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

Hunt considering run for mayor

Angela Hunt

LGBT political leaders praise her advocacy for the community, say they want to see who else enters race

RELATED STORY: Openly gay candidate considers run for Hunt’s District 14 seat

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who represents one of the gayest districts in the city, announced Wednesday, Jan. 12 that she is considering a run for mayor in municipal elections set for mid-May.

“It’s still something I am considering,” Hunt told Dallas Voice on Thursday. “I have been really honored that some folks I respect have encouraged me to consider running. So now I am talking with folks whose opinions I respect and value, discussing what I can bring to the table and how I might be able to lead our city into the future.”

Hunt said she will make her decision on whether to run for mayor based on where she believes she can do the most good for Dallas.

“To me, it’s not about my title, but about what I can accomplish,” she said. “If I can accomplish the most as a council member, then that’s terrific. But there are things I would like to see us do as a city, things the citizens are asking for, and if I can best accomplish those things as mayor, I will run.”

Hunt said she would like to see the city’s elected officials change their priorities, because she believes that is what the city’s residents want.

“When I talk with folks, they are frustrated with the idea that we are focusing on creating a city for tourists rather than residents,” she said.

She said that high-dollar projects like the Trinity River Park toll road, the new bridge over the Trinity River and the Convention Center hotel “take focus off the acute, more immediate needs of residents, while the residents want to see their parks taken care of and their streets taken care of and the city’s infrastructure taken care of.”

“The citizens want us to focus on making our city a great place to live rather than a great place to visit,” Hunt said.

Hunt added that she expects LGBT issues and HIV/AIDS issues to continue to come before the council from time to time, and that she will continue to be an advocate for the community when that happens.

“I think when we are looking at funding issues that may affect the LGBT community — things like funding for HIV/AIDS programs — that’s when having voices on the council that are strong advocates becomes absolutely critical,” she said. “I don’t think anyone on the council now is anti-LGBT. But there is a difference between folks who are not opposed to certain issues affecting the LGBT community, and those who are staunch advocates who will pick up on those issues and move forward with them.”

Hunt said she has appointed several openly LGBT people to city boards and commissions, and that she hopes “I have shown my door has always been open.” And she said she has many supporters in the LGBT community who have encouraged her to run for mayor.

“I have been very honored by the response I have received, very appreciative of that,” Hunt said.

LGBT political leaders praised Hunt’s advocacy for the community, but said there are still too many variables up in the air to start making endorsements yet.

“It’s not a surprise” that Hunt is considering running for mayor, said Erin Moore, former president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and current vice president of Texas Stonewall Democrats. “There have been rumors since the Pride parade [in September] that she was going to run.

“She has been fairly progressive on our [LGBT] issues anytime something has come up. There have been some mixed reviews on her; she has her supporters and her detractors in our community,” Moore said. “But I would say her heart is definitely in the right place, which is a good thing, for sure.”

Still, Moore added: “Right now we’re not sure who is actually running. It’s a very competitive game.”

Current Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez also praised Hunt’s record on LGBT issues.

“She has a pretty positive record, especially from two years ago when the council was deciding whether to cut the HIV/AIDS funding out of the city budget,” Narvaez said. “She stepped up and worked with us to try and keep that from happening, and when it became obvious the cuts would happen anyway, she worked with us to try and save as much of the funding as she could.”

Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance and Moore’s spouse, said she believes Hunt would be “a very viable candidate in a citywide race,” having raised her visibility with strong stances on high-profile issues, including plans to build a toll road through part of the Trinity River Park and building a city-owned hotel near the Convention Center downtown.

Hunt opposed both proposals, although both eventually passed.

“She has certainly been a strong advocate for our community in the time she has been on the council,” Fink continued. “There haven’t been that many LGBT issues that have hit the horseshoe since she was elected. She wasn’t there when the city passed the non-discrimination ordinance [protecting LGBTs]. But she has been a leader in stepping up on issues when we have asked her to.

“I think she is an advocate for the community, rather than just a supporter who follows others,” Fink said.

Both Fink and Narvaez stopped short of saying they would endorse Hunt for mayor, noting that their respective organizations would be screening candidates and making endorsements in municipal elections soon.

“We will be starting our PAC meetings in a week or two, then we will start sending out endorsement packets and setting up screenings with candidates,” Fink said. “We anticipate a wide range of candidates coming our way, asking for endorsements.”

Fink also noted that DGLA’s PAC has in the past endorsed a number of past and current City Council members that might run for mayor this year. That means the DGLA endorsement will not be automatic for any one candidate.

Narvaez said Stonewall Democrats will also be making endorsements in city elections this year for only the second time.

Originally, because Stonewall is a partisan organization that will endorse only Democrats and city races are non-partisan, the organization did not endorse city candidates.

Screenings for city candidates seeking Stonewall’s endorsement will be held March 19.

“I personally hope that she [Hunt] will decide to run and that she will ask for our endorsement,” Narvaez said. “We will have to wait and see what happens. Also, it will be interesting to see who might try to win her [District 14] seat if she runs for mayor. There very well might be some LGBT people running for that seat.”

Fink agreed. “I think we have some incredibly qualified people in our community, and I would love to see some of those people step up and run for that seat,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright