Thousands converge on Dallas for Out & Equal

Executives from major corporations meet in Dallas to discuss LGBT equality on the job

Keeton.Elyse

Meredith Baxter

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

LGBT executives, employees and allies from hundreds of companies around the world met at the Hilton Anatole Hotel this week for the annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit to discuss equality in a corporate setting. Among the top issues discussed were transgender equality and equality around the world.
People from about 30 countries attended.

One attendee from Italy was gathering resources for a new Out & Equal organization he has formed that already is affiliated with 10 companies.

Local companies such as JC Penney, Kimberley Clark, Texas Instruments and Frito Lay were well represented. Even ExxonMobil, notorious for its 0 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and for stripping Mobil employees of benefits after their merger, paid for several employees to attend the conference.

Louise Young said her company, Raytheon, underwrote 50 employees who attended from around the country.

Houston-based Chevron brought in employees from around the world. Nick Thomas is a project manager for a $220 million water-purification project in Kazakhstan. He said he works 28 days on and then 28 days off the project and lives in Amsterdam when not in the Central Asian country.

With him was Erin Myers, a geologist, who is moving from Houston to Perth, Australia next week.

Chevron’s 100 percent rating with HRC gives the company a competitive edge, Thomas said, referring to Dallas-based ExxonMobil. But he preferred nondiscrimination and benefits equality over competitive advantage.

Tracey Ballard began working on employee equality at work in the early 1990s. Ballard works for the Central Intelligence Agency, which, she said, has a very diverse workforce and is always looking for the best and the brightest.

She said that the agency decided to start attending conferences like this one, “because we don’t need people self-selecting out.”

And change has come to the CIA both from the top down and from the bottom up. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta and current chief David Petraeus were very progressive with employment policies, Ballard said.

With Ballard was Michael Barber, who said that if an award was given at Out & Equal for best job title at the conference, he’d win: Barber is community outreach and LGBT liaison program manager for the CIA. The Agency Network of Gay and Lesbian Employees, “that includes allies, Bi’s and T’s,” is known as ANGLE and has about 200 members.

Barber said he was there to dispel myths about the CIA, like “Everyone drives sports cars with machine guns in the tailpipes,” and that the agency is homophobic. Barber didn’t say what type of sports car he actually does drive, however.

Barber said ANGLE has made some positive steps. Partner benefits are limited by the Defense of Marriage Act, just as at all federal agencies, he said, but a CIA employee being transferred overseas can take a partner.

All employees of the agency must report if they are cohabitating with someone who is a foreign national and offer a letter of resignation. But they also may register an intent to marry. ANGLE intervened in the case of a gay employee who reported his domestic partnership with a foreign national but was unable to marry.

Virginia, where the agency is based, has no relationship recognition. But the gay employee was allowed to retain both his job and live with his spouse.

Among the celebrities attending was Meredith Baxter, who played Elyse Keaton in the 1980s sitcom Family Ties. She spoke at the morning plenary on Wednesday about coming out on The Today Show last year.

“When my partner and I left the NBC studio that morning, I felt free, unburdened and so calm,” she said. “I had faced the devil and I survived quite nicely.”

Geri Jewell played Cousin Geri on the sitcom The Facts of Life. Born with cerebral palsy, she was the first actor with a recurring role in a prime time television show with a disability. She spoke at the Women’s Leadership Luncheon along with Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

“Being gay, having cerebral palsy, being blind are not disabilities,” Jewell said. “Prejudice, hypocrisy, false pride and hatred are the real disabilities.”

She signed copies of her book, I’m Walking As Straight as I Can at the Anatole. Baxter, who also recently released a memoir, signed copies at the hotel and that evening at Nuvo on Cedar Springs Road.

Rick Welts, the former manager of the the Phoenix Suns and recently hired president of the Golden State Warriors in Sacramento, is the highest-ranking male sports executive to come out.

“We’re afraid of things we don’t understand,” he said at the conference.

Welts spoke about breaking down barriers for the LGBT community even in professional sports.

“Before the story came out in the New York Times on the front page, I had no idea what to be prepared for,” he said. “I certainly was not prepared for the absolutely overwhelmingly positive response I got.”

Welts said that putting a human face on being gay made that difference.

Comedian Kate Clinton emceed Thursday night’s gala, which featured Margaret Cho and Wilson Cruz (Rent). JC Penney presented a fall fashion show. Speakers included Northrop Grumman Chairman, CEO and President Wes Bush and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns.

The conference concludes Friday afternoon.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Day of the living DIABLOS

Dallas gay rugby team wants you to go to Hell(fest)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

GHOUL!  | Diablos Nick Hughes, Stephen Mitchell, Dustin  Abercrombie, Ryan Cavender, Will Padilla and A.J. Tello expect HellFest to be a scary fun time. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
GHOUL! | Diablos Nick Hughes, Stephen Mitchell, Dustin Abercrombie, Ryan Cavender, Will Padilla and A.J. Tello expect HellFest to be a scary fun time. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Every tournament has its hook, but for the Dallas Diablos Rugby Football Team, that hook comes at the end of a bloody stump.
Or maybe a fairy princess or Sarah Palin impersonator. Point is, it’s Halloween.

The Diablos didn’t really expect HellFest, their one-day rugby tourney to be held Oct. 30, to be such a hit, even though they knew they had a good idea.

“Originally, what we wanted was to have two or three teams come down, play some games, hang out for the [Cedar Springs] block party,” says Will Padilla, team captain and one of the organizers of HellFest. “We said, ‘Let’s try it out and see if we can get people interested in coming.’”

The interest was there and it grew exponentially. The previous year, an attempt to attract gay rugby teams from around the country resulted in only one attendee: the Minneapolis Mayhem. But word of mouth spread, “and more people asked to come, then more and more,” says Padilla. “I eventually had to cap it because it’s only a one-day tournament and we wanted everyone to get to play.”

Right now, 160 players representing eight teams from as many cities as far away as Atlanta are set to descend on Dallas for what looks to be one of the bigger gay rugby matches going.

“Austin, Houston and Dallas used to compete for a trophy called the Texas Pride Cup,” says Diablos co-founder and president A.J. Tello. But the Houston and Austin teams folded in recent years. “We haven’t had anything like that for a while, other than in Seattle, which has several teams in the area, and Bingham Cup every other year. We’re trying to get that back with an invitational with a national reach.”

“What I’ve found is that the majority of people on these teams have never been to Dallas,” adds Padilla. “Lots of them want to see what nightlife is like in Dallas.”

It’s an astonishing sense of camaraderie for a sport known for its aggressive play. But Padilla says rugby is one of the few sports where teams have no problem socializing with each other after the match is over.

“You play hard to party hard. Everybody who comes out is hyper-competitive and wants to win, but afterwards, we’re here to promote the game. You leave the anger on the pitch. After, you talk war stories and live it up with the guys. A lot of sports you don’t get a lot of commingling of teams; that’s not the case with rugby — not all.”

The openness is also true of the membership. “All of the teams are part of the IGRAB, the gay rugby union, and each is classified as openly diverse, but none of them are strictly gay,” Padilla says.

“We’re all inclusive. It’s not about who’s gay or straight — unless you want to date,” says Tello, who notes the Diablos have several straight players.

Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no difference between a gay rugby team and a straight one.

“We play other [non-gay] rugby clubs. After games, we go to the straight bars and the straight guys come to the Eagle,” Tello says. “We bring a little kick to it: We ask one of the members from the other team to get on the St Andrews cross, we get some paddles out and a whip and ask one of their girlfriends or wives to whip them. They have a ball and laugh.”

The tournament is intended to allow the players to enjoy a competitive round-robin of rugby, but there’s more motivation behind it. The Diablos  — both the men’s and women’s teams — want to spread their passion for the game throughout the community. (Although the women’s team is not playing, they have been instrumental in planning the tourney and will be active running it on game day.)

“I’ll judge its success by how well the teams receive the tournament, but we also wanna pull people in the community here, to come out to watch a tournament,” says Padilla. “There’s been nothing like this for rugby in Dallas.”

Those who don’t play are still welcome to come watch or even buy a “participant package” including tote bag and T-shirt, and come by the mixers or meet up with them during the block party.

Whether HellFest continues next year may also depend on the satisfaction of their sponsors, though Padilla says many were enthusiastic about helping out.

“It hasn’t been very hard — we’re promoting deeply within the community,” he says. “The host hotel is Hawthorne Suites and they gave us a good rate and helped us acquire shuttles to go to the venues. The Dallas Eagle is hosting our happy hour after the tournament and MGD64 is donating beer.”

That sounds like a sporting event all ghouls and boils can enjoy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

MESSAGING FAIL: Tarrant Pride attendee tells Channel 5 that being gay is a choice

It’s good to see local TV news stations covering the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade. But it’s unfortunate that NBCDFW.com posted this quote from an attendee on its website:

“I think whatever a person’s choice is, is their choice. I’m not out here to judge nobody, but I’m out here to standup and help be a part of that voice,” said one of the attendees.

If you watch the station’s video from the parade above, you’ll notice that whoever is responsible for the quote doesn’t appear anywhere in it. And who knows, maybe a homophobic intern at the station just decided to make an editorial statement. Let’s hope so, because it’s difficult enough fighting off the “gay is a choice” attacks from right-wingers. The last thing we need is be hearing it from within our own community.

—  John Wright

Will Cornyn remember Log Cabin singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to his wife next time he screws us?

Our first report from Wednesday night’s Log Cabin Republicans National Dinner comes from The Standard-Times of San Angelo. Anti-gay Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who accepted an award from the gay GOP group and spoke at a reception prior to the dinner, reportedly told them he was amazed at the controversy surrounding his appearance there:

“I guess perhaps it speaks to the times we find ourselves in where people are so unwilling to find grounds of commonality where we do agree despite some honest differences and firmly held differences of opinion,” Cornyn told about 60 guests at the Log Cabin Republicans Political Action Committee.

They listened, clapping enthusiastically at times, to the Senate’s chief fundraiser the day after the social conservative voted to block the repeal of the ban on openly gay and lesbian people serving in the military. The LCR is leading a legal fight to repeal the ban.

Cornyn also opposes same-sex marriage.

The event was closed to the press, but an audio recording showed that those attending the event sang “Happy Birthday” to Cornyn’s wife, Sandy, after he told them it was her birthday Tuesday.

“I’m sure you have made her day,” Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in the recording provided by an attendee of the PAC reception.

Read the full story here.

—  John Wright