Efforts to resurrect local gay Catholic group are misguided

Article on fledgling Dignity Dallas chapter raises questions about why LGBT people would want to be part of a faith that doesn’t accept them

The Feb. 17 Dallas Voice informed us, under the eyebrow “Spirituality,” that some locals are working to re-establish the LGBT Catholic organization, Dignity Dallas.

This is so weird it ranks right up there with Rick Santorum’s assertion that, if one of his daughters was raped and impregnated, he would advise her to make the best of a bad situation.

It ranks right alongside Mitt Romney’s sacred underpants, Newt Gingrich’s moon base and Ron Paul’s un-conservative earmarks.

I do not know Jim Davis, and perhaps he is a very nice man. Certainly, he seems sincere in wanting to re-establish a local branch of Dignity since he is willing to be quoted saying, “I want my name out there.”

Out where? The Catholic Church does not recognize Dignity’s existence. It certainly does not recognize Dignity’s value. The DV article reports that, according to DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke, the group is “still a place to take refuge from the mounting attacks by bishops and the pope.”

Well, isn’t that the problem? Hey, people, the church does not want you. It thinks your sexuality, gender identity and/or gender expression is a choice. It thinks you should turn straight. It thinks you should be celibate. It thinks you should at the very least keep your mouth shut. Not to mention other parts of your anatomy.

Here is some of what the church has to say about LGBT people:

According to published reports, on Oct. 31, 1986, under Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) made public a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

In the letter, he calls homosexuality “a more or less strong tendency … toward an intrinsic moral evil” and “an objective disorder.”

In other words, not only is homosexual activity wrong, but homosexuality itself is wrong. Evil. Disordered. Wrong.

Googling for items related to Catholic positions on homosexuality is fascinating and terrifying. For example, it is fascinating to note the many references to the Book of Genesis and its “creation” of Adam and Eve and their “union” as the basis for heterosexuality and hetero-only marriage. (There is no mention of who wrote the book, though many Catholics and other religions believe it was dictated by God.)

But it is terrifying to read the November 2000 “Statement” issued by the Catholic Medical Association. The statement lists “considerations” — the first being all the bad childhood experiences it alleges turned some of us away from the path of righteousness, including not enough rough-and-tumble play for boys. In a sort of footnote to the list, it alleges that adult women are turned to homosexuality by having an abortion. That’s a new one on me and perhaps on you as well.

The statement then makes “recommendations,” which include this questionable gem: “The priest … is in a unique position to provide specific spiritual assistance to those experiencing same-sex attraction.” Is this a joke? I’m not going there.

In any case, the Catholic Medical Association statement was issued years after the American Psychological Association changed its retrograde position and stated: “The research on homosexuality is very clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity.”

I have nothing against the Roman Catholic Church — nothing against any Abrahamic faith. I simply do not believe the practitioners should be passing judgment on all of us or meddling with marriage and abortion and contraception and military service and workplace rights and intimate relationships among members of our community.

And yet they do, or they try very hard to. So why would any LGBT seek to dignify such patriarchal, paternalistic views? It’s a puzzle.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. Send comments to editor@dallasvoice.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

SPIRITUALITY: Restoring some Dignity to Dallas

Mirroring a national trend, local LGBT Catholic group finds itself in a rebuilding stage

Jim Davis

Jim Davis

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Dignity Dallas, the LGBT Catholic organization, is in a re-forming stage, according to leader Jim Davis.

Davis said he’s been out “beating the bushes to let people know who we are.”

Dignity is not formally recognized by the Catholic Church.

Jon Garinn, Dignity Dallas’ former spiritual leader, said the group once attracted 25 to 35 people to weekly Sunday mass.

But Davis said the group, on the verge of folding, now meets just once a month as it tries to rebuild. One problem, Davis said, has been finding local leaders willing to identify themselves openly and actively promote the group.

“The bishop already doesn’t like us,” Davis said. “What do we care what he says? I want my name out there.”

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said the role of the organization has changed, and the Dallas chapter’s situation isn’t uncommon. She said at one time, Dignity was the first connection a gay Catholic made to the LGBT community.

The organization was often a place of sanctuary — a safe place for LGBT Catholics who were verbally attacked in their parishes. That’s not true anymore.

“The LGBT community has blossomed,” she said. “As Dignity re-forms across the country, it’s taking many shapes and forms.”

But she said that Dignity is still a place for LGBT Catholics to take refuge from the mounting attacks by bishops and the pope that have hurt so many.

“We’re the group who will affirm who you are,” she said. “We’ll marry the couples. We’ll baptize their kids. Dignity is there to support the majority of Catholics who support LGBT rights.”

Duddy-Burke said a study last year indicated that Catholics are less likely to hear anti-LGBT messages from the pulpit than mainstream Protestants or Evangelicals.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released this week showed that more than two-thirds of Catholics believe same-sex couples deserve some sort of relationship recognition, while 44 percent support marriage equality.

But the message from the upper hierarchy is still negative and even getting worse.

“Dignity is the anti-hierarchy,” she said.

The national organization helps local chapters with quarterly leadership calls, a chapter-relations support team, leadership training programs and general exchanges of ideas.

Duddy-Burke said some chapters continue to offer weekly mass while others perform their own service monthly. Some attend a parish together and then go out to brunch as a group. Others maintain activities such as a book-discussion group or supper club.

Davis said the Dallas Dignity group has maintained its monthly supper club at Revlon House, one of the housing units of AIDS Services Dallas.

Duddy-Burke called that “more Catholic than the liturgy” in living the values that the church teaches.

Davis said that many Dignity members attend mass at Holy Trinity Church on Oak Lawn Avenue, where a large portion of the congregation is gay and lesbian. To explain what Dignity means to him, Davis coined the chapter’s motto — “The traditions you love. The acceptance you deserve.”

“I started attending Dignity when I began hearing edicts from Rome,” he said. “My church [parish] wasn’t welcoming either. At the time, I was ready to walk away from the [Catholic] Church.”

He agreed with Duddy-Burke that Dignity speaks for the values of the majority of Catholics who believe in equality for the LGBT community.

“We think it’s important as gay Catholics to hold a mirror up to the Catholic Church and say, ‘There’s no conflict there,’” he said.

Because the local bishop doesn’t support Dignity, Davis said the group has had trouble finding clergy to lead mass. Currently, a monk who lives in the area but is still affiliated with an order in another state and a priest from the Polish National Catholic Church with a parish in Oak Cliff act as its spiritual leaders.

“If the chapter is going to have any effect,” he said, “we have to be in your face.”

Davis wants new members who will let the group’s leaders know what the new Dallas Dignity should do.

Duddy-Burke said that the increasingly hostile rhetoric from the church hierarchy isn’t playing in the pews. DignityUSA is receiving stronger and stronger support from Catholics across the country.

“I’m giving 25 bucks to Dignity,” she said people write her after hearing anti-gay messages from the church, “because I’m not giving it to my parish.”

Dignity Dallas meets the first Sunday of the month at Cathedral of Hope at 5 p.m. For more info, visit DignityDallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay GOP leader says he’d vote for Santorum

Schlein’s comments stand in contrast to statements from national LGBT Republican groups

Rob.Schlein.color.4

Rob Schlein

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Local gay Republican leader Rob Schlein ignited controversy in August by declaring that he’d vote for Texas Gov. Rick Perry over President Barack Obama if Perry wins the GOP nomination, despite the governor’s anti-gay record.

Schlein, president of Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, went a step further this week when he said he’d even support former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum over Obama if Santorum turns out to be the GOP nominee.

Santorum, who has famously compared same-sex marriage to man-dog marriage and is widely considered the most anti-gay candidate in the race, finished in a virtual tie atop this week’s Iowa caucuses with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Schlein said although Metroplex Republicans doesn’t plan to make an endorsement in the GOP race, he now personally supports Romney. But he added that he would vote for Santorum over Obama, even though he doesn’t believe Santorum has any chance of winning the nomination.

“We’re going to all vote for the Republican, no matter who it is, even Rick Santorum,” Schlein said of his group’s members during an interview with Dallas Voice about the Iowa results. “We have to focus right now like a laser beam on the one issue that matters today, and that’s getting the economic house in order. Any Republican, including Rick Santorum, will do a better job than Barack Obama on the economy. It doesn’t matter what anti-LGBT positions he’s taken in the past.”

Schlein’s statements last year about supporting Perry were one factor that led National Log Cabin Republicans to de-charter the group’s Dallas chapter, in which Schlein served as president. And Schlein’s comments about Santorum this week stood in stark contrast to statements from both National Log Cabin and GOProud responding to the Iowa results.

Log Cabin Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper said in a statement issued Wednesday, Jan. 4, that Santorum rose to the top of the caucuses by appealing to “a uniquely socially conservative electorate.”

“As the nomination process moves forward, Log Cabin Republicans suggest all of the candidates reject Santorum’s politics of division and win by focusing on the issues that matter most to Americans — jobs and the economy,” Cooper said. “If using gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge can’t score enough political points to win more than 25 percent in Iowa, it certainly won’t help the Republican nominee in November.”

Asked to respond to Schlein’s comments, the president of the newly rechartered Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, Thomas Purdy, called Santorum “a bad candidate for president for many reasons.”

“Pandering to social conservatives as Santorum has done does not represent a party that champions individual liberty, and nominating Santorum would hurt the GOP by turning off moderates, independents and younger voters,” Purdy said.

GOProud, meanwhile, conspicuously omitted any reference to Santorum from the group’s statement on the Iowa results, instead congratulating only Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, who finished third.

“While there are certainly big differences between Governor Romney and Congressman Paul, especially when it comes to foreign policy, both chose to emphasize issues like the economy and the size of government over demonizing gay people,” GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia said. “We are pleased to see that so many Republicans in Iowa are focused on the issues that unite us as conservatives, instead of the side show issues.”

Schlein’s decision to invite LaSalvia to speak at what was then the Log Cabin chapter’s annual dinner in November was another factor that prompted the national Log Cabin group to oust him. Asked directly this week whether he would support Santorum if he’s the nominee, LaSalvia said in an email, “Asking me if I would support Rick Santorum if he’s the Republican nominee is like asking me if I would support Kim Kardashian if she’s the nominee — they both have about the same chance of getting the nomination!”

Omar Narvaez, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, declined to directly address Schlein’s comments about Santorum.

“I don’t personally know Rob Schlein,” Narvaez said. “Stonewall Democrats of Dallas is committed [to] and focused on re-electing President Barack Obama regardless of who the Republican nominee is.”

Earlier, Narvaez said he was glad Perry had chosen not to drop out of the race, despite the governor’s disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa. Narvaez said the more candidates stay in, the more difficult it will be for any one of them to pull away.

“They’re not cohesive in any way,” Narvaez said of the GOP, “and I think the longer they can’t decide who they are, what they’re trying to do, is better for Democrats everywhere.

“The more they tear each other apart and in-fight and can’t get along, it’s better for Democrats,” he added. “They’re just giving us all the ammunition we’re going to need to fight them later.”

Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, issued a statement Wednesday morning rejoicing in Perry’s poor showing in Iowa, denouncing his “homophobic pandering” and predicting that he “will not be the next president of the United States.”

“Governor Perry’s homophobic pandering did not resonate with Iowa voters just as it does not resonate in Texas,” Equality Texas said in its statement. “As Governor Perry returns to Texas to reflect on his campaign, it is our hope at Equality Texas that he will also reflect on what Texans really want for their state. … It is time our governor recognize that homophobia and transphobia have no place in our great state and he should join in the effort to eradicate them from all public policy.”

After Perry announced that he would remain in the race, Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith told Dallas Voice he believes the governor’s campaign for president could ultimately benefit the LGBT community in his home state.

“It’s easy to show that most people don’t believe that,” Smith said of Perry’s anti-gay views. “He’s at a level of vitriol toward gay people that simply isn’t shared by most people. It potentially broadens the spectrum of Republicans who might be able to come out and say, ‘I don’t go that far.’ … If he gets so extreme that members of his own party feel the need to disavow him, that can only help us.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Spirit of Giving: LGBT community gets into the holiday spirit

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the holiday season kicks into high gear, the LGBT community of North Texas once again is responding in a variety of ways to help out those who are less fortunate.

This week Dallas Voice profiles five events intended to raise funds or other donations for a number of different causes. But the community’s good will doesn’t end with these events.

If you know of an individual, business or organization that is holding or participating in a charitable holiday event or effort, email the information to editor@dallasvoice.com.

TGRA Dallas’ Hard Candy Christmas Show and Auction

Dan-and-Mark

Mark Gurrola, left, and Dan Nagel

While some local charities have experienced major declines in fundraising due to the bad economy, the Dallas chapter of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association has actually seen an increase, according to President Dan Nagel.

“When I was first elected to the board as the chapter’s state rep four years back, my partner Mark Gurrola and I knew there were opportunities for improvement in our organization that were greatly needed,” Nagel said. “With the condition of our economy, change had to occur. Our first goal was to partner with other organizations and businesses in the Dallas GLBT community. There really was no relationship at that time.

“Secondly, our events needed to be produced and promoted better than in the past. Third, the membership had shrunk and needed to grow,” Nagel said. “We have successfully done all three.”

The new and improved TGRA Dallas will again be on display Dec. 10, when the organization hosts its 25th annual Hard Candy Christmas Show and Auction. This year, TGRA Dallas will again team with the United Court of the Lone Star Empire for Hard Candy Christmas.

Nagel said Hard Candy Christmas was started by TGRA Dallas members Tom Davis and Michael Lee, who produced the first show in 1987. That night, a drag queen named “Boo-tee-La-Tits” took the stage and sang “Hardy Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton, Nagel said.

This year, hosts and emcees will be Miss International Gay Rodeo Victoria Weston, Miss TGRA Trisha Davis and Empress XXIII Miss Donna Dumae.

“It’s very Christmas themed,” Nagel said. “Most of the entertainers will do Christmas numbers. There will be a lot of live singers. Not all of it is going to be live, but we try to fill this with 50 percent live vocal talents.”

In addition to 20-25 auction baskets, the event will feature a Christmas tree on which bulbs will be sold until it’s completely lit — and maybe even an elf or two, Nagel said.

“We produce this event basically cost-free,” he said. “Our members will, out of their own pockets, go out and buy stuff and put auction baskets
together, so there’s really no expense. I’d say about 99.9 percent of it will all go to charity. “

TGRA Dallas, part of the 29-year-old TGRA, hosts 10 fundraising events each year — or one every four to six weeks, Nagel said. Each year the chapter’s board votes on beneficiaries for the following year’s events.

For 2011, beneficiaries are Health Services of North Texas, Youth First Texas, Texas Legal Hospice, Legacy Counseling Center, Resource Center Dallas, AIDS Services of Dallas, the Sharon St. Cyr Fund and AIDS Interfaith Network.

TGRA is a nonprofit whose mission is to promote the Western lifestyle, produce rodeos and raise money for charity. And when it comes to the latter, Nagel said the Dallas chapter does it best.

“We’re the only chapter out of TGRA that has these big annual events that have a lot of longevity to them,” Nagel said. “I think here in Dallas we’ve been fortunate, because I’ve seen the other chapters fundraising go down the last three or four years, where ours has gone up.”

TGRA Dallas and the United Court of the Lone Star Empire team up for the Hard Candy Christmas Show and Auction at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

National LCR board ousts Schlein

National organization decharters LCR-Dallas, creates new local chapter; Schlein announces formation of ‘Metroplex Republicans’

Rob Schlein

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Saying that the leadership of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, especially longtime chapter president Rob Schlein, have “engaged in a consistent pattern of behavior that detracts from the mission of our organization,” national Log Cabin Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper announced this week that the previous Dallas chapter has been de-chartered, and a new chapter created.

“After all due consideration and efforts at reconciliation, the [LCR national] board of directors have decided to begin anew, ensuring that our mission of fighting for freedom can be at its strongest in Dallas and across the country,” Cooper said in a statement released late Wednesday, Oct. 12.

Clarke said that a new Dallas chapter has already been chartered and will be led by Thomas Purdy as president and a new board.

Schlein said Thursday, Oct. 13, that he “didn’t see it coming at all. I knew yesterday that something was cooking, and I got the official word this morning.”

Schlein said he believes “the Dallas chapter was kicked out after inviting [GOProud co-founders] Chris Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia to speak at our [upcoming] Grand Old Party.

“We will continue to work on behalf of gay conservatives in Dallas, and the Grand Old Party dinner will go on,” Schlein added. “We are looking forward to putting on a great event with Chris Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia as our guest speakers.”

Barron and LaSalvia, former Log Cabin staffers, started GOProud in early 2009 after leaving Log Cabin because they considered it too centrist.

By last Thursday, Schlein had announced the creation of Metroplex Republicans in an email, saying that he and others in the original Log Cabin Dallas had already been considering disaffiliating with the national organization because of its more centrist views.

He said those members had been prepared to ask the national board for a hearing to “air our grievances” when the national board “pre-empted us” by dechartering the chapter. “A clear majority of our local board wanted a resolution that would keep us under the LCR umbrella. That said, it takes two to tango,” Schlein said.

He criticized the national board for “hand-selecting” Purdy as president of the new chapter rather than waiting “two months for  elections.” And he noted that the local group had started some 30 years ago as “Metroplex Republicans” before affiliating with Log Cabin in 1995.

“This should be seen as an opportunity to grow as we can reach more Republicans in Dallas,” Schlein said. “Our club will continue to welcome those Republicans of all varieties, including gay, straight, black, Hispanic, Asian.”

Purdy, who was on the board of the now-dechartered Log Cabin Dallas chapter, on Wednesday said that the national LCR board felt Schlein had been “leading the Dallas chapter in a direction not congruent with the direction of Log Cabin Republicans as a whole and the national Log Cabin board felt there were no more options in terms of rectifying that  incongruency.”

He said the national board felt that Schlein had refused to adhere to the national organization’s bylaws and follow its direction: “Essentially, the national board of directors has decided to switch out the leadership of the Dallas chapter, and the only means they had of doing that was to decharter the chapter.”

Purdy said “a handful of members” from the previous chapter “chose to pursue a new charter.”

Purdy said his first order of business as president of the newly chartered Dallas LCR chapter will be to “regroup with a new board” and then “draw up some strategic imperatives. … Our main objective for existing is to really foster a more inclusive environment within the Republican Party. That’s where we will focus our efforts.”

While Cooper pointed to “a consistent pattern of behavior” that led to Schlein’s ouster, Schlein said Thursday he believes “the catalyst for dechartering us” was his decision to invite Barron and LaSalvia to speak at the Grand Old Party.

He said “personal rivalries” between the national leaders of Log Cabin and GOProud led the national LCR board to move against him.

Schlein said, “I think it is sad, a real shame, that the two groups that represent gay conservatives can’t work together just because they attack the issues from different perspectives.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Cowboy up!

Full schedule of events planned around IGRA Finals Rodeo in Fort Worth this weekend

Cowboy-1

HANGING ON | One of the most popular events in the IGRA Finals Rodeo is bullriding. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The “best of the best” in the world of LGBT rodeo are coming to North Texas this weekend to dress goats, decorate steers, wrestle steers and ride wild horses and bulls, according to Randy Edlin, president of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association.

A total of 90 competitors will be competing in the 25th World Gay Rodeo Finals, being held Saturday and Sunday at the Watt Arena in the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. They will be representing the 27 local International Gay and Lesbian Rodeo Association affiliates around North America, including two from Texas — Texas Gay Rodeo Association, which has five chapters around the state, and Red River Rodeo Association, based in Aubrey, northeast of Denton.

Edlin said that participation in the IGRA Finals Rodeo is by invitation only. Contestants earn points through the year at regional rodeos, and the top 20 in each event are invited to the World Gay Rodeo Finals.

Edlin will compete in the chute-dogging event, sometimes known as steer wrestling, and in two camp events, the wild drag race and steer decorating.

Dan Nagel, president of the Dallas chapter of TGRA, said the camp events are one of the things that distinguish gay rodeo from traditional rodeo, adding to the entertainment and fun. But the inclusion of the camp events, he said, shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking gay rodeo contestants aren’t as tough as the mainstream rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.

In fact, Nagel said, the caliber of participants in IGRA’s 10 more traditional events are equal to those in any rodeo, and a number of members of TGRA also enter other rodeos.

Another difference between the gay rodeos and mainstream rodeos is that in gay rodeos, men and women may compete in all events.

In mainstream rodeos, you usually only see women competing in barrel racing. In gay rodeos, men race the barrels, too. Chute-dogging is usually a men’s event in the mainstream, but the women are out there wrestling steers, too, at the gay rodeos.

Nagel called those two events two of the most competitive on the circuit.

Gary Miller, owner of Dallas’ Round-Up Saloon who is also a former TGRA president, explained that while men and women compete together in chute-dogging, the top male competitor and the top female competitor both get first place trophy buckles.

Miller encouraged people who might be interested in participating in rodeo come to Fort Worth  to see the sport’s finest athletes and recommended the camp events for those just starting.

“Try goat decorating,” Miller said. “You won’t get hurt and you don’t have to have the skills of riding a horse or roping.”

Nagel agreed that some camp events are great for newcomers. But he called the wild drag race — in which teams of three, with one of the three in drag, work to get their member in drag on a steer and across the finish line in the fastest time — one of the most dangerous events on the circuit.

Miller and his partner, Alan Pierce, have been named honorary grand marshals of the rodeo. Miller joked that it was a role he was getting very used to filling. Two weeks ago, the pair were grand marshals of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

“It’s an honor for us since we’ve been involved since the 1980s,” Miller said.

Miller was among founding members of Texas Gay Rodeo Association in 1985 and served as its first president. Pierce helped form the Houston chapter while working at Bayou Landing, a country-western bar in that city.

The couple met through their work with the rodeo and became owners of the Round-Up in 1998. They celebrated their 26th anniversary this year.

Miller said the Round-Up Saloon sponsors five participants by paying their entry fees. He said rodeo can become an expensive sport, especially
for those traveling with their horses.

“It’s a big deal to trailer one in, especially from the coasts,” Miller said.

He said the trip takes several days because they have to stop every few hours to exercise the horses.

Events connected with the rodeo begin at the Crowne Plaza Fort Worth South, the host hotel, on Friday, Oct. 7. The honorary grand marshals will be presented at a dance at the hotel that evening.

The finals rodeo events begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, then again at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.

“Peak spectator time is noon to 5 p.m.,” Nagel said. “They’ll run slack in the morning.”

“Running slack” means that rather than have all 20 competitors take part in one event twice in one day and declare winners, some of the entries from a variety of events will run in the morning. That way people attending during the peak afternoon hours will get to see the full variety of events.

Winners won’t be named until Sunday evening after each competitor in each event has been scored in that event twice.

In addition to the competitions taking place in the Watt Arena, a vendor area and an entertainment area will be set up in an adjoining building.

Edlin said each regional association has “royalty” — association members who have competed throughout the year and raised money for their associations to claim the Mr., Miss and Ms. Titles — and they will be entertaining throughout the day.

Nagel said that IGRA’s archives of the 35 years of gay rodeo and 25 years of international competition will be on display at the arena as well.

Dance has always been a big part of gay rodeo. Saturday night, a dance competition takes place at the host hotel.

Despite the fact that a Nevada sheriff shut down the finals in 1988 because area residents didn’t want “those type of people” in town, Edlin said the rodeo is a great place to bring kids.

“Gay rodeo is very family-oriented,” Edlin said. “It’s not cut-throat competition.”

Edlin has been involved since 1999.

“Friends took me to a gay rodeo in Calgary and I was hooked,” he said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”

Edlin said gay rodeo is so welcoming and family-oriented that a number of straight people participate in gay rodeo — including his straight son, a two-time Iraq War veteran who competes in chute-dogging and junior bull riding.

Nagel said TGRA has a number of straight members who enjoy the close friendships and fun.

“But the other side of all this is that we give money to the community,” he said.

Last year, the Dallas chapter of TGRA gave $30,000 to eight local groups including Resource Center Dallas and Youth First Texas. This year, he said, they’re already ahead in the amount they’ve collected. They’ll distribute  those funds in March.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

More on Out@NBCUniversal

In  last week’s cover story, I talked with members of the Dallas chapter of the affinity group Out@NBCUniversal, a collective of LGBT employees and straight allies. In it, they talk about how the network has been a sort of work-topia for queer employees and how diversity is encouraged without reservation.

Due to space constraints I couldn’t get more in from members Lauren Wheat and Matthew Simpson, but they had a lot to say about what the group means to them. Simpson, with NBC strategic marketing, and his partner Murad Kirdar, both work for the company. Simpson talked about his reasons for joining the group.

“I joined for a couple of reasons,” Simpson said. “First, I felt it was important for me, as an openly gay employee, to represent Dallas-Fort Worth within the larger footprint of Out@NBCUniversal. While there are thousands of members all across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, the DFW chapter was fairly young and had so much potential to make a difference. Getting involved was the best possible way to for me to help elevate the visibility of the Chapter and learn how other Chapters work to attract, recruit and retain great LGBT talent.

“Second, I’d have to say my partner of 17 years, Murad. While we didn’t meet at NBCUniversal, we now work just 50 feet from each other. As you know, Murad is co-chair of the DFW chapter and I was very excited to see him step up and embrace a leadership role. His excitement, passion and desire to lead on LGBT issues in the community is the reason so many LGBT and straight ally co-workers have joined the chapter.”

—  Rich Lopez

COVER STORY: The social network

LGBTs and straight allies don’t just have a job at the NBC Universal network, they have a haven

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Dallasites know NBC here simply as Channel 5. The big five logo is the place Dallas goes to for must-see TV, Jane McGarry or Saturday Night Live. Most people only see NBC as a channel for entertainment and news, and that is perhaps as it should be.

But look a little closer and you’ll see that the network is also a company that celebrates its diversity, and here in Dallas, the year-old group Out@NBCUniversal has thrived in its short tenure.

“From gay, straight, lesbian — everybody is different in this chapter. This is a very welcoming company and our mission is simple,” said member Murad Kirdar. “Across the hubs, we are working to attract and retain LGBT employees and make this a place where they want to work.”

With just a year and a half under its belt, the Dallas chapter is the newest of currently eight hubs across the country.  As a whole, Out@NBCUniversal is a 25-year-old employee affinity network and also one of the oldest groups of its kind in corporate America.

Among those regional hubs, 1,400 members make up Out at large.

The Dallas hub
There wasn’t a real reason that a hub didn’t exist in Dallas earlier. It just took the initiative of NBC 5 employee Patric Alva to get it going.

Once that proverbial ball began rolling, the group flourished immediately.

“I had met Murad and other LGBT employees and even straight people who considered themselves allies,” Alva said. “I thought, ‘Why not take advantage of this opportunity?’ I thought it was interesting to see the other hubs. So one day it came down to getting it going and rolling.”

“[NBC] was excited when Patric wanted to start this. Once people participated and it became an active hub, it was overflowing with people wanting to join,” Kirdar added. “We do have our jobs and I do find this takes a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it.”

Alva said that not only queer and ally employees were encouraging the group, but that the higher-ups were making efforts to be visible in their support. At the group’s kickoff event at Hotel Zaza, upper management and the station’s general manager all showed up.

This only strengthened Alva’s commitment to the chapter.

Alva and Kirdar speak ebulliently about their work environment and how their company embraces diversity. It’s obvious, even over the phone, the pride they take in how NBC strives to provide healthy surroundings for its employees.

Andrea Krause, coming from a straight perspective, feels the same.

“I can’t ever imagine putting on the conservative hat. I was hesitant that you should have to portray any type of charade, but the minute I walked in, I noticed the diversity,” Krause said.

“Additionally, the company promotes bettering yourself and sponsored me in going to get my MBA,” she added. “I did have intentions on leaving the company but as I came back, I am even more aware how grateful I am to work in these types of surroundings.”

Regardless of identity, each member clearly has his or her own story that adds to the texture of the group. And Kirdar had his own to tell.

“My partner of 17 years works here, too,” he said.

Kirdar and Matthew Simpson worked in Los Angeles, but Kirdar was slated to be transferred to Dallas. The difficulty of that is easy to imagine, but Simpson soon found himself here in Dallas as well, and for the reunited couple, Dallas is far more exciting and hopeful.

At the highest levels
There is that need for quality diversity within most, if not all, high profile corporations. NBCU’s newly-appointed executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Craig Robinson, reports to NBCU CEO Steve Burke, assuring that the network’s intentions of maintaining a high level of diversification reaches to the top of the corporation.

And Robinson, named EVP in August, has an impressive resume with the company, not only as the GM of KNBC in Los Angeles, but also in his active status in  such groups as Asian Pacific-Americans, Black Professionals Alliance and the Out@NBCU groups.

“Craig has been actively involved in many of our diversity programs and his understanding of our company, its people and its culture will be invaluable as we continue our work to establish NBCUniversal as a leader in this area,” Burke said in an August 2011 edition of NBCU Employee Spotlights.

Lauren Wheat, left, Matthew Simpson and partner Murad Kirdar, center, and Patric Alva, right.

 

 

What they do
So what does the group actually do?

Out@NBCUniversal does have its fun social events, fostering fellowship among members. But the group also strives to make an impact on both the community and their coworkers. Whether it’s rainbows or diapers, the Dallas chapter keeps building up its efforts.

As one of its first organized efforts, the group collected 3,500 diapers in a drive for Captain Hope’s Kids, a local nonprofit meeting the needs of homeless children in Dallas.

Other community projects included volunteering at holiday dinners provided by the Resource Center of Dallas and assisting in chaperoning the Gay Prom this past spring — among other efforts.

“This year we were involved with the Trevor Project. The effort to eradicate bullying of all types in schools is making waves one step at a time. Sometimes it is unfortunately a part of home life,” member Lauren Wheat said.

“For NBCUniversal to be a part of the movement that gets the message out that ‘It Gets Better,’ is such an emotional and empowering moment,” Wheat said.

“This year we also increased our membership base with outreach events hosted at our two offices.  Getting to meet and see more people interested in the organization is very exciting,” Alva said.

This is what Alva envisioned.

“First of all, the people that work here are fabulous. Second, this is not just going to clubs and dancing ’til 2 a.m. The group can give back and serve the LGBT community,” Alva said. “That’s been a big positive and educational experience and a big driving factor for me.

“It’s not ‘Kumbaya.’ Plus, our company allows us to meet during work hours. Being that we’re all very limited with personal time, it’s a win-win,” he said.

But perhaps its significant high mark was the group’s celebration of National Pride this past June. NBCU recognized the event across the board and on June 2, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts led a global initiative by teleconference where media outlets everywhere could participate and hear all the different stories of different LGBTs and allies from the different NBC families.

The local group held its own inter-office celebration and with the teleconference, the chapter’s membership doubled.

Queer Utopia?
It’s as if a queer utopia exists, the way these members describe both the company and the group. There isn’t any hint of anyone just saying “the right thing” or maintaining certain demeanor about their workplace.

These men and women — straight and gay — have that one thing all queer Americans want: recognition, only here it’s at work.

“For my partner to work here and be able to give me a hug and it’s not a big deal — I love that,” Kirdar said. “It feels here like we’re all within this one family.”

Alva added, “I just want people to know, first, that we exist and we’re putting our name out there to work with other organizations. And for me, that involvement starts here.”

Without pause, Krause said she knows what Out@NBCUniversal means not just for her, but for the company.

“I don’t think it’s about sexuality,” she said. “There’s no façade. We’re a bunch of people who want to be cohesive and interested. To work for an employer that allows people to be themselves and impact perhaps some of the best years of their lives, it’s wonderful. And my employer promotes that!”

……………………..

NBC employees come together for “It Gets Better”

The Out@NBCUniversal group at NBC all created their own “It Gets Better” video, which was released in April this year. The video is a collective of employees from all over.

Being a television network, the production is stellar and the stories are both uplifting and tear inducing. Without any sense of pandering, the employees strike an optimistic chord that will likely ring true with troubled youth as well as with anyone in search of themselves. The clip also features MSNBC reporter Thomas Roberts.

The video references The Trevor Project for anyone considering suicide or simply in need of help.

One woman sums up her message nicely by saying, “’Cause you can’t have a rainbow without a little bit of rain, so just hold on.”

Watch the video online at DallasVoice.com.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas Log Cabin President Rob Schlein explains why he’d support Gov. Rick Perry for president

Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein
Rob Schlein

A few weeks back we reported that Rob Schlein, president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, plans to support Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president if he’s the Republican nominee — despite Perry’s anti-gay record.

Schlein says he used his regular remarks at the start of Log Cabin’s monthly meeting Monday night to explain why. Below is a transcript:

—  John Wright

Dallas FrontRunners comes out of hiatus

LGBT joggers, runners and walkers may have been dismayed when Dallas FrontRunners fizzled out. But a transplant to Texas took on the task of restarting the group and is now looking to get members to (re)join. And you can start by heading to the new website or searching “Dallas Frontrunners” on Facebook.

Lin Wang sent us the below email about his intentions in restarting the group and the call for people to join:

—  Rich Lopez