Corpus delectable

Texas’ Gulf Coast is a scenic (and nearby!) getaway from the cold winter

travel-01

BREAKING DAWN | Early risers on South Padre Island are treated to first light glistening over the Gulf of Mexico, which offers a winter retreat — not just a spring break destination. (Terry Thompson/Dallas Voice)

ANDREW COLLINS  | Contributing Travel Writer
outoftown@qsyndicate.com

Although America’s Gulf Coast doesn’t have any major gay beach resorts, the Texas coast’s largest city, Corpus Christi, contains notable attractions while the southern tip of the Texas South Padre Island has developed as a getaway, thanks in part to biannual Splash South Padre Island gay parties.

Corpus Christi

With a population of just more than 300,000, Corpus Christi  is the largest community along the coast, just a three-hour drive down I-37 from San Antonio. The city enjoys a sheltered setting on Corpus Christi Bay, which separates it from Padre Island. From downtown Corpus, it’s an easy drive to the island, which is home to popular seaside attractions like the scenic town of Port Aransas.

A fairly conservative city with a strong military presence, Corpus has a limited gay scene but is home to noteworthy attractions. The outstanding Art Museum of South Texas and Museum of Science & History anchor a waterfront cultural district that includes the Harbor Playhouse Theatre and a complex of restored historic houses known as Heritage Park.

A bit north, the Harbor Bridge leads to the North Beach neighborhood, home to the world’s oldest surviving aircraft carrier, the World War II-era USS Lexington, now an impressive floating museum. Next door, the excellent Texas State Aquarium is home to sea turtles, river otters, piranhas and three graceful bottlenose dolphins.

Downtown’s upscale Omni Corpus Christi Hotel Bayfront Tower and the more intimate V Boutique Hotel  are reliable, gay-friendly lodging options close to local attractions and both a short walk from Water Street Market, a lively hub of restaurants, shops, bars and a museum dedicated to Texas surf culture. The excellent coffeehouse, Agua Java, the Water Street Seafood Co. and Oyster Bar and the Executive Surf Club are excellent for drinking and dining.

The Hidden Door is the primary gay club on the south side of downtown that features good drink specials, a cheery patio and the piano cabaret side bar the Loft.

If you’d rather stay outside of the bustle of downtown and near the beach, Anthony’s by the Sea is a terrific, lesbian-owned B&B in Rockport, 30 miles up the coast from Corpus Christi. This comfy six-room property is just a few blocks from Aransas Bay, and rates include a hearty breakfast, which you can enjoy on the shaded patio.

South Padre Island
Bustling South Padre Island, the southernmost Gulf Coast town,  has long been famous as a family vacation spot and Spring Break destination. In the past few years, two raucous gay circuit parties now call it home — Splash South Padre Island held twice a year, once in late April and again in the fall (usually late October or early November). Splash South Padre Island is a fun visit, drawing revelers from all over the country. (Dates are announced a few months in advance.)

The geography can be confusing for outsiders. Because the central section of the island is preserved wilderness, you can’t drive from the northern side to the southern side. The town of South Padre Island is the only substantially developed part of the island, and from Corpus  you take U.S. 77 south to Highway 100 east, about a four-hour drive.

With a mild climate, a couple of miles of beautiful beachfront, and a restaurant scene that’s become more sophisticated, this narrow island community is a terrific destination year-round, especially from fall to spring, when the weather is mild (it can be a little toasty in summer, although Gulf breezes moderate the temperatures).

The preferred activity here is relaxing: laze on the beach, ride horseback at Padre Island National Seashore and enjoy the usual sorts of recreation you’d find at the seashore: fishing, boating, kite-boarding, surfing, snorkeling, and even dolphin-watching cruises. Fans of nature should check out the fascinating South Padre Island Birding Center, which comprises of a nature center and a network of boardwalks that lead out along the bayfront (where you can spot everything from alligators to least sandpipers). Just across the Queen Isabella Causeway on the mainland, the historic village of Port Isabel contains shops, restaurants, a marina (with boat tours) and an historic lighthouse.

Seafood is naturally big in the area, and the Dirty Al’s/Daddy’s restaurant group is among the top contenders with locations on the island and across the bay in Port Isabel. Fried shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and blackened fish shine. The low-frills Manuel’s in Port Isabel is a good bet for outstanding Tex-Mex fare, with enormous breakfasts. More upscale, urbane options include stylish Cafe Kranzler, where specialties include lobster omelets at breakfast and marinated sesame-crusted ahi at dinner; and Zeste, a gourmet market and restaurant known for creatively prepared tapas, salads, sandwiches and other healthy fare.

There are no gay bars on South Padre Island, but establishments like Mooncussers and Louie’s Backyard are welcoming and often host LGBT parties during Splash weekend.

South Padre is lined with resorts and condos facing the Gulf and others set along the bay. Most properties are moderately priced, such as the relatively new Hilton Garden Inn and the small, friendly spot on the beach, the Palms Resort, one of the best values on the island with kitchenettes and the on-site cafe overlooking the water that serves tasty, casual food.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Lt. Dan Choi talks about Grindr, responds to criticism that his speaking fee is way too high

As you can see above, The Village Voice’s cover story this week is about Lt. Dan Choi. It’s a really interesting piece, and not just because it talks in detail about Choi’s use of the Grindr iPhone application. The story deserves a read in its entirety, but we wanted to point you to one particular section in which Choi responds to recent criticism on DallasVoice.com from Texas Tech activist Nonnie Ouch. We’ve put in a message to Ouch to get her response to Choi’s response, but we haven’t heard back, so for now here’s the excerpt from the VV story:

Others have criticized Choi for supposedly charging too much for speaking engagements.

“I’ve lost all respect for you as a gay- and human-rights activist,” Nonnie Ouch, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Texas Tech University, wrote in an open letter to Choi in August. Ouch, bemoaning “the exorbitant amount of $10,000 to get you out here,” wrote that “after nine months of dealing with your agent, I received an e-mail directly from you. In short, you basically said that the only way I could get you to speak is if I raised enough money to bring you to Tech. No deals, no compromises, end of story.”

Ouch had first seen Choi at the National Equality March in October 2009, where she was inspired by his “Love Is Worth It!” speech. It broke her heart, she wrote, to tell him, “You, sir, have lost sight in one of those many $10,000 checks written to you, of why you came out and became an activist in the first place.”

Asked about it, Choi calls it “a strange situation” but is dismissive of Ouch’s description of Texas Tech students who wanted to hear him as “poor college kids in an extremely conservative city.” The poorest kids, Choi argues, “are not going to college.” He says he’s proud of the fact that he’s been taking care of himself “since I left high school,” by getting appointed to West Point and serving in the military. And he says that he donates a great deal of his fees to homeless LGBT youth of color, “who are really the poorest and the most marginalized.”

Besides, students can get funds, he maintains, through their student activity boards and other sources to pay his appearance fees. He says he thinks the dispute “wasn’t about money.” He has a rider in his speaking contract that stipulates he won’t come to a school unless all campus groups are invited—gay, military, Christian—and that “they must invite the most homophobic group, four times, in writing.”

When the Texas Tech kids wouldn’t play ball by his rules, he says, “I didn’t have time for it.”

Money is a touchy subject for Choi, who says that, regardless of the amount he charges, “there are those who even question, ‘Who are you to charge anything?’ ” It’s no one’s business, he says, but “those plane tickets don’t buy themselves.” Over the past couple of years, he has gone from earning $62,000 a year down to about $700 a month (from a monthly disability check for his Iraq service, which has left him 50 percent disabled with a lung condition that, he says, won’t prevent him from re-enlisting).

—  John Wright

WATCH: Lubbock station flubs DADT; Texas Tech activist Nonnie Ouch says ‘It Gets Better’

Nonnie Ouch

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put a stay on a lower court’s ruling allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Explaining the stay,  Fox 34 in Lubbock said, “As of right now anyone who is gay and in the military must keep that sexual preference under wraps.”

Nonnie Ouch, a Texas Tech student from Dallas, does help explain any confusion in her “It Gets Better” video below. She describes Lubbock as “the second most conservative city in the country.”

Getting sexual orientation wrong is the least of the Fox story’s problems. They’re a little fuzzy on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” issues.

For example, they quote a Texas Tech law professor saying he had a long, distinguished career as a JAG and knows “don’t ask, don’t tell” quite well.

So well, in fact that he claimed that he defended the policy in the 1980s. Wow. A whole decade before anyone even dreamed up the discriminatory DADT policy, this “expert” was out there defending it. He must really, really like it.

Or maybe not so much because the professor calls the policy an anachronism.

But the military needs time to work out some privacy issues, he says. Well, it seems the only privacy that’s been violated is the privacy of gay and lesbian military personnel. Their privacy is regularly invaded and they are thrown out.

The former JAG and legal expert Fox quotes thinks the military, not the courts, should be making the policy. Interesting since it was Congress who created the policy that was signed into law by the president. And I don’t remember anyone criticizing Congress or President Bill Clinton about interfering with military policy when they instituted it. And isn’t the president the commander-in-chief?

Ouch’s comments to Fox are a lot clearer than those of the policy’s sort-of defender who doesn’t seem to like the policy much anymore.

“It’s a huge deal, I have friends that are serving in Afghanistan right now that are gay and I couldn’t wait to tell them the news,” she told the Fox station before the stay was placed on the ruling.

In her video, Ouch tells gay youth that if they can get by in Lubbock, you can get by anywhere else in the country.

—  David Taffet