In LEAGUE with equality

As the employee resource group prepares to turn 25, it celebrates equality gained at AT&T and focuses on anti-bullying efforts

Bates-McLemore.Theresa
Theresa Bates-McLemore

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

As Dallas prepares for the arrival of the national Out & Equal Workplace Advocates convention in October, LEAGUE, the LGBT employee resource group at AT&T, is making plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The AT&T group was the original LGBT employee resource group, begun after the first March on Washington in 1987, and is a model that has been recreated since then across corporate America.

LEAGUE held its national convention at the Melrose Hotel in Oak Lawn on Sept. 9, and openly gay Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns spoke at the Saturday night awards program about his “It Gets Better” experience (see story, Page 27). The group is beginning to prepare its own “It Gets Better” materials on behalf of AT&T, and in Burns’ honor, the group made a donation to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Several awards were given to Dallas LEAGUE members during the convention last weekend.

National Executive of the Year went to Gary Fraundorfer, vice president of human resources, who was honored for re-evaluating all company HR policies to make sure AT&T’s policies treat LGBT employees equally.
Fraundorfer recently joined the Resource Center Dallas board of directors.
“Awards from employees mean the most because they’ll hold you the most accountable,” he said.

But Fraundorfer wanted LEAGUE members to know just how committed to equality the company is.

“We mean it when we say we want things to be equivalent for spouses and partners,” he said. “The goal is complete parity.”

Among AT&T’s 11 latest initiatives to ensure parity is the addition of gender reassignment surgery to the company insurance plan for the company’s transgender employees.

John Cramer, LEAGUE’s national public affairs director, was among the recipients of a “LEAGUE Cares about Bullying” award. He said that the company has rallied around the group’s anti-bullying efforts.

LEAGUE President Theresa Bates-McLemore said she’s heard from employees across the company thanking her for the group’s anti-bullying efforts.

“I’ve heard heartfelt stories from straight people who said, ‘We didn’t know how to do this,’” Bates-McLemore said.

Cramer said that bullying is not just a gay issue and the LEAGUE campaign is helping employees across the company and others outside of AT&T as well.

The new chapter of the year award went to Puerto Rico.

“They took the League Cares About Bullying initiative to a new level,” Bates-McLemore said.

That chapter created an “It Gets Better” public service campaign with Telemundo.

LEAGUE has 45 chapters across the country with about 750 members. Nationally, the group provides scholarships to at-risk LGBT youth and contributes to the “It Gets Better” campaign and has awarded about $150,000.

Locally, LEAGUE supports the community in Dallas with Black Tie Dinner tables. Team AT&T will participate in the Lone Star Ride. And earlier this year the group made a $5,000 contribution to Resource Center Dallas to support its communications technology needs.

And the group supports its members.

For LEAGUE member Mark Carden from Atlanta, the group has had a much more personal impact. He was already working at AT&T when he came out.

“LEAGUE made me feel more secure about myself and the workplace,” he said. “It helped me grow personally and professionally.”

Look for Cramer, Bates-McLemore and other Dallas LEAGUE members in the parade and at the festival in the park. They’ll ride in an AT&T eco-friendly vehicle down Cedar Springs and give out T-shirts and beads.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

FEEDBACK: Be above petty squabbles; Open letter to Elba Garcia; Know the facts on PrEP

Be above petty squabbles

I have followed with much interest the recent joint endorsements of municipal candidates by the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats. A spirited debate is always healthy, and it is good to see this happening, especially with the race for City Council District 14 which features the Stonewall-endorsed candidate, James Nowlin, and current City Councilmember Angela Hunt. However, I have been disheartened by the direction that some voices in the debate have taken. As members of the LGBT community, we should be inherently sensitive to the inappropriateness of comments that personally judge an individual and call into question their motives for running for office, or the legitimacy of emotion shown in public. We are above this!

James Nowlin is a member of this community and has served this community since first moving to Dallas. Now is the time to get behind candidates that are a part of our community, such as Mr. Nowlin and Cassie Pierce (City Council District 7 candidate), not because they are simply LGBT individuals, but because they are both qualified for the job and represent the much needed change we need on City Council in having representatives that can build consensus and take issues that impact not only us, but their entire constituency, through to the finish line. I encourage all in this community to contact the campaigns of those that support us and see how they can get involved.

Jared A. Pearce,
president, Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats

 

Open letter to Elba Garcia

On behalf of Resource Center Dallas, we wish to thank you and the court for voting to expand the county’s nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation.

This effort is long overdue and demonstrates a commitment to fairness and equality. We believe the policy should also specifically enumerate protections for gender identity and gender expression. I’d like to discuss this issue with you at your earliest convenience.

I read the post on [the March 22] vote on the Dallas Voice’s website. Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are three separate characteristics. As subject-matter experts who offer diversity training as part of our mission, these are the definitions the center uses:

• Sexual orientation: A person’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional and spiritual attraction to another person.

• Gender identity: A person’s internal and personal sense of being a man or a woman. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same; transgender people may be heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

• Gender expression: External manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine,” “feminine” or gender-variant behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity.

The center and others in the LGBT community assert that a policy would need to specifically enumerate all three characteristics for maximum effectiveness and protections. It simply makes business sense. As you know, both the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth already offer these protections for their LGBT employees, as does DFW International Airport. Also, a better understanding of the LGBT community will aid Dallas County in employment recruiting and retention, and in serving your diverse public.

You may have seen some of the stories in the Dallas Morning News last summer about the center’s work with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) as it added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policies. This is part of our ongoing work with businesses, universities and governmental agencies including Dallas ISD, DFW International Airport and TABC as they strive to make their workplaces more inclusive.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager, Resource Center Dallas


Know the facts on PrEP

A robust public debate is underway about the potential use of anti-HIV drugs to prevent HIV infection (also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP). Our study, called iPrEx, provided the first conclusive evidence that the daily use of PrEP with the FDA-approved HIV treatment Truvada® can significantly reduce HIV infection risk in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women, when delivered as part of a comprehensive package of prevention services, including condoms.

The protection provided by PrEP and condoms together could have a substantial impact in reducing new HIV infections among MSM worldwide.
Recently, a private healthcare provider has begun a paid advertising campaign urging the FDA not to even consider approving the use of PrEP — charging, among other things, that MSM will stop using condoms if PrEP is permitted. The pros and cons of PrEP use should be vigorously debated — but that debate should be based on facts, rather than the assumption that MSM will not act to protect themselves and others from infection.

Here are the facts about the iPrEX study:

• A diverse group of 2,499 HIV-negative MSM and transgender women on four continents with a range of sexual practices participated in iPrEx. All participants received a comprehensive package of HIV prevention services. Half also received Truvada, while the other half received a placebo (blank pill). Neither the study participants nor the investigators knew which pill they received during the study.

• The group that received PrEP with Truvada in addition to condoms had 44 percent fewer HIV infections. This protective effect was seen across different groups in the study, including those of different age, ethnicity and education level.

• Men in both study groups reduced their risk behaviors and increased their condom use — demonstrating that MSM can use PrEP and condoms together. PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections and should never be considered as a substitute for condom use or other safer sex precautions.

• Ensuring daily pill use will be critical to the success of PrEP. While many iPrEx study participants used the pill consistently, about 50 percent did not — which impacted the effectiveness of PrEP in the study. Among those who took the medication consistently, the level of protection PrEP provided reached 72 percent to 95 percent. A second phase of the iPrEx study will begin soon, in which all participants who want PrEP will receive it. We are hoping to learn whether knowing that PrEP works will help participants achieve higher rates of pill use and protection in this phase of the study.

• Truvada is widely used for HIV treatment because it is generally well tolerated. Rates of side effects were very low in the iPrEx study. A small amount of bone loss was seen among those receiving PrEP, a finding commonly seen in HIV-positive individuals starting anti-HIV treatment; these changes had no apparent negative health impact.

Studies to date also show no evidence of HIV drug resistance associated with PrEP use. HIV testing and medical evaluation before starting PrEP and while using PrEP are important to prevent resistance.

• A daily PrEP dosing regimen was used in the iPrEx study. It is not known whether PrEP can be taken less frequently to prevent HIV infections. Additional studies are underway or being planned to look at whether different dosing regimens (e.g., taking PrEP before and after sex, or on a regular schedule several times a week) would be safe and effective.

• The iPrEx study was paid for by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and was not organized or run by any drug company. iPrEx requested and received a donation of study drug from Gilead Sciences, but Gilead had no other input into the study.

Much more work lies ahead to determine whether PrEP can help stop HIV infections in other populations, such as heterosexuals and injection drug users, to better understand possible side effects of PrEP, to support consistent pill use among people who want to use it, and to ensure that PrEP is seen as one element of an HIV prevention strategy that includes regular condom use.

It will also be critical to address issues of cost, and to determine how to ensure that PrEP will be available to MSM in the United States and around the world who need it most.

Additional studies are also underway to test whether other anti-HIV medicines (including pills, gels, and other formulations) are safe and effective for HIV prevention.

We believe that MSM and all communities working to protect themselves and reduce the impact of the HIV epidemic have the right to full information about PrEP, and can make informed, intelligent decisions about whether or not to utilize PrEP as one component of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy.

The iPrEx study investigators are committed to providing complete information about the study findings tohelp ensure that those decisions are made based on the facts about PrEP. We thank the volunteers who participated in this important study, including volunteers in San Francisco, and the more than 20,000 participants in PrEP trials worldwide for their commitment to advancing HIV prevention.

More information about iPrEx and PrEP is available at iPrexNews.com.

Robert Grant, MD, MPH, iPrEx Protocol Chair
Albert Liu, MD, MPH, iPrEx Medical Officer and San Francisco Site Researcher
Susan Buchbinder, MD, iPrEx San Francisco Site Researcher
Kenneth Mayer, MD, iPrEx Boston Site Researcher
Pedro Goicochea, MSc, MA, iPrEx Investigator
Jeff McConnell, MA, iPrEx Investigator

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

A week before the Super Bowl, gay candidate kicks off City Council bid in host city Arlington

Hightower in his fourth-grade Hill Highlander uniform.

A week before Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, openly gay Realtor Chris Hightower is set to kick off his campaign for the District 5 seat on the City Council.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has endorsed Hightower, he would be the first openly gay city councilmember in Arlington’s history.

Chris Hightower

Hightower is an Arlington native who is the son of former Democratic State Rep. Paula Pierson. He lives with his partner in the historic “azalea house” at Park Row and Davis, according to his campaign website:

I am running for City Council because I love Arlington,” Hightower writes. “From the classrooms of my childhood to the elected offices of today, I have witnessed firsthand what good can come from the hard work of those who care about our hometown. They have made this city into the place that I love. Now, it is time for my generation to step forward and provide leadership for our city’s future just as the generations before us have. It is my hope that children living in Arlington today choose to stay here and raise their families — not because they see the great things I saw in our city while I was growing up, but because they saw something even better.”

Hightower is trying to unseat District 5 incumbent Lana Wolff, who is seeking a fifth term on the council. Other candidates expected to run in District 5 include attorney Terry Meza and UTA student Christopher McCain.

According to his Facebook page, Hightower will host a kickoff party at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 29 at 2316 Woodsong Trail in Arlington.

He becomes the second candidate from Texas endorsed by the Victory Fund this year, joining Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, who’s seeking re-election to his District 9 seat.

The other known openly gay candidate in North Texas is James Nowlin, who plans to run for the District 14 seat on the Dallas City Council if incumbent Angela Hunt steps down to run for mayor.

—  John Wright

2 candidates launch mayoral campaigns

Jim Moore, left, and Ron Natinsky

Natinsky, Moore outline campaign issues, both claim LGBT support

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice

With incumbent Dalla Mayor Tom Leppert confirming this week that he will not run for re-election in May, the field of candidates to replace him has begun to fill up.

District 14 City Councilmember Angela Hunt last week said she was considering a run for mayor, but while she has not publicly made up her mind yet, two other candidates have.

District 12 Councilman Ron Natinsky made his mayoral candidacy definite with an announcement on Monday, Jan. 17, and Jim Moore, an attorney whose practice is based in Oak Lawn, has also declared himself a candidate.

Both Natinsky and Moore said this week that they will be reaching out to the LGBT community for votes. And both said they already have support from the community.

“I want to get support from all the communities. I will be campaigning equally in all parts of the city because I am going to treat everyone equally,” Moore said.

But he acknowledged that he has a special fondness for the Oak Lawn area because he lived in the neighborhood for many years and his office has been located here since he opened his practice in 1984.

“These are the restaurants I eat at. These are the people I socialize with. These are my friends. The LGBT community knows me and trusts me,” Moore said, adding that openly gay former Dallas City Councilmen John Loza is “a dear friend” and one of his campaign advisors.

Moore, who recently joined the LGBT political group Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said that new Stonewall president Omar Narvaez is also a close friend. Narvaez, in a previous interview, said he would not speak publicly about supporting or endorsing any candidate until after Stonewall Democrats has held candidate screenings and issued endorsements.
Natinsky also can point to gay former councilmembers in his roster of supporters.

“Ed Oakley [who was on the council and ran his own high-profile race for mayor against Leppert in 2007] called from Thailand yesterday [Wednesday] to say that he is endorsing me,” Natinsky said. “Craig Holcombe [another gay former councilmember] is also supporting my campaign. And there are several others in the community who have signed on to support me and give me their endorsements.”

Natinsky, who has been on the City Council since 2005, said Thursday that he has “been involved at City Hall” for 25 years, and that he has consistently supported issues in the LGBT community.

“I have had a significant number of people in the LGBT community support me in my previous races for the council. I have been endorsed by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. I have participated in events and have ridden in the parade,” he said. “I am committed to doing those sorts of things.

“It’s hard to second-guess what specific issues that affect the LGBT community might come up in front of the council,” he continued. “But my attitude is the same on every issue, to roll up my sleeves and work it through.”
Moore said that if he will be “the candidate of the common guy,” and that if he is elected, he will continue to reach out to his constituents for input.

“When I am mayor, I am going to spend my Saturdays going to the grocery store in Oak Cliff or Lake Highlands. I am going to go to the Kroger on Cedar Springs. I will go to J.R.’s. I am going to talk to the people and her what they have to say. I’m not going to spend my time at the country club, playing golf and sitting around,” Moore said.

The issues

Moore said that public safety is “a huge issue,” and offered a plan to get the private sector involved in making the city safer.

“I talk to people all the time who live in fear, and that’s not much of a life,” Moore said. “Our focus needs to be on making citizens more comfortable living here rather than building a half-billion-dollar hotel that most people who live here will never even see.”

Saying that much of the funding for the city’s revamped Arts District came from the private sector, Moore added, “I love the generosity of Dallasites that do those things. I love what the private sector has done for this city. And I have this vision of converting a lot of the public safety efforts to the private sector.”

Moore said that about 80 percent of all crime in the city is property crime committed in parking lots outside of stores.

The companies that run those stores could take responsibility for putting police watchtowers in those parking lots — and in other high-traffic areas susceptible to crime — and not only help their customers by keeping them safer, but gain a highly visible advertising platform as well.

“It’s just a creative way of making sure the public is safe without spending tax dollars. If I can sell that idea, we won’t need those 600 officers the police department is short right now,” he said.

Moore also proposed working to help forge alliances Dallas Independent School District and private sector corporations, such as programs through which corporations could adopt a school and donate funds and supplies to help those schools out.

Such a partnership, he said, would help improve public schools that are hurting for funds, and improving the schools makes the city more attractive to potential new corporate citizens, thus improving the city’s tax base and stimulating economic growth.

For Natinsky, the key to the city’s future is economic development.

He said Dallas has been “very fortunate overall” during the recent economic downtown, and while “we have had our issues to deal with,” the situation has not been as drastic as in other cities.

“I think we have started to turn the corner. Our sales tax revenue is starting to come back up, and our building permits are up,” Natinsky said, and that makes Dallas attractive to companies looking to relocate from the hard-hit regions of the West Coast and what he called “the rusty northeast.”

Bringing new companies to the city means “growing the economic base and providing jobs for the people who are here, and provides a foundation for the things that everybody wants to get done.”

Natinsky said the city has made strides in reducing the crime rate, and that continuing that trend — as well as providing the necessary city services — depend on economic growth. But Dallas needs to pay attention to more than just the basics, he said.

“We work hard here in Dallas, and we play hard, too. People want their parks and recreation centers and the opera house and the theaters. We have got to have those things to balance out the ‘work’ part of people’s lives. They are very important assets,” he said.

While others suggest the city cut back in those areas to make up for the lack of revenue during the recession, Natinsky said that instead the city should “reinvent the way the city government operates.

“There is always the question of revenue vs. expenses, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut services,” he said. “If you find more efficient ways to provide those services, you lower costs and you don’t have to cut services. I think you can always find more efficient ways of operating.

“And if we can work more efficiently and at the same time grow the economic pie, grow our tax base, we can lessen the tax burden on everyone who lives here and at the same time continue to provide the services we need.”

The elections

Dallas municipal elections will be held May 14. All 14 council seats and the mayor’s seat are up for election.

The first day to file as a candidate is Feb. 14, and the filing deadline is March 14.

The Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance PAC will be sending out informational packets and setting screening appointments with candidates seeking the DGLA endorsement probably beginning in late February or early March.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas will hold its candidate screening session on March 19.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Laura Bush speaks out against anti-gay bullying, says she’s proud of Joel Burns

Last week we noted that former first lady and Dallas resident Laura Bush, despite her stated support for equality for same-sex couples and her longtime focus on education, hadn’t said anything about the gay teen bullying and suicide crisis. Well who knows, maybe she was listening, because while Bush hasn’t yet made her own “It Gets Better” video, she did say this about the subject in an interview with ABC News (video above):

“Bullying in every kind, certainly gay teens, is really, really terrible, but any children, is terrible. And schools really need to make sure that bullying is not going on,” Bush says. “I was proud of the Fort Worth city councilmember [Joel Burns] that talked about it. I think that’s part of the ‘It’ll get better’ project. I think that’s what he said to children, to young gay teenagers is, ‘It will get better,’ and it’s really important for us to not allow bullying of any kind in schools.”

Coincidentally, Bush goes on to talk about a recent visit to North Dallas High School, which is where transgender student Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen. Have a look.

—  John Wright

Resource Center dedicates ‘Hell Freezes Over’ Fred Phelps Memorial Icemaker

RCD executive director Cece Cox
Councilmember Pauline Medrano

Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano and Brent Rubin from State Rep. Eric Johnson’s office were on hand Friday morning to dedicate the Fred Phelps Memorial Icemaker. Members of Congregation Beth El Binah joined Resource Center staff to cut the ribbon and scoop the first buckets of ice.

The money for the icemaker was collected during the Phelps clan’s July visit to Dallas. They picketed Congregation Beth El Binah at Resource Center Dallas and other Jewish groups around the city.

The fundraiser was dubbed “Hell Freezes Over” and $11,000 was collected. The previous known record for a Phelps event was about $10,000 in New York City.

“Inspiration comes from the strangest sources,” said Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas. “Without the inspiration of the visitors from Topeka, we would never have been here today to dedicate our new icemaker.”

“Eric’s very impressed by what you’ve done in regard to Fred Phelps’ visit,” said Rubin. “How you’ve gone one step beyond and made good come from a crummy situation.”

“There are lessons to be learned from this,” said Medrano. “Everybody can make a difference in the midst of bad news.”

During a city budget crisis, she said she was delighted to be at the Resource Center celebrating the agency getting money from other sources. She thanked Phelps for helping the city take care of people with AIDS.

Josh Manes represented Beth El Binah. He was happy to see the government representatives celebrating at the Center.

“I remember a time when the city would have supported Phelps,” he said.

The plaque on the ice machine reads: “This machine is dedicated to the participants of ‘Hell Freezes

Over.’ Thank you for showing how the power of caring and compassion can triumph over hate. August 6, 2010.”

In one of their silliest choices of protest sites, the Phelps clan began their day of nonsense at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. The museum marked record attendance that day as a result of the Phelps publicity.

Phelps was invited to attend the dedication ceremony by e-mail. He did not respond to the gracious invitation.

—  David Taffet