VA hospital still reviewing lesbian vet’s complaint

Officials to decide on discipline for nurse accused of anti-gay tirade

Esther Garatie

Esther Garatie

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Officials at the Dallas VA Medical Center are expected to decide within weeks whether to discipline a nurse accused of discriminating against a lesbian Marine veteran who sought mental health treatment.

The VA Medical Center has placed the nurse, Lincy Pandithurai of Cedar Hill, on administrative duty pending the outcome of its investigation into a complaint from 28-year-old Esther Garatie of Irving.

Garatie, a former Marine lance corporal who was honorably discharged in 2006, said she sought treatment for severe depression and possible post-traumatic stress disorder — including thoughts of suicide — on Oct. 12.

Garatie alleges that during a two-hour tirade, Pandithurai told her she was living in sin and said that was the reason for her mental health issues. Garatie said the nurse advised her to accept Jesus and become straight.

Monica A. Smith, a spokesman for the VA Medical Center, said this week that the hospital’s investigative board completed its inquiry into Garatie’s complaint on Friday, Dec. 2. The investigative board’s report will now be forwarded the hospital’s Executive Office.

“The Executive Office, Human Resources, and the Office of General Counsel will review the board’s report and determine what, if any, actions are necessary,” Smith said. “We expect this will take no longer than a few weeks.”

More than 16,000 people have signed a petition at Change.org calling for the VA Medical Center to terminate Pandithurai based on Garatie’s complaint. Garatie has also filed a complaint against Pandithurai with the Texas Board of Nursing.

Both the VA Medical Center and the Board of Nursing have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Pandithurai didn’t return phone messages from Dallas Voice seeking comment about the complaints.

Since Dallas Voice first reported on the complaints in late October, both the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News have published articles.

Jessica Gerson, Garatie’s close friend who’s been assisting her with the complaints, said this week that the ex-Marine is holding up well despite the publicity. However, Gerson said the VA Medical Center is still “dragging their feet on providing real therapy.”

Gerson said Garatie has finally been assigned a permanent therapist but won’t be able to see the doctor until Dec. 16.

“This is rather disheartening, as you might imagine, but unfortunately not particularly surprising at this point,” Gerson said in an email this week. “The publicity has been hard for her, particularly the need to relive what happened at the VA (and some of her other traumatic experiences) over and over again, but she’s been a real trouper, as ever.

“She’s such a private person that this publicity has been deeply uncomfortable for her, not only because of the need to relive her experiences, but also simply because she’s the kind of person who prefers to stay quietly in the background,’ Gerson said. “It’s taken a great deal of courage for her to set her preference for privacy aside enough to seek justice for what happened.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Spirit of Giving: Pam’s Presents Toy Drive for Genesis Women’s Shelter

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the holiday season kicks into high gear, the LGBT community of North Texas once again is responding in a variety of ways to help out those who are less fortunate.

This week Dallas Voice profiles five events intended to raise funds or other donations for a number of different causes. But the community’s good will doesn’t end with these events.

If you know of an individual, business or organization that is holding or participating in a charitable holiday event or effort, email the information to editor@dallasvoice.com.

…………………

PamDaphyneLyle

Pam and Daphyne Lyle

In December 2008, Daphyne Lyle didn’t know what to expect when she organized the first Pam’s Presents event. But that didn’t matter, since Lyle merely wanted to continue the charity work her mother Pam Lyle did during the holidays with her partner Pat Wilson.

Fast forward three years as the Pam’s Presents Christmas Toy Drive holds its sixth event at TMC: The Mining Company on Dec. 11.

“She and Pat would have Christmas parties at their house for the employees and asked people to bring an item or toy,” Lyle said of her mother. “She would donate those items to The Family Place. After she passed, I wanted to keep that spirit alive and do our own drive.”

Pam Lyle lost her battle to cancer in the spring of 2008, but Daphyne Lyle opted not to dwell on any misery. Instead, she seemed to feel beholden to continuing the legacy of her mother.

“She was a nurse and had such a caring spirit about people.

The death of anyone is traumatic, but I wanted something positive out of it. It’s such a warm feeling to see people with handfuls of donations and to have it honor my mom and help people out — it’s overwhelming,” she said.

The beneficiary for the event is Genesis Women’s Shelter, the nonprofit that offers assistance to women and children escaping situations of domestic abuse.

This year’s event features an all-day lineup of local musicians who have donated their time to the event. Familiar names such as SuZanne Kimbrell, Kathy Corbin and Heather Knox are among those set to play.

Santa Claus appears at every Christmas event for photos and an art auction has been added to help increase monetary donations. Gift donations are particularly needed for teenage boys and girls and newborns and infants.

The holiday season starts early for Pam’s Presents, with the Christmas in July event which collects school supplies and also has an art auction.

As people began to learn about the events, it grew and TMC was both the perfect fit and a big help.

“We were at Woody’s for the summer event, but we needed something bigger where bands could play in and out,” Lyle said. “When the TMC manager offered the club, we were very excited. People have been so kind donating space and time.”

And so Pam Lyle lives on with the help of Wilson and Daphyne Lyle and through their collective generosity, Genesis clients can look forward to a merrier Christmas.

“The only thing I want everyone to know is thank you,” Lyle added.

Pam’s Presents will be held Sunday, Dec. 11, at TMC: The Mining Company, 3903 Cedar Springs Road. For more information, search “Pam’s Presents’’ at Facebook.com.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Local briefs • 10.14.11

RCD hosts ‘The 5 Factor’

Resource Center Dallas, in partnership with Dallas Modern Luxury, presents the third annual “The 5 Factor” event on Thursday, Oct. 20, at eM the venue by Marc, 1500 Dragon St. in Dallas.

“The 5 Factor” event recognizes five of Dallas’ finest in areas such as cuisine, fashion, media and literature.

This year’s “5 Factor” honorees are journalist and award-winning author Jenny Block; Emmy Award-winning journalist Ron Corning, who recently joined WFAA Channel 8 as the host of News 8 Daybreak; Dallas restaurant owner Monica Greene of Monica’s Aca Y Alla in Deep Ellum and BEE in Oak Cliff, who recently began providing commentary on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars for WFAA; award-winning fashion designer Prashi Shah who created her own label, Prashe, and recently opened a showroom in Dallas’ Design District; and Bronwen Weber, executive chef and general manager of Frosted Art Bakery and Studio in Dallas who is perhaps best known to many for her appearances on television’s Food Network Challenge programs.

The evening will be hosted by Angela Betasso, with state Rep. Eric L. Johnson and his wife as co-chairs and last year’s honorees serving as the honorary host committee.

General admission is $50 per person, available online at The5Factor.org. Proceeds benefit the programs and services of Resource Center Dallas.

…………………………….

GLAAD holds ‘Get Amped’ 5K

The local chapter of GLAAD presents Get Amped, a 5K run/walk on the Katy Trail on Thursday, Oct. 20, in conjunction with similar chapter events around the country.
Check-in begins at 5:30 p.m. at the American Airlines Center.

The starting gun goes off at 7 p.m. The celebration takes place at the finish line, also at the arena, at 9 p.m.

An after-party takes place at 9:30 p.m. at the Round-Up Saloon.

Each runner has a goal of raising $250. The money raised will benefit the national organization.

……………………………

VNA holds Service of Remembrance

The Visiting Nurse Association will host a Service of Remembrance on Sunday, Nov. 6, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Preston Hollow United Methodist Church, 6315 Walnut Hill Lane in Dallas.

The event is open to the public and will feature special music, readings and the opportunity to light a memorial candle.

Attendees of all faiths are welcome to attend the service.

For more information call Sue Rafferty, bereavement coordinator with the Visiting Nurse Association, at 214-689-2922

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Pride 2011 • Tavern Guild names 5 parade beneficiaries

Organizations provide a variety of services for those in the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities

Draconis von Trapp  |  Intern
intern@dallasvoice.com

Beneficiaries

In recent years, increasing costs have forced the Dallas Tavern Guild to cut back on the number of organizations chosen as beneficiaries of the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, choosing only one each year.

This year, however, the Tavern Guild has been able to expand its list of beneficiaries once again. In addition to Youth First Texas, the sole beneficiary for the last several years, beneficiaries this year also include AIDS Arms Inc., AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Services of Dallas and Legacy Counseling Center.
Each of the agencies is profiled below:

……………..

Nobles.Raeline

Raeline Nobles

AIDS Arms Inc.
AIDS Arms is the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization in North Texas, serving more than 7,000 individuals every year. The agency’s executive director is Raeline Nobles, and John Loza is chairman of the board of directors.

The AIDS Arms offices are located at 351 West Jefferson Blvd., Suite 300. The phone number is 214-521-5191, and the website is AIDSArms.org.

AIDS Arms’s case management programs offer numerous services to assist individuals in learning to live longer and healthier lives with HIV by providing access to medical care and support services specific to them. The agency’s goals are to create and maintain long-term access and adherence to medical care and stabilization so clients can successfully manage the side effects of HIV and AIDS.

Professional case managers are trained to respond to clients’ unique needs by providing a comprehensive assessment of needs and barriers to accessing medical care and support, as well as assessing clients for eligibility for programs such as HIV medication and health insurance assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other benefit programs that may help with the financial issues of HIV treatment. Case managers also develop a long-term care plan with the client.

The Case Management Resource Directory helps clients locate services such as food, housing, counseling, support groups, job training and more.

AIDS Arms offers multiple minority-specific programs for women, youth, substance abusers and those with mental health needs. The agency offers linguistic services with case managers versed in more than 10 foreign languages and dialects, and with a variety of diverse cultural and educational backgrounds and experiences.

The intake program helps newly diagnosed clients navigate the services available to them in Dallas.

AIDS Arms’ Peabody Health Center is an outpatient medical clinic that offers comprehensive medical care in coordination with other services needed to increase access to care and maintain adherence to treatment. The clinic employs physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and others professionals who are experts in the medical field and specify in HIV treatment.

AIDS Arms is currently in the process of opening a second clinic.

One specific support group, WILLOW (Women Involved in Life Learning from Other Women), is a program that brings together HIV-positive women to learn from each other and develop new skills. Activities and group discussion lend to the positive environment where women learn how to live healthier lives and form good relationships.

……………..

Pace.Steven
Steven Pace

AIDS Interfaith Network
AIDS Interfaith Network was founded in 1986. Steven Pace is executive director. The agency’s offices are located on 501 N. Stemmons, Suite 200,
and the phone number is 214-941-7696. The AIN website is AIDSInterfaithNetwork.org.

Among its programs, AIN offers Outreach, a program to guide individuals and gives them access to prevention and care services, make referrals and ensure that those affected by HIV/AIDS have access to proper care. The program specifically targets African-Americans (African American Health Coalition) and Latinos (Manos Unidas).

AIN offers a variety of programs, including linguistic services with interpretation and translation of written materials for Spanish-speaking clients, caregivers and other service providers.

Educational services, including prevention education and risk reduction sessions, are available for at-risk individuals, groups and communities, as well as collaborative HIV testing and prevention programs.

Another program offers HIV education for minority women at high risk of infections. The program specifically targets African-American and Hispanic women, but it is open to all.

AIN’s client advocacy program receives referred clients and enrolls them into the appropriate programs. It also provides direct assistance by making referrals, providing follow up and collaborating with case management. This program collects client data, creates and updates files and provides documentation.

Transportation services are offered to clients living in both metropolitan and rural areas through van rides, bus passes for the DART and train system and taxi rides to ensure access to treatment facilities and support services throughout the prevention system.

AIN also operates the Daire Center, an adult daycare center that provides stabilization services and respite care to relieve caregivers. The center also includes monitoring, individualized support, activities, socialization and nutrition assistance. The meals program provides prepared breakfast and lunch daily in the Daire Center for clients who need assistance to meet or enhance their nutritional needs.

For those interested in taking part in helping affected clients, AIN’s volunteer program recruits, trains and manages volunteers, offering different curricula of buddy and companion services for those affected. The program also provides on-site assignments at AIN to give program, administrative and project support and to participate in fundraising events.

For clients requiring spiritual support, AIN offers pastoral services for care, counseling, education and support. The program refers clients and accepts referrals, collaborates with Outreach, offers prevention education and recruits volunteers.

……………..

Maison.Don1-
Don Maison

AIDS Services of Dallas

AIDS Services of Dallas was founded in 1985. Don Maison is president and CEO. ASD offices and apartment buildings are located in North Oak Cliff, near Methodist Medical Center. The phone number is 214-941-0523 and the website is AIDSDallas.org.

ASD’s housing program provides furnished, service-enriched housing and assisted living in private apartments for people with HIV/AIDS. ASD never turns away clients due to an inability to pay rent and it is the largest licensed provider of medically supportive housing for infected individuals in Texas, with four facilities: Ewing Center, Revlon Apartments, Hillcrest House and Spencer Gardens.

Ewing Center consists of 22 units — five one-bedroom apartments, 15 efficiencies and two special need beds/rooms. Revlon Apartments are designed to accommodate individuals and families, with 20 one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom apartments.
Hillcrest House, which provides service to individuals who are formerly homeless and living with HIV/AIDS, has 64 single-unit efficiencies. And Spencer Gardens, named in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, provides housing for 12 low-income families.

ASD provides morning and lunchtime meals five days a week and coordinates dinner meals through the Supper Club volunteer program. For immobile clients, the program also provides carryout meal services.

For transportation services, ASD provides a 15-person van to provide regularly scheduled trips to a local food pantry, supermarket and second-hand clothing stores. It also carries residents to and from medical appointments and social service appointments and is used to transport residents to recreational activities planned and implemented by the Resident Councils.

ASD’s case management program provides professional social work staff to determine the psychosocial services needed for each individual resident and assist them in accessing community-based service providers. In addition, the social workers provide on-site case management, substance abuse counseling, individual and group counseling and grief support as needed.

The Social Work Department provides recreational activities for the children of ASD and helps their adjustment to the community and public schooling. With funding from the ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program, ASD has hired a children’s activity coordinator to provide recreation during the summer months for the children residing at ASD.

ASD provides 24-hour care and support for its residents. Nurses provide both care and support to residents as well as implement the health maintenance programs. Personal care aides monitor every individual’s needs and habits and provide full-time assistance with routine tasks of daily living for HIV-positive residents.

……………..

Grove,-Melissa11
Melissa Grove

Legacy Counseling Center and Legacy Founders Cottage
Established more than 20 years ago, Legacy Counseling Center provides mental healthcare, substance abuse treatment and housing services for individuals affected by HIV and AIDS. Melissa Grove is executive director. Legacy’s offices are located at 4054 McKinney Ave., Suite 102. The phone number is 214-520-6308 and the website is LegacyCounseling.org.

Legacy Counseling Center provides both individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, individuals receive one-on-one private therapy sessions with licensed professional counselors specially trained in mental health issues of persons affected by HIV and AIDS.

They assist with coping, anxiety, depression and survivor guilt as well as medication compliance.

Group therapy is offered both during the day and the evening and helps HIV-infected individuals contend with many unique issues, and include female-only groups, Spanish-speaking groups and other targeted groups.

Legacy’s Substance Abuse Program provides intensive outpatient substance abuse treatments along with ongoing relapse prevention services for HIV-positive individuals. The program also educates clients about drug abuse and how it ties in with HIV and AIDS in both group and individual therapy. The outpatient therapy schedule can be tailored to the individual’s needs.

To take part in these programs, the individual must be HIV-positive with a letter of diagnosis, at least 18 years old and must remain alcohol and drug-free during the program.

Legacy also operates the Legacy Founders Cottage, a licensed, seven-room special-care facility for people living with AIDS in critical stages of their illness who require 24-hour supervised care.

……………..

Youth First Texas

Wilkes.Sam
Sam Wilkes

Youth First Texas is staffed by Director of Development and Administration Sam Wilkes. The YFT offices are located at 3918 Harry Hines Blvd. The phone number is 214-879-0400 or, toll-free, 866-547-5972. The center is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and the second and fourth Saturday of the month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

YFT offers free counseling to LGBTQ youth ages 22 and younger through volunteer counselors. All counselors are licensed professionals or student interns working under the supervision of a licensed counselor. All legal and ethical guidelines are followed including confidentiality and keeping files. Youth under the age of 18 must have written consent from a parent or guardian before receiving individual counseling services.

Counselors address issues such as coming out, family and school issues, bullying, self-mutilation, depression, isolation, relationships and dating, gender identity and expression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

YFT offers three main groups, but these may be supplemented with other support groups as the need arises. The three support groups are Survivors, Gender Identity and Coming Out.

Survivors’ Group is a peer support group for youth who have suffered isolation, abuse or other trauma, offering them the opportunity to discuss things that are troubling them and receive feedback from peers in a safe space. This group is held on the first and third Thursdays of the month from 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Gender Identity Group is specific to youth dealing with issues related to gender identity and expression. The group is also open to youth who are curious about their gender-variant peers and gender issues in general. It is held on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Coming Out Group deals with thoughts and feelings about sexuality. YFT periodically offers a four-week support group, providing an opportunity to share with a small group of peers about sexuality and coming out.

YFT also offers multiple educational programs throughout the year. Among these are book club, café cinema, GED tutoring, “Our Roots Are Showing,” Youth Defenders and GSA Network. The center also offers many recreational activities, such as Dallas PUMP!, Friday Night Kula Feast, Movie Camp, Open Mic Night, and the YFT Dance Group.

Throughout the year YFT participates in softball through the Pegasus SlowPitch Softball Association, volleyball through Dallas Independent Volleyball Association, concerts by the

Turtle Creek Chorale, theater performances by Uptown Players and other functions. YFT participants are also kept privy to queer-related opportunities such as performing at their annual fashion show Give E’m Heel and the Gayla Prom by Resource Center Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Montana Lance; Troy Aikman; bills targeting gay marriage advance

Montana Lance was bullied because he had a lisp.

1. The parents of a 9-year-old boy who took his own life at school last year have filed a wrongful death suit against the Lewisville (Texas) Independent School District. Montana Lance’s parents claim the district failed to protect him from bullying and harassment. Montana had a learning disability and a lisp, which led to other students harassing him for being “gay,” according to The Dallas Morning News (subscription required). The federal lawsuit was filed on Friday, the one-year anniversary of Montana’s death. Montana (above) was found hanged in the nurse’s bathroom at Stewart’s Creek Elementary School in the Colony. (Watch video below from WFAA-TV.)

2. Former Cowboys QB Troy Aikman, long the subject of gay rumors, has separated from his wife after more than 10 years of marriage. There’s no word on what led to the separation, and we suppose it’s really none of our business, but we can’t help but wonder. Aikman is set to work the Super Bowl on Sunday for Fox.

3. Bills targeting gay marriage advance in Wyoming, Iowa.

—  John Wright

Department of Justice Appeals Judge’s Order That Lesbian Nurse Margaret Witt, Discharged Under DADT, Be Reinstated

The Department of Justice late this afternoon appealed a September ruling ordering the Air Force to reinstate lesbian flight nurse Margaret Witt, who was suspended in 2004, and ultimately discharged under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.

The WaPo reports: Witt

"U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton in Tacoma ruled in September that Maj. Margaret Witt's dismissal under the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy violated her rights. Witt was suspended in 2004 and subsequently discharged after the Air Force learned she had been in a long-term relationship with a civilian woman. She sued to get her job back. The Justice Department filed the appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, the deadline for doing so. The government is also appealing a ruling from a federal judge in California that found the "don't ask, don't tell" policy unconstitutional."

The government, however, did not ask the court to stay the decision, suggesting that Witt may serve during the appeal.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released the following statement:

“Today, the Department of Justice filed a notice of appeal in a case involving a legal challenge to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, as the Department traditionally does when acts of Congress have been held unconstitutional.  This filing in no way diminishes the President’s — and his Administration’s — firm commitment to achieving a legislative repeal of DADT this year.  Indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy.  In recent weeks, the President and other Administration officials have been working with the Senate to move forward with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, including a repeal of DADT, during the lame duck.”


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Court Says Air Force Nurse May Serve Openly; Impact of the Witt Decision

Major Margaret Witt is positioned to be the first lesbian service member to serve openly and without fear of discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) after a district court ruling last Friday provided for her reinstatement.  The district court judge, Judge Ronald B. Leighton, was directed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether the specific application of DADT to Major Witt significantly furthered the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion.  Judge Leighton found that the application of DADT to Major Margaret Witt did not further these interests.

Instead, Judge Leighton found that Major Witt “was an exemplary officer” and “an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team.”  In fact, he found that “her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit’s ability to carry out its mission” – which is counter to the very interests offered as justifications for DADT.

In the decision, Judge Leighton also discusses the military’s ability to be effective while embracing diversity.  He says:

“The men and women of the United States military have over the years demonstrated the ability to accept diverse peoples into their ranks and treat them with the respect necessary to accomplish the mission, whatever that mission might be.  That ability has persistently allowed the armed forces of the United States to be the most professional, dedicated and effective military in the world.”

He also points out that the military has proven this “during the integration of blacks, other minorities and women into the armed forces.”

This decision is the first time the “Witt standard” – which was created during earlier review of Major Witt’s case – has been applied by a district court.  Under the Witt standard, the military is required to demonstrate that each individual discharged under DADT has a negative impact on his/her unit because of his/her sexual orientation.  The Witt standard is only applicable in the Ninth Circuit, which includes Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.  As noted on Friday by HRC President Joe Solmonese,   “had Major Witt been discharged in any other circuit in the country, she would not have had her day in court.”

Considering that the Justice Department declined to appeal the decision that led to the Witt standard, it is unlikely that it will contest Major Witt’s reinstatement.

Last week, legislative repeal of DADT was blocked when partisan, Republican obstructionism prevented the Senate from considering the National Defense Authorization bill, to which DADT repeal legislation is attached.

In addition, only two weeks ago, we saw a federal district court in the Ninth Circuit declare DADT unconstitutional.  Currently, that district court judge is determining if she will place a worldwide, military-wide injunction on the enforcement of DADT, a move the Justice Department fervently opposes.

DADT litigation will only increase while DADT remains on the books.  The Administration is wasting valuable resources defending the failed law.  After learning of the decision allowing for Major Witt’s reinstatement on Friday, Solmonese stated “it is time for Congress and the Administration to recognize that his failed law should be removed from the books once and for all.”


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Judge Orders Air Force To Reinstate Lesbian Nurse Witt

 

6a00d8341c730253ef01348752a03b970c-800wi While Eddie Long's languishing in scandal this weekend, retired Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt will be busy celebrating, because federal Judge Judge Ronald Leighton ruled this afternoon that the military violated Witt's constitutional rights by discharging her under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"Good flight nurses are hard to find," the Judge noted today, after a six-day trial, and told the Air Force to reinstate Witt, a move which "would not adversely affect unit moral or cohesion."

Witt's journey began in 2004, when, after 17 years in the Air Force, she was suspended and ultimately discharged under the discriminatory policy.

The resultant lawsuit led the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in Witt's favor in 2008, and this latest ruling, which impacts only Witt's discharge, has already resonated among gay groups the country.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese released the following jubilant statement, "By reinstating Major Witt, a decorated Air Force nurse discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ another federal court has demonstrated once again that this discriminatory law does not contribute to our nation’s security or defense."

Meanwhile, Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson declared, "Yet another judge has taken yet another righteous, historic, and courageous stand against a discriminatory and unconstitutional law."

There's still no word from the White House or the Department of Justice, which this week issued an objection to the Log Cabin Republicans' injunction asking for a DADT ban.

Small Update: A reader pointed out to me that I neglected to include a statement from the ACLU, which represented Witt. Many apologies. Here is what ACLU executive director Kathleen Taylor had to say: Today we heard the hammer of justice strike for Major Margaret Witt. We look forward to the day when all members of our military can serve our country without invidious discrimination. [Witt's discharge] was entirely unfair to her and unwise for the military, which needs her significant skills."


Towleroad News #gay

—  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