Maxwell Anderson, the DMA’s new director

IMG_2436Although the words exact didn’t escape his lips during his meeting with the press, Maxwell Anderson, who ascended to the job as new director of the Dallas Museum of Art early last month, doesn’t seem to think a show like the Gaultier exhibit is the direction an institution like the DMA should head in.

Museums shouldn’t be “entertainment centers that have an attached research center,” he said. “Creativity is more important that counting bodies through the door. As much as I love to see crowds, that is a for-profit goal, not a museum goal.”

Such a statement might read as fightin’-words in the consumerist heaven of Big D. But Anderson — who until last year ran the respected Indianapolis Museum of Art and has career history that includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his native New York City (although he has ties to Texas: His wife’s family lives in Houston) — projects something else: Not contempt for success, not a prissy elitism, but a desire to turn the DMA into a premiere national institution.

The timing is fortuitous. Anderson admires the Arts District and the DMA’s role as one of its anchors. “The Arts Distruct was [a step] in building this necklace of [art venues],” he said.

And he’s focused on spending his first 100 days (he’s got about 60 left) meeting with community leaders (and the press) to develop priorities. But he’s not the kind who seems to want to cater to the lowest common denominator … nor turn the museum into an acquisition machine. (Running a premiere museum “is not acquisitions alone — it’s a paradigm shift,” he said.) He has already declared “green, ethical, edicational” goals as chief among his interests for the DMA. And that includes taking advantage of the DMA’s already sizeable collection that is not on display.

That’s another one of his first-100-day goals. And it’s a good one. Most of Anderson’s goals seem to be. Though we still would like to see shows like Gaultier come back. Just a thought.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Senior Class

Cannon Flowers has teamed up with Resource Center Dallas on a project to gauge and meet the needs of LGBT seniors

IMG_3587

BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP | Cannon Flowers, right, is getting help with his Mature LGBT Project for North Texas from Candace Thompson and Beau Bumpas, two 31-year-olds who share an interest in creating resources for LGBT seniors. (David Webb/Dallas Voice)

David Webb  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

It was an irony of life that caused community activist Cannon Flowers to develop an even more compelling concern for the challenges some LGBT people face as they grow older and struggle to maintain basic living standards.

Flowers had already drafted his proposal for the “Mature LGBT Project for North Texas” for presentation to an audience of community leaders when he slipped on a rainy sidewalk while walking his dog in early November and broke his leg. The accident put Flowers in the hospital, and his injury required surgery that left him recovering in a wheelchair.

The activist, who has supported a number of LGBT community causes over the past 10 years, suddenly became unable to properly care for himself, putting him in a similar position as the targeted group his project would benefit.

“I don’t think I could have made it without help,” said Flowers, who fortunately had a partner and several close friends upon whom he could rely for help until he recovered. “I think there would have been days I would have had to go without eating if I hadn’t had anyone to help me.”

Flowers, 53, said the experience gave him a new appreciation for the hardships LGBT seniors sometimes experience. And it strengthened his resolve to help provide more community resources for them.

Cox.Cece

Cece Cox

The plight of disadvantaged LGBT seniors had already been highlighted a year earlier by the discovery that an elderly gay political activist suffering from dementia had wound up living on the streets of Dallas before he was arrested by police and later placed in a nursing home.

“I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of years,” said Flowers, who noted that his concerns about some older friends’ isolation had sparked the idea. “I see them, and I realize they shouldn’t be alone. It doesn’t have to be a holiday. They just shouldn’t be alone.”

The project’s proposal includes statistical information derived from the 2010 U.S. Census that estimates there are 30,000 LGBT people between the ages of 45-90 living in Dallas County. The data also indicates that 27 percent of all people 65 and older live alone.

Flowers’ proposal identifies numerous unique challenges faced by older members of the LGBT, including loneliness caused by the loss of life partners and the absence of children and other family members in their lives. It also points to financial and legal problems caused by the lack of protection through traditional marriage rights and a lack of social services and living facilities specifically geared to the LGBT population.

The proposal notes that although there are programs and living facilities for the general population that LGBT seniors can access, there often are barriers created by real or perceived anti-gay discrimination. LGBT seniors fear they would be forced to go back into the closet in order to access resources devoted to the general population, according to the proposal.

In announcing a national summit recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development acknowledged that LGBT seniors face additional stresses because they are more likely to age without the benefit of a partner, children and other family support. And Services and Advocacy for GLBT

Elders and the National Academy on an Aging Society released their “Public Policy & Aging Report” that shows LGBT seniors face significant barriers to successful aging that include poor health outcomes, a lack of economic security, social isolation and unequal treatment under the law and in general population aging programs.

Those national reports show the needs of LGBT seniors are easily understood and documented, but they aren’t being fully addressed at this time in Dallas, Flowers said.

“There’s just not any organization spearheading it,” Flowers said. “In the last two years I’ve talked about it a lot, and I’ve thought somebody has got to do something about it.”

The overall project proposed by Flowers appears to be far-reaching and ambitious, providing for services that would include social networking and consultation and education services for diet, medical needs, legal services, life coaching, finances, grief support, retirement living and travel.

The preliminary results from a survey Flowers sent out to LGBT people in Dallas showed the primary areas of interest were LGBT-dedicated living facilities, programs for promoting lifelong friends and programs sponsoring social events.

Flowers has been in contact with Resource Center Dallas officials on his project, and he is collaborating with them as a volunteer in an effort to get the project launched.

Cece Cox, executive director and chief executive officer for Resource Center Dallas, said she agrees there is much work to be done to meet the needs of LGBT seniors, and said center officials welcome the work Flowers is doing.

“I think it is important work,” Cox said. “I’m supportive of it.”

Cox said that Flowers is helping the center staff develop and implement an assessment tool that can be used to gauge the suitability of general-population facilities and programs for LGBT seniors.

It would be beneficial if the other components of Flowers’ project could be coordinated with the center, which is already addressing some needs of LGBT seniors, Cox said.

The center administers a program called GAIN — the LGBT Aging Interests Network — that provides learning, entertainment and social activities and referrals for LGBT seniors.

The survey Flowers sent out also shows that a majority of people would prefer an existing agency like Resource Center Dallas undertake
the project rather than creating an independent agency dedicated to LGBT seniors.

The center is in the process of developing a strategic plan for expanding its services for LGBT seniors, Cox said. Center staff recently provided cultural competency training to the senior ombudsman for the Texas Department of Aging, and similar training is planned for other professionals who deal with seniors as the needs are identified, she said.

Flowers’ work helping center staff survey and assess senior facilities and programs will assist in the improvement of referral services for LGBT seniors, Cox said. Other alliances with organizations serving general populations will likely be announced in 2012, she said.

“There is a lot happening,” said Cox, who noted the Women’s Communities Association has been collecting undergarments and socks for nursing home residents for years.

Interest in and work on LGBT senior issues has been steadily building momentum for at least the past five years, Cox said. The work has begun to attract more attention because of more data being produced about it, she said.

Also, more attention is being paid to LGBT seniors because there are more openly LGBT seniors than ever before, Cox said.

“We focus on what is important to us,” Cox said. “We are aging so that has become more important to us.”

In relation to other big U.S. cities’ progress in the area of LGBT senior services, Cox said Dallas is behind some cities and ahead of others.

Cox said it is unlikely a living facility for LGBT seniors would be built in Dallas because of the expense and the difficulty that would be encountered in obtaining funding for it.

Perhaps one way to compensate for the lack of a dedicated living facility is to ensure that LGBT seniors receive interaction with other like-minded people.

One of the major components of Flowers’ project would pair needy LGBT seniors with young people who would volunteer to visit with and assist them.

“I really do believe there is a value to having young people in your life,” said Flowers, whose friends include younger people with whom he became acquainted through his adult children. “It forces you to stay young that much longer.”

Flowers has already recruited two younger people to his project who are willing to volunteer their time to interact with LGBT seniors and to help Flowers attract more youthful volunteers.  Candace Thompson, a social worker, and Beau Bumpas, a photographer, both 31, said they are eager to help Flowers kick off the project.

Thompson said she is the primary caregiver for her 90-year-old grandfather so she is already involved in the type of assistance that is needed. Flowers said she will be helping him develop guidelines for the volunteer work.

“I’ve always gravitated toward older people,” Thompson said. “Aging is a reality. It will happen at one point in time, so everyone needs to be prepared for it.”

Bumpas said that in addition to helping Flowers who has been his mentor, he also wants to see the project implemented for personal reasons — even though he is still relatively young.

“I’m single, and I don’t see myself getting a partner,” Bumpas said. “It scares me to wonder who is going to take care of me when I get old. I’m all alone.”

Flowers said that Thompson and Bumpas would be providing invaluable assistance to him as he figures out how to market his project to the community at large to gain volunteers and to gather support for funding it. For the project to work, there must draw support from all ages of LGBT people, as there has been for programs helping LGBT youth, he said.

Flowers said LGBT youth programs have been successful because LGBT adults remember what it was like to be young and gay. The challenge will be to create an “emotional aspect” that helps younger LGBT people imagine what it would be like to be old and gay and in need.

……………………..

NEWS YOU CAN USE

LGBTsr-website

THE LGBTSR WEBSITE | The LGBTSR website, launched in May, focuses on news and advice for and about LGBTs over 50.

LGBT publications are often geared toward a youth-appreciative audience, but at least one Web site wants to attract a different type of reader.

LGBTSR.com, which was launched in March of this year, is tailored to attract LGBT readers who are 50-plus years of age. The website “embraces age and celebrates life over 50, with all the ups and downs of living long enough to tell about it,” according to the Website’s mission statement, which promises to provide readers  with news, reviews, opinion pieces and a “thing or two to hold up to the light.”

Mark McNease, 53, of New York City, is the founder of LGBTSR.com. He lives in Manhattan with his partner Frank of five years, whom he plans to soon marry under the state’s new marriage equality law. The couple also owns a country home in rural New Jersey where they plan to retire someday.

“It’s an upbeat publication,” McNease said of the website in a telephone interview. “I’m over 50, but I’m alive and I feel great.”

Publishing the website is a labor of love, said McNease, who also writes a column for the publication. In the column, Mark’s Café Moi, McNease shares his views on life and the events that affect it. In a recent column, he recounted the day two airplanes struck the World Trade Center in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I love our audience,” said McNease, who also holds down a full-time job as an executive assistant for a group of senior editors at the global news agency Reuters. “This is their place.”

In addition to original pieces authored by a small staff of regular freelance writers, the website reports news from all over that focuses on LGBT people who are 50 years and older. Some of the recent stories include news about the development of a residential building in Chicago that will provide one of the nation’s first affordable apartment buildings for LGBT people, age discrimination within the LGBT community and the failure of the nation’s medical community to keep up with the number of transgender people who are becoming medical patients because professionals are inexperienced with the population.

The news feed also regularly includes stories about health, legal matters and other items of interest for anyone 50 and older, in addition to LGBT news stories that are of interest to people of all ages.

McNease, who has been a writer since childhood, began his journalism career in Los Angeles writing fiction and reviews for Edge, an LGBT publication that went out of business. Afterwards, he wrote plays, eventually seeing six of them produced.

He worked in children’s television for nine years, including several years at Sesame Workshop as the story editor for foreign co-productions of the children’s program. In 2001 he won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program for Into the Outdoors.

One of the advisors and writers for LGBTSR.com is Rick Rose, a writer, director and producer, with whom McNease collaborated on the Emmy-award winning children’s series. Rose has also been nominated for Emmy Awards for his Discover Wisconsin travel series.

The creation of LGBTSR.com is the fulfillment of a three-decade dream, said McNease, who noted he considers himself fortunate to have survived the AIDS epidemic that struck down so many of his contemporaries, including a former partner. Even his 20s, he realized that LGBT cultural offerings seemed to ignore anyone who was over 50 years of age.

“I started to notice that people over 40 started to disappear in the gay media,” McNease said. “I knew then that I wanted to create something for people over 50.”

McNease said that he is pleased with the growth of the readership of the website because about 35 percent of the hits each month appear to be from return visitors. His initial goal is to see a 10-fold increase in readership, which he hopes a pending redesign of the website will help accomplish.

McNease said that he is planning to soon survey readers to find out what they would like to see happen on the website, and that he is seeking submissions from people who would like to add to the publication’s dialogue.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for years,” said McNease, who is currently underwriting the cost of the publication from a small inheritance he received from his family in Indiana where he grew up. “I’m very proud of it, and I’m going to continue publishing it.”

—David Webb

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Contact him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com or facebook.com/therarereporter.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Council member Jones to be first cisgender reader at Houston Day of Remembrance

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones is scheduled to be the first cisgender reader in the history of Houston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, one the events sponsors, says that Jones was originally approached to be a speaker at the event because of her advocacy for trans children, but that she requested to read instead.

“I begged to read, I begged them,” corrects Jones, “they asked me if I wanted to speak and I begged them to read instead because it’s profound and it touches you. I think it’s better to read because it’s important.”
Jones said she was particularly moved at last year’s Day of Remembrance by the story of 17 month old Roy A. Jones who was beaten to death by his babysitter for “acting like a girl.” “I was so touched when they read about the baby that was killed,” said Jones, “the readers tell the story.”

Jones led efforts this year to encourage local homeless youth provider Covenant House to adopt a nondiscrimination policy that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She used her position on City Council to threaten to cut Covenant House’s funding unless they addressed accusations of discrimination. That threat persuaded the organization to overhaul their policies and begin regular meetings with community leaders to discuss their progress in serving LGBT youth.
The Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance is Saturday, November 19, from 7-9:30 pm at Farish Hall on the University of Houston Campus.

—  admin

Introducing the new United Way

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is reaching out to the LGBT community. We must reach back and answer the agency’s call to action if we want to make our community the best that it can be

 

ANDY SMITH  |  Special Contributor

Many of us in the LGBT community are familiar with United Way. However, if you’ve not followed them closely recently, you might not realize they’re changing the way they do business.

They’ve gone from being an organization that collects funds in the workplace and distributes money to charities to one that is focused on making a lasting impact in our community.

Additionally, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is actively seeking to reflect the face of our community in its leadership, staff, volunteers, donors and service providers. They want everyone, including the LGBT community, to join with them to enact positive, measured change.

To borrow from a car commercial, “This is not your father’s United Way.”

United Way isn’t just talking, they are actively working to be a true partner to the LGBT community. For example, they have added gender identity and expression to their EEO statement, which already included sexual orientation. They also walked in the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, participated in the 2010 Out & Equal Workplace Summit, recruited openly LGBT persons to serve on the grant allocations panels and are actively looking for openly LGBT candidates for their board and campaign cabinet.

Also, many people may not know that AIDS Arms has been a United Way partner agency for 19 years and the Resource Center of Dallas for 10 years.

After months of engagement with a wide variety of local civic and community leaders, our local United Way has launched a bold new venture called United2020. The plan is centered on three key areas:  Education, Income and Health. Over the next decade they hope to accomplish the following:

• Education: Ensuring that 50 percent more students are prepared to succeed beyond high school graduation.

• Income: Lifting 250,000 individuals out of poverty, and keeping them out.

• Health: Improving our region’s health through expanded access to care, promoting healthy behaviors and preventative programs.

In a historic departure from the traditional model of a closed group of “partner” agencies, United Way has opened its funding application process to all nonprofit agencies that can make substantial strides toward achieving the 2020 goals. This change has resulted in grant applications from more than 70 new organizations, many specifically serving the LGBT community.

This new open process and increased competition for dollars is critical — yielding stronger programs with better outcomes.

The plan’s success will require support from every sector of our community. This is why United Way is specifically reaching out to Dallas’ LGBT community and inviting us to engage with them in the United 2020 work by giving, advocating and volunteering.

United Way’s work will get done through active and meaningful partnerships, collaborations and programs that are squarely pointed at changing conditions that impact our daily lives. If you think about the three focus areas, they will directly affect the LGBT community.

Without a quality education, it is virtually impossible for a gay or lesbian youth to find a job. Improving our region’s health means supporting the health and medical services of the Resource Center Dallas, a United Way agency that’s a leader in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.

In short, the “Live United” call to action gives us the best chance at building a community that truly is a great place for all to live and prosper. If executed properly, this plan will provide a roadmap for our community’s future.

The new United Way is also busy removing roadblocks and obstacles to educational opportunities, job training and expanded access to healthcare. They’re advocating change to unnecessary, unfair or discriminatory laws that impede the ability of someone to make a good life in our region, while championing legislation critical to the success of United 2020.

For example, United Way is actively lending support to the anti-bullying bill now before the Texas Legislature, an LGBT advocacy effort closely connected to our Education goal.

To help ensure that they are on the right track with these new approaches, United Way has contracted with the Center for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas to provide ongoing independent evaluation of their efforts. They will publish an annual community scorecard, which will detail progress and challenges.

This will hold them more accountable and inclusively engage others to in their work.

Do we simply stand by? Or do we accept this call to action, and rally to address these serious issues our community faces?

As an active United Way volunteer, I can tell you that we have an excellent chance to make this work with the right support. None of this happens without you. None of this happens without widespread commitment and focus to make the North Texas area one of the best places to live and thrive in our country.

Andy Smith, LGBT community activist, is the director of Corporate Philanthropy for Texas Instruments Incorporated and leads United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ LGBT Partnership Committee.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

ACLU threatens to sue Corpus Christi school district for refusing to allow Gay Straight Alliance

The ACLU is demanding that Flour Bluff ISD officials allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi or face legal action.

The principal of Flour Bluff High School has refused to allow the GSA proposed by student Nikki Peet, and the district superintendent has threatened to eliminate all non-curricular clubs to avoid allowing the GSA.

The ACLU, which is representing Peet, says the district is in violation of the federal Equal Access Act because it has allowed other non-curricular clubs — including the chess club; the Key Club; the Family, Careers, Community Leaders of America; and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — to meet on campus.

“Because Flour Bluff High has opened the door to non-curricular clubs on campus, it is required by law to permit the GSA club,” the ACLU writes in its letter dated today.

The ACLU also maintains that it’s illegal for the district to eliminate all non-curricular clubs to avoid allowing the GSA.

“Recently, a federal court in Mississippi held that when the school district canceled the prom in response to a student’s request to bring a same-sex date, the district violated the student’s First Amendment rights,” the ACLU said. “The proposed action by the District here is no different than the cancellation of the prom that the court held in McMillen to be unconstitutional.”

The ACLU gives the district until March 9 to respond.

“If you refuse to comply with your obligations under the EAA and the First Amendment, we will take whatever steps necessary to protect the rights of our client, Ms. Peet,” the letter states.

Read the ACLU’s letter here.

As we reported earlier, a protest is planned outside Flour Bluff High School on Friday.

—  John Wright

COVER STORY: Leaving a lasting legacy

Although his years as leader of the largest LGBT church in the world weren’t without controversy, there’s no denying Michael Piazza has left a lasting impact on North Texas

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

It’s not often that the Rev. Michael Piazza gets caught at a loss for words. But as he walked through Cathedral of Hope’s columbarium recently, he simply touched the marble covering the ashes of the late activist John Thomas, gently caressing the name plate without saying a thing.

Then he turned to the other memorial plaques, many of which originally hung on the outside wall of the old Metropolitan Community Church, the building that is now the Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

He pointed to one and asked if I knew him. We told each other stories about some of the people whose names hang there in remembrance. Most died of AIDS-related illnesses.

For Piazza — who is moving to Atlanta where he will take over as senior pastor of Virginia Highland Church on March 1 — leaving these people may be the hardest part of leaving Dallas. He worries that the memory of some of them will be lost.

Piazza knows Cathedral of Hope — the church known as Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas when he became senior pastor in 1987 — will be in good hands and he’s proud of the institution he helped to build.

But he still feels a great sadness at leaving behind the names in that memorial garden — the friends, church members, community leaders whose funerals he performed — at one point, as many as a dozen of them in a week.

Piazza served as senior pastor and then dean of Cathedral of Hope for 23 years. Currently, he is president of Hope for Peace & Justice and he co-founded and co-directs the Center for Progressive Renewal, an organization that trains leaders to build new and revitalize old churches within the United Church of Christ, the denomination Cathedral of Hope joined in 2006.

David Plunkett, Piazza’s assistant for the past nine years, was hired by Virginia Highlands Church to become director of church life. Last year, Plunkett moved from his position at Cathedral of Hope to become executive administrator for the Center for Progressive Renewal. He has served as Piazza’s principle proofreader for his last five books as well as most of his articles and sermons.

Piazza said that he couldn’t get his job done without Plunkett. But Plunkett downplayed his role and said he simply makes it appear that Piazza is in two places at the same time.

GOOD PARTNERSHIP | The Rev. Jo Hudson, left, said that the time she spent working with Piazza “has been a gift in my life.”

From Atlanta, Piazza will continue to co-direct the Center for Progressive Renewal. The Rev. Cameron Trimble, the other half of that team, is based there.

Piazza said that Trimble’s strength is creating new congregations while his is turning around declining congregations. Their goal is to spread the liberal UCC denomination, strongest in the northeast, across the south.

After a year of travel in his new position, Piazza said it became obvious that they needed a base of operations. Virginia Highlands, without a pastor for two years, provided that opportunity.

While his new church is large, its congregation has become quite small, something Piazza sees as a wonderful challenge.

Founded in 1923 as Virginia Highland Baptist Church, the congregation designated itself an inclusive congregation in 1993, withdrew its membership from the Southern Baptist Convention, affiliated with the more liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and then joined the Alliance of Baptists in 1996.

In 2002, while maintaining its Baptist affiliations, the church joined UCC.

Piazza admitted there was something quite delicious about becoming the pastor of a church that once belonged to the denomination that blocked Cathedral of Hope’s membership in the Greater Dallas Community of Churches.

While First Baptist Church of Dallas still publicly denounces homosexuality, it’s former pastor, W.A. Criswell, used to denounce Piazza personally and Cathedral of Hope in general by name from the pulpit.

That doesn’t happen anymore, Piazza said, and he counts that as part of his legacy.

Ask those outside the church about Piazza’s accomplishments and they’ll mention buildings — the original Cathedral, the John Thomas Bell Wall, the Interfaith Peace Chapel and the as-yet-unbuilt, Philip Johnson-designed, new Cathedral.

Ask those who’ve worked with him or have been longtime members and one word is repeated — vision.

NEW BEGINNING | Piazza, center, celebrates the consecration of Cathedral of Hope’s new sanctuary in 1992 with then associate pastors the Rev. Carol West, left, and the Rev. Paul Tucker.

Annette and Pat, who asked that their last names not be used, were on the board of the church when Piazza was hired and were the first couple in Dallas to meet him in person.

“We picked him up from the airport,” said Annette.

Piazza had flown in from Jacksonville where he was pastor of an MCC that he nurtured from 28 members to 270 in a short time.

“He was a visionary for the church,” Annette said. “He saw potential in us. He took worship to a different level.”

She said that as soon as Piazza got to Dallas, he demanded quite a bit from the congregation: Services would start on time; dress was more respectful, and while church was a great place to meet people, it wasn’t for cruising.

Annette said those steps led to the growth that led to the new cathedral.

“The church wouldn’t be what it is today if he wasn’t there at that time,” she said.

The Rev. Carol West, now pastor of Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth, calls Piazza her mentor. She was the first woman licensed and ordained under him.

While acknowledging their sometimes-stormy relationship, she said, “I think Mike is a visionary. My belief is he took this community to a place they were ready to go.”

She said that when he arrived in Dallas in 1987 in the middle of the AIDS crisis, the LGBT community was doing nothing but taking care of people with AIDS.

“He [Piazza] always had a vision of the community having more,” West said. “He helped our community get our voice.”

She called him a model for many pastors and thanked him for getting her to her current position.

Cathedral of Hope’s current senior pastor, the Rev. Jo Hudson, called Piazza “one of the best and most creative preachers I’ve ever known.”

She, too, remarked on Piazza’s clarity of vision for the church from Day One.

“He gave them courage and direction,” she said. “He made the church a visible sign of hope.”

Piazza said he did three things when he first arrived that helped the church become what it is. The first he called “big worship.”

He said when he arrived in Dallas, the church was already doing enthusiastic, joyous services well. He helped make it bigger but also made sure it was visitor friendly.

Visitors needed to be welcomed and the service had to be easy to follow, Piazza said. That included simple things like a service bulletin that was done well.

But the congregation also needed a sense of community, a sense of intimacy, Piazza believed. To accomplish that as the church grew, small groups were formed to keep people engaged.

“That way it didn’t matter how big we became,” he said.

The third component was community service, and that, Piazza said, gained the church respect.

“This church gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Piazza related a story told by the Rev. Paul Tucker, who is now senior pastor at All God’s Children MCC in Minneapolis, about a conversation he overheard at a diner in Oak Lawn.

“We were in the paper for something like air conditioning Maple Lawn Elementary School’s gym. These two old codgers were sitting behind Paul reading the paper, and they were talking about the church. One said, ‘I don’t know about this queer stuff, but that church does more good than any other church in this city.’”

One of the programs Piazza started soon after he arrived was a weekend hot meals program for neighborhood children. The area around the church on Reagan Street was very poor and children who were fed in school during the week were going hungry over the weekend.

“Men in wheelchairs with AIDS would come to feed those children,” he said. “This church became respectable.”

So respectable and even admired that even Criswell had to stop denouncing Piazza and the church from the pulpit. Groups like the KKK stopped picketing them. The council of churches approached Piazza and begged the church, to join. Piazza refused because by that time, the church had nothing to gain from council membership.

Controversy

But as the church grew, so did controversy. As the congregation raised money to build the new cathedral designed by Philip Johnson, allegations of financial mismanagement arose.

The national Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (the denomination now just known as MCC] was called to audit the Dallas church’s records.
But Cathedral of Hope’s budget was larger than the denomination’s, and the denomination was unequipped to deal with the controversy, Piazza said.

One woman who didn’t like the way the church was being managed filed a complaint of financial mismanagement against Piazza. At the time the board was overseeing financial management, not Piazza.

Because the denomination didn’t have the staff to look into the allegations, MCC hired private investigators. The investigation dragged on for months, until finally, the cathedral’s board of directors had had enough. The board members called a congregational meeting, and the congregation voted by a 90 percent margin to leave MCC.

Piazza looks back now at the conflict with a philosophical eye. He said that much of it was rooted in theology, although that never got named.

For years, the cathedral had been moving away from MCC, which Piazza said is rooted in much more conservative theology.

He said that part of the 10 percent voting against leaving were simply people who had been a member of MCC for decades.

But Piazza admits missing the significance of the vote at the time.

As they voted to leave MCC, they also elected Piazza as the pastor of the newly independent church by the same 90 percent, an overwhelming vote of confidence by any standard among churches of any denomination.

“If I didn’t piss off more than 10 percent of the congregation after being here for 17 years,” he said, that was a great accomplishment in itself. “It was one of the greatest affirmations of my life — and I missed it entirely.”

When Piazza thinks now about mistakes he’s made over the years, he quotes Michael Jordan, who said, “I missed 9,000 shots and that’s why I succeeded.”

In other words, the church moved forward by always taking chances.

Piazza said that sometimes they hired someone who turned out to be a mistake, but other times they took chances and hired people like Tucker and West, who he called heroes.

“But sometimes, you just have to make mistakes and you learn from them,” Piazza said.

Plunkett called innovation part of Piazza’s legacy. He said that he started attending services at Cathedral of Hope via the Internet while he was living in Reno.

“Television was extremely expensive,” Plunkett said, so Piazza broadcast services on the Internet.

He was ahead of the curve and his worship style came through on line.

“I felt connected to a larger community,” Plunkett said, even though he lived in a smaller city with nothing comparable to Cathedral of Hope.

Family in transition

Once Piazza decided to take the position in Atlanta, several things fell into place. He and his partner, Bill Eure, put their house on the market and had an offer the next day from the first person that looked at it.

Eure works for American Airlines, but works from home and does not need to be in Dallas for his job.

LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW CHURCH HOME | Michael Piazza said his partner Bill Eure, left, withdrew from his involvement in Cathedral of Hope when Piazza resigned from his position there, and that Eure is looking forward to beginning an active church life with Virginia Highland Church.

Piazza said that when he stepped aside at Cathedral of Hope, Eure also withdrew from the congregation. Virginia Highlands gives him a place to begin an active church life once again.
Together they raised two daughters with the girls’ mother.

Their older daughter graduates from Booker T. Washington High School in May and will be in college next year. Their younger daughter is a junior at Townview Talented and Gifted. She’ll finish the year in Dallas and the family is deciding whether she’ll transfer next year.

Eure will remain with them in Dallas for another couple of months until the house sale closes.

Hope for Peace and Justice

The future of Hope for Peace and Justice is undecided.

Piazza writes Liberating Word, the daily communication sent to 13,000 subscribers. He described the writing as a job no one else wants and one that he can continue from Atlanta.

But day-to-day management in the Dallas office will pass to someone else, he assumed.

The board is meeting this month to discuss what direction that organization will take after Piazza’s move. Its Art for Peace and Justice division also recently lost its director, Tim Seelig, who moved to San Francisco to become director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Coincidentally, Seelig and Piazza also arrived in Dallas at the same time.

Many of the Art for Peace and Justice events take place at the Interfaith Peace House so moving the group to San Francisco with Seelig was not feasible.

“You can’t replace Tim,” Piazza said. “He has such a unique place in the community.”

Piazza said that that group would reinvent itself.

Seeing the end

Cathedral of Hope will continue to change and flourish, he said.

Someday, he said, the Johnson cathedral may be built. He said that no cathedral has ever been built by a congregation alone. It takes an entire community.

“We’ve always framed it as either it happens or it doesn’t happen,” he said. “We were always really clear that if the larger community doesn’t decide to participate in it, it just won’t happen. We just don’t have the resources ourselves.”

But he said the church continues to work at building relationships with people who do have the resources.

READY TO BUILD | The Rev. Michael Piazza speaks at the 1990 groundbreaking ceremony for the church’s current facilities.

“We’ve done a piece of it and I think that’s really important,” he said.

Piazza said that when he hired Hudson as pastor, he knew, “My time here is limited.” She became the local pastor and he knew that if things worked well, she would become his replacement.

For the first two years, she worked for him. Then they switched roles.

“While she was a great pastor,” Piazza said, Hudson had never managed a multi-million dollar budget. She agreed to become the senior pastor if he stayed to help manage the church finances.

So for the next two years, he worked for her. During that time, he phased himself out. For the past year, he has had no official affiliation with the church even though his office has remained in the Peace House, which is attached to the building.

“It’s good timing for me to not be here anymore,” Piazza said. “It’s time for this place not to be haunted by my ghost.”

Hudson said that Piazza’s life has been devoted to working for justice for the LGBT community and fighting for what’s right for all people.

“Working with Michael has been glorious, creative and exciting,” she said. “Our time together has been a great gift in my life.”

She said she hopes he’ll be remembered in Dallas for single-handedly saving people’s lives.

“The work he will be doing at Virginia Highland Church will be an incredible new chapter in his life,” Hudson said.

Piazza said he runs into people at the grocery store regularly who ask him the next time he’ll be back to preach and he thinks, “I don’t work there anymore.”

But he said the transition was so gradual, “that even this congregation doesn’t know. They just think I’m off traveling.”

Many people hoped that Piazza would give a final sermon before leaving for Atlanta, but he said they’ve already transitioned. He compared that to a Texas funeral, more popular when he first arrived in Dallas, where they reopened the coffin at the gravesite after the funeral service.

“So someday I’ll come back and preach,” not in six months, but maybe in a year or two, he said. “For me, this has been a long goodbye already. We don’t need to make it any longer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

FWPD, Chief Halstead to host Diversity Forum

FWPD Chief Jeff Halstead, center, with LGBT community leaders the Rev. Carol West and David Mack Henderson

The Public Relations Office of the Fort Worth Police Department is hosting a Diversity Forum on Tuesday, Aug. 31, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods, 818 Missouri Ave., in Fort Worth. It will feature FWPD Chief Jeff Halstead.

Topics up for discussion include recruiting for employment, strengthening communication and partnerships and patrol bureau realignments. There will be a question-and-answer period at the end.

According to an e-mail I got about the forum, the purpose of the meeting is “to make a difference.” The e-mail said:

“The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect, which is the police department’s motto: ‘Service with Respect, Dedicated to Protect.’”

—  admin

RL raid anniversary: What a difference a year makes

Fort Worth community leaders, police officials look back at 12 months of change in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid

Tammye Nash | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

THEN AND NOW | A year ago, angry LGBT people protested outside the Rainbow Lounge just hours after a raid on the bar by Fort Worth police officers and TABC agents. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

What a difference a year makes.

On June 28, 2009, seven officers with the Fort Worth Police Department joined two agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in a raid on a newly-opened gay bar in Fort Worth called the Rainbow Lounge.

On June 28, 2010, the Fort Worth police were back at Rainbow Lounge. Only this time, instead of making arrests the officers were sharing a barbecue meal with community leaders and bar patrons and celebrating the progress the city has made over the last 12 months in improving the relationship between Fort Worth and its LGBT community.

And that progress, most in Fort Worth agree, has been remarkable.

Todd Camp, co-founder of Fort Worth’s Q Cinema LGBT film festival, was at the Rainbow Lounge celebrating his birthday with friends when the raid occurred. It was Camp, along with Chuck Potter, Thomas Anable and others, who used e-mail and social networking sites like Facebook to spread the word about the raid almost immediately.

They also put their outrage to work to organize two protests — one that Sunday afternoon outside the bar and a second later that evening outside the Tarrant County Courthouse — and to rally people to attend the next meeting of the Fort Worth City Council.
Camp said recently that he has been pleased to see the way that Fort Worth — its LGBT community, its police department and its city officials — have stepped up to the challenge and worked together not just to mend fences, but also break down barriers.

This week, Rainbow Lounge owner J.R. Schrock, left, and bar manager Randy Norman, right, played host as LGBT community members packed the bar for a barbecue and meet-and-greet with FWPD officers, from Chief Jeff Halstead to beat patrol officers. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“I think, for me personally, the biggest accomplishment of the past year has been the fact that the city of Fort Worth has become aware that they have a gay community that has a voice with some emotion and power behind it, that it is a community that is willing to speak out when something is wrong,” Camp said.

“The City Council has stepped up to the plate and made a lot of fantastic changes. And there have been some really good changes in the police department, in the way they do business. It has really raised their [the police department’s] awareness,” Camp continued. “It took something going horribly wrong to open their eyes. But I feel like now, for the first time, the city and the police realize that there are gay people living here and that we are valuable members of society. … The city learned a lot about a vibrant part of its community.”

The incident has also, Camp said, raised awareness in the LGBT community.

“There was so much ignorance, and not just on the side of the city officials and law enforcement. It was on our side, too. We all learned a lot about the law, about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable.”

Police Chief Jeff Halstead agreed that both sides have learned valuable lessons from and about each other in the last year.

“We all decided to get past our emotions, and we’ve learned to respect each other’s feelings and opinions,” Halstead said. “And it’s definitely been a worthwhile investment for us all to make.”

The chief said he has seen a marked difference in the way the LGBT community responds to the police department since the raid occurred, and a difference in the way his officers see the LGBT community.

“I think people in the community feel like they have actually built friendships in the police department, and not just with [LGBT Liaison Officer Sara Stratten]. I think they feel like their ideas and opinions will be heard,” he said.

Halstead had been on the job as chief of the Forth Worth PD for less than a year when the Rainbow Lounge raid happened. And in his first public comments on the raid, Halstead told a reporter that patrons in the bar that night had made “sexually suggestive movements” toward the officers, and that he was proud of the restraint the officers had shown in the situation.

Halstead later apologized for his remarks, but not before the comments made him the focal point for much of the community’s anger and outrage. But at the barbecue this week, and when the chief attended a screening at the recent Q Cinema film festival, it was obvious that Halstead’s efforts to reach out to and understand the LGBT community had overcome the anger.

Camp said that “one of the greatest moments for me” of the last year came when Q Cinema previewed the recently-completed trailer for Robert Camina’s documentary, “Raid at the Rainbow Lounge.”

“[City Councilman] Joel Burns was in the audience, and Chief Halstead was there with his wife. There had been a lot of hand-wringing and worry over the trailer, because it focuses on the community’s immediate gut reaction to the raid. It’s kind of harsh, and [Camina] was a little bit worried about how the chief would react,” Camp said.

But Halstead took it all in stride, he said.

“I think it showed some tremendous courage for him to be there and see that trailer. He was painted as a villain early on, but he’s not a bad guy,” Camp said of Halstead. “He just had some learning to do, and he stepped up and was there and was supportive.

STOPPING TO REMEMBER | Fairness Fort Worth President Thomas Anable, left, and Q Cinema co-founder Todd Camp were among the community leaders who attended a barbecue on Monday, June 28, at Rainbow Lounge to commemorate the anniversary of the 2009 raid on the bar and celebrate the progress the community has made over the last 12 months. Anable and Camp were both at Rainbow Lounge when the raid occurred, and both helped organize the community’s response. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“I also think it says a lot that the chief of police was there for the opening night of an LGBT film festival,” Camp continued. “It meant a lot to everybody that he was there. … It’s a sign that things really are changing for the better.”

One of the first — and perhaps, most important — of those changes for the better came less than a month after the raid when Halstead announced that Fort Worth Officer Sara Straten had been appointed interim liaison to the LGBT community. By the end of the year, the appointment had been made permanent and Straten had been reassigned from her community patrol duties to the public information office.

Straten acknowledged recently that while she is glad to be the LGBT liaison officer, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.

At first, Straten said, people in the LGBT community saw her as being too supportive of Halstead, a man they still saw as the enemy. But as time passed, both she and the chief have built not only solid working relationships within the community, but friendships as well.

There have been very concrete advances with the police department, Straten said, starting with the implementation of a new policy on bar checks that went into effect on Sept. 1 last year. The new policy specifies detailed steps for officers to follow, and designed to lessen the potentially adversarial relationship between officers, bar owners and staff and patrons.

Straten also praised the new diversity training implemented within the police department that puts more focus on LGBT issues than before. She said she and Gil Flores taught the first diversity training session, and that officers in the class “asked a lot of good questions.”

“The mayor and the chief both went through the training themselves about a month ago, and the chief was there at the first session,” she said.

Officers also participated in the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade and Picnic last October, and the chief and his wife attended the picnic.

The atmosphere for LGBT officers within the department has improved significantly, too, Straten said.

Before she volunteered for the liaison position, Straten was not out at work. In fact, when she did step forward to volunteer, she became the first officially “out” officer on the force. Since then, a number of other officers have come out, but Straten says the credit for that goes to the chief’s leadership in creating a more comfortable and accepting atmosphere, and the individual officers’ courage in taking that step.

FROM PROTEST TO PARTY | The Rev. Carol West, left, and David Mack Henderson, right, both of Fairness Fort Worth, are all smiles as they talk to Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead during a barbecue and meet-and-greet with police officers at the Rainbow Lounge on Monday, June 28, the one-year anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge raid. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“Coming out is scary. But what kept me in the closet back then was as much my own stereotyping as anything else,” she said. “I do think there has been a shift [in attitudes within the police department], but I would never say that came from me. I think it’s more about a shift in the culture at large. The younger officers coming into the force are much more accepting in general, and that changes things for everybody.”

Halstead agreed that there has been a shift within the department.

“I think that more and more, officers are feeling like they can just be themselves, gay or not,” Halstead said. “It’s taken some time, but the improving relationship with the LGBT community is helping. With the proper training and with time, it will continue to improve.”

Perhaps one of the most significant changes over the past year has been the formation and continued growth of the organization Fairness Fort Worth. The group was formed in the days immediately following the raid initially to assist in finding witnesses who saw what happened that night, and to provide those witnesses with legal advice and support in giving their statements to investigators with the Fort Worth Police Department and TABC.

Now, said Anable, the group’s newly-elected president, FFW has branched out and is intent on becoming a permanent resource for the entire community, helping to coordinate between other organizations and serving as a clearinghouse for and point of contact between the LGBT community and the community at large.

Anable said the group has secured its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and organizers held their “first real strategic planning meeting” in January. FFW is also conducting a community survey that will allow the group to compile statistics on the Fort Worth LGBT community.

“We’ve never really had an organization in Tarrant County that was really plugged into the political process, one that is able to speak consistently with one voice,” Anable said. “We are actually doing, now, things that were only talked about before. We have the momentum and the commitment to move forward with things that have only been talked about for a decade.”

Although the Fort Worth community has “a cooperative spirit” and has accomplished goals in the past — like getting the city to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance protecting lesbians and gays — such efforts were always done quietly and in a somewhat piecemeal manner, Anable said.

But now, he added, “we have an organization that has depth and is permanent, something that won’t go away. We have lines of communication open now that we never had before. We have real credibility now. Now, they know we are a viable and valuable community.”

Members of FFW were among those who went to the Fort Worth City Council meetings following the raid. They stepped up to serve on the Diversity Task Force formed by the council that came up with a list of changes, most of which have been made already by city officials.

Among those was amending the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to specifically protect transgender people as well as lesbians and gays. Two of the task force’s recommendations — domestic partner benefits for city employees and insurance coverage for city employees who undergo gender transition surgery — are still on the table, primarily because the city has to watch every penny during the ongoing economic crunch.

There are other plans in the works, too, Anable said, such as building an LGBT community center that would include a phone bank and a library.

And while the resources — and the need — for these advances have always existed within the community, it took what Anable called “the perfect storm” of the Rainbow Lounge raid to set the change in motion.

“It really was a perfect storm. It was the 40th anniversary of Stonewall; they were having the Stonewall anniversary march in Dallas; Todd [Camp] was there in the bar that night; I was there,” Anable said. “People saw what happened, and people were angry. And they were willing to do something about it.

“It’s amazing, really, everything that has happened,” he continued. “I mean, to go from where we were to where we are now in just 11 months — are you kidding me? It’s been amazing.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas