Making women’s voices heard

17th annual Words of Women essay contest, International Women’s Day event is set



Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

“It doesn’t matter where women are, we’re working. We are all working to make the world what it is,” declared activist Christine Jarosz. “That’s why the women’s movement is a working women’s movement. It started with the factory workers.”

The month of March is Women’s History Month, and it starts off with International Women’s Day on March 8. And in Dallas every year, the Hello Sisters International Women’s Day event celebrates and honors the women who work to keep the world working.

The annual Hello Sisters event started with an essay contest, and that contest remains the centerpiece of the celebration each year. It began, Jarosz noted, as a project of the Lesbian Resource Center.

Jarosz co-founded LRC and served as it first and only coordinator. The center was located in an old building on Skiles Street, just off Live Oak, and operated on membership fees — $40 a year for a regular membership, or $10 a month to be “A Founding Mother.”

LRC offered a wide variety of programs and activities, starting with a lending library and including the Womyn for Womyn Lesbian University a peer education program, an exercise program, a housing referral program, a monthly dance and so much more. The idea of the center, Jarosz said, was not just to provide women with a meeting space and resources, but to give them a voice.

So many women, she said, were — and still are — isolated. Whether they live in the big city, way out in a rural area, even in another country altogether, Jarosz wanted to find a way to give them a voice. Thus was born the Words of Women essay contest. And Hello Sisters was built around that.

In looking for someplace to preserve the essays submitted for the first Words of Women contest, Jarosz approached the Dallas Women’s Museum. “But they told me, ‘we don’t take words,’” she said. “But I wanted people to see these essays, to hear what these women had to say.”

So she created Hello Sisters to give contest winners a chance to read their essays out loud. The first one was held at the Women’s Museum.

“Each year, it got bigger,” Jarosz said. “Each year, we added things — exhibitors, speakers, musicians, dancers. In my mind, everything about the event is designed to make the essay contest winner each year feel like the most important woman in the world.”

For six years, the Women’s Museum hosted Hello Sisters. Then the museum closed, and the event moved to the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake, where it has been held for the last 10 years, presented by a committee called The Mother Board.

“We have no belief that this event is ours,” Jarosz said of herself and the other organizers. “We’re just lucky enough to be the ones who help make it happen.”

International Women’s Day is on March 8 each year, which obviously doesn’t always fall on a weekend day. So organizers hold Hello Sisters on the closest Saturday, and then on March 8 host the Just-A-Dinner event. This year’s dinner will be at Afrah’s Restaurant, 318 E. Beltline in Richardson, from 7:30-10 p.m. Dinner costs about $15.

But the main event, Hello Sisters and the announcement of the essay contest winner, will be held Saturday, March 4, from noon-5:30 p.m., at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther St. (on the east shore of White Rock Lake). In addition to the essay contest winner, the even will feature the Hello Sisters 100 Yard Sign art display, arts, crafts, music, stories and speakers discussing the status of women.

The event is open to vendors, who pay only $25 and bring their own table and chairs to set up their exhibits. Organizers are also accepting event sponsors. “That’s how we pay for everything, through vendor fees and sponsors,” Jarosz said. “Everything we do is for free. This is not a fundraiser. It’s a community event.”

This year’s winning essay and past winners’ essays at the Words of Women website, This year’s winner is a local woman, Jarosz said. But last year’s winner was from Seoul, South Korea, and the year before from California. Other previous winning essays have come from India and Afghanistan.

“The year the woman from Afghanistan won, she couldn’t be here, of course, but her aunt was in school in New Mexico, and she paid herself to fly in to be here to read her niece’s essay at the event,” Jarosz said.

This essay contest, Jarosz said, is to her one of the most important things she has accomplished in a lifetime of activism. “I have a lot of joyful moments, but the time I am the happiest is when I can pick up the phone and call the winner of the essay contest,” she said.

“One year, the winner was from Garland. I didn’t know her, but I called her house and a teenage girl answered. She sounded totally bored and uninterested, until I told her who I was. And then all that bored teenager stuff was gone. She was so excited.

I could hear her, ‘Mama! Mama! It’s them! The essay contest! You won!’

“Right then, I really saw the power of this one little essay contest,” Jarosz continued. “That’s why I do what I do, so that women have a voice. So they know they are heard and recognized and appreciated. So they know how important they are.

“We have to support and encourage each other. That’s why we make these things happen. That’s why it is important.”
To volunteer for the Hello Sisters International Women’s Day event, or to be a vendor or a sponsor, or to RSVP for Just-A-Dinner, call 347-933-1256.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 24, 2017.


—  Tammye Nash

Rising up

Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black on his first time as an activist, the power of collective protesting and changing hearts with ‘When We Rise’


With an emotionally resonant speech, Dustin Lance Black accepted the Oscar for his original screenplay of Milk in 2009, a powerful tribute to gay political hero Harvey Milk. Could an Emmy be next?

It’s possible, even if the 42-year-old is too modest to admit that his latest screen ambition, When We Rise (airing on ABC starting on Feb. 27), the accomplished filmmaker’s tremendous seven-part undertaking chronicling the progressive uprising of the ’60s and ’70s, is certainly golden statue-worthy. Partly inspired by LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones’ recent memoir, the miniseries sheds light on our foremothers and -fathers who raised hell — working to combat misogyny, homophobia and racism — to create a changed world for future generations of, as the show declares, “others.”

“With this show, I measure success by whether I get a phone call from one of my Southern family members who have never talked about being gay,” Black says. “When that happens, and that conversation is started, it will have succeeded.”

And should that conversation stretch beyond Black’s own parochial loved ones, its influence could be life-changing for those in the queer population who now find themselves trying to resist the oppression of Trump’s America.

For that reason, When We Rise is shockingly relevant, especially considering its half-century-old history isn’t just history — it’s our current reality.

During this intimate conversation with Black, the filmmaker gets candid about the beginning of his activism at age 7, the importance of “we” in any resistance movement, and how sharing a story is the first step in changing a mind.         

— Chris Azzopardi

The miniseries When We Rise begins airing Monday on Ch. 8.

Dallas Voice: Tell me how this miniseries ended up on a commercial network like ABC.  Dustin Lance Black: This project started for me four years ago, when I heard a rumor that ABC was looking at optioning LGBT history properties, and I called my agent and was like, “Is that true?” Just four years before, I had to charge the development cost of Milk on my credit card because no one wanted to pay for it — no one was interested! So, I had made my agent book a meeting with the powers that be at ABC, to look them in the eye and see if it was true … and it was. The funny thing is, they said, “We can’t afford you, but who do you think would be good to write and create something like this?” and I just laughed. Like, come on!

So, I thought, “Boy, this is an incredible opportunity to tell our LGBT story, or a part of our LGBT story, and not be preaching directly to the choir.” I had other networks that had been interested for a long time in something of this nature, and I thought, “They’re gonna spend more money, they’re gonna give me all the time in the world, it’ll be a great experience and we’ll get it absolutely right… and we’re gonna turn around and preach directly to the choir and we might not change a single mind.” Here, I had a chance to tell our stories on the network that I watched as a kid, because as a kid, I grew up in the South, I grew up in the military, I grew up in a conservative home, in a Christian home, and we trusted ABC because ABC told family stories. I thought, “Well, here’s a chance to finally be able to tell the story of my LGBT family to my actual family,” and that’s what I set out to do. That’s why I think it’s remarkable that it’s on ABC. We’ve come to a place where we can perhaps talk the same language of family between these two Americas, and perhaps change hearts and minds in a time when that seems absolutely, critically necessary.

How was the idea for When We Rise first conceived?  I toyed with the idea for a long time. After Milk was over, I started to think about other stories that need to be told, and I’m doing other LGBT-themed history projects, but I always wondered, “Was there something bigger, and how would I go about doing that?” As I met people — activists — along the way, I would sort of catalog their names in my head in case I ever got the chance to do something like this, and it was ABC saying they would actually pay for a year of research to really figure out who to depict that set it in motion.

So, it was always something I wanted to do, and I thought ABC was the right home for it. So then, at great personal expense, I set out on a journey. Let me just say nobody made any money off this thing. If anything, my poor agent and business manager were sweating it as we got it to year four.

You have Rachel Griffiths, Mary-Louise Parker and Guy Pearce, and then a terrific cast playing them in their youth. How did the casting process work for this? Did you have any of these actors in mind while researching the real-life person they’re playing?  I never think about who will play the parts while I’m writing if it’s based on a true story because I’m working so hard to get the real people right. Certainly, by the time I was writing the finale, I started brainstorming, and I had one dream for [lesbian women’s rights activist] Roma Guy and that was Mary-Louise Parker, and I had one dream for Cleve Jones and that was Guy Pearce.

Then, I got this very emotional, beautiful phone call from Michael K. Williams [who plays Ken Jones, an African-American community organizer] while I was at the airport scouting locations in San Francisco. He told me how personally meaningful the scripts were to him, and he talked about the people he lost — his friends and fellow artists in New York — when he was growing up, and I could just tell it was coming from a very personal place, so you can’t beat that personal connection.

The young cast — we went out searching, and we just wanted to cast the very best people. [Transgender civil rights leader] Cecilia Chung was a really interesting one to me. I had said to my casting director that I only wanted to cast trans actors and actresses in the show to play the trans roles, and they brought up Ivory [Aquino] to play Cecilia Chung. I got a little upset with him and said, “You know, I told you it’s important we make an effort and cast trans actors and actresses for these roles,” and he said, “We think you need to get on the phone with Ivory,” and Ivory came out to me as trans on the phone call. She’s now come out to the world.

Why was it important for you to include actual trans actors in the trans roles?  First and foremost, when I’m casting any role, I’m gonna look for somebody who can bring a part of their experience to the role. They still have to be a great actor, so if I can’t find anyone in the world who shares some experience that they’re about to portray in this character, who’s also a good actor, then I’ll happily go for someone else. And the big surprise is, it was not hard to find amazing trans actors and actresses to play these parts. What was difficult was deciding who to cast because so many great tapes came in. So, I call bullshit on Hollywood if they say it’s difficult. And if they think it’s difficult, then they should call our casting directors because they found unbelievable trans actors and actresses, and it was actually tough to decide who to cast.

I think people have the impression it is difficult based on what they’ve heard from directors and casting agents, so this is refreshing to hear.  It’s not true. I’ll tell you what was difficult: Years ago, it was difficult to find openly gay actors to play openly gay roles — that was difficult. When we were doing Milk, that’s what we said we wanted to do, and the studio gave us full permission to do that. So, we called agents and manager friends and they all said they didn’t have any gay actors or actresses, which is funny since I knew some of their clients were gay!
It was very frustrating, but thankfully that’s begun to change as well, particularly in this young generation of actors and actress who, in one way or another, have come out on social media when they were kids and there’s no putting them back in the closet in today’s social-media age.

An interesting tidbit to share is, they also worked incredibly hard with the real people when that was possible. For both the young cast and the old cast, on my own dime, I flew up the real people to wherever we were shooting so they could be there to work with the costume department, the set design department and the actors, just to make sure we were as close to truthful as possible.

Do you remember the first time you stood up for something you believed in?  My mom was paralyzed from polio since she was 7. She had the use of her arms, but that was about it. So, I grew up with a severely disabled mom, and I didn’t quite know that or realize that until I was probably 7 years old, somewhere in the early years of elementary school when we started having to be out in public with strangers. The way they looked at her and the way they treated her, it ate at me.

I was an incredibly shy kid. I rarely said a word in school. But there was this student named Anthony who was severely mentally disabled, and he would get bullied constantly. I remember the time I finally stood up for him. I was very afraid, because I was a tiny little thing. And I remember trembling, but the bullies backed down. I told that story to my mom, and my mom looked me in the eyes and said, “You have a strong sense of justice – where does that come from?” And the answer is pretty obvious: I was hiding a pretty big difference of my own, and I knew at that point that I had crushes on my guy friends and not the girls in school. Certainly, having watched my mom being treated so differently because of her difference, those sorts of moments of witness instilled a sense of justice in me.

And now you are one of our most recognized activists.  Well, your job’s incredibly important right now. I can’t overstate how much we depend on journalists right now to stand up for the truth, so good on you.

We both tell stories about LGBT people, and I imagine, like me, you hope that non-queers see your work and come away with a sense of just… humanity.  That’s the key, isn’t it? Listen, this show is for ABC. As a kid who grew up watching ABC in the South in a Christian, military home I knew I could show up at the dinner table with all the laws and facts and science I wanted and I wouldn’t change a single mind. You want to change a mind in that other America? You gotta lead from the heart, and you do that by telling stories, not by arguing facts or the Constitution.

So, that’s what I came armed with for When We Rise. I went out and did my best to find true stories — in particular, stories of families, because the family story transcends these two Americas. There’s not a lot we think we have in common right now, but both Americas have family stories, and we can both be moved by each other’s family stories. That’s why I mine family stories: the families we lost when so many of us were outed or came out, the makeshift families we had to build to survive, and eventually the families we were able to build and raise.

So, by that design, you tell an emotional story, you can change a heart; if you can change a heart, you can change a mind; you change a mind, you can change the law. But it goes in that order, and so this is the first step of that. Let’s try and change some hearts.


Did you go to the recent Women’s March? And having shot a similar march for When We Rise, did it feel like history repeating itself?  I’m living in London, and we certainly walked through Trafalgar Square, which was jammed with thousands of people. I have to say, I’ve heard the rallying cry at many marches that says, “Gay, straight, black, white, same struggle, same fight.” But usually it’s either mostly black and a little white, or mostly gay and maybe a few straight, even though we chant that chant. This is the first time it truly seemed gay, straight, black, white. It was diverse. And that was, frankly, heartening.

The reason I designed this show the way I designed it was because four years ago, I was concerned that social justice movements were becoming incredibly myopic and self-interested, forgetting that we need to work together if we’re gonna get anywhere. Not understanding the intersections of our movements, losing sight of where those intersections are, and certainly forgetting the great power that we can gain by working together. So, I was worried. We were becoming divided, and it’s why I insisted when designing the show that I find real people who came from other movements, not just the LGBT movement — people who came from the women’s movement, the black civil rights movement, the peace movement, and the series eventually touches on immigration and healthcare.

The most important word in the struggle for equality is “we.” It’s why I told ABC right from the beginning when we designed the title: “We” has to be the biggest word in it. It’s a word we’ve forgotten, and it’s the answer to beating back a backlash. The key is that we have to struggle together. So, I was heartened, frankly, by the diversity I saw, not just in the march that I was physically present for here in London, but the ones I paid careful attention to on TV and online. It gives me a little bit of hope.

When We Rise touches on this glancingly, but I want to remind gay men that the Gay Liberation Front [of 1969] started as a group of men who were feminists because feminism says loud and clear that “gender ought not determine destiny,” and that means one thing to women, but it certainly means that gay men ought to be able to love who they love regardless of gender. So, gay men need to examine why we haven’t been more vocally feminist.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Oscars so gay

Forget ‘a day without an immigrant’ — nowadays, Hollywood without gays would be the death of awards, as these queer Oscar contenders show


Out Texas native Tom Ford, right, directed Michael Shannon, center, to an Oscar nomination for ‘Nocturnal Animals.’

Most of us know that the most popular Oscar-nominated film for the gay community is Moonlight, which has the second-most nominations this year. But it’s hardly the only film with gay content (or a queer sensibility, or LGBT nominees). In addition to nominations for iconic allies like Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, many gay folks behind the scenes and on screen inform particular areas of a wide swath of films this year. So here’s a primer on some of the gay influence on the nominated films.

La La Land. Though largely heteronormative, two of the 14 nominations for this po-mo musical are for best song, both of which were co-written by Benj Pasek, the openly gay lyricist responsible for such stage shows as Dogfight and Dear Evan Hansen.

Fences. Oscar-winning producer Scott Rudin, who shares a best picture nomination for this film, is openly gay.

Lion. Ditto Lion’s Iain Canning.

Zootopia. Producer and co-director Byron Howard is openly gay. If it wins as best animated film, expect him to thank his husband.

Florence Foster Jenkins. The two-time nominee features an overlooked performance by Simon Helberg as a closeted pianist. (The film’s straight director, Stephen Frears, has a long history of making films with gay content.)

Nocturnal Animals. Although supporting actor nominee Michael Shannon is straight, the film’s writer-director is out Texas native and fashion designer Tom Ford.

20th Century Women. Original screenplay nominee Mike Mills writes about his mother with this film; in his last feature, Beginners, Mills wrote about his dad, who came out as gay late in life. (Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for that film.)

Hidden Figures. The best picture nominee features out actor Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) in a key supporting role.

The Lobster. This comedy about couplehood in a dystopian future includes gay themes related to relationships of any kind being essential in a well-ordered society.

Loving. This story of the interracial couple (including best actress nominee Ruth Negga) who triggered a supreme court decision decriminalizing miscegenation doesn’t have any gay content itself, but the decision is iconic in the gay community as laying the groundwork for marriage equality.

Life, Animated. Queer documentarian Roger Ross Williams made this story of an autistic boy who deals with the world via Disney films. Williams previously won the documentary short Oscar for Music for Prudence.

I Am Not Your Negro. The center of this film is queer intellectual James Baldwin.

O.J.: Made in America. In this epic, eight-hour documentary, we learn not only that O.J. Simpson’s father was gay, but that helicopter pilot Bob Tur, who famously chased and reported on the slow escape in the white Bronco, is a trans woman, now known as Zoey.

Star Trek Beyond. The makeup nomination for this film probably wasn’t specifically for attaching pointy ears to out actor Zachary Quinto … but maybe!                  

Arnold Wayne Jones

The Oscars air on Ch. 8 Sunday, with coverage starting at 6 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

The magic flame

Queer icons have helped campy magician Jeff Hobson find his onstage persona


The Trickster, right, works his magic on an audience member.


When he steps onstage, magic isn’t enough for Jeff Hobson. As the emcee for the popular The Illusionists Live From Broadway show — as well as his solo performances — he looked to campy icons for inspiration. Now, he wears rhinestones like a suit of armor. Hobson’s bedazzled jackets and sparkling custom-made shoes match his flamboyant delivery as The Trickster in the show that opens Tuesday at Music Hall as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals season.

Camp? Certainly, but Hobson wouldn’t say his Trickster character is gay.

“I guess he’s more of a metrosexual so he has some kind of appeal for everyone. You have to have the thing that makes you stand out,” he says. “Elvis had his hip move. Mine is 10,000 rhinestones — combined with magic.”

Described as the Avengers of magic shows, The Illusionists consist of an all-star cast of magicians with colorful  (or creepy?) names like Anti-Conjuror, Weapon Master and Daredevil.

So how does a mere trickster stand out?

“I still remember the days of Liberace and Rip Taylor. I’m no youngster,” Hobson laughs. “So I wanted that flamboyance.”

Videos of him on YouTube can be found pulling men onstage to help him with a trick. He flirts relentlessly. The men don’t seem to mind his double entendres, which may be another magic trick (he’s not telling). But children and women in the audience eat it up.

Hobson’s shtick has included elevated card tricks, lit matches from his crotch, wristwatch swiping and his “disappearing egg sack.” Perhaps his most dramatic is his fire eating, a talent he’s performed for most of his career.

“Of course I’m flaming every night,” he quips.


As a child growing up in Detroit, magic was Hobson’s main outlet. He describes himself as sheltered, but the excitement that came with magic was his bridge to others. That has stayed with him through today.

“It was my way of making other people happy and making friends, to create wonders, ” he says. “It was a cool thing to do. I still have those feelings, which is probably why I’m the one in the troupe who is the most interactive [with the audience].”

Although he doesn’t mention his own orientation, Hobson understands he can be toeing the line on his performance. He also works to be careful about it.

“All the jokes are on me. I’m not trying to do anything at anyone else’s expense whether it’s the audience or a community,” Hobson says.

And coming to Texas, he knows some stops may need to digest him a little slower than other stops.

“There are more conservative places and sometimes I do temper my performance. Sometimes I have to start off a little bit less me and build it up. But then they come around. An audience like Dallas though, gets me,” he says.

And despite the rhinestones and swishy act, it’s just about the magic.

“It full of amazing and shocking magic that’s awe-inspiring and beautiful,” Hobson says. “So in short, it’s fabulous … like me.”
— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Best Bets • 02-24-17

Thursday 03.02 — Sunday 03.05


Uptown Players takes on showtunes with Broadway Our Way

There are a lot of great fundraisers out there — fashion shows, cocktail parties, beer bashes, dinner-and-dessert feasts, fancy affairs and low-key ones. But few are as outright entertaining as Uptown Players’ annual fundraiser, Broadway Our Way. A full-on show featuring some of the top singing, dancing and comedic talent in North Texas, BOW is a revue of musical numbers from Broadway’s songbook, only this time the girls sing the boys’ parts and vice-versa. It also previews the rest of UP’s season and gets you dibs on season tickets. B.J. Cleveland, Coy Covington and a host of others will delight you.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater,
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.

Tuesday 02.28


Terry D. Loftis to give a ‘standard’ cabaret at Fair Park

When we say Terry D. Loftis has standards, we mean both an ethical compass and a catalogue of songs from the Great American Songbook. Nat King Cole. Sammy Davis Jr. If it has a classy vibe, Loftis is all over it. In fact, that may be why he named his upcoming cabaret performance at the Women’s Building at Fair Park Clas, Style & Juice. The juice, by the way, refers to Scotch whisky. Cuz what’s a cabaret singer without a little booze on hand? And to sweeten the juice, it’s free!

DEETS: Women’s Building at Fair Park,
3800 Parry Ave. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Free.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Scene • 02-24-17

Making the SCENE the week of Feb. 24–March 2

• Alexandre’s: Lala Johnson with Linny Nance and the Netowrk on Friday. Bondtourage on Saturday. Liz Mikel on Tuesday. Chris Chism on Wednesday. So Strung Out with spencer West on Thursday.

• BJ’s NXS!: Sixth annual Fat Tuesday celebration on Tuesday.

• Cedar Grove: Drag Brunch emceed by Jenni P at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

• Cedar Springs Tap House: Geeks Who Drink two year anniversary on Friday.

• Club Changes: Divine Miss Divas Show with Tasha LaMoore, Monique Rostin, Lova Chochran, Angel Simone and M.C. Shamoo at 10 p.m. on Friday.

• Club Reflection: Back Patio Saturday Night from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. on Saturday. Monthly Bear Gathering with Trinity River Bears  meeting at 2:30 p.m. and Mardi Gras cook off from 5-7 p.m.

• Dallas Eagle: Valentine Extravaganza Show with Mr. Dallas Pride 2016 Kenny Ivy from 6-10 p.m. on Friday. Miss Texas Gay Rodeo Association fundraiser from 6-10 p.m. on Saturday. United Court of the Lone Star Empire presents Angels vs Demons from 6-10 p.m. on Sunday. Mardi Gras Supper & Show from 7-10 p.m. on Tuesday.

• JR.’s Bar & Grill: Carnival on Saturday. Cassie’s Freak Show with Fantasha, May May Graves and Mulan Alexis on Monday.

• Liquid Zoo: A Hero in You, Celebrating Heroes in our Community, with emcee Devon DeVasquez at 7 p.m. on Friday.

• Rainbow Lounge: Meet Kennedy and Katya from RuPaul’s Season 7 on Friday.

• Round-Up Saloon: Join Miss Round-Up, Sassy O’Hara for Boys, Boots & Boxer Briefs to win a cash prize at 10 p.m. on Monday.

• Sue Ellen’s: Carnival on Saturday. Cherry Bomb performs. Kathy & Bella at 3:30 p.m. and Bad Habits at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

• The Rose Room: Carnival with Cassie, Asia, Krystal, Jenna, Layla, Kelexis and Sasha A. on Saturday.

• Two Corks and a Bottle: Linda and Larry Petty at 8 p.m. on Friday. HausBone Jazz at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

• Urban Cowboy Saloon:

• Woody’s Sports & Video Bar: Beads! Beads! Beads! Celebrate Mardi Gras on Tuesday.

Scene Photographers: Kay Haygood and Chad Mantooth

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Crossword Puzzle • 02-24-17

Click to download this week’s PUZZLE
Click to download this week’s SOLUTION

—  Dallasvoice

Editorial Cartoon • 02-24-17


—  Dallasvoice

Countdown to a Gay Games decision

Dallas is among 8 cities bidding to host the 2022 Gay Games, and aiming to make the final 3 cut on Feb. 28


DSC Executive Director Monica Paul


Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

In just 11 days, the Federation of Gay Games will narrow down the field of eight cities vying to host the 2022 Gay Games. And the Dallas Sports Commission is pulling for Big D to be one of the final three contenders announced on Feb. 28.

DSC revealed its intent to bid on the 2022 Gay Games last October, with openly gay Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis making the announcement during the 2016 Black Tie Dinner. Video of that announcement was part of the Dallas committee’s presentation to the FGG a few weeks later in Sydney, Australia.

With anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 competitors expected to attend the 2022 Gay Games, bringing with them about 25,000 partners, family members and friends, DSC Executive Director Monica Paul said the games would have an economic impact of about $60 million on Dallas and the Metroplex.

In addition, she continued, hosting the games would give Dallas international exposure as a destination for tourists from around the world. “We are already a destination city, but this could really change the perception of Dallas in terms of being a city with a very strong LGBT population.

We are very proud of that and we want to be known as an inclusive city,” she said. “People might not automatically think of ‘open-minded’ and ‘inclusive’ when they think of Texas. But we want them to know Dallas is open-minded and inclusive.”

The other cities that have submitted bids to host the games in five years are San Francisco (the city where the games were founded and where the federation is now based), Salt Lake City, Denver, Austin, Washington D.C., Hong Kong and Guadalajara. Paul said recently she thinks Dallas has a very good chance at making the final three.

“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses,” Paul said of the eight contending cities. “You look at San Francisco, for example. That’s where the Gay Games originated. They have history there, so that might give them an advantage. But at the same time, San Francisco is a very expensive city.

The truth is, we haven’t really been comparing ourselves to the other cities. We have been focused on what we have to offer and making sure the committee sees those things,” she said. “Now, if we make it to the short list, then comes the analysis of the other cities’ bids and focus on highlighting our strengths as compared to the other two.”

Dallas, Paul continued, definitely has some advantages. For one, the Gay Games draw competitors and spectators from around the world, and Dallas has the advantage of having DFW International Airport handy, making travel easier for international athletes to get here.

Plus, Paul said, there’s also Dallas Love Field, located just minutes from the heart of the city and giving U.S. participants more options for travel.

“We have a lot of things on our side,” she said. “Look at the sports culture here in Dallas. Just speaking from that perspective, we have everything you need to host the games. And the Gay Games aren’t just about sports; there’s a very strong cultural aspect to them. And Dallas has that covered, too. We have one of the largest urban arts districts anywhere.”

There is no competition associated with the cultural component of the games, Paul said. “Instead, it is more exhibit based,” she explained. “We will have a film festival. The Turtle Creek Chorale and the Women’s Chorus of Dallas would play a big role in that part. The people in the Arts District and the city’s cultural groups will take a role in planning that side of the events.”

DART is another big component of Dallas’ Gay Games bid, offering participants “ease of transportation from the airports to the athletes’ village, and ease of travel to the sports venues and the cultural venues,” Paul said.

FGG committee members have asked about accessibility of the venues in relation to the athletes’ village — which, Paul said, would be constructed using money from sponsorships and from fundraising efforts — and about the venues in general.

“I’m very confident in the venues that we have put forth, and I know they will be great partners for us,” she said. “And we have had overwhelmingly positive response from Mayor Mike Rawlings and the majority of the Dallas City Council members have signed a letter supporting the bid.”

Dallas County Treasurer Pauline Medrano is supporting the effort, Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the Dallas County Commissioners, state Sen. Royce West and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The Dallas bid also has “a very solid financial model in place going into the process,” which gives Big D another advantage.

Noting that Texas’ western heritage “always pops up” when visitors think of coming to Dallas, so the local committee chose to include rodeo among the sports that would be included in the 2022 games if Dallas wins the bid to host.

“I think we’re the only U.S. city offering rodeo. Not including it would have been a huge missed opportunity,” Paul said. “We have a very passionate and very strong LGBT rodeo organization here in TGRA. In fact, we have a number of great LGBT sports organizations — softball, volleyball, bowling, rodeo — that would integral to our success. That is a definite strength for us.

“One unique component we would be adding is cheerleading. It’s always been on the cultural side of the games before, but in Dallas, cheerleading is part of our DNA. It just fit for us to include it in the competition,” Paul said.

Paul acknowledged that the conservative bent of the Texas Legislature’s current session does cast a bit of a shadow over Dallas’ bid for the 2022 games. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s “bathroom bill” has prompted questions from the FGG committee making the decision, for example. But Paul pointed out that the measure is unpopular with many Texans, and that there is a big push — led by Dallas’ own convention and visitors bureau, now called Visit Dallas, and others in the state’s business community.

“The state’s political climate, the country’s political climate could change drastically between now and 2022,” she said.

She continued, “When you put it all together — two airports, a hub for American Airlines, the cultural aspects, the cost per participant — I think we have it all.

“I think we have a great opportunity here. We want to further understand the long-term vision of what the FGG wants, and we want to help them get there by hosting the games in 2022. The FGG’s mission is about inclusion and diversity, and it is hard to have an inclusive model when your city is too expensive. You want everybody to feel they have access.”

The motto for Visit Dallas is “Big things happen here,” Paul noted. And she wants to the Federation of Gay Games to know the city will go all out to welcome participants and make the 2022 games the best yet.

“We want to host the Gay Games, and we want it to be the best executed and best produced Gay Games they’ve ever seen,” she said. “That’s our theme: Go Big.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Tammye Nash

Mistresses of Illusion

Ashantee Black DeFox and Ivana Tramp bring Grace Jones and Tina Turner to life each Saturday night at Rainbow Lounge


Ashantee Black DeFox , left, Ivana Tramp, right


Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

“It’s drag … but with a twist.”

That’s how Ashantee Black DeFox explains the Illusions show that she and Ivana Tramp host each Saturday night at Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.

Both Ashantee and Ivana are veterans in the North Texas drag scene. Both have been performing in clubs — locally and elsewhere — for several years, and both have pageant titles to their credit.

Their names and faces sure to be familiar to fans.

But then again, it’s not really their faces you’ll see onstage each Saturday at Rainbow Lounge.

“We’re hired to do specific characters, to give the illusion of specific performers, and we bring in special guests each week not just to do drag, but to do specific performers,” Ashantee continued. “It’s drag, with a twist of Las Vegas.”

Ashantee is known for her illusion of Grace Jones, and Ivana for her illusion of Tina Turner. In recent weeks, they have welcomed to the Rainbow Lounge stage stars like Tommie Ross performing as Diana Ross, Sweet Savage performing as Cher and Candy Cane performing as Mariah Carey. They brought in an entertainer from Memphis to perform as Reba McEntire, and one from Houston presenting the illusion of Selena.

You never know, the two show hosts agreed, who you will see on the stage. And their Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge has a reach that extends beyond the LGBT community, Ashantee said: “We cater to the hetero community, too. We have a lot of people who come in for private parties, wedding showers and things like that.”

Neither Ashantee nor Ivana is new to the drag scene, nor are they new to the art of illusion. “We work nationally,” Ashantee said. “We do cruises, events, private parties. I went to the Grace Jones concert [dressed as] Grace Jones, and people just freaked out. I went on America’s Got Talent and performed as Grace Jones.”

Ivana described one job where a client “booked me [as Tina Turner] and the B-52s — the actual band — to do a show for his wife, who was dying of cancer.”

Another time, she said, she went out in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, again dressed as Tina. When she stepped out of the car, the crowd around her went wild, grabbing at her and taking photos.

“I had someone fly me to California to perform as Tina Turner in a double-wide trailer. I performed at the side of a pool, at expensive hotels, even at children’s parties,” Ivana said.

“Illusion and drag are different,” she added, “and there’s good things and bad things about doing mostly illusion. On the bad side, I’ve gotten stuck doing Tina Turner; I don’t have the chance to do a lot of other stuff. But on the good side, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and gotten to meet a lot of people because of performing as Tina Turner.”

“We live these characters,” Ashantee said. “Anybody can say that they are [performing as] a certain singer, but can you really look like that person? Illusion is more than just lip-syncing somebody’s song.”

Ivana added, “That’s true. We get really upset with some of these queens who think they can just throw on anything and be a character. That’s not illusion.”

Ashantee said that she and Ivana have known each other for about 25 years. But since they started the Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge, they have become family as well as coworkers.

“If I am having a bad day — like I forgot a wig or some shoes — she’ll have something for me to use. We pick up for each other, and help each other out,” Ashantee said.

But their connection goes beyond the stage; they are there for each other in their personal lives, too. Ashantee explained that when her mother died recently, Ivana was there to keep her going.

“It’s always been my dream to be Miss Texas USofA, but when my mother died, I was ready to give up. This lady right here,” she said, reaching over to wrap an arm around Ivana’s shoulder, “this lady told me not to give up. She knew I wanted to just give up, but she told me to keep going, that my mother would want to see me happy.”

Ashantee said she is also taking care of her special needs sister and her little brother, and that she knows Ivana is there to support her in those efforts, too.

“I’ve never lost my own mother, so I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, I know how you feel,’” Ivana said. “But I know what it’s like to love your family and to worry about them.”

In fact, Ivana moved back to her parents’ home in Arlington to help them after her father was injured in a fall. And, she said, she had given up life onstage.

“I wasn’t having any fun, so I had stopped performing for about five years,” Ivana said. She said she had moved back to her parents, and eating her mama’s cooking had added a few pounds. Then a friend opened a restaurant in Dallas called Tallywackers and asked her to come out of her early retirement to stage a show there.

“He made me an offer, and I told him give me six months to lose some weight,” she said. “But then the restaurant closed. Still, Ivana decided that she did want to perform again, and the Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge was the perfect opportunity.

“Coming back to performing made me come to life again,” she said.

Ashantee and Ivana both say they know they are getting older, and they started at a time when all drag was more like illusion — “Everybody was trying to be their hero,” Ivana said — but they both also know that they have something special to offer their audiences.

“We’re still kicking it!” Ashantee declared.

“Sometimes,” Ivana added, “you’re just tired. You just don’t want to get dressed up and go out on that stage. But then, we start putting on that makeup and — boom! We are ready to go.

“We feed off each other,” she continued. “There’s just that little click — you put on that last bit of lipstick or spray on your perfume, and there it is. You feel that click and you know, it’s show time!”

“We do love it,” Ashantee said. “That’s the most important thing, the thing that makes us the best. We have that passion, a passion to make people smile and give them a show that leaves them feeling good.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.


—  Tammye Nash