The power in a symbol

Haberman-Hardy-It was a pink triangle, a simple piece of cloth sewed to the pocket of an overcoat.  A symbol that declared the man wearing it was a pariah, sub-human, worthy only of scorn and derision.

He received much the same treatment as those forced to wear two yellow triangles forming a Star of David. He also had a tattoo, a number on his forearm that was now his identity until he and the rest of those wearing those symbols were erased from the face of the earth.

Symbols are powerful things.

When I first came out, my first outward statement was to wear a lapel pin in the shape of a pink triangle.  I wore it not because I considered myself a pariah, but because I was refusing to let the world forget what it once meant, and to take back the power to oppress that symbol once had.

After all, symbols only have power if we give it to them.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, right now there are Americans waving symbols of oppression and inhumanity and claiming they are doing it to “take our country back.” I want to know, take it back from whom?

My father’s generation fought the bloodiest war in history against those symbols and the people who believed in what the symbols stood for, and to save the people who wore pink triangles and yellow stars. We call my father’s generation “the greatest generation” because they fought that war, and considering the dangers and evil they faced, I would agree with that.

If I listen closely, I can hear those brave men and women rolling over in their graves.  Did they fight that bloody war only so a new generation, fired by ignorance and hate, could wave swastikas and flood the streets of a college town carrying tiki torches, doing a laughable imitation of the Nuremberg rally?

And what of the generation who Lincoln so eloquently eulogized at Gettysburg? The ones who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Did they fight and die to preserve the Union only so their great-great-great grandchildren could wear the symbols of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery on their t-shirts? Did they defeat the secessionists at a staggering cost of lives and treasure just to see their descendants forget the terrible cost of that defeat for both sides?

Symbols still hold terrible power, and it’s time we retired a few of them for good. 

The stars and bars flag, like the swastika, belongs in a museum, not on the streets of America. The foolish men and women shouting the only words of German they know and screaming insults at people of color, gays, lesbians, and Jews are really insulting their own ancestors. They take those who died to give them their freedom and defecate on their graves.

Strong symbolism? Absolutely, but it is intended to make it clear that symbols can have tremendous power and should be used with care.

The swastika and the Confederate Battle Flag and other emblems like them are symbols of the oppressor, not the oppressed, and as such they are beyond reclaiming. The fact that hate-filled fools are still waving them as they riot in the streets is ample proof.

Worse still is an insane marketing attempt to create a “rainbow swastika” line of clothing! When I saw this travesty in a Facebook post, I actually said out loud: “What were they thinking?!”

The fact that this idea even came up shows we do little to educate our country about the horrors of wars and the hubris of those who start them.

I have no doubt that our current resident in the White House has given those who do not know their history tacit permission to expose their ignorance and hatred and call it “alt right.” It’s not “alt” and it’s not “right.” It’s just plain-old garden variety hate.

They wave their flags and carry their garden torches and scream at the cameras to show the world how little they understand — a parade of ignorance fueled by a blind hatred — and they are dangerous. We cannot afford to ignore them, nor can we be bullied by them.

We must stand with our fellow Americans — black Americans, brown Americans, gay Americans, lesbian Americans, transgender Americans, bisexual Americans, native Americans. We must stand with Americans of every ethnicity and ancestry, of every religion or of no religion at all. We must stand together and say, “Put down those swastikas. Put down those battle flags. Lay aside your hatred and come to your senses.”

Our forefathers fought and won this battle already, let us not ignore their sacrifices. Our nation was forged in battle, but it does not need to be at war with itself anymore. We have better things to do;we have greater achievements yet to make. We have a brighter future ahead.

But to reach it, we must lay aside those symbols that inflame and terrorize.       

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

   

—  Hardy Haberman

A turning point

It is imperative that people of conscience stand together against the evil that marched in Charlottesville

Tammye NashI believe we have reached a turning point in this country.

I have been thinking a lot over the past week about that iconic video from April 2003 that shows U.S. troops stepping in to help Iraqi citizens topple a statue of despotic — and by that time, overthrown — leader Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad.

I was reminded, most vividly, of that moment as I watched a video of a crowd tearing down the Confederate Soldiers Monument at the Old Durham County Courthouse in Durham, N.C., on Monday, Aug. 14. I wondered what those Iraqis in that 2003 video would say if somebody came along and told them, “No, leave that statue up. It represents part of our history; it’s part of our heritage.”

I don’t think those Iraqis would be swayed by that argument. And I wonder why so many Americans are swayed by that same argument when it comes to the monuments to the Confederacy and those who fought for that still stand across the South.

I’m also wondering why it is so many people are having a hard time condemning the Nazis who marched last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. I mean, white people (mostly men) marching through the streets, chanting hateful things about Jews and people of color (and yes, LGBT people, too) as they waved around Confederate battle flags and Nazi banners bearing swastikas and snapped off a “sieg, heil” salute here and there … . One of them even killed a woman and injured several others when he drove his car into a peaceful crowd of counter-protesters.

Seriously, what’s not to condemn?

And yet, so many feel compelled to defend these fine, upstanding sons (and some daughters) of the South. “They’ve got the right to free speech.” “They’re just defending their heritage.”

Sure … except, no.

Yes, we here in America do have the First Amendment, which guarantees that we are entitled to free speech. But it does not say that we are free to say what-the-hell-ever we want, when-the-hell-ever we want. The First Amendment does not protect obscenity, fighting words, defamation, child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to lawless action, true threats or solicitations to commit crime.

I can guarantee you that many — if not the waaaay vast majority — of the Nazis (white supremacists, fascists, alt-right-ers, whatever you wanna call them) were spouting speech that falls into at least one of those categories. I know, because I heard them.

See, there’s another video making the rounds this week. It’s a 22-minute documentary-style piece by Elle Reeve and her crew from Vice News Tonight. Reeve and her crew embedded themselves with the Nazis last weekend, interviewing them on camera and letting them tell their side of the story all by themselves. There’s nothing made-up or fake news about it.

I watched it. It literally made me sick to my stomach. I listened to the vile, evil things they said. I watched while they showed off the weaponry — firearms and knives and clubs — with which they had armed themselves for their “peaceful” march. I heard them threaten to kill people who dared stand up to them and I heard them applaud the murderer who attacked people with his car.

I watched them. I listened to them. I felt my disgust — and my blood pressure — rise.

And to hear Donald Trump — the president of the United States, for Christ’s sake! — defend those people and claim there were some fine folks in that crowd, that made me even sicker. I wonder if Trump watched the Vice News video — or any actual coverage of Nazi rallies and marches in Charlottesville last weekend — before he took his belligerent bully self before the TV cameras for his temper-tantrum of a press conference and defended about those fine folks waving swastikas and giving Nazi salutes.

This is what our country has come to. Appalled is way too mild a word to describe my state of mind.

The time has come, it is absolutely imperative, that the people of conscience in this country come together and stand up, stand firm and speak out against this hatred — no, this evil — that has risen up and shown its ugly face so plainly in the last week.

This is not an issue of political partisanship. We can’t just point at one party and blame everything on them. Not all Republicans are evil racists just because the Republican president is an evil racist.

That is simplistic and, ultimately, unhelpful, and it gives each of us who aren’t Republicans too much of a pass. We all have to take a long, hard, honest look at ourselves, root out those seeds of prejudice and bigotry that we all have hidden inside ourselves, whether we want to admit it or not.

Until we confront our personal truth, we cannot effectively fight for the greater “truth.”

And this isn’t about skin color or ethnicity or country of origin. We cannot let ourselves be divided along those artificial lines. Are we all different people, with different beliefs and different cultures and different backgrounds? Yes, we are. But are we all part of the human race, equals in humanity? Yes. And that is where we must focus right now.

We can’t play word games about “heritage” and “history” and “tolerance” and such. And we can’t pretend that the Confederate monuments the Nazis claimed they were marching to protect are anything more than an homage to and a celebration of a time in our history and a system of business and government that were based on the oppression of a whole race of people.

Are these monuments a representation of a piece of history that should be preserved? Yes, but it wasn’t a part of our history to be celebrated and these monuments should only be preserved in context. And “in context” does not mean on display in our public parks and at government buildings.

The time has come.

I believe our country has reached a turning point. I hope we turn the right way.  

Tammye Nash is managing editor of Dallas Voice. She is a Texan, born and reared, and can trace her ancestry back to Civil War veterans on both sides of the war, and beyond.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Tammye Nash

Pet of the week • 08-18-17

 pet of the week  / CLAYTON

Meet Clayton, a 3-year-old, black-and-white domestic shorthair mix. It takes him a while to trust new people, but if you’re willing to be patient, he’ll warm up to you. His favorite thing in the world is a long, luxurious nap in a comfy cat bed, and he’d like a quiet, relaxed home environment where there are lots of soft places to sit. It might also be nice to have another confident and calm kitty around who will let him snuggle up when he gets nervous. Clayton has been neutered, microchipped, tested negative for FIV/FeLV and has received all age-appropriate vaccinations. Come let him give your hand a good sniff to see if you’ll be a great fit! #154580

Clayton is waiting for you at the SPCA of Texas’ Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center in Dallas. 2400 Lone Star Drive, near I-30 and Hampton Road. Hours are noon-6 p.m. Sun-Wed and noon-7 p.m. Thurs-Sat. All adoptions of dogs and cats are $25 through the end of August. Regular adoption fees are $250 for puppies, $125 for adult dogs 6 months or older and kittens 0-6 months, $75 for adult cats 6 months or older and $50 for senior dogs or cats 7 years or older and VIP dogs and cats (available for adoption for 30 days or more.) Fee includes spay/neuter surgery, age-appropriate vaccinations, a heartworm test for dogs six months and older and a FIV/FeLV test for cats 4 months and older, initial flea/tick preventative and heartworm preventative, a microchip, 30 days of PetHealth Insurance provided by PetPlan, a free 14-day wellness exam with VCA Animal Hospitals, a free year-long subscription to Activ4Pets, a rabies tag and a free leash. Call 214-742-SPCA (7722) or visit today.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Cassie Nova • 08-18-17

CASSIE-IMG_8450Why I hate drag (and still love it)

Hello, my lovelies. This is going to be a weird one. Last night when driving home from the show, I had to laugh at myself for the bullshit I put my body through to do drag — I was hurting from head to toe. So I thought I would compile a list of all of the reasons I sometimes hate drag. I will also list some things that I used to do that I grew out of for the betterment of my body.

First, of course, is tucking — i.e., hiding my junk “down there.” Usually it is not a problem, but last night I tucked in a hurry. I yanked it back a little too far and yanked my gaff (a gaff is like a dance belt that holds everything in place) up a little too tight. I am way too hairy down there to ever use duct tape as panties.

The next few sentences are kind of graphic so some of you may want to skip to this paragraph: The thong part of my gaff literally spent the night tight against the head of my peen and damn near split it in half. It was fine while it was on, but when I removed it…let’s just say my dick is not happy with me today. He is usually so cute, but now he looks like a domestic abuse survivor with one black eye.

Next is the pain from my toes. I’ve been doing drag long enough that I know how to put on tights in a way that won’t kill my tootsies, but last night I guess I rushed. I put four pair of tights on and they put a lot of pressure on my little pigs. Once again, everything was fine until I took them off and blood rushed back into my feet. Plus heels are the devil. I have small feet, so I can have my pick of fabulous shoes, but I usually tend to wear the same few pair because they are less painful to parade around and dance in.

I used to glue my wigs down or wear them really tight, but after years of headaches from the band in the back of a wig or the rip of skin when you removed a glued-down wig, now I just barely sit that bitch on my head like a hat. A stiff wind could blow it off my head. Not to mention how hot wearing a wig makes you. Your body releases heat out of the top of your head, so when you keep it covered, you are basically baking your brain.

I wear the biggest eyelashes I can find and then double them up, so when you see me, I’m sporting two pair of 301 lashes glued to my eyelid. I know how to do it to keep from ripping my skin off every time I remove them, but I learned that the hard way. I put a thick coat of base and eyeshadow on my lids so that I am basically removing just the makeup when I rip those fuckers off. Before I started doing that, after a few nights in drag I would remove skin when I took my lashes off. My lids would swell, and I looked like bees had stung me in my eye. And it hurt … especially when I would have to do it all again the next night.

Now let’s talk about earlobes. I know a lot of girls that use Super Glue to adhere earrings to their ears; I used to. How else do you think we get those big-ass beauties to stay put? Doing this is very bad for you, though. It turns your earlobes into hamburger meat. Valerie Lohr was told by her doctor that she had glue poisoning. That’s a real thing. My ears are pierced so now I only wear earrings for pierced ears because I am fishy like that. They still hurt my earhole but not as bad as ripping glued flesh.

I wear the most sickening corset. It makes my fat ass look like I have a nice female shape. I aspire to be curved like the Mississippi River but will settle for Jessica Rabbit. My corset does that. I love how it looks. I honestly don’t feel like I am in drag unless I can barely breathe. I can’t even put it on myself — I always need someone to cinch me in it. No, it is not comfortable. I am sure my organs are in the wrong places from years of waist-training. Sometimes I think it would just be easier to lose weight but then, you know … tacos.

Back in the day, I would contour the hell out of my chest and use duct tape to push up my chesticles so that I looked like I had real breasts. I loved confusing people and letting them think I had had that procedure. Bitch, my mama would kill me if I ever got titties. I would tape from armpit to armpit in a smile shape to get my little man teets to look like big ol lady boobs. It looked great but was a bitch to get off. Ripping it off fast like a Band-Aid is not the way to go when removing duct tape from your chest, you will remove flesh. I rarely tape now days because as I’ve gotten older, I figure my breasts have started to sag a little. I am all about realism.

I get made fun of regularly for not wearing nails. I love how they look, but back in the day the only choice was to Super Glue them to your own nails. I would do it for pageants or getting photos done, but it would ruin my boy nails. Once, after doing Miss Texas, I wore nails every day for a week, and it messed my fingers up. Two of my fingers got a painful infection that took forever to heal. I decided then to never wear nails again. I don’t care if I get called “man hands.” Nowadays they have these great press-ons that actually stay in place for the most part and don’t ruin your nails, but I am set in my ways and couldn’t care less about wearing nails. Truth is, I can’t do anything for myself once I have nails on. You don’t realize how much you use your thumb and forefinger until you can’t use them because you don’t want to lose a nail.

I don’t know what it is about getting out of drag that makes me sneeze, but every night post-show, I sneeze at least seven times. I am sure my lungs and insides are 80 percent Coty powder. The day after doing drag, I always wake up to black crusty eye boogers. It is very glamourous.

Drag will also ruin your home. My shower and tub are already a hideous shade of beige, so you don’t immediately notice the years of hard-to-clean makeup remnants. Getting in drag at home always leaves a light dusting of powder in my bathroom. I probably don’t need to make such a mess, but I have a process when I power my face that can get ridiculous. Thank God I have my dressing room at the club. Wig hair is magic. Once a hair leaves a wig, it magically reproduces and gets everywhere. I find wig hair in the craziest places, including in my husband’s storage shed where my wigs have never been. I think they come to life and go out on adventures. Eventually I am sure Disney will do an animated feature film about my crazy, sassy wigs and their epic quest to become styled once again.

I know this must sound like drag is the worst thing in the world and sometimes it does hurt. But pain is beauty — beauty is pain, blah blah blah. I feel bad for the girls that use tape on their junk. They use Goo Gone to get the residue off of their “below places!” That shit has gotta burn. I guess doing drag feels like a constant STD flare up.

Seriously, though, I put myself through all this bullshit because I love what I do. Driving home last night, in pain from head to toe, I still thought of myself as lucky. You know, hashtag blessed and stuff.

Remember to always love more, bitch less and be fabulous! XOXO, Cassie Nova.

If you have a question of comment, email it to AskCassieNova@gmail.com.   

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

How the bathroom bill came undone

Here’s how the bathroom  bill came undone:

TExas-State-Capitol

Paul J. Weber  |  Associated Press
Twitter.com/PaulJWeber

Looking to North Carolina

The main version of the Texas bill would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. It was similar to the law North Carolina passed in 2016 but then partially repealed in the wake of political and economic backlash, including the NCAA canceling tournaments and voters booting the Republican governor from office.

That upheaval deterred most GOP governors in the country from pursuing copycat measures. Abbott was publicly noncommittal about a Texas bill at first but ultimately joined with influential social conservative groups and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a popular firebrand who is seen as a potential political rival.

Republican supporters dismissed the fallout in North Carolina as overhyped and argued that Texas needed a bill for privacy and safety protections. Police chiefs from Texas’ largest cities, including Houston and San Antonio, say they have not found examples of restroom-related sexual assault and argued that the bill would make Texas more dangerous by emboldening discrimination.

Big business opposition

Just like in North Carolina, some of the world’s biggest companies came out against the Texas bill, including Apple and Amazon. Even big oil joined the fight by summer, with top Exxon Mobil and Shell executives saying the bill would harm Texas’ reputation and negatively impact economic growth.

Senate Republicans, who twice passed the bill, have brushed off predictions that Texas would lose jobs or Super Bowl bids. But House Republicans, whose leaders are more moderate, have heeded those warnings and stalled the bill at every turn.

Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has grown increasingly vocal in his rejection of putting bathroom restrictions on transgender people and has not allowed a vote on the Senate version.

Near the end of the regular legislative session in May, the House passed a watered-down measure that would have applied only to schools, but it was rejected by the Senate as not going far enough.

The deadlock laid bare the escalating GOP infighting in Texas between ascendant social conservatives and business moderates whose numbers and influence have waned with the rise of the Tea Party. But on bathroom restrictions, the House hasn’t budged.

One more try

In dragging lawmakers back to the Texas Capitol to try again this summer, Abbott endorsed a proposal that stopped short of requiring people to use the bathroom that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate but would roll back transgender protections in major Texas cities.

But the House has again stood firm and refused to grant even a hearing. The Senate gaveled out around 10 p.m. Tuesday, meaning the Texas Legislature adjourned its special session a day early.

Supporters say they’re not giving up, but given the legislative roadblocks, the battle is now likely to shift outside the Capitol and into the 2018 elections.            

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Horns of a dilemma ‘The Minotaur’ updates mythology at Theatre 3

_3_T3_The-Minotaur_Kyle-Igneczi_Darren-McElroy_Photo-by-Jeffrey-Schmidt

Anyone who has ever read Joseph Campbell knows that even ancient myths were meant to resonate in the modern world: Quests are quests whether you’re talking about Argonauts, Hobbits, Jedi or Avengers … it’s just that many myths are so couched in the iconography of the past, audiences don’t realize it.

So when a trio of masked actors step onstage at Theatre 3, incanting the legends of ancient Crete at the outset of The Minotaur, it feels familiar, but old-fashioned: the Greek chorus. But then the masks come off as we meet a black female rabbi (Renee Jones), a priest (Randy Pearlman) and a lawyer (David Lugo), and these stories take on the aura of a coffee klatch. They dish about the cursed Minotaur (Darren McElroy), a half-breed man-bull doomed to wander the unsolvable maze known as the Labyrinth, craving only human flesh. He’s a monster whose fate is sealed … or is he a tragic hero given free will and the gift of human choice? Even he doesn’t know.

And so goes Anna Ziegler’s modern retelling of the dark fable of the warrior demigod Theseus (Kyle Igneczi) who at the behest of Ariadne (Cora Grace Winstead) delved into the Labyrinth to meet — or overcome? — his destiny. The play toggles back and forth between the classic texts and the contemporary idiom, sorting out the nature of mankind and how our passions can control us, whether by a face that launched a thousand ships or a selfie in an online chatroom for royals. Destiny and desire, demons and dreams, guilt and appetite have been around forever. It’s how we deal with them that defines us. “We cannot be monsters — we are heroes,” Theseus assures Ariadne… until he’s not sure he believes it himself.

Jeffrey Schmidt launches his first full season as the new head of Theatre 3 with this sure-footed directorial effort (he also designed the sparse but evocative set). Schmidt has always been a resourceful director — a problem-solver — and he blends the competing styles superbly. A strong suit is the casting: Igneczi cuts a swashbuckling mien with the boyish charm of Leonardo DiCaprio; McElroy is a brooding, sexy beast; Pearlman kvetches and Lugo mansplains like nobody’s business.

The play has its weaknesses. Sometimes the plot can get twisted or drift its focus, but the humanity and thoughtfulness shine through the darkness. The Minotaur hooks you.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Theatre 3,
2800 Routh St. Through Aug. 27.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Hammer time

Mercedes’ GLC43 AMG drops the hammer on crossovers

GLC43-AMG

CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer
autocasey@aol.com

AMG has a long history of being Mercedes’ in-house gym, delivering cars as diverse as the GT-S supercar that blips 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and G65, a 621 horsepower brick-square mountain goat with a biturbo V12. But, its card was swiped with the “Hammers” — modified 1980s E-Class sedans wagons that could move Porsche 911s out of the Autobahn’s left lane. Somewhere in the middle of this display of this speed orgy and motorized hostility is the GLC43 that drops a hammer on crossovers.

In the flesh, the GLC43 is a compact crossover sharing basic architecture with the Mercedes C-Class sedan, but fortified for trashing fast lanes. Beneath its smooth flanks is a 3.0-liter biturbo V6 engine delivering 362 horsepower through a 9-speed automatic transmission. Fully throttled, it scamps from 0-60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. Fuel economy, partly due to ECO stop/start technology that pauses the engine at rest, is rated 18/24-MPG city/highway. Yeah, a Prius it won’t challenge.

But one glance at its flashy body identifies the GLC43 as from the sportier side of Mercedes’ gene pool. I still miss the GLC’s predecessor, the square GLK, but I’m warming to its streamlined flanks — especially when hunkered over 21-in. alloy wheels and lit with LEDs front and rear. A large grille star, twin bumps on the hood and wrap-around taillamps honor Mercedes heritage. Large air intakes, badging and spoiler tell you it’s an AMG.

Beyond the threshold is a comfortable and special passenger space. Hugging MB Tex and suede heated seats up front, carbon fiber trim, flat-bottom steering wheel and red accent stitching are the opening barrage. Settle in to notice the sweet-sounding Bermester audio system, dual pane sunroof and Bluetooth. Take a big whiff of the perfume atomizer. Control the whole infotainment shebang via console dial, buttons and writing-recognition touchpad. Ambient lighting adds allure.

GLC43-AMG-(interior)Look behind the star in the grille and you’ll find the radar unit for adaptive cruise control and forward crash mitigation system. There are also lane keep assist, pedestrian recognition and blind spot assist systems. A 360-degree camera and lane-centering steering control take stress off of drivers.

Driving any Mercedes is not just about power, it’s also about refined and agile handling. 4MATIC all-wheel-drive handles tracks and poor weather, but the AMG Dynamic Select system also allows drivers to configure the powertrain, steering and chassis for ECO (saves fuel), Comfort (everyday driving), Sport (getting ready) and Sport+ (head to the track).

Those big wheels have a heck of a time keeping rough pavement from disturbing the cabin, but you can toss the crossover with abandon and know it’s up to the challenge — flat-out down the Interstate or carving up backroads.

If you aren’t impressed with this AMG GLC, just wait. Come 2018, the GLC63 AMG debuts with a 469 horsepower 4.0-liter biturbo V8 that rips from 0-60 mph in 3.9s. Hold onto your cape, Superman!

Like all AMG products, the GLC43 adheres to the “One Man, One Engine” craftsmanship that sets it apart. It’s special, adhering to a long heritage of grand performance machines.

This one just happens to have five seats and a roomy cargo area. Step on the throttle and you’ll know this hammer didn’t drop far from the family tree.

Prices start at $54,900 but came to $62,025 with almost every box checked.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Two-and-a-half men

LGBT big brothers, sisters and couples as well as LGBT ‘littles’ are welcome in a program that does careful matching

IMG_9598

Roger was 5 when his dad died. When Amy Jahnel, Roger’s mom, joined a grief support group, the group leader suggested she look for a mentor for Roger through Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Dennis and James Bradanese had decided to volunteer with BBBS through its Big Couple program. But other parents turned the couple down as potential “bigs” for their children. As far as Roger and his mother, that was good luck.

“God bless their ignorance,” Amy said about the parents that turned down the Bradaneses. “They [her son and the couple] clicked the moment they met.”

Amy said it took almost nine months after she and her son entered the BBBS program before the Bradaneses came into their lives. But now, after nine years together, they’re like family.

Amy recalled the day her son met his Big Couple. He drew them a picture that they still have, and they played video games together. She said over the years, the couple has taken Roger to theater, and they’ve gone to sporting events. They’ve been to Boy Scout meetings and shown up for dads days.

IMG_9627In fact, soon after the Brandaneses came into his life, Roger was upset because it was dads night at his school. All the kids would be there with their fathers. Amy called the couple at the last minute. They were on their way to Fort Worth where they had theater tickets.

But, she recalled, “They turned their car around and went to the father/son event” instead.

Amy said she’s thrilled with any time the Brandaneses spend with her son. They taught him to ride a bike. They took him horseback riding for the first time. Now that he plays varsity football, they go to his games.

“They’re very important to him,” she said.

James had a big brother for a couple of years when he was a kid, and now, he has been an elementary school teacher for 14 years. So “Mentoring is something I’ve always been interested in,” he said.

When the couple discussed Big Brothers, Dennis thought it would just be something his husband would do. Then he learned he’d have to go through the screening process whether or not he participated, and they learned they could participate together as a big couple.

While BBBS is looking for a one-year commitment, these particular bigs assumed their commitment would last until their little turned 18.

Roger remembers when he met his bigs and described how their relationship has evolved.

“Back then, we did fun things I was interested in — movies, horseback riding, ice skating, my first Cowboys game,” he said. “We hit it off the first day. I played video games for hours with James.”

BIGSHe said he knew from their first visit that these would be people who were going to be in his life for a long time.

“We slowly got closer and closer,” he said. “I could talk to them about stuff from the beginning.”

His mother said she’s heard him discussing things on the phone with the guys a number of times. He agreed but couldn’t be specific.

“Anything going on in my life,” he said of the topics of their discussions. “School. Anything I didn’t want to talk to my mom about.”

Dennis is proud of how they’ve helped Roger broaden his interests. Before becoming a varsity football player last year, Roger was involved in theater. Dennis takes credit for that.

For four years, Roger got a scholarship to go to camp in Colorado. He described it as a “rich kids camp” where he was completely unplugged for a month.

“Dennis and James came up for parents weekend,” Roger said.

Before that, they visited him at Boy Scout camp in West Virginia.

Dennis said they usually do things with Roger together, although sometimes BBBS gets them tickets and it’s only for two. James added that occasionally over the years, one or the other had another commitment so just one of them spent time with Roger.

As Roger enters his junior year in high school and has gotten his drivers license, they don’t always see each other for regular activities as often, but they text and phone often.

“He’s just a part of our lives,” James said, adding that he wants potential bigs to understand one thing about having a little: “We get as much out of it as he does. When we went ice skating, it was my first time too.”

But they’ve all gained something much deeper from the experience

“Knowing I’ve made a difference,” James said when asked what means the most to him about the experience.

“All of my co-workers know about Roger,” Dennis added. “I can’t wait to see what he becomes. He’s wicked smart and friendly.”

Just as the fact that his bigs are a same-sex couple has never been an issue to Roger, its never been an issue to the BBBS organization, either. If anything, the couple has been held up as role models for other bigs and were even once named Big Couple of the Year. They said the organization is looking for more LGBT people to be bigs and that it’s something parents should welcome.

“They want parents to know if their child is struggling, they’ll accept anyone,” James said.

And what do they expect of Roger in the future?

“I could see Roger becoming a big,” Dennis said.

BBBS says welcome

“Each scenario is different,” said Michael O’Teter, chief program officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, the DFW affiliate. O’Teter, who is gay, wants to dispel any notion that LGBT volunteers are unwelcome in his organization.

LGBT inclusion passed into the organization’s national standards in 2002. Now, BBBS has started an LGBT initiative.

“We serve children who are at risk,” said Pam Iorio, national CEO of BBBS. “LGBTQ children have challenges — higher rates of drug use, drinking, smoking. We’re intentionally reaching out to this community.”

To create the best program possible, they’re working with Human Rights Campaign to tap into its expertise. Iorio said they’ve created a program they piloted in 10 sites and are now rolling out across the country.

While Dallas wasn’t one of those original cities, O’Teter didn’t wait to try some of the ideas from the pilot program. He reached out to Kat Ralph, facilitator of OUTreach Denton, an LGBT youth group that meets at Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

About 22 youth attend OUTreach each week.

“A lot of kids come in just once,” Ralph said. “Many of them don’t thrive in large groups. Some kids need one-on-one contact.”

She said a large number of those who come to OUTreach Denton are foster children or come from one-parent families, and while there is often a stigma about LGBT people working with youth, Ralph said that working with O’Teter, she’s learned that’s not the position of BBBS.

The BBBS attitude, Ralph said, is “’Hey, we want you.’ Big Brothers/Big Sisters has been welcoming you for years.”

Iorio agreed: “We’re all about acceptance.”

She said all the organization is looking for is people who can be stable, caring role-models.

As more young people have become comfortable expressing who they are at a younger age, the organization began including LGBT training for all bigs.

“When a little expresses who they are, we have to make sure the big is trained,” she said.

O’Teter said locally he’s looking for healthy adults who will provide healthy influences on kids’ lives. That includes people of different sexual orientations, races, faiths and gender identities.

Safety is a top priority. Every big goes through a lengthy interview, rigorous background screening and reference checks as well as thorough training. “We put every volunteer through the ringer,” O’Teter said.

But the Bradaneses described the process as simple. Although Roger knew, the couple was surprised to hear they had been turned down by a couple of parents before they were connected to the Jahnels.

“We don’t want people to exclude themselves because of assumptions,” O’Teter said, adding that BBBS asks about sexual orientation to help them make the right matches. Out is good, he said.

“Someone not in a good place being gay could be a problem,” he said.

He also said once a match is made, a match support specialist works with the big. That person is there to troubleshoot problems as well as leverage good things.

Sometimes, the big will see problems in the home, like the electricity being turned off or bruises on the little that might indicate abuse. On the other hand, through the organization, the match support specialist will provide tickets for theater, museums, sports and other events. They’ll put together meet ups like an afternoon of putt-putt or an annual picnic.

O’Teter said most of the matches that don’t work are because life happens: Kids move or an adult’s situation changes.

“A small percentage we bring to an end because we have a concern,” he said.

Success is a match that works for a year with at least two visits a month.

Anyone interested in becoming a big brother, big sister or a big couple may apply online. The local BBBS organization will call within 72 hours and schedule an interview as quickly as possible. Training is done online.

“There’s a big waiting list,” O’Teter said. “About 2,000 kids right now.”

Locally, the organization serves 6,000 to 7,000 kids per year.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a new Black Tie Dinner beneficiary.         

