Pride 2011 • The mom of Caven Enterprises

Chris-B.1-cropped

From cooking Thanksgiving dinner for Daire Center clients to heading up the team that builds the Caven parade float, parade co-grand marshal Chris Bengston has been a force behind the scenes of the community for 26 years

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

GRAND MARSHAL

When Caven Enterprises’ Chris Bengston saw the list of people nominated for grand marshal of Dallas’ 2011 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, her name was not on it. And she wasn’t at the Dallas Tavern Guild meeting where her name was added.

So when Caven Enterprises President Gregg Kilhoffer called her to come back to the office, she had no idea what was going on.

When Kilhoffer called, he told her that there was an incident at one of the bars and her name was involved. So Bengston ran back to the office as quickly as possible, frantically trying to figure out what she had done.

Actually, everyone at Caven Enterprises just wanted to see her face when she found out that she would be one of this year’s Pride parade grand marshals.

What they saw there on her face was shock.

To Bengston, all of the events she planned and dinners she cooked and money she raised for practically every organization in the city over the years was just something she always did out of love for the community.

“I guess people were paying attention to what I was doing,” she said, still incredulous that she would have been named to lead the parade.
Kilhoffer calls Bengston the company’s mom.

Before moving to Dallas, Bengston was married. Her husband served in the Army and went to Vietnam.

“When he came back, things didn’t work out,”she said, adding that she just never remarried.

“That’s just the way things worked out,” she said.

But when she was in her 40s, Bengston became pregnant, even though, she said, “I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant.”

Her son, Alex, was the first Caven baby. He’s now a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos.

But while Alex was the first Caven baby, he wasn’t the last.

“What’s neat,” Bengston said, “are the number of employees with children now.”

Kilhoffer said several employees became like a dad to Alex.

When Alex was young, Bengston took a number of young Caven employees along with her son on a variety of outings — to the Fort Worth Zoo or the Arboretum or sporting events. She exposed many young people to things they’d never done before.

Kilhoffer said Bengston gave many of the company’s young employees the family they never had. He said she was “Caven’s own Youth First Texas” and “It Gets Better” campaign before either existed.

“I’m constantly getting emails about her, thanking her for going above and beyond,” Kilhoffer said. “She’ll drop anything she’s doing to help anyone.”
Bengston has been involved in hundreds of projects over the years that benefited the community.

One of her fondest memories is working with the Daire Center, an adult daycare center for people with HIV/AIDS, when it was part of Oak Lawn Community Services. Kilhoffer remembers the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that Bengston cooked for the center.

“At 4 in the morning, she’d call to see where I was,” he said. She was already preparing the holiday meal.

He said she spent days, not just cooking, but doing all the shopping and making more than just a ham or turkey. She wanted to make sure, he said, that people who had nowhere else to go would have a holiday celebration that started with hors d’oeuvres and didn’t end until they had her homemade desserts.

“I could go on and on,” Kilhoffer said. “She’s been involved in so many things. Everyone knows they can call on her and she’s the volunteer who will make things happen.”

For years, Bengston and fellow Caven employee Donald Solomon have been involved in the holiday gift project for students at Sam Houston Elementary School. That school, located just a block behind the Cedar Springs bars, is one of the poorest in the Dallas Independent School District. Each year, Caven employees, led by Solomon and Bengston, make sure that every child at the school gets a gift at Christmas.

And before the school year begins, they make sure that there are enough school supplies. During the year, Bengston will get calls from the school for additional items, and she always responds. The Oak Lawn Library also has relied on her help when they’ve needed supplies.

“For Razzle Dazzle Dallas [revived this year by Cedar Springs Merchants Association, of which Caven is a member], she was the one who calmed us down and kept us focused,” Kilhoffer said.

Bengston organized a fundraiser after Hurricane Katrina for people who had been evacuated from New Orleans and were staying at Reunion Arena. And she’s helped stage fashion shows in an alcohol-free Rose Room, located in Caven’s Station 4 bar, to benefit Youth First Texas.

Bengston’s also involved with GayBingo, held monthly in the Rose Room, helping Resource Center Dallas and a variety of other beneficiary organizations raise money. And she helps with LifeWalk. And the Pink Party, which raises money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Much of the $50,000 that the Dallas Bears raised for community groups at their weekend round-up this year came from the Bear Dance — an event that Bengston made sure went off without a hitch.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, Caven lost quite a few employees to AIDS,” Kilhoffer said. “She [Bengston] was such a help to those who were dying, and to their partners. She sat in the hospital and comforted so many people in their last days.”

For years, Bengston spent the night before the parade building Caven’s parade float along with three friends. Then she spent parade day working behind the scenes.
So she’s rarely gotten to just enjoy the parade.

But after she was named grand marshal this year, Bengston said she asked those three friends — Scott Pepin, Stacy Golf and Bill Scott — to join her in the carriage to enjoy the parade with her.

Bengston said she does the things she does because she’s worked in the LGBT community for 26 years and she wants to see it remain strong.

“I am truly blessed,” Bengston said. “I’ve made a very nice living and appreciate all of the years of memories and acceptance. I’ve had the best times of my life here.”

And she plans to keep on giving. But there’s one lesson she said she learned that keeps her humble after years of working with Caven.

After staging so many fundraising events at the Rose Room, Bengston said, “There are so many guys who look better in an evening gown than I do.”

For more information on Caven Enterprises, go online to Caven.com.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Lesbian rappers belt it out with RainbowNoise

I am not hip. I hate to admit it, but it is true. But I still enjoy “hip” music, including a lot of rap, and this video for “Imma Homo” from RainbowNoise Entertainment is one rap song I definitely like.

Still, the “unhip” factor comes into play because even though some of the artists in the video look to be teenagers themselves, or at least not far out of their teens, I surely wouldn’t want my teenage sons using this kind of language!

Anyway, the video features the combined talents of artists signed to RainbowNoise, a record label “out of Vancouver, Washington/Portland, Oregon specializing in GLBTQ music artists with mainstream commercial appeal,” according to the RN website. “As Gay and Lesbian images continue to grow in popular media, RainbowNoise seeks to set forth responsible and accurate representations within the music industry.”

The site also notes that the label is seeking to expand its roster of talent, and is especially looking for “studs, doms, tombois and bois.” I don’t expect to be auditioning for them soon, but I will be paying attention to who does.

Check out “Imma Homo”:

—  admin

Spokesman says DISD too busy with budget cuts to discuss trangender homecoming issue

A rally in support of Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School in October. Since then we haven’t heard much from DISD, or the LGBT community, about trying to come up with a policy that would avoid such controversies in the future.

Here’s the reply we received late Monday from DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, after we inquired about whether district officials have discussed a possible policy change related to gender and homecoming elections in response to last year’s controversy at North Dallas High School:

“I don’t know if there have been additional discussions regarding that particular issue. Most of our time right now is devoted to paying attention to what is taking place in Austin and planning for next year’s budget accordingly. A $253 million budget deficit would wipe out a lot of things in our school district. If I hear of something, I’ll let you know.”

We certainly sympathize with Dahlander and other DISD officials as they try to deal with the impending budget crisis, but we also hope his statement indicates that the district is open to taking up the transgender homecoming issue as soon as possible. After all, it’s been almost five months since transgender girl Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at NDHS. The district should be commended for, in the meantime, passing a fully inclusive anti-bullying policy that is the first of its kind in the state. But this doesn’t mean the district’s work — or the LGBT community’s work — is done. For one thing, we need to ensure that the anti-bullying policy is properly implemented and enforced. And for another, while the anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression, the district’s employment nondiscrimination policy does not. In other words, it’s now against DISD policy for a student to bully another student for being transgender, but it’s not against DISD policy for the district to fire a teacher for being transgender. And, apparently, it isn’t against DISD policy for an administrator to discriminate against a student for being transgender, as in the case of Andy Moreno. On Tuesday night I sat in a Stonewall Democrats meeting and listened to a gay student talk about the resistance he’s faced from administrators in trying to establish a GSA at Woodrow Wilson High School. So while the budget situation is critical, let’s also remember that for some LGBTQA youth, the issues we’re raising could be a matter of life and death.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Holcombe Waller relives memories with his boyfriend in new video

With the snow days over the last week, we have lots of e-mails to catch up on. I’m so glad I was paying attention today before deleting a slew of people needing legal assistance.This video almost slipped through the cracks and it’s become my find of the day.

Despite an accomplished background, I had not heard of Holcombe Waller until today. Turns out, he’s had this pretty colorful life and career with three solo albums to his name and scored the documentary We Were Here: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco which is a 2011 Sundance official selection.

His newest album, Into the Dark Unknown drops on Tuesday. But it’s his video for ‘”Bored of Memory” which I find rather enchanting — mostly from the P.R.’s write up:

For this video, Holcombe decided to recreate the first date he had with his boyfriend Blake in the summer of 2009. Waller and co-director Rose headed out to Rooster Rock State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. Lewis and Clark originally named the area “Cock Rock” because of the phallic nature of the basalt stone obelisk that stands on the Oregon side of the river.

To recreate the date, Holcombe and Alicia filmed two actors as they went to the exact locations that Holcombe and Blake visited on their first date. Alicia and Holcombe brought along with them some of the items from the day: a vacation camping blanket, a few apples, knitting supplies and a vintage copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám,” given to Holcombe by his grandmother.  The rhinestone necklace the actors find in the sand was also a family heirloom passed down from his grandmother from her days as a traveling dancer in the 1940s and 50s.

Holcombe said that it represents “the discovery of something both new and ancient, real and illusory, and as beautiful as you make it, much like new love.”

Romantic, right? I’m seriously kinda swept off my feet right now. The song is epic and languid, but the video accompanies it perfectly and perfect timing for V-Day. And, if you go here, you can download the song for free. Score!


—  Rich Lopez

Top 10: DADT repeal capped 17-year fight

Flash2
A PROMISE FULFILLED  | President Barack Obama gives a thumbs up after signing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at the Interior Department in Washington. Most agree it’s unlikely Obama will sign another pro-equality bill before 2013. (Associated Press)

No. 2:

View all of the Top 10

Anyone who was paying attention in 1993 knows what a devastating setback the community suffered with the codification of the military’s ban on gays. The community itself had asked the newly elected Democratic President, Bill Clinton, to end the military’s long-standing policy banning gays from service.

But instead, Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, orchestrated a parade of testimony and innuendo to suggest that the mere presence of gays would violate the “sexual privacy” of heterosexual servicemembers.

One female Naval petty officer testified that, “You are asking me to sleep and shower with homosexuals. You are asking me to expose my sexuality …”

Not surprisingly, 56 percent of the public opposed allowing “homosexuals” to serve “openly” in the military in 1993.

In December 2010, only 21 percent of Americans felt that way. And Democratic President Barack Obama, using a strategy of sticks and carrots that sometimes angered the LGBT community, helped drive through passage of a bill that will eventually lead to a dismantling of the ban.

What does that say about 2011?

Given the shaky economy, high unemployment, and intense partisan divide in Congress, there is little likelihood the Obama administration will take on another piece of pro-LGBT civil rights legislation in 2011.

The presidential election campaign of 2012 begins in earnest now and President Obama must tend to a wide variety of constituencies, as well as Middle America in general.

But he has shown — even before repeal of DADT — that his administration is willing to use its power to adopt more LGBT friendly regulations and policies that will advance the LGBT civil rights ball down the field.

And that is likely to be where the action will be, for the Obama administration, in 2011.

— Lisa Keen

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Happy Holidays’ vs. ‘Merry Christmas’

Progressive religious leaders weigh in on 1st Baptist’s ‘Grinch Alert’ website, calling it everything from a marketing ploy to just plain mean

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

Locally owned Viewpoint Bank is on First Baptist Church’s naughty list. They have poinsettias in their branches, but they don’t have a Christmas tree.

American Airlines made the naughty list because of “excessive use of holiday, no mention of Christmas. With a name like American Airlines, come on.”

Because what’s more American than telling someone else that they need to observe your religion?

Cracker Barrel “includes Santa and Christ in store.” That’s nice according to First Baptist.

Hopefully it’s Santa as we know him today — in the red suit that was created by Coca Cola for a 1935 ad campaign. The red was chosen to match Coke’s corporate color. Apparently, nothing says Christmas like corporate greed to First Baptist.

Previously, Santa was “dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot,” as described in Twas the Night Before Christmas.

To combat the so-called “War on Christmas,” First Baptist Church in Dallas created a new website, GrinchAlert.com, for people to report stores and other service companies that are naughty or nice. Naughty is anyone who greets you with that offensive term, “Happy Holidays.”

The Rev. Steven Pace suggested the website shows that First Baptist isn’t paying attention to the right issues this holiday season.

“I can’t believe an institution with that kind of capacity to do real social action work could concern itself with something so trivial,” Pace said.

“They need something more meaningful to do.”

Yet emphasizing the consumer side of Christmas and penalizing retailers that don’t put Jesus in the middle of their marketing plans is, apparently, exactly what First Baptist wants.

Macy’s in the Galleria is on the naughty list because a single employee in a single transaction returned a customer’s “Merry Christmas” with the offensive “You, too.”

And no doubt it was the Muslim extremists in the small town of Crowley, Texas south of Fort Worth who hung “Happy Holidays” in huge letters in front of city hall. Or was it their massive Jewish population?

“How about peace on earth and good will to all?” suggested the Rev. Colleen Darraugh of MCC of Greater Dallas. “It’s the kind of thing that gives Christians a bad rap.”

She said that although she’s Christian and celebrates Christ at Christmas, she has Jewish friends whom she wishes Happy Hannukah.

“We want to wish happy holidays and seasons greetings to people of all faiths,” she said.

Darraugh said that by emphasizing what retailers are doing, it emphasized that Christmas was for consumers.

She questioned whether the website’s creators know about the religious part of the holidays … uh, Christmas.
Cantor Don Croll of Temple Shalom in North Dallas said, “So I guess at New York-style delis, they should just say ‘Happy Hanukkah.’”

He pointed out that The Christmas Store in Richardson has a large Hanukkah section and wondered if it offended First Baptist that a store with that name would be selling anything else, or if it should offend Jews to shop in a store with that name?

“I guess I’m old fashioned. I like saying happy holidays and including everybody,” he said.

The Rev. Jo Hudson of Cathedral of Hope was aghast at a church’s emphasis on the retail aspect of the holiday rather than the religious part of Christmas.

“It shifts focus from what it should be,” she said.

Hudson suggested more appropriate lessons from a church might be feeding the hungry, caring for the sick or, if retail must be the emphasis, buying toys for poor children.

She admired it as a successful marketing scheme. But questioned whether Christmas be used as such a blatant promotional mechanism by a church?

But Hudson did acknowledge the ploy’s success.

“The website is clever because people have responded to it,” she said.

Northaven United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Eric Folkerth agreed with Hudson, but he questioned whether the campaign appealed to prospective members or the lowest denominator of the church’s base.

“The pastor there has shown himself to be a master of publicity,” Folkerth said. “But it only speaks well to the people they already have.”
Folkerth called the campaign silly, annoying and mean.

“Among his base it sells, but it sells a theology of division. He has a remarkable way of doing divisive things,” Folkerth said, referring to Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church.

Folkerth also suggested that during a recession, the website sends bad signals.

“Given the way the economy is, it’s such a bad message to say we’re not going to this store or that because of a perceived lack of Christian-ness,” he said.Folkerth said that religion should call us to our better natures.

“This doesn’t seem like our better nature,” he said.

“People who are secure in who they are don’t have to impose it on other people,” Hudson said, adding that people of different faiths have more in common than they have differences.

“How you greet people isn’t a measure of your faith,” she said

“How you treat people is.”

She said the GrinchAlert.com website was a good example of people not treating each other well and she found it particularly offensive during Christmas.

“Someone can wish me Happy Holidays and I can wish them Merry Christmas,” Darraugh said.

Taking either of those greetings as anything but best wishes, she said, “flies in the spirit of Christ who brought good will for all.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Concert Notice: South Side Music Hall announces Robyn coming to town in February

The peeps at Gilley’s Music Complex scored a sweet show for their mid-size venue, the South Side Music Hall. They just announced that pop singer Robyn will perform at SSMH Feb. 18. So glad it’s in this room because it’s big enough to be a fab dance party, but not too big that you couldn’t see her up close. OK, if you’re in the waaay back, then it’s a bit far.

If you’ve been paying attention to Robyn, she’s finishing a trilogy of releases over the year with today’s release of Body Talk Pt. 3 or the kinda culminating full-length Body Talk. She released Body Talk Pt. 1 back in June and followed with  Pt. 2 in September. The first yielded the smash hit “Dancing On My Own,” which I’d dare to say is dance/pop at some of its smartest. The rest of the EP follows suit, especially after the bold opener “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do.”  The entire album was an impressive display of writing and music that’s been a Euro-alternative to American pop princesses over the years from Britney to Beyonce to Gaga.

Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the door and go on sale Friday.

—  Rich Lopez