New film unveils truth about a man shunned by his family because of AIDS

052316MIGUEL

Cecilia Aldarondo’s uncle Miguel died of AIDS-related illness in the mid-1980s when she was 6. She barely knew him, and then he was gone. Moreover, Miguel’s truth was obliterated. His life as a gay man? Just a “disease.” His longtime partner, Robert? Not even a mention in the obituary.

Fast forward 30 years. Set against the backdrop of dense cultural and rigid Catholic influences, Miguel’s niece exposes the family’s buried secrets in her captivating film Memories of a Penitent Heart, which played this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and continues its rollout throughout 2016. In the touching doc, the first-time filmmaker reunites the remaining members of her family for a series of interviews, along with revealing historical context, to uncover the truth about the uncle she never knew. Here is her story, in her own words:

The catalyst. My mom found some 8mm home movies in the garage and that actually preceded my desire to find things out. Also, my grandfather had passed away the year before and there was a lot of stuff around his death. When somebody has just died, everyone is still mourning them and talking about them, so that was around the same time. It started out as more idle conversations. The more I talked about [my uncle] with my mother and other family members, I was like, “Wait a minute. I’m not very comfortable with this.”

The first shoot. I started filming in 2011. I went to Puerto Rico with some friends and we literally just stole some cameras from school and flew to Puerto Rico. We filmed in the cemetery where my uncle was buried. I had no idea what it was at that point. It really was me chasing a series of hunches for a really long time.

The crisis. I approached making the film by doing as much research as possible. I was born in 1980, so I was a kid when AIDS was becoming an epidemic and it was in the background for me. AIDS and my uncle were these ghostly presences but not something I really understood. From the very beginning of making the film I just started reading as much as I could and seeing as many films as I could as a way to familiarize myself with the context in which he was existing. I started with reading [Randy Shilts’] And the Band Played On, and I just remember weeping throughout the whole book, because I knew it was bad… I just didn’t know how bad.

052316MIGUEL2The importance of ‘being generous toward one another.’ I think in so many stories of discrimination — not just LGBT discrimination but any kind of discrimination — we can often get very black and white about who the victim is and who the perpetrator is. What I would like this film to make possible is for people who see it to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, whether it’s a parent who has a gay child and doesn’t know how to talk to them or the opposite — a gay person who has a lot of resentment toward a family member. How can these people try to come to a mutual understanding and be generous toward one another?

‘You just changed my life.’ There’s one guy, a longtime survivor who lost a lot of people during the peak crisis years, and he said the film enabled him to look at things that he’s been scared to look at for years. Another guy, a 20something Puerto Rican guy, came up to me after the second screening in tears and was like, “You just changed my life.” He was like, “I was seeing my own story on the screen.” Those are the kinds of things where I’m like, “OK, I’m done.”

There’s all this intense pressure around, where’s the film gonna go next? And what are the critics saying? Ultimately, none of that matters. What I wanted was for people to look at their own lives and their own stories, and if people are having those kind of reactions, that tells me I’m doing something right.

Her hope. People have asked me, “What do you want people to do when they see this film?” I say, “I want them to pick up the phone and call somebody they might not know how to talk to or maybe just put your stuff aside for a second and try and actually connect with somebody.” That’s my Pollyannaish hope. But I do think that there are a lot of different ways to transform society, and one of the ways to transform society is at the most intimate level.

Her mother’s journey to acceptance. I think for my mom this is a very scary and challenging thing. She’s a product of her time; there are still things she can’t get her head around, but she’s really invested and grateful for what this film can do for people. She really wants to promote love and acceptance, and I think we do agree on the principle of what the film is trying to achieve. But we still disagree. She doesn’t see things the way I do, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want this film to help her change, to help the world change. I think she wants to be an advocate for mutual understanding between LGBT people and their families. I think she believes very strongly in that.

Seeing the film with her family. It was kind of insane. The Florida Film Festival screening was in my hometown — I grew up in Orlando — and so my entire family came out for it. It was a crazy thing that this movie was, like, splashing our history on the screen and everybody was just so happy about it.

A different kind of activism. I always had this feeling my uncle was cool. I grew up in the suburbs. I didn’t have any artist role models and I had this uncle who died, who was living in New York, and he was an actor and it just sounded like he was really cool. The more I was learning about the AIDS crisis, I was really hopeful… I wanted him to be in ACT UP or something. I wanted him to be a card-carrying guy who’s, like, in the streets. I didn’t want him to be mainstream. I was really excited when I found out he was into leather!

I wanted this cool uncle, and I was kind of disappointed when I realized that he wasn’t that kind of activist. At the same time, I found these letters where he would write to my grandmother and to my mom, and in these letters he’s so eloquent and so loving, and also grounded and convinced of who he is. He was being an activist with them. He was fighting for himself. That was so amazing to me.

So, I would say it’s less that he was an influence on me and more that I felt that we were working together. There are certain moments where it feels like a collaboration between us. There’s [been] nothing more gratifying than when my dad said to me that my uncle would be proud of me and that is, again, one of those moments where it’s like, I can’t do better than that.

— Chris Azzopardi

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Surviving HIV, facing Hepatitis C

As liver disease surpasses virus that causes AIDS as a killer, it should be a wake-up call for LGBT people to get tested, educated about risks

Webb-DavidAfter the emergence of HIV/AIDS and the devastation it caused in the 1980s, the identification of yet another deadly virus about the same time went virtually unnoticed by the general public.

News and concern about Hepatitis C understandably took a back seat to HIV, and so the liver disease apparently grew exponentially because it was a slower killer and asymptomatic.

Spread mostly by blood-to-blood contact, HCV is now thought to infect as many as 170 million people worldwide, many or most of whom are unaware of their status because of the absence of any symptoms they are ill.

Often people do not become aware of their infection until significant damage is done to their liver, and cirrhosis or cancer develops and a transplant is necessary.

Now, more people die from HCV-related illnesses than those associated with HIV, according to a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that was unveiled this week.

CDC officials warn that Baby Boomers, anyone born between 1945 and 1965, should get a test to determine whether they are infected with HCV.

Federal health officials estimate that two-thirds of the people infected with HVC are in this age group, and that half are unaware of it.

Medical researchers and practitioners theorized since the 1970s that another hepatitis virus existed in addition to Hepatitis B because some patients who no longer exhibited traces of HBV in their blood continued to show similar signs of liver malfunction.

Finally, in 1989 Hepatitis C was proven to exist, and widespread testing of blood for the virus since 1997 has revealed its frightening spread.

Many people in the LGBT community were unaware of the existence of HCV and only learned about it if someone they knew was diagnosed with it or, God forbid, learned they themselves had contracted it.

After dodging the HIV bullet and vowing not to place themselves at risk of contracting it, many people no doubt were shocked to learn there was yet another virus they could have contracted through blood transfusions, shared intravenous drug use and sexual activity.

What’s worse, there are concerns that the transmission of HCV might occur more easily than HIV through unsterilized medical and dental equipment, body piercings, shared personal items such as razors, toothbrushes and manicure tools — and no telling what else.

In contrast, HIV is thought to be less easily transmitted.

The possible presence of HCV was sometimes detected in the early 1990s among patients who got annual physicals because routine blood tests revealed irregularities in liver enzymes.

Further testing to identify the cause could reveal the presence of HCV when patients were in the care of doctors who stayed abreast of the medical developments.

It became clear HCV would become a chronic infection for most people who contracted it, and that it would eventually lead to severe health problems or death.

Only a few people would contract the virus and overcome it through the body’s natural processes, as is thought to be the case with some people who are exposed to HIV.

Two people of whom I have known and were HCV-positive illustrate just how widespread the virus could ultimately be.
One individual was a gay man who was a former heavy intravenous drug-user and HIV-negative, but nonetheless a member of a high-risk group.

The other was an older married female who didn’t even drink, let alone do drugs or engage in sex with multiple partners. She would surely be considered a member of a low-risk group, and I suspect she contracted the virus in a hospital setting long before its existence was known.

There are treatments available for HCV, but they unfortunately have different levels of effectiveness among patients, are expensive and can be intolerable to some people. Both of the people I knew were unable to tolerate the treatments. The heterosexual female has died, and I have lost contact with the gay man I knew who was HCV-positive. The last time I talked to him he had been declared disabled because of his HCV infection and the damage it had done to his liver.

In both cases, the months-long treatments that included injections and oral drugs caused flu-like symptoms and severe depression. They both abandoned the treatments.
Fortunately, other people managed to survive the treatments and the combination of drugs apparently eliminated HCV from their blood.

The very fortunate discovered the infections and received the treatments before irreversible damage was done to their livers as was indicated by biopsies.

At the time the two people I knew tried the available treatments, only a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin was available.

Those treatments initially were prohibitively expensive, but they are considered less costly now.

Today, there are new protease inhibitors available for treatment showing promise, but the cost is astronomical.

The new drugs, Victrelis at $1,100 per week, and Incivek at $4,100 per week, must be taken for months, and they also can cause hideous side effects.

It’s an agonizing situation, but most people are willing to spend whatever it costs if they can and endure whatever pain comes along in an effort to survive. That’s why it’s so important to get tested for HCV and to determine whether treatment is needed before it’s too late.
For others who are uninfected, don’t go there in the first place. Know how HCV is spread and avoid any possibility that it can imperil your life.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Contact him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Alden Clanahan to be honored by DIFFA

DIFFA’s 2012 collection Smoking Haute, returns to the Hilton Anatole on March 31, but the theme is already being tweaked ever-so-slightly following the unexpected death of fashion leader Alden Clanahan.

Clint Bradley, chairman of the DIFFA Dallas board of director, issued this statement about Clanahan and the collection:

“We at DIFFA/Dallas are honored to have known Alden Clanahan, enjoyed his great talents, and witnessed his passion for helping others. Alden’s years of service, dedication, and generosity towards DIFFA/Dallas will always be cherished and admired. Not only was Alden a Board member, a sponsor, and a patron but, Alden was an angel for DIFFA/Dallas. To honor Alden’s work and immeasurable impact for those living with HIV/AIDS, we will dedicate Collection 2012 as a celebration of his memory.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Local Briefs • 02.17.12

Toast to Life set for Feb. 25

The 14th annual Toast to Life Gala — fundraiser for Resource Center Dallas’ programs and services that make life better for people living with HIV/AIDS — is set for Feb. 25

The event, “Lights, Camera, ACTION!,” begins at 8 p.m. at FIG–Fashion Industry Gallery, at 1807 Ross Ave. Toast to Life has an annual attendance of more than 800, has raised more than $2.4 million since it began in 1999, and is one of the most eagerly awaited events of the year.
The centerpiece of Toast To Life has always been the culinary fare presented by a collection of Dallas’ most popular restaurants, along with wines and spirits. Guests participate throughout the evening by bidding on exclusive silent and luxury auction items and enjoying stellar entertainment.
This year’s auction items include:
• VIP passes to a taping of Fashion Police with Joan Rivers in L.A.;
• A limited-edition, autographed Katy Perry tour jacket;
• Week rental of a four-bedroom private condo in Park City, Utah;
• Furnishings from Herman Miller Inc., Knoll and Neiman Marcus–Willow Bend;
• Assorted travel packages and gift certificates from casual favorites to Dallas’ most prominent restaurants; and,
• One-of-a-kind art from well-known local artists.
Toast To Life Gala is presented by Christopher A. Salerno and sponsored in part by: Nordstrom, Eric V. Culbertson & David W. Carlson, American Airlines, Christopher J. Vesy, M.D. & Alan E. Roller, Charles MarLett & Jim Vasilas, Steven M. Pounders, M.D. & Jimmy O’Reilly, United Court of the Lone Star Empire, David Hardt & Steven Hartsell, and Bud Light/Ben E. Keith.
Tickets are $100. VIP tickets, which includes private reception prior to gala, are $150. For tickets and sponsor information for the 2012 Toast To Life Gala, visit www.toasttolife.org.

BTD beneficiary applications online

Black Tie Dinner has opened its 31st season by making applications for 2012 beneficiaries available online. The deadline is March 2. Beneficiaries must submit a new application each year. Up to 20 organizations are chosen to receive half the proceeds from the annual dinner. The other half benefits the Human Rights Campaign.

The Dallas Black Tie Dinner has been the largest LGBT fundraising dinner since it began in 1982.
Black Tie Dinner has raised more than $15 million since it began in 1982. In 2011, the organization distributed $1.142 million to 17 North Texas groups. This year’s dinner will be held at the Sheraton in Downtown Dallas on Nov. 3. Mitzi Lemons and Chris Kouvelis are the chairs.
For more info or to submit an application, go to BlackTie.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Resource Center honors volunteers

Leon Catlett receives top honor posthumously at annual dinner

LEGACY OF SERVICE | Carol Fisher accepts Resource Center Dallas’ 2011 Volunteer of the Year Award on Sunday, Jan. 29, on behalf of her son, Leon Catlett, who died last year. RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox, left, and services manager Kee Holt presented Fisher with Catlett’s award during the annual Volunteer Appreciation Party at the Starlight Room in Dallas.

From Staff Reports
editor@dallasvoice.com

More than 1,090 people gave more than 49,100 hours of their time and talents valued at more than $1.05 million to Resource Center Dallas in 2011, allowing the center to make life better for thousands of North Texans.

The volunteers were honored at the center’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Party on Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Starlight Room in the Dallas West End.

Longtime volunteer Leon Catlett, who died last November, posthumously received the 2011 Martha Dealey Volunteer of the Year award.

“Leon’s vibrant presence volunteering for the center, from the front desk and nutrition center to events such as Toast To Life, was a comforting and consistent presence for our staff and clients,” said Cece Cox, RCD’s executive director and CEO. “We miss him terribly, but are comforted by and thankful for his legacy of service to the center.”

Resource Center Dallas also recognized the following:

• Michael Chau received the Randolph Terrell Community Service Award, given to a group or individual for exceptional service to the LGBT community and/or people living with HIV/AIDS;

• Miles Vinton was given the Suzanne Wilson Award, presented to the year’s most significant volunteer in Client Services;

• Jack Hancock received the John Thomas Award, in recognition as the Gay & Lesbian Community Center’s exceptional volunteer of the year;

• Dr. Jaime Vasquez was awarded the Bill Nelson Award honoring the Nelson-Tebedo Health Resource Center’s outstanding volunteer of the year; and,

• David Granger received the Bruce Long Award for outstanding development department volunteer.

The center also recognized 117 volunteers who contributed more than 100 hours during 2011. Miles Vinton, with 906 hours, was recognized for donating the most amount of time last year.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

GDMAF forms new alliance with AIDS Arms

David Hearn

David Hearn, board president for the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund, announced that AIDS Arms will take over GDMAF’s administrative responsibilities. That leaves the board more time to concentrate on fundraising.

GDMAF raises money to help people with HIV/AIDS by providing financial assistance for critical needs. Metro Ball, now held in conjunction with Razzle Dazzle Dallas, is its major annual fundraiser.

GDMAF has had a long partnership with AIDS Arms. In addition to being a beneficiary of LifeWalk, many of those whom the fund assists are referred by AIDS Arms case managers.

Referrals from other agencies will also be streamlined. Hearn said he expects them to be made through its website in the next month or two.

The full press release follows the break:

—  David Taffet

Conference on addiction this week in Dallas

The Texas Association of Addiction Professionals presents NOVA 2012 on Jan. 19 and 20, covering topics of alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, sex addiction, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and treatment approaches.

Lisa Hinson

The Dallas chapter of TAAP is hosting the event. Chapter president Lisa Hinson LCDC is also a longtime participant in the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, the annual fundraiser for local HIV service providers.

“NOVA 2012 will cover topics relevant to therapists and those living and working within our community,” Hinson said. “Many in our community struggle with these disorders, and this is an amazing opportunity for lay people to get educated and therapists to get the latest information and [continuing education units] in the addictions field.”

Workshops will be presented by nationally and regionally known experts in their fields.

Space is available. The cost is $150 for non-members. Special rates are available for one day and for students and counselor interns. To register, go to the Dallas TAAP website and click on NOVA Conference.

Nova 2012 takes place at the DoubleTree Hotel Valley View near the Galleria.

—  David Taffet

Deaths • 01.13.12

Deaths

Henderson-obit

Perry “Bubba” Henderson

Perry “Bubba” Henderson, 46, died Jan. 2 in Mesquite, where he had lived most of his life.

Born March 13, 1965, in Tyler to Perry Lee and Vassie D. (Owens) Henderson, he was known as a gentle bear of a man with a kind and generous heart. He did volunteer work for Bryan’s House, and was a founding member of the Caring Friends Center, which provided personal hygiene items and household cleaning supples to men, women and children with HIV/AIDS and to women with breast cancer. He later served first as vice president and then president of Caring Friends Center.

He loved to visit with friends at The Round-Up Saloon, and that is where he met his partner, Cary Campbell.

Henderson was preceded in death by his father Perry Lee Henderson, sisters Patsy Hardin and Terrie Dee Alphin, his partner Cary Campbell, his best friend Richard Curry and his dog Rowdy.

He is survived by his mother, Vassie Henderson of Mesquite; sisters, Belinda Westberry and husband Tommy of Carroll Community, Debora Gaston of Mesquite and Sherrie Harris and husband Jeff of Richardson; and numerous relatives and friends.

Donations in his memory can be made to the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund at GDMAF.org.

…………………….

Shelton-obit

James David Shelton

James David Shelton, 75, of Rancho Mirage, Calif., died Jan. 8 following a valiant three-year fight with liver cancer. His two beloved children, Maria and Raymond, were at his side when he slipped away peacefully.

Shelton was born Dec. 31, 1936, in Lubbock, the son of the late Eva Robinson Shelton and Raymond D. Shelton. He graduated from The University Of California at Berkeley in 1959 and received his masters in science at The University of North Texas in 1991.

In 1963, Shelton moved to Amarillo to work for Santa Fe Railroad. It was there that his two children were born. He was co-owner of Adams-Shelton Communications with his long-time business partner, Keith Adams, owning several radio stations in West Texas, including Z-93 and KLS. He and Adams were also publishers of Accent West magazine. Shelton served on the Northwest Texas Hospital Board of Directors, including one term as president.

His dedication to his own recovery and sharing that with others lead him to the next chapter of his life as a substance abuse and addictions counselor and interventionist. Shelton began his career in Dallas in the early 1990s, working for several treatment facilities in the North Texas area.

During this time, he also became active in the Dallas LGBT community, starting a support group for married gay men that is still in existence today.

He was a member of The Turtle Creek Chorale for several seasons and also a member of the Episcopal Church of St. Thomas the Apostle.

In 1995, he relocated to Palm Springs where he worked as counselor in various programs at The Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage for 12 years, until leaving in 2005 to form his own intervention practice. He continued to do contract work for The Betty Ford Center until shortly before his death.

Through his work, Shelton touched the lives of countless people seeking recovery from alcoholism and addiction who will be forever grateful for the change he inspired in their lives.

Just prior to his death, Shelton was made an emeritus member of The Network of Independent Interventionists in recognition of his years of dedication and service in the recovery field.

He is survived by his life partner of 17 years, Richard Burckhardt of Rancho Mirage; his daughter, Maria Lynn Shelton Dameron and son-in-law, Mark Wallace Dameron, of Centennial, Colo.; his son, Raymond Ted Shelton of Dallas; his granddaughters, Camille and Eden Dameron of Centennial, Colo.; his brothers, Bill Shelton of Aledo and John Shelton of Fort Worth; two nieces and three nephews.

A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. The family requests that donations in his memory be made to underwrite The Betty Ford Center Children’s Program operating in Dallas, Denver and Rancho Mirage. Please make checks payable to The Betty Ford Center Foundation, 41-990 Cook Street, Suite C-301, Palm Desert, Calif., 92211.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Top 10: N. Texas helped mark AIDS anniversary

AIDSat30

HOLDING VIGIL | Hundreds gathered for a commemoration in downtown Dallas on World AIDS Day.

No. 5

In 2011, the world marked three decades of AIDS. It was June 5, 1981, that the Centers for Disease Control first reported on five cases in which otherwise healthy young men, all gay, had been treated for pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at three separate Los Angeles hospitals since the previous October, with two of them dying of the disease. A month later, on July 4, the CDC reported on 26 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma, again all in gay men, within the previous 30 months, with eight of the patients having died. As scientists struggled to find the cause, the plague became known as GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency syndrome.

But it wasn’t until a year later — on June 27, 1982 — that the term AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, was coined. Human immunodeficiency virus — HIV — wouldn’t be discovered until 1983 by Institut Pasteur in France, and it was identified as the cause of AIDS by Dr. Robert Gallo in the U.S.

By 2011, more than 25 million people worldwide had died of AIDS, and new infections continue, with men who have sex with men once again leading in terms of new infections, according to the CDC.

Despite the frightening infection rates, federal funding for HIV/AIDS services is dwindling, with community-based AIDS service organizations struggling to find new ways to raise money, offer services and educate the public. One North Texas organization, AIDS Resources of Rural Texas based in Weatherford, announced in July that it could no longer keep its head above water and would be closing its doors as of Sept. 1.

Most clients who had been accessing services at ARRT were absorbed by the Tarrant County AIDS Outreach Center in Fort Worth, where Executive Director Allan Gould pledged to continue to provide services to its growing client base, despite increasing cuts in federal and state funds.

In late September, AOC announced its intention to partner with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, based in Los Angeles, to open an AIDS clinic in 2012. On World AIDS Day, AHF officials and basketball legend Magic Johnson announced that the planned AOC clinic would be one of three Magic Johnson clinics opening in the next year.

Observances of the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic worldwide began in early 2011, while in North Texas, the first such commemoration came in late June when Dallas Voice and a host of partner organizations and business presented a public forum focusing on the status of HIV treatments today. On July 1, Dallas Voice published a special issue, AIDS@30, focusing on current treatments, research and education efforts, as well as profiles on individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

AIDS service organizations joined together for World AIDS Day commemorations on Dec. 1, including a display of panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in downtown Dallas, and on Dec. 6, Charles Santos spearheaded The Gathering, an unprecedented collaboration of performing artists from around North Texas who donated their time to a performance at The Winspear Opera House. About 1,000 people attended the event, which raised more than $60,000 for local AIDS service organizations.

— Tammye Nash

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

—  Kevin Thomas

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