‘Born This Way’ truly is an LGBT anthem

No matter what machinations may be hiding in the background, the message shines through in the new song from Lady Gaga

RAFAEL MCDONNELL | Special Contributor

Last Friday, Feb. 11, as I drove into work, I listened to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” on the music player built into my cell phone. I mention that because I’ve never been the most technically-proficient person. In fact, among my friends and family, I’m known as a “late adopter” of technology.

Yet, I daresay that I likely wasn’t the only person to listen to the song that way, that day.

You couldn’t go anywhere last weekend without bumping into “Born This Way.” From restaurants, clubs and shops to radio, TV and the Grammy Awards, the song was everywhere. According to Billboard magazine, “Born This Way” was downloaded nearly 450,000 times between that Friday and Sunday, Feb. 13 — setting a record for a female artist.

The song also debuted at number one on the “Billboard Hot 100” this week. Only 19 songs have done that since 1958, including those by Elton John, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Aerosmith.

But before this column turns into a Casey Kasem imitation, let me say I’m mentioning these statistics for a reason.

It’s not important if “Born This Way” sounds like a song Madonna released in the late 1980s. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Lady Gaga or not. It also doesn’t matter why she recorded the song — whether it is a paean to her LGBT fans or merely a cynical marketing ploy to sell a product.

The rapid pervasiveness of “Born This Way,” much as the “It Gets Better” videos did last fall, has the potential to spread discussions of LGBT issues far from Oak Lawn, Greenwich Village or West Hollywood. It transcends borders of geography, race, class, social status and history. How could it not, with lyrics like “No matter gay, straight, or bi/ Lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby/ I was born to survive”?

Think of it for a moment. A kid in rural America, miles away from a traditional LGBT community, might be questioning her sexual orientation or gender identity. That kid may not have an understanding family or easy access to supportive resources. But if she has an Internet connection, or a digital music player, or even (gasp!) a CD player or radio, she will hear a message affirming her individuality played either on demand or seemingly every 90 minutes.

Saying the specific words of support and affirmation towards the LGBT community are what matters. Who cares if Lady Gaga emerged from an egg while doing it?

Let’s look at it from another perspective.

The field of semiotics is the study of communication through signs and symbols. Those who study semiotics believe that all cultural phenomena can be studied as a form of communication. Since bursting onto the musical scene, Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon. But, what’s the message being sent, and what’s being received?

To me, the message is a simple one.

From her concerts to her activism supporting the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Lady Gaga has reiterated a clear and consistent message of support for the LGBT community, whether she’s wearing a meat dress or a bra shooting sparks.

With the debut of “Born This Way,” she has cranked that message to maximum volume via multi-channel distribution. Its permeative nature will undoubtedly shape conversations from Dallas to Dime Box and beyond, and it has the potential to open minds and change hearts. If it does that, it’s a success.

Yes, there have been other songs offering support and understanding to the LGBT community. For example, I remember hearing Erasure’s “Hideaway” in the late 1980s. But at the time, that song was never released as a single and it never garnered much radio airplay.

Other pop songs, from “Over the Rainbow” to “I Will Survive” to “It’s Raining Men” have been adopted as anthems for the LGBT community — even though they weren’t directly written for us.

Add to that the technological changes that allow stories, music and art to go viral. The phone on which I listened to “Born This Way” can also play the YouTube video of the Grammy Awards performance, and upload comments and links to Facebook and Twitter. All of this serves to amplify the message behind the music.

That’s what makes “Born This Way” different. Lady Gaga is in your face with a specific message that all people — not just the LGBT community — should, as the song says, “rejoice and love yourself today,” and it’s being communicated on an unfathomable scale.

It also doesn’t hurt that it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at Resource Center Dallas. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Students from W.E. Greiner Middle School donate 65 frozen turkeys to HIV/AIDS food pantry

Macario Hernandez, left, assistant principal of W.E. Greiner Middle School, and Jesse Garcia, president of LULAC #4871.

Last week we reported that Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry for people with HIV/AIDS won’t be able to offer turkeys to its clients this Thanksgiving, due to increased demand and declining donations. However, it turns out the pantry will have at least 65 frozen turkeys to give out that were dropped off last Friday by folks from Dallas’ LGBT chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. According to LULAC #4871 President Jesse Garcia, the turkeys were donated by the families of students at W.E. Greiner Middle School.

“I want to publicly thank Greiner Middle School and their assistant principal Macario Hernandez for donating much-needed protein to the Resource Center Dallas food pantry,” Garcia said. “This food pantry helps people of all ages from every part of the city who are affected by HIV. These clients have to deal with being sick and at times are unable to work. Some have to sacrifice between paying for their expensive medicine or affording a good meal. Greiner Middle School just made a big difference.”

Read Garcia’s full press release below.

Resource Center Dallas facilities manager Lionel Solis, left, and volunteer Luis Zarate.

—  John Wright

William Scott releases single ‘Planet Green’ featuring Tim’m West

I mentioned Tim’m West in last Friday’s issue for the sessions he’s holding here starting today. With all that he does to advocate for the LGBT community, we can’t forget he came to light while in the hip-hop group DDC. He’s on his own now and still records his own music, but you can get an ear-glimpse of him here in William Scott‘s song “Planet Green” released yesterday from his album Starlight.

I have to say, I’m kinda lovin’ this groove. The song didn’t grab me right away, but it grew a downright jam. Looking forward to checking out the rest.

—  Rich Lopez

Police identify suspect who’s now charged in 3 recent ATM kidnappings in Oak Lawn, Uptown

Anthony Glenn Davis

Last Friday we told you police had made an arrest in the case of a woman who was kidnapped at gunpoint Sept. 27 on McKinney Avenue in Uptown Dallas and forced to drive to an ATM to withdraw cash.

We’ve also told you about another, similar robbery that occurred the day before in the parking lot of Office Depot on Oak Lawn Avenue.

Today, after completing lineups with other victims, police released the suspect’s name, and he is 40-year-old Anthony Glenn Davis.

In addition to the robberies on McKinney and Oak Lawn, Davis is charged with a third one Sept. 25 at 4026 Cedar Springs. And as you can see, he looks a little like “Deebo” from Friday.


—  John Wright

Oak Lawn shooting victim released from hospital

Doug Tull
Doug Tull

Doug Tull, the gay bar patron who was shot during a robbery a few blocks from his apartment in Oak Lawn in late August, was released from Parkland Hospital on Wednesday, Sept. 15 after two surgeries.

“It’s nice to be home but there are a lot of medical things I have to do,” Tull said.

Tull thanked his friend Darwin Kopaska, who has been by his side since the shooting; and Ron Nelson and Frank Holland, owners of Pekers, for saving his life by their quick action.

“I have a home nurse that comes by Monday, Wednesday and Friday to take vitals and all that,” he said.

So far there are no suspects. Photos from a bank surveillance camera of the suspects’ vehicle driving through the parking lot were not clear enough to reveal the license plate number.

“I just hope the police catch those guys so they can’t hurt anybody. Anyway, I’m doing all right and thanks for asking,” Tull said.

And yes, we keep using the same photo of Tull, but we’ll get a new one once Tull is feeling up to it. He preferred this one of him smoking outside at Illusions taken last year to a current one of him looking like crap after surgery.

—  David Taffet

Dallas police ‘ready to roll’ for gay Pride

DPD Deputy Chief Malik Aziz

Despite a recent rash of violent robberies involving gay bar patrons in Oak Lawn, a Dallas police official indicated Wednesday that people shouldn’t be at all reluctant to visit the area during the upcoming gay Pride weekend.

“We’re ready to roll,” said Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, who’s over DPD’s Northwest Division, which includes the Cedar Springs strip. “We’re going to make sure the area’s safe.”

Aziz made the comments following the monthly meeting of the Oak Lawn Apartment Managers and Stakeholders Crime Watch group, at the Oak Lawn Library.

During the meeting, Crime Watch members criticized DPD officials for failing to promptly notify them about last week’s aggravated robbery on Dickason Avenue, just a block from the Cedar Springs strip.

Nancy Weinberger, the leader of the Crime Watch group, said she didn’t learn about the Friday night incident until Tuesday.

“My issue is we’re not getting the information about assaults and armed robberies that happen in this neighborhood,” Weinberger told police officials during the meeting. “If somebody gets armed robbed or attacked in the neighborhood, I want to know about it.”

Aziz responded that there needs to be a “50-50 partnership” between police and citizens, meaning those who want information need to sign up for e-mails from DailyCrimeReport.com or search the department’s public website at DallasPolice.net. He said police officials can’t always send out alerts about every violent offense right away, partly because they don’t have the technological infrastructure to do so.

“I’ve got 50 percent, I’m going to work on that,” Aziz told the group. “The other 50 percent is you.”

Aziz said after the meeting that police have no leads in Friday’s robbery, which occurred in the same block where Jimmy Lee Dean was brutally attacked two years ago. Aziz said he’s “perplexed” by the incident and frustrated that despite an overall drop in violent crime in the area this year, police continue to battle the perception that it’s unsafe around the bars.

“I think we need more eyes and ears and more engagement in this neighborhood,” he said. “Unfortunately we can’t be in every place at once.”

Aziz said one way for people to get involved is to sign up for the Volunteers In Patrol program. They can do so by calling 214-670-6561.

—  John Wright

Pink Party raises $6K to fight breast cancer

Rick Espaillat, media director for Caven Enterprises, reports that with the help of the Sue Ellen’s Walking Team (pictured), last Friday’s 3rd annual Pink Party raised $6,000 that will be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We’ve posted a full slideshow from the event here.

—  John Wright

I ride to do my part against HIV

Valerie Holloway Skinner  |  HOLLOWAY FAMILY FOUNDATION

Valerie Holloway Skinner

Do you recall where you were in the spring of 2000? Perhaps not. Don’t feel badly; I have to confess that ordinarily I couldn’t tell you where I was last Friday, much less 10 years ago.
But I had a conversation in April of the beginning of this decade that changed my life and the lives of so many others so drastically that I’m sure I will recall it distinctly 10 years from today.
The then-executive director of AIDS Outreach Center, Mike McKay, called me to meet him for a cup of coffee and to discuss an idea he had been tossing around in his head about a fundraising event — an event we now know as the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS.  Since I was the V.P. of the Holloway Family Foundation, he asked me to ask our board to consider being the presenting sponsor of the event, which would raise money and awareness for the AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Services of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas.
As our foundation was already committed to supporting these agencies individually, even a dull blade like me could figure out pretty quickly that having a $40,000 contribution potentially return $100,000 to these agencies was a sharp idea.
And so, here I am, 10 years later, enthusiastically anticipating the thrill of pedaling my way across what seems like a thousand miles of searing Texas wasteland — straight uphill!
A rational person might ask, “Why not just write a check and, pardon the pun, move on down the road?”  Let me see if I can explain. In 2001 I was that sensible person, and so I never even considered riding a bike in the scorching Texas sun for 175 miles into the middle of Nowheresville.
The thought literally never occurred to me.
In fact, the last time I had ridden a bicycle, I was fairly certain my mother was walking alongside of me making sure I didn’t fall over.
And so with a fair amount of detachment and nonchalance, I showed up at the closing ceremonies that first year to congratulate the riders and crewmembers for their dedication and determination. But standing on that platform, staring into those exhausted, exhilarated faces and hearing that enthusiastic, endearing crowd — well, I knew in an instant that I didn’t want to be in the audience, I wanted to be in the show.
And it’s been showtime ever since.
Is it hot? Yes. Does it sometimes rain? Yes. Are there potholes the size of Kansas and hills that would bring tears to Lance Armstrong’s eyes? Yes and, well, no.
But there are also themed pit stops to refresh and rehydrate you; motorcycle riders to guide and protect you; crew members to pamper and encourage you; and an old friend or a potential new one just around every corner — or “on your left” as it were.
Those are a handful of the somewhat superficial reasons that I have participated in some form or fashion in this ride for the past 10 years (well, maybe not in ’05 when Hurricane Rita hit, but hey, nobody could expect the Queen of Damn Near Everything to cycle in a typhoon!)
But the primary reason, the reason that keeps me coming back year after year after year after — well, you get the point — is that if I don’t ask, somebody won’t give, and if I don’t do, somebody won’t have, and if I don’t tell, somebody won’t know.
And when my kids and my grandkids look back at this decade and the crisis that is AIDS, and ask me what I did to help, I want to be able to look into their faces and tell them I did my part.
And so, as is my way, let me close with a few lines of corny prose:

If you’ve never been a part,
Ask yourself, “Why?”
You don’t know if you can do it
Until you give it a try.

You’ve nothing to lose
But a few pounds of sweat,
There’s so much to gain
And so I just bet

That 2010
Will be the year that we see
Over 200 riders
And YOU are the key

To the success of the Ride,
To the future of those
Who are counting on you.
And so I propose

That you join the Ride Family,
Even if now you don’t “get it.”
Trust me, I know,
You will NEVER forget it!
God bless and godspeed and I’ll see you in September.
To donate to Valerie Holloway Skinner, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas