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

Boy Scouts boot lesbian mom, troop leader

We already know that the Boy Scouts of America can and will kick out gay Scouts and Scout leaders. Lawsuits against the Scouts date back to 1981 when 18-year-old gay former Scout Tim Curran sued for the right to be a Scoutmaster. And in each case, courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled that the Scouts have the right to exclude gays.

That discriminatory policy was in the spotlight here locally again when gay father Jon Langbert was “decommissioned” from his role as the “Popcorn Colonel” — leader of the annual effort to raise money by selling popcorn — for his son’s Cub Scout troup.

Now there’s this story to prove that the Boy Scouts’ homophobia isn’t gender specific.

After six years playing an active role in her son’s Boy Scout troup in Potomac Falls, Va., Denise Steele has been kicked out after another Scout’s mother discovered Steele is a lesbian.

Steele started out as a den leader for her son’s Cub Scout troop in elementary school when no one else would do it. Over the next six years, according to the Loudon Times, Steele’s son’s troop excelled at everything, winning the Blue and Gold Award — one of Scouting’s highest awards — for five years running. And when her son moved on up to the Boy Scouts, Steele moved with him.

All was fine until June this year when Steele accompanied her son and his troop on a Saturday-through-Monday camping trip. Because Steele had to work on Monday, her partner, Jackie Funk, showed up on Sunday night to pick her up. Assistant Scout Master Skip Inabinett then asked who the woman was that picked Steele up, and when she found out that Steele is a lesbian, and the woman giving her a ride was her partner, everything changed.

—  admin

Reid pledges lame duck vote on DADT repeal

President urges Levin to bring DADT repeal back, but Levin wants to see results of Pentagon study first

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” will return to the Senate floor following the Thanksgiving recess, but whether repeal advocates can muster the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected Republican-led filibuster of the measure is another question.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, confirmed Wednesday, Nov. 17, that he will bring DADT repeal back to the floor as part of the National Defense Authorization Act during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“During the work period following the Thanksgiving holidays, I will bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor, including a repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’” Reid said in a statement. “Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces. We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”

Reid’s announcement came on the heels of a meeting about DADT repeal involving representatives from national LGBT groups, along with top officials from the White House and the majority leader’s office.

“The officials told the groups that Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama are committed to moving forward on repeal by bringing the National Defense Authorization Act — the bill to which ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ repeal is attached — to the floor in the lame duck session after the Thanksgiving recess,” read a joint statement from the Human Rights Campaign, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Center For American Progress. “Further the majority leader and the president made clear their opposition to removing the DADT provision from the NDAA. Information on the exact timing and procedural conditions will be announced by the Majority Leader’s office.”

Those who met with representatives from the three groups were Jim Messina, deputy White House chief of staff; Phil Schiliro, White House director of legislative affairs; Chris Kang, special assistant to the president for legislative affairs; Brian Bond, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; David Krone, chief of staff to Reid; and Serena Hoy, senior counsel to Reid.

Reid also said Wednesday that he plans to introduce the Dream Act, a controversial immigration reform measure, as a separate bill this time. Some Senators who voted to block debate on the NDAA in September cited their opposition to the Dream Act, which had been attached to the bill along with DADT repeal.

Also Wednesday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama had contacted Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to urge him to move forward with DADT repeal.

“Today, President Obama called Chairman Levin to reiterate his commitment on keeping the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the National Defense Authorization Act, and the need for the Senate to pass this legislation during the lame duck,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement. “The president’s call follows the outreach over the past week by the White House to dozens of senators from both sides of the aisle on this issue.”

Levin said in a statement that he wants to await the results of a Pentagon study on DADT repeal, which are due Dec. 1, before moving forward. Some Senators have said they will not vote to repeal the 17-year-old ban on open service until they can review the study results.

“I will work hard to overcome the filibuster so that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is repealed and the NDAA  — which is critical to our national security and the well-being of our troops — is adopted,” Levin said. “I have asked Senator Reid to make his motion to bring up the matter after my committee and the public have received the defense department’s report and following the hearings that I plan to hold on the matter, which should take place during the first few days of December.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Senate to take up DADT repeal in December

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” will return to the Senate floor following the Thanksgiving recess, but whether repeal advocates can muster the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected Republican-led filibuster of the measure is another question.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, confirmed Wednesday, Nov. 17, that he will bring DADT repeal back to the floor as part of the National Defense Authorization Act during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“During the work period following the Thanksgiving holidays, I will bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor, including a repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’” Reid said in a statement. “Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces. We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”

Reid’s announcement came on the heels of a meeting about DADT repeal involving representatives from national LGBT groups, along with top officials from the White House and the majority leader’s office.

“The officials told the groups that Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama are committed to moving forward on repeal by bringing the National Defense Authorization Act — the bill to which ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ repeal is attached — to the floor in the lame duck session after the Thanksgiving recess,” read a joint statement from the Human Rights Campaign, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Center For American Progress. “Further the majority leader and the president made clear their opposition to removing the DADT provision from the NDAA. Information on the exact timing and procedural conditions will be announced by the Majority Leader’s office.”

Those who met with representatives from the three groups were Jim Messina, deputy White House chief of staff; Phil Schiliro, White House director of legislative affairs; Chris Kang, special assistant to the president for legislative affairs; Brian Bond, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; David Krone, chief of staff to Reid; and Serena Hoy, senior counsel to Reid.

Reid also said Wednesday that he plans to introduce the Dream Act, a controversial immigration reform measure, as a separate bill this time. Some Senators who voted to block debate on the NDAA in September cited their opposition to the Dream Act, which had been attached to the bill along with DADT repeal.

Also Wednesday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama had contacted Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to urge him to move forward with DADT repeal.

“Today, President Obama called Chairman Levin to reiterate his commitment on keeping the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the National Defense Authorization Act, and the need for the Senate to pass this legislation during the lame duck,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement. “The president’s call follows the outreach over the past week by the White House to dozens of senators from both sides of the aisle on this issue.”

Levin said in a statement that he wants to await the results of a Pentagon study on DADT repeal, which are due Dec. 1, before moving forward. Some Senators have said they will not vote to repeal the 17-year-old ban on open service until they can review the study results.

“I will work hard to overcome the filibuster so that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is repealed and the NDAA  — which is critical to our national security and the well-being of our troops — is adopted,” Levin said. “I have asked Senator Reid to make his motion to bring up the matter after my committee and the public have received the defense department’s report and following the hearings that I plan to hold on the matter, which should take place during the first few days of December.”

—  John Wright

Gay dad can’t be Scout leader in University Park

Jon Langbert and his son, Carter (Courtesy of Jon Langbert)

Jon Langbert, a gay father of triplets who lives in University Park, has been told that he can’t serve as a leader in his 9-year-old son’s Cub Scout troop.

For the last two years, Langbert has been in charge of the popcorn sales fundraiser for Pack 70 at University Park Elementary, according to Park Cities People. In 2009, Langbert helped the troop raise $13,000, up from $4,000 the previous year. And in September of this year, Langbert and his son, Carter, were invited to recruit new scouts on the school’s morning televised announcements.

But then someone complained about Langbert’s “homosexuality.” And now he’s been told he can’t wear his Scout leader T-shirt or serve in a leadership position, according to The Dallas Morning News:

“What message does that send to my son? It says I’m a second-class citizen,” Langbert said.

Robert McTaggart, the Cubmaster for Pack 70, said Langbert will be allowed to continue as a popcorn fundraiser. That position is not considered a leadership role and can be held by a volunteer.

The Boys Scouts of America has had a long-standing policy that rejects leaders who are gay or atheist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the organization’s rules in a 5-4 decision.

“Our policy is not meant to serve as social commentary outside the Scout program,” said Pat Currie of the Circle 10 Council, the umbrella organization that oversees Pack 70. “We respect people who have a different opinion from us. We just hope those same people will respect our right to have a different opinion.”

Langbert says he plans to stay on with this year’s popcorn fundraising campaign. But he’s also contacted attorneys and plans to challenge the Cub Scouts’ decision in court. He noted that the Highland Park school district, which includes UP elementary, allows the troop to use its property despite the discriminatory policy.

Langbert and his partner were featured on 20/20 several years ago, when they lived in New York. Langbert, described as a wildly successful entrepreneur, is the father of triplets, two girls and a boy, who were conceived with donor and surrogate mothers using vitro fertilization.

UPDATE: A commenter below points us to the website for Scouting for All. Here’s their mission statement: “THE MISSION of Scouting For All, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is to advocate on behalf of its members and supporters for the restoration of the traditionally unbiased values of Scouting as expressed and embodied in the Scout Oath & the Scout Law, and to influence the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to serve and include as participating members ALL youth and adult leaders, regardless of their spiritual belief, gender, or sexual orientation.”

—  John Wright

Miss. school district asks judge to throw out suit from lesbian whose photo was left out of yearbook

Ceara Sturgis

SHELIA BYRD  |  Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — A school district wants a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by a lesbian who claimed her rights were violated because the senior photograph of her in a tuxedo was left out of the high school yearbook.

The Copiah County School District said in court documents that Ceara Sturgis didn’t identify a constitutional right that had been violated in the suit filed in August.

“Ms. Sturgis has no constitutionally protected right to appear in the yearbook at all, let alone in a protected right to appear in the senior photo section wearing a tuxedo,” according to the documents filed Friday, Oct. 1.

The district has asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball to dismiss the case, and referenced a similar 2002 lawsuit in Florida that had been dismissed by a federal judge. That case, though, was later appealed and a settlement was reached.

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on Sturgis’s behalf, said the U.S. Supreme Court has held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes is illegal.

“We brought this case because no student should have to compromise her identity in order to participate in an activity, like the yearbook, that is essential to the high school experience,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project.

“It’s peculiar that the school district would rely so heavily on that one judge’s decision in Florida, since that decision was appealed and eventually led to the district changing its discriminatory policy in a settlement agreement,” Sun said.

The suit names the district, superintendent Rickey Clopton and Wesson Attendance Center principal Ronald Greer. Clopton didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment Monday.

Sturgis, who is now attending Copiah-Lincoln Community College, graduated from Wesson Attendance Center this past spring. While other photographs of her were in the yearbook, her name and photograph were left out of the senior section.

The ACLU’s suit claimed the district discriminated against her on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes.

Female students could only wear drapes in the yearbook portraits and males wore tuxedos. Sturgis has dressed in masculine clothing for years, and said she wasn’t comfortable in the drapes.

The district’s motion referenced a similar case in Hillsborough County, Fla.

In 2002, Nicole Youngblood, then 17, sued the county’s school board and school district because she wasn’t allowed to wear a white shirt, tie and jacket instead of a drape in her senior portrait, court records show.

The suits filed by Youngblood and Sturgis both claimed discrimination under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew dismissed Youngblood’s lawsuit in September 2002, saying there was no constitutionally protected right involved in the school’s decision regarding senior yearbook portraits.

A settlement was reached after Youngblood appealed the judge’s decision, said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Public Schools.

As part of the settlement, the district now gives its seniors two weeks to appeal their principal’s dress policies, said Cobbe.

“We’ve had nothing exactly like that again. We’ve had students who wanted to wear the clothing of other gender for dances, and I think they allowed it,” Cobbe said.

—  John Wright