The show goes on

Partners in life and in business, Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill travel the world staging theatrical productions for the Army. And they have seen a difference since the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Inside-3

OUT ON BASE | Partners Ken Freehill and Darryl Allara have never hidden their sexual orientation or the fact that they are a couple from the military officials with whom they work. But the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has made things less tense in many military communities, they say. (Photo Courtesy Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill)

David Webb  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

The end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a long time in coming — not only for the estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. Armed Services, but also for others engaged in little-known, supportive roles for active-duty personnel.

Dallas show business couple Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill, who tour the globe as civilian contractors for U.S. Army Entertainment, were as relieved as anyone else last fall when President Barack Obama officially recognized the end of the 18-year-old discriminatory policy. The life partners quietly cheered the Department of Defense memo released Sept. 20 lifting the ban on homosexuality, knowing it would provide a new sense of freedom for both them and the gay and lesbian soldiers they encounter on military installations.

“I think that in the communities we’ve been in, things are less tense,” said Freehill during an interview at their East Dallas home recently while the couple took a holiday break from 202 days on the road in 2011.

“I think maybe those people in the past who may have felt reluctant to talk to us now feel more comfortable in approaching us,” he added.

At the military installations Allara and Freehill visit, there are ample opportunities for one-on-one conversations with soldiers. Both men are judges for the U.S. Army’s Festival of Arts, and in a separate contractual project they stage Murder 101, an interactive comedy tailored to each base using soldiers and their family members and base civilian employees as actors.

“When we walk into a room, there is so much enthusiasm from everyone,” said Freehill, who has 30 years of experience as a director, producer, writer and actor and currently performs in one-man plays locally.

In staging the murder mystery dinner theater productions, the couple meets with volunteers who are interested in performing, assigns them roles, conducts rehearsals, markets the production, directs the shows and appears in the performances — all in one week’s time. It’s a  challenging task with a taxing schedule that they’ve mastered and carried out for 10 years now.

“We’ve been very mission-oriented, bringing theater to where it doesn’t exist,” said Allara, who received a U.S. Army scholarship that led to a degree in theatrical producing and directing after he ended a tour as a medic in Vietnam in 1969.

“By the time the week is over it looks like we’ve been working with them for a month,” Allara said.

Before the ban was lifted, it was a complex situation for Allara and Freehill, who in their roles entertaining, training and evaluating soldiers and their families weren’t subject to the provisions of the military prohibition on being openly gay. They wanted to be honest about themselves, yet not detract from the mission of their work.

“I did feel the policy had to be respected, because we never wanted to put a soldier in an awkward position, and we never wanted to cause anyone to be uncomfortable,” Allara said. “Our whole mission is to bring joy to everyone.”

Even so, the couple knew people would figure out they weren’t the rank-and-file type of civilian workers that soldiers expect to see on military bases, Allara noted.

“We have never encountered overt discrimination,” Allara said. “By the same token, we have never hidden who we are. It’s not a subject we initiate, but we’ve had soldiers talk to us about it.”

Freehill said that during 2011 while the Pentagon implemented the repeal of DADT and conducted related training for military personnel the couple traveled to 37 military installations for 50 events on three continents. They completed their work without experiencing any of the types of discriminatory incidents many naysayers warned would happen in the military if Congress lifted the ban, he said.

“People figure out in short order we’re a couple, and not just a theatrical partnership,” said Freehill, who points out they have been a couple for 32 years. “They see us together. We don’t make a big deal out of it. But they aren’t dumb.”

Freehill said they have always been careful not to give anyone the wrong impression.

“We are not on the make, and we don’t give that vibe off,” Freehill said. “Everyone feels secure. We are never alone with anyone.”

Allara said his experiences with the military have, for the most part, always been positive and no more discriminatory than in any other walk of life.

As a helicopter medic in Vietnam, he got his first taste of show business when he produced theatrical shows for fellow soldiers using what he had learned at a base playhouse during basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

“For lack of a better word it was a M*A*S*H unit, and I was my unit’s Radar O’Reilly,” said Allara, who noted he “screamed all the way” when he was forced to abandon his company clerk duties and fly in the helicopters to combat zones.

Allara said that deplorable conditions in Vietnam inspired him to take on the staging of a show and probably encouraged fellow soldiers to welcome it.

For one show he requisitioned six jeeps and drivers for the use of their headlights in a theatrical production. A stage was fashioned out of an old flatbed truck.

“We had a terrible morale problem,” Allara said. “We were looking for diversion. We needed to find a way to bond everyone together.”

Rather than getting court-martialed for the jeep stunt as he feared might happen, Allara’s amateur shows, including Sorry Wrong Number, brought him praise and requests for productions at other locations, including a production of Stop the World; I Want to Get Off.

Those efforts eventually led to his Army-sponsored scholarship to theatrical school in San Diego.

Allara said it is ironic that his theatrical work in the Army led to his lifelong career because he had no interest in theater in high school. The U.S. military has sponsored entertainment programs for personnel since World War II, and most bases had theatrical playhouses before television viewing became the most popular form of entertainment.

“When I was drafted I had no thoughts about theater at all,” Allara said. “I was picked on as a kid, and standing in front of people performing was the last thing I wanted to do.”

Later, Allara attended graduate school at the University of Arizona where Freehill was an undergraduate, but they never met. Oddly, they discovered later they had participated on a theatrical production at the same time, and they have a playbill with both of their names listed to verify it.

The couple later met in Los Angeles on a theatrical production and became lovers. For a while they operated a show business school together before relocating to Dallas, where Freehill took a job as executive director for the Screen Actors Guild.

It was about that time 17 years ago when Allara resumed his association with the military, accepting a job as a traveling second judge for the Army Festival of the Arts, a 40-year-old organization. The senior judge for the organization with whom Allara worked on a Bicentennial show in 1976 sought him out for the position.

“You meet people in life,” Allara said. “They go out of your life and then they come back.”

When about five years later the senior judge retired, Allara knew he didn’t have to look far for a new second judge. The Screen Actors Guild had relocated from Dallas to another city, leaving Freehill without a job.

So he joined the Army, too, so to speak.

About 10 years ago Allara and Freehill began staging their murder mystery productions for the Army. They first had designed and produced the mystery shows in Los Angeles, and they tried them out on military audiences with success.

An early production took place in Fort Campbell, Ky., where they still command great respect from base officials, volunteers and audiences, according to Linda Howle, director of the base recreation center.

“They are amazing, and they are fantastic,” said Howle in a telephone interview. “They are very creative. Every time I have them here they do a wonderful job, and when they come back it is always an even better performance.”

Allara said one of the reasons that he and Freehill enjoy so much respect from military officials is that they have a reputation for making sure the show will go on, no matter what. Their sexual orientation seems to have mattered little, if any at all, to Army officials in charge of military entertainment.

“They know they have two theater specialists they can send anywhere in the world,” Allara said.

About 15 years ago, Allara said, he met with a commanding officer who wanted to hire him, and he told the official about his relationship with Freehill.

“I knew they were rounding up soldiers and prosecuting them,” Allara said. “I told him I didn’t want it to bite him in the ass later. He thanked me for telling him.”

Allara said one of the reasons he and Freehill work together well as a romantic and a professional couple is that it is also economically advantageous to them. The Army pays them a flat fee for their work, from which all expenses must be deducted, and the arrangement of staying together on trips allows them to save money.

“We are able to keep rates really low for the Army because we share accommodations,” Allara said.

Fees for Allara’s and Freehill’s contracts come from discretionary funds raised by the Army from ticket sales and other enterprise activity, not from tax dollars, according to the show business couple.

The couple said the only hint of discrimination they ever felt during their travels for the military was when hotel staff asked if they wouldn’t prefer separate beds or rooms. Although they’ve never lost a military contract because of their sexual orientation, they did lose a couple in Los Angeles years ago because of it, they said.

“Discrimination is everywhere,” Allara said.  “It doesn’t have to be in the military.”

Allara said that as a combat veteran he sees the greatest benefit of the new policy to gay and lesbian soldiers to be the security of being part or a team, not the advantage of freedom of expression and social acceptance.

“They now will be able to serve their country without worrying about their backs in addition to the enemy in front of them,” Allara said.

For Allara and Freehill, life will continue much as it has for the past decade, together night and day except for when they are out of town on separate judging assignments. It seems natural to wonder whether they might enjoy the occasional break from each other’s company, but that is apparently not the case.

“It’s lonely,” Freehill said. “I admit it. We usually can’t wait to get home to be in each other’s company.”

Allara said that they often debate many subjects related to their work, but they always agree on how they feel about returning home to the company of the best audience anyone could have — the three dogs they rescued.

“It’s like dying and going to heaven for us,” Allara said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Drunken driving takes especially deadly toll during the holidays

Threat even greater for LGBTs, who have higher rates of alcohol abuse

Momentum is building for the last blast of the 2011 holiday season, but not everyone should count on waking up safe and sound in their own bed on New Year’s Day with the traditional celebratory hangover.

The more fortunate partygoers will find themselves on an old friend’s sofa, in bed with a new friend or even in a jail cell with a bunch of strangers. But the less lucky won’t be waking up at all because they will be part of the year’s statistics on impaired driving fatalities.

That’s why U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he kicked off a nationwide crackdown on impaired driving on Dec. 13 in an attempt to remind Americans they risk killing others or themselves if they get behind the wheel drunk or stoned.

Impaired driving fatality statistics for 2010 released by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed a decrease in many states in comparison to the previous year, but 10,228, or one-third, of the fatalities on American highways still involved intoxication.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

The fatality statistics spiked during the second half of December, when drinking traditionally becomes more prevalent apparently because of holiday parties. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 40 percent of traffic deaths during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays involved drunken driving.

The risk increases during the holidays because it is a time when many people uncharacteristically drink to excess and take on one of the characteristics of what is known as hardcore drunken driving.

Hardcore drunken driving refers to anyone who gets behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol account of 0.15 or above, does so repeatedly and is resistant to changing that behavior. For the past decade, fatality statistics show that 70 percent of impaired drivers responsible for the deaths had a blood-alcohol account of 0.15 or higher.

It is an issue of particular concern to the LGBT community because many studies have shown a high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among its members.

In connection with the national anti-drunken driving campaign that carries the slogan, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” alcohol awareness educators are warning revelers to understand how beer, wine and liquor affect the human body.  Many occasional and frequent drinkers apparently harbor misconceptions about the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol impairs coordination, driving skills, reflex time and judgment long before the drinker or anyone else notices signs of intoxication, and it can spark aggression that makes the driver more dangerous on the road.

Even after an individual quits drinking, alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream and affect the brain for hours. Coffee or other caffeine drinks do not reduce the effects of alcohol and do not make the impaired driver any safer. Only time can counteract the detrimental effects of alcohol.

Educators advise party-goers to take a cab or to designate someone to drive who isn’t drinking. Otherwise, anyone planning to get behind the wheel should not have any more than one alcoholic drink per hour, and it would be a good idea for every other drink to be nonalcoholic.

No one should rely on someone else to monitor and take care of then on New Year’s Eve or any other holiday party. No matter whether the reveler is at a private party or a nightclub, the person in charge may be far too busy to notice the drinker is impaired.

The bottom line is that many citizens who typically would not dream of breaking the law risk doing exactly that if they drink to excess and try to drive themselves home. The legal limit is 0.08 in most states these days, and that only amounts to two or three drinks for many people.

Others who have problems with alcohol and other drugs should seek help before they get behind the wheel again and risk the lives of themselves and others.

Anyone who drives drunk this New Year’s Eve risks getting arrested, being jailed, bonding out of jail, hiring a lawyer, going to court, possibly going back to jail, serving probation and making huge financial expenditures. It is estimated that a drunken driving charge costs about $20,000 when all of the expenses — including increased insurance costs —are tallied.

That is the risk if the drunken driver is lucky and doesn’t have an accident resulting in an injury or fatality. In a worse-case scenario, there won’t ever never be an end to the anguish and devastation affecting everyone involved.

That’s cause enough not to ever go there in the first place.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has reported on LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

FEEDBACK: Why treat gossip as news?

Why is the Voice treating gossip as news?

Let’s take a page from an eighth-grade government textbook: In the United States of America, our justice system operates on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Roughly speaking, it means the burden of proof rests on the accuser. Sadly, it seems more and more these days, that everyone is automatically assumed guilty absent of any required proof. This leaves the accuser free to say anything he wants, true or not, while rarely held accountable for the gossip and inaccuracies he perpetuates.  Enter the latest, but not so greatest, gossip monger/exploiter du jour, Glen Maxey (and indirectly, David Webb).

It seems, that after Mr. Maxey’s “thorough” investigation of our governor’s sexuality, the best result he, or anyone else, can produce is the same, old, tired, worthless: “My best friend knows a guy who dated a waiter who is the cousin of a pizza delivery guy who’s mom used to babysit for a guy whose brother in-law used to deliver the mail to this dude who lived next door to Rick Perry in 1992 and has it on good authority …” Bullshit.

Glen Maxey’s words and actions parallel those of another former politician by the name of Joseph McCarthy. Under McCarthy, hundreds of people were accused of being Communist with no proof. They were never given the right to confront their accusers, or see the so-called evidence compiled against them. Lives were ruined with no more than an accusation. Like McCarthy, all Mr. Maxey is doing is waging a smear campaign based on rumor and innuendo. And like McCarthy with his “list” of Communists who had infiltrated the deepest layers of U.S. government, Mr. Maxey claims his own “list” of witnesses and evidence, while he has an even longer list of excuses as to why he can never share it with anyone. Until Mr. Maxey puts his money where his mouth is and can prove what he claims is true, he’s nothing more than a slanderer and libeler. It’s the equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m NO fan of Rick Perry by any means, and the sooner that bastard leaves public office, the better.  However, there’s a much larger issue at play here than Rick Perry’s sex life. Think about it. Anyone with a grudge, or who simply doesn’t like you, can make up any story he wants about you without having to provide a shred of evidence. He can spread those stories around in public, post it online (or publish a book) and it’s all on YOU to prove he’s a liar! Even if successful in proving the accuser a fraud, the seeds of doubt and mistrust have been sowed among your friends, relatives, and associates. Am I the only one who recognizes how screwed up that is?

Anyone reading this knows damn good and well that if this were a situation where Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, or Rush Limbaugh was making similar accusations against any of our revered LGBT civic leaders (accusing Ellen DeGenes of being a pedophile, for example), the LGBT community would be raising hell. Yet, when Glen Maxey does it, everyone’s cool with it? Because we perceive our cause to be noble, we can rationalize being as despicable as the other guys? It just goes to show; red or blue, gay or straight, the excrement smells the same.

Jon Cooper, Dallas

—  John Wright

Activist’s exposé on Perry hits the market

Former legislator Glen Maxey says he was motivated to write about governor’s alleged gay affairs by Perry’s hypocrisy; that he has moved to a ‘safe house’ following threats

TELLING THE TALE | After a story planned for the Huffington Post on Rick Perry’s alleged same-sex affairs was nixed, gay former Texas Rep. Glen Maxey decided to tell the story himself. (Associated Press)

David Webb  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

AUSTIN — Life is changing quickly for gay former Texas Rep. Glen Maxey since the publication last week of his memoir chronicling a five-month investigation of Gov. Rick Perry’s alleged homosexual liaisons with a subordinate, steady boyfriends, anonymous sex partners, a hustler and others.

Prior to the book’s debut Maxey, who returned to activism after leaving the Legislature, had stocked his Austin apartment with food and other supplies, anticipating a period of time when he might want to stay out of sight.

But after his exposé attracted national media attention and outrage from Perry’s conservative religious supporters, Maxey decided to go further underground.

“Got some death threats of the crank level, but have moved to a safe house until it calms down,” Maxey told Dallas Voice in a message via Facebook following a telephone interview over the weekend.

Maxey, who is the only openly gay politician to have ever served in the Texas Legislature, sent the message as he prepared for a Univision interview Monday morning, Dec. 19, and a KLBJ drive-time radio interview that afternoon.

Perry.Rick

Gov. Rick Perry

The “calm before the storm” that Maxey had talked about in the telephone interview apparently has now erupted into a major disturbance.

Head Figure Head – The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry is the product of Maxey’s work with a reporter from The Huffington Post and the frustration he felt when publisher Arianna Huffington killed what the former legislator claims was a completed story approved by editors and ready for publication.

When it became clear the story would never be published, Maxey started writing his book.

In his book Maxey does not name any of the sources he cites that claim knowledge of Perry’s alleged sexual escapades, nor does he
name the Huffington Post reporter, whom he refers to only as the national journalist.

The book was at first only available online, but now is available as a paperback through Amazon.com.

Maxey said other publications were interested in talking to him and his sources about the allegations of extramarital homosexual pursuits by Perry, but both he and the men who claimed to know the governor in the biblical sense were reluctant to start over with a new reporter.

“That was a mountain I couldn’t climb again, and the other folks had the same reaction,” Maxey said. “It’s difficult to get people to talk about sex in general, it’s more difficult to get them to tell their story to a reporter, and it’s an even bigger climb when it’s Rick Perry they are talking about.”

Maxey disputes Huffington’s claim to Politico that the story was never ready for publication, and that there was no real story. The activist claims the publisher killed the story after Perry’s campaign hired famed libel lawyer Lin Wood, and the lawyer wrote a letter to the Huffington Post threatening to sue if the story was published.

Huffington denied that the lawyer’s letter had anything to do with her decision.

But, Maxey said, “Arianna Huffington told a bald-faced lie.”

No response has been received to an e-mail sent by the Dallas Voice to Huffington Post’s media relations department seeking comment on Maxey’s claim.

Maxey concedes a high-priced call boy who claimed to have engaged in sex with Perry and another man for hire in hotel rooms several times never went on the record, even though celebrity attorney Gloria Allred reportedly was signed on to represent him when the story hit. An affidavit signed by the prostitute — whom

Maxey said was feeling “traumatized” by the prospect of going public with his allegations — might have convinced Huffington to go with the story. But the activist maintained there was already enough documentation to justify publication.

Maxey claimed Huffington exercised a “double standard” when she decided against publication of the Perry story, probably on the advice of AOL parent company corporate attorneys. If the story had involved extramarital heterosexual activities, the story would have run, he claimed.

In late August, the Huffington Post reporter, who made several trips to Austin and had contacted the Dallas Voice for information earlier in the investigation, wrote in an e-mail seeking clarification that he was putting finishing touches on the story before it ran.

Some political observers have speculated Perry’s drastic drop in the national opinion polls from frontrunner status might have contributed to Huffington’s decision to kill the story.

Another source familiar with the investigation said it appeared the publisher — for reasons only she knows — was never interested in outing Perry, and the story will never be published. The Huffington Post scribe reportedly indicated he had no problem with Maxey’s book, and that he thought Maxey needed to write it.

For his part, Maxey said that he is not worried about Gov. Perry filing a lawsuit against him, and he doubts anyone from Perry’s camp
will ever contact him. The former legislator also  doubts that he would lose a lawsuit if Perry filed one against him.

“Everything I said in this book is my opinion,” Maxey said. “I believe Rick Perry is homosexual or had relations with gay men. The evidence points to that conclusion.”

Maxey said it is unlikely Perry would file a lawsuit against him because if he did, the governor and his wife, Anita, would be forced to answer questions under oath about the widespread rumor that she caught Perry and another man having sex in the governor’s mansion six years ago.

At the time, a story was widely circulated that the governor’s wife had checked into the luxurious Driskill Hotel in Austin and hired a prominent divorce attorney.

The story became so widespread that Perry and his wife — who typically avoid one-on-one media interviews — sat down with an Austin American-Statesman reporter to refute the tale.

“If Perry was bold or stupid enough to file any action against me, my lawyers would welcome the opportunity,” Maxey said. “I don’t think Perry would take that risk.”

There has been no response to a telephone request by the Dallas Voice for comment from the  Perry campaign.

Maxey said that although he is gaining widespread attention for the book, his only motive in writing it was to expose the alleged hypocrisy of Gov. Perry, who is recognized as the most virulently outspoken anti-gay governor to ever hold office in Texas. The governor’s claim to conservative religious leaders after he announced for the presidency in August that there was nothing in his personal background to embarrass them rankled him, the Maxey said.

“How amazingly hypocritical he was, claiming there would be no scandal,” Maxey said. “It was astonishing to me. That was the impetus for writing the book.”

Maxey said at the time he wrote the book there were only a dozen men known who had claimed to have had sex with Perry. Now, there are twice that many, and new tips come in daily, he said.

“I went into publishing this with no real expectations,” Maxey said. “The story may get retold in a more comprehensive way, and people can make their own decisions about it. I think the rest of this will play out in the public discussion.”

Maxey said one thing is for certain: Perry will be a bigger enemy to the state’s LGBT community than he ever has before if his bid for the presidency continues on its failure track and he returns to Texas. The activist said he wouldn’t be surprised if Perry attempted to call the Texas Legislature into emergency session on an anti-LGBT initiative to pacify his conservative religious supporters.

“When you see a snake in the grass, you chop off its head,” Maxey said. “I believe this snake is coming back to Texas. He is going to be a meaner snake. He will have something to prove. He will take it out on gay people.”

And that threat is likely to keep Maxey, the author and the activist, busy on his anti-Perry campaign for a very long time.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  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

Another misstep for Perry’s campaign

 

Hateful bigotry of Texas governor’s presidential campaign ad is surpassed only by its asininity

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Just when I thought the 2012 Rick Perry for President campaign couldn’t get any nuttier, guess what? Yep, it managed to get sillier with the release of Gov. Perry’s campaign video attacking openly gay and lesbian members of the U.S. Armed Services.

Never mind that in the video dubbed “Strong” Perry is wearing the same type of tan Carhartt ranch coat actor Heath Ledger wore in the gay romance movie Brokeback Mountain, and that the video’s musical score was inspired by gay American composer Aaron Copland. The message is ridiculous, and the video’s distinction of registering more than half a million “dislikes” (646,000 dislikes to 20,000 likes) is probably attributable as much to its asininity as its hateful bigotry.

Facing the camera, against a wooded backdrop that conjures images of the big gay movie’s outdoor scenes, Perry declares that he is not “ashamed to admit” he is a Christian.

“You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that something is wrong when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas and pray in schools,” he declares.

Perry adds that as president he would “end Obama’s war on religion” and “fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

Aside from the imagery and the music of the video making Perry and his campaign staff again look like fools, the idea that openly gay and lesbian members of the military somehow undermine Christianity is ludicrous. Or are children supposed to resent gay and lesbian soldiers because they get to go off and fight wars while they are stuck at school, unable to pray out loud?

I doubt that it will come as a shock to Perry, his staff, the voting public or even school children that there are openly gay and lesbian people working in every level of local, state and federal government and private business — even churches — without harm to Christianity. Yet for some reason they expect everyone to swallow the notion that openly gay and lesbian members of the military will put the nation under the control of pagans.

What about openly gay and lesbian soldiers who observe Christianity by going to church, reading their Bibles and praying? Are they to be the demise of their own religion?

And do U.S. citizens who are Jewish or members of other faiths matter at all to Perry and his campaign staff? Under the Perry plan, are the children of those citizens to be indoctrinated into Christianity?

As to Perry’s promise in the video’s closing, it would be news to everybody if it were learned President Obama had declared a war on religion. Those laws regulating Christmas displays and school prayer were put in motion decades ago, a long time before Obama ever thought about running for political office.

Open prayer in school was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 when Perry was in grade school. Surely he remembers.

Ultimately, I can’t imagine many people viewing the overturn of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which was supported by a majority of the American public, enacted by Congress and signed into law by Obama, as an assault on Christianity.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week that Obama was probably not aware of the Perry campaign video claiming he had declared war on Christianity, but regardless the president is proud of his support of LGBT issues.

The video looks like evidence of the Perry campaign’s desperation following the governor’s disintegration in national polls since his announcement in August he would run for president. Perry dropped from a double-digit front leader status to 5 percent following a series of debate missteps and disastrous public appearances that showed him to be outmatched on the debate stage by every other Republican in the campaign.

A new American Research Poll shows Perry now has 13 percentage points in Iowa, the first primary state. But he still is in back of the pack, far behind Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Regardless of where Perry goes in the polls, I’m confident he will again sabotage himself in some manner, unless he has an undercover gay or lesbian person on his campaign staff doing it for him.

Speaking of which, after Perry’s anti-gay ad was released, leaders from the gay Republican group GOProud outed one of the campaign’s consultants as gay. It was later learned that the consultant, Tony Fabrizio, had written an email prior to the ad’s release calling it “nuts.”

But aside from that effort and the obvious aspect of Fabrizio being a traitor who apparently has sacrificed the LGBT community to make a few bucks for himself, he doesn’t appear to have been doing a good job of using his expertise as a gay man to help Perry navigate difficult waters. Who will ever forget the image of Perry deep-throating a corn dog at an Iowa state fair while Romney graciously nibbled on his?

What were they thinking when they handed a corn dog to Perry, who has been fighting rumors that he is secretly gay for years?

In fact, a common question today is, “How did he ever go so far in Texas politics?”

There is only one group of people — other than personal friends, relatives and other beneficiaries of the governor’s influence as an elected official — to whom Perry still appeals: That is conservative Christians who put their religious beliefs ahead of every other consideration, regardless of whose rights get trampled upon in the process.

No wonder Perry released such a video and continues to offer it on his campaign website, but I don’t think there are enough of them to vote him into office.

Many people who started off supporting Perry have now fled from his camp, saying that his performance as a presidential candidate has brought about a national embarrassment. The worst part of it is that there is no telling what Perry and his campaign will do next. But it’s bound to be a dilly.

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 http://therarereporter.blogspot.com.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Knowing the stats, finding help

Despite the perception, suicide rate is usually down during the holidays. But the statistics are still alarming

One of the biggest myths about suicide apparently is that people are more likely to kill themselves during the Christmas holidays. That’s what I had always thought. But now I know I was misinformed about that and much more related to suicide.

It turns out the month of December actually has the lowest number of suicides during the year, and spring and fall months have the highest incidence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is speculated that people who might be suicidal think less about killing themselves during the holidays because increased social activity distracts them from their thoughts.

The federal agency recently released the results of its study of suicidal thoughts and behavior in adults for the years 2008-09. The report, which reveals that someone kills him or herself every 15 minutes in the U.S., provides some interesting statistics about suicidal thought. It is the first report to present such data state by state.

