Grindr goes non-gay with Project Amicus

On Thursday, the famous hook-up … I mean, location-based social network app, Grindr, will announce its newest venture. Via webcast, Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai will launch Project Amicus, which takes the Grindr idea of men meeting meN and opens it up to “everyone, whether you’re female, male, straight, gay, lesbian or bi,” according to an invitation to the webcast.

So finally, your non-gay male friends can leave you alone about how you’re hooking up all the time … err, making friends, because they can now do it for themselves.

In Thursday’s webcast, Simkhai will announce the app’s name (Project Amicus is a working title), key features and discuss how it will affect the socializing scene, which this guy isn’t all too fond of. But with Grindr’s bragging rights of having 2.6 million users, they have to be doing something right.

To get your invite to the Project Amicus app, click here to begin. If you’re interested in Thursday’s webcast at 10 a.m. Central time, email here to RSVP.

UPDATE: The new app’s name is Blendr. Simkhai tries hard to keep the app sounding G/PG rated by telling the New York Times today, ““If someone speaks the same language or is also into cooking, or crafts, that’s a strong basis of commonality and you might want to go meet them.”

—  Rich Lopez

A critical moment for Turkey’s LGBT community

Amnesty International pushes for much-needed protections in new constitution — and you can help

Guest.Phyllis.2PHYLLIS GUEST  |  Taking Note

The upheavals of autocratic governments that started in North Africa and spread eastward into Asia have been — and are still being — well documented.

One nation about which we have heard less is Turkey. But that may soon change.

On July 29 The New York Times reported: “Turkey’s top military commanders resigned en masse on Friday.” This is perhaps the most surprising event since Gen. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk assumed power in 1923 and began converting Turkey into a secular state. Politicos quoted in the Times suggested the mass resignation was a last-ditch effort by the military to regain the power it has lost over recent years. Most thought the generals’ Hail Mary pass would fail.

Already, the nation has begun changing in various ways. So, now’s the time for those of us in the U.S. LGBT community to help it change for the better.

Next month, Turkey will draft a new constitution that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says will protect “everyone’s lifestyle, belief, language, culture and ideas.”

Not so, says Amnesty International USA. To date, according to AIUSA’s press releases and related emails, the suggested wording does not include any protections for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons. For sure, Turkey’s current laws and customs do not protect LGBTs. Discrimination against Turkish members of our community is so widespread that it includes virtually every aspect of life: employment, education, housing, health care, public services, even credit ratings.

And Turkey’s LGBTs suffer more than discrimination. They are often berated, beaten or imprisoned by the very police and military that should be protecting them.
Failure to recognize LGBT rights flows from the top. One minister recently said the 21st century is too soon to offer LGBTs protection. Another said homosexuality is “a biological disorder, a illness and should be treated.”

Amnesty International’s recent report, “Not an Illness, Not a Crime,” has a cover photo of thousands of people — LGBTs, family members, and other supporters — marching through Istanbul last year with the rainbow flag.

But it also documents all manner of discrimination. One of the most startling is that military service is mandatory, but “gay men are deemed unfit for the military … and proof of military service is often a prerequisite for employment.” Even more startling: Gay men who seek an exemption from the military “must prove their homosexuality by showing photos of themselves having sex” or by submitting to a medical “examination.” How unspeakable is that?

Another grim aspect of life in Turkey is that LGBTs feel they have to “conceal their sexual orientation … [particularly] lesbians and bisexual women.” By law, women are supposed to have equal rights, but because in practice they have less economic, political and social power, “they experience grossly unequal treatment.”

Worse still are the circumstances of transgenders. Their families frequently throw them out; the police harass, jail and attack them; and city authorities force them to live in squalid and/or inconvenient locales. The AIUSA report includes interviews with transgenders who have suffered terribly. The most painful stories are of transgender women who cannot find lawful employment and, to keep body and soul together, become illegal sex workers, thus exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and to violence by their customers and the police.

In Istanbul, yet another issue poses real and immediate danger to transgenders. The district of Tarlabasi, which the AIUSA report states is the only area in which transgender women can live “relatively comfortably,” is undergoing urban renewal. Some of the historic buildings are to be refurbished and others are being torn down to make way for expensive new homes. While homeowners expect to be offered some teardown compensation and relocation monies, renters — including virtually all transgender women — will get nothing.

Finally, the right to seek asylum is a problem for LGBTs in Turkey. Whether they are Turkish by birth or have fled to Turkey because of even more severe persecution in a nearby nation, asylum-seekers and refugees usually wait several years to have their cases resolved. Meanwhile, they are “dispersed” to smaller Anatolian towns and cities where residents are even more conservative.

I would have thought that Turkey’s long effort to join the European Union would have encouraged … ummm … tolerance. I would have been wrong. But Amnesty International has mounted an urgent campaign to add LGBT protections to the new Turkish constitution.

If you want to join the fight for LGBTs’ constitutional equality in Turkey, just Google “AIUSA Turkey.” The new report and other materials come right up. Also, you can join the AIUSA effort to support equality for LGBTs in Turkey and elsewhere by contacting Amnesty International’s Dallas Group 205. Write to Dr. Rick Halperin, SMU AI, P.O. Box 750176, Dallas, TX, 75275; email him at rhalperi@mail.smu.edu; or call his office at 214-768-3284.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

—  John Wright

Wiz, meet Liz

IMG_6317
OFF TO SEE THE LIZ | Mikel tackles a villainous character in ‘The Wiz’ at DTC before (fingers crossed) returning to New York for a hoped-for Broadway production of ‘Lysistrata Jones.’ (Photo by David Leggett)

After a devastating fire and the loss of her mom, Dallas’ Liz Mikel wowed NYC — but there’s no place like home

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

Liz Mikel sprinkles her conversation with terms of endearment like “baby” and “child” the way others sprinkle sugar on cereal: Liberally, and to sweeten you up.

Mikel deserves a little sweetness in her life. 2010 proved to be a daunting year for the actress. She was in tech rehearsals for the world premiere musical Give It Up! at the Dallas Theater Center when her house burned to the ground. Four months later, her mother passed away.

“She was a brilliant shining light,” Mikel says, tearing up. “She had a doctorate but she always encouraged me [in acting and singing]. I had no choice — performing chose me.”

Those twin tragedies challenged Mikel, but did not defeat her. Indeed, Give It Up! (now renamed Lysistrata Jones) has become a flashpoint for her career. When the producing team decided to bring it to New York, Mikel was brought along to recreate her role as a sassy madam — a casting decision that led to a full-color photo of her in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times.

“That still boggles my mind,” she says, slightly aghast. “I did not know the magnitude of that. I was just grateful they found a way to get me up there. You plant seeds, and then it opens a different universe for you.”

That universe includes talk of moving the musical to Broadway with Mikel intact (there’s already buzz she’d be in serious contention for a Tony Award), and though she’s crossing her fingers “waiting for the call,” Mikel prefers not to think too much about it. “It’s still just an out-of-body experience,” she says. “I don’t even know how to put it in words.”

But Dallas doesn’t need to worry too much about losing Mikel to the Great White Way. “This is my home, baby!” she says almost defensively. “I’ve been [with the DTC, where she is now a member of the resident acting company] since 1990. I’m not going anywhere.” She continues that association with the DTC when she opens in The Wiz tonight.

But Mikel has been familiar to Dallas’ gay community even longer. “If I had been born a man, I would have been a drag queen,” says the 6-foot-1 actress who rarely wears flats in public. “I was about 18 when I started going to The Landing, which is where you’d go to see drag shows. I forced my best friend, whom I had known since the fifth grade, to come out to me by telling him he had to take me there.”

Mikel began singing in piano bars, where she developed a reputation as a full-throated diva with a gospel urgency to her voice. That has translated well onto the stage, especially in musical roles. But her current part, playing the wicked Evilene in The Wiz, is something of a departure for her.

“I usually do nurturing roles, but this is just over-the-top from the word ‘go,’ cracking the whip and screaming at people.”

It’s also a chance for Mikel to take on a role in one of her favorite musicals — sort of.

“I loved watching The Wizard of Oz on TV,” she says, “waiting for that moment when Judy Garland goes from black and white to color.”

The message of the show rings especially true for Mikel after the trials of 2010, as she knows that, no matter what 2011 and beyond may bring, there’s no place like home.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

For what it’s worth, Texas voters might not have banned marriage AND civil unions in 2012

Nearly six years ago, Texas voters approved Proposition 2 — a constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions — by a three-fourths majority. But if the measure appeared on the ballot in 2012, it would be “favored to receive” a majority of only 52.5 percent, according to an analysis from The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEighty blog, by statistician Nate Silver.

Texas is one of only 15 states where bans on both same-sex marriage and civil unions would still be favored to pass in 2012, Silver concludes, and the measures would be “very likely” to pass in only two states — Alabama and Mississippi. But those numbers go up for a constitutional amendment banning only same-sex marriage and not civil unions — which would pass in Texas by an estimated majority of 59.5 percent.

Of course, the problem with Texas’ constitutional amendment is that it’s already on the books. To repeal it would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, in addition to a simple majority of voters. Which is why most believe same-sex relationships will be recognized here only after the U.S. Supreme Court declares the amendment unconstitutional.

In related news, Mark Reed-Walkup, who recently won the right to have his same-sex marriage published under Weddings in The Dallas Morning News, has launched a Twitter handle @tx4m, based on the hashtag used in New York leading up to last month’s marriage equality vote. Reed-Walkup has also launched a Facebook page called Texans for Marriage Equality.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Suit seeks marriage equality in NJ; White House Pride event; Brown Coffee Co.

The Brown Coffee Co.’s anti-gay tweet

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality will announce a lawsuit today on behalf of New Jersey same-sex couples who are demanding that their partnerships be recognized by the state as marriages, not civil unions. The suit comes days after the New York Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage across the Hudson River. The New Jersey Senate in 2010 rejected a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and GOP Gov. Chris Christie says he would veto any such future legislation. “Gov. Christie says no way will there be marriage equality in New Jersey,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality. “And we say no way are we going to listen to him.”

2. Things could get “awkward” this evening at the White House during President Barack Obama’s annual LGBT Pride Month Reception, according to The New York Times. That’s because invitees will be looking to celebrate marriage equality in New York, but their host doesn’t endorse same-sex marriage. Activists from GetEQUAL will be outside the reception handing out “Get Bold To Get Equal Scavenger Hunts,” described as “a fun but meaningful opportunity for attendees to step up the pressure on the Obama administration for full LGBT equality.” Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, is among those attending the event.

3. A San Antonio-based coffee company provided a bizarre explanation Tuesday for an anti-gay post from its Twitter account Friday night in the wake of the New York Senate’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage. “No human law can ever legitimize what natural law precludes. #SorryFolks #NotEqual #WhyBother #ChasingAfterTheWind #SelfEvident,” read the tweet sent Friday night by The Brown Coffee Co. On Tuesday, the company attempted to explain the tweet on its blog: “This was a post about CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHY and LAWS (a la Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.), not PEOPLE; but somehow people began to twist what was written and added their own lies to the post to mean that somehow we at The Brown Coffee Company are hateful, homophobic, intolerant people. Those are not the facts and we regret that this has descended into something very ugly based on other people’s incorrect reading of the Twitter post.” At least one shop in New York City has stopped buying coffee from Brown Coffee Co. in response to the anti-gay tweet.

—  John Wright

Phoenix Suns exec tells newspaper he’s gay

Rick Welts

Rick Welts among most prominent active figures in sports to come out

NEW YORK — Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts revealed to the public that he is gay in a story posted on The New York Times’ website Sunday, saying he wants to break down one of the last significant social barriers in sports.

Welts’ declaration is the latest development on a subject has gained attention in the sports world recently, after Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s use of a gay slur on the basketball court and NHL player Sean Avery’s public support of same-sex marriage.

Welts talked to NBA commissioner David Stern, WNBA president Val Ackerman, Hall of Famer Bill Russell and Suns guard Steve Nash before discussing his sexual orientation with a reporter from the Times, the newspaper said. All of them offered Welts their support.

“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” the longtime executive told the paper. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

The Suns did not offer a statement Sunday when contacted by The Associated Press. Messages left with Welts’ public relations team were not returned.

Welts is one of the most prominent figures active in sports to openly declare that he is gay, although there has yet to be an active player in the NBA, Major League Baseball or the NFL to make such a statement. Some athletes have done so after their playing careers.

The 58-year-old Welts, who began his career as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics, spent several years with Stern in the league office. He was the architect of the All-Star Weekend and helped raise the NBA’s profile before leaving for the Suns’ front office.

Welts told Stern about his sexual orientation during a meeting in New York last month. The next day, Bryant responded to a technical foul by calling referee Bennie Adams a “faggot” during the third quarter of a game against San Antonio — touching off a firestorm of controversy and underscoring the taboo nature of the subject in sports.

The Lakers star was fined $100,000; Bryant has since offered multiple apologies.

Also last month, Atlanta Braves coach Roger McDowell allegedly made homophobic comments, crude gestures and threatened a fan with a bat before a game in San Francisco. McDowell served a two-week suspension and also apologized for his remarks.

Then there was Avery, the outspoken New York Rangers agitator, who offered his support for same-sex marriage in a video as part of the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign.

Hockey agent Todd Reynolds tweeted that it was “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ‘marriage.’ Legal or not, it will always be wrong.” Damian Goddard, who hosted a show on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, tweeted his support for Reynolds and was fired.

Among the only people Welts opened up to were his parents and younger, only sibling, Nancy — although Stern said he had a feeling his friend was gay. Stern even telephoned Welts after his longtime partner, Arnie, died from complications of AIDS in 1994.

Now, after all these years, Welts has decided it’s time to come out of the shadows.

“What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable,” Stern told the Times, recalling their meeting in which Welts revealed he was gay. “I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes.”

Welts said he told Nash because they hold each other in high professional regard. According to the newspaper, Nash was tipped off about what Welts wanted to discuss and was surprised only because he thought everyone already knew that Welts was gay.

“I think it’s a shame, for all the obvious reasons, that this is a leap that he has to take,” Nash said. “Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up. … He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.”

—  John Wright

‘Becoming Chaz’ airs Tuesday night on OWN

Chaz Bono

I first heard about Becoming Chaz, the documentary about Chastity Bono’s transition to Chaz Bono, back in March, and I decided then and there I would be watching the doc when it aired on the new Oprah Winfrey Network in May. Of course, now it is May, and I had forgotten about the documentary until I saw this article, “The reluctant transgender role model,” about the program by Cintra Wilson in The New York Times.

I felt like Wilson, in her article, focused a little too much on Chaz’s mom, Cher, and what she thought about the transition. But I was impressed that Wilson admitted that while she considered herself open-minded and liberal, she discovered in watching the documentary that she wasn’t as open-minded as she thought when it comes to transgenders. I think that’s true for a lot of people.

So anyway, I thought there might be other folks out there like me who want to see the documentary but who needed a reminder, so here it is: Becoming Chaz airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. Central time. I have DirecTV, which airs OWN on Channel 270. On AT&T U-Verse, it’s Channels 256 and 1256. Charter broadcasts OWN on Channel 225, and on DISH Network, it is on channels 189 and 885. (If your cable provider isn’t listed here, check the OWN homepage here which lets you find it based on your zip code.)

And here is a promotional trailer for the film:

—  admin

Ex-Dallas Star Sean Avery comes out for marriage equality — but Big D doesn’t make his gay list

While he was with the Dallas Stars in 2008-09, Sean Avery was quick to make gay friends in Big D and even took his teammates to a Nieman Marcus fashion show.

Now that Avery is with the New York Rangers, he’s gone a step further — speaking out in favor of marriage equality in the video above.

In an interview about the video with The New York Times, Avery doesn’t reference his brief, controversial stint in Dallas:

“The places I’ve played and lived the longest have been in West Hollywood, Calif., when I played for the L.A. Kings, and when I moved to New York, I lived in Chelsea for the first four years,” Avery said in a phone interview. “I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends.”

—  John Wright

Jodi Picoult talks up new lesbian-themed book tonight on Mombian

The lesbian mom blogsite Mombian posted today that big time author Jodi Picoult (My Sister’s Keeper, 19 Minutes) has gone Lisa Cholodenko-like on her newest book Sing You Home. The story details the account of a lesbian couple striving to have a child. OK, so it’s not quite The Kids are All Right, but maybe there’s a trend brewing of lesbi-parenting and mainstream audiences. First it was girl-on-girl kissing, now it’s mom-on-mom nurturing that intrigues audiences.

Her website calls it a multimedia experience. The book includes a CD of music and spoken word to accompany the story. There’s even a trailer for the book. Now we just have to wait for the movie. Unfortunately, her book tour doesn’t stop in Dallas. At least not with the current itinerary.

But you can listen to Picoult tonight as she appears on Mombian’s podcast to talk up the book. This is what they say:

I’m very excited to invite you to a special event here at Mombian: a live, streaming interview and chat tonight with #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult about her latest novel, Sing You Home, the story of a lesbian couple and their attempts to have a child.

I’ll have a fuller review coming up in my Mombian newspaper column soon, so I’ll say little here except that I do recommend it, not least because Picoult avoids the clichéed “search for a donor” plot of most stories about lesbians trying to get pregnant. Instead, she takes a different approach, giving us a tale that deftly blends the personal and political. The book also includes a CD of original songs with words by Picoult and music by Ellen Wilber, who will be performing on the Webcast.

Join us here at Mombian tonight, Monday, March 7 at 7:00 p.m. EST for the Webcast, part of the Literary Salon Series of Picoult’s publisher, Atria Books. The interview, moderated by book reviewer Bethanne Patrick, will be broadcast from an event at New York City’s Andaz 5th Avenue Hotel to celebrate the novel’s release. There will be a chat window going, too, so you can share your own questions and comments.

That’s 6 p.m. our time.

—  Rich Lopez

One thing Dallas did right last week … or two if you count the gay block Super Bowl block party

Cowboys Stadium

It’s not easy to find things Dallas did right in preparing for the Super Bowl.

An ESPN commentator said he didn’t think it was possible to find a worse host city than Jacksonville, but they did.

And the Australian press wrote scathing commentary about Dallas asking, “How’s a married man on a ‘business trip’ to the Super Bowl supposed to flaunt his trophy girlfriend — be she rented or otherwise — when she’s being forced to wear so many clothes?”

Today we learn that Jerry Jones sold 3,500 tickets for nonexistent seats, not the 1,200 as reported earlier. The NFL said they’re offering these fans tickets to next year’s game, although not the airfare to get there or cost of extra hotel nights.

Stupid things were planned like a series of outdoor concerts in February, including one that pandered to the lowest stereotypes and was marketed unsuccessfully to the LGBT community. Seriously. Has anyone ever gone to an outdoor concert in Dallas in February?

—  David Taffet