Dunn wants to be a voice for LGBT Amarillo

CHURCH TIES | Amarillo mayoral candidate Sandra Dunn is a member of the board at Metropolitan Community Church of Amarillo. (James Bright/Dallas Voice)

Transgender mayoral candidate says anti-gay pastor’s campaign prompted friends to encourage her to run, but she is running to make the city better for everyone

JAMES BRIGHT  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

The opportunity to run for public office appeals to people from all walks of life. Sometimes these races attract more candidates than anyone would expect.

One such election is the mayoral race in Amarillo. There are 11 candidates registered for the May election, and transgender graduate student Sandra Dunn is hoping to motivate the LGBT community of Amarillo to put her ahead of the rest.

Although Dunn hopes she will have the opportunity to help the citizens of Amarillo, it was a few of her friends who got her to run for the office. She said they approached her after outspoken anti-gay pastor David Grisham filed to run in the election.

But Dunn’s reasons for pursing the office have nothing to do with Grisham.

“It can’t be about David Grisham,” she said. “It’s time to step forward into the light, wake everyone up, shake some cages, let people know that there are transgenders here and they can do the job.”

Dunn said the financial sector is where she hopes to make most of her changes if elected mayor.

“There’s a lot of money being spent on ideas that could be spent on infrastructure,” she said.

Safety is another area Dunn hopes to secure if elected. She said there are arrow signs throughout the city, some of which require maintenance and some of which are dangerous to drivers.

“Some of these signs are blocking stop signs,” she said.

Although Dunn only recently expressed interest in holding office, she has been involved in Amarillo politics for some time as a business owner. A retired Army reservist, holding the rank of Sgt. 1st Class, Dunn opened a military surplus store that took up about a city block. Unfortunately tragedy struck when Dunn’s business partner was beaten to death on July 29, which led to the closure of the store.

“We were building toward having a business we could run when we retired,” she said.

Dunn relied on her partner, and due to his death could not afford to keep the store open. The ripples of this tragedy have reached so far as to affect Dunn’s filing for the election.

Although she planned to transition in both name and gender early in the winter of 2010, the death of her partner made it impossible to go through with those plans. Due to the fact that she was unable to obtain a legal name change prior to the filing date of the election, Dunn was forced to register as F.E. (SandraDunn) Dunaway, using her birth name on the ballot and her name of choice as a nickname.

Dunn said her name came from an eclectic mix of influences. Dunn came from a family member for whom she has great respect, but Sandra came from a more unorthodox place.

“When I was younger I knew a bunch of girls named Sandra and they were always fun, so I went with that,” she said.

Later, Dunn and a few of her friends got together and decided she needed a middle name. After a short brainstorm, they settled on Faye — and Sandra Faye Dunn was officially born.

Despite the tragedy that befell Dunn over the past year, she has managed to maintain a stellar relationship with her family. She was married to the same woman for 16 years and is close with her kids, and Dunn said her daughter has thoroughly enjoyed her run for office.

“She has had the opportunity to do ‘Trans 101’ many times,” she said.

Although Dunn’s 25-year-old son lives in a different city, she said he is just as supportive when it comes to her campaign.

“He recognizes it’s my life and he stands beside me,” she said.

If Dunn is elected, she said the LGBT community would know they have voice that’s coming from them. She said there is still a lot of discrimination and she would like to work to combat how differences are handled in the city of Amarillo.

“You experience this mostly when applying for a job,” she said. “It’s almost like your IQ has dropped.”

Dunn said she is not trying to change the attitude of citizens of Amarillo, but will work to find a peaceful solution to their differences.

“Everyone is entitled to their beliefs,” she said. “What I’m after is to get people to open up their minds and see what these people are about. Be upfront with your beliefs, but don’t be hateful.”

Dunn said Grisham’s campaign and his group Repent Amarillo run off negative imagery and messaging. Although she has had only one encounter with him and has not personally heard him disparage her, Dunn said Grisham has poured out his opinions on his Facebook page.

“He spews a lot of hate and is very disrespectful,” she said.

Grisham isn’t alone with as far as being affiliated with a church. Dunn serves on the board of the Metropolitan Community Church of Amarillo as the secretary. She said she attends 98 percent of the church functions and enjoys the diversity in the congregation. “We have straight people who come here too,” she said.

Regardless of what happens in May, it is really a win-win situation for Dunn who will complete her masters degree in psychology online from the University of the Rockies in Colorado. She said if she doesn’t win she will most likely not run again in two years, but instead spend her time counseling transgender people like herself.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Anti-gay La. pastor arrested for masturbating at park; new hope for AIDS cure

Grant Sands

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Rev. Grant Storms, an anti-gay pastor known for protesting the Southern Decadence gay festival in New Orleans, was arrested Friday for masturbating at a public playground. Two women observed Storms masturbating in a van while looking at children near the carousel.

2. Speaker John Boehner said in an interview Monday with the Christian Broadcast Network that the House is likely to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court now that President Barack Obama’s administration has announced that it will no longer do so. Boehner called Obama’s decision not to defend the law “raw politics” and said he expects a decision on the House’s next step by the end of this week.

3. Scientists used genetic engineering to develop blood cells resistant to HIV in a new approach they say could lead to a cure for the virus that causes AIDS.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Piazza leaving Dallas for Atlanta

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, who since 1987 has been a force in the gay faith community in North Texas, has accepted a position as pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta.

Accompanying Piazza will be his longtime executive assistant, David Plunkett.

“This all happened literally yesterday,” Plunkett said. “We got back from Atlanta at 2 this morning.”

Piazza stepped down as senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope several years ago and transitioned into the role of dean of the church. That affiliation ended last March, although Plunkett said many people still do not realize it (in part because Piazza and Plunkett still office at the Cathedral COH, where they work with the Center for Progressive Renewal and Hope for Peace and Justice).

“Last year was the first year in Rev. Piazza’s adult life when he was not pastoring a church,” Plunkett said. “He is very, very good at what he does now [teaching other clergy], but at heart, as anyone who has heard him on a Sunday in the pulpit, he’s a prophetic preacher.”

Plunkett described the Virginia-Highland Church as “a once-vibrant church in desperate need of revitalization.” Although not currently a predominantly gay church, Plunkett said it has a history of inclusiveness.

“It was Southern Baptist, but [got] kicked out of the denomination because they refused to dismiss a gay pastor” some years back, Plunkett said. Virginia-Highland is currently dual-affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ (the same denomination as COH).

At first, Piazza will not be full time, but will continue his work with the CPR, which is based in Atlanta. Plunkett will be largely full time at the church. He has worked with Piazza for the past nine years, and will aid in the transition. The start date for the team will be March 1.

Plunkett, who has been active in the theater community, said leaving will be bittersweet for him as well. He grew up in Plano.

Plunkett said Piazza likely would not have an opportunity to deliver a farewell sermon in Dallas, even if asked.

More to come ….

—  Arnold Wayne Jones