A cautionary tale for LGBT travelers

Allan Turnipseed

Murder of former Dallas resident in Mexican state of Jalisco should remind us never to get too comfortable, anywhere we live

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

No one knows what thoughts flashed through American expatriate Allan Turnipseed’s mind during the last moments of his life in his Mexican retirement home on Lake Chapala last month.

But they surely must have been thoughts tinged with shock and disbelief.

It was a turn of events that likely came about because the former Dallas resident became too comfortable in a foreign country plagued by violence. He may have let down his guard and placed trust in young strangers whose minds harbored deadly thoughts.

Turnipseed’s 40-year partner, Bob Tennison, reportedly discovered the 62-year-old lying face down in a hallway of their home. The victim’s assailants tied his hand behind his back and shot him in the head, according to published Mexican reports.

Two homeless, teenage Hispanic brothers, who were known associates of a street gang, confessed they had forced their way into the home to rob it. They killed Turnipseed after he threatened to turn them in to police, according to the reports. They allegedly took the equivalent of about $1,000 and a Toyota pickup from the scene before going shopping to purchase tennis shoes and clothing, as well as marijuana and food.

The shocking crime cut short the life of a respected member of Dallas’ LGBT community who had owned a local business and participated in the Stonewall Business and Professional Association. The prominent graphic designer — who was born in Canada, grew up in Dallas and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington — also left behind several grieving relatives and many close friends.

It appears that Turnipseed had become as socially and charitably active during his seven-year residence in his Mexican community as he had been in Dallas. That probably led to a false sense of security that many tourists and expatriate residents tend to develop in Mexico.

I know that because of my frequent trips over the past two decades to Puerto Vallarta, which is 204 miles west of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in the same state of Jalisco.

About four years ago, I was robbed on the street in Puerto Vallarta. I had become so comfortable visiting the city that I walked back to my hotel on the beach from a downtown nightclub one night, confident that no harm could come to me.

As I walked toward my hotel, two friendly young Mexican men joined me on the sidewalk. They walked beside me, asking me all of the questions to which I had become accustomed from the tribe of young hustlers that prowl the beach by day and the streets by night.

Suddenly, one of them was grabbing my wallet out of my pants pocket and the other one was sprinting down the street like a football player. He caught the pass of my wallet through the air, and both of them disappeared into the night.

I was lucky. The robbery consisted mostly of subterfuge. But it could just have easily gone very badly in different circumstances with the use of a knife or gun.

As it happened, I only lost a couple of hundred dollars, my credit cards and my peace of mind.

Some would say I was asking for trouble by walking alone at night, and I’m sure that’s true. I would never do the same thing in Dallas, which goes to show how comfortable I used to feel in Puerto Vallarta.

I imagine Turnipseed felt the same level of comfort. After all, he was in his own home, opening the door to a knock from a couple of teenagers with whom he had came into contact through a friend, who reportedly had given the youths food and shelter. The pair of brothers, who reportedly were American citizens abandoned by their parents, were a familiar sight in the community.

What Turnipseed might not have known is that many residents knew the two youths had reputations as thieves.

What I have come to realize is that known criminals commonly circulate in the midst of tourists on the beach and at other public places without interference in Mexico.

That information usually is gleaned only from bartenders and waiters, who either take a liking to a tourist or just don’t want to see a good source of tips disabled or permanently eliminated.

Mexico is an enchanting country, and most of its inhabitants are good people. But it has always been a much more dangerous destination than some people realize, and Turnipseed’s murder is not the first grisly attack on American residents on Lake Chapala.

While most of the recent Mexican violence can be attributed to the drug cartels’ wars with each other and the government, it likely has also created an atmosphere where human life is considered by criminals to be less valuable.

Mexico is a favorite destination for many LGBT tourists from Texas, and many people have successfully retired or maintain vacation homes there. Publicity about Turnipseed’s murder is unlikely to change that.

But hopefully it will be a strong reminder to all Americans that caution is more critical than ever when undertaking travel south of the border.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

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

—  John Wright

Not-so-secure security with new TSA procedures

Backscatter scanners, aggressive pat-downs give us a false sense of security when the terrorists have already won by making us afraid

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

As a gay man, I have been groped before. In fact, it used to be hard to get a drink in a gay bar without getting a few “friendly contacts.”

Was it welcome? Not always. Did I feel violated? Not really; it came with the territory.

So that said, how would I feel about being groped by a blue-gloved Transportation Security agent? Violated!

First and foremost, the new security procedures being added to current screenings are ineffective. Recently, a German TV show demonstrated clearly how the exact chemicals used in the infamous “underwear bomb” could be walked through the full-body scanners without detection.

Additionally, the whole “three bottles with no more than three ounces in a plastic bag” ruse does nothing to prevent high-powered explosive components from being brought through screening. That same TV segment showed how these passed right through the scanner and X-ray with no notice.

Three bottles of three ounces of chemicals were plenty to create a roaring incendiary bomb with sufficient heat to burn through the metal fry pan holding it.

The whole security screening is more for us than for security. It makes us feel like the TSA and the government are doing something to protect us. It is more theater than security — and now it’s getting really personal.

The companies that make the scanners have sold the TSA and the government the bill of goods that these invasive X-ray machines are foolproof. They aren’t.

They also have tried to convince us that they are not an invasion of privacy. Well, they are, Blanche; they are.

We have been told the image of your naked body is being viewed by some anonymous person upstairs at the airport who supposedly will not share the image with anyone. Gizmodo, a high-tech online site, already obtained more than 100 images stored improperly by U.S. marshals in Orlando. Perhaps they would make nice greeting cards?

We have been told the scanners pose no health threat. However, if you travel frequently or are part of an airline crew, you get exposed to the radiation from these scanners over and over — and the jury is out on that.

Back in April, faculty members at the University of California, San Francisco, sent a letter expressing their concerns about possible health risks related to the backscatter X-ray scanners to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

So if you opt for a “pat down” from a TSA agent, which is your right if you decide you don’t want to go through the scanner, you get a not-so-delicate, full-body grope, sans happy ending. That’s where I get back to the whole violated thing.

Standard procedure is male agents pat down men and female agents pat down women. What about gay men and lesbians? Do we get a choice?

And even more to the point, what about someone who is transgender? It really gets difficult and becomes a clear invasion of privacy when you have to explain that the agent might not find the same anatomy they are expecting to find.

Again it’s an indignity, and just plain unnecessary.

I know we all want to be safe when flying, but if our line of defense is a group of poorly trained and underpaid folks wearing plastic gloves, we are already on shaky ground. According to many security experts, if the terrorists get to the airport, it’s too late anyway.

So speaking of terrorists, I feel pretty sure I will get a lot of flack from people asking me if I “want the terrorists to win?” Well, here is the stark truth: They already have won.

Their intent is not so much killing and destruction but terror. Look at our laws and how a small group of radicals managed to scare us into passing the Patriot Act and dozens of other measures that supposedly provide security at the expense of freedom.

Even the dastardly crime of 9/11, though it was spectacular, was far less deadly than the yearly total of deaths of innocent Americans through automobile accidents. Yet we have no “war on driving,” or even common sense safety reform for cars and roadways.

Why? Because that doesn’t terrify us. We falsely believe that we are safe in our cars and on our roadways, but get cold sweats every time we board a plane.
If that isn’t a triumph for the terrorists I don’t know what is.

Do I believe we should have no security at all? No, absolutely we should. But it should be balanced with our fundamental right to not be photographed in the nude or groped in the airport.

It’s time we stopped letting equipment manufacturers guide our security precautions and start actually weighing the risks and evaluating the practical measures that can reduce them.

If you actually believe these invasive searches are needed, why not just go the “full monty” and issue bathrobes to all passengers? Then we and we can all fly naked.

Oh yes, and then there is that whole cavity search thing. Now that might actually make flying fun again!

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Study: Pill helps gay men avoid HIV infection

Experts call Truvada research ‘a major milestone’ but warn that condoms remain the ‘first line of defense’

MARILYNN MARCHIONE  |  Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Scientists have an exciting breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. A pill already used to treat HIV infection turns out to be a powerful weapon in protecting healthy gay men from catching the virus, a global study found.

Daily doses of Truvada cut the risk of infection by 44 percent when given with condoms, counseling and other prevention services. Men who took their pills most faithfully had even more protection, up to 73 percent.

Researchers had feared the pills might give a false sense of security and make men less likely to use condoms or to limit their partners, but the opposite happened — risky sex declined.

The results are “a major advance” that can help curb the epidemic in gay men, said Dr. Kevin Fenton, AIDS prevention chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But he warned they may not apply to people exposed to HIV through male-female sex, drug use or other ways. Studies in those groups are under way now.

“This is a great day in the fight against AIDS … a major milestone,” said a statment from Mitchell Warren, head of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit group that works on HIV prevention.

Because Truvada is already on the market, the CDC is rushing to develop guidelines for doctors using it for HIV prevention, and urged people to wait until those are ready.

“It’s not time for gay and bisexual men to throw out their condoms,” Fenton said. The pill “should never be seen as a first line of defense against HIV.”

As a practical matter, price could limit use. The pills cost from $5,000 to $14,000 a year in the United States, but only 39 cents a day in some poor countries where they are sold in generic form.

Whether insurers or government health programs should pay for them is one of the tough issues to be sorted out, and cost-effectiveness analyses should help, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“This is an exciting finding,” but it “is only one study in one specific study population,” so its impact on others is unknown, Fauci said.

His institute sponsored the study with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Results were reported at a news conference Tuesday and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

It is the third AIDS prevention victory in about a year. In September 2009, scientists announced that a vaccine they are now trying to improve had protected one in 3 people from getting HIV in a study in Thailand. In July, research in South Africa showed that a vaginal gel spiked with an AIDS drug could cut nearly in half a woman’s chances of getting HIV from an infected partner.

Gay and bisexual men account for nearly half of the more than 1 million Americans living with HIV. Worldwide, more than 40 million people have the virus, and 7,500 new infections occur each day. Unlike in the U.S., only 5 to 10 percent of global cases involve sex between men.

“The condom is still the first line of defense,” because it also prevents other sexually spread diseases and unwanted pregnancies, said the study leader, Dr. Robert M. Grant of the Gladstone Institutes, a private foundation affliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

But many men don’t or won’t use condoms all the time, so researchers have been testing other prevention tools.

AIDS drugs already are used to prevent infection in health care workers accidentally exposed to HIV, and in babies whose pregnant mothers are on the medication. Taking these drugs before exposure to the virus may keep it from taking hold, just as taking malaria pills in advance can prevent that disease when someone is bitten by an infected mosquito.

The strategy showed great promise in monkey studies using tenofovir (brand name Viread) and emtricitabine, or FTC (Emtriva), sold in combination as Truvada by California-based Gilead Sciences Inc.

The company donated Truvada for the study, which involved about 2,500 men at high risk of HIV infection in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and the United States (San Francisco and Boston). The foreign sites were chosen because of high rates of HIV infection and diverse populations.

More than 40 percent of participants had taken money for sex at least once. At the start of the study, they had 18 partners on average; that dropped to around 6 by the end.

The men were given either Truvada or dummy pills. All had monthly visits to get HIV testing, more pills and counseling. Every six months, they were tested for other sexually spread diseases and treated as needed.

After a median followup of just over a year, there were 64 HIV infections among the 1,248 men on dummy pills, and only 36 among the 1,251 on Truvada.

Among men who took their pills at least half the time, determined through interviews and pill counts, the risk of infection fell by 50 percent. For those who took pills on 90 percent or more days, risk fell 73 percent. Tests of drug levels in the blood confirmed that more consistent pill-taking gave better protection.

The treatment was safe. Side effects were similar in both groups except for nausea, which was more common in the drug group for the first month but not after that. Unintended weight loss also was more common in the drug group, but it occurred in very few. Further study is needed on possible long-term risks.

What’s next?

All participants will get a chance to take Truvada in an 18-month extension of the study. Researchers want to see whether men will take the pill more faithfully if they know it helps, and whether that provides better protection. About 20,000 people are enrolled in other studies testing Truvada or its component drugs around the world.

The government also will review all ongoing prevention studies, such as those of vaccines or anti-AIDS gels, and consider whether any people currently assigned to get dummy medicines should now get Truvada since it has proved effective in gay men.

Gilead also will discuss with public health and regulatory agencies the possibility and wisdom of seeking approval to market Truvada for prevention. The company has made no decision on that, said Dr. Howard Jaffe, president of Gilead Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm. Doctors can prescribe it for this purpose now if patients are willing to pay for it, and some already do.

Some people have speculated that could expose Gilead to new liability concerns, if someone took the pill and then sued if it did not protect against infection.

“The potential for having an intervention like this that has never been broadly available before raises new questions. It is something we would have to discuss internally and externally,” Jaffe said.

Until the CDC’s detailed advice is available, the agency said gay and bisexual men should:

• Use condoms consistently and correctly.

• Get tested to know their HIV status and that of their partners, and get tested and treated for syphilis, gonorrhea and other infections that raise the risk of HIV.

• Get counseling to reduce drug use and risky sex.

• Reduce their number of sexual partners.

—  John Wright