Taft joins RCD as associate director

Longtime activist says he is excited, scared by the opportunities he has as head of center’s LGBT programs

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Lee Taft
Lee Taft

Resource Center Dallas has hired Lee Taft as associate executive director of GLBT programs and strategic partnerships.

William Waybourn, one of the founders of Resource Center Dallas, called the hiring of Taft genius.

“Talk about a power couple at the right time for the right organization — [Executive Director] Cece [Cox] and Lee are it,” Waybourn said.

Taft was hired to replace Cox who became executive director of the organization after former director Mike McKay left last spring.

“This place has a regional and community history,” Taft said. “But it also is deeply personal. I worked with John [Thomas]. I worked with Bill [Nelson] and Terry [Tebedo].”

Thomas was the first executive director of Resource Center Dallas. Nelson and Tebedo were founding board members and created the food pantry at their store, Crossroads Market. The Nelson-Tebedo clinic on Cedar Springs Road is named for them.

Taft was an attorney for 20 years. As a board member of the Texas Human Rights Foundation, he was involved in the Don Baker case.

Baker, a Dallas school teacher, challenged the Texas sodomy law. In that 1982 lawsuit, Judge Jerry Buchmeyer declared the Texas statute unconstitutional.

“For me, it was a time when I could have been fired on the spot from my law firm,” Taft said about his own involvement in the case. “Jerry wrote a phenomenal decision.”

An en banc hearing by the full court later reversed the ruling.

Taft left Dallas to attend Harvard Divinity School in 1996. In 1999, he became the school’s dean.

But through his affiliation with THRF, Taft had worked with Lambda Legal since its founding. In 2001, Lambda Legal opened its South Central region and tapped Taft to open the Dallas office.

He became the regional spokesperson for the Lawrence v. Texas case that originated in his Dallas office was the case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Texas sodomy law. It has been cited in every case that has advanced LGBT rights since.

Taft called the wording of Lawrence an apology for Hardwick and an exoneration for Baker.

Taft left Lambda Legal later that year to found his own consulting practice as an ethicist.

Among the many clients he helped was the city of Dallas that hired him to steer it through the fake drug scandal in which police planted fake drugs and charged dozens of people on narcotics violations.

“Madeleine Johnson hired me in guiding the response,” Taft said, and based on his recommendations, “The city council passed a five-point resolution.” Johnson was Dallas city attorney at the time.

Among Taft’s recommendations were expressions of remorse, directions to settle the case and changes of policies and procedures. He said the settlement was financially efficient, avoided a racial fracture in the city and has been cited as a model of how a city should respond.

Including expressions of remorse rather than just issuing an apology is something that Taft said was confirmed for him during a discussion he had in Dallas with Bishop Desmond Tutu.

He said reconciliation in South Africa was failing because all that was required was an admission of deeds without an expression of regret.

He said he would bring that lesson to some of his work at the Resource Center, specifically citing the center’s domestic violence program.

Taft said he doesn’t believe an apology is all that’s necessary from batterers: There also needs to be an expression of remorse.

Cox said she was excited about the rich background Taft brings to his new position.

“He has an understanding of this organization and how we fit into the overall GLBT movement and HIV communities we serve,” she said.

She said she planned to keep him quite busy.

“I expect him to be able to do a number of things — position our programs to be more sustainable and relevant in the future; integrate our health and GLBT programs to promote wellness.”

Although Taft wasn’t looking for a job when he applied this summer, he said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“When Mike McKay became director and described Cece’s position, I thought it was the coolest position in the community,” he said.

Taft said his new job will allow him to be innovative and creative and do something important.

Taft calls his resume eclectic. His list of community activities is as long and varied as his professional career. In addition to THRF, he was a founding board member of AIDS Interfaith Network. He worked with Gay Line, a help line that was later folded into Oak Lawn Community Services. Today, Resource Center Dallas receives many of those types of calls.

Earlier this week, Taft was in California speaking on ethics at Pepperdine University School of Law. After he assumes his new role at the Resource Center, he plans to continue doing some speaking, which he hopes will help develop strategic partnerships for the agency.

Cox added “strategic partnerships” to the job title and said she considers developing new relationships for the agency to be a major goal for Taft.

He said his new position would give him an opportunity to grow.

“There’s something about this,” he said. “It’s on-the-ground community activism that excites me and scares me.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

I ride to do my part against HIV

Valerie Holloway Skinner  |  HOLLOWAY FAMILY FOUNDATION

Valerie Holloway Skinner

Do you recall where you were in the spring of 2000? Perhaps not. Don’t feel badly; I have to confess that ordinarily I couldn’t tell you where I was last Friday, much less 10 years ago.
But I had a conversation in April of the beginning of this decade that changed my life and the lives of so many others so drastically that I’m sure I will recall it distinctly 10 years from today.
The then-executive director of AIDS Outreach Center, Mike McKay, called me to meet him for a cup of coffee and to discuss an idea he had been tossing around in his head about a fundraising event — an event we now know as the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS.  Since I was the V.P. of the Holloway Family Foundation, he asked me to ask our board to consider being the presenting sponsor of the event, which would raise money and awareness for the AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Services of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas.
As our foundation was already committed to supporting these agencies individually, even a dull blade like me could figure out pretty quickly that having a $40,000 contribution potentially return $100,000 to these agencies was a sharp idea.
And so, here I am, 10 years later, enthusiastically anticipating the thrill of pedaling my way across what seems like a thousand miles of searing Texas wasteland — straight uphill!
A rational person might ask, “Why not just write a check and, pardon the pun, move on down the road?”  Let me see if I can explain. In 2001 I was that sensible person, and so I never even considered riding a bike in the scorching Texas sun for 175 miles into the middle of Nowheresville.
The thought literally never occurred to me.
In fact, the last time I had ridden a bicycle, I was fairly certain my mother was walking alongside of me making sure I didn’t fall over.
And so with a fair amount of detachment and nonchalance, I showed up at the closing ceremonies that first year to congratulate the riders and crewmembers for their dedication and determination. But standing on that platform, staring into those exhausted, exhilarated faces and hearing that enthusiastic, endearing crowd — well, I knew in an instant that I didn’t want to be in the audience, I wanted to be in the show.
And it’s been showtime ever since.
Is it hot? Yes. Does it sometimes rain? Yes. Are there potholes the size of Kansas and hills that would bring tears to Lance Armstrong’s eyes? Yes and, well, no.
But there are also themed pit stops to refresh and rehydrate you; motorcycle riders to guide and protect you; crew members to pamper and encourage you; and an old friend or a potential new one just around every corner — or “on your left” as it were.
Those are a handful of the somewhat superficial reasons that I have participated in some form or fashion in this ride for the past 10 years (well, maybe not in ’05 when Hurricane Rita hit, but hey, nobody could expect the Queen of Damn Near Everything to cycle in a typhoon!)
But the primary reason, the reason that keeps me coming back year after year after year after — well, you get the point — is that if I don’t ask, somebody won’t give, and if I don’t do, somebody won’t have, and if I don’t tell, somebody won’t know.
And when my kids and my grandkids look back at this decade and the crisis that is AIDS, and ask me what I did to help, I want to be able to look into their faces and tell them I did my part.
And so, as is my way, let me close with a few lines of corny prose:

If you’ve never been a part,
Ask yourself, “Why?”
You don’t know if you can do it
Until you give it a try.

You’ve nothing to lose
But a few pounds of sweat,
There’s so much to gain
And so I just bet

That 2010
Will be the year that we see
Over 200 riders
And YOU are the key

To the success of the Ride,
To the future of those
Who are counting on you.
And so I propose

That you join the Ride Family,
Even if now you don’t “get it.”
Trust me, I know,
You will NEVER forget it!
God bless and godspeed and I’ll see you in September.
To donate to Valerie Holloway Skinner, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Cece Cox named new ED at Resource Center Dallas

Equality Texas extends offer to ED candidate while YFT puts search on hold for the summer

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

NEW DIRECTOR | Cece Cox assumes her new duties as executive director of Resource Center Dallas on Saturday, July 3.

Resource Center Dallas on Thursday, July 1 announced that Cece Cox has been named as the new executive director of the organization, replacing Mike McKay, who resigned in April to take the position of chief of operations in the Volunteer Recruitment and Selection Division for the Peace Corps.

RCD board chair Reid Ainsworth sent an e-mail to staff on Thursday, announcing Cox would become the new executive director of the organization.

Cox already works at the center as associate executive director of GLBT Community Services. She assumes her new position on July 3.

“I cut my teeth as a baby activist in this building,” Cox said.

She has been active in the LGBT community since the early 1990s when she started a local chapter of GLAAD. She was later president of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

Cox has also worked as director of development and marketing for the Turtle Creek Chorale.

Cox was instrumental in coordinating support on the Dallas city council to include non-discrimination based on sexual orientation for city employees and the inclusion of sexual orientation in 1995 in DART’s employment policy.

Cox received her law degree in 2004 and after a short period of working for a private law firm, took the position at the community center.

“I missed my community terribly,” Cox said of why she returned to community activism.

She said she always thinks about the history of the community center.

“Before John [Thomas] died, he told me, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop.’”

Thomas was a founder and original executive director of the center.

Cox sees her immediate goals as serving the increasing number of people with HIV and working locally to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community.

“And I’m going to get us into that new community center so we can serve more people,” she said. “There are lots of opportunities for us to engage and get our community the rights we deserve.”

Resource Center Dallas was one of three high-profile LGBT organizations searching for new executive directors over the past few months, along with Equality Texas and Youth First Texas.

Equality Texas may be at the end of its search process for a new executive director after the board met Thursday and decided to extend an offer to a candidate.

Paul Scott stepped down as executive director of Equality Texas in January to become executive director of AIDS Services of Austin. Scott preceded McKay as executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Judith Dumont left Youth First Texas in June to assume a position at Eastfield College but it is unlikely the organization will begin looking for a replacement for her until fall, officials said.

On Thursday, July 1, the boards of Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation met jointly by phone to approve and extend an offer to a candidate to become the organization’s new executive director.

Interim executive director Chuck Smith said an announcement should be made next week when the candidate accepts the offer.

Equality Texas began its nationwide search for a new executive director on Jan. 8. At the time of the announcement, the goal was to have a new director in place by May 15, but the interview process took longer.

Smith said he’s looking forward to going back to his position as deputy director and getting a day off.

“It certainly has been a rigorous and thorough process,” he said. “We’ve seen many strong candidates.”

Smith said he expects the new director to be in place during the summer, long before the start of the new legislative session in January 2011.

When fully staffed, Equality Texas has six full-time positions. In addition to the executive director vacancy, the position of director of development is also open.

Smith said it made sense to wait until the new director was hired and for that person to select the new development team.

He said the work of the organization has continued on schedule. The political action committee will be making endorsements in legislative races through the summer.

Political director Randall Terrell, who was recently in Dallas for the DART vote on nondiscrimination, said he is already planning for the January legislative session.

YFT board chair Cathy Gonzalez said that the organization would staff activities and programs with volunteers through the summer. She said some volunteers would be given job titles and responsibility for supervising other volunteers.

“It will get us through the summer,” Gonzalez said.

The board met this week for the first time since Dumont resigned.

“In the fall we’ll convene a search committee,” Gonzalez said. “We need someone with a counseling or social service background.”

But she said they weren’t ready to start accepting resumes.

“That wouldn’t be fair to applicants,” she said, since they wouldn’t be looking at them through the summer.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Mike McKay to leave Resource Center

Mike McKay
Mike McKay

Mike McKay is stepping down as executive director at Resource Center Dallas after four years to become chief of operations at the U.S. Peace Corps in Washington, D.C. We’ll have a full story on McKay’s departure in an upcoming issue of the Voice, but for now here’s the memo he sent to RCD staff earlier today:

Dear Colleagues:

After almost four years as the Executive Director of Resource Center Dallas, I have decided to resign my position here to accept the position as Chief of Operations at the U.S. Peace Corps in Washington, DC.

As noted in the attached letter to RCD president Reid Ainsworth, you and I have accomplished a great deal during our time together, raising the profile, quality and expectations of the Center, our programs and services for the North Texas area. I am very proud of our accomplishments and am grateful for your hard work, support and commitment.

I will continue to be a fierce advocate and loyal friend of RCD’s,  and I  look forward to the Center’s continued success with you and the strong, senior leadership team in place. The board will be deciding on the process to name the next ED at their regular meeting on June 7.

In the meantime, my last day will be May 28, so I will be making my rounds as usual to check in, wish you well and say thanks personally.

Mike McKay
Executive Director
Resource Center Dallas

—  John Wright

ENDA rally in Dallas: video

Video taken outside Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office on Central Expressway in Dallas. Rallies in support of ENDA took place in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and cities across the country.

The rallies coincided with the arraignment hearing for the ENDA 4, which includes Dallas activist Chastity Kirven. They were sentenced to six months of staying the hell out of Nancy Pelosi’s office.

—  David Taffet

RCD's Mike McKay on the State of the Union: 'It's time to move beyond speeches'

The following statement was just sent over by Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas on behalf of Executive Director Mike McKay:

“President Obama’s pledge to work with the legislative branch to end the misguided ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is worthy of praise. It’s important to note, though, that GLBT Americans have heard these words before. As a candidate, President Obama said them on the stump; and just last fall, he said them at the HRC dinner in Washington. Talking is for campaigns; action is for leaders.

“The time is long overdue to move beyond speeches and put the ‘fierce advocacy’ we were promised before the 2008 elections into action. A line has been drawn in the sand: the GLBT community must hold both the President and Congress accountable for getting rid of this archaic, discriminatory policy. Audacious action and leadership are needed. We will help with the roadmap to get us to that goal.

“Regrettably, the President chose not to speak on two other issues of importance to our community: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Defense of Marriage Act. Every day, GLBT Americans here in North Texas and across the country lose their jobs for simply being who they are. Every day, GLBT Americans are denied hundreds of federal benefits bestowed on married couples. The United States of America, where we pledge allegiance to a flag that promises ‘liberty and justice for all,’ needs action and leadership on these issues – sooner rather than later.”

—  John Wright