral expenses.
Promise House offers homeless youth a chance to thrive, including the LGBT youth
Two of the houses operated by Promise House in Oak Cliff, including Wesley House, right, for pregnant teens and new moms. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Darron Moore has seen clients come back six, seven, eight years after leaving Promise House to say thank you. They tell him, he said, “Hey, you helped me out at a time I desperately needed it.”
Moore doesn’t just consider his position first as case manager and now as outreach and community relations manager just a job. “We are part of their life,” he said of the young people who find refuge at Promise. The facility, located in Oak Cliff, shelters homeless youth and is Black Tie Dinner’s newest beneficiary.
Moore called his organization one of Dallas’ best-kept secrets, especially when it comes to the LGBT community.
That’s surprising, considering that LGBT youth represent between 30 and 43 percent of all clients served by drop-in centers, street outreach programs and housing programs nationwide. Promise House is no different.
Moore’s current goal is to open another house under the organization’s umbrella to specifically address the needs of homeless LGBT youth.
Youth arrive at Promise House through a number of circumstances. Some have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services. Others are runaways, often escaping abuse at home. And some have been thrown out of their homes by parents who have religious objections to the youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity, because the teen got pregnant or a variety of other reasons.
And others have homeless parents and were lucky enough to be referred to the safety of the Oak Cliff sanctuary.
Youth in the transitional living program can either go to the school they came from or switch to a school in the area, if they’re Dallas residents. Others finish their schooling at Dallas Can Academy, which specializes in students who have struggled in a traditional high school setting and which is located just a few blocks away from Promise House.
DISD operates two classrooms for youth who can’t safely go out into the community.
Promise House operates out of two large houses and a more institutional-styled brick building built in the mid 1990s to serve the growing homeless youth population. The original house that Promise House has been operating since 1984 now houses up to 12 homeless pregnant teens and teen moms with their children.
Moore said he never underestimates homeless youth: “Some of these kids have gone through amazing stuff. They’re resilient.
“Some of the staff,” he added, “become their support system.” In fact, one youth, who had escaped from a human trafficking situation, recently invited Moore to attend his high school graduation.
Although Promise House’s main objective is to get youth through high school and out on their own with either a full-time job or into college, the agency doesn’t just abandon them when they turn 18.
Moore said one resident recently received a PGA scholarship. One Carter High School valedictorian that lived at Promise House is now in UT Law School. While staff helps their youth apply for student loans and financial aid, Promise House also has its own generous scholarship program that ensures its grads will get the education they deserve.
Another program helps youth transition into the community. When they’re ready to leave and have a job, Promise House will help them by paying up to $560 for security deposit or part of the first month’s rent. They can also take some of their furniture to get them started in their own apartment.
Zach Bartush is volunteer and community resources coordinator. He’s concerned with some of the special needs homeless LGBT youth have. Resource Center recently did a training session with staff that he said came up with a variety of very easy and practical suggestions that cost nothing to implement — things like using the correct pronoun and having gender-neutral bathrooms, and letting trans youth just live comfortably and explore who they are — just like any teen kid does.
In the two houses, the bathrooms are already gender-neutral, like in the houses everyone grew up in. Stop making a big deal about it when a trans youth uses the bathroom, Bartush advised. He said staff needs to make a concerted effort to connect trans youth to medical resources that can help them discuss and make plans for the future.
“We’ve always been a positive organization,” Bartush said. “We just have to equip staff to help.”
Bartush is proud of the organization, but couldn’t be a case manager, he said, because he gets too upset when he hears some of the young people’s stories. One resident, whose mother was active in her church, was thrown out of his house at 16 when he came out. To survive on the street, he did sex work and contracted HIV before he was referred to Promise House. The staff at Promise House got him stabilized, on medication and back into school.
Bartush said once they provide the basic needs — food, shelter, education — they get their residents into counseling and into a program that will prepare them not just for life, but for a successful life. That’s the goal with every young person that walks through the Promise House doors.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.
Michael Wetson and his husband Shawn had been together 10 years before they had their children.
“We waited until it was safe and reasonable,” Wetson said.
They considered adopting, but they were in their 40s and didn’t want to possibly spend years taking in fosters — and then losing them — until a child was available to adopt. So they found an agency in Dallas that connected them with an anonymous egg donor and a surrogate to carry the fetuses.
They thought of having one of their sisters as the egg donor, but Wetson said they were too old. They considered other possibilities before choosing an anonymous donor.
Once the two men decided which of them would be the biological father, they looked for a complimentary egg donor — someone with physical attributes and interests similar to those of the non-biological father. They chose a younger donor, a college student, because that increases the chances of viability on an earlier try.
Two fertilized eggs were implanted and the Wetsons had twins — a boy and a girl.
“One looks like one of us and one looks like the other,” Wetson said. “It’s just the way it happened.
Before the children were born, the couple decided to change their name. Michael’s was Wetter and his husband’s was Thompson. They combined them to form Wetson. Michael Wetson said changing their names so that they’d have one family name was a harder decision than whether to have children.
Although their children were born before marriage equality came to Texas, the Wetsons went to court in Dallas County and received a second-parent pre-birth order — the first issued in Dallas and possibly the first in Texas.
“We went to the hospital with a legal document saying we were the legal parents before they were born,” Michael Wetson said.
They did a DNA test ahead of the birth to prove which of them was the biological father and to prove that the surrogate mother was not related to the children.
The original birth certificate only listed the biological dad, but after the marriage equality ruling last year, the Wetsons added the second father to the document.
“Surrogacy laws are very good in Texas for married couples,” Michael Wetson said.
Michael Wetson said his children are amazing and that parenthood has “given me great appreciation for my parents.” He said he expected surrogacy to be expensive, but what’s shocked him is the cost of daycare.
He and his husband have been surprised less by an increase in expenses and more by a shift in spending. Rather than spending money on going out to dinner, they spend money on diapers and formula.
They haven’t encountered any discrimination as two dads raising twins in the suburbs, but they’ve also avoided potential problems. One pediatrician they interviewed might not be as welcoming of children with two dads so they chose another, and their list of possible preschools didn’t include any religious schools.
They’ve heard people say, “Oh, it must be mom’s day off,” when they’ve seen the men out with their children.
Michael Wetson will be featured on a panel during an all-day conference on Sunday, June 19 organized by Men Having Babies. A.J. Edge, with Men Having Babies, said the conference is designed for all men thinking of starting a family. In addition to men who have started their families through surrogacy, informational resources from 25 providers will be on hand to discuss the process and answer questions.
Among the issues they’ll explore is whether to use a known or anonymous egg donor and the advantages of each.
Cost can be the prohibitive factor for male couples who want to become fathers, but Edge said Men Having Babies encourages cost-saving best practices. There’s even an assistance program, discounts, pro bono services and cash grants available.
With a number of agencies from around the country attending, Edge said his organization will even suggest what you should be looking for in an agency and what questions to ask to decide if you’re a good fit.
Edge said the information could be useful to people early in the process of becoming parents or those already in the process.
Men Having Babies takes place from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on June 19 at Wyndham Dallas Suite-Park Central, 7800 Alpha Road. For more information and to register, visit MenHavingBabies.org/dallas. The cost is $15 in advance or $20 at the door.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.