Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ plays tonight at WaterTower

Green thumbs beware

When a good idea turns into a blood-craving monster plant — well, lives get turned around. WaterTower Theatre premieres the fun and frantic Little Shop of Horrors, where Seymour, a lowly florist, tries to turn his fortune around and ends up with a big mess. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs only add to the wacky flair of it all.

DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Through July 31. $30. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Republican Jon Kyl: DADT Repeal Could Cost Lives

Kyl
Republican Senator Jon Kyl appeared on FOX News Sunday this morning and told host Chris Wallace that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" could cost American lives.

Wallace asked him to explain the difference between allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces and racial integration of the military. That's when Kyl ranted about lives being put at stake once the repeal goes into effect:

"From a constitutional stand point, this is not a constitutional right or a constitutional issue as was the issue of racial segregation. I frankly have to follow the lead of people like the commandant of the Marine Corps, like my colleague John McCain, who say when it comes especially to the small units who do the fighting on the ground, that the US Marine Corps, the Army combat troops, who according to the survey taken by the pentagon were 60 percent opposed to this. It could disrupt the unit cohesion. As the commandant said, cost lives. That means a lot to me."

"With regard to the US military, itself, it's got one function. That is to fight and fight well. And maybe to die. And the people who are responsible for that need to make a judgment about whether this will inhibit their ability to carry out that ultimate job that we ask them to do…I look at the combat fighters, the units on the ground…and they say this could cost lives."

Watch a clip of his nonsensical explanation here.


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Forget adult lives. Peter LaBarbera now wants your innocent memories, too

Peter LaBarbera:

I am always perplexed to hear adult homosexual men talk about how they “knew they were gay” from a very young age, say, five years old. Normally, boys don’t even know what sex is, much less homosexuality, in their early years, so such comments in an of themselves seem to indicate dysfunction, at best, or victimhood at the hands of a predator, at worst, in the young lives of these homosexually identified men.” [SOURCE: AFTAH's web site, find the link yourself]

Pop culture is filled with imagery of little boys and girls, hand in hand, fetching pails of water or sneaking sweet kisses. Young mothers celebrate kid crushes, complete with predictions of future marriage for the growing tots. In Hollywood and in life, these portraits of youth are painted as the epitome of human purity and innocence:

But leave it to Peter LaBarbera to sexualize these feelings as they apply to LGBT children. Since he’s already internalized the notion that the adult gays he challenges lead with the crotch and/or leather ball gag, Peter feels compelled to apply Screen Shot 2010-11-16 At 2.02.23 Pmthese same outlooks to the LGBT population’s youthful counterparts. Peter takes the tales of what caught young gay eyes — which are just as sweet and innocent (and vivid) as hetero peers’ own remembrances — then puts them through his typical spin machine (one that not only slights LGBT children’s memories, but also indicts their home lives). The resultant meme is one where lil’ Johnny, fresh off a bender of juice boxes and candy cigarettes, bides time between molestations by luring his fellow innocents into rounds of salacious Wii playing. Where lil’ Susie turns her back yard pool party into a mini Dinah Shore weekend. Where kid-sex guides the play dates. Where crushes become dysfunctional, simply because the in-born attractions weaken the far-right’s requisite “it’s a choice” strategy.

So okay, whatever — Peter can act like he’s “perplexed” all he wants. He knows exactly what he’s doing here. If he’s honest with himself, he knows that all humans have stirring attractions and exciting feelings in their minds long before they have any kinds of growth spurts. In our hyper-analyzed world, these instinctual responses should be among the easiest to let play out naturally. It’s only because of certain grown adults’ fetish for screwing gay people that the natural course of things becomes a point of interest, conflict, and controversy.




Good As You

—  admin

Open Letter to Brian and Maggie: What About the Real Lives of LGBTs?

Dear Brian and Maggie,

I watched the recent video of Brian's discussion with Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign and was left wishing that Brian had devoted more time to discussing the practical and real impact of marriage restrictions on gays and lesbians.

Both of you have spoken at length about your normative vision of ideal marital and child-rearing policies, as if we were deciding such policies in a vacuum.  We all know where you stand on the policy questions.

But you've never really addressed what should happen to existing gay and lesbian families.  See, your normative argument about how things should be ignores the practical lived experience of legally-married same-sex couples and of LGBT parents raising biological and adopted children.

And this omission, I believe, lies at the root of your public-relations difficulties.  So what can you do about it?

Well, you would go a long way toward building good will with the LGBT community if you would propose a meaningful alternative legal arrangement to govern their lives and families.  You oppose civil unions, domestic partnerships, and similar state-sponsored arrangements.  Are there any arrangements that you favor?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

And while you may not think that NOM should be in the business of offering alternatives, by treating marriage and the incidents of marriage as a zero-sum game, you practically beg for gays and lesbians to call you “bigots”–because you are lobbying for a restriction of their rights while refusing to offer up anything that's relevant to their actual lives.

Granted, Maggie has in the past suggested that LGBT couples could obtain the legal incidents of marriage through private contracts, wills, and similar personal legal documents.  But what about those incidents of marriage that can't be contracted into?  What about, for example, federal or state marital exemptions from gift tax or estate tax?  What about the spousal testimonial privilege?  There are no legal documents that can bestow these (and other) non-contractual legal benefits onto private individuals, absent state licensure or intervention.

In other words, benefits like these only attach to a “marriage.”  Should LGBT couples not have these benefits?  If they should, then how should they get them?  And would you lobby for the necessary legal changes?  If they shouldn't, why not?

Moreover, even if, arguendo, all of the benefits of marriage could be obtained through private contract, the average couple cannot afford the thousands of dollars needed to acquire the limited protection offered by, for example, a will or a power of attorney–both of which, legally speaking, are rather poor substitutes for marriage, as both are subject to facial legal challenges, whereas intestate succession and spousal power of attorney are conferred by law and can only be denied if the entire marriage is nullified.  Why should LGBT couples alone be required to bear this legal risk at a prohibitive cost?

By failing to offer a meaningful, viable alternative, you leave your critics with no choice but to question your motives.  I understand that being called a “bigot” offers you ample opportunity to play the victim card and to ply for attention and donations in the short term, but it's a remarkably short-sighted strategy.  You can only cry “wolf” so many times.  People will eventually tire of the hysterics.

So permit me to ask Rick's question one more time:  In light of the reality that several states have issued valid, legal marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and in light of the reality that many states permit LGBT couples and individuals to raise biological or adopted children, what do you propose?  Should we void or nullify all legal same-sex marriages?  Should we outlaw LGBTs from having biological children?  Should we outlaw LGBT adoption, whether as primary parent or as second parent?  Should we remove children from LGBT homes?

I invite you to clarify your position on this matter.

Regards,

JTW

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Gay Flight Attendant Lives The Dream

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, 39, lived out the dream of every trolley-dolly today after a passenger refused to remain in his seat upon arrival at JFK. When the disobedient passenger (possibly accidentally) smashed Slater in the head while pulling down his suitcase, Slater launched an obscene tirade over the PA system, pulled the handle for the emergency slide and abandoned the plane.

The contretemps unfolded as JetBlue flight 1052 from Pittsburgh landed at Kennedy around noon — on time — with a full load of 100 passengers and pulled up to the gate, said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing but offered the following account: One passenger got out of his seat to fetch his belongings from the overhead compartment before the crew had given permission. Mr. Slater instructed the man to remain seated. The passenger defied him. Mr. Slater approached and reached the passenger just as he pulled down his luggage, which struck Mr. Slater in the head. Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public address system and cursed out all aboard. Then he activated the inflatable evacuation slide at service exit R1, launched himself off the plane, an Embraer 190, ran to the employee parking lot and left the airport in a car he had parked there. In a statement, JetBlue said it was working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to investigate the incident.

Commenters at the above-linked New York Times story are nearly universally in awe of Slater’s action, even though he faces a possible seven year sentence for his action. Many are calling for JetBlue to reinstate or promote him. NBC reports that Slater was arrested shortly after the incident at his Queens home, where they curiously note that he “was found in a sexual embrace with his partner.” Huh? Anyway, cheers today to Steven Slater, one sky queen who’d finally had enough.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright

Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.

For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.

After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.

But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.

As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.

“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”

Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”

“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”

Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.

The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.

Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.

“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”

Through thick and thin

This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.

Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.

At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.

In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”

“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”

Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.

This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.

“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’

“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.

Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.

Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.

When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.

In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.

Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.

When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.

That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.

Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.

Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.

Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.

But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.

“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”

—  John Wright