Joe Solmonese, Eric Alva, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Marlee Matlin, Caroline Rhea, Taylor Dayne, Chet Flake and the late Bud Knight are among those who will be honored or will speak at The Black Tie Dinner on Saturday.
Solmonese fears 2012 setback
LAST NIGHT | Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese speaks at a previous Black Tie Dinner in Dallas. Solmonese will be leaving HRC next March, making this weekend’s event the last Black Tie Dinner he will attend as president of the national LGBT advocacy organization.
Outgoing HRC president says community must fight for Obama
Joe Solmonese admits he’s “very concerned” about President Barack Obama’s prospects for re-election.
But Solmonese says he’s equally concerned about how the LGBT community — and his successor at the Human Rights Campaign — would respond if Obama loses.
Solmonese will step down as president of HRC after seven years in March. On Saturday, Nov. 12, he’ll make his final appearance as the group’s president at the Black Tie Dinner, of which HRC is the national beneficiary.
In an interview last month with Dallas Voice, Solmonese focused largely on the importance of 2012 elections, saying that depending on their outcome, major advances during his tenure could be all but erased.
“I don’t think that he’s going to lose,” Solmonese said at one point, attempting to clarify his assessment of Obama’s chances. “I think that if everybody does what they need to do, I think there is just as good a chance that Barack Obama will be re-elected, but I’m as concerned that he could lose.”
Solmonese said Republicans already have a majority in the House, Democrats have only a slim majority in the Senate, and “everything about these  elections points to us having real challenges.”
“I think that if everybody who has gained from the Obama administration does everything they need to do over the course of the next year, he’ll get re-elected,” Solmonese said. “But I would be lying if I said I’m not very concerned about the prospects of him getting re-elected.”
Solmonese said the message he wants to send to the LGBT community is that Obama has done more for us than any other president, and that the movement has seen more gains under the current administration than at any other time in its history.
“If we care about continuing with the forward motion that we’ve experienced, then we as a community need to do everything possible to re-elect Barack Obama,” Solmonese said. “And we can talk about and debate and press the administration on his ability to do more, and him coming out for marriage, or anything else that we want to talk about, but now is the time to sort of decouple that from all of the work we need to put into getting him re-elected. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to a choice, and the choice isn’t even hard for me: It’s Barack Obama or any of these other people who are running against him.”
Despite his concerns about Obama’s chances, Solmonese said he has no misgivings about leaving HRC seven months prior to Election Day. He said he made a commitment to give the organization six months notice, and his contract expires in March.
He said announcing his resignation at the end of August allowed HRC to begin the transition process, which will be completed when his successor takes over, midway through the Republican primary. Solmonese also said he’ll continue to be involved with the organization through next year, assisting with its efforts around the November election.
“I’m a lot more concerned about what happens the morning after the elections,” Solmonese said. “I’m a lot more concerned about this organization and its leader being in the best possible position to navigate those waters, and either we are contemplating a second term with Obama and a continuation of our agenda and perhaps a decidedly different Congress, or we’re contemplating President Mitt Romney and all of the implications that means for our community, and I want whoever is in this seat leading this organization contemplating where we go from there, to have had some time under their belt to figure that out.”
Asked whether that means he believes Romney will be the Republican nominee, Solmonese clarified that anyone claims to know definitively “doesn’t’ know what they’re talking about” — but he added that he thinks the former Massachusetts governor is the “odds-on favorite.”
And while Romney may appear less anti-gay than some other GOP presidential hopefuls, Solmonese said called him “someone you have to be careful of” because “he’s essentially beholden to no issue.”
“He adopts a position that works best for the political predicament he finds himself in,” said Solmonese, a Massachusetts native who’s watched Romney’s political career closely. “So, while he was seemingly pro-gay as he attempted to unseat Ted Kennedy, and his rhetoric isn’t harsh and he doesn’t have the same sort of narrative that a Rick Santorum has, he’s effectively said that he doesn’t believe in the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and that he would support the federal marriage amendment. But what we don’t know, just like we didn’t really anticipate with [President] George [W.] Bush, is how beholden he is going to feel to the hard right once he becomes president.”
It was Bush, of course, whose administration was pushing a federal marriage amendment when Solmonese joined HRC in 2005.
The marriage amendment, Solmonese said, represents the worst possible thing that could happen to the LGBT community, because it would enshrine discrimination into the Constitution.
And although the threat of the amendment may seem like a distant memory to some, Solmonese warned that it could easily resurface. Which is why, he said, the 2012 elections are the biggest challenge HRC faces going forward.
“I think the elections loom largest because what the elections really represent to me is the potential for us to really stop, potential derail and ultimately set back a lot of the progress that we’ve made,” Solmonese said. “What also concerns me then is that the community be braced for that, and we understand that we’ve been in these places before, and the measure of who we are and how we’ll be defined, is how we react in those moments, the degree to which we stay in the fight and make sure we continue to press forward regardless of the outcome of the election.”
Solmonese said he fears the progress of the last several years may lead to complacency. And he said based on his experience, when the LGBT community suffers setbacks, instead of regrouping and uniting, people have a tendency to lose their way and point fingers.
“If we lose, if the outcome is negative, if we go from the march toward marriage equality and the repeal of DOMA and the positive direction that we’ve been in, to a president and a Congress who decide they’re so troubled by all the success we’re having with marriage they want to take up the fight again to pass the federal marriage amendment — well, boy, we’ve come full circle from where we were back in 2005, the last time that happened,” he said.
“And you can react to that in one of two ways. You can say this is the inevitable ebb and flow of social change, so pull up your boot straps and let’s get going and turn that around again — and understand that that sort of energy that the other side has around something like that is a reaction to their own fear of the progress we’ve made — or you can become very dispirited and depressed and disenfranchised and decide that it’s our own doing, it’s our own lack of progress, it’s our own failing. And that would be the worst possible thing that we could do.”
Caroline Rhea: From the hip
From her role as Noleta Nethercott on Del Shores’ campy queer Texas-based sitcom Sordid Lives to taking over Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show, Caroline Rhea has long has a strong connection to the gay community. This week, she breaks new ground again, becoming the first professional comedienne to serve as soup-to-nuts emcee for the Black Tie Dinner.
Rhea took a moment this week to discuss her involvement with the LGBT community, her Texas ties and her new (like her, Canadian) reality TV show.
Dallas Voice:You’ve always seemed to be close to the LGBT community. Where does that stem from? Rhea: I am not a direct member of the LGBT community, but I have had a BLT. In the Venn diagram of life, there is a lot of crossover between gay men and female comedians. It’s a mutual lovefest.
How different is it to do a gay event like Black Tie vs. a comedy show on the road? The audience is much better looking.
For special events like this, do you bring your family? Not if it involves bringing a toddler on a plane.
What in you is fulfilled to do an event such as Black Tie Dinner? I want to support the LGBT community in all that they do.
If you were to rank all you do — acting, hosting, voiceovers, comedy, etc. — how do you rank your priorities? Motherhood first. Then comedy, and working with people that I like.
You have hosted a new reality competition series in your native Canada, Cake Walk: Wedding Cake Edition. How did you enjoy that? Did you get to taste the goods? Believe it or not, I didn’t taste the cakes.
Will there be a same-sex couple on the show? I hope so.
How do you think that would fly with the show’s audience? Same-sex marriage has been legal for years in Canada. It would be another beautiful wedding.
Having now worked with Del Shores on the Logo series Sordid Lives, how do you perceive Texas in general? Dallas in particular? Any misconceptions you had that were proven wrong? My dad’s family was from Texas and my father looked like J.R. Ewing. I am not a fan of your toll roads and every time I am on the George Bush Turnpike I feel like I am going backwards.
—Arnold Wayne Jones
Taylor Dayne can’t stop the music
More than 20 years after she packed the gay bar dance floors with her debut hits, the songstress is still going strong, and says her performance at Black Tie is a ‘win-win’ for her and her fans
Helping out LGBT people is nothing new for singer Taylor Dayne.
She can’t quite recall when she knew she was a hit with the gay community: Over the course of her 23-year career in pop music, she’s played venues of all sizes, but she did notice early on how a certain fan base seemed to keep showing up.
“It’s kinda hard to remember, but I would perform very specific shows and then some gay clubs and it dawned on me,” she said.
With an explosive debut, thanks to her platinum selling 1988 debut Tell It To My Heart and the more sophisticated follow-up Can’t Fight Fate a year later, Dayne became a quick force to be reckoned with on the charts.
But her pop hits were just as big on the dance floor, and Dayne was resonating across the queer landscape.
“I’ve had wonderful relationship with gay and lesbian fans for years. I’m so glad to be doing Black Tie because I have a great core of fan base here,” she said. “It’ll be a good show with lots of fun and for a good cause. It’s a win-win.”
Dayne’s performed at gay bars and Pride events in Boston, Chicago and the Delaware Pride Festival. But appreciation of her work in the community was clearly evident in 2010 when she was asked to record “Facing a Miracle” as the anthem for the Gay Games.
“That was quite an honor and then they asked me to perform at the games,” she said. “It was very emotional for me. The roar of the crowd was great.”
Even after two decades, Dayne remains just as committed to music as she was in 1988. She’s embraces her sort of “elder” status in pop music and instead of seeing the likes of Nikki Minaj and Katy Perry as rivals, she enjoys what they are bringing to the landscape of music now.
“I love listening to all the new stuff going on. There is some great talent out there. It’s nice to know I was some inspiration to them, the way ladies like Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar were for me. The cycle goes on,” Dayne said.
But they still push her to keep in the game. She admitted, “I’m pretty competitive that way.”
This year, Dayne released the single, “Floor on Fire,” which made it to the Billboard Dance/Club Charts Top 10.
At 49, Dayne doesn’t show signs of slowing. Along with a rumored second greatest hits album, she recently wrapped up filming the indie movie Telling of the Shoes and she’s a single mother to 9-year-old twins. Juggling it all is a mix of emotions, but her confidence pushes her through.
“I can say I’m a great singer, so when it comes to decisions, I’m fine about recording and performing,” she said. “But I would say I work really hard at acting. It’s nerve-wracking but it’s also amazing. But I’m not a novice at any of this.”
With her children, she doesn’t make any pretenses about the difficulty of being both a musician and a mom — as long as she instills the proper principles in them.
“We don’t try to get wrapped up in small time crap,” she said. “At the end of day it’s about having a good heart and they have great heart.”
It’s likely she’ll show the same at Black Tie.
BLACK TIE DETAILS
The 30th annual DFW Black Tie Dinner will be held Saturday night, Nov. 12, at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. The event is already sold out.
Special guests at this year’s dinner include Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin as keynote speaker and Emmy Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Media Award winner. Singer Taylor Dayne will perform.
Chet Flake and his late partner, Bud Knight, will be honored as recipients of the Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and gay military veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the Iraq war and an advocate for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” will received the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.
Dinner organizers this year decided, for the first time, to bring in an emcee for the evening, choosing popular comedian Caroline Rhea.
This year also marks the final time that Joe Solmonese will attend the dinner as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the national beneficiary of Black Tie, which each year receives about half the proceeds of the event. Solmonese has resigned as head of HRC, effective next March.
Seventeen local HIV/AIDS and LGBT organizations have also been designated as beneficiaries.
Black Tie Dinner includes a silent auction, a live luxury auction and an after-party at the hotel.
Resource Center Dallas, in partnership with Dallas Modern Luxury, presents the third annual “The 5 Factor” event on Thursday, Oct. 20, at eM the venue by Marc, 1500 Dragon St. in Dallas.
“The 5 Factor” event recognizes five of Dallas’ finest in areas such as cuisine, fashion, media and literature.
This year’s “5 Factor” honorees are journalist and award-winning author Jenny Block; Emmy Award-winning journalist Ron Corning, who recently joined WFAA Channel 8 as the host of News 8 Daybreak; Dallas restaurant owner Monica Greene of Monica’s Aca Y Alla in Deep Ellum and BEE in Oak Cliff, who recently began providing commentary on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars for WFAA; award-winning fashion designer Prashi Shah who created her own label, Prashe, and recently opened a showroom in Dallas’ Design District; and Bronwen Weber, executive chef and general manager of Frosted Art Bakery and Studio in Dallas who is perhaps best known to many for her appearances on television’s Food Network Challenge programs.
The evening will be hosted by Angela Betasso, with state Rep. Eric L. Johnson and his wife as co-chairs and last year’s honorees serving as the honorary host committee.
General admission is $50 per person, available online at The5Factor.org. Proceeds benefit the programs and services of Resource Center Dallas.
GLAAD holds ‘Get Amped’ 5K
The local chapter of GLAAD presents Get Amped, a 5K run/walk on the Katy Trail on Thursday, Oct. 20, in conjunction with similar chapter events around the country.
Check-in begins at 5:30 p.m. at the American Airlines Center.
The starting gun goes off at 7 p.m. The celebration takes place at the finish line, also at the arena, at 9 p.m.
An after-party takes place at 9:30 p.m. at the Round-Up Saloon.
Each runner has a goal of raising $250. The money raised will benefit the national organization.
VNA holds Service of Remembrance
The Visiting Nurse Association will host a Service of Remembrance on Sunday, Nov. 6, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Preston Hollow United Methodist Church, 6315 Walnut Hill Lane in Dallas.
The event is open to the public and will feature special music, readings and the opportunity to light a memorial candle.
Attendees of all faiths are welcome to attend the service.
For more information call Sue Rafferty, bereavement coordinator with the Visiting Nurse Association, at 214-689-2922
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.
As you might have read, queer filmmaker Yen Tan is hard at work on his next project Pit Stop. After the success of his film Ciao, Tan focuses again on the community with his latest film about two men who find romance in each other in a small Texas town. The film is still in the works but he gives a sort of preview tonight with staged readings from the script as well as showing clips from Ciao. He teams with OutTakes Dallas for tonight’s movie launch event in Oak Cliff. The night will also feature a conversation with Tan and producer Eric Steele.
This is an official Dallas Pride 2011 event.
DEETS: Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson St. 7:30 p.m. Free. OutTakesDallas.com.
HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.
Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.
Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.
Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.
Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.
Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.
Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.
Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.
According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.
The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.
On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.
That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”
Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.
Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.
Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.
She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.
Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”
And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.
Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.
Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.
“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.
Attorney General Eric Holder says that even if California voters legalize marijuana via Proposition 19, the federal government will continue to prosecute pot cases there.
On Friday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws against people who sell, distribute or grow marijuana for recreational use. Holder sent a letter to nine former chiefs of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, saying in part: “Let me state clearly that the Department of Justice strongly opposes Proposition 19. If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens.” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca hosted a news conference Friday morning to draw attention to the letter. Prop. 19 would allow Californians 21 and older to grow up to 25 square feet of cannabis plants, and to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It would also empower cities and counties to regulate marijuana cultivation and sales. Several municipalities are poised to do so if the law passes, with initiatives concerning taxation and regulation on the same ballot as Prop. 19.
The Tenthers are surely salivating at the prospect of this potential clash between state and federal laws. However many have pointed out that the feds simply don’t have the manpower to launch any significant campaign against home-grown pot in California.
Guys. The Modern Family same-sex episode is totally coming, so chillz, OK? They're almost ready to shoot it! And showrunner Steve Levitan is sticking to his script that they were going to do this scene before y'all started complaining in May.
Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.
For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.
After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.
But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.
As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.
After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”
But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.
“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”
Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.
“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.
Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”
“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”
Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.
Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.
The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.
Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.
“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”
Through thick and thin
This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.
Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.
At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.
In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”
“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”
Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.
This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.
The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.
“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’
“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.
Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.
Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.
Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.
When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.
In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.
Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.
When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.
That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.
Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.
Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.
Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.
But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.
“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”