Funeral scheduled for Albert Mata

Tim Brookover and Albert Mata

Albert Mata, the long-time partner of Houston GLBT Community Center president Tim Brookover, passed away on Monday, Feb. 20.

Albert was a vivacious man. I could always tell if Albert was at an event. His laughter would echo through the room the second I entered, inevitably emanating from the a tight circle of conversationalists over which he was holding court. Sweet, kind and a little naughty, Albert’s energy and gentleness will be greatly missed.

Services for Albert will be held at Bethel United Church of Christ (1107 Shepherd).

Visitation – 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, February 24, 2012
Memorial Service – 4 p.m., Saturday, February 25, 2012

—  admin

Planning, preparation can make the holidays much more jolly for all

LGBTs often deal with stress, depression during the holiday season due to family issues

Candy Marcum

Candy Marcum

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Many people have such high expectations for the holidays that they get depressed when those expectations aren’t met. And in the LGBT community, dealing with family issues is often painful.

Counselor Candy Marcum said that holiday depression is the gap between how you think your life should work and how it is working.

“If you think Christmas should be family and love and laughter and you’re having trouble paying the rent and your family rejects you, then work to lessen the gap,” Marcum said.
She suggested changing the idea of how the holiday should be.

Marcum said that many people come out to family during the holidays because that’s when families get together.

And coming out in person is usually better than over the phone.

But, Marcum said, making a big announcement at the dinner table might not be the best way to do it.
Counselor Randy Martin said that anyone intending to come out to family over the holiday needs to plan and prepare beforehand.

“Find someone to bounce it off of,” such as a friend or sibling, he said. “Like a dry run.”

But when to spring the news? Each family is different, Martin said.

In some families, it’s best to talk about big news in pairs.

In others, groups are fine.

If a family has an expectation of how holiday dinner should be, interrupting it with this sort of news might not be the best idea. But in some families it could be the perfect setting, Martin suggested said.

Going home for the holidays and introducing a new partner is another stressful situation. Even the fully accepting family may react awkwardly to the new situation.

Randy-Martin-photo

Randy Martin

Marcum suggests staying in a nearby hotel might be the answer to avoiding family conflict. That avoids the embarrassing question of sleeping arrangements.

Or talk to family ahead of time. Staying with a sibling or other relative might work also.

Martin agreed that a hotel stay could be a perfect alternative for a couple during a holiday visit: “Maybe Grandpa smokes and one of you can’t tolerate it, or your family gets up much earlier than you do,” he said.

He added that any number of situations could make it simpler all the way around not to stay with one’s parents.

Marcum said another uncomfortable situation is visiting family after a breakup. While you might have moved on, everyone else could be feeling the loss for the first time, she said.

“Now you’ve got a new one [partner],” Marcum said. “That’s awkward at best.”

Martin agreed. “The family already has a pattern down. Do what you can to let everyone else catch up,” he said.

Loneliness is another common problem many people in the LGBT community face during the holidays.

Happy childhood memories of the holidays can bring on a bout of depression when those expectations will not be met because of family rejection, Marcum said.

Others are alone for the holidays simply because of distance, cost of travel or having to work.

Martin suggested doing some extra preparation for the holidays, especially if that time of year tends to be difficult. While many people spend quite a bit of time going to parties and shopping for everyone else, he suggested spending time making plans for yourself.

“Loneliness is real,” Martin said. “We’re hard-wired to be connected. Make plans.”

And he said make back-up plans in case other plans fall through. Think of whom to contact if you’re alone — maybe someone to go with to a movie.
Marcum agreed, adding, “Be good to yourself.”

“Make a plan that pleases you,” she said. “Whatever gives you joy.”

She suggested going to church, volunteering in a soup kitchen or having friends or neighbors over.

“Buy yourself something,” she suggested. “Wrap it up and put it under the tree.”

She said that when sadness around the holiday is a result bad family relations, keep the door open.

“Take the high road with your family,” Marcum said. “Continue to reach out.”

That includes inviting them to visit, and calling or sending cards and emails to keep in touch.

Martin’s general advice is to stay connected. He said that if exercise is part of your regular routine, make time to get in a workout. He said to not let all the parties and shopping and pressure from the holiday become overwhelming.

And Marcum gives a word of warning about drinking during the holiday “Watch your alcohol intake,” she said. “Alcohol is a depressant.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Drawing Dallas • 11.25.11

As ‘Twilight’ returns, Skylar Brooks shows blood sucking can be a service

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Name and age: Skylar Brooks, 24

Occupation: Testing coordinator, Resource Center Dallas, and shift manager, Starbucks

Spotted at: Exxon on the Run at Maple and Oak Lawn

A twinkle in her unbelievably pale blue eyes and an effervescent smile are the first things you notice about this fine Virgo. Born in Monroe, La., and raised in Euless and Bedford, the perpetually positive Skylar considers herself a clown and a jokester — smiles and laughter come to her quite freely. She came out at 16.

She loves the nightlife. Skylar loves to dance, and her freestyle moves on the floor have garnered her three “dance off” wins at Station 4. She also loves to sing, especially R&B (Brian McKnight is a favorite). She auditioned for American Idol last year, and while she didn’t get through, says she’s determined to try again. Her love of music and dance is hereditary: Her mother was on the drill team and danced ballet, and her father plays drums and the trumpet and loves to belt out a song.

In addition to indoor activities, she plays midfield and forward in a local soccer league, and basketball for fun. Skylar loves to travel, she has a special affinity for the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Bahamas).

Enter love  “Three months in, I knew she was the one,” says Skylar of her fiancé, Shereen, whom she met through mutual friends 18 months ago; they have a wedding set in Vermont next June. Both of their families are excited for them.

Skylar’s goal is to become a surgical technician. Her motto: “I help people one blood draw at a time.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

We R Family: Rosie ex Kelli Carpenter keeps hope afloat with new take on queer cruise

CHANGE IN PROGRAMMING | The gay travel company R Family Vacations, co-founded by Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli Carpenter, above, is changing things up with its travel options. They are now offering bigger, mainstream cruise options for LGBT families, a Club Med week and new adults-only packages.

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

R Family Vacations was born out of its co-founder’s desire to give her children — and the children of other same-sex couples — at least that one week out of the year when their families were the “norm.”

When Kelli Carpenter and Gregg Kaminsky founded the company in 2003, their primary focus was to provide a place where LGBT couples and families could enjoy a vacation experience with other families like their own. Carpenter and her former partner, Rosie O’Donnell, have four children themselves.

“Ro and I were searching for a place where our own children wouldn’t feel so alone,” says Carpenter, who was in Dallas recently to promote R Family’s 2011 line-up of vacation events.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling on one of our vacations,” she says. “I usually just leave it to the people who have been on one of our trips, and what they usually say: It is a sense of community, of, for once, being with other families like yours, that the children really look forward to. There is so much laughter and such a sense of joy and camaraderie that you can’t find anyplace else.”

“A lot of the families that come on board an R Family cruise live in the middle of Idaho or somewhere like that where there are no other families like theirs anywhere around. And their tears and their joy are so intense because this is the one place where they can actually feel that sense of family, that sense of knowing there are other families like theirs out there.”

All-women cruises for lesbians and all-men cruises for gay men were already common when R Family came about. But Carpenter and O’Donnell felt “That’s not what [our] life looks like. Our community has changed. If you are a woman, and you have two sons and you want to go on vacation with your best friend who is a gay man, an all-woman cruise or an all-guy cruise isn’t the place for that.”

And the community has changed even more since the first R Family cruise in 2004. Now R Family clients aren’t just same-sex couples with their children. More and more often, couples are bringing their straight parents and siblings along, as well as their chosen families. Even same-sex couples without children are opting for R Family vacations to take advantage of the family-friendly atmosphere where their straight family members will feel comfortable and welcome, too, Carpenter says.

That change, coupled with the recession that curtailed many people’s vacation plans, has prompted R Family to find ways to reach out to new clients.

“There were a lot of businesses that were really hard hit by the recession. Considering that we are a luxury product, I think we downsized at just the right time and in just the right way,” Carpenter says. “We had built up to two cruises a year, and then, as the economy started to go down, we went back to just one full ship a year. We were starting to run out of itineraries, and we were getting a lot of requests for something different.”

