Victoria, victor

Michael Fulk, aka Victoria Weston, basks in the warmth of an IGRA title

!Victoria-Weston-Miss-IGRA-2012_img4619

RIDE ’EM COWGIRL! Victoria Weston brought the IGRA title back to Dallas with her win last month in California. (Terry Thompson/ Dallas Voice)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

In 25 years of International Gay Rodeo Association pageants, the top honors have only been won by a contestant from the Texas Gay Rodeo Association three times — one of which was late last year, when Michael Fulk’s alter ego Victoria Weston walked away with the Miss IGRA 2012 crown, a first for Dallas and a victory decades in the making.

“I have been dressing in female attire ever since I could open my mom’s closet door,” Fulk laughs.

His drag career started in earnest, however, at a Halloween ball in St. Louis in 1988. One month later, he was doing his first fundraiser, “and within a year I had moved to New York City,” he says.

After many successful years as a full-time entertainer in New York City, Fulk returned to Dallas shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

“My career switched upon my move,” he explains. “In NYC, I was an entertainer full-time and a hair and makeup artist part time. Now I am a full-time hair and makeup artist, makeup coach and educator for Artistic Salon Spa across from NorthPark. Entertainment was relegated to a passion rather than the breadwinner part of my life.”

But that didn’t stopped Fulk from competing and performing in drag — a description he’s proud to wear.

“We are all born naked, everything that comes after that is drag, honey!” he laughs. “Drag comes in all shapes and sizes: leather drag, business drag, casual, cowboy, club kid … the list is endless. I have no issue being called a drag queen, female impersonator, illusionist, yadda, yadda, yadda. If that size 11 pump fits and looks fabulous, I wear it. For the most part, though, when people around me speak of what I do, more often than not they simply refer to me as an entertainer.”

Victoria Weston stands out among many other drag performers because rather than lip sync, she sings live.

“The entertainers from before Stonewall were live,” Fulk explains. “Some sang, some danced, some stripped, but back then there wasn’t as much syncing and/or surgery as today. I think I am a throwback to that era. I am first and foremost closely related to the big band singer. That is my passion, whether it is blues, jazz, Broadway or standards.”

Since returning to Texas, Fulk has upped the quotient of country-western and pop music in Victoria’s act.

“I have heard people say my singing style resembles Shirley Bassey and I have always been compared to the look of Ann-Margret. I couldn’t ask for better comparisons. I’ll take both of those as high compliments,” he says.

Still, he insists, it’s best not to take himself too seriously.

“I take the illusion I portray serious enough to not make it a joke. I don’t want to be insulting or a cartoon of a woman. Every time I sit down to bring Victoria to life I view my job as putting together an ideal,” Fulk says. That means Victoria “doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. Old Hollywood glamour is my mainstay. Even though I am wearing a lot of makeup, hair jewelry, rhinestones, gowns and great shoes, I guess I want to appear to simply be a red carpet version of what I think a woman looks like: Totally put together. Besides that, I like to think of Victoria as a grounded, drama-free old soul with a wry sense of humor and a heart as big as all outdoors.”

Perhaps it’s this philosophy and a healthy sense of humor that has kept Fulk from suffering a fate foretold years ago by his drag mother from St. Louis, Miss Tracy.

“God rest her soul, [she] told me to be ready for a lonely life. She said, ‘They are either going to hate you as a drag queen and love you as yourself or they are going to love you as a drag queen and hate you as yourself. And be prepared for lesbians to hate and resent you.’” Fulk recalls. “I have found that to be false on all levels.”

And few things symbolize that overcoming of obstacles better than a really, really big crown.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

COVER STORY: Patty at 25

Rodd Gray’s drag alter ego, Patti Le Plae Safe, has helped raise hundreds of thousands of  dollars for AIDS and other causes

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

For 25 years now, Rodd Gray has lived a double life: By day, he is mild-mannered hair stylist Hott Rodd the Hair God, but by night he transforms into Patti Le Plae Safe, fundraising super hero.

OK, so Gray isn’t really an undercover super hero who slips into phone booths to change into some blue tights and a red cape. And his drag alter ego, Patti, doesn’t have an invisible jet or a golden lasso.

But since he moved to Dallas 26 years ago, Gray has made an indelible mark on the city’s LGBT community, as both Rodd and Patti.

Destined for Dallas

Gray was born in West Memphis, Ark., and grew up on a farm in tiny Lonoke, Ark. But even as a small child, he knew he was destined to live in Dallas.

“My mama used to tell the story about how she would make me a peanut butter sandwich, and put it in a bag. Then I would take that bag and get on my tricycle and tell her I was leaving for Dallas,” Gray said. “She would stand at the end of the driveway and watch me — she watched me the whole way — and I would pedal down to the end of the lane. Then I’d hide behind the bushes and eat my peanut butter sandwich.”

After awhile, he said, little Rodd Gray would pedal his tricycle back down the lane to his house, where he would “make up some excuse, like, ‘I don’t think the headlights would get me all the way to Dallas in the dark. I’ll just have to get up real early in the morning and leave then.’”

He did, obviously, eventually make his way to Dallas. But it was a roundabout trip.

After graduating from Lonoke High in 1976, he studied business at the University of Central Arkansas, before heading to the University of Maine Presque Isle where he studied computer programming.

Gray ended up enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1979 where he worked as a computer programmer. When he got out, with the rank of staff sergeant, he stuck with what he knew and took a job as a civilian employee computer programmer at the Army base in Fort Hood, Texas.

But by 1985, Gray could no longer resist the siren call of Big D. And in May of that year he took a job, again as a computer programmer, with an insurance company in Dallas.

Almost immediately after moving to Dallas, Gray started looking for ways to get involved in the LGBT community.

Thrilled to have found a church that “accepted me as I was,” Gray said he started attending Cathedral of Hope, located at the time in the building that is now Resource Center Dallas. One day, members of the Dallas Gay Alliance — now the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance — spoke during a church service, talking about the ways that people could get involved by volunteering in the various programs at the new AIDS Resource Center.

Gray said he quickly decided he wanted to work with the visitation committee, headed up by Dr. Douglas Crowder, where volunteers would visit people with HIV, helping them with chores, bringing them food and sometimes even taking them to doctor’s appointments.

Gray said he soon realized that the visitation committee wasn’t the job for him.

“One day, I had just finished changing one man’s diaper — a diaper that obviously had needed changing for quite a while. When I finished, I went outside and sat down and just started crying. I knew I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said.

But what could have been a quick end to Gray’s time as a volunteer was instead the beginning of a quarter-century — so far — of service.

The birth of Patti

Crowder encouraged Gray to turn his efforts to writing for the AIDS Resource Center’s monthly newsletter, suggesting that Gray write about safe sex practices and how gay men could have fun without exposing themselves to the risk of HIV infection.

But first, Gray remembered, he got tricked into doing drag for a benefit.

It was 1986, and DGA was organizing the War on AIDS benefit show to be held at Arlington Hall in Lee Park, and some of his DGA colleagues asked Gray to help “choreograph” the show.

“The first number was ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,’ with Phil Johnson and Richard Sink. They asked me to help choreograph it, and I said I wasn’t a dancer, but sure, I’d help,” Gray recalled. “But what they were really doing was tricking me into being in the number.”

Gray said that Bill Nelson, Terry Tebedo, Mike Rogers and others not only talked him into being in the number, but they loaned him the clothes, shoes and makeup he needed, “and I was pretty!”

At first, Gray said, he was reluctant. But then, Tom Davis tipped him with $20, “and I thought, ‘Wowee! They really like me!’”

And that’s when Patti Le Plae Safe was born, although the name didn’t come along until later, when Gray and others in DGA were trying to come up with a name for his column in the Resource Center newsletter.

They considered Connie Condom and Patti Prophylactic — but those just didn’t have the right ring to them. As they considered a name, they would write it down, then when they decided against it, they would tear it up and throw it on the floor.

At one point, Gray said, he looked down at the floor and saw two pieces of paper that had fallen together: Safe Play.

“That was a new term, a new idea back then, ‘safe play,’” he said. “So we thought about it, and came up with Patti Le Plae Safe.”

And so Patti Le Plae Safe began writing the regular “Ask Patti” column, giving advice on things like “how to put a condom on a man without him even realizing it” and other ways to “play safe” and keep the AIDS virus at bay.

And for a year, “Patti” remained, in essence, anonymous; no one knew that Patti was actually Rodd Gray. And he liked that just fine.

“I didn’t want to do drag; it was painful! It makes your feet hurt!” he declared.

But then the United Court of the Lone Star Empire asked for Patti to appear at a fundraising show so the court could give her an award.

“I told them I didn’t do drag, that I didn’t have any of the clothes or anything. And they told me not to worry about it, they would help me,” Gray said. “And once again, Mike Rogers dragged clothes out of his closet for me to wear.”

Within a year, Patti Le Plae Safe was the United Court empress, and was traveling to court events all around Texas — and the country — as a missionary spreading the play safe message and raising money for AIDS causes.

Patti stayed busy at home in Dallas, too. Patti and Dallas Voice gossip columnist Heda Quote — Rex Ackerman, who specialized in camp drag to raise money for charity — used their columns to needle one another, taking jibes back and forth, as a way to raise interest in the various charity events they each participated in.
“Back then, we were doing shows almost every night,” Gray said. “Sometimes, we’d do seven shows in one night, keeping on the same clothes and taking our CDs from one bar to the next.”

He laughed as he told how he drove a Mazda pickup at the time, and more than once, “We’d finish a show at one bar, then all the drag queens would pile into the back of my truck and we’d head off to the next show at the next bar.”

Pageant girl

Although Patti had plenty of experience on stage in charity events as the 1980s came to a close, Gray still had not tried his alter ego’s talents on the pageant circuit, where it wasn’t enough to be entertaining and raise money.

DOUBLE LIFE | By day he’s Hott Rodd the Hair God, right, but by night Rodd Gray morphs into Patti Le Plae Safe.

On the pageant circuit, drag queens had to be much more polished to succeed.

“The pageant girls always looked down on the charity girls,” Gray said. “They would tell us, ‘Oh no, you just need to go back to your benefit shows and leave the pageants to us.’”

But in 1990, Patti entered the Miss Gay Texas pageant “on a dare.” She didn’t place well that year, so she went back the next year — and then the next.
With the United Court standing behind him, Gray said, he continued to improve.

“That third year, I placed 13th, much better than the first two years,” Gray said. “These pageants, they get in your blood. You want to win. But mainly, I wanted to prove that the charity girls were just as good as the pageant girls. I had to prove that I was equal, and that if I was equal, so was everybody else.”

But while Gray was proving himself to the pageant girls, he said he was also learning how to improve Patti.

“After I started entering the Miss Gay Texas pageants, I started becoming a better performer. I grew as a performer,” he said.

In 1995, Gray entered the Miss Gay America pageant for the first time — and he was named first runner-up, placing just behind the winner, Ramona Leger.
Just a few months later, however, Leger passed away, and Patti Le Plae Safe became Miss Gay America.

“She only got to attend one pageant” after her win, Gray said of Legere, “and then I finished out the rest of the year as the titleholder. But I knew it would have been really unfair for me to take that crown, throw it up on my head and pretend that I won it out right, that Ramona had never been there. She had wanted to be Miss Gay America so very much.”

So as Patti traveled the country that year as Miss Gay America, attending pageants and events from coast to coast, she always took Ramona’s crown with her, carrying it on a pillow to represent the man who had won the title but did not live to enjoy it.

“I didn’t want people to forget Ramona. I didn’t want her to be erased” like a previous titleholder from the 1970s, Shan Covington, who had her title removed because the pageant owner didn’t like the way Shan had seemingly disrespected the crown during a parade appearance.

“When I was entering Miss Gay America, I didn’t even know Shan Covington. But he came up to me and said he wanted to help. He helped me prepare for the interview. And I didn’t even know he had been a Miss Gay America!” Gray said.

“I didn’t want people to forget that anymore. I didn’t want people to forget Ramona. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of so many people; none of us would be. We’re a big village here, and I want people to remember that.”

Home for the Holidays

While Gray may be best known for his onstage performances as Patti, he has always done more than just perform. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s — “I’m not sure of the date anymore” — he also “adopted” an apartment at AIDS Services of Dallas’ Revlon House, helping decorate and furnish it for a resident with HIV.
Because of Gray’s bold choice of bright pink walls and accessories, the apartment became well known around town as “the Bubblegum Apartment.”

Through that effort, Gray learned of the many AIDS patients who had relocated to North Texas before becoming ill and who no longer had the means to get back home to be with family.

So Gray and John Gordon, his best friend at the time, established Home for the Holidays, an organization whose sole purpose was to raise money, through events like the Miss Charity America pageant established in 1992, to send those people home.

In those early days, David Taffet — then co-owner of Travel Source travel agency and now a staff writer for Dallas Voice — helped out by arranging the lowest fares possible and getting the tickets, Gray said.

Recently, Gray appeared on Lambda Weekly, the LGBT radio program Taffet also co-hosts on KNON 89.3 FM — to talk about Home for the Holidays’ current projects. A woman Gray called “Miss Lucy” called in that day to thank Gray and Home for the Holidays for the time the organization paid for her to go home to see her family.

“Miss Lucy said she had actually lived in the Bubblegum Apartment, and she said that she had never known who to thank for that trip home,” Gray said, adding that Miss Lucy was one of the rare beneficiaries of the program’s early days who returned to Dallas, began a new regimen of medications and saw her health improve.

“For most of them, that trip was a one-way ticket. They weren’t coming back; they were going home to spend their last days with their families. So we never had a lot of people who were able to come to us afterward and say thanks,” Gray said. “So it was really nice to hear from Miss Lucy.”

For several years, Gray said, Home for the Holidays went through some hard times. The board of directors dwindled to just five members, and fundraisers weren’t bringing in as much money as they had before. Often, he said, when a client asked for help, one of the board members would use his personal credit card to buy the plane tickets, and then wait til the coffers were a little more filled to be reimbursed.

“But we never turned anyone away,” Gray said.

Then last year, for the first time, Home for the Holidays was chosen as a Black Tie Dinner beneficiary. The $24,000-plus the organization received allowed the board to plan and stage bigger and better events — like the recent hand-painted underwear auction and an art auction — that brought in many times more the amount of money that previous, smaller events had raised.

The board has also grown, with 10 members. And Gray said that while the organization has to change with the times, “We’re not going away.”

A new career — and beyond

Just before Patti earned the Miss Gay America crown, Gray said, the insurance company he worked for decided to move its office and relocate its employees to Indianapolis.

“I raised my hand and said, ‘Does it snow there?’ When they said yes, I said I would just take my severance package and stay in Dallas. It was enough for me to live on for two years.”

That gave him the chance to spend a year traveling as Miss Gay America, and to go to cosmetology school and become a licensed hair stylist.

Today, Hott Rodd the Hair God does all right for himself. He has his own salon, located on Royal Lane at Preston; he has a car; he owns his own home.

And while Patti’s schedule has slowed down considerably from the hectic “seven shows a night” times of the early days, she still keeps busy, too. For the last eight years, Patti has co-hosted GayBingo, benefiting Resource Center Dallas, with Jenna Skyy at Station 4. And more recently, she took on emcee duties for the monthly Viva Dallas Burlesque shows at the Lakewood Theater. The shows, while not the first place you might think to find a drag queen, have given Patti the chance to take her message to a new audience, and audiences, Gray said, have responded well.

Gray described himself as an independent person who can take care of himself, and who also wants to try to help take care of others, too. It’s a philosophy that grew, he said, from his Orange Power, the name he has for his personal spirituality that grew out of a blend of what he saw as the best teachings from more traditional teachings.

“I just think of it as this warm, orange glow that surrounds me and protects me, and that makes me want to keep doing the right thing,” Gray said. “That’s what it’s about, really: doing the right thing. Paying it forward.

“I watched that movie, Pay It Forward, back when it came out, and it really changed my life,” Gray continued. “That’s what I had always tried to do anyway, but that movie really made me think about it, really made me recommit myself to that.”

Gray said he “stopped counting” years ago, but that he estimates that Patti Le Plae Safe, in all her incarnations and at events around the country, has raised “well over $1 million” for charity through the years. But he is also quick to add that it’s not the amount that’s important; what’s important is that he tried.

“That’s what I tell everybody who asks me: It doesn’t matter how much time you give, just give some time. It doesn’t matter how much money you raise, as long as you contribute something. There’s a spot out there for everybody who wants to do something. You just have to try to do the right thing, try to pay it forward.”

Gray said if he has one regret, it’s that he has yet to find that special someone to share his life with, and he admitted that maybe Patti was a big reason for that.
“I’m married to Patti, really. And there’s not much I can do about that,” he laughed. “It’s going to take a really special guy to put up with both me and Patti.” After a pause, he added, “He’s Keanu Reeves, by the way!”

But despite the disadvantages of leading his double life and the demands of his alter ego, Gray said he has no plans to change.

“I’m not about to give up Patti. I believe Patti saved my life. I wouldn’t be here today, healthy and not HIV-positive, without her,” he said. “Patti rules the world. I’m just the host.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Queen lantern

tube-1Texas native Zimmer Barnes is a real-life crime-fighter, bringing gay bashers to justice in the HBO doc ‘Superheroes’

Last year’s film Kick-Ass saw a high school comic book nerd don an improvised superhero outfit and take to the streets to fight crime (albeit, as the title indicates, getting his ass kicked plenty in the process). This year’s satirical movie comedy Super also saw an ordinary schlub take matters (and a wrench) into his own home-made costumed hands, playing heroic vigilante Crimson Bolt, with a psychotic Ellen Page as sidekick to boot.

However, director Michael Barnett and openly gay producer Theodore James learned that the concept of everyday folk taking to the streets as real-life crime fighters and altruistic guardians of justice isn’t altogether fictitious: There are several hundred real-life superheroes registered in online communities, almost a dozen of whom are profiled in the documentary, Superheroes, which debuts on HBO Monday.

One of the crime-fighters profiled is openly gay Zimmer Barnes, aka Zimmer, a member of the Brooklyn-based “fantastic foursome” New York Initiative (NYI), which is seen in the documentary attempting to bait and get righteous on local homophobes, helping patch up accident victims (Zimmer’s day job is as an EMT) and stop a would-be drunk— and we’re talking seriously wasted —  driver from getting behind the wheel.

Born in Victoria, Texas, in 1988, and having attended high school in Austin between 2003–06, Zimmer moved to Brooklyn in 2009 to form the NYI with roommates T.S.A.F, Z, and Lucid.

Zimmer spoke by phone about being part of the documentary, how this real-life superhero movement started (it was a group of LGBTs!), and whether “it gets better” when you fight back with a costumed alter-ego.

— Lawrence Ferber

tube-2
FETISH FOR JUSTICE | Zimmer, left, teams with other members of New York Initiative, though he refuses to wear a mask — he’s out of the closet, he says, why go back in by pretending to be someone else?

Dallas Voice: When did you first get inspired to become Zimmer the superhero? What triggered the epiphany? Zimmer: I read a news article in 2003 or so about another crime fighter, Terrifica. She’d been date-raped and didn’t want any woman to suffer that ordeal, so she would go into bars and interfere with guys trying to pick up drunk girls. She would get in the way and tell the guy, “This girl isn’t going home with you,” and she would do this in a gold sequined mask and red cape. She’d give that woman every chance she could to get away and in one interview, she said a lot of times girls would say, “I’m not being taken advantage of, I want to do this,” and then she would give them a condom and say, “At least make a bad decision not be a worse decision,” and leave them alone. That was amazing to me. In her spare time she was doing this incredible thing and that really resonated with me, and there were a lot of people doing their own thing in every corner of the world and it was something I wanted to be a part of.

How did you and the NYI become part of Superheroes? We were getting some media requests and turned down a lot of them. But I agreed to sit down with [the producers, Theodore James and Mike Barnett] and they convinced me they had good intentions. We met at a coffee shop in Brooklyn and at one point I left Mike and T.J. to talk amongst themselves, but what they didn’t know was that my NYI colleagues were sitting behind them listening to what they were saying. We learned that even when they had the opportunity to talk behind my back they didn’t say anything negative. So that’s the reason we decided to do the documentary.

What was the actual shooting process like, and what sort of accommodations did you have to make to let them bring cameras along on patrols and fag basher-baiting operations? We weren’t always patient with that process, but Mike was really innovative. His approach and how he was going to shoot these un-shootable scenes, it worked out for the best. There’s something actually called a HeroCam — it’s a waterproof HD cam — I had that on a chest strap for a lot of missions. It’s just about the size of a pager or cell phone. It was a unique experience.

What sorts of things didn’t make it into the documentary and what else is NYI up to these days? A lot of stuff ended up on the editing room floor. We do a lot of outreach to homeless organizations — there’s a tunnel people live underneath in the Bronx and we brought supplies to them, but that didn’t make it in. Because in New York it gets freezing during winter, we try to collect and hoard blankets and medical supplies throughout spring and fall and when it gets cold we try to hand out all that stuff. Today the NYI is undergoing several missions protecting the West Village from muggers and providing self-defense information and outreach to sex workers. We’ve got exciting stuff in the works but I can’t talk about it yet.

How does your being gay fit in to your being a superhero? In the documentary you say something to the tune of you choose not to wear a mask because you don’t want to be closeted.  I don’t think it fits in a huge way. It’s never been a secret. I came out in high school. I didn’t necessarily want to be an embodiment or speak for an entire community but it’s something I’ve never made a secret of.

How would you feel about a gay teen who takes on school bullies and fag bashers a la Kick-Ass instead of just the pacifistic ‘It Gets Better’ approach? While everyone’s situation is different, I strongly recommend to anyone who might be a victim of violence to have a strong education in self-defense. I’ve broken up dozens of fights and defended myself from blows without ever having to throw a punch — so far, anyway. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice. Speak respectfully and pack a knock-out punch.

Which comic book superhero do you feel is the most inspiring for LGBTs? Chris Claremont’s 1970–80s run on X-Men is a great read for anyone feeling different or an outcast. There’s a lot to be said for geek culture being ahead of the curve, and Claremont really nails it on diversity as a strength, not a weakness. If you want to read greatly written LGBT characters, I highly recommend Ed Brubaker’s and Will Pfeifer’s run on Catwoman as well as Gail Simone’s Secret Six.

Are other LGBT people doing what you’re doing? Yeah, there are. The earliest [superhero group] we know of was actually a gay and lesbian group in San Francisco, the Lavender Panthers. There was a lot of gay bashing going on, and [a gay Pentecostal Evangelist named] Rev. Ray Broshears was being harassed. The police didn’t do anything so they formed their own group and looked around for gay-bashings and handled it. It’s not something I would believe, it sounds like a comic book, but Time Magazine did an article on these guys in 1973. They were around before the Guardian Angels. As far as I know they were the original group.

Do your friends and family know about your alter-ego? I don’t have an alter-ego: Zimmer is my real first name. I don’t have a lot of secrets with friends. My friends are pretty weird. My mother is an attorney and her mother was a police officer, so criminal justice as a career is part of the family. I think my mom was supportive of it.

And boyfriends? I was dating during the course of making the documentary. We broke up and [my work as a ­superhero] was one of the reasons why. They were really worried about what I was doing and the more dangerous aspects.

And what do you want people who watch Superheroes to come away from the experience with? I want people to realize that even a single person’s effort and passion can make a huge impact. There’s something exciting about using your time and energy to help other people.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

A new take on an old holiday classic: Anita Mann’s version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’

It’s the holiday season, and so today I thought I’d share this video that I found on Mark S. King’s blog, “My Fabulous Disease.”

King is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, not to mention an AIDS activist since the early days of the epidemic, and this video features his alter ego, Anita Mann, reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as part of a fundraiser for LGBT people recovering from addiction. As read by Anita, it’s the same old Christmas story we’ve all heard a million times, but her, uh, interpretation can make you see it in a whole new light.

And when you’re done watching the video, go on over to King’s blog and explore. Be sure to read his biographical information, and then read some of his posts, which are all about keeping a stubbornly positive attitude and always looking for the lighter side of life. It might give you a new outlook on life in general, not to mention the holiday season.

—  admin

No place like home

Linze Serell began her Miss Charity America reign nine years ago, just not like you think.

“I was first runner-up for nine years,” Bill Lindsey says. “This year, I thought I’d give it another try.”

Serell is the alter ego of Lindsey and this year, he took the title for the first time after 11 total tries. But winning or not, this pageant is more than sparkles and makeup.

For 20 years, Miss Charity America has been the main fundraiser for Home for the Holidays, which sends people living with AIDS home during the season.

“It’s been a blessing to stick around this long,” he says. “I think we’re the only organization of our kind in the country.”

Last year, the organization provided travel for 23 people, including sending some home to South Africa. Although Lindsey says Home for the Holidays has lingered on the bottom of the list for AIDS funding, it has received help and acknowledgement from the likes of

American Airlines and Black Tie. This could be a new start for the organization, but that makes Miss Charity America no less important.

“Oh yes, this event is the life source of our organization,” Lindsey says.

— R.L.

Best Friends Club, 2620 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth. 7 p.m. $5. All proceeds benefit the organization. HomeForTheHolidaysTexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Microsoft rules offended everyone

We’ve reached a point in America where many companies seek to do right by gay people. Once in a while, they get bit on the butt for it.

GOOGLE IT — 25514  |  Where in the world is Fort Gay, W.Va.? An online map can tell you.
GOOGLE IT — 25514 | Where in the world is Fort Gay, W.Va.? An online map can tell you.

Microsoft recently lost a piece of its posterior to 26-year-old Josh Moore of West Virginia. Moore is an avid gamer, and as an unemployed factory worker, he’s got plenty of time to indulge his passion for Microsoft’s Xbox Live.

Moore favors “shooters” like “Call of Duty,” “Medal of Honor” and “Ghost Recon.” Since I don’t know “Ghost Recon” from Casper the Friendly Ghost, I’m out of my depth here.

But I do grasp that people play these games online, and Moore was gearing up for a “Search and Destroy” competition when Microsoft searched and destroyed him, or at least his alter ego.

The colossal corporation suspended Moore’s gaming privileges, believing he had violated Xbox Live’s code of conduct.
In his profile, Moore had listed his hometown as Fort Gay.

Can you see where this is going?

Fort Gay is a real town of about 800 located along West Virginia’s border with Kentucky. But somebody, presumably a fellow gamer, smelled insult among the bullets, explosions and general mayhem, and complained to the Xbox Live folks.

“Someone took the phrase ‘fort gay WV’ and believed that the individual who had that was trying to offend, or trying to use it in a pejorative manner,” said Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live, to The Associated Press. “Unfortunately, one of my people agreed with that.”

Moore found himself up a creek without a joystick.

“At first I thought, ‘Wow, somebody’s thinking I live in the gayest town in West Virginia or something.’ I was mad … It makes me feel like they hate gay people,” Moore said. “I’m not even gay, and it makes me feel like they were discriminating.”

I am gay, and I’m confused.

It’s not clear whether Moore thought Microsoft or the person who complained was discriminating against gays.  Either way, Microsoft and the complainer were actually trying to do the opposite.

Moore intended no offense. Microsoft intended to prevent offense.  Moore was offended.

Who, huh, wha’?

An angry Moore called customer service, figuring he could explain that Fort Gay really exists. But the representative said if Moore put Fort Gay in his profile again, Xbox Live would cancel his account and keep his money.

Now I know whom they use as a model for their games’ tough-guy characters.

“I told him, Google it — 25514!” Moore said, listing Fort Gay’s ZIP code. “He said, ‘I can’t help you.’”

Fort Gay Mayor David Thompson got involved, and I can just imagine his call to customer service: “What do you people think I’m the mayor of, Brigadoon?”

Even if Thompson managed to convince the representative of Fort Gay’s existence, it didn’t solve Moore’s problem. The mayor was told the city’s name didn’t matter — the word “gay” was inappropriate in any context.

Hmmmm. Protecting us by eliminating us. Making us as ghostly as Casper. I’m feeling mighty pallid.

The employee got that wrong, said Toulouse, the Xbox Live rules enforcer. The player’s contract says users may not write profile text that could offend others. But the Code of Conduct says players can use such words as gay and transgender in their profile.

Toulouse said the company has modified its training, and he planned to apologize to Moore.

Microsoft might be feeling that no good deed goes unpunished. In this swirl of good intentions, the vacuum sucked up everybody.

It’s a good thing, though, that this incident showed the Xbox honchos they need to refine their procedures — before they get calls from Gay, Mich., and Gay, Ga.

Leslie Robinson’s brother-in-law works for Microsoft, and his attempts to educate her are downright noble. E-mail her at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Donna Dumae: A friend indeed

For 14 years, Don Jenkins has used his royal alter ego to bring together ‘Friends Helping Friends’ to benefit ASD

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Don “Donna Dumae” Jenkins
Don “Donna Dumae” Jenkins

Donna Dumae  — aka Don Jenkins — will present her 14th annual “Friends Helping Friends” benefit for AIDS Services Dallas on Sept. 4 at Dallas Eagle.

Don Jenkins has performed as Donna for 27 years. But his alter ego Donna wasn’t something he had been rehearsing at home that was just waiting for a chance to burst out.

“I was out at one of the clubs in Fort Worth and someone dared me to do it,” he said. “At first I said no. Then I asked, ‘What’ll you give me?’”

His friends offered him $100 to enter a contest and win. He competed in the Closet Ball and lost but was asked to come back the next night and perform again.

“I never got the $100,” he said.

But he found that he enjoyed performing, so he joined some of the cast shows.

“And they’d pay me!” he said.

Jenkins joined the Imperial Court in Fort Worth and became Empress XI.

After he moved to Dallas, he became Empress XXIII of the Dallas court and currently serves as board president.

The courts are very involved in fundraising for the community.

“Fort Worth is a smaller city and there was a lot I could do there,” he said. “When I moved to Dallas, there was so much going on, so many groups. It was almost overwhelming.”

When he was about to run for empress in Dallas, Jenkins asked himself where he could make the most difference. Then he visited AIDS Services of Dallas.

“I really liked what they did,” he said.

That’s when Jenkins began his annual “Friends Helping Friends” show.

Over the years, Jenkins has raised money for many organizations in Dallas, but ASD remains special to him. He estimates he’s raised more than $20,000 for the PWA housing agency just from his annual show.

Jenkins said that Chicago Empress D’Vitta Deville is coming to town special guest in this year’s “Friends Helping Friends” show.

Don Maison, president and CEO of ASD, said the effort of the Court was exceptional.

“These are people who raise their money $1 at a time,” Maison said. “Don’s a true example of dedication. What augments that is their hands-on activity.”

He said that Jenkins came to ASD, took the tour and has been a reliable volunteer ever since.

“The Court does Easter baskets and Christmas presents for the kids,” Maison said. “Over the years, they even helped us lay sod. It was muddy and nasty and they weren’t afraid to get their fingernails dirty. They just rolled up their sleeves and jumped in.”

ASD’s Development Associate and Volunteer Services Manager Mary Beth O’Connor speaks fondly about Dumae’s help during the holidays.

“She is always in charge of the Easter Cookout, with Easter baskets for every ASD child and the Christmas Brunch with stockings for every child,” said O’Connor. “It is a big deal and they go to a lot of trouble to make the gifts nice for our kids.”

She said Jenkins makes a wonderful Mrs. Claus as well.

Jenkins’s partner, John Terrill, has been an emperor of the Court and is involved in much of the fundraising work. The couple have been together for 15 years.

Recently, Jenkins celebrated his 20th anniversary with AT&T where he is a communications consultant. He said most of the people he works with know about Donna.

“Some even come out and support me,” he said.

He’s hoping a number of those people are at the Dallas Eagle on Sept. 4 to raise a record amount for ASD.

Friends Helping Friends, Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave. Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. Entertainers who would like to perform line up at 5:30 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas