Redistricting plan could hurt LGBT voters

Map approved by Dallas council would cost community an ally, put heavily gay neighborhood in homophobic councilwoman’s district

DRAWN OUT | Raymond Crawford, president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, refers to the area southwest of Kiest Boulevard and Hampton Road as a “gayborhood.” Under the redistricting plan, Kiestwood would be placed in the district represented by anti-gay Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Much has been made of the fact that a redistricting plan approved by the Dallas City Council last week could disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

But the redistricting plan, should it be signed off on by the U.S. Department of Justice, could also hurt the LGBT community.

Newly elected District 3 Councilman Scott Griggs said the map approved by the council would effectively cost the LGBT community an ally at the horseshoe because he’s been drawn into District 1, currently represented by Delia Jasso.

Meanwhile, under the plan, heavily LGBT areas of Oak Cliff currently represented by Griggs and Jasso have been drawn into districts that are home to Dwaine Caraway and Vonciel Hill.

“Delia and I have been pretty involved and very supportive of the GLBT community over the years,” said Griggs, who hasn’t indicated whether he’d run against Jasso in 2013 if the plan holds up. “You have two other council members who haven’t shown as much support.

“You are losing an ally,” Griggs added. “Is Dwaine [Caraway] or her [Hill] going to be as open or responsive as Delia and I have been?”

Jasso, who formed a citizens LGBT task force after taking office in 2009, couldn’t be reached for comment this week. But Jasso reportedly supports other Hispanic leaders who plan a lawsuit against the city if the redistricting plan is approved by the justice department.

Led by attorney Domingo Garcia, they allege the plan violates the Voting Rights Act. The plan guarantees that only two to four of the council’s 14 districts would be represented by Hispanics, who account for 42 percent of the city’s population.

Jasso believes she might have difficulty retaining her seat, because the new District 1 would include heavily Anglo areas with high voter turnout, including Kessler Park, Stevens Park and Winnetka Heights.

Openly gay former Councilman John Loza, who’s Hispanic and served on the city’s redistricting commission, agreed.

“I think that map is horrendous, and I’m really hoping that a lawsuit is brought forward based on that map, and I’d be happy to testify against it if and when it happens,” Loza said.

Loza lamented that the redistricting commission spent 95 hours working on the map it submitted to the council. But the council redrew the commission’s map based on what Loza called “a backroom deal,” and the panel’s work went “down the toilet.”

Loza said although his primary concern is Hispanic representation, he’s also bothered by the fact that two of the LGBT community’s strongest allies were placed in the same district.

“I don’t think it’s as unfortunate to the LGBT community as it is to the Latino community, but I think it does both communities a disservice,” he said.

Under the plan, Oak Cliff south of Illinois Avenue is split along Hampton Avenue, with the east side being placed in what would be Caraway’s district and the west side in Hill’s.

Hill is the lone current council member who’s refused to appear at gay Pride or sign a letter congratulating organizers of the event.

Asked in 2009 why she won’t ride in the parade, Hill voiced religious objections to homosexuality, saying she believes that “there are acts God does not bless.”

Raymond Crawford, who is gay and serves as president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, refers to the area southwest of Hampton Road and Kiest Boulevard as a “gayborhood.” Crawford counts 15 gay households on his street — Southwood Drive — alone.

Under the redistricting plan, the 400-plus-home Kiestwood neighborhood, currently represented by Griggs, would be placed in Hill’s district.

“The day she [Hill] comes to call to do some door-knocking or to get some votes, whether I’m the president or not, it’s going to be an interesting conversation with Councilmember Hill,” Crawford said this week. “She’ll be in trouble in 2013 based on her previous statements.”

Hill didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.

VIEW A MAP OF THE REDISTRICTING PLAN: CLICK HERE

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

—  Michael Stephens

Oak Cliff home tour features mostly gay-owned houses

OOCCL returns funds raised at the weekend event to neighborhoods for safety and beautification projects

OOCCL

EIGHT AND A HALF MEN | OOCCL president Michael Amonett sits on the porch of a restored house in Bishop Arts that has been repurposed into a law office and is part of this weekend’s Old Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Of this weekend’s 14 houses on the annual Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s Fall Home Tour, eight and a half of them have gay owners.

With 14 homes on the tour, this will be the largest home tour OOCCL has staged,  OOCCL President Michael Amonett said, and the largest and most profitable in the city.

“We started taking applications in the spring,” Amonett said, adding that deciding which houses to include was difficult because there were so many good choices.

A committee spent months deciding which homes to include.

“We made appointments and looked at people’s homes,” Amonett said. “We had a grade sheet and rated them for drive-up appeal, art work, historic interest.”

They also were looking for variety, spread across the area’s different neighborhoods. The committee met in June and selected the winners that were not announced until September.

“Two of the houses are in Oak Park Estates,” Amonett said. “We’ve never had any in that area. People will see a part of Oak Cliff they’ve never seen.”
Oak Park Estates, which lies south of Kiest Park between Hampton Road and Highway 67, is one of Oak Cliff’s southernmost neighborhoods.

“One of them is very Brady Bunch,” he said.

That house, with its two-story arched roof, was built in 1964 and is the newest of the homes.

The oldest, built as a convent in 1900 in the Elmwood neighborhood, has been a railroad storage depot, part of an amusement park and a gambling casino and speakeasy that was one of Bonnie and Clyde’s old haunts, according to legend.

The largest house has been expanded to 7,000 square feet and faces Stevens Park Golf Course.

One house was built for the 1936 Texas Centennial as a companion piece to the Magnolia Lounge. The Bauhaus-designed East Kessler Park home was dubbed “The Electric House” because of the four and a half miles of wire laid to power the then state-of-the-art General Electric kitchen and outdoor living areas around the pool.

At the time it was built, similar homes were selling in West Hollywood, Calif., for $4,000. This one had a price tag of $15,000.

Another sits adjacent to the Bishop Arts District that was renovated last year and is now a law office. Amonett wanted that house included to show that older houses can be renovated and repurposed rather than just torn down and replaced.

Good Space, the company that bought and renovated the Bishop Arts house and rented it to Remington Law, is now working on two other properties in the area.

Two bonus stops are included in the Oak Cliff tour — the newly renovated Stevens Park Golf Course and the new Twelve Hills Nature Center, a five-acre urban preserve in the 800 block of Mary Cliff Road.

“The home tour has been instrumental over the years in profiling what Oak Cliff has to offer,” Steve Habgood of Hewitt & Habgood Realty Group, a lead sponsor of the event, said.

He said that the tour includes everything from small boutique cottages to mid-sized homes to old estates.

“It’s a cross-section of what Oak Cliff is all about,” Habgood said. “The diversity that runs the gamut — that’s one reason this tour is as popular as it is.”

He said that the money raised funds a variety of projects throughout the 30 Oak Cliff homeowner associations. Last year $22,000 funded projects such as solar lighting for alleys in the Hampton Heights neighborhood and neighborhood patrols. Other grants funded websites and neighborhood signage.

OOCCL donated $5,000 to the Bishop Arts Theater Center for half the cost of a new marquis on the restored building. They also contributed to replacing the roof on Turner House, a landmark in Winnetka Heights that is home to the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts.

And the eight and a half gay owners? Amonett explained that he thought one house is owned by a “Will & Grace couple.”

Old Oak Cliff Tour of Homes, Oct. 8 and 9 from noon to 6 p.m. $25 for adults over 10, $15 for seniors available at any of the homes on the tour or under the service station canopy at 8th Street and Bishop Avenue in the Bishop Arts District. More information at OOCCL.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Palant is new music minister for Oak Cliff church

On Thursday, the Kessler Park United Methodist Church officially announced that Turtle Creek Chorale artistic director Jonathan Palant is the congregation’s new minister of music. Palant’s inaugural service will be May 22.

Here’s the full press release:

KESSLER PARK UNITED METHODIST CHURCH NAMES DR. JONATHAN PALANT NEW MINISTER OF MUSIC

Noted conductor to guide music programs for Oak Cliff institution

Dr. Jonathan Palant, Artistic Director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, has been named Minister of Music at Kessler Park United Methodist Church effective immediately.  He will conduct his first service Sunday, May 22, 2011.

Palant, a resident of Dallas’ Kessler Park area, said, “Kessler Park United Methodist Church, very much like the Turtle Creek Chorale, is rich in its tradition and community involvement.  I look forward to growing the music ministry through unique musical programming, citywide collaborations and intergenerational activities within the church.  I am humbled by this appointment and enthusiastic about every aspect of this new responsibility.”

“We are delighted to have someone of Jonathan’s talents to guide our music programs,” said Reverend David Carr, Senior Pastor.  “We have always had an outstanding ministry of music for all ages – children, youth and adult – and with Jonathan’s direction, we anticipate an even greater level of participation and quality.”

Senior Pastor David Carr remarks, “We see Jonathan’s appointment as a critical element to growing our commitment within the Dallas and Oak Cliff community.  We have a significant ‘visioning’ initiative underway for the whole church having recently launched new initiatives for Generation X and Y adults, as well as programs for our Methodist Youth Fellowship.  It’s truly an exciting time of growth at KPUMC.”

Carr became Senior Pastor of the church in July 2010.

—  Rich Lopez

Beautiful day in the neighborhood • Defining Homes

Neighbors in Oak Cliff’s Kessler Park talk about why their ‘hood is the best ever

By Steven Lindsey

Stewart Street residents
Stewart Street residents from left to right Jerrett Morris, Alan Stolleis, Clyde Greenhouse, Michal Taylor, Darrell Ward and Linda Ronk come together often for neighborhood block parties, planned or impromptu, within their classic homes and lush greenery of Kessler Park. Photos courtesy of Jef Tingley.

There’s a little group of homes on Stewart Street in the Kessler Highlands neighborhood of Oak Cliff in Kessler Park that may be just about the gayest block in town — and not just the homosexual kind of gay; the happy kind, too. The neighbors who live here are closer than the pals on Friends, more into each other’s business than a season finale of Knots Landing and their parties have a higher production value than anything Bree’s ever done on Desperate Housewives.

The quiet, tree-lined street is filled with quaint bungalow-style homes from the ’20s and ’30s and over recent years, several gays and lesbians have chosen to put down roots on this one particular block, one which throws out the welcome mat any time somebody new moves in.

“We first met all the gays and lesbians on our block the same way we met all of our neighbors — through a welcome party,” says Jef Tingley, an eight-year resident. “Who knew that years later so many of these people would not just be neighbors, but individuals that I consider dear friends.”

The neighbors gather for two major events a year: Blocktoberfest, a yearly bratwurst cookout held in a neighbor’s yard where everyone brings a dish to share; and a progressive holiday event, where everyone moves from house to house for food and drinks. Halloween is also quite a production with an estimated 1,500 trick-or-treaters each year snatching up 60 to 70 pounds of candy per house in the process.

“It turns out to be one of the most fun events of the year for me and my friends,” says Alan Stolleis, who’s lived on the street for nearly 13 years. “We do tend to go a little crazy with fog machines, huge spiders and scary music.”

But the neighbors on Stewart don’t need a bold-font holiday on the calendar to have reason to celebrate.

“One of the first things we learned when we moved on to the block is that if someone is on the porch, there’s a good chance that you can stop on by for a glass of wine. Many a dog walk has ended with an impromptu porch party,” Tingley says. In fact, everyone interviewed said the same thing about the frequent porch parties and how often they pop up.

Clyde Greenhouse and Michal Taylor, co-owners of the Oak-Cliff-based Kessler Cookie Company, have been on the block for 12 years and have the newest home in the neighborhood. It was built in 1942.

The character of the neighborhood is what initially interested Taylor and Greenhouse, as well as most other people who found Stewart by chance. But for at least one neighbor, buying a home here took a village.

“We had the opportunity to have our best friend buy the house next to us, and when the house went up for sale, while our friend was negotiating his contract for purchase, some of the neighbors would take the ‘for sale’ sign down every day,” says Jerrett Morris, Tingley’s partner. “And whenever a prospective buyer might even give the hint of interest, they would wander out in their boxer shorts and generally try to look like nightmare neighbors any way they could to drive the prospect away.”

It must’ve worked, because Keith Murray closed the deal, quite possibly not realizing the extent to which the neighborhood had helped make it happen.

“At the time I wasn’t looking to buy a home. It was by chance that the house next door to my best friends went up for sale.  It was in complete disrepair, but with the encouragement and help of friends and neighbors, I bought it and we collectively rehabbed it. It was a lot of work, but looking back on it now, it was completely worth it,” Murray says.

It’s just one of many examples of the ways neighbors here look out for one another.

“This neighborhood will definitely take it upon itself to investigate anything that seems suspicious,” Morris says. “It’s like a block full of good Gladys Kravitzes [the nosy neighbor from Bewitched].”

“We know almost everyone by name. It’s not uncommon to see a gay couple standing out in the front yard talking with a straight couple and their children. I even loaned a pair of cuff links to a neighbor’s daughter’s boyfriend for prom one year when he needed them in a pinch,” Tingley says.

Linda Ronk, who has lived on Stewart for 16 years, believe the neighborhood transcends any sort of labeling.

“To be honest there is no gay or non-gay. We are just Stewart Street folks,” she says. “We have keys to each other’s homes and we watch out for each other.”

“Not everyone believes me, but our street is like something out of Leave It To Beaver,” Tingley says. “All the neighbors are really vested in making it a great block, but it’s also not a creepy police state where you have no privacy. I tell everyone to move to Oak Cliff. It’s like a small city in a big town. And if you can find a place on Stewart, you’re even luckier.”

“We didn’t know it going in, but it would be impossible to recreate the mix of neighbors we have on our block,” Morris says. “They’re absolutely priceless and will keep us in our house for a very long time,” says Morris.

Or at least until the city starts requiring liquor licenses for these very busy porches.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of Defining Homes Magazine October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Oak Cliff development offers options for LGBT seniors

Avalon at Kessler Park apartments to cater to diverse array of residents, including LGBT seniors

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Avalon, Oak Cliff

ALL ARE WELCOME | Avalon at Kessler Park wants a diverse range of residents, including LGBT seniors. Pictured are project manager David Krukiel, developer Richard Seib and complex manager Jeff Benton. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice).

When Avalon at Kessler Park opened in Oak Cliff on April 30, it billed itself as Dallas’ first senior living apartment complex actively welcoming the LGBT community.

Having safe housing for the older LGBT community has been a goal of many in the community for years. In 1997, Robert Voelkle formed the Silver Hope Project at Cathedral of Hope. The senior housing project never got off the ground, but Voelkle met Richard Seib who owns a number of small assisted living homes from Oak Cliff to Plano. Seib ran with the idea.

Seib is a longtime Oak Cliff resident who welcomed the influx of gays and lesbians into the community that helped upgrade and restore the older neighborhoods.

Avalon reflects Oak Cliff’s diversity, officials with the development said. While the first couple that moved in was gay, the next resident was a 100-year-old African-American woman.

Voelkle called the property a good mix.

“It’s for straight people who say they want to be in a place where there’s creativity and be around people who are more fun, and for gay people who don’t want to be only around screaming queens. This is the ideal situation,” he said.

Kee Holt runs the GLBT Aging Interest Network program at Resource Center Dallas. He recently toured the property.

“If a man or woman has to go into assisted living, they have to go back into the closet,” he said.

He said that when he first began working at the Resource Center, he called around to area senior facilities. They either hung up on him or told him they didn’t deal with LGBT seniors.

Holt said that one even told him, by the time someone moves into senior housing, “they’ve outgrown that.” He said that this was a first of its kind for Texas and one of the few available anywhere in the country.

Chan Edmondson and John Sobieski, who have been together for 23 years, were Avalon’s first residents.

“We initially heard about Avalon at a presentation to GAIN at Texas Land and Cattle. We moved her within 30 day,” Edmondson said.

To actively attract the gay community, Seib did a number of things. He hired openly gay property manager Jeff Benton. Since opening, GAIN was invited for a recent tour of the property.

But Seib added some subtle touches as well. The property’s logo is a simple six-color fabric stripe. Seib said his straight residents have commented on the attractive design while his gay residents caught the rainbow pattern.

Because the project received federal housing money, residency is age restricted.

“If you have a partner 62 or older you can live here,” Seib said.

A number of amenities are designed with seniors in mind. Elevators announce the floor, particularly helpful to people with macular degeneration. Carpets on each level are trimmed in different colors, helpful for older adults to recognize their floor. Everything is handicap-accessible.

Apartments feature granite countertops and black on black GE appliances. Other amenities include a well-appointed media room, Wii stations, a java bar, a library, a wine-tasting room and a great room for catered meals or parties.

A fitness center, a business center and a hair salon are available and scheduled transportation for those who no longer drive takes groups shopping or to doctor’s appointments.

Apartments are priced from $1,000 to $1,600 per month. And with its Fort Worth Avenue location at the top of the climb up to Oak Cliff, upper floors offer great downtown views.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice