Saying goodbye to Friends

Nationally known Cedar Creek Lake bar closes after 15 years

Friends-001

BUSINESS DRIES UP | Owner Leo Bartlett said low lake levels caused by the ongoing drought resulted in fewer visitors to the area, forcing him to shut down his club for good. (David Webb/Dallas Voice)

DAVID WEBB  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

GUN BARREL CITY — For 15 years Friends was the little gay bar that did it all in the most unlikely of settings, but it came to a sad end just before Christmas.
Friends owner Leo Bartlett sent out a message on Facebook Dec. 20 saying he was closing the iconic gay bar, and he never unlocked the doors for business again. Situated in the middle of one of the most conservative areas of the state, the humble little private club had featured charity drag shows and raised many tens of thousands of dollars — benefiting homeless animals, the elderly, the poor and HIV patients — for years.

Known not only throughout Texas but literally around the world, Friends often saw visitors from far away who had read or heard about the bar. Reporters for major mainstream U.S. newspapers like the Washington Post contacted the bar’s management for comments on LGBT issues. In 2007, Out magazine named Friends one of the top 50 gay bars in the world, saying the atmosphere was the friendliest in the state, the fish tank was filled with well water and the drag queens’ hairdos tended to be big, much like they were.

In a clever complement to the drag shows, a local theater group known as Friends Players put on variety shows that were well attended by the lake’s gay and straight residents alike. The entire cast, including performers in full drag, traveled down the road to the American Legion Club a couple of times each year to put on performances.

But now, the music, acting, dancing and laughing are just memories for Bartlett, who opened the bar door late one afternoon this month to allow a few customers to retrieve several pieces of personal property. The walls that once were covered with pictures of bewigged drag queens wearing tiaras are now bare.

“It’s all over,” Bartlett said as he stood in the sunlight flowing through the open door into the dark bar. “I said my goodbyes on Facebook. It’s all there to read. I’ve thanked everyone. There’s really nothing else to say.”

Bartlett said sending out the Facebook message was painful for him, and he didn’t want to have one last party in the bar to mark its closing, although many former customers had hoped he would.

Bartlett.Leo

Leo Bartlett

“It would just be a funeral for me,” said Bartlett, who noted the bar’s net revenue had been on the decline for about three years, just as with many other lake businesses. “I didn’t see any point in that. I’ve already said my goodbyes.”
Bartlett said economic conditions on the lake led to Friend’s closing, and he didn’t blame it on the competition from a new gay bar, Garlow’s, that opened nearby two years ago.

He disputed the popular opinion among some members of the lake’s LGBT community that there weren’t enough customers on the lake for two gay bars, and that the newer, more attractive Garlow’s had stolen his customers.

“There were enough customers,” Bartlett said. “There just wasn’t enough participation. If you talk to the owners of the straight bars, you will hear the same thing from them. Everybody is having trouble.”

The lake has a sizable LGBT community made up of retirees, Dallas commuters and natives, but many just don’t enjoy the bar scene. The gay and lesbian population increases greatly on weekends, holidays and during the summers when LGBT second-home owners are in residence, but many of them also prefer not to go out to the nightclubs.

Last summer’s drought — which caused the lake to drop almost 8 feet, leaving boat docks sitting in sand and beaches where water once stood — finished Friends off, Bartlett said. People avoided the lake, and that made all of the lake’s businesses suffer, resulting in several businesses shutting down in 2011, he said.

“It was time for me to close,” said Bartlett, who also separated this year from his longtime life partner who had helped him run the bar. “It was 15 good years. That’s what is important.”

For many customers though, the closing has left a void, and some seem almost resentful about it. Many of Bartlett’s customers would not go to Garlow’s out of loyalty to Friends, but others who went to both bars are also disappointed. And some who didn’t go to Friends at all also expressed dismay.

Friends’ closing is a loss to the lake’s LGBT community, said Troy Luethe, who with his life partner owns a bed and breakfast in nearby Ben Wheeler. The couple once participated in the Friends Players productions and visited the bar socially as well.

“I think it is sad,” Luethe said. “I never like to see a business fail, and it was part of the history of the area and held a lot of memories for me and others.”

For Jennie Morris, another former member of Friends Players, it is more personal. She also went there socially to meet with her friends.

“I feel like I lost a good friend, really, and one of my major connections to the community,” Morris said. “As a member of Friends Players it has left a pretty big hole there, too.

Friends was my Cheers, I guess — a place where everybody knows your name. Friends was safe, comfortable and like an old flannel shirt — just home.”

Several former customers of Friends declined to comment for the story, saying they had mixed emotions. Some people complained that Bartlett ran the bar too much like a nonprofit organization rather than a business, and blamed its closing on that.

Michael Slingerland, owner of Garlow’s, said he was shocked when he first heard about Bartlett announcing the closing of Friends. Slingerland formerly worked part time at Friends as a bartender before opening his own business, which appears to be doing well.

“We’ve talked about it a lot here,” Slingerland said. “It’s really sad.”

Slingerland said he had hoped for a cooperative effort between the two bars that would have helped both prosper, but that never happened.

“We could have helped each other out a lot,” said Slingerland, who envisioned back-and-forth traffic between the two clubs.
Regardless of what factors led to the closing of Friends, it is now a reality that the bar is gone for good. Although Bartlett has said he has no plans to return to his nativeArkansas, he is exploring other options for his future life in the Cedar Creek area.

“I’m thinking about a number of things,” said Bartlett, who acknowledged being a “hermit” since he announced the closing.

In the meantime Bartlett has listed the building for sale or lease with a gay Cedar Creek Lake real estate agent. The ad might run something like this: “Little private club with an unusually intriguing past available for new operator and members.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Taylor Dayne can’t stop the music

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

Dayne.TaylorRich Lopez  |  Staff Writer

lopez@dallasvoice.com

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.

—  Rich Lopez

Pride 2011 • 26 years of success, and it keeps getting better

Co-grand marshals Alan Pierce and Gary Miller say they are fortunate to have family, friends and a successful business

Grand-Marshals-Gary.Alan
Gary Miller, left, and Alan Pierce

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Grand Marshals

Alan Pierce and Gary Miller, co-grand marshals with Chris Bengston of this year’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, have been partners in life for 26 years, and partners in business for 12.

The two, who own the popular country-western bar Round-Up Saloon, said this week they’ve seen a lot of changes through the years, and are first-hand witnesses to the fact that it does, indeed, keep on getting better.

“Last year when we were celebrating the Round-Up’s 30th anniversary, we asked some of our customers who have been around awhile what they remembered from the early days of the bar, back in the 1980s,” Pierce said.

“Back then, the cops were still harassing people in the gay bars. It was still illegal for two people of the same sex to dance together. So when the cops would come in the bar, all the customers would just stop whatever they were doing and sit down on the dance floor,” Pierce said. “They would just sit there, very calmly, until the cops left.”

It was the same, he added, in Houston where he lived and worked for about 5 years as a school teacher.

“They were still arresting people in Houston,” Pierce said. “Since I was a school teacher, if I had been arrested, I would have immediately lost my job.”

These days, he said, “It’s definitely not that way anymore. It has definitely gotten better.”

Pierce, who was born and grew up in New Mexico, made his way to Texas when he went to college at Abilene Christian University. After college, he moved to Houston where he worked as a school teacher and came out as a gay man. In 1983, he left the field of education and bought in as co-owner of the Brazos River Bottom, a gay country-western bar in Houston, in 1983.

That’s how Pierce met the new president of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association, a man from Dallas named Gary Miller.

Miller, born and raised in the Lake Texoma area, was married “for awhile” to a woman with whom he said he and Pierce “still have a great relationship. I have a wonderful son, and a wonderful daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandsons.

“They are all very accepting of us [he and Pierce]. They come down here to the bar to socialize with us, and we are included in all the family gatherings and events. That’s a big part of why it just keeps getting better for us, because we have these children and grandchildren in our lives,” Miller said.

Because he got married early and had a son, Miller — who Pierce gleefully points out is the older of the two — “didn’t come out until I was a little older, in the early 1980s,” Miller said.

But he quickly got involved in TGRA, and it was on a TGRA trip to Houston that he met Pierce.

“We were just friends at first. We were friends for at least a couple of years before we actually started dating,” Pierce said. Miller added, “When
we started dating, I was in Dallas, and Alan was still in Houston. We kept Southwest Airlines pretty busy, going back and forth to spend time together.”

In 1987, Pierce finally decided to move to Dallas so he and Miller could be together full time. By then, Miller had been working for several years at The Round-Up Saloon, thanks to his friendship with bar manager Tom Davis. And when, two years later in February 1989, the Round-Up’s building was destroyed in a fire set by an arsonist, Pierce was there to help rebuild.

After the fire — which was set by a man who had robbed the offices of the Dallas Gay Alliance next door and started the blaze to cover up the robbery — the Round-Up relocated temporarily to a building on Maple Avenue at Throckmorton (the building that most recently housed The Brick/Joe’s until that bar relocated to Wycliff and
the building on Maple was torn down).

It was the end of what had been a difficult decade for Dallas’ LGBT community. “So many people were sick and dying,” Pierce said, “and there was nobody willing to take care of them except the [LGBT] community.”

But as the ’80s came to an end, advances in treatment for HIV/AIDS were beginning to give those with the disease a brighter outlook, and Dallas’ LGBT community was also beginning to shine.

“The whole thing was really beginning to blossom,” Pierce recalled. “We had all these organizations and services in place. We were still fighting the police department’s ban on hiring gays and lesbians, but that was changing, too. Things were getting better.”

Even the fire, which was without a doubt a horrible thing to happen, turned out to be a kind of blessing in disguise for the Round-Up, giving bar owner Tom Sweeney a chance to rebuild, creating a bigger and better space than before.

And Pierce, who had worked in construction, too, in Houston, was there to handle most of the rebuilding for the bar, Miller said.

Eventually, longtime Round-Up manager Tom Davis died, and Miller took over as bar manager. Then in 1999, owner Tom Sweeney decided he was ready to sell, and Miller and Pierce were there to buy the nightclub.

The Round-Up came with a long history of community involvement, and Pierce and Miller said since they bought the bar they have worked to keep that tradition alive.

“We lived through the ’80s, through the AIDS crisis when we all got involved to raise funds to help our friends,” Miller said. “And we have just kept on helping. Because once you get that feeling that comes from doing something good for someone, you never want that feeling to go away.”

As a country-western bar, the Round-Up has always had close ties with TGRA, and has always helped to raise funds and supplies for the Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry and other AIDS programs. The nightclub and its owners developed a relationship with Legacy Counseling Center and Legacy Founders Cottage, a hospice for people with AIDS, when some of the bar’s employees needed the hospice’s services, and the Round-Up continues to hold annual fundraising events for Legacy.

“We have a great venue for events, and it’s necessary to continue raising money, so we do it,” Miller said. “There’s still an AIDS crisis and there are still a lot of people who need help.”
Pierce added, “And if it’s not AIDS, then it will be something else, someone else who needs help. I have always said that about the gay community: We take care of our own.”

Despite the sometimes dire economic situation over recent years, Pierce and Miller said the Round-Up has continued to thrive. Its reputation as the premiere country-western gay bar in the country brings in plenty of people visiting Dallas, including some well-known celebrities over the years, like Tyne Daley, Chelsea Handler and Emma Watson.

And of course, there’s the Round-Up’s status as the bar in Dallas that helped Lady Gaga get her start, booking the singer in 2008 when she was still an unknown. Now, Mama Monster makes it a point to visit the Round-Up whenever she’s in Dallas.

The Round-Up is also a longtime member of the Dallas Tavern Guild, with both Pierce and Miller having held several offices there. They are also proud members of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, which this summer revived Razzle Dazzle Dallas.

“We enjoy what we do, and we are always trying to think of ways to make things better,” Miller said. “We’ve been very fortunate. And I’ll tell you one thing that has helped make things better for us is the ban on smoking in the bars. Alan and I were behind that from the start. I know it hurt some of the bars, the ones that didn’t have patios and didn’t have any way to build a patio. But it’s been nothing but good for us. Our business increased the first night of the ban, and it hasn’t gone back down since.”

Both Miller and Pierce agreed that luck has been on their side over the years, giving the Round-Up a chance to evolve into “a great place to socialize,” Miller said.

“I think people like coming to our bar because they can relax and enjoy themselves there. There’s no big drug scene there, and we work hard to keep the drugs out. We’re not known as a place where there’s a lot of fighting in the bar, because we just don’t allow that,” Miller said. “The scene has changed a lot over the years. There are a lot more straight people who come in now. They like our music; they like to dance. Everyone gets along.”

Pierce added, “I read somewhere not that long ago that gay bars are becoming extinct. I don’t think we are becoming extinct, I just think we’re evolving. And that’s a good thing.”

Miller and Pierce said it is a great honor to have been chosen to serve with Bengston this year as grand marshals of Dallas’ Pride parade, and Pierce said they feel doubly honored tohave been chosen grand marshals of the Dallas parade and honorary grand marshals of the International Gay Rodeo Association’s finals rodeo coming to Fort Worth in October.

“It’s a good feeling, a really good feeling, when you’re chosen by your friends and colleagues for something like this,” Miller said. “Alan and I are very lucky in our life. We’re a good fit for each other, a match that will really last. We’ve been together now for 26 years, and it really does just keep getting better.”

For more information, go online to RoundUpSaloon.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

It’s raining (ON) men

For one Southern Decadence virgin — and thousands of other gay men descending on NOLA — Tropical Storm Lee couldn’t steal their thunder

GET WET | Despite occasional cloudbursts, the French Quarter remained a hot-bed of activity all throughout SoDec weekend. (Photo courtesy Rod Orta)

JEF TINGLEY | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Gay culture has a longstanding symbiotic relationship with low-pressure fronts. Chanteuses and drag queens alike sing about it in “Stormy Weather,” it’s H20 that ultimately does in the Wicked Witch of the West and the post-shower rainbow has become synonymous with LGBT Pride. It seems like we’ll find any angle to work the adage “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

So when it came time for my virgin voyage to New Orleans’ “Gay Mardi Gras” known as Southern Decadence, I wasn’t about to let a little rain (or even massive Tropical Storm Lee) steal my thunder — even if Lee’s thunder was more than impressive.
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone.

Clad in soggy leather, feathers and outfits slightly less revealing than a birthday suit, partygoers from across the nation braved the storm that flooded others parts of city to make sure that this 41st annual event lived up to its indulgent namesake. Organizers estimate Decadence brought about $125 million in economic impact to New Orleans and a crowd of nearly 80,000 people (down from an 110,000 in previous years).

But beyond the loyal fans, what made Decadence really shine was its all-inclusive embrace throughout the French Quarter. The sense of notorious southern hospitality was almost palpable.

The hub of the activities began near Bourbon and Saint Ann streets, home of NOLA’s largest resident gay bars — Oz and the Bourbon Pub/Parade — which were festooned in this year’s official colors of fuchsia pink, black and silver for the occasion. Their crowded balconies provided great people watching, but there was plenty to see on the street below, too — like Miss Ashley. This self-proclaimed “traffic trannie” works the intersection with her best “Stop In The Name Of Love” moves along with a whistle and a whip to keep partygoers safe from passing cars. (She even has a Traffic Trannie Facebook page.)

Strolling along Bourbon Street, you’ll note how clubs that usually cater to the heterosexual set during other times of the year ramp up their Kinsey Scale rating to 6.5 over Labor Day weekend, adding rainbow flags, hunky bartenders and drink specials to lure in the gays. It worked for our group, which made repeat appearances at a little-known bar called Bourbon Heat (711 Bourbon St.) that offered more breathing room, three-for-one drinks and front row seats to the action on the street.

GLAM IT UP | Attendees at the annual Labor Day bacchanal let all inhibitions loose. (Photo courtesy Rod Orta)

Decadence is the kind of party that goes from morning-to-night — or morning-to-morning if you choose (throughout the year, there is no “last call” in New Orleans — bars stay open 24/7). But there are less crazy options if you need respite from dancing in the rain (or searching for your pants).

Places like the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St.) is one such example. The bar is decked out like an old-fashioned carousel and your bar stool literally goes round-and-round to give you an ever-changing vantage point. The setting was very relaxed with background music as eclectic as the crowd.

And while the temptation at Decadence can be to live on a “liquid diet” or simple street foods like pizza and Lucky Dogs, we opted for one night of elegance at the world famous Arnaud’s Restaurant (813 Rue Bienville). It’s the Big Easy equivalent of dinner and a show. Before your meal, tour the upstairs Mardis Gras Museum. Some of the elaborately beaded and feathered costumes on display date back to the 1940s, almost resembling cave drawings that Bob Mackie might later turn into a gown for Cher. The real star, however, is Arnaud’s extensive menu of Creole belly-rubbing goodness. And for true dramatic flair, make sure to order up the flamin’ Bananas Foster for dessert (its presentation will have everyone in the room looking your way).

I’m sure that any other year, Southern Decadence might have received a much different report of dignity exchanged for beads and moral codes left in the gutter, but in this case the rain seemed to bring just some good clean fun. And as the talented Katy Perry was once paraphrased as saying: “After you [drink a] Hurricane, comes a rainbow.”

Southern Decadence 2012, I’ll be back. So get those blue skies and shirtless boys ready.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The lost art of cruising

‘Electro-tricks’ may be quicker and easier, but half the fun of the hook-up was working at it

Hardy Haberman | Flagging Left

I don’t get out much — at least to the bars. First of all I don’t drink anymore, and second, I am not really looking to hook up with anyone since I am in a very nice relationship.

I do, however, occasionally meet friends out for the evening or for a special event.

When I do go out, it is most often to our local leather bar, the Dallas Eagle, and I often indulge in a little people watching. I like to watch the crowd, the way people interact with one another, the ebb and flow of what was once a favorite past time of gay men: cruising.

What surprised me was the lack of that particular gay art going on.

First, let me say this is not a reflection on the Eagle; it’s a fine, first-class leather bar. What I noticed is something I have seen in other cities as well, and it bothers me a bit.

Now for those who might not know, cruising is a delicate dance men used to perform when looking for a partner, playmate or just trick du jour. It usually began with some long, slow looks, occasional subtle signals like a nod, the touch of the brim of a cap, a purposeful second glance or even just a slight change in body language.

If two people read the signals, and actually respond, it might proceed to sending over a drink — or a more direct approach. Often before actually making contact, you would ask a few friends if they knew the man in question, and for the leather scene that would also entail asking if anyone knew more intimate details: Was he a safe player? What was he into?

Of course, we also had the hanky code. It was a more direct and cut to the chase way to let folks know what you were seeking.

I won’t go into the details here, but the basics were: Hanky in the left pocket meant you were a top, and hanky in the right pocket meant you were a bottom.

Still, even with outward signs, there was an art to the whole endeavor. If done correctly, it had an element of seduction in it and all the sexual energy that went with it.

Sadly, I don’t see much of that going on anymore.

What I do see is guys checking their smart phones. Looking a little closer, I see them using Grindr, checking Recon and texting.

That’s when I realized what happened to cruising: It has gone the way of the dodo.

What was once a face-to-face encounter that actually took some time and energy is now a fast, down-and-dirty, “check a few profiles and text enough contacts until you pull a winning number” routine.

The whole cruising experience has become an electronic booty call with no mystery, no romance and no effort.

Oh yes, it is much more efficient. You can select from the variety of “neck-down pictures” and body statistics, like you were choosing a download on Amazon.

Find Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Enough for Now, text a few lines, set a time and bingo! Insta-trick!

All very high tech and painless. No face-to-face rejections, no appallingly awkward moments. Just on-line chat and, essentially, “booking.”

It would seem to me that applications like Grindr and sites like Recon and CraigsList have replaced the whole cruising experience, and though it might be much more efficient, it really changes to atmosphere in the bars.

The heady sexual tension that used to permeate gay bars has given way to guys and gals on their smart phones texting or cruising — the web. One bar in Florida even has a screen where patrons can text directly to the screen, sort of a visual “shout out” for all to see.

Inevitably, the whole electro-trick phenomenon has spawned something totally unexpected. My partner commented on the subject of this column and suggested there should be an Angie’s List for Grindr.

I was surprised this morning when, while researching this piece, I found something very much like that.

Douchebagsofgrindr.com may just be a parody, but if not it offers some insight into the whole process. Personally, I find it kind of crass, but then I find the whole “electro-trick-speed-dating-booty-call” app thing crass.

It makes me long for the days of actually having to spend a little time to pursue and attract and seduce someone you were interested in. Try that now and I suspect you’d just get accused of being a stalker.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.Blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Small-town gay life

GAY MICROCOSM | With fewer than 50,000 residents, San Luis de la Paz doesn’t even have a gay bar, but that hasn’t stopped queer Dallasites from calling it home. (Photos by Jesus Chairez)

JESUS CHAIREZ  | Special Contributor
chairezstudio@gmail.com

SAN LUIS DE LA PAZ, Guanajuato, México — No rainbow flags, no gay bars, no Pride parade, but for ex-Dallasites Ron Austin and Lamar Strickland, this small Mexican town has plenty of gay life in it.

Austin and Strickland sold most everything and packed up what they could, moving to San Luis de La Paz four years ago. Austin says that he first discovered San Luis years ago when accompanied his best friend Manolo Arrendondo, also from Dallas, back home to visit his family for Christmas one year. When Arrendondo moved back to México to care for his ailing mother, Austin and Strickland soon followed.

Austin used to work for AIDS Arms for many years before retiring from the Baylor Geriatric Center. Strickland still works but telecommutes to his job in the U.S.

Though most people think that it is not safe — and even dangerous — for LGBT people to vacation much less live in México, Austin says that he and his partner feel safe.

“In general I have not found much homophobia here and for most people it seems like a non-issue. But yes, there are homophobic people in San Luis and Mexico. We get called names now and then, but then we sometimes got called names in Dallas, too.”

RURAL DRAG | Clockwise from above: Karla aka Carlos and ‘La?Mosca’ aka Adry staged a successful drag pageant this month in the new hometown of Dallas transplants Lamar Strickland and Ron Austin.

Things have changed in San Luis, says the couple, who have spoken to their trans friends Carlos, now known as Karla and Adry Pardo Garcia, known by his nickname, la Mosca (“the Fly”) about the changes: Harassment is basically verbal today and not physical like in the past.

Though there are no gay bars in San Luis, a town of about 49,000, gay people do go out and dance. It is sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell situation where gays blend into the crowd; two men dancing together is something gay men just don’t do.

Though Austin and Strickland say they don’t feel much homophobia in San Luis, “Only the drag queens get by with gay behavior, like dancing together or displays of affection,” says Austin.

Though there are no official gay events in San Luis, five years ago Karla and Adry Pardo Garcia, leaders in the trans and drag queen community, and several of their friends got together to have a Ms. San Luis de la Paz annual pageant called Nuestra Belleza Gay (Our Gay Beauty). Carlos and Garcia say their pageant does give pride to San Luis’ growing LGBT community.

In the U.S., drag queens and transsexuals are often at the forefront of the LGBT movement; it is no different here in México, especially in San Luis. For example, earlier this month the girls got into a Blazer and put loud speakers on the roof of the automobile that blared out announcements for their Ms. San Luis Gay 2011 event held at Bar One, a club almost in the center of town.

As the Blazer drove down San Luis’ narrow streets, the girls — in full makeup and outfits — handed out flyers as they approached anyone on the street. Everyone seemed to be fine with all the glitter and glamour. The Nuestra Belleza Gay marketing worked; it was a sold-out crowd at Bar One. Austin was a judge for this year’s event, as he was last year.

Even before the pageant started there was enthusiasm: As the sun was setting all Nuestra Belleza Gay participants, along with their supporters, gathered at the main bus station where the contestants sat on the hood of a car and everyone caravanned through town with a police escort — basically a very small Pride parade. Small clusters of people did wait along the route that went through the center of town to wave and enjoy the beauty.

Though there may not be gay bars or a gayborhood to speak of, Austin and Strickland, along with their two dogs, Osa and Hoppy and a cat named Miche, are enjoying their new life in  México.

Jesús Chairez is an activist and freelance writer; former producer and host of U.S.’s first LGBT Latino show Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) on KNON 89.3 FM. He resides between Dallas and México City.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Put on your p-p-p-poker face for Lone Star Ride

OK, we know Lady Gaga’s new CD comes out today (we’ll have a review in Friday’s paper), but the poker face we’re thinking about this week is yours. Starting tomorrow, and continuing for four consecutive Wednesdays, Team Dallas Voice is raising money for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS by holding a P-P-P-Poker Tournament at clubs across town. It kicks off May 25 at 8 p.m. at Sue Ellen’s with the first qualifying round, then moves to the Round-Up Saloon on June 1 at 8:30 p..m, the Brick on June 8 at 7:30 p.m., before the grand prize final at the Brick on June 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Because this is Dallas, not Vegas, the game play is free, so if you want to contribute to the LSR cause, bring cash to bid on auction items or enter the 50/50 raffle. Among the prizes available (pictured, with Team DV organizer Greg Hoover) are tickets to see Dolly Parton (we’ll resist the urge to call this one a “booby prize”), Ke$ha and Chelsea Handler,  tickets to the Texas Rangers and Lone Star Park horse races, Starbucks coffee, passes to the MetroBall with Deborah Cox, a set of poker chips, books, grooming supplies and much more … and the final grand prize: Two tickets on American Airlines anywhere in the contiguous U.S.

Poker, gay bars, prizes — sounds like an ideal way to spend a Wednesday. Or any day of the week, at that.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

King of the hill

Rock-Beach-ed
Breathtaking seaside Monterey, Calif., is much more than its aquarium

NICK VIVION | Contributing Travel Writer
gaytravel.com

 

As I lay there all tied up in knots, with my right leg piercing the air near my ear, all I could think about was sea otters. Never mind the fact that my rational mind was screaming, “Your leg does not belong near your ear!” My creative mind was off with the sea otters, frolicking, swimming backwards, fetching shiny ornaments for a reward of an abalone liberated from its pesky shell.

This made me laugh, although my masseuse, targeting my tension with a force not unlike a sea otter slamming a rock on fresh food, hardly notices. I’m blissed out at the Spa on the Plaza in Monterey, Calif., and my wandering mind is exploring my earlier visit to the expansive Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Aquarium is by far the biggest draw for travelers to Monterey County, as it is consistently rated the No. 1 aquarium in the U.S., and occasionally even the world. The tanks are full of shimmering fish, giant octopi, and furry sea otters, not to mention a healthy share of rambunctious children mammals. The aquarium’s popularity is also a bit of a curse, because the first thing that people say when you mention Monterey is usually, “Oh, that’s where the aquarium is!”

Lucky for us all, Monterey County has heaps more going on to whet the traveling whistle. So much so, in fact, that it keeps me coming back at least once a year.

The huge county of Monterey — one-and-and-half times the size of Delaware — sits two hours south of San Francisco, occupying a 100-mile swath of Pacific Ocean beauty and inland fertility. Its magnificence has made it world famous, and it’s hard to think of a chunk of earth that inspires more awe, respect and superlatives from most who pass through it.

There are no gay bars here, no clubs — no nightlife to speak of. This is a romantic place, where you come and frolic amidst the backdrop of natural grandeur. Kayaking, diving, horseback riding, biking, fishing and sailing provide a direct channel to beauty at every angle.

I started off my whirlwind tour of solo romancin’ with a sunset hike in Point Lobos State Reserve, also known as the crown jewel of the state parks. This is only one of a baker’s dozen of sickeningly gorgeous hikes nearby.

For the committed hiker, the Ventana Wilderness behind Big Sur is chock-full of remote camp sites. Day hikes range from the easy Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which takes you to the spectacular waterfall dropping from cliffs into the water, to the robust Ollason Peak in Toro Park, where you gain 1,800 feet of elevation. Other trails include the Pinnacle National Monument, 20 miles of beach trails at Andrew Molera State Park, and, perhaps the best kept secret of the area, the steepest coastal canyon in the continental U.S. that features abandoned limestone kilns at Limekiln State Park.

As the sun was setting, I set up my tripod and captured the sun dropping beyond Seal Cove, where seals were enjoying the last drops of sunshine. Briny patterns had been blasted into the rocks by the sea spray, and birds were gently riding thermals overhead. Robert Louis Stevenson was struck with the idea for Treasure Island while hiking in this very same spot.

The glamour of Pebble Beach is one of the primary features of Monterey County, with it’s exacting fairways, crashing waves, and bazillion- dollar homes that loom over the greens. There is also the Concours d’Elegance, where high-end car collectors from all over the world descend on Pebble Beach like bears to Sidr honey.

The elegance of the architecture in Pebble Beach trickles out to many corners of coastal Monterey, enticing movie stars, musicians and billionaire moguls to settle here. Clint Eastwood is the most infamous resident of the area, having served as mayor of Carmel in the late 1980s. Rupert Murdoch, Doris Day and countless others in the vaunted upper crust have purchased homes here.

Of course, this means that this can quickly become an expensive vacation as Michelin-rated restaurants and $500-per-night hotels have sprung up to cater to this wealthy clientele. Check out the plush L’Auberge in Carmel, and be sure to melt with a massage at one of the world-class spas like Accista Spa or the Spa on the Plaza.

One especially fruity note came in my glass — Monterey is known for its outstanding wines, especially chardonnay and pinots noir. The county produces more grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined, and that many grapes from the Central Coast go into Napa/Sonoma-branded wines. The soil has stellar mineral content, which makes for uniquely robust wines.

Monterey is one of those special places that is widely popular and accessible to many, while maintaining that rare ability to make someone feel like they are the only person in the whole wide world that knows about it.

Oops. Secret’s out now.

…………………………

7 steps for staying fit on the road

All of us have priorities when we travel. For gay men, staying healthy while relaxing and over-eating in local cuisines is often high up on the list.  Unfortunately, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Here are a few tricks for keeping that beach body even when temptations abound.

Plan ahead. When staying at a hotel, inquire ahead about its gym facilities. Ask about the equipment and browse pictures on the website; and inquire whether access to the gym is 24/7 and free to all guests or comes with an additional fee. A lot of hotels claim to have gyms, but actually offer little more than a glorified storage closet with a few barbells that look borrowed from the Flintstones. If staying at a house or other single-family property, search online for any nearby facilities. Call those and ask about short-term rates and make a game plan. Get your ducks in a row.

Remember that there’s no such thing as “vacation” calories. You’ve probably heard people try to justify an unhealthy meal by saying, “It’s OK — I’ m on vacation.” Bullshit. While there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, it’s important to remember the obvious: Your body doesn’t process food any differently when you’re on a vacation than it does while you’re at home. Calories are calories. And the more you travel, the more important this rule becomes.

Stay hydrated. It’s easy not to get your daily requirement of water while traveling — on the road, it’s much easier to opt for soft drinks, alcohol, etc. Make an effort to drink water. It provides a ton of great benefits including boosting your metabolism and curbing your appetite.

Use your feet. One of the best ways to explore a new city and get the most out of what it has to offer is on foot. That’s also great way to exercise.  Push yourself to walk instead of taking buses and cabs everywhere. It will help counteract some of those extra calories we tend to consume while traveling — and you’ll probably discover a few hidden gems along the way.

Be flexible. Exercise doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. Maybe your typical gym routine at home is a 60-minute intense cardio burner, but you only have 30 minutes of free time each day. As Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work.” Do what you can with what you’ve got! A half hour of exercise is better than none.

Stock the mini-fridge. For the record, there is nothing “mini” about this bar’s caloric content. If possible, squeeze some of your own grocery items into the space between the candy bars, chips and booze. Stock up on fresh cut fruit, veggies and sandwiches. Making smart choices with the mini-fridge will help you cut down on killer restaurant meals.

Exercise in your room. If your accommodations don’t include a fitness facility — or if you’re not adventurous enough to use it — you can still get a great workout in the comfort of your room. Browse some aerobic videos on YouTube to get some cardio, and use your bodyweight as resistance for strength training. There are a million possibilities.
Being a frequent traveler doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your fitness program or a prescription for obesity. Keep your game face on and you’ll be pleased with the results: More energy, better sleep and increased immune system performance, just to name a few.

— Davey Wavey Jacques

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Love on the down load

Phil Hendricks, the mind behind Manhunt.net and now Gaydar.net, says online dating can be about more than just hook-ups

MIKEY ROX  | Contributing Writer
mikey@paperroxscissors.com

We all have our Stuart Smalley moment: That nadir of self-esteem where we feel unloved and wonder if anyone will ever ask us out again. And we also can feel invincible, as if the world is full of men seeking out someone just like us. Or maybe it’s just about getting a date for Valentine’s Day.

Whatever your mood — especially this time of year — it’s wrong to think online gay social sites are all about hookups … though there certainly is that, too.

Phil Henricks, the marketing guru currently with Gaydar.net and previously a creative mind with Manhunt.net and M4M World, is a pioneer in online dating. And he doesn’t think it’s fair to say all sites are created the same — just like gay bars, there’s something for everyone.

Henricks talks about Gaydar.net’s humble beginnings (it started so the founders’ friend could land a man), whether online dating among gays is more about Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, which political circle has been caught quietly cruising for men and why its new mobile app is more than just another Grindr.

Dallas Voice: You have quite a history as the man behind the curtain of the world’s most popular dating sites — Manhunt, M4M World, and now you’re head of North American marketing at Gaydar. Is it true that that site was started because the founder’s friend wanted a boyfriend? Did he find one? Phil Hendricks: Yup. Necessity was the father of this invention. Gaydar began in June 1999 because the founders, Henry Badenhorst and Gary Frisch, had a friend who was desperate to find a boyfriend but didn’t have the time or interest in trawling gay bars. They recommended [the search engine] Excite, which had a personals page where one could post a profile, but it took the poor guy two weeks to get a response. Henry thought he could do better and created a personal site just for the gay market. Five months later, Gaydar launched and their friend got his boyfriend.

Great story, but be honest: Is Gaydar geared toward relationships, or are the people who are using it really just looking for hookups? I like to think of Gaydar as an online version of a typical gay bar, whereas I think of other sites as closer to being online versions of a bathhouse. At Gaydar you have people who are looking for a date, looking for love, looking for a quickie, looking to flirt or just watching the boys go by, just as you would at a gay bar. Cliché as it sounds, Gaydar is what you make it. There’s something for everyone.

Gaydar.net Exec Phil Hendricks

It seems like there are no lesbian dating sites — or at least not as many as there are gay dating sites. Why do you think that is?  There are very few lesbian dating websites. It’s a smaller market, but also I think girls prefer to meet under more traditional circumstances, such as being introduced through friends, girl bars, parties, events, cruising Home Depot. That said, Gaydar does indeed have — ta-dah — a lesbian dating site. It’s called GaydarGirls.com. It’s comparably smaller than the men’s site and not as heavily marketed, but busy nonetheless.

What’s the most popular time of day for users to log on? Can you pinpoint it? Like, for example, the third Wednesday of the month at 3:53 p.m. I have been in industry for 10 years and it is the same at every site. Believe it or not, Monday nights are hot. They’re almost always the busiest of the week. Sundays from 5 to 11 p.m. is second, followed by Tuesdays.

What your main demographic? Old, young, top, bottom? Gaydar is a very welcoming site — a friendly gay bar, if you will. There are all types, ages and sizes of guys. That said, we’re really welcoming to guys age 24 and younger, who get totally free, full-access membership. We figure younger and college guys could use a break and we could use the eye candy. As for demographics, as of six months ago, 20 percent of our members are total tops, 15 percent are total bottoms, and 65 percent are versatile.

Anybody famous have a profile on the site? You don’t have to say their name out loud, but a clever little blind item wouldn’t hurt. And then whisper the name in my ear. Apparently, Gaydar is big with British Members of Parliament, the discovery of which has been catnip to the press. They found photos of one in an act too disgusting to describe in a family newspaper.” But it’s Boy George who got Gaydar into the gossip columns after his arrest for [falsely imprisoning] a rent boy he met on Gaydar. Google it.

Who’s the person who approves them and their requisitely racy photos. I’m sure he’s seen it all. Can I shadow him for a day? Nuns. Seriously, it’s a room full of people. All kinds — gay, straight, men, women, out of work MPs  — who go at it, 18 hours a day. With over 6 million members posting in nine languages, including photos and video, it’s a daunting task — but Gaydar soldiers on.

What does it take to get disapproved? I’m sure you’ve got a story. Gaydar prides itself on its relaxed stance when it comes to profile text, so we prefer not to censor. Members can pretty much say whatever they want. When it comes to photos, of course, they have to be of the member [as in, the person in the profile] and images of children, penetration, ejaculation and sex with animals or office supplies are forbidden. We have had very few issues with member photos. We have a sexy, frisky, but well-behaved crowd.

Office supplies? I don’t even wanna know. Are you required by law to save the chat logs and e-mail between members? I bet some of those are a doozy. Logs are kept, but only for the protection of the site and our customers. Only in the case of a major harassment complaint are the logs opened, and even then they can only be accessed by the customer service director. We are exceedingly strict about guarding our members’ privacy. True, it’d be the ultimate fly-on-the-wall moment, but it’ll never happen. Your secrets — and lies — are safe with us.

Where is the future of the Gaydar site headed? A couple years ago Manhunt.net launched OnTheHunt.com, which facilitates real members hooking up on film, and the sudden popularity of Grindr sort of revolutionized the way gays connect on and offline. What’s next? Gaydar and porn? Uh, no. We’ve no interest in whoring out our members for profit. Works for some, but it’s just not what the Gaydar brand is about. Gaydar is about fun, meeting, dating, as well as gay culture. We have GaydarNation.com, which is our huge gay entertainment site, plus there’s GaydarRadio.com, with half a million listeners. Mobile technology also gets us hot. We just launched the Gaydar app for the iPhone, which was an immediate hit since we were the first major gay dating site to offer a fully integrated app, allowing app and web users the exact same access to its profiles and options. The Android Gaydar app should be ready shortly after Valentine’s Day! Beyond the app, we’re giving the website an extreme makeover, which will be really fun. Look for that in early summer.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

News flash: Jim Foster is gay!

County Judge Jim Foster auditioned for an endorsement from Stonewall Democrats’ of Dallas this year, but he didn’t receive it.

Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster left office over the weekend, “as quietly as he entered it,” according to The Dallas Morning News. But what really surprised us about The DMN’s compulsory farewell was that it didn’t once mention the fact that Foster is openly gay.

Which is kind of amazing, really, given that Foster was the first openly gay county judge in the state — and given that his limited political background before taking office had been largely in the LGBT community, with groups like Stonewall Democrats. Foster also owns a business that provides security for the major gay bars on Cedar Springs.

So, to some degree, this was an oversight by The DMN, but it was also probably a reflection of the fact that Foster hasn’t been very open about his sexual orientation during his four years in office. We’re told that as recently as this year, many people in county government didn’t even realize Foster is gay. He never sought an endorsement form the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and not even Stonewall Democrats backed him in this year’s Democratic Primary.

Of course, Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Foster was partly due to the fact that in four years, he didn’t do much on behalf of LGBT equality. Foster never formally proposed adding benefits for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian county employees. He never even formally proposed adding sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. Foster will tell you this was because he didn’t have the votes, but as an openly gay elected official who’d been endorsed by Stonewall in 2006, he could have at least tried.

Also this weekend, the two new members of the Commissioners Court, Clay Jenkins and Dr. Elba Garcia, were sworn in. With a Democratic majority for the first time in decades, we’d say it’s high time for the Commissioners Court to do what Foster failed to and bring the county into the 21st century on gay rights.

—  John Wright