Public libraries: Bad news, good news

Guest.Phyllis

Phyllis Guest Taking Notes

The legislature slashed state funds, but city funding cuts weren’t as bad as they could have been. Best of all, there are ways you can help keep our libraries flush with LGBT content

Back in the winter, I wrote here about problems facing our libraries (“Losing our libraries,” Dallas Voice, April 1). The theme of that piece was the enormous losses the Dallas Public Library system was likely to face if the 82nd Texas Legislature took an axe to public systems statewide.

Well, they did wield an axe — and we lost a lot of state funding. This adds injury to insult, since the city of Dallas has cut library funds drastically over the last three budget cycles.

But the recently approved 2012 budget is less austere than it might have been. City Manager Mary Suhm proposed, and the mayor and city council agreed, to fund the new branch library now under construction on Ferguson Road, to maintain the current 40 hours at other libraries and to plump up the meager materials budget.

However, the approved budget also cut more than 90 salaried positions and eliminated others.

As of Oct. 1, the number of hourly workers known as pages dropped sharply. Remaining staff and volunteers are taking on much of the work once done by pages: sorting and shelving books and other media, maneuvering heavy carts and duck-walking between the low racks of the children’s sections.

And new books are in short supply.

But that’s enough whining. Let’s get to the good news.

First I want to tell you about some terrific mystery novels with gay angles that are now available at the Oak Lawn Library. Some are just slightly bent, while others are way over the edge, and two or more are probably available at this very moment on Oak Lawn Library’s LGBT shelves.

(Unless otherwise indicated, all are available within days through the Dallas Public Library’s online catalog at Catalog.DallasLibrary.org.)

My newest discovery is John Morgan Wilson, whose main series character is a California writer named Benjamin Justice, an edgy, flawed and therefore believable guy.

The series begins with Simple Justice and proceeds through Revision of Justice. By the time the series reaches the book I just finished, Justice at Risk, Ben is living like the Blanche DuBois of Hollywood. Best you read the books in order to learn where he began and why he fell so far.

My other new discovery is Matt Beynon Rees, a Welshman who worked as a journalist throughout the Middle East for several years and, in 2006, became a full-time fiction writer living in Jerusalem.

vook-cover

YOU CAN HELP | Want to be a Book Hero? Consider buying a copy of E. William Podojil’s ‘The Tenth Man.’

The detective of his series is a Palestinian schoolteacher who cannot walk down a street without being pulled toward the most appalling crimes. The book to read is the third in this series, The Samaritan’s Secret. The plot turns on a single gay character and the effects his sexual proclivities have on all those around him.

On the hunt for more LGBT mysteries, I did an Internet search and came up with a list of recommendations for five books that sounded good.

I ordered the two that were immediately available, whipped over, picked them up, devoured them in a single weekend and thus can recommend both: R.D. Zimmerman’s Closet and Mark Richard Zubro’s File Under Dead.

The Dallas system has other books by Zimmerman, all with one-word titles, and others by Zubro, including one that is new.

But here’s the thing: The system did not have three of the recommended books, including one by Michael Nava, whom I had read years ago and had liked a lot. So I went to DallasLibrary2.org with mouse in one hand and charge card in the other, then clicked on “Support Us” and chose to “Be A Book Hero.”

A recent system upgrade allows me, you and other booklovers to make purchases at the library discount. The library contacts the bookseller and the seller sends the book directly to the Central Library downtown. Central enters it into the system, then sends the book to the designated branch and contacts the “Hero” to pick the book up.

At the same time I bought Nava’s The Little Death, I bought a book that was favorably reviewed here in the Dallas Voice: Bronson Lemer’s The Last Deployment: How a Gay,Hammer-swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq. I just received an email notice that the books await me. Purchase and processing had taken less than three weeks.

When I read and return them, they will likely stay at the Oak Lawn branch, which houses the system’s modest LGBT-specific collection.

I’m telling you all this because Dallas Public Library has zero copies of books by two other gay mystery writers who are highly recommended: E. William Podojil and Greg Lilly.

