Overcoming fear and finding passion

Landon Starnes had to step outside his comfort zone to compete as Lotta Pink in the Miss LifeWalk Pageant

Landon Starnes as Lotta Pink

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor

Talk to Landon Starnes about his involvement with LifeWalk, the annual walkathon benefiting AIDS Arms and its partner agencies, and you’ll hear

Starnes repeat the words “passion” and “fear” a lot.

Starnes said he let fear rule him for too long. But in the end, there’s no doubt that “passion” wins out.

Starnes, who works as a hairdresser, said that he was diagnosed with HIV in October 1998. But he wasn’t prepared to deal with reality, and so for years, he said, “I ignored my diagnosis emotionally.”

But then some friends began to encourage him to confront his HIV status by getting involved in LifeWalk, specifically by joining the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk team.

Starnes said it took him awhile to get up to speed, and he was involved with LifeWalk just “off and on” for several years. But three years ago, he decided to really take the plunge and has been an active member of the Guys and Dolls team ever since.

This year, even that got ratcheted up a notch when Starnes finally gave in to his teammates’ cajoling and entered the Miss LifeWalk Pageant.

“My team had been asking me for two years to enter the pageant, but I declined every time. I was just scared to death to do drag,” Starnes explained. “But this year, I decided to accept the challenge, even though it scared me.”

The first challenge was to come up with a character, so “I started brainstorming about a character, about who I would be,” Starnes said. “I started thinking about things I, as a person, am passionate about. And I am passionate about the singer Pink.

“Her music gets to me in a way that no one else’s does,” Starned continued. “Her lyrics inspire me. I think, if I had to pick just one, my favorite Pink song is ‘Glitter in the Air.’ It says, ‘Have you ever wished for an endless night?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?’ It made me look into myself, literally. Last summer, while we were on a road trip, my friends and I stopped and actually threw a fistful of glitter in the air. It was silly and fun, and now it is a memory that will last forever.”

But there is one line in the song, Starnes said, that really touched him, one lyric that made him think and gave him the determination to set aside the fear that had held him back: “Have you ever looked fear in the face, and said, I just don’t care?”

It was, Starnes said, a spark that made his passion for LifeWalk and for doing something to help others blaze even brighter.

“I knew I wasn’t going to try to be Pink, but I love what she does. So I decided I would kind of pay tribute to her with my character,” Starnes said.

And so, Lotta Pink was born.

And lo and behold, Lotta Pink won the Miss LifeWalk title on her first try, helping Starnes bring in about $7,000 for LifeWalk this year, bringing his total over all his Guys and Dolls years to about $11,000.

Starnes said he and Lotta Pink obviously have a lot in common. “We share our passion for the cause, first of all, and second, we both want to step outside the box,” Starnes said. “I was afraid of doing drag. But my favorite quote is ‘Do it scared,’ so that’s what I did. I stepped outside the box and challenged myself, and in doing that, I learned that fears are just fears, nothing else.”

Starnes said that while his fears still remain to some degree, Lotta Pink “has no fear,” and she is helping him overcome his own.

“It’s easier when you can put on a wig and some makeup and kind of step outside yourself,” Starnes said. “Now, learning to step out without that disguise is what comes next!”

Knowing that what he does is all to help AIDS Arms and the clients the agency serves makes it even easier to put the fear aside, Starnes said.

“The Guys and Dolls team works all year, not just on the day of LifeWalk. And the people at AIDS Arms work all year trying to help other people. I love AIDS Arms, and I love what it stands for,” Starnes said. “The walk itself is symbolic, to me. It’s a short walk, yes, but just going through the movement of walking allows you to release your passion.

“Everybody who participates is there for their own reasons, but whatever the reason, they are passionate about it,” he continued. “That alone speaks volumes. The biggest thing that came out of all this for me was seeing how good people really are.”

Again, it all comes down to overcoming fear and fully realizing the passion.

“It’s so important for everyone to find their passion, whether it’s LifeWalk or something else,” Starnes said. “Finding my passion has lifted me to a whole new level of awareness, understanding and joy. It’s just such a positive energy when you are around all these people at LifeWalk who work so hard to make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s helped me find a happiness I have never known before.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lee Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 1 p.m. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

HRC Participates in FotoWeek DC 2010

The Human Rights Campaign is proud to present artist Jeff Sheng’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” series as part of DC FotoWeek.  This solo exhibition is the first to feature the photographs and stories of more than sixty servicemen and woman currently affected by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law; the law that requires gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to remain silent about who they are.

This exhibition is the culmination of Sheng’s travels across the United States to over 25 states during a two-year span from 2009-2010 to photograph the series.  Utilizing the Internet and social networking, he connected with all of his subjects through his artist website and online word of mouth.  The mutual trust formed in this process became crucial to the work: the service members counted on the artist not to reveal their actual identities.

HRC is excited to take part in this year’s FotoWeek DC, a weeklong event in Washington D.C. that celebrates the transformative power of photography through the exhibition of inspiring and provocative images, diverse programming and collaboration with the local and international community.

The exhibition at the HRC headquarters features twenty framed images, along with two artist books highlighting the portraits and individual stories of over sixty currently serving military personnel. The exhibit will be open to the public from Nov. 8 – 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at HRC headquarters; 1640 Rhode Island Ave NW. Additionally, HRC will host coffee with the artist Monday, Nov. 8 at noon, and take part in Night Gallery, during which Sheng’s images will be projected onto the exterior of the building, on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. Both events are open to the public.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

HRC Participates in School Bullying Summit

Starting today, the Department of Education’s Office for Safe and Drug Free Schools is hosting the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit. During the two day summit, a wide range of participants (including the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services) will gather with experts from around the country to discuss the scope and impact of bullying, and what programs and policies are working best to combat it.

Earlier this month, HRC sent a letter [pdf] to Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, expressing our support for new federal initiatives to prevent and address bullying in our nation’s schools. In these letters, HRC recommended 9 actions that the federal government can take to address bullying against LGBT students, those perceived to be LGBT or those from LGBT families.   In addition, HRC joined a coalition of civil rights, religious, education, professional and civic organizations to submit policy and programming recommendations [pdf] for the summit conveners.

Bullying prevention is a critical issue to the LGBT community because LGBT students are disproportionately affected by bullying.  According to a 2007 School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; more than 60 percent of LGBT students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and more than a third of LGBT students felt unsafe because of their gender expression; nearly 45 percent of LGBT students reported being physically harassed in school because of their sexual orientation; and nearly one third of LGBT students nationwide said they had missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.

While it will not be easy to change the school environment, the engagement and cooperative action being taken by these agencies is a promising step.  It is our hope that this first-of-its-kind bullying summit indicates that combating bullying in our nation’s schools, particularly against LGBT students, those perceived to be LGBT or those from LGBT families, is a priority for this Administration.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright