Drawing Dallas • 01.13.12

With a unique history and varied interests, life for Moses Herrera is an adventure

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

MosesFNL_3Name and age: Moses Herrera, 27

Occupation: Hotel industry strategy and revenue management/talent scout for an entertainment company

Spotted at: Hunky’s on the Strip
This handsome, outgoing New Orleans native is the eldest of four brothers, the offspring of an Italian mother and a Spanish father. A charismatic Libra, Moses spent 10 years living in Prague with his family, an experience that opened his eyes to other cultures and set the stage for his future travels.

Decadent past: He attended college at Johnson and Wells in Denver, majoring in marketing with a minor in leadership. His career brought him to NOLA when he attended Southern Decadence, which changed his life. Moses grew to love the circuit and was an active participant for many years. These days his work requires him to travel, he’s been to every state in the union, except Alaska. He also donates his time to fundraising for the youth program of the Montrose Counseling Center, and for 11 years has served on the board of the National Restaurant and Hotel Lodging Association’s Prostart Program, which teaches high school students about the hospitality industry.

Staying healthy: Moses enjoys working out, yoga, cycling, kayaking … and cooking. He has an affinity for Italian and Spanish dishes, which he loves to prepare for his friends. An avid thespian, he appeared in numerous musicals, including Grease, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Lion King. He shares his life with Coco, an American cocker spaniel.

Favorite quote: “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Glee’ fully

Concert film of the gay-inclusive sitcom is as empowering as Bieber, but far more relevant

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DON’T STOP | Lovable losers of the New Directions choir take to the stage as rock gods in the hybrid music celebration ‘Glee The 3D Concert Movie.’

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

You know that cliché that life’s not about the destination, but the journey? Well, that’s kinda true of Glee, too — specifically, the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

That anthem, which was performed at the conclusion the pilot episode of the series about Midwestern high school students coming to terms with their loser-hood, set the stage for what has become a cultural touchstone: A series that celebrated outcasts in the same way Lady Gaga has. Little Monsters, Gleeks … they’re all nerds with iPods and a sense of humor. (New Directions even performs “Born this Way,” speaking to its timeliness.)

“Don’t Stop Believin’” also kicks off the new theatrical release Glee The 3D Concert Movie, and is played during the closing credits. Hey, when you have a formula that works, why introduce New Coke?

But this concert film is a strange hybrid — neither fully part of the series nor outside of it. The cast of Glee perform their hits songs, but all in character as their teen counterparts; in backstage interviews (and for the fans out front), they maintain the façade that 29-year-old actor Cory Monteith is really 17-year-old virginal jock Finn Hudson. That creates a convolution, if not a paradox: The Glee kids are lovable because they are nobodies, so why has all of New Jersey showed up to the Meadowlands to watch them perform an arena-rock concert with enough special effects to start a James Cameron film? When gay kid Kurt (Chris Colfer) looks at the camera to say, “Thank you for loving me” to his adoring fans, is he still Kurt?

Once you can get beyond this peculiarity, you begin to enjoy the film for what it is — that is, if you allow yourself to enjoy it. Watching the Glee movie is probably a lot like calling the DEA and reporting your ex as a Colombian drug mule: All In good fun, until someone finds out.

Yes, it’s a kind of coming out experience to admit you enjoyed a movie aimed at a teen audience (although middle-aged gay men are clearly the secondary target demo). The enthusiasm surrounding Glee isn’t appreciably different than that showered upon teenybopper acts like Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers: Rabid fan-fed joy fueling a giddy sense of teen empowerment.

But the greatest hoots from the audience aren’t for new songs (there aren’t any original compositions) or even on fresh covers — it’s for the songs that have already been on the show. All of which makes a Glee concert something unique: A nostalgia tour for a TV series about to start only its third season. It seems appropriate, in the Twitter era, that such instant gratification has made us wistful about things we saw on TV just last spring.

But Glee is more important that Bieber or the Jonases for one reason: Its message of inclusiveness, tolerance and understanding. The TV show portrays the most sensitive discussion of gay life, especially among teens, that has been seen just about anywhere, and the movie is no different: In addition to the live concert performances, the film tells three stories of true Gleeks, one being Trenton, a teen outed in eighth grade who sees the Kurt character as a role model. (The other profiles are equally sweet and profound, including a dwarf who becomes her school’s most popular deb and a girl with Asberger’s who overcomes her shyness by bonding with others over Glee.)

The movie has almost as many cutaways to the audience as shots of the performers. That’s because, more so than most TV shows, Glee reflects its audience as much as it directs them. You occasionally forget the concert film isn’t a sing-along and are tempted to join in (and maybe do, during the closing credits) because it has a infectious energy.

Glee’s appeal, for me, has often been difficult to pin down. It takes an ironic approach to its rangy topics — American culture, high school popularity, current music, teen politics — but goes so far with its irony that it doubles back on itself. That pushes it into the realm of actual entertainment — it’s meta-irony.

As filmmaking, it’s more than serviceable, with the 3D effect magnifying the crotches of sexy back-up dancers and charming even non-fans with its love for an Asian toddler who mimics, eerily well, the choreography of “rival” glee club the Warblers… before throwing a 3D Slushee in your face (a common punishment at the Glee high school). Nothing like making your audience feel like part of the outsider clique.

The Help hit theaters on Wednesday, and it will likely still be eclipsed at the box office by Glee, but don’t let it slip by: It is the best film of the summer. Some may dismiss is as overly sentimental hokum, but it is really an expertly crafted comedic tearjerker along the lines of Steel Magnolias, Fried Green Tomatoes and The Blind Side with bits of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil thrown it. But it is more touching than all of those put together, and for me the top Oscar frontrunner of the year to date.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The fabric of our lives

T-shirts may be the front line in the battle for LGBT civil rights, or at least the battle’s billboards

LESLIE ROBINSON  |  General Gayety

We Americans like to express ourselves with our chests. I’m not speaking of Jane Russell or even Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m talking about our proclivity for wearing T-shirts with slogans on them.

Americans have been human billboards for decades.

The slogans on T-shirts celebrate, advocate, advertise, unify, decry and polarize. Americans have lots to say — on shirts made in Honduras.

So it makes sense that one part of the gay story in this country is being played out in cotton/polyester blends.

Over the past years high school students and younger — kids on both sides of the gay issue — have been wearing their hearts on their sleeves. And getting sent home for it.

The latest shirt-skirmish is still unfolding at a middle school in DeSoto Parish in Louisiana. Student Dawn Henderson wore a shirt reading “Some Kids are Gay. That’s OK.” Principal Keith Simmons ordered her to change her shirt or go home.

It occurs to me that any kid aiming to get out of a test at school doesn’t need to fake the flu; just don a controversial T-shirt and in minutes you’ll be back home watching Judge Judy.

According to the ACLU of Louisiana, DeSoto school officials claimed the shirt was “distracting.” The ACLU sent Simmons a letter arguing that Henderson has a First Amendment right to express her opinion across her chest, as long as the school allows clothing with slogans.

If the school decides to forbid clothing with slogans, it might be hearing from Nike.

In another T-shirt to-do, which actually began back in 2006, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a month ago that students at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., could wear T-shirts saying “Be Happy, Not Gay.” The court maintained a “school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality.”

May the judges’ T-shirts ride up with wear.

On Nov. 2 last year, Election Day, senior Kate Cohn made a pro-gay statement at Falcon High School in Peyton, Colo., by wearing a shirt reading “Marriage is so gay.” She said Principal Mark Carara told her the shirt was offensive and violated the dress code forbidding clothing potentially disruptive to the academic environment.

I’m guessing that means fishnets are out. At least for guys.

Cohn’s mom said Carara later likened the T-shirt to apparel promoting alcohol or drug use.

That increasingly well-known arbiter of fashion, the ACLU, sent a letter to school administrators demanding Cohn and others be allowed to wear the shirt, and the two-week ban was lifted.

Perfect. Two weeks gave her enough time to wash her shirt and make it all pretty for its re-debut.

I can say with certainty that T-shirt tizzies haven’t been limited to the younger set or the recent past. Back in the mid-’90s I covered a protest by adults in Hampton Beach, N.H., outside a T-shirt store that peddled a couple of anti-gay shirts. One read “Silly faggot, dicks are for chicks,” and the other said “Aids Kills Fags” — or something of that ilk.

What I remember best is a teenager pointedly buying one of those shirts during the protest, then sheepishly returning it afterwards because he needed the money to get home.

The other day I spotted a different T-shirt twist to the American LGBT story. Openly gay veteran political consultant Fred Karger, in Washington, D.C., to file for the Republican presidential nomination, met with the Republican National Committee chairman.

Karger — completely unknown to the public and, to repeat, openly gay — told Roll Call, “We had a great meeting. I gave him one of my T-shirts.”

I’d like to know what slogan is on that shirt. Maybe “Karger 2012: No, Really.”

Leslie Robinson still has a pro-ERA T-shirt that her mother gave her. E-mail Leslie at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and check out her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

—  John Wright

Lesbian students enter to cheers at Minn. school

CHRIS WILLIAMS | Associated Press

CHAMPLIN, Minn. — Two lesbian high school students who fought for the right to walk together as part of a royalty court made their entrances Monday, Jan. 31 to the cheers of hundreds of classmates.

Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton wore matching black suits with pink ties and held hands as they entered the Snow Days Pep Fest at Champlin Park High School in Minneapolis’ northwest suburbs.

The reaction came as a relief to the couple and school administrators. The district has been stung by criticism of its policies toward homosexuality and the alleged bullying of a gay student who killed himself.

“It felt amazing,” said Shelton, adding that she was too nervous to notice dozens rise to give her a standing ovation as she walked in with Lindstrom. “I think we were too focused on getting to the stage.”

If there were any boos, they were drowned about by supporters. “I feel so much better,” Lindstrom said while surrounded by friends after the rally.

Sarah’s mother, Shannon Lindstrom, camera in hand, joined the other mothers of children in the royalty court after the rally.

“They had a lot of courage,” she said Shelton and her daughter. “Look how far we’ve come.”

Students voted onto the royalty court traditionally enter the assembly in boy-girl pairs. After Lindstrom and Shelton, both 18, were elected, school officials last week announced a change in procedure: court members would walk in individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher.

School officials said they merely wanted to prevent the two from being teased. But on Friday, two human rights groups sued on their behalf.

On Saturday, in federally mediated talks, school officials relented. The two sides agreed that members of the royalty court would be escorted by anyone meaningful to them, regardless of gender or age.

“This is a new chapter for the district,” said Sam Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local assistance from the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre and Benson.

Young women in evening gowns and young men in dark suits walked through a makeshift arch and to the stage during the Monday afternoon pep rally complete with cheerleaders, dance teams and the school band. So did two young women in suits, and the crowd cheered for each one.

“They did great,” said Principal Mike George. “I’m proud of our students.”

Several of the students in the crowd didn’t understand what all the fuss over the lesbian couple.

“Some people are against it, but they don’t care if they walk down a stupid runway,” said Maggie Hesaliman, 14.

Melissa Biellefe, 16, said, “We’re a pretty respectful school. Our rule is just let people be who they are.”

Champlin Park is part of the Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota’s largest, which has been in the spotlight in the past year for its handling of issues involving gay and lesbian students.

It has been in the crossfire for its policy of “neutrality” in classroom discussions of homosexuality. It was reached in 2009 as a way to balance the demands of liberal and conservative families, but neither side has been completely happy with it.

The issues flared again last year after a gay student, Justin Aaberg, killed himself. His mother has said she heard too late from Justin’s friends that he had been harassed.

Aaberg was one of six students who committed suicide in the district since the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, and advocacy groups have linked some of the other deaths to the bullying of gay students.

However, the district said last month its own investigation did not find evidence that bullying contributed to the students’ deaths.

—  John Wright

Advocates push safe schools bill in wake of suicide

Parents of Houston teen who shot himself last week say school officials didn’t respond to repeated complaints, leading to 13-year-old being ‘bullied to death’

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Asher Brown
Asher Brown

HOUSTON — The recent bullying-related suicide of a gay Texas teen highlights the need for comprehensive safe schools legislation protecting LGBTQ students, advocates said this week.

Asher Brown, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School in northwest Harris County, fatally shot himself on Thursday, Sept. 23 after his parents said he was “bullied to death” over a period of 18 months for, among other things, being gay.

Asher’s parents allege that school officials failed to respond to their repeated complaints about the bullying — which included other students simulating gay sex acts on their son. Asher came out as gay to his stepfather the same day he took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a 9mm Baretta.

His suicide was one of four in recent weeks around the country tied to anti-gay bullying, prompting calls to action from advocacy groups and tentative plans for vigils in cities nationwide the weekend of Oct. 9-10.

“It’s devastating. It’s horrible,” said Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group. “You don’t want to see any child hurt, much less lose their life, because of an unsafe school environment.”

Asher’s suicide is the first in recent memory in Texas that can be directly tied to anti-gay bullying, Smith said. However, a national survey in 2009 found that 90 percent of LGBT middle and high-school students had experienced harassment at school in the last year, while nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

A safe schools bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced — but failed to pass — in each of the last two state legislative sessions.

“Part of the reason why the bill hasn’t passed is because it hasn’t risen to the level of being deemed legislation that we absolutely have to deal with,” Smith said.“If there is any silver lining to Asher Brown’s death, hopefully it raises awareness that please, let us deal with this before another child dies.”

Equality Texas this week called on members to contact legislators and urge them to support the safe schools bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, in next year’s session. The group also noted that Asher’s suicide marked the second time in less than a year that officials in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District have been accused of failing to respond to complaints of anti-gay bullying until it was too late.

Last November, a freshman at Cy-Fair ISD’s Langham Creek High School was beaten with a metal pipe in what he said was an anti-gay attack. Jayron Martin, 16, said at the time that he had begged two principals and his bus driver to intervene prior to the attack, but they failed to do so.

Asher’s death was one of four this month in the U.S. that stemmed from anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools, according to media reports.

Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from California, died in a hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 28 after hanging himself from a tree in his back yard several days earlier.Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman, hung himself in his family’s barn in Greensburg, Ind., on Thursday, Sept. 9. And Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off a bridge this week after his roommate secretly streamed on the Internet a live recording of him having sex with another man.

“These horrific stories of youth taking their own lives reflect on school bullying culture in this country,” said Charles Robbins, executive director of Trevor Project, a national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

“To be clear, they do not point to a contagion of teen or youth suicide, but that the media, parents, teachers and friends are more in-tune to speaking up about the causes,” Robbins said. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends affected by the loss of these wonderful individuals.”

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, the national LGBT civil rights group, also expressed condolences.

“But sympathy is not enough — we all have a responsibility to take action, and to keep working until all young people are safe and respected, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gorenberg said. “We must push for laws on the federal level and in every state that prohibit bullying and discrimination.

“We must hold people accountable, and use the courts when necessary. And most importantly, we must love and teach all our children to be their best selves and to respect and support others to do the same.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Best Bets • 09.24.10

Friday 09.24

Corny dogs, here we come
The State Fair of Texas is upon us once again and that means fried foods, dizzying rides and emptied wallets — and it’s totally worth it. We’re still making up our mind on the new fried beer on the menu, but the Texas Fried Frito Pie sounds like a dream and a nightmare for any personal trainer. But who cares? It’s the Fair!

DEETS: Fair Park, 1300 Robert B Cullum Blvd. Through Oct. 17. $15. BigTex.com.

Sunday 09.26

Classic lit without the reading
This image from the cover of “The Great Gatsby” instilled dread among middle and high school students. But AIDS Interfaith Network turns the classic novel about the roaring ’20s into fab times with “The Great Gatsby…Get Your Flap On.” Complete with jazz, bubbly and fundraising, it almost makes you want to read it again. Almost.

DEETS: Union Station, 400 S. Houston St. 2 p.m. $75–$125. AIDSInterfaithNetwork.org

Wednesday 09.29

WaterTower is getting Wilder
Terry Martin does double duty as director and actor in “Our Town,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder. The tales of the ordinary folk of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire come alive in this season opener for WaterTower.

DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road. Through Oct. 24. $25–$40. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas