Blood Bath 3 film fest at the Texas Theatre

Not too late for some frights

We don’t Halloween is ever over for the guys at DOA Blood Bath Entertainment. As if to perpetuate the freaks and frights of last week, they feature two days worth of independent horror films in its Blood Bath 3 film festival. Local queer filmmaker Shawn Ewert even has an entry with his short Parallel Lines, but that’s no suprise. It’s Ewert and Andrew Rose of DOA who also put on Fears for Queers in the summer.

DEETS: Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. Through Sunday. $. DOABloodbath.com

—  Rich Lopez

Chronicle blogger blames ‘It Gets Better” project for LGBT teen suicides

Kathleen McKinley

Kathleen McKinley

Kathy McKinley is a self-described “conservative activist” who blogs for the Houston Chronicle under the monicker “TexasSparkle.” In a recent post McKinley took the “It Gets Better” project to task for what she believes is their culpability in the suicides of LGBT teens:

“These kids were sold a bill of goods by people who thought they were being kind. The “It will get better” campaign just didn’t think it through. They didn’t think about the fact that kids are different from adults. They handle things differently. They react differently. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS. You can grumble all day long how unfair it is that straight teens can be straight in high school, and gay kids can’t, but life is unfair. Isn’t the price they are paying too high?? Is it so much to ask them to stand at the door of adulthood before they “come out” publically? Because it may save their life.”

McKinnley’s primary confusion about the “It Gets Better” campaign (other than its name) is the assumption that the goal is to encourage teens to come out of the closet, or encourage them to become sexually active:

“Why in the world would you give teenagers a REASON to tease you? Oh, yes, because the adults tell you to embrace who you are, the only problem? Kids that age are just discovering who they are. They really have no idea yet. The adults tell you to “come out,” when what we should be telling them is that sex is for adults, and there is plenty of time for figuring out that later.”

I would like to encourage Ms. McKinley to watch the “It Gets Better” project’s founder Dan Savages’ video. Please, Ms. McKinley, listen, and tell me if you hear Savage or his partner Terry say anything about teens coming out or having sex. I think what you’ll hear them say is that all of the things that most kids, gay and straight, dream of (falling in love, starting a family, having the support of their parents, co-workers and friends) are possible for LGBT teens. I think you’ll hear them talk about how difficult their teen years were, and about the fears they had that their parents would reject them, that they’d never find success and that they’d always be alone.

Choosing to have sex is one of the most personal decision a person will ever make. For LGBT people, choosing to come out is another. I have not watched all of the thousands of videos from people who have participated in the “It Gets Better” project. It’s possible that there are a few that tell kids to come out right away, or to become sexually active, but I doubt it.

Every video in the project that I have seen has had the same simple message: that the person making it understands how tortuously awful the experience of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender in Junior and High School can be, but there is a wonderful world of loving, vibrant, successful, engaged LGBT adults out there and if queer teens can just hang on, just for a few years, they can join it. I doubt that any of the contributors to the project think that hanging on for a few years will be easy. I suspect that most of them remember, with excruciating clarity, contemplating ending those temporary years of terror with a permanent solution and that is why they choose to reach out.

I grew up without role models, where people like Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk didn’t exist . I grew up in a small town where the two men with the pink house were talked about in hushed tones that immediately fell silent when I walked into the room, because it wasn’t appropriate for children’s ears. I grew up in a world where my mother wouldn’t tell me what “gay” meant, where the evening news was turned off if it reported on the AIDS crisis, where I wasn’t given words to describe who I was, and so the only word I could find was “alone.”

I was lucky. My suicide attempt failed.

I was lucky, I survived, and went to college, and found a church that embraced and loved LGBT people. That’s where I met doctors and lawyers and business owners and teachers who were like me. That’s where I met two wonderful women who had built a life together for over 50 years. That’s where I discovered I wasn’t alone and that being gay didn’t mean that i couldn’t have all of those things I’d dreamed of.

That is what McKinley missed in her blog post. In her haste to lay blame on anything other than the overwhelming prejudice perpetuated by schools, churches and governments against LGBT people McKinley missed the fact that kids need role models. In her rush to shove queer teens back into the closet she forgot that human beings need the hope of a better world, lest they give up in despair.

McKinley got one thing right in her post. She titled it “Are Adults Also To Blame For Gay Teen Suicides? Yes.” Adults are to blame for LGBT teen suicides. When adults hide the stunning diversity of God’s creation from their children they create a vision of reality that some of those children can’t see themselves in. When adults tell LGBT teens that they should be invisible then it is all too clear who is to blame when those teens believe them, and take steps to make themselves invisible permanently.

To all the LGBT kids out there: it does get better. There are adults who care about you and want all the wonderful things you dream of to come true, but you have to hang on. If you need to keep who are secret to remain safe then do so. If you need someone to talk to please call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-Trevor (866-488-7386).

—  admin

TCU LGBT alumni group forms

Organizer says school has been helpful, supportive in forming group for gay graduates

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

There are some schools that are — or have been — affiliated with religious institutions that  not only wouldn’t welcome an LGBT alumni group, they would block such a group outright.

But when Doug Thompson, a graduate of Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University, associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), approached his alma mater’s alumni association about forming an LGBT affiliate, he said, the response was, “Absolutely. No problem.”

TCU’s new LGBT alumni group will hold its first large meeting on Saturday, Oct. 22, after the TCU homecoming game. Thompson acknowledged that sports isn’t the main concern of many LGBT alumni, but homecoming is still a time when many alumni return to visit the campus.

Thompson said when he asked the alumni association whether the LGBT group would need approval by the school’s administration, he was told the administration would back it. The group was approved in April.

Unlike Baylor University, which sued to keep its LGBT alumni from using the school name to organize a group, Thompson said there has been no objection from the TCU campus.

“We just want to get people involved however they want to be involved,” Kristi Hoban, associate vice chancellor alumni of relations, said. “We just reach out, whether it’s a class or the business school or a special interest group.”

She said that black alumni were not participating until the Black Alumni Alliance formed about 11 years ago. Now, she said, they’re active leaders in class reunions, homecoming and department alumni events, adding that she hopes to see the same thing happen with the LGBT network.

Finding LGBT alumni hasn’t been easy, Thompson said, as students aren’t asked about their sexual orientation before they graduate.

But Thompson said about 120 alumni have already responded, mostly to calls on social media sites. And now that the school has a Gay Straight Alliance, he said, finding future alumni will be easier.

“Our goal will be to support gay and lesbian students and start a scholarship,” Thompson said. “And we’ll form activities around things gay alumni have an interest in.”

He mentioned support for the Trinity Shakespeare Festival on campus as a direction for the group.

Thompson said that having an LGBT alumni group will help the school provide a better environment for its LGBT students.

Two years ago, TCU proposed setting aside dorm space for LGBT students. A week after the announcement, when only eight students had signed up for the housing, the school scrapped those plans.

“That got totally blown out of proportion,” Hoban said.

She said the intention was never segregated housing but really just an LGBT campus group.
Thompson said the school would have avoided the bad publicity if it had the alumni group to guide them.

The LGBT alumni group will get together after the homecoming game against New Mexico on Saturday, Oct. 22. They will meet at Tommy’s Hamburgers’ Camp Bowie Boulevard location from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

…………………

OUT, PROUD ATHLETE

Pryor.Victor

Victor Pryor

Perhaps one of the best known Texas Christian University grads that will be attending the new LGBT alumni group’s meeting this weekend is Vincent Pryor, a TCU Horned Frogs football star from 1994.

That year, before the final game of the season against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Pryor came out to his teammates. Rather than shunning him, Pryor’s coach told him he was proud of his honesty

“My teammates and my coaches overwhelmingly supported and accepted me,” Pryor writes on his website, VincentPryor.com. “All of the fears and concerns I had about being kicked off the team, or losing my scholarship, or embarrassing my school — none of that happened.  And the best part of it was that I became a better athlete after I came out.”

That day, Pryor had the biggest game of his college career, tallying a record 4.5 sacks — a record that still stands today. His performance helped TCU win the conference title and a berth in a post-season bowl game.

Today, Pryor works in sales and lives in Chicago with his partner of 12 years, who was a classmate at TCU. To watch his just-
released an “It Gets Better” video, below.

—  Kevin Thomas

Overcoming fear and finding passion

Landon Starnes had to step outside his comfort zone to compete as Lotta Pink in the Miss LifeWalk Pageant

lotta1
Landon Starnes as Lotta Pink

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Talk to Landon Starnes about his involvement with LifeWalk, the annual walkathon benefiting AIDS Arms and its partner agencies, and you’ll hear

Starnes repeat the words “passion” and “fear” a lot.

Starnes said he let fear rule him for too long. But in the end, there’s no doubt that “passion” wins out.

Starnes, who works as a hairdresser, said that he was diagnosed with HIV in October 1998. But he wasn’t prepared to deal with reality, and so for years, he said, “I ignored my diagnosis emotionally.”

But then some friends began to encourage him to confront his HIV status by getting involved in LifeWalk, specifically by joining the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk team.

Starnes said it took him awhile to get up to speed, and he was involved with LifeWalk just “off and on” for several years. But three years ago, he decided to really take the plunge and has been an active member of the Guys and Dolls team ever since.

This year, even that got ratcheted up a notch when Starnes finally gave in to his teammates’ cajoling and entered the Miss LifeWalk Pageant.

“My team had been asking me for two years to enter the pageant, but I declined every time. I was just scared to death to do drag,” Starnes explained. “But this year, I decided to accept the challenge, even though it scared me.”

The first challenge was to come up with a character, so “I started brainstorming about a character, about who I would be,” Starnes said. “I started thinking about things I, as a person, am passionate about. And I am passionate about the singer Pink.

“Her music gets to me in a way that no one else’s does,” Starned continued. “Her lyrics inspire me. I think, if I had to pick just one, my favorite Pink song is ‘Glitter in the Air.’ It says, ‘Have you ever wished for an endless night?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?’ It made me look into myself, literally. Last summer, while we were on a road trip, my friends and I stopped and actually threw a fistful of glitter in the air. It was silly and fun, and now it is a memory that will last forever.”

But there is one line in the song, Starnes said, that really touched him, one lyric that made him think and gave him the determination to set aside the fear that had held him back: “Have you ever looked fear in the face, and said, I just don’t care?”

It was, Starnes said, a spark that made his passion for LifeWalk and for doing something to help others blaze even brighter.

“I knew I wasn’t going to try to be Pink, but I love what she does. So I decided I would kind of pay tribute to her with my character,” Starnes said.

And so, Lotta Pink was born.

And lo and behold, Lotta Pink won the Miss LifeWalk title on her first try, helping Starnes bring in about $7,000 for LifeWalk this year, bringing his total over all his Guys and Dolls years to about $11,000.

Starnes said he and Lotta Pink obviously have a lot in common. “We share our passion for the cause, first of all, and second, we both want to step outside the box,” Starnes said. “I was afraid of doing drag. But my favorite quote is ‘Do it scared,’ so that’s what I did. I stepped outside the box and challenged myself, and in doing that, I learned that fears are just fears, nothing else.”

Starnes said that while his fears still remain to some degree, Lotta Pink “has no fear,” and she is helping him overcome his own.

“It’s easier when you can put on a wig and some makeup and kind of step outside yourself,” Starnes said. “Now, learning to step out without that disguise is what comes next!”

Knowing that what he does is all to help AIDS Arms and the clients the agency serves makes it even easier to put the fear aside, Starnes said.

“The Guys and Dolls team works all year, not just on the day of LifeWalk. And the people at AIDS Arms work all year trying to help other people. I love AIDS Arms, and I love what it stands for,” Starnes said. “The walk itself is symbolic, to me. It’s a short walk, yes, but just going through the movement of walking allows you to release your passion.

“Everybody who participates is there for their own reasons, but whatever the reason, they are passionate about it,” he continued. “That alone speaks volumes. The biggest thing that came out of all this for me was seeing how good people really are.”

Again, it all comes down to overcoming fear and fully realizing the passion.

“It’s so important for everyone to find their passion, whether it’s LifeWalk or something else,” Starnes said. “Finding my passion has lifted me to a whole new level of awareness, understanding and joy. It’s just such a positive energy when you are around all these people at LifeWalk who work so hard to make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s helped me find a happiness I have never known before.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lee Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 1 p.m. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fears For Queers 2 Film Festival announces date and is now open to submissions


Today we received the press release announcing the second Fears for Queers film fest. Last year, the event kind of took us by surprise, but we’re on it now. Local filmmaker Shawn Ewert and his production company Right Left Turn Productions have been keeping us in the loop as the event nears.

But first, they need more films and the call for submissions has officially been placed. Any budding or established LGBT filmmakers are encouraged to submit their short and feature films for inclusion. And there’s no cost to submit. Score!

Click the thumbnail to read the official press release. Fears for Queers is also presented by DOA Blood Bath Entertainment and is scheduled for June 25 at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. Proceeds from the event will benefit Youth First Texas.

 

—  Rich Lopez

The parents were not all right: Why Prop 8 passed

Newly released study says ads claiming same-sex marriage would endanger children, run late in the campaign, swayed enough parents to pass California’s anti-gay marriage amendment

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service LisaKeen@aol.com

David Fleischer
BY THE NUMBERS | David Fleischer talks to volunteers about results of a poll of Boston voters on the issue of same-sex marriage in 2004. This week, Fleischer released a study he conducted on what swayed voters to pass Proposition 8 in California in 2008. (Stanley Hu/Associated Press)

Proposition 8 passed in November 2008 because parents with kids living at home were scared and the LGBT community did nothing to assuage that fear.

That’s the conclusion of an exhaustive, 448-page analysis of the vote on California’s Proposition 8, which passed by 52 percent-to-48 percent — or barely 600,000 votes — in an election in which 13.7 million votes were cast.

But 500,000 of those 600,000 votes were ready to side with the LGBT community against Proposition 8 up until the last six weeks of the campaign.

During those last six weeks, explained the report’s author, David Fleischer, the Yes on 8 campaign saturated the television airwaves with advertisements that borrowed from the 30-year-old Anita Bryant “Save the Children” campaign from 1977.

The advertisements — also used successfully in 2009 in Maine — told parents that the legalization of same-sex marriage would require public schools to teach children that same-sex marriage is a viable option for them. The No on 8 campaign failed to respond directly and quickly to that claim and, thus, lost the vote.

Fleischer’s analysis — “The Prop 8 Report: What Defeat in California Can Teach Us about Winning Future Ballot Measures on Same-sex Marriage,” — was released Aug. 3 and drives home the point that “anti-gay forces know how to exploit and stimulate anti-gay prejudice, and the LGBT community has difficulty facing and responding to the attack.”

“Recycling a lie as old as Anita Bryant’s ‘Save the Children’ campaign in 1977,” said Fleischer, “the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign whipped up fears about kids to move voters to its side.”

Fleischer rejected analyses proffered by other political observers who suggested that African-American voters had been the deciding factor in the Proposition 8 vote. He also rejected a recent analysis by political scientist Patrick Egan, who said spending large amounts of money on ad campaigns has no impact because most voters’ minds on gay ballot measures are made up long before election day.

Instead, Fleischer lays the passage of Proposition 8 at the feet of “parents with children under 18 living at home,” saying that about 500,000 such voters switched from “no” to “yes” on 8 in the closing weeks. And he says the No on 8 ad campaign could have made a difference if it had responded quickly and directly to the fears parlayed by the Yes on 8 ads.

The most effective Yes on 8 ad, said Fleischer, was one showing a little girl coming home and telling her mother that she had just learned in school that a prince can marry a prince and that she could marry a princess.

The narrator then claimed that, “When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, schools began teaching second-graders that boys can marry boys. … The courts ruled parents had no right to object.”

“The lesson of the ‘Yes on 8’ campaign,” said Fleischer, is that “when parents hear that their kids are in danger, even if it’s a lie, some of them believe it — particularly when the lie largely goes unanswered.”

“Those ads are fear-mongering directed at parents to make them think their children are in danger,” said Fleischer, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Aug. 3.

He noted that daily polling data showed that adults with no children at home did not show any change in their plans to vote against Proposition 8 once the so-called “Princes” ad started airing, but adults with children at home changed their plans — from voting against to voting for Proposition 8 — in dramatic numbers.

The “Princes” ad was on the air by Oct. 7, just a week after Yes on 8 had begun airing another TV ad in which San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was shown telling a crowd that gay marriage is “going to happen — whether you like it or not.”

Prior to those ads going up, said Fleischer, polling showed a virtual tie on the Proposition 8 question.

“Yes on 8’s fear-mongering about children was particularly effective because No on 8 waited 17 of the 30 days remaining until the election was over to directly respond,” said Fleischer.

“[W]hen an anti-LGBT campaign alleging indoctrination of kids unfolds on TV; and when that campaign is well-funded enough that the average voters see ads exploiting anti-gay prejudice five or more times each week for four to five weeks; then the ads generate, awaken, reawaken or reinforce a response among some voters that moves them to vote against the LGBT community,” wrote Fleischer in his report.

The report can be viewed in its entirety at Prop8Report.org.

Fleischer spent many years training openly gay candidates to run for elective office as a part of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and then the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He notes, in the report, that he has participated in more than 100 campaigns to “preempt, stop, delay, and overcome anti-LGBT ballot measures.”

His analysis examined more than 10,000 pages of data and related documents and included more than 40 hours of interviews with No on 8 officials. Fleischer also analyzed the use and penetration of every television ad aired by both the pro- and anti-gay campaigns in Proposition 8.

Fleischer says data shows that the initiative, approved by a margin of about 600,000 votes, secured 687,000 votes in the last six weeks of the campaign. More than 500,000 of these crucial last-minute shifters were parents with children under 18 living at home.

Parents, noted Fleischer, comprised about 30 percent of the 13.7 million voters in California in November 2008. While Yes on 8 initially had only a two-point lead over No on 8 in this 4 million-strong demographic group, it had a 24-point lead on election day.

“Overall, parents with kids under 18 at home began the campaign evenly divided on same-sex marriage,” said Fleischer, “but ended up against us by a lopsided margin.”

But they weren’t the only groups to shift away from a pro-gay position.

“Other groups that moved significantly in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage included white Democrats (by 24 points), voters in the greater Bay Area (31 points), voters age 30-39 (29 points), and Independent voters (26 points).”

Fleischer criticized the No on 8 campaign for delegating “too much of the thinking and therefore too much of the de facto decision-making” to consultants. And he said its message to voters was “vague, inconsistent, and too often de-gayed, reducing its power to persuade.”

No on 8 took too long to respond to the “Princes” ad, said Fleischer, because its decision-makers “did not choose to directly respond to the attack.”

There had been a change in leadership in the No on 8 campaign just a week before “Princes” began airing, and the new decisions-makers also hired a new media firm to create their ads. But their failure to act quickly and directly was hardly anything new.

“The LGBT community has historically avoided responding directly to the issue of kids,” said Fleischer, “in part out of the belief that no response will defuse the issue, and in part out of a wish not to have to face this unfair, untrue defamation.”

But that failure to respond, said Fleischer, amounts to a “decision not to defend LGBT people as trustworthy.”

Ballot measures over gay civil rights issues have been taking place throughout the United States since 1974, but pro-gay ballot campaigns didn’t even use the word “gay” until 2002 and didn’t use an openly gay spokesperson until 2004.

Although acknowledging that he had not studied Maine as thoroughly as California, Fleischer also criticized the No on 1 campaign there that fought an initiative to repeal the state’s marriage equality law.

He said the  No on 1 campaign also avoided responding directly to the “kids are in danger” ads and even avoided using the word “gay” in all but one of their own ads.

Rather than respond to the Yes on 1’s claim that marriage equality would put the kids of voters in danger, noted Fleischer, No on 1 talked about the need to protect gay kids and children with gay parents.

Post-election data from Maine’s campaign — which repealed its marriage equality law in 2009 — suggested the parents’ concerns there were not that kids would experiment with being gay. Instead, said Fleischer, parents were concerned their kids would accept gay couples and that other kids would be raised by gay parents.

Fleischer strongly recommended that the LGBT community not return to the ballot box “until we are prepared to vitiate this [child-related fear-mongering] attack.”

He also urges future campaigns to adopt a more modern approach to campaigning — one that calls for quick, direct and forceful responses to attacks.

Fleischer’s analysis was not entirely critical of the No on 8 campaign. He credited the campaign with enlisting a “record-breaking” number of volunteers and dollars, and making “a series of smart choices that maximized the number of dollars raised and volunteers involved.”

Kate Kendell, one of the best known No on 8 leaders, said of Fleischer’s report, “I think we need to learn all we can about how to win these campaigns and we need to digest all the info we get to do that.”

Meanwhile, Equality California, which was a key component of the No on 8 campaign in 2008, issued a press release July 20 indicating it plans to organize for a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 8 in 2012.

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

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