Last year, R Family offered something different: Instead of a cruise ship completely for R Family vacationers, the group started offering group trips on larger, mainstream cruises. Carpenter said while she had some reservations at first about taking a group of LGBT families on a cruise with mainstream families, her fears were soon laid to rest.

“I went in emotionally prepared for some issue to crop up, and there was none. It was kind of nice for our families to have each other to rely on and at the same time, to be able to look at the other families and realize that underneath it all, we looked just like everyone else on the boat,” she says.

Also last year, for the first time, R Family offered something other than a cruise: A week for LGBT families at Club Med in Ixtapa.

“The Club Med week was a tremendous success, and not just for our regular cruisers who wanted something different for a change,” Carpenter says. “This year, we are offering a week at Club Med Sandpiper in Florida, and I think it will be even more successful.”

Despite brighter prospects for the economy, many families are still cutting back on luxury expenses like vacations. Even though last year’s Club Med trip was less expensive than a cruise, it still required travel abroad, and airfare isn’t cheap.

That’s why Carpenter expects the “Summer Camp” Club Med Sandpiper week, July 9–16, to be even more popular. Families can make the trip by car rather than having to fly.

“The Club Med resorts always offer plenty of activities, but for the R Family weeks, we completely start over as far as entertainment and programming. We will have top-notch comedians and theatrical performances for the grown-ups. Every night there will be a different, unique performance. The company will also offer its first adult-only vacation this year, in response to the growing number of requests for something a little more adventurous from gay men and lesbians who want to vacation together.”

The week-long adults-only package aboard the Norwegian Epic sails from Miami to the Western Caribbean March 5. Other packages include a family vacation aboard the Norwegian Jewel Feb. 20, and the R Family cruise returns with a trip aboard the Norwegian Jade from Venice to four Greek islands departing Aug. 6.

“We are glad that we are able to offer all these options, and to do it in a way that doesn’t put the company at risk,” Carpenter says. “There are a lot of families with children that really count on these vacations every year. It’s a chance for these kids to see that they are not alone, a chance to get to see their parents be together and express affection for each other in public, and to have a safe environment to do that in.

“I think our company and the growth of our company is reflective of what I wish the whole world looked like — someplace the entire family can be themselves and be comfortable being themselves.

For more information, visit FamilyVacations.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Mission accomplished on DADT repeal

By Dave Guy-Gainer

After the signing ceremony on Wednesday, 15 of us made the trek from C Street to the Mayflower Hotel on foot to have brunch.

For the most part, the group was silent and being self-reflective. Major Mike Almy and I walked together and discussed what had happened to him and the E-Ticket ride of the repeal in Congress. We discussed his future and how it looked so much brighter now than it had less than a week prior.

Arriving at the hotel, Joe Tom Easley stopped all of us and reminded us that the hotel restaurant was where J. Edgar Hoover once had lunch with his male lover every day for the last 20 years of his life. The space where Hoover’s permanently reserved lunch table sat is now a PINK store. How appropriate, I thought.

After we sat down, nearly all had e-mails and voice mails to deal with — mostly from press asking for interviews and thoughts. We ordered a bottle of champagne and toasted the fall of this one domino in the fight for equality.

Then the conversation changed. It became one more like you would hear when a bunch of lesbians and gays sit down for a meal. One person said, “We need to get Barney Frank to look gayer. Maybe darken his hair and put in a few highlights.” People roared with laughter. We talked about Christmas plans — most of which had been obliterated by the call to travel to D.C. We talked a lot about our friends over the years that were not at the ceremony. We teased each other.

When brunch was over, there were heartfelt hugs and back pats and we each went our separate ways. Probably all thinking what I was — is this the last we’ll see of each other or is there a cause that will bring us back together?

I caught myself being myself at Reagan Airport — joking with strangers, opening the door for a lady struggling with bags and kids, telling the agent that I liked her rainbow pin. Wow, I thought. You had become so focused and perhaps a little too humorless.

When I boarded the plane I reached inside my coat pocket to pull out the notes I had made, the list of strategy options we were considering, the confidential list of congressional targets, the board briefing on legal support statistics, my talking points to memorize, my to-do list — but I found nothing in the pocket. That’s when it finally sunk in. I was leaving Washington, D.C., with nothing remaining to do. The passenger beside me looked at me strangely when I laughed out loud with eyes full of tears and said to myself, “Mission accomplished.”

I am taking Aaron Belkin’s advice. I asked him at dinner the other night, “What next?” He said, “A nap, Chief.” So, this old Santa Chief is off over this most wonderful of all Christmases to have cookies, milk and lotsa naps! I’ll be back on Monday, though, to do what I can on the certification and transition. After 10 years of negative, I’ll finally get to help with the positive aspects of change.

Implosion cancelled.

Dave Guy-Gainer is a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County.

—  admin

WATCH: Gov. Perry makes a complete fool of himself trying to defend abstinence education

This is embarrassing to watch, but it’s no wonder Gov. Rick Perry refuses to debate Democrat Bill White and declined to interview with newspaper editorial boards this year.

Asked by The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith on Friday to defend the state’s abstinence-only education policy, given that we have the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, Perry was at a total loss.

“Abstinence works,” Perry responds, to laughter from the audience. “Abstinence works. Maybe it’s the way it’s being taught or the way it’s being applied out there, but the fact of the matter is it is the best form to teach our children.”

Smith then asks whether Perry can give a statistic suggesting that abstinence-only education works.

“I’m just going to tell you, I’m going to tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works,” Perry says, to another round of laughter. “And the point is, if we’re not teaching it and if we’re not impressing it upon them, then no. But if the point is we’re going to go stand up here and say, ‘Listen, y’all go have sex and go have whatever is going on, and we’ll worry with that, and here’s the ways to have safe sex,’ I’m sorry, call me old fashioned if you want, but that is not what I”m going to stand up in front of the people of Texas and say …”

We’re not calling you old fashioned, governor, we’re calling you a freakin’ moron. And we can’t wait to see the rest of the Tribune’s interview on Monday.

—  John Wright

Because we all have our struggles

By Polly Browning Team Ride With Pride

We all have stories, our universal commonality. We have stories of experiencing joy and laughter. Some of us experience pain and hardship on a daily basis, while others of us support and care for those who struggle.

We all share one constant: We share in the making of these stories, either alone or with others.

No matter, once again, this coming Sept. 25-26, on what is the 10th anniversary of the Lone Star Ride, we all come together and know we are not alone. For two days and three nights, I get to be “just a number” again: Number 202, one rider among many.

I get to blend in and be a part of something much bigger than myself, much bigger than us all.

I have been asked to share my story. I’m humbled and hope I can do more than speak for myself, which is way too lonely. I’ve learned that our words and experiences are more alike than different.

My name is Polly Browning. I may not live in Dallas (too far from my Longhorns!), but as of September 2009, my wife and I (me being a rookie rider and Sarah being the rookie sweeper — and the cutest one, in my opinion) will now be temporarily located in Dallas once a year.

How did I get here? Laura Kerr invited me to ride a few years ago.

I remember her telling me at the time, “Polly, I need to warn you. If you say ‘yes,’ be prepared because you will be addicted to it and will be a ‘lifer,’ forever committed.”

I took on the challenge. And I immediately fell in love with this organization and its members.

As a psychotherapist, I have worked with many individuals and their families impacted by HIV and AIDS. It has been an important cause my family has supported.

But why would I choose Lone Star over staying and riding in Austin? All you have to do is come to the closing ceremonies of the Lone Star Ride, bring an open heart and watch, listen and let it all in. You will experience something indescribable and you will understand.

There simply are no words for it. For all participants, observers, whomever, you simply cannot go away with an untouched heart. Laura, I love you dearly for believing in me enough to introduce me to Lone Star.

I am a licensed clinical social worker. I am currently in the fourth year of my doctoral studies in the social work department at the University of Texas — Austin. As such, convincing me to participant in the Lone Star Ride wasn’t too difficult.

My personal path took a drastic turn in my first year in my Ph.D. program. I became someone I didn’t know at all.

I was in horrific pain. I was unable to compose my thoughts, either verbally or in writing (just a tad important to a student). I lost most of my ability to write, to move my fingers and most joints, including my feet, and my back. Any slight breeze (regardless of temperature) felt like razor blades on the skin of my arms, hands and feet.

My eyesight was affected. My ability to balance was gone. It became impossible for me to walk on my own. My wife, Sarah, got me a really cool blue walker and committed herself to making a belt to brace me in so I could be pushed around.

I was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease: RSD, or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, now called CRPS. They are still trying to figure the rest out.

The types of doctors I began seeing were foreign to me. I had every blood test, MRI, scanning this and X-raying that, and doing it again and again. The patients in the waiting area were often diagnosed with terminal illnesses, most much older than me. (It’s okay to ask — I’m 45 years young.)

No longer was I the helper, the server, the therapist. Now I was the client, the patient. The one who needed to learn how to ask for help, a skill I had not yet developed very well.

After fighting back, I began to let help in. I had to let go of my vanity, all my humility and accept the fact that I couldn’t solve it on my own.

After having a serious back surgery filled with titanium and fusions, I was restricted to lying on my back for three months, no less. I was allowed a total sitting time of 15 minutes a day. My bright blue turtle “torso” brace I wore 24/7 became my best friend. (One of my professors actually told me after that it showed off my “girlish figure!” Ha!)

That was on April 31, 2008. After I was cleared several months later, my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Spann, told me to start to cycle for my rehab.

I was still wearing my brace 24/7. Did they even make cycling jerseys big enough to cover a brace? I’d never seen anyone in the Tour de France wearing one.

So I suggested that I learn how to play soccer for my rehab. Dr. Spann again suggested cycling, being a cyclist himself.

My wife’s best friend, Laura Kerr, knew where I was at in recovery, physically, emotionally and mentally. She knew I thrive on challenges, and she suggested — and re-suggested — that I set a goal of riding 180 miles that following September in the Lone Star Ride. Yep — five months after being cleared.

Now it’s history. I said “yes,” showed up in my bright blue turtle brace, and pretended that I knew something of what I was doing.

My 14-year-old son, Sayer, had committed himself to training with me and riding the full two days with me. My wife, Sarah, committed herself to being on the sweep crew. It was a family affair from beginning to end. I became cyclist number 202, and Sayer became rider number 203. Sayer inspired many in his willingness to ride along side his mom.
I’ve been excited and ready to ride this year, but God has a sense of humor. Several weeks ago I came back out of remission. I feel different. I feel abnormal. I feel my pain. But it’s often an invisible pain to others. Sometimes I feel embarrassed by not being able to “do.”

But in 12 days, I get to just be a number again. I will be back in my brace and will be ready to ride again in twelve days, with the grace of my God.

Something deep inside tells me that many of us want to be a part of, wanting to shed our skins that cause us to feel different while dealing with our own barriers.

Some of us participating in Lone Star ride in cars; some of us ride on bikes with two or more wheels. Some of us walk on two healthy feet. Some of us require help when we walk.
Some of us ride on motorcycles and are assigned the role of protecting the riders on the routes. Some of us are strictly cyclists. Some stand on corners smiling and shouting endless cheers of encouragement.

Some of us drive our cars, sweeping and picking up riders, ready with cold AC, peanuts and snacks, cold grape Gatorade, and most important, a nice soft seat. Some of us are more behind the scenes: the medical crew, the pit crews, the training crews, the organizers, and most importantly, the people who set up the catering.

There are family and friends who come and support all of us. They share memories and stories of previous riders who have lost their lives. They trust that their tears will be received with gentleness and love. These families bring pictures of lost loved ones on t-shirts, reminding all of us why we do it.

Without the willingness of these families to share their stories, the closing ceremonies would just not be the same.

No matter what our role, or how many wheels we ride on, we all come together. We link ourselves together on the last weekend of September, and try our best to make a difference in the lives of so many living with AIDS.

To donate to Polly Browning or another Lone Star Ride participant, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25-26, beginning and ending each day at the American Airlines Training and Convention Center, located on Hwy. 360 N., at Hwy. 183, in Fort Worth. Friends and supporters of LSR participants are invited to attend closing ceremonies on Sunday, beginning at 6 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens