Future Pioneers (continued)

Posted on 21 May 2009 at 4:48pm

Brandon Dowdy, board co-chair for Youth First Texas.

Dowdy has been active in the LGBT community for almost a decade after becoming involved with Youth First Texas at age 18. He has participated in and helped with many other community causes including LifeWalk, Black Tie Dinner, DIFFA, the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and more. Dowdy credits Youth First Texas for giving him the tools he needed to become an active and productive member of the LGBT community, and says he is is committed to continuing the efforts of past leaders into the next 25 years and beyond.


Laura McFerrin, activist and video production company owner.

McFerrin, along with longtime friend Sam Fulcher, organized last year’s wildly successful rallies outside First Baptist Church of Dallas in response to Senior Pastor Robert Jeffress’ anti-gay sermons. The owner of Benchmark Legal Media, a video production company, McFerrin has also served as assistant technical director for OUTTAKES Dallas and as a volunteer at the Walt Whitman School. She was president of an LGBT group at Austin College in the late 1990s, and in 2008 she was a state delegate for Hillary Clinton.


Renee Baker, transgender diversity consultant.

Baker is a transgender diversity consultant, a freelance writer and a massage therapist. She bills herself as a "transgender public speaker," and she’s delivered more than 30 talks at universities, churches and conferences in the last year alone. Baker is member of the GLBT Speaker’s Bureau at the Resource Center of Dallas; a board member and volunteer for Youth First Texas; founder of North Texas Gender Friends; and a freelance writer for Edge Publications and Dallas Voice.


Damien Duckett, chair of DGLA’s political action committee.

Duckett is chair of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s political action committee. He became an LGBT activist at 16 when he founded a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Mansfield High School, and since then he’s been involved with GLSEN, PFLAG, Equality Texas and the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association. Duckett works as a property manager for a real estate investment group.


Joel Burns, Fort Worth City Council member.

Joel Burns was elected to represent Fort Worth’s District 9 on the City Council in a December 2007 runoff following a special election to fill an empty seat, becoming Cowtown’s first openly gay councilmember. He was re-elected without opposition earlier this month. Burns previously served on the Fort Worth Zoning Commission, the Tarrant Housing Partnership and the Historic Fort Worth board, as well as having chaired the Historical and Cultural Landmarks Commission. He also spent many years working with Stonewall Democrats of Tarrant County and other LGBT political and community groups.


Venton Jones, HIV prevention coordinator.

Jones is an HIV prevention coordinator in Dallas for the University of California’s San Francisco Center of AIDS Prevention Studies. He’s also president and founder of DFW Pride Movement, formerly Dallas Black Pride; a board member for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas; and an executive committee member for the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition. A member of Friendship West Baptist Church who grew up in South Dallas, Jones is one of the few out gay black men who’s working locally to fight rising HIV/AIDS rates in the African-American community.


Matt Burckhalter, political activist.

Burckhalter, an Oklahoma native who recently moved to Dallas from Chicago, is a business development specialist for a private equity firm. He’s vice president of Stonewall Young Democrats of Dallas, treasurer for Texas Young Democrats, and a volunteer for Legacy Founders Cottage and Youth First Texas.


Travis Gasper, political activist

Gasper is a graduate student in constitutional law studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. He’s president of Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats and has also been involved with Equality Texas and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He lists his biggest accomplishment as graduating college at 20.



Daniel Cates, co-chair of the Million Gay March of Texas.

A bartender and student who lives in Fort Worth, Cates serves as co-chair of the Million Gay March of Texas, an event planned for June 28 in Dallas to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.


Dennis Coleman, regional director for Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office.

Coleman is a native Dallasite who oversees Lambda Legal’s efforts in the eight-state South Central Region. Prior to joining Lambda Legal, he was the national co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign’s Board Governors and was on the board of the Dallas-Fort Worth Black Tie Dinner and The Walt Whitman School. Coleman was a founding member of the North Texas GLBT Chamber, for which he is currently a board member, and he is on Resource Center Dallas’ Capital Campaign Committee.


JUSTIN NICHOLS, the first openly gay person to run for elected office in Collin County.

Nichols first campaigned for public office as an openly gay candidate at the ripe old age of 18, when he sought a Plano school board seat. Then last year, Nichols ran for Plano City Council, losing, but capturing 40 percent of the vote. Nichols’ campaign for City Council ultimately cost him his job as teen court coordinator for Collin County. He was forced to resign after his bosses on the Collin County Commissioners Court learned he was gay. But Nichols, a Republican, says he doesn’t regret running and notes that his campaign brought LGBT issues into the spotlight in Collin County like never before. Nichols has also recovered professionally, going to work as business development director for Crossroads Family Services, a non-profit organization in Plano. And he says he’s likely to run for office again.


Pepe Noah Johnson, board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Johnson served three years, from 2000 to 2003, in the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Okla., but was discharged under the military’s anti-gay "Don’t ask, don’t tell policy."  That is why, he says, that repeal of the policy is at the top of his agenda. He was represented by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network during his discharge proceedings, and was recently appointed to that organization’s Military Advisory Council. Johnson is also a member of LULAC 4871- The Dallas Rainbow Council and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas.


Beau Heyen, co-chair of Dallas GLSEN and youth minister with Cathedral of Hope.

Heyen volunteers as the co-chair of the Dallas Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN-Dallas) and is employed as the minister for Youth and Spiritual Formation at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. He is also is a member of the advisory board for Dallas P.U.M.P. (Pride Unity Music Power) GLBTQA Youth Choir and has worked as the office manager for The Women’s Chorus of Dallas. He says he is pleased to have been selected as one of the co-chairs for the 2010 National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change that will be held in Dallas in February 2010.


M. Jai Maikohka, program coordinator for D/FW Stomp Out Syphilis Campaign with the Resource Center of Dallas.

Maikohka joined the Legacy of Success Foundation, a business and cultural LGBT and affirming organization in Dallas, in 2007 after being selected as the first Hazel Hatcher Scholarship recipient the year before. He started out as the secretary for the organization and later moved into his current position as director of administration. He is employed at the Resource Center of Dallas as program coordinator for the D/FW Stomp Out Syphilis Campaign, collaborating with organizations like the Urban League of Greater Dallas, AIDS Arms Inc., UT-Southwestern Medical Center and others in an effort to prevent STDs.


C. D. Kirven, author and activist.

Kirven began her career as a writer early on. She recently completed her first novel and is working on a second. Kirven is executive producer of an Internet reality show about her life called "Soulprint." Her documentary, "The Dark Side of the Rainbow: The Price of Inequality," about same-sex domestic violence, is a finalist for the Texas award at the USA Film Festival. She has spoken at LGBT political rallies and was grant coordinator for the Legacy of Success Foundation, and has chaired several non-profit events, like "One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Dinner" which raised money for a food pantry program for low-income HIV-AIDS people. And she chaired the partner in film program with OUTTAKES Dallas Film Festival for LOSF, which sponsored a screening of "The D L Chronicles."


James Nowlin, political activist.

Nowlin served in 2008 on the board of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas as volunteer chair and voter registration chair. He helped to coordinate the voter registration of more than 1,000 Texas residents and was a Democratic party delegate for President Barack Obama at the Texas State Democratic Convention. He also became an advisory board member of the newly formed Progressive Center of Texas and works as a lead campaign volunteer and community liaison for U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. In 2008, he formed The Texas Challenge PAC, and he serves on the board of AIDS Services of Dallas, helping coordinate the No Tie Dinner, which was held at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in March.  He also is a member of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board; the Lambda Legal Liberty Circle and the DFW Federal Club.


Paul Tran, graduate student and political activist.

Tran is a doctoral candidate in political science at The University of Texas at Dallas where he concentrates on comparative election behavior. He was active in the 2008 elections, acting as the minority caucus chair of the Texas Young Democrats, sitting on the National LGBT Steering Committee for Hillary Clinton and participating in the Democratic National Convention as a national delegate. He serves on the board of directors of Equality Texas. Tran said he knows political activism isn’t easy work, but he does it because he believes it is the right thing to do.


Ben Leal, political co-chair for the HRC Steering Committee
Leal was the former senior community educator for Lambda Legal, and he currently serves on the board of directors for Valiente, the DFW Latina/o LGBTQ community advocacy organization in North Texas as well as being political co-chair for the HRC Steering Committee. He says he enjoys working with different organizations, gay or straight, that will advance LGBT initiatives.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 22, 2009.

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