LifeWalk steps off Sunday in Lee Park

Nobles says that park will not be fenced this year but is worried about added cost and barrier affecting next year’s event

KICKING UP THEIR HEELS | The LifeWalk organizing committee gets ready for Sunday.


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

New requirements by the city of Dallas could affect proceed totals from this year’s AIDS Arms LifeWalk, and at least one more new requirement is expected to be added to the list next year, according to LifeWalk organizers.

The 21st annual LifeWalk steps off from Lee Park on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. for the 3.2-mile walk. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. Last year’s event raised $401,000 and this year’s goal is $500,000.

Although thousands of people are expected for the event, Lee Park will remain unfenced this year, even though the city has said such gatherings will require fencing in the future.

Officials with the Dallas Tavern Guild, which stages the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and the Festival in Lee Park each year as part of Dallas’ annual LGBT Pride celebration, decided to get ahead of the new requirement by fencing in Lee Park this year for the festival, although the city requirement had not yet gone into effect.

Tavern Guild officials also chose to charge a $5 admission fee to the festival this year to help offset expenses and raise extra funds that will be distributed to parade beneficiaries.

The admission fee raised the ire of some in the community, and attendance at the festival was down compared to last year. But Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman said the drop was not significant, and noted that the admission fee brought in about $25,000 that will be divided among beneficiaries.

But AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said new city requirements have already had an impact on LifeWalk, and she is worried that the new fencing requirements could affect next year’s walk.

“There were a lot more expenses from the city this year,” she said. “It really hits the bottom line.”

The cost of fencing next year will add an additional, unwelcome expense. But Nobles said she isn’t going to worry about that until after this weekend’s event. Right now, her main concern is getting people out to participate in this year’s fundraiser.

“Anyone can participate in LifeWalk,” Nobles said. “You can walk alone or bring friends or join a team. We even have poop-out vans: In case you can’t walk the entire three-mile route, someone will pick you up and bring you back to the park to have a good time.”

She also invited people to just come to the park and cheer.

“We need cheerleaders at the start and finish and at the water stations,” Nobles said. “We have pompoms for anyone who wants to cheer the walkers on.”

Registration for LifeWalk is $40 for people and $10 for dogs participating in LifeBark. People get a T-shirt and dogs get a bandana to show their support for people with HIV.

AIDS Arms is the primary beneficiary of LifeWalk, but other organizations also receive funds from the event, including AIDS Services of Dallas, Legal Hospice of Texas, Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus, Bryan’s House, Resource Center Dallas and the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.

Money raised goes toward programming rather than capital costs. The chorale uses funds for their HIV fund, including giving tickets to performances through the year to people with AIDS.

Nobles praised that effort, saying that socializing is an important holistic element in treating HIV.

The Women’s Chorus will present a program at AIDS Arms in March on National HIV Women’s Day. Those expenses, Nobles said, should be covered by the group’s LifeWalk proceeds.

Nobles said it would be tempting for AIDS Arms to use the money to finish paying off the agency’s new Trinity Health and Wellness Center in Oak Cliff. She said that the new facility cost more than $2 million, and AIDS Arms needs to raise just $35,000 more to pay off the facility.

Trinity Health and Wellness Center opened in September and will have its formal grand opening in two weeks.

But despite the temptation, AIDS Arms will instead use proceeds from LifeWalk to support programs for clients at Trinity as well as at AIDS Arms’ older clinic, Peabody Health Center in South Dallas.

AIDS Arms also uses the money to administer HIV tests to more than 3,500 people a year and for case management for more than 3,400 people.

LifeWalk began in 1990 as a fundraiser for Oak Lawn Community Services. When that agency closed, management of the event moved to AIDS Arms.

LifeWalk Co-chair Marvin Green noted that his Green Team will mark its 20th year of participation in LifeWalk. He said he put the team together for the first time in the second year of LifeWalk because he had already lost 20 friends to AIDS.

That first year, three team members raised $75. This year, the 32-member Green Team has collected about $22,000.

Co-chair Fred Harris said that there were quite a few new teams this year.

“We’re reaching out to new communities,” Harris said. “There’s new energy. We’re branching outside Oak Lawn.”

He said teams are using creative new ways to raise money and AIDS Arms has actively brought in new sponsors such as Chipotle.

“Stoli is coming with a first-ever LifeWalk drink,” Nobles said. Returning sponsor Caven Enterprises will serve beer and Ben E. Keith donated iced tea.

Harris said planning has gone well, and that “LifeWalk is a well-oiled machine.”

Harris said he has seen more use of social media this year than ever, reaching out to people outside the Metroplex.

“This year Facebook has become a very powerful tool,” he said, not just for fundraising but also for recruiting walkers.

Last year, about 3,500 people walked, and this year, “Registration is ahead of where we were this time last year,” Harris said.

Waterpalooza, another AIDS Arms event, was moved to Pride weekend this year, just two weeks prior to LifeWalk. Harris said they took advantage of that event to sign up teams and walkers and generate excitement for this weekend’s walk.

Among the new teams, Harris said, are the DFW Sisters.

“Their efforts have been tireless,” he said. “They raise the bar.”

Nobles said that WFAA Channel 8 morning anchor Ron Corning will serve as M.C. in Lee Park. Although he’s appeared at several events since arriving in Dallas, this is the first big public event the openly gay television host has emceed.

LifeWalk received the Human Rights Campaign family-friendly designation, and Nobles said there will be bounce houses, clowns and face-painting for children.

Harris said the event is pet-friendly as well, “because pets are our family.”

There will be games and puppy pools for dogs as well as doggie adoptions, Nobles said.

She said the day would be a lot of fun but asked people to participate because the need is greater than ever.

“With the growth in the number of newly-infected people in Dallas County who need help in this economy, we’re seeing people who never would ask but must,” she said.

Next year, Nobles said, she would like to see LifeWalk return to Oak Lawn, but new city regulations for events may change those plans. Among the events changing plans this year because of the city involved Lone Star Ride.

Last year, Lone Star Riders participated in LifeWalk on bike. This year, city regulations banned bikes from walks so LSR riders who participate will have to walk.

Green was thinking about bigger plans for future LifeWalks. Other cities that raise more money stage longer walks. He said he’d love to use the new Downtown Deck Park that should be completed next year and dreamed of seeing LifeWalkers crossing the new suspension bridge that should be open in March 2012.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

A Melancholy Metaphor On Trans Participation In LGBT Direct Actions

On November 15th, I joined 12 activists — seven of us lesbian, gay, and transgender veterans in military uniform, one veteran not in uniform, and five other lesbian and gay activists — on the White House Fence. There were many support people behind us doing work out of sight, but their efforts were so vital and important. Before we went on the fence, many of us went to Senator Harry Reid’s office, putting forward the question of when he was going to return Lt. Dan Choi’s West Point Ring at the successful repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And before that, we went and honored the work of past gay servicemember activist Leonard Matloveich.

On November 16th, nine of us went to the White House’s Common Purpose meeting — a secret meeting of between the White House and  progressive organizations — seven of us held signs and/or passed out copies of an AmericaBLOG entitled Jim Messina makes a firm commitment on DADT: ‘We’re going to get that done this year’ to confront those who were at the meeting regarding Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina promising the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) would be repealed before the end 2010 — before the end of this year.

I am somebody. I deserve equal rights. Right here, right now. You are somebody. You too deserve equal rights. Right here, right now. We all deserve freedom, equality, and justice, and I know I won’t back down until we have freedom, equality, and justice.

Let me speak to you about handcuffing myself to the White house fence from a personal perspective. There is a narrative her with a somewhat melancholy metphor to it.

Before walking from the street through Lafayette Park, I had called my friend — a woman I consider my sister — Allyson Robinson. She returned my call at 12:50 EST, ten minutes before my walk in the park to the White House fence, and we shared her quite moving prayer. The gist of her prayer was one of praying for my safety, and the safety of those I was with, and that God would be with me and sustain me. I shed tears each time I think of that prayer…it was a prayer that came from a heart full of faith, hope, and love.

Then, my cell phone was handed off to Chris Tina Bruce — my trans support sister for the direct action — and then I joined with my twelve lesbian and gay siblings in telling the President, in handcuffing ourselves to the White House fence and in many, many chants, that there is an urgency of now for him to prioritize the repeal of DADT, and then do the follow-up actions he, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman Of The Joint Chief of Staff need to do to let lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers serve openly and proudly.

When the thirteen of us were taken down from the fence, we didn’t resist arrest, but we didn’t assist police in our arrests. We required the police to drag us away while we continued yelling chants.

We were then segregated by gender. The eight men in our group were put in one police wagon, and we five women were put in another police wagon.

When we thirteen arrived at the Park Police’s processing center, we were again segregated. The eight men were each searched, then put together in a holding cell, the other four women were each searched, then put together in a holding cell, and then…

Well, before I was searched, I told the female officer I was transgender. I said, as practiced, “I am transgender. I have a female gender identity, breasts, and male genitalia.” The female officer searched me from the waist up; a male officer searched me from the waist down. Then I was separated from the twelve others, and put in a holding cell by myself. I stood with my brothers and sisters on the fence, but in the end I was to face my time in custody alone. There would be no comrade in arms to talk to; no one beside me to draw support from.

Well, almost alone. I knew that even though my comrades in arms were not in sight, and I couldn’t hear their words of support, they were near. I also remember Tina, and the support she offered me, and…

I felt the warmth and strength of the prayer of my sister. The thought of my sister’s faith, hope, and love sustained me — even when I could not see her; even when I could not hear her voice.

I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely in thought, or in heart. I had the support of my dearly appreciated trans sisters, as well as the support of many of my lesbian, gay, and bisexual siblings in the LGBT community.

The sad metaphor here is that in life, trans people are often separated from others, being culled from the herds of humanity. Our voices are often silent because there is no one to hear us — no one to listen to us. If I had yelled loudly in my holding cell, my sisters and brothers nearby would most likely not  have heard me — Often, my trans siblings must trust that others have heard us, and have faith that others are there for us. Many times they are, even when we cannot see that they are; even when we cannot see that they are. We have to trust that others are there for we trans people — even though sometimes that faith turns out to be misplaced.

If called again to serve my broader community, I will answer the call. I am not an armchair activist. I have to act on faith that if my peers are called on to support me as I’ve answered the call to support them, they will be there. This isn’t about you or me — about  your LGBT subcommunity or mine — it really is all about us.
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