Give thanks, give help

AIN is a small agency with a small budget — and they need all the volunteers they can get

With just over two weeks left before Thanksgiving, each of us has plenty of time to decide what we are going to give thanks for. And where. And how.
I decided I would give thanks for my health, happiness and longevity by making a modest monthly donation to AIDS Interfaith Network in honor of two very good friends who died in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

One, Barnaby, used to coax me out to one of two or three New York LGBT bars whenever I started feeling sorry for myself for working long hours. After he got a law degree in his 30s, and I got a job here in Dallas, he took me out for pricey lunches and dinners on my trips back to New York. And he called me just to talk the week before he died.

Guest.Phyllis

Phyllis Guest -Taking Notes

The other, Steven, was my boss at one job, my associate at another, and a quiet joy to be around. When we made a corporate move from New York to Dallas, and I could not make up my mind on a condo, he let me sleep in his spare bedroom for most of a month. And when he got sick, we were close until he could no longer speak.

But why did I choose AIN rather than one of the other nonprofits dealing with HIV/AIDS? Three reasons:

First, AIN was one of four organizations that lost money in September 2009, when the city of Dallas cut $325,000 from funding for HIV/AIDS outreach, prevention and education programs. Shortly after, the city received a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, but that went to a new city program, none to AIN.

AIN lost an entire program aimed at preventing infection among young, high-risk males. As you know, infections among this group are still soaring.

Second, on a 9/11 Day of Service, I joined other Stonewall Democrats of Dallas in working at AIN. We did nothing daunting — some cooked; others served the food; still others washed dishes. I just picked up used plates, wiped tables and poured water.

But what an eye-opener! These clients are the poorest of the poor, many of them homeless. AIN serves breakfast and lunch five days a week — a total of 26,000 meals a year. Without AIN, most would have no food, no transportation (bus passes), no water when it’s hot, no bedding when it’s cold.
Third, AIN is smaller and somewhat less well-known than other nonprofits serving the many individuals living with HIV/AIDS or in danger of becoming infected. When it was more fully funded by the city, state and federal governments, it had a staff of more than 30; now a baker’s dozen of staff and variable numbers of volunteers try to pick up the slack. All volunteers get a choice of chores.

Right now, a prime need is for an Internet guru — a person who knows the ins and outs of and enjoys emailing, posting on Facebook, Tweeting the latest news, etc. Some staffers are rather Internet savvy, but they lack the time and the fine-tuned skills to turn social media into a recruiting and fundraising tool.

Another need is for a community activist who can set up a monthly “Saturday Night Live @ Daire Center” for 2012. Each SNL evening involves providing an early dinner for 30 or so clients, plus light entertainment such as music or board games. Church, mosque and synagogue social action groups know how to do this, as do many political, professional and community clubs.

A third need is for a different kind of community activist, one who can represent AIN at city events, shows, fundraisers and the like. This is perfect for someone who has a varied wardrobe and a love of nightlife. Anytime there is a chance to mention good works, the AIN rep should be on hand to reach out and speak up.

A host of other volunteer jobs are available. Because I lack the above special talents and am neither a cook nor a carpenter, I will probably end up turning handwritten notes into computer files or sorting donated items into manageable piles. That will be my way of giving thanks for the two dear friends who died and the many who remain.

To outdo me — you know you can — call Travis Gasper at 214-943-4444 or email him at tgasper@aidsinterfaithnetwork.org.
Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

DADT repeal was a birthday gift for SLDN co-founder, Fort Worth native Dixon Osburn

Dixon Osburn

As a co-founder and former executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Fort Worth native Dixon Osburn says Saturday’s Senate vote to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a huge moment for him.

It was even bigger still because Saturday also happened to be Osburn’s 46th birthday.

“It was a pinch-me moment,” Osburn told Instant Tea earlier today. “It’s been a long hard fight, and watching the votes take place, I was shaking and crying and smiling and cheering all at once. I thought it would take us 20 years, and it took 17. It’s a great birthday present, and it shows that Texans are helping carve paths for equality.”

Osburn graduated from Trinity Valley School before obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Stanford and his law degree from Georgetown. He launched SLDN with former Army captain Michelle Benecke in 1993, the same year he says President Bill Clinton “capitulated” to DADT.

Osburn, who’d volunteered at SLDN’s predecessor, the Campaign for Military Service, launched the new group because he felt DADT was a defining moment in the history of gay rights — the first time our lives had been discussed on a federal level.

Osburn spent 14 years as SLDN’s executive director before stepping down in 2007. He worked as a consultant and wrote a book before recently joining Human Rights First as director of law and security.

“My focus is on the intersection of national security policy and human rights … trying to ensure we don’t return to a regime of torture, trying to ensure that those suspected of terror receive fair trials,” Osburn said. “All the years of work with generals and admirals with SLDN, is what I’m doing now on these sets of issues.”

Below is Osburn’s full, official statement on Saturday’s vote:

“Today is my birthday, and this is the best birthday present I could have asked for. The real gift, though, is to our nation, which believes in our national security and equality. This victory is a tribute to the 60,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual troops serving our nation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe. It is a tribute to the one million LGBT veterans who have been willing to shed blood for out country in defense of our freedom and liberty; they now have been accorded theirs. The repeal of DADT and implementation of non-discrimination policies by the Pentagon will be judged among the pantheon of civil rights advances in our country. Today, no state government, local government or private business can substantiate discrimination when our military does not. Diversity is strength.

“I want to thank President Obama, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen for leading. I want to also acknowledge the many advocates both individual and organizational that have helped this moment arrive. From Baron von Steuben, likely a gay man who helped organize the colonists during the American Revolution to the gay WWII vets who formed vibrant LGBT communities in NYC and San Francisco after the war, to Frank Kameny who protested the ban in the 1960s and 1970s in front of the Pentagon to Brigadier General Keith Kerr, Brigadier General Virgil Richards and Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, who came out as gay on the 10th anniversary of DA DT, to so many more who have fought for what is right for our nation and our armed forces. We owe you a debt of gratitude. December 18th is a great day.”

—  John Wright

Equality Texas calls gay divorce ruling ‘uninformed, outdated and homophobic’

Instant Tea is no attorney, but we can read. And having now thoroughly perused a Dallas appeals court’s gay divorce ruling from Tuesday, we’d say it doesn’t take a law degree to tell you that it’s bad — like, real bad.

The gay divorce ruling reads like an anti-thesis to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision last month declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. Thankfully, we can take comfort in knowing that the gay divorce ruling will have a limited impact in terms of legal precedent. And maybe, just maybe, it will serve as a helpful reminder about just how far the LGBT community has to go in places like Texas.

Anyhow, we’ll have much more about the ruling in Friday’s Dallas Voice, but for now we thought we’d share this statement sent out Tuesday afternoon by Equality Texas:

The Fifth District Court of appeals has taken the most extreme, the most conservative view possible on each issue before it. It’s not as if they wanted to just overturn the trial court’s decision, they wanted to smash it into ground and discourage anyone from ever filing a pro-LGBT suit ever again.

The ruling harkens back to a view of the world from generations past — a world where LGBT people were content to live in closets, and were afraid to demand to be treated with dignity and respect. A dignity and respect that this court goes out of its way to completely deny.

In going so far to overturn the trial court’s decision, with such an extreme opinion, the appellate court has lowered the bar for any effort to overturn its ruling:

• The Court’s view of marriage is historically inaccurate. Marriage existed in many forms, for many reasons, for many thousands of years.

• Refusal to view sexual orientation as a suspect class singled out for disparate and discriminatory treatment ignores both the entire purpose of DOMA and the anti-marriage amendment, as well as the well-documented history of discrimination, hate crimes, and statutory treatment of LGBT individuals.

• The Court’s view of same-sex relationships is uninformed, outdated and homophobic — predicating its decision upon the ability to have children naturally — thereby ignoring the thousands of Texas households raising kids with same-sex parents, or even single parent households.

• The ruling holds Texas’ laws are “rationally related to the legitimate state interest in fostering the best possible environment for procreation and child-raising.”  Evidently to the exclusion of all others, and without a shred of evidence in the record — particularly since longitudinal studies have demonstrated that same-sex parents are as good as raising kids as straight couples.

—  John Wright