Defining Homes • cougar’s DEN

‘Big Rich Texas’ star Leslie Birkland found house shopping in Dallas easy — with some high-end help, of course

Cameras follow Leslie Birkland, right, and goddaughter Kalyn Braun in ‘Big Rich Texas’ which also features Birkland’s new Dallas-area estate.

By Rich Lopez

 

Being blonde and beautiful never hurts — especially in Dallas. Blonde, beautiful and rich is even better. Leslie Birkland dealt with some hefty drama in the just-finished season of Big Rich Texas, but maybe the biggest drama was finding a new home in the area to partake in Dallas society, men and the pageant scene. Birkland calls Big D home, for now, and becoming a denizen wasn’t so difficult.

“My house was pretty easy to find and prices are just right now,” Birkland says. “I kept hearing Dallas hadn’t been hit really in the [economic] crisis.”

She was a bit overwhelmed upon coming to the city to join her cousin (and castmate) Connie and to oversee her goddaughter Kalyn’s pageant career.

Thinking the idea was to settle in Dallas proper, she found that wasn’t reasonable to live a certain lifestyle and be comfortable. She found she didn’t have to live in Highland Park.

“Everyone was so willing and a lot of Realtors were coming out of the woodwork quickly to help out,” she says. “But it was Connie’s husband John that pointed me elsewhere to look.”

For anyone looking to buy another home, she says once you’ve done it, you know how to negotiate what you need and it goes far easier the second time. Although she won’t divulge exactly where she lives, she describes it as about 45 minutes northwest of Dallas. As for the house — well let’s just say she’s kept up with the Joneses just fine, if not blowing them out of the water.

“It’s about the same 6,000 square feet as my house in Washington with eight bedrooms and three kitchens,” she says. “It’s pretty grand! It’s so elegant and beautiful with these big columns. That’s new to me. And sometimes when you want a bit more land, you have to go out to where it’s spread out. I love it.”

But Birkland’s celebrity going to be an issue with the neighborhood? She says no. As the cameras are rolling for Big Rich Texas, the Style Network has stayed out of sight of the neighbors or respected their privacy as well. In turn, Birkland says the people around her seem not to care all that much about the little piece of TV reality happening right next door.

“They see what’s going on and they may ask, but it’s no thing for them,” she laughs.

For the average person, that amount of square feet seems like a daunting task to move in to. But rich folks do it differently. Birkland has no projects for the house per se. Updating a room with paint or doling pieces of furniture among eight rooms isn’t necessary. Higher end homes with specific interiors come as an entire package. Basically, this is not a fixer-upper.

“Yeah, I’m not doing anything,” she chuckles. “With homes like these, there are furnishings specifically designed for the house, so there’s nothing I’m doing in that regard.”

As for getting used to Dallas, Birkland is dealing with learning a new city, navigating high society and handling some real-life drama all in front of a camera. Before she moved here, she researched maps, but found it difficult to gauge distance from the heart of the city.  Initially, she leased a house just a couple of miles from her cousin in Highland Park.

“People would ask me where I lived and I didn’t know,” she says. “Then I’d just say Highland Park, but where I was wasn’t Highland Park and that was a whole thing!”

She takes it all with a sense of humor. Especially since she’s been labeled the cougar of the show. Romancing the likes of Anthony Dorsett Jr. (son of the former Dallas Cowboy) and a young golf pro known only as A.J., she’s definitely a connoisseur of the younger man, but for her cougar-dom, she seems to roll her eyes at her cougar-dom.

“I do like men that are younger. but I didn’t realize I was a cougar,” she says. “It’s funny, but definitely not icky. There’s a line not to cross. I never want to be old enough to be their mother. I already have three sons! But the men I date are just about 10 years younger. If it was 15 or 20 years difference, then I could see that.”

The next season hasn’t started filming yet and Birkland is just fine with that right now. She has enough on her plate to keep her busy supporting her lavish lifestyle, whether it’s business or fun.

“Through my property investments and CDs, I have a comfortable lifestyle,” she says. “Plus, I’m very conservative with money and do some modeling on the side. As for being here, well, it’s only been six months and I’m not used to the roads, but I’m learning the neighborhoods and getting familiar with them.” DH

For more about the show, visit MyStyle.com/BigRichTexas

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Food Pantry needs help as demand soars

Resource Center service for people with HIV gets most of its stock from NTFB, but even NTFB doesn’t have some of the items they need

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Food pantry volunteers restock items
STOCKING UP | Food pantry volunteers restock items in the refrigerator as the pantry gets ready to open on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Food pantry manager Micki Garrison said budget cutbacks have made the pantry even more dependent on volunteers. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

What’s on your menu for Thanksgiving? Probably a turkey. Or maybe a ham, or a pot roast. You will most likely have some stuffing or dressing, and plenty of vegetables. Add to that a slice of pie or cake for dessert, and your stomach will be plenty full when you move to the living room to settle in front of the TV to watch football.

If so, then you are one of the lucky one. There are plenty of people out there who would be thankful to have a can of soup as their Thanksgiving meal.
“According to a report just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas is the second-hungriest state in the country,” said Micki Garrison, manager of Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry for people with HIV/AIDS. “The number of people going hungry in Texas is over 17 percent. That’s higher than the national average, which is 14 percent.”

And Garrison had some more sobering statistics to offer up. She noted that the food pantry is “closely tied” to the North Texas Food Bank, getting most of its stock there, and that with the recession lingering on, NTFB has itself been struggling to keep up with demand.

“Demand on the North Texas Food Bank is up 20 percent and donations are down 12 percent,” Garrison said.

Although Texas hasn’t been hit as hard as some states during the economic crisis, those on the lower end of the income scale — food banks’ usual clients who already had to stretch to try and make ends meet — have definitely felt the impact. Those who were scraping by before now have to ask for help, and those who already needed help now need even more.

And with the holiday season upon us, the situation will likely get worse.

“We usually serve between 600 and 800 clients a week. During the holidays, that will go up to 1,000 to 1,200 a week,” Garrison said. “We go through five to 10 tons a food each week. It’s a massive undertaking.”

Daniel Sanchez, nutrition center coordinator, said, “Just yesterday, we had 125 people through here in the first hour we were open.”

One thing the food pantry won’t be able to do this year, though, is provide its clients with turkeys for their holiday meals.

“In the past, we have been able to give each client a turkey for the holidays. But we just can’t do that this year,” Garrison said. “We just can’t afford it.”

While all food banks are struggling to keep up, Garrison and Sanchez said that their food pantry faces special battles because their clients all have HIV/AIDS.

“If you are HIV-positive and unable to work, you are probably already dealing with Social Security or disability, and you are probably facing tremendous medical expenses,” Garrison said. “A lot of our clients are struggling every day to make some really touch choices, like choices between buying food or buying their medications, between buying food or paying the rent and the bills.

“A lot of people have to make those choices, yes. But what makes it even more difficult is that for people with HIV, food is medicine. You just can’t take that regimen of medications that HIV-positive people have to take if you don’t have any food in your stomach,” she said. “It’s our mission to do as much as we can for them so they don’t have to make those choices. We can’t meet all their needs, but we do our best to meet as many as possible.”

There is another problem, too: the kinds of foods available at the pantry.

“We have a lot of clients who are feeling bad a lot of the time, and they just aren’t up to cooking a big meal for themselves,” Garrison said. “They just want to be able to open a can of soup and heat that up. Something easy.

“And a lot of our clients experience homelessness. If they come here and we give them a bag of dried beans and some raw chicken, they have no way to cook that. It doesn’t do them any good,” she said.

That’s why, Sanchez said, donations from the community are particularly helpful for the pantry, especially when those donations come in the form of easy-to-prepare items. Canned meats — like tuna, chicken, chili or Spam — are especially welcome, along with canned soups and ramen noodles, canned fruits and vegetables, boxed cereals, dry staples like rice, beans and pasta, juices and condiments.

“Things like that that are really helpful for our clients are the kinds of things we can’t get a lot of from the food bank,” Garrison said. “Getting cash donations is great. I mean, if someone goes to the grocery store and spends a dollar on a can of corn to donate, it’s great. But for that same dollar, I can get five cans of corn.

“Still, I can’t get those other things — the soups and stuff — from the food bank. So we need those donations from the community. We need all the donations, all kinds of donations,” she said.

Sanchez added that the food pantry also needs donations of time. Budget cutbacks have impacted staffing capabilities, which means there is a lot of work available for volunteers.

“We especially need volunteers during the holiday season,” Sanchez said.

Garrison added, “We need people to get the things we can get from the food bank. We need people to donate money. We need people to donate their time. We just ask that people find out how they can best fit into that structure.

“This food pantry is all about the community and how the community can show its love,” she said. “All we are is a vessel for the love of the community.”

Resource Center Dallas Food Pantry is located at 5450 Denton Drive Cutoff in Dallas. The pantry is open noon to 7 p.m. on Mondays, and noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. The pantry is closed Fridays through Sundays. Donation drop-off hours are 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Mondays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. For information, call 214-521-3390.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Open letter to Pelosi

Calling on the Speaker of the House to keep her promise on ENDA

We are writing to express how extremely troubled we are that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full House of Representatives. We believe a floor vote must be scheduled for ENDA immediately.

It would be devastating for LGBT workers for this Congress to not complete its work on ENDA before the end of this session.

ENDA would be historic in the number of LGBT people who would benefit from its passage. During this economic crisis, it is more important than ever to prohibit the often-impoverishing effects of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most LGBT workers have no protections from workplace discrimination. ENDA would provide legal protection against discrimination nationally.

Over and over we have been promised that a vote would be scheduled on ENDA, and these promises have been repeatedly broken. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And in 38 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender.

The current version of the bill would outlaw discrimination on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

A 2006 study by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year; only 25 percent have a full-time job, and nearly 9 percent have no source of income.

Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area.

More than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Forty percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

What this study reveals is that even in a city that is considered a haven for the LGBT community, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination.

A 2007 meta-analysis from the Williams Institute of 50 studies of workplace discrimination against LGBT people found consistent evidence of bias in the workplace. The analysis found that up to 68 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing employment discrimination, and up to 17 percent said they had been fired or denied employment.

Public opinion polling shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of making sure LGBT Americans get the same employment opportunities as everyone else. In fact, the latest surveys shows that nearly 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness for LGBT workers.

As you know, in a few weeks, Congress will finish it’s legislative business for the year so that they can return to their districts to run for re-election. Last month at a LGBT Pride event, Congresswoman Jackie Spier announced to the LGBT community that not only would we not get ENDA before the end of the legislative session, that she did not think we would get it for five years because we won’t have enough votes in Congress again to ensure passage.

It is ironic that Congress plans on leaving town and going home to campaign for their own jobs while leaving thousands of LGBT workers without protections for the next five years. When 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness, it is challenging to believe that anyone fears a backlash from the voters.

The time to pass ENDA is now. The American people support it; the politicians promised it. No more broken promises. We demand that a vote be scheduled now.

FROM: SF Pride at Work, One Struggle, One Fight, GetEqual, Harvey Milk Democratic Club, El/La, Transgender Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National Pride at Work.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas