LifeWalk steps off Sunday in Lee Park

Nobles says that park will not be fenced this year but is worried about added cost and barrier affecting next year’s event

KICKING UP THEIR HEELS | The LifeWalk organizing committee gets ready for Sunday.

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

New requirements by the city of Dallas could affect proceed totals from this year’s AIDS Arms LifeWalk, and at least one more new requirement is expected to be added to the list next year, according to LifeWalk organizers.

The 21st annual LifeWalk steps off from Lee Park on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. for the 3.2-mile walk. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. Last year’s event raised $401,000 and this year’s goal is $500,000.

Although thousands of people are expected for the event, Lee Park will remain unfenced this year, even though the city has said such gatherings will require fencing in the future.

Officials with the Dallas Tavern Guild, which stages the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and the Festival in Lee Park each year as part of Dallas’ annual LGBT Pride celebration, decided to get ahead of the new requirement by fencing in Lee Park this year for the festival, although the city requirement had not yet gone into effect.

Tavern Guild officials also chose to charge a $5 admission fee to the festival this year to help offset expenses and raise extra funds that will be distributed to parade beneficiaries.

The admission fee raised the ire of some in the community, and attendance at the festival was down compared to last year. But Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman said the drop was not significant, and noted that the admission fee brought in about $25,000 that will be divided among beneficiaries.

But AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said new city requirements have already had an impact on LifeWalk, and she is worried that the new fencing requirements could affect next year’s walk.

“There were a lot more expenses from the city this year,” she said. “It really hits the bottom line.”

The cost of fencing next year will add an additional, unwelcome expense. But Nobles said she isn’t going to worry about that until after this weekend’s event. Right now, her main concern is getting people out to participate in this year’s fundraiser.

“Anyone can participate in LifeWalk,” Nobles said. “You can walk alone or bring friends or join a team. We even have poop-out vans: In case you can’t walk the entire three-mile route, someone will pick you up and bring you back to the park to have a good time.”

She also invited people to just come to the park and cheer.

“We need cheerleaders at the start and finish and at the water stations,” Nobles said. “We have pompoms for anyone who wants to cheer the walkers on.”

Registration for LifeWalk is $40 for people and $10 for dogs participating in LifeBark. People get a T-shirt and dogs get a bandana to show their support for people with HIV.

AIDS Arms is the primary beneficiary of LifeWalk, but other organizations also receive funds from the event, including AIDS Services of Dallas, Legal Hospice of Texas, Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus, Bryan’s House, Resource Center Dallas and the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.

Money raised goes toward programming rather than capital costs. The chorale uses funds for their HIV fund, including giving tickets to performances through the year to people with AIDS.

Nobles praised that effort, saying that socializing is an important holistic element in treating HIV.

The Women’s Chorus will present a program at AIDS Arms in March on National HIV Women’s Day. Those expenses, Nobles said, should be covered by the group’s LifeWalk proceeds.

Nobles said it would be tempting for AIDS Arms to use the money to finish paying off the agency’s new Trinity Health and Wellness Center in Oak Cliff. She said that the new facility cost more than $2 million, and AIDS Arms needs to raise just $35,000 more to pay off the facility.

Trinity Health and Wellness Center opened in September and will have its formal grand opening in two weeks.

But despite the temptation, AIDS Arms will instead use proceeds from LifeWalk to support programs for clients at Trinity as well as at AIDS Arms’ older clinic, Peabody Health Center in South Dallas.

AIDS Arms also uses the money to administer HIV tests to more than 3,500 people a year and for case management for more than 3,400 people.

LifeWalk began in 1990 as a fundraiser for Oak Lawn Community Services. When that agency closed, management of the event moved to AIDS Arms.

LifeWalk Co-chair Marvin Green noted that his Green Team will mark its 20th year of participation in LifeWalk. He said he put the team together for the first time in the second year of LifeWalk because he had already lost 20 friends to AIDS.

That first year, three team members raised $75. This year, the 32-member Green Team has collected about $22,000.

Co-chair Fred Harris said that there were quite a few new teams this year.

“We’re reaching out to new communities,” Harris said. “There’s new energy. We’re branching outside Oak Lawn.”

He said teams are using creative new ways to raise money and AIDS Arms has actively brought in new sponsors such as Chipotle.

“Stoli is coming with a first-ever LifeWalk drink,” Nobles said. Returning sponsor Caven Enterprises will serve beer and Ben E. Keith donated iced tea.

Harris said planning has gone well, and that “LifeWalk is a well-oiled machine.”

Harris said he has seen more use of social media this year than ever, reaching out to people outside the Metroplex.

“This year Facebook has become a very powerful tool,” he said, not just for fundraising but also for recruiting walkers.

Last year, about 3,500 people walked, and this year, “Registration is ahead of where we were this time last year,” Harris said.

Waterpalooza, another AIDS Arms event, was moved to Pride weekend this year, just two weeks prior to LifeWalk. Harris said they took advantage of that event to sign up teams and walkers and generate excitement for this weekend’s walk.

Among the new teams, Harris said, are the DFW Sisters.

“Their efforts have been tireless,” he said. “They raise the bar.”

Nobles said that WFAA Channel 8 morning anchor Ron Corning will serve as M.C. in Lee Park. Although he’s appeared at several events since arriving in Dallas, this is the first big public event the openly gay television host has emceed.

LifeWalk received the Human Rights Campaign family-friendly designation, and Nobles said there will be bounce houses, clowns and face-painting for children.

Harris said the event is pet-friendly as well, “because pets are our family.”

There will be games and puppy pools for dogs as well as doggie adoptions, Nobles said.

She said the day would be a lot of fun but asked people to participate because the need is greater than ever.

“With the growth in the number of newly-infected people in Dallas County who need help in this economy, we’re seeing people who never would ask but must,” she said.

Next year, Nobles said, she would like to see LifeWalk return to Oak Lawn, but new city regulations for events may change those plans. Among the events changing plans this year because of the city involved Lone Star Ride.

Last year, Lone Star Riders participated in LifeWalk on bike. This year, city regulations banned bikes from walks so LSR riders who participate will have to walk.

Green was thinking about bigger plans for future LifeWalks. Other cities that raise more money stage longer walks. He said he’d love to use the new Downtown Deck Park that should be completed next year and dreamed of seeing LifeWalkers crossing the new suspension bridge that should be open in March 2012.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Complaint: LGBT immigrants abused, neglected at detention centers run by Homeland Security

The National Immigration Justice Center has filed civil rights complaints on behalf of 13 LGBT immigrants who were allegedly abused and neglected at detention centers run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in nine states, including one in Houston. The Heartland Alliance’s NIJC filed the complaints today in a letter addressed to Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, calling on the department to investigate and implement new policies.

The group has also launched a petition calling on the DHS and President Barack Obama to end the abuse of LGBT immigrants in detention.

The 13 complaints include allegations of sexual assault, denial of adequate medical care, long-term solitary confinement, discrimination and abuse, and ineffective complaints and appeals process. Below are a few examples from the letter, which you can download in its entirety here:

• [Juan] was sexually assaulted by two other detainees. Despite repeated requests for a transfer to another facility because he feared for his safety [Juan] was not transferred until three months after the incident, when ICE Headquarters intervened. In the meantime, the only “protection” that the Otero County Detention Center offered was placement in the “hole.” (Otero County Detention Center, New Mexico)

• [Delfino] was held in segregation for four months, justifying their decision on the basis that [Delfino] presented “effeminately.” Facility staff refused to provide [Delfino] a Bible and permitted him only one hour of recreation – in a cold nine- by-thirteen-foot cell – per day. (Houston Processing Center, Texas)

• [Monica] continues to be denied hormone therapy, despite her use of hormones for ten years prior to immigration detention, and her physical and psychological reliance on them. [Monica], now detained for over five months, told NIJC staff, “I can’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore,” due to returning facial and body hair and other distressing changes. [Monica], an asylum seeker who has suffered grave past abuse in Mexico, also received no treatment for her trauma- related depression. She attempted suicide in February 2011 – the facility put her in solitary confinement as punishment. (Santa Ana City Jail, California)

• [Alexis] was repeatedly called a “faggot” by guards, who also made jokes about her dying of AIDS. They singled her out for public searches in which they forced her to remove her outer clothing and mocked her exposed breasts. (Theo Lacy Facility, California)

—  John Wright

Dan Choi Checking Himself Into Mental Health Care Facility After ‘Breakdown’

Dan Choi, the lieutenant and Iraq veteran, has checked himself into a veteran's hospital facility for mental health treatment. He writes in an open letter: "I did not initially want to publicize this but I now realize it is critical for our community to know several things: veterans gay or straight carry human burdens, Activists share similar burdens, no activist should be portrayed as super human, and the failures of government and national lobbying carry consequences far beyond the careers and reputations of corporate leaders, elected officials, High powered lobbyists, or political elites. They ruin lives. My breakdown was a result of a cumulative array of stressors but there is no doubt that the composite betrayals felt on Thursday, by elected leaders and gay organizations as well as many who have exploited my name for their marketing purposes have added to the result. I am certain my experience is not an isolated incident within the gay veteran community."


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Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

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.”

—  John Wright