If you decide to “Be A Book Hero” to yourself and others, the recommended books are Podojil’s The Tenth Man, in which a guy’s past live-ins and other lovers are done away with one at a time, and Lilly’s Fingering the Family Jewels, in which the tale is more frightening but less suggestive than the title.

More good news: The Friends of the Oak Lawn Library just voted to spend $1,000 to freshen the LGBT collection. The $1,000 came from ongoing sales of library calendars and of gently used books or magazines.

So whether you buy the former, donate the latter or order a newbie through the system, you’re helping our whole community.

Meanwhile, there must be mysteries starring Ls, Bs, and Ts. Yes. More soon.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

—  Kevin Thomas

HIV meds program on state’s chopping block

Ending assistance could cost communities millions in added ER care and hospitalization, advocates say

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Some of the more extreme budget cutters would like to eliminate the program that helps people without insurance receive life-sustaining medications, as the Texas Legislature struggles to pass a balanced budget.

“That would be called legalized murder,” said Don Maison, president and CEO of AIDS Services Dallas.

Among the more likely proposals being floated in Austin is to add only 400 to 500 people to the Texas HIV Medication Program (THMP) over the next two budget cycles, which runs four years.

Bret Camp

Local HIV healthcare providers said the proposed number is low compared to the number who will need the program.

Texas is a direct purchase state, according to Bret Camp, associate executive director of health and medical services for the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic at Resource Center Dallas. Camp explained that the state buys HIV medications and distributes them through a network of about 400 pharmacies throughout the state.

To qualify for THMP, a client must be diagnosed HIV-positive, be a Texas resident, be uninsured or under-insured for drug coverage, have income below 200 percent of the poverty level, and not receive Medicare.

Medicare recipients get their medication through the State Pharmacy Assistance Program.

In 1996, 5,100 people in Texas received their medication through THMP. Last year, the estimated number was 14,000.

Camp said he is concerned that increasing the number of eligible people over the next four years by just 400 would leave too many without the medications they need.

Camp said he expects the number of people needing assistance to increase significantly.

“The state is being responsible and promoting HIV testing,” he said. “The more testing, the more cases we’re likely to see.”

Just how much the state is spending on providing drugs for about 14,000 Texans with HIV is not known. Camp said that the state negotiates a price with the drug companies but does not publish the negotiated price.

“Nobody really knows what the price is,” Camp said.

Randall Ellis is the senior director of government relations for Legacy Community Health Services in Houston, formerly known as Montrose Clinic. He said that Texas probably pays in the range of $6,000 per year for someone in the program.

Individuals who have to purchase the drugs themselves or have insurance cover part of the price would pay closer to $24,000 or more.

Camp said that eliminating the program would save little when compared to the overall budget shortfall. But he said that the cost of caring for people who would have to make multiple emergency room visits and have extended hospital stays would be much higher than keeping them healthy in the first place.

Ellis said another problem is that the oversight committee, made up of stakeholders from around the state, sunsetted last fall. To reinstate the committee, the commissioner of Health and Human Services would simply have to repost the rules.

The committee made recommendations to the health department such as what drugs should be included in the program and what the eligibility requirements should be.

The commissioner, Ellis said, usually followed the committee’s recommendations. But the commissioner didn’t always want that input, he said.

“They want our input when it looks good to have community input,” Ellis said. “But when we ask tough questions, they’d rather not have us.”

Ellis does not expect all funding for THMP to be cut. He said that the state receives some funding through the federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

Camp said other states have thousands of people on waiting lists for ADAP programs.

“Florida is sorry right now,” he said. “They have dis-enrolled people.”

Florida has more than 3,000 waiting for medication. Unless those people find another way to get their medication, most will become sick, Ellis said, adding that if they are left untreated, those people will die.

Camp said that after recent hearings in the Senate Finance Committee, senators “seemed to leave with questions” that were on a level he hadn’t heard since early in the AIDS crisis.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the Texas HIV-AIDS Coalition is sponsoring Advocacy Day at the Capitol in Austin. A Dallas contingency will join groups from Houston, San Antonio and other cities as far as El Paso to talk to legislators about the need to fund the program.

For more information or to register for Advocacy Day, go TexasHIV.org.

—  John Wright