One of the more interesting findings of the study is that suicidal thought and behavior vary widely from state to state. About 2.2 million adults — representing 1 percent of the nation’s adult population — acknowledged making plans in the study year to commit suicide, ranging from 0.01 percent of that number living in Georgia to 2.8 percent in Rhode Island.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

About 1 million adults reported attempting suicide, ranging from 0.01 percent in Delaware and Georgia to 1.5 percent in Rhode Island.

The report’s researchers concluded that adults in the Midwest and West were more likely to think about suicide than those in the Northeast and South. Adults in the Midwest were more likely to make plans to commit suicide than those in the South, but suicide attempts did not vary by the four regions.

The variance among the states’ statistics is peculiar, but suicide statistics in general seem to be perplexing. As in the case of loved ones who are often left wondering why victims killed themselves, researchers must try to make sense of the data the victims’ deaths leave behind.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that four men commit suicide for every woman who kills herself, as was reflected in the 2008 statistics when 28,450 men succeeded in killing themselves compared to 7,585 women.

Yet women reportedly attempt suicide three times as often as men.

By age, suicide is the sixth leading cause of death for children 5-to-14 years old, and it is the third leading cause of death for people 15-to-24 years old. Rates of suicide among adult men rise with advancing age, and men 65 and older are seven times more likely than women to commit suicide.
Women are most likely to commit suicide between the ages of 45 and 54, and then again after age 75.

By ethnic groups and race, the highest rates are seen among Native Americans, Alaskan-Americans and Anglos. The lowest rates are seen among Latinos and African-Americans who commit suicide at rates of less than half of what is seen in the other groups.

People diagnosed with AIDS are 20 times more likely to commit suicide, according to the foundation.

Among LGBT people the reports of suicide attempts are significantly higher in comparison to straight people in similar socio-economic and age groups, according to the report “Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations.” The report published by the 2011 Movement Advancement Project notes that statistical information about suicides among LGBT people is scarce.

Indeed, most of the statistics about suicidal behavior and suicide seem to create more questions than they facilitate understanding, but researchers have identified certain constants.

People who kill themselves are most likely to use a firearm in the process; their deaths are likely to occur after they have made an average of 11 previous suicide attempts; they might suffer from major depression; they may abuse alcohol and other drugs, and they could be victims of bullying, physical abuse or sexual abuse.

There are preventive measures that can be taken if someone is in crisis and at risk of suicide, and it is a good idea to be prepared for such an event. The strongest indicator of a suicide risk is a previous attempt or ongoing expressions of intense distress and despair. Those people must never be left alone, and they should immediately be afforded mental health treatment.

Psychotherapy has helped people who are at risk of suicide survive, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment can succeed in saving lives that seemed destined for destruction.

And even though it turns out the holidays are not a time when people are most at risk for planning or attempting suicide, the myth has created an opportunity to raise awareness about a preventable tragedy for both the potential victims and their loved ones.

After all, there often are no second chances when it comes to a risk of suicide.

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 at http://facebook.com/TheRareReporter.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Putting our children at risk

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Child sexual abuse a concern for everyone, especially LGBT parents

Most people would probably agree there is no resource that a society cherishes more than its children. So it is hard to fathom how sexual predators manage with such apparent ease to carry out horrendous, undetected assaults on children practically under the noses of their families and others who are charged with their protection.

As horrific as the crime of child sexual abuse is, there are no firm estimates of its prevalence because it often goes undetected and is seriously underreported, according to agencies that study child abuse.

Less than 100,000 crimes of sexual abuse are reported each year because children fear telling anyone, and adults who become aware of the activity are often reluctant to contact law enforcement agencies, even though there is usually a legal requirement to do so.

With so many LGBT households now raising children, it is obviously vital that all parents be aware of the tactics used by sexual predators to seduce children without arousing the suspicion of their families, and aware of the symptoms victims of child sexual abuse exhibit.

The critical need for sustained intervention into child sexual abuse recently gained national attention following a grand jury’s indictment of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight victims over a 15-year period. The victims reportedly came into contact with the now 67-year-old, married Sandusky in connection with the Second Mile, a children’s charity the former football coach founded.

Although Sandusky denied, this week in an NBC interview, engaging in any type of sexual activity with the pre-pubescent boys, he acknowledged showering and “horsing around” with them after exercise. He also admitted hugging young boys and putting his hand on their legs when they sat next to him.

His admissions shocked viewers and confirmed in many minds what was already suspected — Sandusky is most likely a pedophile that has taken advantage of young boys with the unwitting complicity of their families.

It is a devastating scandal that will likely rival the one that rocked the Catholic Church a decade ago when it became known that untold numbers of Catholic Church priests sexually abused young boys and violated the trust of their families.

If the charges against Sandusky are true, the accounts by the victims portray a classic pattern of enticement and betrayal practiced by the former football coach in his pursuit of the young boys. Likewise, the lack of action by those who knew about Sandusky’s alleged criminal activity parallel what often happens when the abuser commands power and respect in a community.

Much of the difficulty in combating child sexual abuse can be attributed to its relative youth in terms of public awareness about the crime. The first studies on the molestation of children began in the 1920s, and the first estimate of the prevalence of the crime was reported in 1948.

In 1974 the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was founded, and the Child Abuse and Treatment Act was created. Since then, awareness about the problem has grown dramatically, and much more is known about deterring the crime and assisting victims of it.

Children’s advocates have identified “red flags” to help parents and others protect children from sexual predators. They warn parents to be wary of someone who wants to spend more time with their children than they do, who attempts to be alone with a child, who frequently seeks physical closeness to a child such as hugging or touching, who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child, who seems to prefer the company of children to people their own age, who lacks boundaries, who regularly offers to babysit,who often gives presents or  money to children, who frequently walks in on children in bathrooms or locker rooms, who frequents parks where children gather, who makes inappropriate comments about a child’s appearance or who likes to photograph children.

Signs of possible sexual abuse in children include a fear of people, places or activities, reluctance to undress, disturbed sleep, mood swings, excessive crying, fear of being touched, loss of appetite, a drastic change in school performance, bizarre themes in drawing, sexually acting out on other children, advanced sexual knowledge, use of new words for private body parts and a reversion to old behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking.

Aside from the moral responsibility to protect children and other weaker members of society that all people share, it is essential to intervene in child sexual abuse because of the long-lasting psychological damage it usually causes. The problems can include feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and distorted views of sexuality.

Also, victims of child sexual abuse tend to become sexual predators as adults, making it a crime that begets more crime.

The Sandusky scandal will undoubtedly lead to devastating repercussions for Penn State, for the Second Mile charity with which the former football coach is no longer affiliated and for law enforcement and university officials who became aware of concerns about the former football coach’s activities and failed to act on them.

But the real tragedy — if the allegations are true — will be the lasting impact upon the victims.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.        

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

—  Michael Stephens

Republican candidates: Obama’s biggest plus

Herman Cain and Gov. Rick Perry

Herman Cain and Gov. Rick Perry

 

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

One after another, Republican presidential candidates seem determined to self-destruct, which puts the Democratic incumbent ahead of the pack

Anyone wanting to see President Barack Obama serve a second term in the White House for the sake of LGBT equality has got to be feeling pretty good about now as his Republican challengers struggle to survive what must be one of the most peculiar national campaign seasons ever.

When the Republican candidates aren’t self-destructing in mass, they appear to be too busy destroying each other to make any headway with the nation’s voters.

Herman Cain, the black, anti-gay Georgia businessman who has led the pack of Republican contenders for president in recent weeks, likely will soon suffer a steep plunge in opinion polls as a result of several women telling the New York Times and other members of the media he sexually harassed them years ago.

Cain calls the allegations “baseless,” but Republican heavyweights, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are showing signs of nervousness and demanding answers as the controversy persists and the number of allegations grows.

Cain attempted at first to brush off the allegations by refusing to discuss them with the media. But that strategy obviously collapsed earlier this week when he finally called a press conference on the campaign trail near Phoenix to answer the charges. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO denied guilt and defiantly vowed to remain in the presidential race.

In a debate with the other Republican candidates this week in Michigan, Cain insisted the sexual harassment allegations would not affect his campaign. He cited a continuing flow of campaign contributions from his supporters as proof of his invincibility.

That resolve could dissipate though if more details of Cain’s alleged improprieties emerge: Two of four women whom Cain allegedly sexually harassed when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s have spoken out publicly. And a fifth report has emerged that he made a woman with whom he dined uncomfortable by allegedly asking her for an introduction to another woman — in addition to sticking her for an $800 bill for two bottles of wine. The dinner followed a speech Cain gave to USAID in Egypt in 2002, according to the Washington Examiner.

Although Cain and his handlers no doubt thought that trying to ignore the controversy might make it go away, he instead came off to many as arrogant and inept.

Things aren’t going any better for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who quickly ascended in the polls after he announced his candidacy for president earlier in the fall. But Perry, another major foe of the LGBT community, fell to the bottom just as fast after giving a series of poor debate performances with other GOP candidates.

The governor continued his fall from grace when he spoke at an event in New Hampshire recently and appeared to be under the influence of some sort of intoxicant, although he issued a denial and attributed the odd behavior to a casual speaking style he had adopted for the evening.

In the Republican debate this week Perry again stumbled by not being able to remember the name of a federal agency he wanted to eliminate if he were elected president. Before the debate Cain’s answer to the sexual harassment question was expected to dominate news coverage afterwards, but Perry’s slip-up instead became the lead.

It was Cain’s second break of the evening during the debate. Earlier, Romney had declined to answer a question about whether he thought Cain was unfit for the presidency because of the sexual harassment allegations.

The problems stunting the Cain and Perry campaigns ordinarily would work to the advantage of the other major Republican contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but the savagery the other GOP candidates’ campaigns will inflict on him in coming months no doubt will offset the advantage.

Political analysts expect Romney, who also demanded answers from Cain this week, will be portrayed in multi-millions of dollars’ worth of advertising as a flip-flopper who can’t be trusted by Republican voters.

For that matter, LGBT voters probably can’t trust Romney either — and we certainly cannot trust Cain or Perry, who already have made it clear they would not support gay rights issues.

In the case of Romney, he does indeed appear to have flip-flopped on issues. Although he once seemed supportive of the LGBT community when he was the governor of Massachusetts, there’s no telling what stand he might take in an effort to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.

As for Perry, his disdain for the LGBT community is well known in Texas. He has long fought rumors that he is secretly gay, and that could be part of the reason for his vehement opposition to any LGBT human rights advances. It was for that reason the picture of him going down on a corn dog at a state fair made him the laughing stock of the country.

Likewise, Cain has already vowed to reverse any gay rights gains seen during Obama’s administration, and the revelations about his alleged sexual harassment of women should concern all LGBT voters. If he repeatedly treated women over whom he had power with disrespect, it’s unlikely that he showed any mercy to gay and lesbian associates he encountered.

But despite the dangers the three major Republican candidates pose to the gay rights movement, the one who wins the nomination will enjoy significant LGBT support. Many LGBT voters believe the Republican Party’s policies regarding the economy, national defense and other issues represent the best course for the country — regardless of the impact on the gay rights movement.

The saving grace for gay rights activists who want to see Obama remain in office is that the Republican Party has failed to come up with a candidate to electrify the nation’s voters. As discouraging as the country’s economic situation remains, Obama continues to outpoll other candidates and would likely win the election if it were held today.

And — at least at this time — it appears unlikely any of the Republican candidates are going to change that scenario by Election Day next year.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November, 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The dangers of conversion therapy

Southern Poverty Law Center, Truth Wins Out join forces to shine a light into the darkness of those who try to change others’ orientation

Imagine being told your lifetime of thoughts and feelings were unacceptable, and that what you think and feel in the future would need to be remolded to conform to what others consider acceptable.

That’s the reality of conversion therapy, an unscientific methodology rooted in conservative Christian philosophy that is designed to reorient homosexuality to heterosexuality.

Conversion therapy is condemned by all major medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling groups. Yet fundamentalist religious leaders advocate its widespread practice to “cure” homosexuality. They recommend this treatment for both adults and for gay and lesbian teenagers, who are often forced into the therapy against their will.

Opposition to conversion therapy is strong in the LGBT community, and it gained even more momentum recently when the Southern Poverty Law

Center and Truth Wins Out joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign to counter proponents of the controversial therapy.

David-Webb

David Webb - The Rare Reporter

The prestigious civil rights group — SPLC — and the LGBT rights organization — TWO — scheduled a series of community meetings in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for former patients of the therapy to share their stories. One of the campaign’s goals is to seek help from community activists and elected leaders in monitoring and evaluating local conversion therapy programs.

For most people, the notion of conversion therapy achieving any measure of success would probably be laughable if it were not so destructive to those who are exposed to it. Critics of the therapy warn that individuals who undergo it often suffer anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts — in addition to retaining their sexual orientation.

The radical therapy is reminiscent of unscrupulous scientific experiments from previous decades that horrified the world when they came to light. In those events groups of scientists in the U.S. and other countries carried out hideous psychological and medical experiments using as their subjects prisoners, orphans, mental patients, minorities and other powerless people.

Through my work as a journalist I have met several individuals over the years that underwent conversion therapy. Without exception, all reported the therapy caused them more anguish than they felt before receiving it.

One person — who was raised by a domineering, Bible-obsessed mother — was sent from his East Coast home when he was in his 20s to a conversion therapy treatment program in, of all places, San Francisco, the gay capital of the U.S. It’s not difficult to figure out what happened there.

The group of like-minded individuals in the program reportedly had the time of their life when the lights went out at night, and at one point they went over the wall to see the sights of Baghdad on the Bay.

Again, the lack of logic is humorous, but the therapy left the young man and his family, which had expected him to return home “cured,” more troubled than ever.

In subsequent years he engaged in the abuse of alcohol and illegal substances, promiscuity and criminal activity.

His mother drifted into a state of denial and, even though her son contracted the HIV virus, she maintained that he did not engage in sex with other men.

The last I heard, the man was still allowing his mother to run his life, which she has dedicated to ensuring would not include the company of a male partner.

In another case, a man in his 30s sought help from a counselor whose facility was located on the campus of a large mainstream church. Placing his trust in the counselor — in part because he supposedly was a straight, married man — the patient participated in a bizarre treatment program that involved the patient removing his clothes during the sessions. The “treatment” eventually progressed to the counselor instructing the patient to perform oral sex upon him.

Eventually, the patient came to his senses, reported the counselor to law enforcement officials and filed a lawsuit against him. The patient suffered severe psychological problems as a result of the contact with the counselor, but he recovered through the help of a traditional counselor who helped him accept his sexual orientation.

The last time I heard from the patient he was attempting to get on with his life as a gay man and had met someone with whom he was trying to bond.

The files of Truth Wins Out are full of stories of unscrupulous conversion therapists who masquerade as professional counselors, when in fact they are what the organization’s founder, Wayne Besen, refers to as “quacks.”

Besen has also cornered advocates of conversion therapy who claim to be “ex-gay” in gay bars and exposed others as frauds because they still engage in homosexual activity.

The influence of the powerful Southern Poverty Law Center — which is best known for its work in waging successful legal fights against violent white supremacist groups — will likely help Besen spread his message to an audience that he might not have otherwise reached. The nonprofit group’s Teaching Tolerance project has received high praise for its outreach.

As regards religious leaders who recommend conversion therapy, they are doing neither the individuals nor their families any favors. Coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation — for both gay men and lesbians and their family members — is challenging enough without the interference of religious leaders who apparently are less concerned with the welfare of the individual than they are in demanding observance of antiquated religious laws.

For gays or lesbians attempting to deny their sexual orientation, it might be useful to learn a lesson from the legions of people who have already struggled with the same issue and finally came to realize that a person’s basic nature cannot be transformed.                                              •

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas