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.”

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

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

—  Anna Waugh

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.

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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

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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

Potts’ agenda? To show the boring reality of LGBT life

Oral Roberts’ grandson vacuums and makes coffee in a public display designed to debunk the idea that there’s an ominous ‘gay agenda’

PastedGraphic-2

GAY AGENDA | Randy Roberts Potts and his boyfriend, Keaton Johnson, perform ‘The Gay Agenda’ to show what ordinary lives gays and lesbians lead. (Photo by Ange Fitzgerald courtesy of Randy Roberts Potts)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

To bridge the gap between what most evangelicals imagine when they think of a gay couple and what he knows most gay couples do, Randy Roberts Potts has come up with The Gay Agenda, a performance piece designed to be boring.

For a weekend, Potts, the out gay grandson of evangelist Oral Roberts, and his boyfriend Keaton Johnson will set up house, so to speak, in a public space in various locations in the central U.S. They will watch TV, make coffee and even take a nap.

What they won’t do is kiss or even touch much.

And they hope people from the area will come and watch — but only for a short time. Because what they’ll be doing is extremely boring.

They expect that local media will come and talk to them about their mundane lives. And on Sunday morning, Potts hopes a local church will allow him to come and speak.

Like many gay people, Potts had to deal with family issues wrapped up in religion. And like many other gay men, before he came out, he married and had three kids.

But Potts’ family was a special challenge. His grandfather Oral Roberts’ side of the family was the liberal side.

Potts said that he hasn’t spoken to his mother — Oral’s daughter Roberta who sits on the board of Oral Roberts University — in a year. But he doesn’t mourn that loss. He said he never had a close relationship with her.

On his father’s even more conservative side of the family, dancing was out and they never watched movies. Potts said he taught cousins on that side of the family what the pictures and numbers on playing cards meant.

But Potts is healthy and happy. He shares joint custody of his children and adores them. He and his boyfriend just celebrated their one-year anniversary. And his boyfriend’s family has warmly welcomed him into their family.

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AND PUPPY MAKES 3 | Potts and Johnson spent most of their time at the Aurora Arts Festival on the sofa watching TV. (Photo by Ange Fitzgerald courtesy of Randy Roberts Potts)

But Potts understands the pain many people from similar backgrounds feel. And he knows that much of it comes from the misconception people have about the lives gay people lead.

Before taking their show on the road, Potts and Johnson did a test run at the Aurora Arts Festival in the Arts District in Downtown Dallas on Oct. 30. They set up a living room along the street near the Winspear Opera House and proceeded to do those routine things people do at home. They spent much of the evening sitting and watching TV.

A small sign identified the art project. Potts said one woman watched curiously for a few minutes, then noticed the sign, grabbed her young daughter’s hand and moved along quickly. Others responded with amusement or simple bewilderment.

Potts said that there was little show of affection between him and his partner. He said that normally people don’t spend their time at home being affectionate. They just hang out together and do something dull like watch TV.

And the point wasn’t to shock people: When Potts and Johnson sat together on the couch, they were watching television. They weren’t kissing. They weren’t touching.

One of them got up to make some coffee. He brought a cup of coffee to the other, fixed the way he likes it. Again, that’s something couples do at home.
Boring.

That’s the point.

“Most people think of two men having sex,” Potts said. “This project is to push back on that stereotype.”

After the successful tryout in Dallas, Potts plans to take the installation on tour. Over the next year, he’d like to take the installation to some smaller cities, maybe one a month.

Tulsa? Maybe they’ll visit his hometown eventually. He said that may be the finale of the tour. But the first stop will be in his home state in Oklahoma City.

Potts said he’s not looking for confrontation or dangerous situations and he’s not looking to be a martyr. The goal is simply to perform The Gay Agenda in small cities throughout the center of the country.

In Dallas during the art fair, Potts said he felt safe performing out in the street. But in small-town America, he wants some level of protection.

So the plan is to rent an abandoned store window and borrow some living room furniture from some local gays so Potts and Johnson don’t have to haul their apartment all over the country. Then, for two days, they’ll lead their boring lives in the storefront for anyone in town to watch.

On Sunday morning, he said, he hoped a local church would allow the grandson of the famous evangelist to speak to the congregation.

“I don’t consider myself a preacher. “But churches are on the forefront of the battle for gay rights,” he explained.

To help fund the project, Potts is collaborating with the non-partisan Liberty Education Forum, a sister organization of Log Cabin Republicans. Potts said he thought that group would be a perfect partner because of its experience working in conservative areas.

He said the idea is to leave people with a different impression of gay people and what they do in their private lives in a way they’re not getting on television.

Potts said that the characters from Will & Grace and Modern Family have made The Gay Agenda possible. But this time the characters aren’t in New York or California, but right there in small-town America next to the kind of people the LGBT equality message needs to reach.

And while Potts doesn’t expect churches to suddenly embrace their LGBT members and neighbors, he hopes to nudge them toward providing a safer community.

If the piece succeeds in drawing attention and softening views, Potts said he’d like to see other same-sex couples perform The Gay Agenda in their own hometowns. But for now, he just hopes Liberty Education Forum will help him book about one performance a month over the course of the next year.

Why take the risk?

“If I felt accepted by my family, I wouldn’t go out and do this,” Potts said. “It’s my attempt to say, ‘I’m not that weird.’”
Johnson is in his late 20s and has been out since high school. His motivation is different.

“He wants to make things be the way he thought they always were,” Potts said.

Potts noted that there’s not much outreach to the evangelical community. The national organizations mostly work with potential allies. Most people in the LGBT community are afraid of or don’t know how to approach evangelicals.

But Potts knows that community intimately and deals with his strict religious upbringing with some amusement. He speaks of the university his grandfather founded with some pride, mentioning the school’s two best-known alumni — presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and Homer Simpson’s next door neighbor, Ned Flanders.

“Okaly dokaly,” Potts said. “Look at his wall. He has an ORU diploma hanging up.”

And although he tends to avoid contact with his immediate family in Oklahoma, Potts did attend his grandfather’s funeral. But he was not invited to sit with the family. And while his mother was delivering the eulogy, she spotted him in the audience. From the stage, in front of thousands of people, she began yelling at him.

Potts said he figures she was the one who looked foolish, not him.

Sharing the message

A year ago, Potts made an “It Gets Better” video dedicated to his Uncle Ronnie, Oral’s son who was also gay and who committed suicide. The video has gotten more than 130,000 hits.

And when he takes The Gay Agenda to smaller cities in Middle America, he said he hopes people will see that gays and lesbians lead the same sort of lives as straight people, that LGBTs aren’t a threat. If he gets to speak in a church, Potts said he hopes the congregation will get his simple message.

“I will be talking about the difference between tolerance and acceptance,” he said. “The LGBT community has been tolerated, in varying degrees, for the last 40 years since Stonewall. Tolerance is better than what came before, when our freedom of assembly rights were not guaranteed and even gay book clubs could be [and often were] stormed by the police.”

He said he wants people to understand that gays and lesbians would like to be open about themselves on Main Street, not just on a cruise, in a gay bar or on a gay-themed sitcom.

“Our little performance piece is symbolic of a move out of the ghetto and onto Main Street — how we’re received in each community will say a lot about how accepted our community is in that locale,” Potts said. “Our gay agenda, if there is one, is to be loved and accepted.”

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

The Gay Agenda facebook page.

—  Kevin Thomas

An awakening of their own

How Baylor classmates Josh Gonzales and Matt Tolbert teamed up onstage — and in real life — for WaterTower’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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UP AGAINST THE WALL | Gonzales and Tolbert will share their first scene — and first onstage kiss — as the gay couple in WaterTower’s sexually frank musical ‘Spring Awakening.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Matt Tolbert may be just barely old enough to drink legally (he’ll turn 23 in October), but he’s already an experienced theater hand.

Four months ago, he was finishing up his last semester at Baylor University before a May graduation, but he’d already made his professional debut earlier this year, hanging upside down as a torture victim in WaterTower Theatre’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Soon after that, he co-established a theater company and produced a show for the Out of the

Loop Fringe Festival; as of last week, his day job is assistant to WTT’s producing artistic director, Terry Martin.

“I guess you could say I’m aggressive about my career,” Tolbert concedes, “though I say I’m just highly motivated.”

And one thing he was motivated about was getting cast in WaterTower’s upcoming production of Spring Awakening. Ever since Tolbert learned of the show, he’d wanted to be in it, so when WTT put it on their 2011-12 schedule, he knew he’d audition. But even more, he wanted to be in it with his partner Josh Gonzales.

The two met several years ago while both were studying at Baylor (Gonzales is still there, with plans to graduate next spring); for the past two years, they have been a couple. But while they have been in shows at the same time, they have never shared a scene. Spring Awakening seemed like a good chance for them to do a musical together.

“I was in love with the show and when I heard WaterTower was doing it, I jumped at the chance,” says Gonzales, 21. “[Matt and I] have been in five shows together before — this will be our sixth — but we very rarely interact onstage. This is our first time to get to act.”

The plan was for Tolbert to play Hanschen, the slightly predatory gay teen, and Gonzalez to play Ernst, the object of his lustful urges in the explicit, sexually charged musical about the yearning of 19th century youth (which oddly echoes the same feelings of youth in the 21st century). Still, getting cast was hardly a sure thing, even with Tolbert’s connections at the theater.

So this summer, Tolbert studied voice with Mark Mullino, who was about to start work as the music director on Spring Awakening. Tolbert planted seeds with Mullino that he and Gonzalez would be interested in doing the show.

Alas, it seemed destined not to happen.

“Matt went to the audition but I couldn’t go because I was in New York,” sighs Gonzales. Not only that, but once the call-back list was released, Tolbert was asked to re-audition… for the role of Ernst.

“I thought, ‘Darn! I missed my chance,’” says Gonzalez.

But, despite the downbeat message of Spring Awakening, true love was determined to find a way.

Martin, who is directing the show, decided to do a second round of call-backs. Gonzales thought maybe he could try out for Hanschen, “even though Matt would be a better Hanschen than me. Or I could just be in the ensemble — I would do anything,” he says.

Tolbert and Gonzales auditioned together; Martin asked them to sing one of the show’s signature songs, “The Bitch of Living,” with each other. They did it once. Audition over.

It wasn’t until the next day they were both cast as they’d hoped: Tolbert as Hanschen, Gonzales as Ernst. It’s a dynamic that has been fed by their own relationship.

“It was a lot easier to do once we started rehearsals,” Tolbert says. “We didn’t need to choreograph the kiss. But we like [recreating] the awkwardness of the seduction — even though Hanschen is the seducer, it’s his first time, too.”

Still, art does not imitate life — at least not in this instance.

“Ernst is a little confused throughout most of the show, because he’s not exactly sure what he wants, but ultimately he just wants someone to be intimate with,” Gonzales says. “The tragedy is that Hanschen just wants someone to have fun with.”

In real life, the couple is truly committed. Gonzales is still in school in Waco, meaning he has to commute several times a week to attend rehearsals. When he’s able, he stays in town with Tolbert. Well, sort of — they both stay at Tolbert’s parents’ house, though in separate rooms.

“It’s interesting because our families don’t know we’re gay — we just came out to our close friends this summer,” Tolbert explains.

That’s likely to change soon. Especially after opening night.

“Obviously there’s a little chemistry — how could there not be?” Gonzales admits. Tolbert agrees the friends and family they are not out to yet will probably figure it out. But until they do, it’s enough to combine work and romance.

“It’s great we can share [the kiss]. I trust him completely… and I don’t want him to kiss another guy. Our goal is never to have our understudies go on,” Gonzales says.
Ah, young love… .

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

—  Kevin Thomas