Gay man proposes during Bulls vs. Spurs game in Chicago

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A gay man surprised his partner with a “ring pop” engagement ring and a proposal at center court at Chicago’s United Center during a break in play in the Chicago Bulls vs. San Antonio Spurs game Thursday night, Dec. 8. A Tweet quoted by TheBigLead.com identifies the two only as Michael and Jake.

The Bulls mascot, Benny, pulled one of the men out out of his seat and onto the court, dancing around and encouraging the man to dance. The Benny turns the man’s back to court and pretends to brush his hair as the dancing cheerleaders form two lines behind and his partner appears on the other side of the court. When the first man turns around, his partner walks to him, between the two rows of cheerleaders, before kneeling and offering the ring pop and popping the question.

Reporter Sean Highkin told TheBigLead.com that the two men kissed and that the reaction from the crowd was very positive. Watch the video below.

Oh yeah. The Bulls won, 95-91.

—  Tammye Nash

Clinton includes gay couples in announcement video

Hillary video

Image from “Getting Started,” Clinton’s announcement video

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched her presidential campaign over the weekend with a video that included a gay couple. The video, “Getting Started,” was seen more than 2 million times in the first 24 hours after she announced her candidacy on Sunday, April 12.

The first minute of the video features a diverse cross-section of people including the gay couple.

“I’m getting married this summer to someone I really care about,” the voice-over says over a video of two people holding hands. The next shot shows the male couple walking hand-in-hand in a city neighborhood.

Toward the end of the video, as Clinton is asking for people to “join me on this journey,” a lesbian couple smiles and touches foreheads.

Republican Marco Rubio announced his candidacy this morning (Monday, April 13). Neither he nor the other two Republicans that have announced candidacies — Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — are as inclusive in their videos on their campaign websites.

Here’s the video:

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Gay couple’s ‘Doctor Who’ engagement photos

Photos of TJ Mundell and Timmy Patterson by Shaun and Shannon Menary.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gay Plano couple asked to leave family fun center, told they are ‘not family’

Alberto Lesmes, right, and his partner Chad Hemp.

A gay Plano couple is upset after a fun date night Sunday at Main Event was ruined when they were told they were not a family and asked to leave the venue.

Alberto Lesmes said he and his partner Chad Hemp went to the location at 3941 Central Expressway around 8:30 p.m. Sunday for a night of bowling. When their bowling lane continued to have technical difficulties, they requested a new lane.

Main Event Entertainment is a Dallas-based company with family entertainment centers featuring recreational bowling, billiards, laser tag and a unique selection of interactive games throughout Texas, according to its website.

Once the couple began to bowl in the new lane, a child from a large group next to them kept bowling in their lane. Lesmes said his partner went up to ask if they could be moved again. When Lesmes saw his partner get upset, he went over to speak to the manager on duty.

The manager was already irritated, Lesmes said, and said they were causing a problem by asking to be moved again. The manager asked if they were professional bowlers. When the couple replied they were not, the manager said the venue was a family environment. Lesmes said he told the manager he was with his family. When the manager asked where they were, Lesmes pointed to his partner and said they were family and wanted to enjoy their evening.

But the manager refused to move them to another lane and told them that they “were not family.”

—  Dallasvoice

Baylor gym ends family memberships, but gay discrimination case still open

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WE ARE FAMILY | Alan Rodriguez, right, and his partner were denied a family membership at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, a popular gym in East Dallas. Rodriguez alleges Baylor is violating the city’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The Tom Landry Fitness Center in East Dallas recently stopped offering family memberships, but the discrimination case filed last year after the gym refused to sell a family membership to a gay couple is still open.

The gym owned by Baylor Health Care System refused to sell Alan Rodriguez and his partner of 10 years a family membership in February 2011.

Phil Tyne, director of Baylor’s Tom Landry Fitness Center, told Instant Tea that the gym stopped offering family memberships three months ago because it lowered overall costs and now only offers individual memberships.

“We decided to lower all rates across the board,” he said.

Tyne said he was aware that the gym was involved in a discrimination case but said he did not know if the decision to change the membership structure was related to the case.

Rodriguez said he thought the problem had been resolved, though he had not heard that the memberships were no longer offered.

“Sounds like they both increased revenue and avoided providing discriminatory and potentially illegal services,” he told Instant Tea.

Beverly Davis, assistant director of Dallas’ Fair Housing Office, said the case is still waiting for a determination from the city attorney’s office, which is the same status it had back in June when it was featured in a Dallas Voice cover story about the 10-year anniversary of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

Davis said she was unaware of any attempt at a settlement with Baylor regarding the case and said the membership decision appeared to be separate.

—  Dallasvoice

Houston woman claims gay couple duped her into being a surrogate

Cindy Close

A Houston woman has filed a lawsuit after she gave birth to twins in July for a man who now says she served as a surrogate for him and his partner.

Houston businessman Marvin McMurrey III and Cindy Close met in 2005 and were both in their forties.

They’d never been married and never had sexual relations with each other, but wanted children. So, over time they decided to become co-parents, Houston’s Fox 26 reports.

McMurrey fertilized a donor egg through in vitro fertilization and Close carried the child, which turned out to be twins. But after delivering a girl and boy in July, a social worker informed her that she’d been a surrogate for McMurrey and his partner Phong Nguyen.

Close said she has trusted McMurrey since the time they met and was shocked he was gay and using her to have children, when she’d wanted kids so badly.

“I’ve always wanted to be a mom,” Close told Fox 26. “I wanted to raise children. That’s my biggest dream and it always has been.”

Close was prevented from breast feeding in twins in the hospital and is also granted two hours of visitation a day.

She’s filed a civil lawsuit and says she doesn’t have to prove she’s the mother, but that McMurrey must prove that she was a surrogate.

Watch Fox 26’s coverage below.

Houston weather, traffic, news | FOX 26 | MyFoxHouston

—  Dallasvoice

Rawlings says he won’t rule out signing marriage pledge after meeting with LGBT leaders

Dallsa Mayor Mike Rawlings greets gay couple Jack Evans, left, and George Harris, who've been together more than 50 years, before Saturday's meeting at Resource Center Dallas. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

After meeting privately for nearly two hours with about 25 people from the LGBT community, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on Saturday afternoon refused to rule out the possibility of reversing course and signing a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

“To be a great city we have to have everybody feel a part of it,” Rawlings told a throng of news reporters as he left Resource Center Dallas, where the closed-door meeting took place. “Obviously, the LGBT community feels at times that they’re disenfranchised. They don’t have the civil rights that the rest of us have, and so it was a wonderful learning experience for me, listening to personal stories, listening to policy issues, and listening to strategies of how we can make sure this community feels better next year than it does today. The arc of history is working for the rights of this community, and we as citizens and as the City Council want to support that.”

Asked whether he might still change his mind and sign the marriage pledge, Rawlings referred to himself as “pledge-phobic.”

“I think that America’s got too many pledges out there, and I think it’s simplistic and not substantive,” he said. “I’m a mayor that wants to be substantive. I do care about the civil rights of all of our citizens and will think about how we can make Dallas a better place for that.”

Pressed for a yes-or-no answer, Rawlings said: “I’m not going to take a pledge never to sign a pledge, but I don’t like to sign pledges.”

During the meeting, Rawlings reiterated his personal support for marriage equality and again attempted to explain why he chose not to sign the pledge, unveiled last week by the national group Freedom to Marry. About 100 mayors from across the country have signed the pledge, including those from all eight U.S. cities larger than Dallas.

Rawlings has come under fire from Dallas’ LGBT community for refusing to sign the pledge — and for some of the language he has used to explain his rationale to the media, including repeated statements by the mayor that the issue is “irrelevant” for the city. On Friday night, about 100 people gathered outside City Hall for a protest to call on Rawlings to sign the pledge.

“I”m not trying to say it’s not a big issue because I understand that it is,” Rawlings said at the outset of Saturday’s meeting.

“If the city had the right to marry you, I would vote yes,” Rawlings told the group. “But in this case I chose to step back from the symbolism — because that’s what it was — and not get into that fray.”

In retrospect, Rawlings said, his decision not to sign the pledge may have been the right one and may have been the wrong one. But either way, he said he takes ownership for it. The mayor also said his biggest mistake was not calling Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, to discuss the issue before deciding whether to sign.

Cox, who initiated Saturday’s meeting, said afterward she was glad the community got to have an open discussion with the mayor about the issue. Cox said although it would be “incredibly powerful” for Rawlings to sign the pledge, she’s not counting on it.

“Even if he doesn’t sign the pledge, we still have business to take care of, so we have to find a way to move forward,” Cox said.

Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said after the meeting that “dialogue is always good.” But Fink added: “I think the proof’s in the pudding. We’ll see what happens going forward. I think he needs a lot of education.”

Daniel Cates of GetEQUAL, who organized Friday night’s rally, said his group will continue to pressure the mayor to sign the pledge.

“I think it was more double-talk,” Cates said of Rawlings’ comments during the meeting. Cates said he’s encouraging people to speak about the matter at the regular City Council meeting next Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Rawlings chats with the Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor of the Cathedral of Hope, left, and Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox before the meeting.

—  John Wright

Forging new Alliances

Giancarlo Mossi organizes a GSA Summit in Dallas so other students can have the lifesaving resource he never did

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Giancarlo Mossi (Photo illustration by Kevin Thomas)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Giancarlo Mossi said that after spending time in hospitals and institutions for destructive behavior such as cutting, the day he attended a Youth First Texas meeting in Collin County was the happiest day of his life.

Mossi believes he might not have attempted suicide if his high school had a Gay Straight Alliance where he could have talked to other students. He credits a Plano police officer with saving his life.

As a child, Mossi was raped and abused. By the time he reached high school, he said he couldn’t take it anymore and began “cutting,” making large gashes in his arms. He was hospitalized several times.

After one suicide attempt, the police officer handed him a card from the Youth First Texas.

“You’re like me, aren’t you?” Mossi asked the officer. The officer said he couldn’t answer but flashed a big grin.

In the hospital, a licensed therapist outed Mossi to his mother and recommended “reparative therapy” to make him straight. When it was time for him to be released, his mother refused to pick him up.

Although Mossi has since reconciled with his mother, he lives with a gay couple who took him into their home.

Mossi graduated from Plano Senior High School. He recently began acting classes and has a new job. He knows not every LGBT student can get to the YFT centers in Dallas and Collin County, so he wants students in high schools throughout North Texas to have access to Gay Straight Alliance clubs on their own campuses. And he wants existing GSAs to flourish.

To help accomplish his goal, Mossi is coordinating a GSA summit at YFT in Dallas on Feb. 4.

Andy Marra, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said there were at least 360 GSAs in Texas when the last national survey was taken in 2009. GLSEN is in the process of conducting a new national count.

GSAs are especially important in a conservative state like Texas where, according to GLSEN, 88 percent of students who identify as gay or lesbian have been verbally harassed, 46 percent physically harassed and 23 percent assaulted.

Truett-Davis

Truett-Davis

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said GSAs let LGBT kids know they’re not alone.

“GSAs give them a support system, a safe place to be,” Coleman said. “Not just LGBT kids but their friends. And if they’re not getting support at home, they have a group they can turn to.”

But Mossi said starting GSAs in some schools isn’t as easy as it should be.

When he was in 10th grade at Vines High School in Plano, he spoke to administrators about starting one there. The principal told him he’d need a faculty sponsor.

Mossi said finding a sponsor can be tricky in a school whose principal opposes having a GSA. Teachers without tenure are afraid of losing their jobs. Others don’t want to make waves. And some are afraid that if they sponsor a GSA, teachers, parents and students will assume they’re gay.

But Mossi broached the subject with a number of teachers and found one willing to sponsor the group. So he proudly went back to the principal with the name.

The principal told him he would need 100 signatures from students stating they wanted to have such a group in their school. Mossi collected the 100 signatures and presented them to the principal. That’s when the principal told him it was too late in the year to start a new club and he’d have to wait for the next year. The principal knew Mossi would be leaving Vines to attend Plano Senior High for his last two years of school.

By the time he got to Plano Senior High, Mossi was active at Youth First Texas, where he made many new friends, and devoted his time to performing with Dallas PUMP!, a youth chorale.

Ray-Dawson

Ray Dawson

Although Mossi’s experience wasn’t unusual, some schools are more supportive of GSAs.

Dawson Ray said when he and his friend Shelby Friedman formed a GSA last year at  Greenhill School, a private K-12 school in Addison, they met with “zero controversy.”

He said two teachers immediately agreed to sponsor the group and the only question the administration had was “when we’d meet and what room we wanted.”

He said the group is called True Colors because the school has a rule against student groups having affiliations with national organizations. But he said True Colors is regularly referred to as the GSA.

Each week, 50 to 60 students — more than 10 percent of the 440 high students at Greenhill — attend the GSA meeting.

He said the group holds discussions on various topics, participates in events such as the National Day of Silence and brings in speakers. When British rugby star Ben Cohen was in Dallas for gay Pride Week last year, he spoke to the Greenhill GSA. Earlier this week Cohen sent the group a check for $2,500 for club activities.

Truett Davis attends Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in downtown Dallas. He said his GSA has about 40 to 50 members and was already in existence when he came to the school.

Davis said his group sets up booths at school activities. At one, the GSA officiated mock weddings and had students sign a petition for marriage equality that was sent to Congress.

Although Booker T. is considered a safe school for LGBT students, Davis said some students’ families aren’t accepting and the club is a place for those students to talk about their situation.

Both Davis and Ray are planning to attend next week’s GSA Summit at YFT.

“I hope to get some programming ideas,” Davis said.

Ray agreed. “I want to see what other GSAs in the area are doing,” he said. “What problems they face. Offer suggestions to us.”
While some students face little resistance in forming GSAs, other schools have openly opposed allowing the clubs on campus. Under federal law, that’s illegal.

The federal Equal Access Act passed in 1984 stipulates that any public secondary school that allows non-curriculum-related clubs to meet on campus cannot discriminate due to the content of the proposed discussions. To get around this, some schools have gone so far as to disband non-curriculum-related clubs, from the chess club to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Some administrators don’t want the word “gay” used in a school group name — sometimes out of their own prejudice, sometimes out of fear of parent or community reaction. They require students to change the names of GSAs to a euphemism such the Tolerance Club. But this is also against the law. (Greenhill is a private school, so the Equal Access Act doesn’t apply.)

At R.L. Turner High School in Farmers Branch, students formed a GSA in April 2011. While they encountered no resistance from the school district, Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare attacked the group on Twitter saying, “Friday, R.L. Turner H.S. Hosts 1st meeting of the RLT Gay-Straight Alliance an org. that promotes homosexuality and transgender lifestyles,” and “To our children. It is sponsored by a teacher at Turner. Parents of CFB kids and members of the community: what do you plan to do about it?”

Although a mayor in Texas has no power over an independent school district, vocal opposition from an elected official can be daunting for a group of high school students.

But the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District did respond to the mayor and made it clear what they planned to do about the GSA — they planned to support it. Angela Shelley, a CFBISD spokeswoman, told Dallas Voice at the time that the group had already met three times and that it wasn’t the district’s first GSA.

But she said, “The GSA met all the requirements, they have a great mission and a constitution, and they’re an active group.”

And she said that despite the mayor’s protests the district didn’t want to become another Flour Bluff. Earlier in the school year, when a GSA formed in Flour Bluff, a school district in Corpus Christi, it made national news.

When 17-year-old student Bianca “Nikki” Peet tried to start the GSA, the district denied her application. To keep the group from meeting, Superintendent Julia Carbajal announced she would disband all extracurricular clubs.

Hundreds of pro-LGBT protesters gathered at the school.

After the American Civil Liberties Union intervened, threatening to file suit against the district, the superintendent relented and allowed the group to form. The faculty sponsor backed out, however. Instead, the principal “monitored” the meetings and the ACLU promised to monitor the situation.

But once the group began meeting, there was little to monitor. Gay and straight students met and discussed issues of interest to them.

In Keller, a Facebook group appeared in October 2011 called Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.

When the school district learned about the Facebook group, it issued a statement that said, “Keller ISD prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.”

But discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t prohibited by law.

The founder of the Facebook group wrote that it was not intended to be a hate group and when he saw the reaction to it, he took it down. But he vowed to continue battling the GSA unless a conservative, straight group was also formed. Had he been serious about it, nothing would have stopped his group from finding a sponsor and petitioning the school.

As a result of the controversy, the Keller GSA grew and had to move from a classroom to a lecture hall to accommodate all of the students who wanted to show support or participate.

Meanwhile, Mossi is on a one-person campaign to bring students together for the Feb. 4 meeting. He has contacted restaurants and coffee shops about providing lunch, coffee and snacks. He pulled together a list of contacts and made calls. He sent fliers to schools he knows have GSAs. He contacted the media to help spread the word. And he researched topics and put together curricula to make the Summit a worthwhile meeting.

He said he expects about 40 to 50 students, representing almost as many GSAs across North Texas, to attend. Students who would like to participate don’t have to already belong to a GSA. He said he hopes some teens who attend have no clubs in their schools and will go back and form one.

GSA Summit

Feb. 4, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
To register, contact
giancarlo.mossi@youthfirsttexas.org.

…………………

HOW TO START A GSA

1. Follow Guidelines
Establish a GSA the same way you would establish any other group or club. Look in your Student Handbook for your school’s rules. This may include getting permission from an administrator or writing a constitution.

2. Find a Faculty Advisor
Find a teacher or staff member whom you think would be supportive or who has already shown themselves to be an ally around sexual orientation issues. It could be a teacher, counselor, nurse or librarian.

3. Inform Administration of Your Plans
Tell administrators what you are doing right away. It can be very helpful to have them on your side. They can work as liaisons to teachers, parents, community members and the school board. If an administrator opposes the GSA, inform them that forming a GSA club is protected under the Federal Equal Access Act.

4. Inform Guidance Counselors and Social Workers About The Group
These individuals may know students who would be interested in attending the group.

5. Pick a Meeting Place
You may want to find a meeting place which is off the beaten track at school and offers some level of privacy.

6. Advertise
Figure out the best way to advertise at your school. It may be a combination of your school bulletin, flyers and word-of-mouth. If your flyers are defaced or torn down, do not be discouraged. Keep putting them back up. Eventually, whomever is tearing them down will give up. Besides, advertising for your group and having words up such as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning” or “end homophobia” can be part of educating the school and can actually make other students feel safer — even if they never attend a single meeting.

7. Get Food
This one is kind of obvious. People always come to meetings when you provide food!

8. Hold Your Meeting
You may want to start out with a discussion about why people feel having this group is important. You can also brainstorm things your club would like to do this year.

9. Establish Ground Rules
Many groups have ground rules in order to insure that group discussions are safe, confidential and respectful. Many groups have a ground rule that no assumptions or labels are used about a group member’s sexual orientation. This can help make straight allies feel comfortable about attending the club.

10. Plan For The Future
Develop an action plan. Brainstorm activities. Set goals for what you want to work towards. Contact Gay-Straight Alliance Network in order to get connected to other GSAs, get supported, and learn about what else is going on in the community.

Source: GSAnetwork.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

BUSINESS: Beaming with Pride

Gay couple Mark Reed and Dante Walkup fulfill their decade-old dream of installing LED lights on Reunion Tower

Wiedamark.Reed.Walkup

GLOWING NEW SHOWROOM | Dante Walkup, left, and Mark Reed recently moved Wiedamark Lighting to a new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. (Patrick Hoffman/Special to the Voice)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

When Mark Reed and Dante Walkup became a serious couple in 2000, they agreed they wanted to have fun in their 50s. But to do that they’d want to leave their respective jobs as a furniture salesman and a psychologist and start their own business.

Having spent the last year installing LED lights around their Las Colinas home, the couple decided they’d use their sales and communications skills to start an LED lighting company — a relatively new business idea at the time.

They converted their three-car garage into a warehouse and turned their basement, bedroom and kitchen into workspaces for them and five other employees.

Since then, Wiedamark has grown into a $3.5 million dollar company with about 300 retailers internationally and a brand new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. But from their very first year, Reed and Walkup knew they wanted to put their business on the map by updating one of Dallas’ most iconic buildings — they wanted to refit Reunion Tower with their LEDs.

Tower

HIGH LIGHTS OF THE JOB | A technician from Ropeworks installs one of the 259 new fixtures. (Frank Huster/Special to the Voice)

If you’ve ever been on Cedar Springs, chances are you’ve probably seen some of Wiedamark’s lights. The fiberglass chandelier hanging over the bar at Sue Ellen’s, the mood-lighting wall sconces in the Rose Room at S4, the colored lighting at the Legacy of Love Monument — that’s all Wiedamark.

Reed and Walkup don’t usually install the lights themselves. They order the fixtures from China and Taiwan, then resell them to retailers who install them for companies looking to add a splash of color to their venues.

After several years on Oak Lawn Avenue near Maple, Wiedamark recently relocated to Harry Hines. Their new digs are easy to ignore by day but lit up in turquoise, emerald and ruby at night. Inside, it seems more like an art gallery than a commercial space.

Over their reception desk hangs four large lime-green letters spelling “LOVE.” A wall-size LED screen in their conference room displays an unfurling rainbow, its bows opening up like the pages of a book. But the colorful hallway in the back contains the real wonders: sculpted walls that seem to breathe in the golden-to-violet light, dance floor tiles that change color with each step and a mirrored lounge with a glistening ceiling of twinkling LED stars.

Interiors, exteriors, landscapes, pools, bars, bathrooms — you name it, they can put lights in it.

They’ve provided resort lighting in Jamaica and highlights at the Maya Bar in New Zealand, just to name a few. A wealthy Saudi Arabian once wanted them to install high-end lights in his palace. Instead of traveling to his home country, they invited him to meet them during a trip to Vienna.

Reed and Walkup say that in their nine years of business they have never made a single cold call. As one of the first online shippers of LED equipment, the customers found them.

Their first year in, the Hyatt Hotel hired them to light its Christmas party, giving Reed and Walkup the perfect chance to share their Reunion Tower idea with Hyatt’s head of engineering, Brett Killingsworth. The idea instantly intrigued him.

In many ways LEDs were better than the tower’s older, 130-watt bulbs: LEDs use a fraction of the energy, stay cool to the touch and can last up to 10 times longer than old-fashioned bulbs. But unfortunately for Reed and Walkup, 2004 technology had not yet advanced far enough to make LED lights visible on the tower from miles away.

So immediately, Reed and Walkup’s team began working on an improved LED design that would take five years to complete.

To help make the light more visible from a greater range of view, they fitted a spherical dome onto a flat-surfaced LED, creating something resembling the Jetsons’ space car.

At 4 a.m. one day,  Walkup took the prototype and held it off the top of Reunion Tower while Reed checked whether he could see it clearly from four different locations several miles away. He could.

But the prototype had a major design flaw — it couldn’t keep out rainwater. A high-pressure water test left its circuit board drenched, something that would cause it to fail in a storm.

So over the next few years, they bolted the LED dome to a hexagonal metal base which increased the size and weight while preventing seepage. But even then, their design corroded when exposed to salty air conditions.

Frustrated with their failed attempts, Reed and Walkup turned to an engineer friend for help. He streamlined their design

Ball

SHINING DEBUT | The tower was fittingly awash in rainbow colors on New Year’s Eve.

into a lighter, less clunky model made entirely of non-corrosive stainless steel. And best of all, it kept out rainwater.
Sixteen weeks later, they had manufactured all the lights they needed.

But now that they had a workable design, they had an even bigger task ahead — installing 259 lights on the tower’s 118-foot geodesic sphere, all without endangering their workers or dropping the 20-pound fixtures onto someone 560 feet below.

Seattle’s Space Needle, Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam all need regular maintenance and inspection by certified professionals willing to work hundreds if not thousands of feet off the ground.

The group who does this kind of work is Ropeworks, a team of certified technicians from Reno, Nev., trained in rope access, tower climbing, rescue and fall protection. After seeing Ropeworks’ presentation, Reed thought they could best handle the high wind speeds and low temperatures atop Reunion Tower in the fall.

So from Oct. 30 through Nov. 21, from 5 a.m. till 6 p.m., seven days a week, four certified master electricians from Ropeworks rappelled from the top of the tower and hung along the dome’s 260 intersecting aluminum struts to disassemble the tower’s old fixtures and install Wiedamark’s new ones.

The Woodbine Development Co. (which owns the tower) hoped to keep the new lights secret until a surprise showing 15 minutes before New Year’s Day. But on Nov. 21 at 4:30 a.m., a Dallas photographer captured some footage of Wiedamark testing the lights.

The photographer then sent photo and video footage to WFAA-TV and the Dallas Observer.

By the next morning, everyone knew that for the first time in its 33-year history, the Reunion Tower had new lights.

“I was happy [the news] was out,” says Walkup. “We couldn’t talk about it in public, but our friends had known about the project for a long time. [Waiting for the unveiling] was like being pregnant for nine months, but then having the birth delayed to 10 months, then 11 months, then 12 months. And all this time you’re just waiting for it to finally happen.”

On New Year’s Eve, Reed and Walkup stood on the ninth floor balcony of their friend’s downtown condominium, the unlit dome of Reunion Tower clearly in view. Then the dome lit up at a quarter till midnight, a digital countdown on the ball ticking off each second.

Then, at midnight sharp, the Reunion Tower dome sparkled in a ecstatic wash of reds, greens, blues, and purples while Reed, Walkup and the rest of Dallas rang in the New Year.

After a 10-minute light show, the numbers 2012 encircled the dome in bright yellow until 5 o’ clock that morning.

Mentioning the new Omni Hotel and the other colorful LED-lit projects that have joined the Dallas landscape in the last few years, Walkup notes: “Dallas is a colorful city. We want to make it an exciting place to live and colored light helps people recognize that. Light is modern and fresh. It conveys youth. Dallas, a city of young ideas.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Gay Texas couple that survived Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster speaks out

Blake Miller, left, and Steve Garcia, a gay couple from Austin, were among those who survived the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy over the weekend. Garcia, a school teacher in Round Rock, reportedly was celebrating his 50th birthday on the cruise with Miller, his partner of 10 years. Miller is the director of business travel at the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin hotel. It was both men’s first cruise and Miller’s first time in Europe. They told the Today show on Sunday they had been to one of the ship’s bars and were planning on going to another when the ship started to list. After they went back to their cabin, they heard a horrible scraping sound. Fortunately the couple had read about the location of the lifeboats.

“I honestly did not have a true understanding of how bad it was until we were on the lifeboat and looked back and saw the first row of windows under water and people screaming, that couldn’t get on a lifeboat,” Miller said. “That’s when we realized how much it was really tilting.”

The Austin American-Statesman reports that once the men were on land, they were stranded on an island for 12 hours.

 When he spoke to one of the ship’s officers on shore, Miller said, the man made a flippant comment.

When the couple were ferried to Porto Santo Stefano early Saturday, Miller said, it was the first time anyone from the cruise accounted for them. It wasn’t until media cameras were filming that a cruise employee offered then blankets. But once they boarded a bus to take shelter in a nearby school gym, away from the media’s bright lights, the blankets were taken away, he said.

After hours without information or answers, they were routed to a hotel in Rome. But without money, passports or clothes, they’re still grappling to put their lives back in order. Though embassy representatives from other countries have deployed to their hotel to help other stranded passengers there, Miller said he’s seen no sign of American help. And with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, they may have to wait until Tuesday, he said.

Watching CNN in their hotel room, Miller said images of the incident continue to upset him. And Costa Concordia’s behavior since the ship ran aground has left him angry.

“I just don’t see how you can leave people with no food, no water, no warmth and not have some kind of plan,” he said. “It’s just not how you run a business. It’s 4,000 lives.”

Watch the couple’s appearance on the Today show below.

—  John Wright