Allyson Robinson visits Royal Lane Baptist Church

Here are some photos from Allyson Robinson’s visit to Royal Lane Baptist Church on Sunday, Feb. 5. We profiled Robinson here in Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

DISD opens drop-in centers for homeless students

Josh Cogan

An estimated 3,600 Dallas Independent School District students are homeless. Estimates put the number of those who are LGBT at somewhere between 20 and 40 percent.

In response, these DISD schools in collaboration with an organization called Focus on Teens, has opened drop-in centers that are open before school from 8-9 a.m., allowing students to pick up clothes and food.

DISD also has a homeless education office that acts as an advocate and activist for kids who are homeless, fighting discrimination against them and making sure they get the education they’re entitled to receive.

The Mayor’s LGBT Task Force supports DISD’s efforts and encourages more schools to open drop in centers. Josh Cogan chairs the LGBT Homeless Youth Committee for the task force.

Focus on Teens will be opening a non-sectarian permanent drop-in center in collaboration with Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, located directly next to Madison High School. A permanent drop-in will have complete wrap-around services for youth experiencing homelessness with computer lab, food, clothes closet and social services. Youth up to age 21 will be served.

DISD school with drop-in centers:

James Madison HS
W.W. Samuell HS
John Leslie Patton Jr. Academic Center (High School)
Woodrow Wilson HS
Maya Angelou HS
Franklin D. Roosevelt HS
Thomas Jefferson HS
North Dallas HS
Moises E. Molina HS
Sunset HS
Wilmer-Hutchins HS
H. Grady Spruce HS

Barbara B. Manns Education Center (Middle School)
Lincoln HS & Communications/Humanities Magnet
Sam Tasby MS
JL Long MS
Thomas J. Rusk MS
James S. Hogg Elementary
Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School

Ignacio Zaragoza Elementary
Cesar Chavez Elementary

—  David Taffet

BTD opens 2017 application with first-year beneficiary initiative

Black Tie Dinner begins its 36th by opening its application process for new and returning beneficiaries. For the first time, new applicants will be allowed to participate with fewer seat, raffle ticket, auction and volunteer hour requirements.

Even long-time recipients of Black Tie funds must re-apply each year and discuss new goals, past goals met or missed, and submit financials. Each year, the Black Tie Dinner Board of Directors selects up to 20 LGBT-supportive organizations from the North Texas area.

Beneficiary applications are now available on the Black Tie Dinner website. To be eligible, candidates must have a tax-exempt status as determined by the IRS, be able to demonstrate significant service to the North Texas LGBT community and must use a majority of these funds for direct programs and services.

The First-Year Beneficiary program will allow new organizations to participate with fewer requirements in their first year. Along with decreased requirements, the organization’s share of the financial distribution will be proportionally less, but will give newer participants to ease into the process and learn what’s needed to be a full participant.

After the first year, they will have to apply as a full beneficiary. First year and returning beneficiaries will not be in competition with each other for slots.

“We are excited about the launch of our new First-Year Beneficiary Program, as we feel it will further out outreach into the North Texas Community,” said Black Tie Dinner Co-Chair Nathan Robbins.

“At the end of the day, we want our Dinner to make a major impact on the community, and we hope this brings our reach to newer, up-and-coming organizations that our vital to our success,” added Black Tie Dinner Co-Chair David Robinson.

In its 35-year history, the dinner has distributed more than $21 million. Beneficiaries will be selected in April.

—  David Taffet

Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Had we listened to former Gov. Rick Perry in the 2012 campaign and eliminated the Department of Education, the country wouldn’t be facing the threat to public education Betsy DeVos has promised. Reaction to her nomination and confirmation have been harsh.

“Although members of the House cannot vote on the confirmation of Cabinet Secretaries, Betsy DeVos would not have received my support to be our next Education Secretary,” Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said. “Throughout her confirmation process, Ms. DeVos demonstrated a deep lack of understanding of matters fundamental to education policy and her record provides no reprieve for such concern. Going forward, however, Ms. DeVos will be the Education Secretary, but I do hope that this historically contentious confirmation process will give her pause to reflect and reconsider her approach to the Department of Education. Additionally that she takes seriously the Agency’s mission to provide every child in America the access to a quality public education they all deserve. I believe that it would be in her best interest to take into careful consideration the concerns of many members of Congress and those expressed by millions of Americans about her role as the future steward of our children’s future if she is to effectively carry out the duties of the Secretary.”

Human Rights Campaign wrote, “While this vote is disappointing, we certainly hope our substantial concerns about her commitment to maintaining and advancing protections for LGBTQ students are disproven.”

Prior to confirmation, Lambda Legal wrote, “Another supporter of mean-spirited, anti-LGBT policies is about to enter the White House — and she’s going to be in charge of our kids’ educations.”

—  David Taffet

Parkland HIV Transitional Care Project reduces readmissions

The use of combination anti-viral drugs has led to successful treatment and care of those who have HIV and AIDS, to the point where many individuals are able to live relatively healthy lives with normal lifespans.

But that success depends greatly on strict adherence to a sometimes complex medication and follow-up care regimen, something that not all HIV patients can attain. In fact, hospitalized HIV patients are among those with the highest readmission rates, meaning they are readmitted into the hospital within 30 days of discharge. Healthcare experts say various medical and social factors account for that high rate.

An innovative project at Parkland Health & Hospital System that focuses on both the inpatient and outpatient care of HIV patients has led to significant reductions, as much as 40 percent, in the rate of readmissions. Parkland’s HIV Transitional Care Project, a three-year effort that began in fiscal year 2014, uses a multidisciplinary team of HIV specialists that includes physicians, mid-level providers such as nurse practitioners or physician assistants, transition nurses, pharmacists and social workers to care for and instruct inpatients to help them make the transition to outpatient care.

“HIV patients need to have specialty care and they need far more coordinated care, not just for medical issues but also social needs,” said Ank Nijhawan, MD, one of the HIV specialists involved with the Parkland project. Dr. Nijhawan also is an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “For HIV inpatients, that kind of care is vital. But some patients, for whatever reason, do not follow up with their medication or plan of care, and that leads to them being hospitalized again or even dying. We have patients, many in their 20s and 30s, who still die from this disease.”

According to John Raish, Parkland’s Vice President of Transformational Initiatives, the HIV Transitional Care Project is one of the system’s 1115 waiver projects that provide state funding for uncompensated care and for programs that increase healthcare access to underserved populations.

“We feel the HIV Project has been a great success and is a great example of why the 1115 Waiver programs are crucial for improving healthcare in Texas. We have actually far exceeded our goals in terms of number of patients served,” Raish said. “Realistically, we have reduced the number of HIV patients we would have expected to readmit by about 40 percent.”

The HIV Transitional Care Project is important, Dr. Nijhawan added, because of the great difference medicines can make in a patient’s life. Medication can often effectively lower a patient’s viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) to levels that cannot be detected by most common testing. While the person is still infected with HIV, their risk of developing a serious opportunistic infection is greatly reduced.

Mamta Jain, MD, who also works on the Parkland HIV Project and is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, said readmissions had been high at Parkland because of the vulnerable populations that the hospital system treats. “Through this waiver project, Parkland was able to hire the dedicated staff who can make a difference in those HIV readmissions.”

Dr. Nijhawan previously worked on an HIV readmissions study that showed HIV patients had readmission rates of about 25 percent, higher than other diseases such as heart disease and pneumonia. The study, conducted in conjunction with the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI), was published in 2012 in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

The study confirmed that in addition to medical issues, such as the severity of opportunistic infections and access to medicines, social factors such as housing instability, lack of insurance, distance to healthcare facilities and poverty contributed to readmission rates.

As a result of the HIV Project, Dr. Nijhawan said, many HIV patients are enjoying a better quality of life.

“Many of our patients have spoken about the great improvements they’ve experienced. They’ve had fewer illnesses and are able to live more normal lives,” Dr. Nijhawan said.

—  David Taffet

Conservatives dislike church Gorsuch attends

Conservatives, such as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, are upset with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Be advised: Gorsuch attends a church that is rabidly pro-gay, pro-Muslim, pro-green, and anti-Trump,” Fischer tweeted.

Gorsuch attends St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colo. Although Gorsuch wrote the 10th Court of Appeals’ Hobby Lobby decision, conservatives distrust what he hears in church from its pastors and some of the things the church does.

What’s an example of what this hotbed of Colorado Springs liberalism does? The church has installed solar panels to fight so-called global warming, the right argues. On the other hand, sometimes solar panels are installed to simply reduce the electric bill.

Conservatives are objecting to the church having rung its bells 49 times after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. They dislike the church’s female pastor, the Rev. Susan W. Springer, who attended the Women’s March and performs same-sex marriages, according to the Washington Post.

Another member of the church’s clergy has spoken in favor of gun control and condemned disrespectful talk about Muslims by Trump.

No, Gorsuch has never claimed any of these positions. And the only statement he’s made about his church is that it’s diverse with people who embrace a wide variety of positions. But that’s not good enough for extremists like Fischer, who is working to derail Gorsuch’s appointment along … along with liberal groups.

—  David Taffet

Jack Ehrhardt has died

Jack Ehrhardt, 85, husband of former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, died at home on Feb. 1. A memorial service will be held on Feb. 11.

A Professor Emeritus at UT Southwestern Medical School and past President of the Dallas Academy of Ophthalmology, Dr. Ehrhardt’s distinguished professional career spanned more than 30 years of private practice in East Dallas.

He attended Rice University and U. T. Southwestern Medical School, interned at John Peter Smith and joined the U.S. Air Force where he became a Captain. After his discharge, he received further training at Tulane University and Hermann Hospital and became a Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The obituary in the Dallas Morning News displays the Ehrhardt family’s wonderful sense of humor to describe their dedication to equality and civil rights as they raised their children at a time when there was little equality in Dallas.

Jack and Harryette creatively raised five children. They moved to the Woodrow Wilson School area so their children could attend what was then Dallas’ only naturally integrated high school. They purchased a “hippie commune” house on Swiss Avenue for less than the vacant lot next door (anticipating demolition for the expected high-rise). They restored it with help from family and extended family. The family also constructed their own lake house at Cedar Creek Lake.

The rare brain tumor and operation that ended his professional career robbed him of short-term memory, but left him with his great sense of humor and long-term memory including the ability to diagnose friends’ ailments and twice to leap into action and save lives. Jack’s loves included travel (to every continent); owls (a collection of 400 from grateful patients); scuba diving (and underwater photography); and chocolate (teasingly dubbed a “visitor’s toll”).

Swiss Avenue Halloween was his favorite holiday, watching 3,000 to 4,000 children brave the yard of tombstones for packets of candy including voter registration cards and reminders to vote.

Jack is survived by Harryette, his wife of 62 years, five children and extended family (Ginger Twichell and Sam Leake, Taffy Nelson and Scott, Lynn O’Neal M.D. and Mike, John Ehrhardt and Melissa, Katy Henderson, and Mike Twichell); 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; and sister-in-law (Ralphana Barnes and Skip); and more than 30 nieces and nephews.

A memorial service celebrating his life will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., and afterwards at the Ehrhardt home.

Jack donated his body to Southwestern for medical research. If so inclined, please consider honoring Jack with a gift to Dallas County Medical Society Alliance: Aldredge House, The Dallas Democratic Party or other inclusive effort.

—  David Taffet

Lady Gaga is coming to Dallas (and the Round-Up Saloon?)

Lady Gaga announced she’ll be coming to Dallas to perform at American Airlines Center on Dec. 8. Tickets go on sale on Monday, Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. Tickets will be sold out on Monday, Feb. 20 at 10:01 a.m.

During each of her last visits to Dallas, Lady Gaga visited her friends at the Round-Up Saloon. She credits owners Gary and Alan with giving her one of her first breaks by having her perform at their bar on Cedar Springs Road and has visited during her other appearances in Dallas.

Here’s the video of her performance in Houston at the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

—  David Taffet

‘We’re Not Going Back’ is theme of LGBT rally and march

“We’re not going back,” Rafael McDonnell told a crowd of about 700 people who rallied at Resource Center and marched to the Legacy of Love monument on Saturday, Feb. 4.

The march was staged in solidarity with other groups under attack by the Trump administration as well as demanding that advances made during the Obama administration not be wiped out.

The Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas called for a wall to be built between the White House and religion. He called on Trump to stop hijacking God and said what he’s doing is not Christianity.

Lex Trevino from Rainbow LULAC said, “No human is illegal.”

Take Back Oak Lawn’s Michael Dominguez pointed out the LGBT community has made lots of friends over the past two weeks.

Each speaker called on the LGBT community to stand up for every other group whose rights are being challenged and not to let the opposition divide the LGBT community by attacking the trans community while assuring the LGB community.


—  David Taffet

Spiritual exile

Transgender minister says her faith continues to grow and change


Allyson Robinson


DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

Allyson Robinson is your ordinary West Point graduate transgender Baptist minister who began her transition at Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor.

Robinson wasn’t brought up in the church but occasionally attended Bible school and Sunday worship with her grandparents. It was while she was at West Point, she said that “I took responsibility for my young faith.”

Robinson said she almost didn’t make it through West Point’s grueling hazing program. The last activity after six weeks of hazing was a long march carrying a backpack filled with rocks. The march ended with a climb up a hill. Make it or not, she was determined to quit.

As she was nearing the top, pulling herself up by her hands, she heard a voice. At first she thought it was an upperclassman taunting the cadets to make the experience worse. Instead, she discovered it was the West Point chaplain.

At that point, she said, “I made a deal with God, if God would get me through this thing.”

That deal included graduating from West Point and serving in the Army. Her career extended into the Gulf War where she served as an air defense artillery officer, operating Patriot missiles to shoot down Iraqui Scuds.

“I was in the middle of my military career,” she said, “when God wanted me to go into Christian ministry.”

So Robinson left the Army and enrolled at Baylor. Everything was fine, she said, up until the time she could no longer deny that she was transgender.

“In divinity school, I reached the point when I couldn’t pretend it was going to go away,” she said. “I was on the verge of taking my own life.”

Robinson said she was sure coming out would cost her her ministry, career and family. But, “turned out I was wrong about that.”

Robinson said she always loves coming back to Texas. “I came out in Central Texas where I found support and community,” she said.

“Loving and affirming people in Central Texas saved my life.”

After her ordination, Robinson admitted that she never expected her ministry to succeed. But when the pastor of the church she was attending, Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C., left, Robinson was asked to step in temporarily.

“I never imagined I’d find myself in ministry again,” she said. “It opened my eyes to how much things changed.”

Calvary, founded by abolitionists has been at the forefront of activism and advocacy through much of American history and recently called a lesbian couple as its new pastors. Robinson served that congregation about a year.

“My faith has changed so much,” Robinson said. “My theology’s changed so much that I’m not quite sure where my institutional home is right now. I’m in spiritual exile.”

Robinson’s exile has taken her in a number of directions through her career. She was the first transgender person to work at Human Rights Campaign doing diversity and inclusion work. After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Robinson served as the director of OutServe-SLDN, when those two organizations merged. And she now does diversity consulting work.

On Sunday, Feb. 5, Robinson speaks at Royal Lane Baptist Church on Royal Lane at Hillcrest Road. That church was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conference until they added a few words to their website that said, “Everyone is welcome.” The church is now affiliated with Alliance of Baptists.

The Alliance of Baptists split from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1987 on issues of ordaining women, autocratic pastoral leadership and piety without social and economic justice. It remains the only Baptist body that is LGBT-inclusive from its founding documents.
Robinson speaks at Royal Lane Baptist at the 10:55 service followed by lunch and conversation. Everyone is welcome.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2017.

—  David Taffet