For more information or to apply to become a big, visit bbbstx.org/lgbtq

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  David Taffet

Honoring the losers?

The national debate about removing  Confederate memorials comes to Dallas

IMG_9748

DAVID TAFFET |  Senior Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The issue of memorializing the losing side of a civil war with monuments to its treasonous leaders has simmered for years. But as Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend to defend these symbols of racism — shouting anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant slogans and with one Nazi slamming his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 — the issue has come to a boiling point.

The events in Charlotte brought debate to the forefront in Dallas, and a rally is set for Saturday evening near one of the city’s monuments.

In Dallas, we have two problematic Confederate monuments. One stands on the edge of an historic cemetery at an entrance to the Dallas Convention Center. The other is in Lee Park in Oak Lawn.

The Confederate memorial at the Dallas Convention Center was erected in 1896, 32 years after the end of the Civil War. It is the oldest public sculpture in the city. Originally located at Old City Park, it was moved to its current location in 1961, when construction on I-30 through downtown began.

The first piece of the convention center, Dallas Memorial Auditorium, was built in 1957, and the monument would have been about a block away at the time. Now it stands at an entrance to the facility.

In 1936, 72 years after the end of the Civil War, Oak Lawn Park was renamed Lee Park. A statue of Robert E. Lee was installed, and a two-thirds size replica of his home, Arlington Hall, was built.

In 1995, a public-private partnership was formed to manage Lee Park that included the Dallas Tavern Guild, the Oak Lawn Committee and Turtle Creek Association among others, including the Dallas Southern Memorial Association that commissioned and placed the statue in 1936 and was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan at the time the statue was installed.

Mayor Mike Rawlings held a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 15, to weigh in on the issue of whether those monuments should be removed from public display. While not directly calling for the immediate removal of the monuments, he did describe them as “problematic.”

“It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon to tear them down,” he said. “I hesitate. We’re better and stronger when not divided.”

Rawlings called for a task force to study the issue and report back to the city council in 90 days.

But Councilman Philip Kingston gathered five signatures to force the issue onto the Dallas City Council’s agenda.

“The council needs to voice its strong disapproval,” he said to send the task force a clear message of where the council stands.

Councilman Omar Narvaez said about the monuments, “What they mean today is what’s important.” And today, they’re a rallying cry for white supremacists.

One idea floated was to move the monuments elsewhere, but both councilmen made it clear that place shouldn’t be public property nor should they be maintained with public funds.

Rawlings asked Mary Pat Higgins, director of the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, to be part of the discussion.

Higgins said her participation was very new, and she wasn’t sure what her role was going to be. But she said she imagines the Holocaust Museum would be a source of education and reconciliation for the community.

One reporter at the press conference asked if the Holocaust Museum might be the place to move the monuments. But just the dimensions of the statues precluded them from even fitting in the building.

The Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church, said he was disappointed the mayor didn’t clearly come out in favor of removal. “An issue like this calls for moral leadership,” he said. “That doesn’t preclude conversation, but leaders lead from their convictions.”

Folkerth said by not clearly laying out his position, the mayor could be creating a situation he wants to avoid. The conversation could easily devolve, he said.

“If Saturday [in Charlottesville] proved nothing else, it proved these monuments are revered by white supremacists,” Folkerth said. “As a white person whose relatives fought for the Confederacy, I am offended by that. I want my mayor and council to say the same.”

The Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope, was born in England and views the issue from a European standpoint. He compared it to when Germany tore down the Berlin Wall and pieces were disseminated around the world.

Going back a generation farther in German history, he said Germany distances itself from Hitler and the Nazi period: There are no monuments to that dark era to be found in that country — or others.

“These are not monuments to heroes,” said divinity student Todd Whitley. “They’re monuments to the losing side.” He said people claim they feel as if they’re losing their identity, but he added, they say they’re “upholding history, but that’s code for what’s evil.”

While rallying around these Civil War monuments, the white supremacists were chanting anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish and anti-LGBT as well as racist slogans. “Nothing historical about their rants,” Whitley noted.

IMG_9726Confederate monument at Pioneer Park

The Confederate monument was moved to the edge of the cemetery at Pioneer Park in 1961 before the main Dallas Convention Center was built. However, today it welcomes people as they enter the facility.

Pioneer Park is made up of four adjoining cemeteries that had all become city property by 1969. One was a Jewish cemetery, and the bodies from there were moved to the current Temple Emanu-el Cemetery on Lemmon Avenue at Central Expressway. The longhorn statues are situated partially on that portion of the park.

Some of the first burials in Dallas took place in areas of Pioneer Park that remain a cemetery. The gravestones highlight the city’s pioneering families with names such as Stemmons, Peak, Akard, Good, Latimer and Marsalis. But historical markers, mostly placed in the 1990s, highlight only those who served in the Confederacy.

For example, Trezevant Calhoun Hawpe was elected sheriff in 1850 and served two terms. In 1862, he organized and was first colonel in the 31st Texas Cavalry, and he is credited with winning the battle of Newtonia for the South. In 1863, he was stabbed to death by a friend on the county courthouse steps. Stand by his headstone and you’ll likely feel the earth churning as he rolls over in his grave knowing who his current successor is.

Barton Warren Stone was a farmer who originally opposed Texas secession but then organized and commanded two Texas cavalry regiments for the Confederacy. And John McClannahan Crockett was mayor of Dallas and then lieutenant governor of Texas during the Confederacy.

But those whose names we remember on our streets? Not a word about their contributions to the city from those same historians who chose to memorialize Confederate leaders.

Lee Park

More than just the statue of Robert E. Lee overlooking Turtle Creek is dedicated to the Confederate general. Arlington Hall is a replica of Lee’s home in Virginia and is part of the memorial to the Confederate general. While Arlington Hall stands as a monument to Lee, nowhere in the park is there an acknowledgment that the original plantation house was built and maintained by slaves.

In 1995, a coalition of community groups joined together to form the Lee Park Conservancy, and renovation and expansion of Arlington Hall was accomplished with private funds.

Among the groups that formed the conservancy was Dallas Tavern Guild, the LGBT bar owners. According to Tavern Guild’s Executive Director Michael Doughman, the Tavern Guild has nothing to do with the operation of the park anymore. A few years ago, they replanted the Alan Ross memorial AIDS garden in the park, but any other connection ended when the Pride festival moved to Reverchon Park over space issues.

The Dallas Parks Department still provides maintenance service for the park, but doesn’t oversee the operation. The Lee Park Conservancy does.

While the city discusses removing monuments, some have suggested a simple first step in removing Confederate memorials would be to revert to the park’s original name — Oak Lawn Park.

And at the Capitol

Meanwhile, Confederate monuments remain standing around the state, including at the state Capitol. This week, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent a request to Texas State Preservation Board to remove a particularly offending plaque and other monuments at the Legislature. And, he said, if a second special session is held, he’ll file a resolution demanding their removal.

“I will be introducing a resolution to have this and all other such historically inaccurate and offensive Confederate iconography removed from the Texas Capitol and its grounds,” Johnson wrote. “It sure is great not having to check with any owners or handlers before I make a decision.”

The plaque Johnson is referring to was placed in the Capitol in 1959 by a group called Children of the Confederacy. Among the goals of the group, the plaque claims, is “to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is, that the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery).”            

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  David Taffet

Special session ends with no action on bathroom bill

More abortion restrictions among nine items signed by governor

Greg-Abbott

JAMES RUSSELL |  Contributing Writer
james.journo@gmail.com

The Texas Legislature ended its special session on Tuesday, August 15, one day ahead of schedule, after passing only nine of the 20 legislative priorities Gov. Greg Abbott put on the agenda when announcing the session.

Among the bills that failed was the so-called “bathroom bill,” which would have prohibited transgender men and women from using appropriate public restroom facilities and, in some versions, would have rolled back local nondiscrimination ordinances.

The bathroom bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, passed in the Senate but did not even get a hearing in the House (the same bill during regular session passed easily in the Senate but never came to a vote in the House). Its defeat came after a year-long campaign against the legislation by corporations, the business community and activist groups. House Speaker Joe Straus has consistently opposed the bill since it was first filed during the regular session.

Numerous business groups celebrated the bill’s demise after the special session was declared sine die, the formal term for the end of a session.

“VisitDallas and the convention and visitors bureaus across Texas are proud of our efforts to defeat the bathroom legislation in Texas. We will always fight to protect the Texas brand and to keep the Texas economy thriving,” said VisitDallas President and CEO Phillip Jones in a statement. “Our broad-based Texas Welcomes All and Keep Texas Open for Business coalition campaign to defeat the discriminatory and unnecessary bathroom bill is consistent with our fundamental belief that a stronger Texas is grounded in policies and laws that foster an open, welcoming and business-friendly state for businesses, their employees and their families.”

Bathroom bill art

Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, said, “The failure of a ridiculous bathroom bill shows that business, faith leaders and everyday Texans can come together to stop politicians obsessed with singling out and discriminating against vulnerable people simply because of who they are.”

But other harmful bills, including those limiting access to reproductive health, still passed.

“The reality is our state’s elected leaders for the past eight months have treated the civil liberties of LGBT people, women and immigrants as negotiable at best and irrelevant at worst. We now have even more unnecessary anti-abortion laws that limit the ability of women to make their own decisions about whether and when to have children,” Miller said.

Among those bills were bills banning private insurance from covering abortions, enhanced reporting requirements by doctors when an accident occurs during an abortion and requiring doctors to obtain explicit patient or caregiver consent before issuing do-not-resuscitate orders.

Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, called those bills part of a “radical” agenda.

“Most Texans can breathe a sigh of relief, now that Gov. Abbott’s radical special session has come to an end,” Blanco said, echoing the comments of other Democrats. “Instead of focusing on meaningful policies that matter to working families, our economy, or communities, Gov. Abbott decided to pander to the extreme-right at the expense of everyday taxpayers.”

After sine die, Abbott threatened to call legislators back for a second special session to take up another one of his priorities: property tax reform. A last-minute deal to cap property tax hikes without elections fell apart between the House and Senate.

The bill previously died in the regular session in the face of resistance from counties and other municipalities.

If he does not call them back for taking up property taxes, Abbott may have to call another special session anyway. That’s in part because of a unanimous court decision this week that two of Texas’ congressional districts are unconstitutional. If the court does not draw the maps, the legislature will need to reconvene to redraw them.

Legislators will know as soon as Friday, Aug. 19, if they will return for another session.     

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice