Mayor addresses travel journalists during annual LGBT press tour
As the mayor of Dallas, Tom Leppert is the city’s most enthusiastic cheerleader, often charged with convincing captains of industry and national leaders that Dallas is more than the stereotypes in pop culture. So it’s not surprising that he would say, as he did on April 11, that "The Dallas of today is not J.R. [Ewing]; it’s the people around this table."
What might be surprising is that he said it to a table filled almost exclusively with members of the LGBT community.
Mayor Leppert, Councilwoman Pauline Medrano and other civic leaders participated in an hour-long luncheon that day welcoming gay travel journalists from around the world, extolling the virtues of Dallas as a gay destination.
The journalists — six men and women representing four countries — were on a four-day tour of the city, organized by the Dallas Tavern Guild and co-sponsored by the Dallas Conventions and Visitors Bureau, the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses and organization. (Dallas Voice was one of the sponsors of the tour.)
This is the seventh year the Tavern Guild has organized a gay travel tour.
Leppert spoke at length during the luncheon, which took place in the elegant Captain’s Room inside the Pyramid restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel in Downtown.
Leppert stressed his belief that Dallas "be recognized as a city that is diverse, where everybody feels comfortable — that it be a world-class city, an exciting city that embraces everybody." He told the press corps how "it wasn’t too long ago I relocated a company here because it is a livable city."
Noting that Dallas boasts the sixth-largest gay population in the United States, Leppert added that "more than just the numbers, it is a city that embraced GLBT [people] on an individual basis through its policies."
He cited partner benefits for city employees and non-discrimination laws as examples of its commitment toward the gay community.
Leppert, saying that Cedar Springs and the Oak Lawn area are traditional neighborhoods of the LGBT community, credited Dallas’ gay residents for spurring "the renaissance, the revitalization of parts of our city." He touted the popularity of Dallas’ gay Pride parade and noted that the Black Tie Dinner is the biggest event of its kind in the nation.
The image Leppert sought to squelch — that Dallas is full of cowboys and conservatives — was apparently one shared by at least some of the international journalists. Tanya Churchmuch, publisher of the Canadian lesbian Web site Girl Ports, asked how Texas being the home to George W. Bush — with Dallas the impending site of Bush the presidential library — affected the city’s ability to attract gay tourism.
Several around the table, including Medrano, GLBT Chamber chair Sherry Briggs and Fairmont publicist George W. "Bill" Armstrong, related personal stories of Dallas’ open-mindedness.
When he was first transferred by a job in the late 1970s, Armstrong said he "really thought I had been condemned to hell," and assumed Dallas would be hostile. Several years later, he turned down the opportunity to relocate north.
"I have lived in San Francisco and New York and this is one of the most progressive gay cities I have ever heard of. We stand on our progressive record," Armstrong said.
Medrano, a Dallas native whose council district includes parts of the Oak Lawn neighborhood, echoed Leppert’s enthusiasm for the city. Both cited the growing Arts District, the resurgence of Downtown as an entertainment and living destination, the world-famous shopping and the high concentration of restaurants (including Esquire magazine’s "best new restaurant in America" two years running — Stephan Pyles and Fearing’s) as part of its appeal.
They also promoted the Trinity River Project, which when completed, Leppert said, "would be the size of 10 Central Parks, if you can imagine that."
Visiting journalists in attendance, in addition to Churchmuch, included Frank Storbrauck, travel editor of Gay Friendly USA Guide in Germany; Matt William Miles, editor of AXM in England; Richard William Burnett, editor at large of Hour magazine in Montreal; and Daniel Prada Arquillo and David Bigorra Vinuales with Q Travel magazine in Spain.
The luncheon was also attended by Philip Jones, Ross Crusemann and Jay Forte with the Dallas CVB; Leppert’s gay chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh; Michael Doughman, executive director of the Tavern Guild; Jon Garinn with Dallas Morning News; Tony Veda with the GLBT chamber; and Joseph Perkins with the Fairmont Hotel.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2008.