Yee, haw! Bull-riding for bucks (and bucks) is harder than it looks

Me before the fall (more pics after the jump)

Being atop of a mechanical bull in the middle of Cowboys Stadium is no place for a fat, middle-aged gay man to be on a Wednesday afternoon. But there I was yesterday, risking life and ego for eight seconds of possible glory.

The idea was a valid one: Raise money ($2,500 for first place; $1,000 for second) for my charity of choice. I chose two beneficiaries: Legal Hospice of Texas, for which I am committed to raising $500 by the middle of next month; and Mercy for Animals, because I thought it would be cool to give an animal rights group money for basically abusing a cow. (Since it was mechanical, it didn’t really count as animal exploitation, although Eddie Garza, MFA’s Texas coordinator, said he’d take the donation even if it were on a real bull — and he seemed unconcerned that my body would be the one taking the real beating.)

Cowboys Stadium is a charmless cavern when there are no events taking place other than something as small as this one, though admittedly, the lack of crowds was nice. On the huge screens play a continuous loop of Dallas Cowboys highlights, all of them winning plays — in other words, none from last season. Ten days earlier, the eyes of the world were focused on this billion-dollar temple to excess; today, the field looks like the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall. Gone is the Astroturf, revealing ugly concrete underneath where dirt is being shipped in. The rodeo will be there this weekend, and they need to dust it up.

That’s kinda what we’re all here for. Dickies is sponsoring, again, a media mechanical bull-riding challenge, where members of the press are invited to a bracketed elimination competition to see which pencil pusher can claim, briefly, some degree of athletic prowess. And they asked me to participate.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Fur is murder

ANIMAL INSTINCT | Daniel Hauff equates all livestock to the gentlest house pet. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

… but eggs are worse. Mercy for Animals’ Daniel Hauff is among many gay folk passionate about animal rights

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

In an area of the country where meat consumption and hunting are often equated with American values, taking on an industry can seem like an uphill battle. But it’s one Daniel Hauff is happy to fight.

Last week, Hauff — the national director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, the pro-vegan, animal rights group — held a press conference where he reveals horrendous treatment of catfish in local fisheries. He called on the district attorney to take action, and the Texas Legislature to prohibit the vivisection of animals, including fish, in the state.

It’s just another day at work for Hauff, whose job is to reveal the truth behind how animals are treated in a variety of contexts.

“Absolutely everything that has to do with protecting animals goes back to an undercover investigation,” he says. And he’s the one responsible for getting it done.

Eddie Garza, MFA’s campaign coordinator in Texas, says there are few people in country who do what Hauff does — and he’s probably the only gay person doing it.

“There are a lot of the LGBT community” who are active in protecting animals from cruelty at all levels, Hauff says. MFA itself was founded by a gay 15-year-old, Nathan Runkle, more than a decade ago. Garza is also gay.

“MFA at one point had a campaign coordinator who was transgender. I think a lot of the reason for that is commonality of looking at oppression. I assume a lot has to do with growing up gay and having to deal with people spitting on you for who you are. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes [is common for us], and I am now a lot stronger person for having endured it.”

Hauff certainly has the background to give weight to his cause. He attended DePaul University, where he read international studies with a concentration in human rights and social justice. “I was studying genocide and intending to get my hands dirty in human rights work,” he says. Instead, he shifted his focus to animal rights.

Hauff had been a vegetarian for several years, starting in high school, but eventually abandoned it. Then in 2005, he saw a video that churned his stomach: A raccoon dog being skinned alive.

“That sort of opened my eyes,” he says. “My partner Reeve came home and knew something was wrong. I was actually crying in the alley after I saw that video. I knew that there wasn’t a difference between my dogs and the animals we were eating.”

It so affected him, Hauff decided to do something he hadn’t before: He went completely vegan overnight. Reeve supported his decision and went vegetarian that week, eventually becoming a vegan as well. (Their pets are also vegan.) And he became active volunteering with Mercy for Animals.

“Within a year I had become so involved with MFA I applied for a job. I decided to do my year in-service for animal rights instead of human rights,” Hauff says. He expected the work to be a brief stopover on his path to human genocide studies, but five years later, it’s still his profession.

It’s not easy work, but it is important — to him and the creatures he seeks to protect.

“The first undercover investigation for MFA that we did that was employment-based,” meaning operatives for MFA go undercover in slaughterhouses and other animal-based industries, applying for jobs and then cataloging abuses and law violations. On the last day of the investigation just concluded in Texas, Hauff himself was wired with a hidden camera, interacting with the people in the abattoir (though he admits his duties generally don’t put him undercover).

Hauff also works with veterinarians to improve treatment, as well as with Temple Grandin, the advocate for humane treatment of animals celebrated in a recent TV movie. But in truth, Hauff sees everything short of veganism as half-measures.

“Temple reduces suffering, but it’s not kind in any way. I have never seen an animal going to their death without fighting for their life. We could walk into any slaughterhouse Temple Grandin has designed and still be horrified,” he says. “It’s often standard practice that we’re revealing.”

Hauff says he considers the egg and dairy industry far crueler than meat consumption itself. He doesn’t expect everyone will ever become a vegan like he is, but that’s not really the point.

“There are less cruel ways of doing things,” he says. “It’s about reducing suffering.”

And the more people know, the better they will be about making choices.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Aspiring queer journalist Daniel Villarreal of Dallas vies to become America’s next Gay Travel Guru

Aspiring Dallas homo-journo Daniel Villarreal is competing for his dream job as GayTravel.com‘s Gay Travel Guru, and he needs your help by July 30. We’re going to overlook the fact that Villarreal writes for Queerty.com and focus on the fact that he’s a native Texan with a lot of experience who probably deserves this opportunity. Villarreal is among 60 contestants who’ve advanced to Round 2 of the competition, and the field will be narrowed to eight next month based on this public vote. It looks like Villarreal is currently at No. 3 with 755 points, so he’s definitely viable. Above is a video about Grapevine Bar that Villarreal produced for the competition (you can watch one about Lower Greenville by going here), and below is the flier he’s been circulating in the gayborhood, which includes instructions for voting. Here’s the note Villarreal sent us on Monday:

My name is Daniel Villarreal and I’m an aspiring queer journalist and regular contributor to the LGBT blog Queerty.com. I’d like you to vote for me so I can become GayTravel.com’s travel reporter. Your support would go a long way towards helping me highlight the diversity of national LGBT culture and assisting in my continued aims of being a serious queer journalist.

A) I’m mega-qualified: I have 17 years experience in print journalism, an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, a handful of web-based comedy sketches, a vast growing social network, a love of people, and extensive travel experience around the US, Japan, India, and Europe. All of these enable me to deliver travel coverage that’s fun, insightful, and entertaining.

B) I’ll represent everyone: In my work with Queerty.com, I have always tried to give a voice to under-represented parts of the LGBT community including local activists, artists, women, trans folk, people of color, the elderly, the poor, and HIV-positive people. As a travel writer, I would give coverage not only to popular LGBT destinations but to worthwhile local venues and events welcoming of our entire community.

C) I’m a good long-term investment: This vote isn’t just about the travel job. Working with GayTravel.com would also provide me the exposure and training I need to continue developing into an asset to the national LGBT community as a serious queer reporter.

—  John Wright