Defining Homes • cougar’s DEN

‘Big Rich Texas’ star Leslie Birkland found house shopping in Dallas easy — with some high-end help, of course

Cameras follow Leslie Birkland, right, and goddaughter Kalyn Braun in ‘Big Rich Texas’ which also features Birkland’s new Dallas-area estate.

By Rich Lopez

 

Being blonde and beautiful never hurts — especially in Dallas. Blonde, beautiful and rich is even better. Leslie Birkland dealt with some hefty drama in the just-finished season of Big Rich Texas, but maybe the biggest drama was finding a new home in the area to partake in Dallas society, men and the pageant scene. Birkland calls Big D home, for now, and becoming a denizen wasn’t so difficult.

“My house was pretty easy to find and prices are just right now,” Birkland says. “I kept hearing Dallas hadn’t been hit really in the [economic] crisis.”

She was a bit overwhelmed upon coming to the city to join her cousin (and castmate) Connie and to oversee her goddaughter Kalyn’s pageant career.

Thinking the idea was to settle in Dallas proper, she found that wasn’t reasonable to live a certain lifestyle and be comfortable. She found she didn’t have to live in Highland Park.

“Everyone was so willing and a lot of Realtors were coming out of the woodwork quickly to help out,” she says. “But it was Connie’s husband John that pointed me elsewhere to look.”

For anyone looking to buy another home, she says once you’ve done it, you know how to negotiate what you need and it goes far easier the second time. Although she won’t divulge exactly where she lives, she describes it as about 45 minutes northwest of Dallas. As for the house — well let’s just say she’s kept up with the Joneses just fine, if not blowing them out of the water.

“It’s about the same 6,000 square feet as my house in Washington with eight bedrooms and three kitchens,” she says. “It’s pretty grand! It’s so elegant and beautiful with these big columns. That’s new to me. And sometimes when you want a bit more land, you have to go out to where it’s spread out. I love it.”

But Birkland’s celebrity going to be an issue with the neighborhood? She says no. As the cameras are rolling for Big Rich Texas, the Style Network has stayed out of sight of the neighbors or respected their privacy as well. In turn, Birkland says the people around her seem not to care all that much about the little piece of TV reality happening right next door.

“They see what’s going on and they may ask, but it’s no thing for them,” she laughs.

For the average person, that amount of square feet seems like a daunting task to move in to. But rich folks do it differently. Birkland has no projects for the house per se. Updating a room with paint or doling pieces of furniture among eight rooms isn’t necessary. Higher end homes with specific interiors come as an entire package. Basically, this is not a fixer-upper.

“Yeah, I’m not doing anything,” she chuckles. “With homes like these, there are furnishings specifically designed for the house, so there’s nothing I’m doing in that regard.”

As for getting used to Dallas, Birkland is dealing with learning a new city, navigating high society and handling some real-life drama all in front of a camera. Before she moved here, she researched maps, but found it difficult to gauge distance from the heart of the city.  Initially, she leased a house just a couple of miles from her cousin in Highland Park.

“People would ask me where I lived and I didn’t know,” she says. “Then I’d just say Highland Park, but where I was wasn’t Highland Park and that was a whole thing!”

She takes it all with a sense of humor. Especially since she’s been labeled the cougar of the show. Romancing the likes of Anthony Dorsett Jr. (son of the former Dallas Cowboy) and a young golf pro known only as A.J., she’s definitely a connoisseur of the younger man, but for her cougar-dom, she seems to roll her eyes at her cougar-dom.

“I do like men that are younger. but I didn’t realize I was a cougar,” she says. “It’s funny, but definitely not icky. There’s a line not to cross. I never want to be old enough to be their mother. I already have three sons! But the men I date are just about 10 years younger. If it was 15 or 20 years difference, then I could see that.”

The next season hasn’t started filming yet and Birkland is just fine with that right now. She has enough on her plate to keep her busy supporting her lavish lifestyle, whether it’s business or fun.

“Through my property investments and CDs, I have a comfortable lifestyle,” she says. “Plus, I’m very conservative with money and do some modeling on the side. As for being here, well, it’s only been six months and I’m not used to the roads, but I’m learning the neighborhoods and getting familiar with them.” DH

For more about the show, visit MyStyle.com/BigRichTexas

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Deaths

Robert  Allan Turnipseed, 62, formerly of Dallas, was murdered in his home at Riberas del Pilar in Jalisco, Mexico, on Jan. 6 (See related news story in this issue.)

Turnipseed immigrated to the United States from Calgary, Alberta in Canada as a child and grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He was active in the Stonewall Business and Professional Association in Dallas, a precursor to the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. He and his partner fulfilled their dream of moving to Mexico in 2004 when they bought a home in the Lake Chapala area.

Turnipseed is survived by his partner of 40 years, Bob Tennison.

Mark A. Bieson, 48, died Jan. 10 at Parkland Hospital in Dallas following a prolonged illness.

Born in Indiana, Biesen had lived in the Dallas area for the past 16-plus years and had worked as a demo specialist at Whole Foods Market in Highland Park. Friends remember him as a very kind and gentle person with an amazing spirit. Guests to and his coworkers at Whole Foods Market loved him very much and will remember him always for his sense of humor and good-natured spirit.

Biesen is survived by one sister and two brothers, all of Indiana.

A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at Unity Church of Dallas, 6525 Forest Lane.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Turtle Creek Chorale helps Adolphus Hotel make First Baptist Church’s ‘Nice List’

The Turtle Creek Chorale will perform from noon to 1 p.m. today at the Adolphus Hotel to kick off WRR 101.1 FM’s weeklong Caroling at the Adolphus series, a live program of seasonal choral music. You can watch the TCC’s performance in person while enjoying complimentary coffee, cider and cookies, but you may want to head out soon because seating is limited and on a first-come, first-serve basis. And of course if you can’t make it just tune in to WRR in about 40 minutes.

It’s great to see TCC as part of Caroling at the Adolphus this year, especially since the series has helped land the hotel on First Baptist’s Church’s “Nice List.” Given that our submissions to the list for the Round-Up’s Christmas decorations have been rejected, this may be the closest we come to beating the system. Unfortunately Caroling at the Adolphus will become slightly less gay-affirming on Tuesday when the Highland Park Presbyterian Church Chorale performs.

—  John Wright

Fox News talks to Robert Rowling about Gold’s Gym controversy, quotes his neighbor Instant Tea

This is too funny. Highland Park billionaire Robert Rowling, CEO of TRT Holdings, the ownership group for both Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels, has broken his silence about the controversy over his $2 million in contributions to American Crossroads. And guess who Rowling decided to talk to about it? That’s right, Fox News. But that’s not the funny part. In its story about the Gold’s Gym flap, which is oh-so-cleverly titled “This isn’t working out,” Fox News also quotes this blog, which it says “shares a neighborhood with Rowling.” Really? And which neighborhood would that be? Do they really think Instant Tea can afford to live in Highland Park? Well maybe we could if people like Fox News would link to our freakin’ site when they quote us!!! Bastards. Anyhow, here’s what Bobby-boy had to say for himself and what Fox News had to say about us:

“The facts are so distorted,” Rowling told Fox News, explaining that his donation to American Crossroads had nothing to do with social policies that could spark crossfire. “I’ve never heard one discussion of a social issue. This is all about fiscal sanity.” American Crossroads “supports conservative candidates, and even though those candidates may disagree with them on social issues, the resounding issue is fiscal responsibility.”

Rowling explained that his donation was made knowing that unlike its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads discloses its donors. “I gave to American Crossroads, where I knew my name would be published,” he said.

LGBT online newspaper the Dallas Voice, which shares a neighborhood with Rowling, on Monday likened the criticism from the gay community to similar backlash against Target Corp. over its financial support of an organization that backed Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who has made clear his stance that marriage between a man and a woman is the only form that should be legally recognized.

“…Apparently the only thing we hold more sacred than shopping at Target is working out,” the newspaper deadpanned in a Monday posting.

Target Corp., which is known for its progressive employment policies and sponsorship of Minnesota gay groups, in August faced pressure from its shareholders to retool its donation process to avoid similar problems in the future.

“Gold’s Gym is apolitical. We welcome all members without regard to race, gender, or sexual orientation,” Rowling told Fox News. “We always have, and we always will.”

—  John Wright

Gold’s Gym spokesman: Rowling doesn’t see any profits and San Francisco franchisees are lying

This morning we put a call in to Gold’s Gym’s gayest location in Dallas, at 2425 McKinney Ave. in Uptown, to find out whether management there had any thoughts on the controversy over Robert Rowling’s $2 million in contributions to American Crossroads, the Karl Rove co-founded group that is working to help elect several anti-gay candidates across the country this election cycle.

Rowling, a Highland Park billionaire, is the CEO for TRT Holdings, which is the ownership group for both Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels. And his contributions have led to a petition calling for Gold’s Gym to stop supporting anti-gay candidates.

We ended up talking with Brad Bean, who happens to be the district manager for Gold’s Gym’s four corporate-owned locations in Dallas. The company’s other six locations in Dallas are franchises, Bean said.

“From a corporate perspective, diversity is a core part of our organization, and we don’t discriminate,” Bean said. “We have zero tolerance. We’re not a political organization, and we don’t use our revenue source to fund political organizations.”

Bean’s statement is essentially a shortened version of the one released by Gold’s Gym International on Monday, which we’ve posted below. A copy of the statement was sent over this morning by Dave Reiseman, vice president of communications for Gold’s Gym International, which happens to be headquartered at 125 E. John Carpenter Freeway in Irving.

We also spoke with Reiseman briefly this morning, and he stressed that Rowling is not the CEO for Gold’s Gym; he is the CEO for TRT Holdings, which is the ownership group.

“Not a nickel of Gold’s Gym’s money, from our members or our franchisees or our employees, went to American Crossroads or any other political organization,” Reiseman told Instant Tea. “Gold’s Gym is an apolitical organization, and we do not donate to political causes or candidates of any kind.”

But doesn’t the company generate a profit for Rowling, who could then have given that money to American Crossroads?

“I think one day if the company is ever sold, he may make a profit there, but right now they just re-invest all the profits back into the business,” Reiseman said. “Needless to say, the LGBT community is hugely important to us. We’re proud to have a strong membership base. A lot of our employees are part of the LGBT community, and so are a lot of our employees here at the corporate office and our franchisees.”

And speaking of franchisees, Reiseman says two of them in San Francisco were flat out lying when they announced Monday that they’re leaving the brand over Rowling’s American Crossroads contributions. Rather, discussions about termination of their franchise agreements for unrelated reasons began months ago, Reiseman said. This statement is below as well.

—  John Wright

Gold’s Gym franchises respond to Bob Rowling’s donations to group backing anti-gay candidates

Earlier we told you about the LGBT community’s apparent outrage over Highland Park billionaire Robert Rowling’s contributions totaling $2 million to the Karl Rove co-founded American Crossroads, which is working to help elect several anti-gay candidates this election cycle. Well, the reaction has been swift from four Gold’s Gym franchises in the San Francisco area, which announced today that they’re severing ties with the brand over the contributions. Via The Huffington Post, here’s a statement from Don Dickerson, director of operations for Gold’s Gym Bay Area:

We were as surprised by [CEO] Mr. [Robert] Rowling’s action as anyone but because our company believes in and lives up to the ideals of equality for all we are going to take the following actions:

1: Our contractual obligation with Gold’s Gym expires on September 15th, 2012 and on or prior to that date (our legal counsel is reviewing our options) we will leave the Gold’s Gym brand. It is a major initiative to create a new brand and leave Gold’s Gym which has been our identity for over 20 years but we will begin that process today.

2: For every dollar we pay Gold’s Gym in franchise fees we will donate an equal or greater amount to LGBT charities. While we donate much more than this to charities and community groups that support the LGBT community we want to make a commitment to match or exceed this amount until our relationship with Gold’s Gym can be severed.

3: Our management and staff will continue to support LGBT causes in every way possible and we will use our business as a platform to fight for change and equality for everyone. We have always taken great pride in being a leader in the LGBT community and we will continue to.

Also, Gold’s Gym International released a statement to The Huff Po saying Rowling’s contributions were totally independent from the company. Rowling serves as CEO of the ownership group for Gold’s Gym, TRT Holdings, which also, as we noted before, owns Omni Hotels. Below is an excerpt from the Gold’s Gym International statement, which you can read in its entirety here:

Gold’s Gym did not make a donation to American Crossroads (or any other political organization) and in no way supports anti-gay causes. Quite the contrary, the Gold’s Gym family has been strong supporters of the LGBT community over the years. This includes supporting PRIDE events, sponsoring LGBT media outlets and donating to various LGBT charities in the communities we serve.

Clearly these folks recognize that their customer base is heavily LGBT, and they’re worried about the response to Rowling’s donations. Stay tuned. On Tuesday, we’ll see if we can talk to some representatives from Gold’s Gym locations in North Texas. Who ever said boycotts, or at least the threat of them, doesn’t work? Are you listening, Mr. Rowling?

—  John Wright

Spirit Day couture became fashion statement

Yesterday, like a lot of people nationwide, I wore purple in memory of gay teens who have committed suicide recently, many as the result of bullying.

Now, wearing purple is not a biggie for me. I have purple suede Ralph Lauren sneakers and purple Levi’s that I joke came from The Joker’s yard sale. I wear them often, to the chagrin of my plus-ones and co-workers. But last night, it proved to get me more notice than usual.

I attended the opening of the new Montblanc store at NorthPark clad in the sneaks and the jeans, plus a pale green shirt as well as my signature red-and-black Alain Mikli eyeglasses. I was a walking Crayola box.

“You are the most interestingly dressed man at this event,” said a woman I had never met before, a Highland Park Realtor. “You must be a designer or someone deeply involved in fashion.”

“No,” I explained. “Just gay.”

So, for all my friends who criticize my fashion sense I say this: How often have you had someone who can afford couture tell you your off-the-rack wardrobe made you look like a fashion trendsetter? … Hmmm? … Didn’t think so.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones