Grammys Live Blog: Swift wins big and Beyonce waves her hair

Best Country Album: Taylor Swift clutches her pearls and slackjaws for her award.  Great dress though.

Is Simon Baker wearing Avatar 3-D glasses?

Beyonce’s crotch grab made me a little uncomfortable. But digging the “Rhythm Nation” back-up dancers although why exactly were they there?

—  Rich Lopez

Grammys Live Blog: Gaga and Elton open with a hot mess

I’ll be with you tonight live-blogging the Grammys for the evening. I hope we can have a good musical night together.

From Billboard.com.

Lady Gaga opens the show with some “Poker Face” then burns herself alive to team up with Elton John. Much like his team-up with Eminem way back then, Elton latches onto the music’s It-Girl to give his own career a boost. Otherwise, I’m not really getting it. The “Speechless” and “Your Song” live mash-up was more mess-up.

Nicole Kidman is looking great!

I didn’t even know Stephen Colbert was hosting. I expect snarky greatness.

Song of the Year (already??) “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”

J.Lo. I’m not quite getting the 2008 raccoon eyes and aluminum foil mini-skirt/formal. Honey, no. Clearly they are getting those mounting comebacks out of the way. And her announcement of Green Day’s American Idiot just sent Taboo shivers down my spine.

By the way, some awards have already been given out tonight. Swift and Gaga already have their trophies. Check them out here.

—  Rich Lopez

AT&T protest called off after company agrees to enact new FMLA policy for gay employees

Local gay attorney Rob Wiley said he is calling off a protest planned for Saturday outside the AT&T store on Oak Lawn Avenue after a vice president from the company contacted him this afternoon. Wiley said the vice president told him that his client, Bryan Dickenson, will be granted a discretionary leave of absence beginning Monday so he can care for his ailing partner of 30 years, Bill Sugg. AT&T is granting Dickenson discretionary leave because the company doesn’t currently have a policy granting same-sex partners the same benefits that heterosexual spouses would receive under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. Wiley said the vice president told him the company will adopt a new policy beginning Monday, Feb. 1 that provides FMLA-equivalent benefits to same-sex partners, regardless of whether their relationship is recognized by the state in which they live. However, the new policy will apply only to non-union employees. The majority of AT&T’s employees, including Dickenson, are represented by unions, and the company cannot unilaterally change their contracts. The unions are expected to agree to the changes, Wiley said, but this process could take a few weeks.

So, according to Wiley, a statement from AT&T’s Walt Sharp earlier today was inaccurate. The company DOES NOT have a policy in place allowing same-sex partners FMLA-equivalent benefits in states where it’s not required by law. If this is the case, it’s unclear why AT&T would have received a score of 100 percent on the Human Right’s Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index last year.

Wiley said there are still issues that have to be worked out between his client and the company, including those listed below. However, he said he’s confident those issues wi’ll be resolved to Dickenson’s satisfaction, so he’s calling off the protest.

—  John Wright

More on AT&T's decision to grant FMLA leave to gay employee Bryan Dickenson

Attorney Rob Wiley said that as of 3:30 p.m. Friday, he hadn’t heard anything from AT&T about the company’s decision to grant his client’s family medical leave request. Rob also has additional questions for the company:

(1) what about his FMLA time from 2009, (2) what about the vacation time and sick time he’s taken, will he get that back, (3) is he getting 12 weeks now or are the back-deducting leave, (4) his most recent performance review dinged him for “absenteeism”; is that being fixed? (5) he was given discipline in 09 when he returned from the 30 day leave, is that being removed from his file? (6) promise of non-retaliation, I don’t want a company to wait until the thing blows over and then find a reason to fire him.  (7) Bryan paid me out of pocket, any reimbursement for this or other compensation for his treatment.

Also, Eric Bloem, deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign’s workplace project, has issued a statement:

“The Human Rights Campaign has been in communication with AT&T  since learning that a gay employee was denied FMLA-leave. Today, AT&T has informed HRC that the employee will now receive this benefit. We will continue to monitor the situation to an equitable conclusion. HRC’s Workplace Project regularly investigates instances where actual benefits administration is different than what the company has indicated to HRC through our Corporate Equality Index. AT&T appears to have fixed this error, which is in-line with its long-standing reputation as a equitable workplace for LGBT employees.”

—  John Wright

Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.

For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.

After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.

But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.

As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.

“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”

Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”

“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”

Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.

The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.

Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.

“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”

Through thick and thin

This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.

Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.

At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.

In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”

“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”

Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.

This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.

“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’

“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.

Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.

Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.

When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.

In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.

Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.

When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.

That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.

Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.

Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.

Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.

But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.

“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”

—  John Wright

AT&T changes mind, grants FMLA leave to gay employee so he can care for his partner

Well it appears as though you can take your iPhone out of the trash. Wait a second, you mean you hadn’t already thrown it away?

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, just confirmed in an e-mail to Dallas Voice that the company will grant family medical leave to gay employee Brian Dickenson so Dickenson can care for his partner, Bill Sugg, who recently suffered a stroke. Here’s Sharp’s statement:

“AT&T regrets that there has been confusion over the administration of family leave with respect to registered domestic partners. We have taken steps to ensure that benefits like FMLA are extended to employees with registered domestic partners for the purpose of caring for the partner, regardless of the state in which the employee resides. AT&T has a long history of inclusiveness and we embrace and celebrate diversity of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in our workforce.”

I also spoke with Rob Wiley, the attorney who represents Dickenson and Sugg. Wiley said it’s “fantastic” if AT&T has changed its mind, but added that neither he nor his client had been contacted by the company yet. Wiley said he’ll call off a protest planned outside a Dallas AT&T store tomorrow if and when the company contacts him.

“In mind it doesn’t really count until I get something in writing,” Wiley said. “My quote is, ‘That sounds very positive, but I haven’t heard anything from the company.’ This is kind of the problem we’ve had all along. AT&T says one thing to HRC and another thing to the employee, so I kind of have to hear it from them.”

—  John Wright

A couple of Fort Worth notes

For all my fellow Fort Worthians, here are a couple of events happening this week in Cowtown (and you folks from Dallas are welcome to come on over, too!).

• Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association is staging a fundraising show Sunday, Jan. 31, starting at 9 p.m. at Best Friends Club (on Lancaster at Beach Street). Anyone interested in performing should get there early to get in the line up, and everyone is invited to come and watch the show and support TCGPWA. Photographer Robert Whittaker will be there with his backdrop and lights, starting at 8 p.m., to shoot pics of those who want them. And on top of everything else, Raymond Gill and Mr. GPW 2010 Scott Wasson Conger will be there celebrating their birthdays.

• On Tuesday, Feb. 2, beginning at 11 a.m., Brite Divinity School presents “a special celebration of worship and community,” featuring Bishop Yvette Flunder, senior pastor of City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco and presiding bishop of The Fellowship, a trans-denominational fellowship of 60 primarily African-American Christian leaders and laity who seek to promote and celebrate the radically inclusive love of Christ, particularly on behaf of LGBT people.

Bishop Flunder will preach on “The Both and God” at 11 a.m. at University Christian Church, 2720 S. University Drive in Fort Worth.  The service, which is part of Brite’s weekly chapel service and the school’s observance of Black History Month, will include readings and scripture, preaching, Holy Communion and music.

—  admin

Bruce Villanch to appear at tonight's QCinema screening of 'Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!'

Don’t forget tonight, QCinema presents a very special screening of Oy Vey! My Son is Gay! at the Rose Marine Theater in Fort Worth. Along with the movie, cast member Bruce Villanch and director Evgeny Afineevsky will be present during the night’s festivities.  Tickets to the affair are $35 which includes the film, cocktail reception, awards, and after party. If you’re just up for the film only though, tickets go for $15.

The movie reminds me a bit of a mix between Mambo Italiano and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but the latter may just be because Lanie Kazan is also in the film. Catch a glimpse of the film below with the trailer.

The film is also vying for an Academy Award nom for best original song with this eligible tune. They’ll find that out Tuesday.

—  Rich Lopez

Truth in Progress coming to Dallas

The Rev. Gil Caldwell and Marilyn Bennett bring their "Truth in Progress" project to Dallas on Feb. 4.
The Rev. Gil Caldwell and Marilyn Bennett bring their “Truth in Progress” project to Dallas on Feb. 4.

My old (“old” as in I have known her for years, not “old” as in age!) friend Marilyn Bennett is coming back to Dallas next week, and she is bringing with her the Rev. Gil Caldwell, and they are looking for people to participate in a project that looks to be very, very interesting,

It’s called “Truth in Progress: Conversations in Mixed Company,” and it is a “three-year multi-media project exploring issues of race, sexual orientation and religion, with some gender and age thrown in with a heavy dose of humor,” according to the Truth in Progress Web site.

Rev. Caldwell — a straight, black, male, older, retired civil rights movement foot soldier — and Marilyn — a younger, white lesbian author, sometimes-activist — are carrying their project to different cities around the country that have been significant in either or both the black civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement to talk to people and film interviews that will be included in the project’s interactive Web site, its print publication and its full-length documentary.

Comparisons between the two civil rights movements are a touchy subject for many people. And Marilyn and Rev. Caldwell want as many people — with as many different opinions — as possible to join the conversation.

Go here to check out the Truth in Progress Web site for more information on the project, on Marilyn and on Rev. Caldwell. Read their blog. Start thinking about what they are saying, and start thinking about how you want to contribute to the conversation.

And make plans to attend the event in Dallas. next Thursday, Feb. 4, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Church. 4015 Normandy Ave.

As the Web site says, “There’s no cost to get in, and no cost to get out. But if you want to leave a check or cash in between, that’s certainly acceptable.”

—  admin

AT&T posts $3 billion in profit, but can't grant 12 weeks of UNPAID leave to gay employees

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg
Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg

As you may already have heard if you have a Facebook account, gay Dallas attorney Rob Wiley is organizing a rally outside the AT&T store on Oak Lawn Avenue on Saturday to draw attention to the plight of his clients, Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg. Dickenson, who’s worked for AT&T for the last 12 years, is being denied the same benefits that would be granted to a married heterosexual employee under the Family Medical Leave Act. This is despite AT&T’s 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. It’s also despite the fact that the company added 2.7 million wireless customers and posted a profit of $3.02 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009. Wiley has enlisted the help of Equality March Texas, the direct action group that put together this week’s Holocaust memorial. The rally will be from noon to 2 p.m., at 3311 Oak Lawn Ave. in Dallas. From the Facebook event page:

This is a peaceful gathering. You may bring signs, but we ask that the signs be positive (like “our families count too”) as opposed to negative signs (like “AT&T go to hell”). This is a call for change, and we believe positive signs are more likely to get Bryan his leave than negative signs.

—  John Wright