A win-win arrangement

The generosity of Bert Gallagher and Hudson Ferus Vodka is paying off for the new company and for the LGBT community

gallagher-and-jacobson

Bert Gallagher

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Gay Realtor Brian Bleeker knows how difficult it can be to raise money for a cause. And he knows how difficult it is for someone planning a small-scale fundraiser to find corporate sponsors for those events.

It’s not that companies don’t want to help, Bleeker said. But they plan their budget, including their charitable giving, months in advance, usually too early for those planning smaller or last-minute events to apply. The companies also usually want a lot of information on the event so they can gauge what kind of return they expect on their investment. And that is often information that organizers for smaller events don’t really have.

And then Bleeker met Bert Gallagher, cofounder and co-owner of a relatively new company producing Hudson Ferus Vodka, and that changed. Bleeker said he met Bleeker through a representative for a local liquor distributor, and he invited Gallagher to attend a mixer for the DFW Federal Club.

“It was almost two years ago, and I think he was just really impressed by the amount of time and effort people were willing to put into something we believed in,” Bleeker said.

Gallagher asked to meet with Bleeker and other local organizers, and at that meeting, “He said, ‘What can I do to help?’

Before long Gallagher had joined the DFW Federal Club and the Lambda Legal Liberty Circle, and he was donating vodka to events for those organizations and more.

And although some might be amazed that a straight man is so willing to be involved in LGBT activism, for Gallagher, it’s a no-brainer.

Gallagher and his business partner Doug Jacobson had a publication based in San Antonio before they got into the vodka business, and their first real exposure to HIV/AIDS and LGBT activism came when they were asked to sponsor the Fashion Nation event benefiting AIDS service organizations in that city.

Working with Fashion Nation organizers, Gallagher said, “gave me the chance to see firsthand how events like that can impact people’s lives. We knew then that we wanted to continue to be involved in events like that.” And when he met Bleeker and other activists in Dallas, Gallagher saw a natural extension of that involvement for Hudson Ferus.

“It was so impressive to see how organized the people are, how galvanized they are to make a difference,” Gallagher said. “The work these organizations are doing is really amazing, and that feeling has been reinforced each and every time we have sponsored an event,” he said.

Gallagher and Bleeker said that the sponsorships are definitely a win-win arrangement: Event organizers get the chance to offer free drinks made with a premium vodka, giving those attending events the chance to donate more to the cause; and the folks at Hudson Ferus are seeing their popularity rising steadily in the LGBT community.

“Folks are going in to their favorite bars and asking for Hudson Ferus, and when enough people ask for it, the bars will start stocking it. That’s how we are getting into places,” Gallagher said.

Bleeker noted that he is constantly astounded by the generosity of Gallagher and Hudson Ferus. “He has given away hundreds, thousands even, of bottles of vodka,” Bleeker said.

But for Gallagher, again, it is a no-brainer. “To whom much is given, much is expected. We have been given so much, and this is one way to give back.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

A week before the Super Bowl, gay candidate kicks off City Council bid in host city Arlington

Hightower in his fourth-grade Hill Highlander uniform.

A week before Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, openly gay Realtor Chris Hightower is set to kick off his campaign for the District 5 seat on the City Council.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has endorsed Hightower, he would be the first openly gay city councilmember in Arlington’s history.

Chris Hightower

Hightower is an Arlington native who is the son of former Democratic State Rep. Paula Pierson. He lives with his partner in the historic “azalea house” at Park Row and Davis, according to his campaign website:

I am running for City Council because I love Arlington,” Hightower writes. “From the classrooms of my childhood to the elected offices of today, I have witnessed firsthand what good can come from the hard work of those who care about our hometown. They have made this city into the place that I love. Now, it is time for my generation to step forward and provide leadership for our city’s future just as the generations before us have. It is my hope that children living in Arlington today choose to stay here and raise their families — not because they see the great things I saw in our city while I was growing up, but because they saw something even better.”

Hightower is trying to unseat District 5 incumbent Lana Wolff, who is seeking a fifth term on the council. Other candidates expected to run in District 5 include attorney Terry Meza and UTA student Christopher McCain.

According to his Facebook page, Hightower will host a kickoff party at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 29 at 2316 Woodsong Trail in Arlington.

He becomes the second candidate from Texas endorsed by the Victory Fund this year, joining Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, who’s seeking re-election to his District 9 seat.

The other known openly gay candidate in North Texas is James Nowlin, who plans to run for the District 14 seat on the Dallas City Council if incumbent Angela Hunt steps down to run for mayor.

—  John Wright

Annual tour of Oak Cliff homes to be ‘best ever,’ organizer says

Gays’ homes featured prominently in Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s 36th event

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

EXTREME MAKEOVER  |  An historic church and 11 homes will be featured on this year’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. The tour has been credited with encouraging people to buy and renovate older homes throughout the area. Others have built new homes, like this one, in historic styles. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)
EXTREME MAKEOVER | An historic church and 11 homes will be featured on this year’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. The tour has been credited with encouraging people to buy and renovate older homes throughout the area. Others have built new homes, like this one, in historic styles. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)

This weekend the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League holds its 36th annual Home Tour, and “almost all the houses are gay this year, which will make it the best friggin’ tour ever,” said OOCCL President Michael Amonett.

The Oak Cliff Tour of Homes is one of the oldest home tours in Dallas and one of the largest. Members of the LGBT community is actively involved in the conservation group and in the tour.

Home Tour Chair Michele Cox said that actually five of the 11 homes on this year’s tour are gay-owned and noted that D Magazine readers voted this the city’s best home tour.

In addition to OOCCL’s president, gay residents head most of the 29 neighborhood associations and many of the tour sponsors are LGBT-owned businesses.

Amonett said that the tour has contributed to much of Oak Cliff’s renovation efforts.

“This tour is an ambassador for Oak Cliff and has been for 36 years, long before we were trendy,” Amonett said. “People came across [the river] and got a different perspective of Oak Cliff than the preconceived ones they had before.”

“What stands out for me is that Oak Cliff has become hot and fashionable,” said gay Realtor Steve Habgood, one of the sponsors of the tour.

He said that much of that has to do with Bishop Arts District and some of the city’s hottest new restaurants like Bolsa.

“This allows people to come and experience what it’s like to live in Oak Cliff,” Habgood said.

Amonett said that the tour highlights various neighborhoods where homes have been renovated and updated.

That encourages others to buy on the block “and pretty soon you’re Winnetka Heights,” he said.

He said that Oak Cliff homes are better built and more stable than homes elsewhere in the area.

“We’re built on rock,” he said. “Our homes don’t slide around like they do up north.”

The 11 homes on the tour are all from North Oak Cliff neighborhoods.

“I begged both the Oak Park Estates rep and the Kiestwood rep all year to find me a house in their neighborhoods and it didn’t work out,” said Amonett. “Kiestwood has a promising house next year — a very cool mid-century that sits diagonally on their lot. The guy was just not ready right now.”

Kiestwood and Oak Park Estates, the two southernmost Oak Cliff neighborhoods, are both south of Kiest Park but inside Loop 12.

Amonett described the variety of houses included on this year’s tour.

“We have a new house built to look old, a new house built to look new, a house that is really two houses — one old and one new,” he said.

Angus Wynne Sr. built his own house in Wynnewood North on the highest point in the area. Wynne developed the neighborhood and its namesake shopping center that originally included department stores, offices and a hotel.

THIS OLD HOUSE  |  This Hampton Hills neighborhood home, within walking distance of Hampton Station, is one of the homes featured on this weekend’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)
THIS OLD HOUSE | This Hampton Hills neighborhood home, within walking distance of Hampton Station, is one of the homes featured on this weekend’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)

Chris Medsger is the current owner of the Wynne house. He said he has been updating the house since he purchased it four years ago when he moved back to Dallas.

He said that when he previously lived in Dallas, he lived on Turtle Creek Blvd.

“I thought Oak Cliff was down-market,” he said. But now he said he wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Tour organizers approached him about opening his house for the tour. The renovations were done, but he said he put in a new garden for the tour that covers half of his backyard.

Organizers told him to expect about 1,500 people to come through his house each day.

Amonett described the variety of homes included on the tour.

“Two of our homes are award winners,” Amonett said. “And one of our homeowners is in the middle of an election campaign.”

The Lake Cliff Historic District tour home won the Preservation Dallas 2010 award for “Best New Construction in a Historic District.”

“The home on North Oak Cliff Blvd. was named one of the 12 WOW houses in Dallas in this month’s D Home,” said Cox.

In addition to the 11 homes, Cliff Temple Baptist Church on Sunset Avenue, across the street from the main office of AIDS Arms, is also on the tour.

Cliff Temple, founded in 1898 is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a state historical marker. Amonett described the church as a liberal congregation with a number of LGBT members.

Last year the tour returned more than $20,000 to its member neighborhoods, Cox said, for a variety of projects. Some areas used the money for cleanup and crime prevention. Others used the money for projects such as updating a park.

“Family memberships come with purchase of two tickets and it’s not illegal to be a same-sex family at OOCCL,” said Amonett.

Old Oak Cliff Conservation League Fall Home Tour. Oct. 9–10, noon–6 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors over 60, children under 12 free. Available at Hunky’s in Oak Lawn or Oak Cliff and at Daniel Padilla Gallery, 838 W. Davis St. More information is at OOCCL.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas