Lesbians play big role in Women’s Foundation

Dallas organization dedicated to supporting, empowering makes diversity a cornerstone principle

Renee Baker  |  Contributing Writer renee@renee-baker.com

GIVING TO THE COMMUNITY | Members of the Dallas lesbian community who have been active in the Dallas Women’s Foundation include, back row from left, Wendy Lopez; Lesly Bosch Annen and Dena Bartnicki, and from from left, Pam Gerber, Connie Moore and Helen Chandler. (Courtesy Ruda Photography)

Wendy Lopez likes to say, “When you help a woman, you help a community.”

Lopez and her partner, Connie Moore, open up their hearts and their home to do just that — help women. They do that by supporting the Dallas Women’s Foundation, one of the largest women’s foundations in the country.

This year, the DWF celebrates its 25th year of service to North Texas women and girls, with a mission to educate on philanthropy and empower women, and with a belief that investing in women and girls is a key necessity to building community.

Lopez, a DWF Advisory Council member, and Moore have both been part of the philanthropic mission for five years, and they support the ongoing outreach to educate women on philanthropy. As women of means, the couple also opens their home to host the DWF Annual Luncheon.

Philanthropy has a long history of ties to education — to gather women together for each other, for their families and for social equality. In a spirit of benevolence, the DWF provides philanthropic education “to encourage women to discover the joy of purposeful giving.”

Lesly Bosch Annen, chief philanthropy and communications officer for DWF, says the education is “about setting up a giving plan and aligning one’s values with one’s giving, to be stronger in one’s philanthropy … and also to help you say no to giving outside of your focus.”

Sue Thieves Hesseltine, executive director for Our Friends Place, a DWF grantee, says that what the DWF gives is “far more than just the dollar.” She says the organization truly educates women and the community on how to give.

In teaching and helping women, the DWF changes women’s lives and hence their families — leading to a “ripple effect” throughout the community, she said.

Hesseltine also said that the benchmark research on the needs of women that DWF has done with their Out of the Shadows program has given the organization a basis to write proposals for grants.

According to Annen, the DWF provides research and subsequent reporting in the basic areas of economic security, health, safety, education and leadership.

The DWF opens the grant door up to all those supporting women. Annen said the organization has always been inclusive of ethnic, sexual and religious diversity. As such, DWF has a Lesbian Donors Circle, and the group is open to bisexual as well as transgender women.

Annen says, “Our position is, we are inclusive and we want to be a foundation for all women.”

Helen Chandler and Dena Bartnicki are partners and former DWF board members. Chandler held the grants chair and Bartnicki was the chair for governance.

Chandler said volunteering for the foundation was an “eye opening experience.” She and other volunteers were charged with visiting various agencies and organizations that applied for grants, to learn about their programs.

She said, “It was very important for us to really find out what was going on in the community so we could best serve those individuals in need.”

Chandler said that many foundations can’t incorporate the onsite investigation process, but DWF is able to with the help of a large volunteer research team which has between 20 and 40 members, depending upon the grant cycle.

The DWF has two grant cycles each year, in the spring and in the fall. The 2010 fall grant cycle is now closed and recipient announcements will be made in November. The 2011 spring grant cycle will begin in November of this year, and application information will be available at that time.

Of the granting process, Barntnicki said, “What we like [about DWF] is that they really run a very tight ship. They use board members and volunteers very well, so donations are not funding a huge organization.”

New researchers for the grant process are not just thrown into the fray, Bartnicki said, but are paired up with experienced researchers and go through extensive training. She said that the research team members are dedicated and some have as much as 20 years of experience under their belts.

Bartnicki attributed the dedication to a well-thought-out training program that gives women clear goals and expectations, so that they get a sense of meaning from their contributions.

Chandler mentioned a few of the LGBT-related programs they were proud to have funded take place at organizations, such as Youth First Texas, University of North Texas and the Out Takes Film Festival. Other LGBT organization recipients have included the Human Rights Campaign, Resource Center Dallas, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Since its founding in 1985, the DWF has invested more than $13 million in more than 950 organizations in North Texas, primarily Denton, Collin and Dallas counties. DWF’s current annual endowment is $2 million, and it is one of the largest endowments for women in the country, according to Bartnicki.

Pam Gerber, another former board member at DWF, agreed with Bartnicki on funding agencies such as Youth First Texas.

“I would have loved to have an LGBT program like that when I was a kid.” she said. “There should be one in every city.”

Gerber said the DWF is dedicated to the LGBT community. She said the DWF’s current president and organization cofounder, Becky Sykes, initially made serving the lesbian community a priority.

“She totally gets it,” Gerber said, “and when it comes to social justice, she does the right thing.”

Gerber agreed, too, with Chandler and Bartnicki that the organization is a tightly run ship. She said the organization makes educated decisions to make a bigger impact — every dollar is going to the right place.

On Oct. 29, the foundation will hold its 25th Anniversary Luncheon featuring keynote speaker Queen Latifah. Latifah, who is well known for her music and for inspiring women to empowerment and self-acceptance, will be speaking on how to help young women build a strong sense of self-esteem.

For more information about the DWF, the Annual Luncheon and how to get involved, go online to DallasWomensFoundation.org.

Renee Baker is a transgender consultant and massage therapist and may be found online at Renee-Baker.com.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Nate Phelps: Escaping the darkness

Son of infamous anti-gay crusader Fred Phelps offers a glimpse of what life was like growing up on the inside of the Westboro Baptist cult

Renee Baker  |  Contributing Writer renee@renee-baker.com

Nate Phelps
Nate Phelps

Nate Phelps has a unique identity, but an identity many of us can relate to on different levels. He’s a parent; he’s a partner; he has kids, and he has to come out of the closet regarding his family life.

But Phelps is not gay. Instead, you could say he comes from a family life that is spiritually haunting — one led by his father, Fred Phelps Sr., the infamous pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Phelps, who is now estranged from his father, says he often feels “pulled in two directions.” On one hand, he wants to explain to the world how his birth family evolved into what it is. On the other, he has found from experience that people get uncomfortable learning who he is, and he has to “reassure them” that it is okay to criticize his father’s views.
Phelps Sr., at age 80, is well known for attacking the gay community and operating the website GodHatesFags.com. The WBC launched a protest at the Resource Center Dallas in July of this year, leading to a counter-protest that raised a record-breaking $11,000, according to RCD spokesperson Rafael McDonnell.

McDonnell said of the protest, “What struck me is how the entire community came together, saying, ‘We are not going to allow this in our neighborhood.’”

The younger Phelps, now 51, was not surprised by the event. Counter-protests are common, and even satirical filmmaker Michael Moore has been to Topeka with his Sodom Mobile to confront Phelps Sr.

“I thought my father was going to punch him at any second,” Nate Phelps recalled.

It is a telling statement, as Nate Phelps said his father used to beat his 13 children, often with a long piece of wood — his Biblical rod. Nate’s brother Mark and sister Dot are also estranged from the family.

“Our childhood was full of abuse and violence,” Nate Phelps said, “and that was our sense of what normal was.”

He said his father taught them they were all “hell-bound sinners” and they could not say enough prayers to be saved. He said his father was “profoundly critical, destructive and violent towards us.” And he said the worst part was that his father was so strong and manipulative, that Nate began to “internalize it and believe it” himself.

As an example, Nate Phelps recalls an early memory when his father chopped off his mother’s hair. “When he took those blades to my mother’s head, he was making a powerful assertion that he had absolute control over her very salvation. So ingrained were these beliefs that I remember fearing that, by cutting her hair, my father had condemned her to eternal damnation,” Nate has said in a speech.

Nate Phelps subsequently went through two significant periods of counseling in his life, the first period focusing on the religious abuse. He found a counselor with a theological background and, he said, it exposed him to more information about religion and theism.

Ultimately, Nate found solace in an atheistic outlook. But in the background of his mind, he said, he will have to fight the religious programming for the rest of his life,  those expectations of walking in his father’s footsteps.

“The logical mind can dispute the expectations,” he said, “but the emotions — that is another thing all together.”

Nate, who has three children of his own, entered therapy a second time when he recognized that he “overreacted to events.” This time he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the extreme violence he experienced at the hands of his father.

With a deep sense of anxiety, Nate spent two weeks in a mental hospital trying to find peace and answers.  But he said, “Certainly, there were no answers to be had.”
Nate Phelps said it was all the “thinking about things” that caused the anxiety. He said he realized that there simply was no way to think his way through it, though he tried to rationalize life to block his emotions. He eventually found that more thinking just increased his anxiety levels and he has been learning to find closure with the various issues in his mind.

“My father is not a human,” Nate Phelps said.  “The official story around the household is that Dad was once balanced and even-keeled, until he found salvation. And then suddenly, he became aggressive.

“But I don’t know what made him so angry and hateful,” Nate added.

Perhaps it was because Phelps Sr.’s mother died when he was 5. Perhaps it was because his father had a violent job. Perhaps he invested so much energy in a runaway, run-amuck spiritual path that admitting a lifetime of mistakes is way too much for his ego to contend with.

Nate Phelps may never put all the pieces together from his childhood, but he is learning to live a life of peace now, in Alberta, Canada with his new fiancée, Angela. “Angela keeps me on my toes and keeps me communicating,” he said.

But Nate can’t help but be honest and share that he still sometimes wonders what people would think of him if they really knew him.

Today, Phelps speaks internationally about his life, about his belief that “things are good enough for now,” and about “living in the gray.” In fact, his usual speech is entitled “The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life.”

It is hard to live this way, between black and white, Nate Phelps said. But, he added, rather comfortably, there no absolutes anyway.

For more about Nate Phelps, his writing and his speaking, go online to NatePhelps.com. For more about Fred Phelps and WBC, go online to their new website, GodHatesTheWorld.com.

Renee Baker is a transgender consultant and massage therapist and can be found online at Renee-Baker.com.

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

—  Michael Stephens

YFT plans fundraiser to kick off Pride celebrations

Event intended to help make up shortfall in youth group’s budget caused by economic downturn

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sam Wilkes
Sam Wilkes

Youth First Texas kicks off Pride with a fundraising party at the home of Jo Bess Jackson and Joanne Martin on Sept. 11.

“It’s a great way for those in our community who want to celebrate Pride and support a great organization,” said Youth First Texas Director of Development and Administration Sam Wilkes.

Advisory board member Renee Baker put out a call to members of the Women’s Business Network to help raise money for the center after it moved to its new location. Jackson and Martin responded.

While no admission to the party will be charged, Wilkes said they will showcase the services the organization offers and hope the community will be generous with its financial support.

“We’ll probably have a short presentation. A youth or two will make an appeal,” said board member Chris Hendrix.

He said the group was looking for monthly donors who will make a multi-year commitment and challenge appeals.

Wilkes said that their Collin County group recently lost its space and is currently meeting at an office owned by Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The group is looking for a space of its own.

“We need a smaller, more secure spot,” he said. “YFT Collin County is a more intimate group. We have a couple of things in the works and are looking for what will be the best fit.”

The main Dallas center moved earlier this year to a new location on Harry Hines Boulevard.

Baker said the old space on Maple Avenue leaked, had air conditioning problems, was located near a meth clinic and had homeless people hanging out on the property. The new, more modern facility is safer and has attracted more youth.

“As of last month, we served 1,300 individuals so far this year,” Baker said.

That’s about a 25 percent increase in the number accessing services, and with the safer location some attend more often.

YFT is gearing up for another increase later this year when DART’s Green Line opens in December.

Market Center Station is across the street from their new building, making the facility even more accessible.

Jackson said she and her partner were delighted to open their house to help the organization continue to offer a variety of services.

“I’m a cheerleader for them,” Jackson said. “What they do is not duplicated by anyone else.”

She was referring to the way YFT integrates social activities with group and individual counseling.

“We offer community dinners to develop peer groups not based on drugs and alcohol,” Wilkes said.

Baker said she’s participated in movie nights, arts and crafts activities and cooking classes.

Twice a month, a gender identity group helps transgender youth gain self-acceptance. Lawyers work with the group pro bono to explain the steps needed to change legal papers, and counselors help them with a variety of questions and help them deal with pent up anxiety.

A six-week coming out series helps youth cope with family, friends and school.

YFT provides additional, unlimited free individual counseling as well. They partner with AIDS Arms and Resource Center Dallas to provide free HIV testing.

Wilkes said the agency works with a number of youth who are living on their own and struggling.

“Our food pantry is cleaned out and restocked each week,” he said.

Jackson and Martin have opened their North Dallas home to other groups many times, Jackson said. She is an estate-planning attorney who works with a number of transitioning people and with same-sex couples and single gays and lesbians.

“We have to protect ourselves even when the law doesn’t,” Jackson said. “We have to be creative.”

She said that’s exactly what YFT does that for LGBT youth and hoped the community would offer its support.

Sept. 11. 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at a private residence in North Dallas. To RSVP and attend the Youth First Texas party, e-mail Sam Wilkes at samw@youthfirsttexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Beyond Butch


Keynote speaker Jessica Pettitt

By Renee Baker, GenderPower.com

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in life, it is that I don’t have to take many steps forward before I stick another foot in my mouth.

This time, it happened just after I attended the Butch Voices Conference June 5 at Resource Center Dallas.

I was posting a note to my Facebook friends about the conference, and since I don’t identify as a butch, I made a “pre-emptive” statement saying, “And NO, I am not a butch!”

A friend called me to the carpet, “You said that as though it’s a bad thing to be butch.” I had to launch “Butch Appreciation Week” as my FB status to save myself!

Truly, I just didn’t want to be identified as butch, because I identify more as feminine. And truly, I do appreciate butches and we should start an appreciation week.

But being a transgender woman, I never felt an identity such as butch or femme applied to me. It is even a stretch for me to say I am a lesbian, though I’m in a relationship with another gal.

All these labels are still perplexing and complex. It takes about two seconds for the arguing to begin on what they all mean, what the implications are and who takes rightful ownership.

But a beautiful thing happened — there was none of this ego/identity arguing at the BV Conference. As Alpha Thomas said, it was all about honoring and respecting one another. Everyone had a chance to speak.

A major mission point of the BV Conference was and is to explore identities and embrace an entire spectrum of those who identify as Masculine of Center (a term coined by B. Cole of the Brown BOI Project).

It was not about “you have to be and do this,” in order “to qualify that you are this.”

Or as the conference organizers put it, “The point is, we don’t decide who is Butch, Stud or Aggressive. You get to decide for yourself.”

Thomas, an elder in the community, was happy to hear keynote speaker Jessica Pettitt urging everyone to relax about what a butch identity is. She had been waiting to hear this message for years.

She said, “God, am I hearing this? … I can’t believe this.”

Thomas said, “All these lines and labels separate us, they cause us to not work together, and it is time for the division to stop.”

She says we are an oppressed LGBT people and are oppressing each other with all these labels.

BV was a multi-cultural, age-diverse, mom and daughter, butch and butch-ally attended conference. And Thomas said, “The diversity made me feel so good.”

About 50 people were in attendance — including two men.

Wan-Lin Tsou felt the relaxed “define yourself” atmosphere to be very welcoming as well. She said the conference and keynote speaker really helped her to be proud of being a soft-butch that is attracted to other butches.

She said she had an “aha moment” when she realized she did “not need to feel weird or less-than just because I don’t necessarily match others’ … definition of being a part of the butch/femme dichotomy.”

Tsou also added, “It was also really enlightening to really look at labels as so limiting to not only myself but how I relate to others. Who is to say I can’t fall for a femme, too? And just because she ‘looks’ femme doesn’t mean that the way she carries herself isn’t butcher than me!”

For more about the Butch Voice National and Regional Conferences, go online to ButchVoices.com.

—  Dallasvoice