AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Council member Jones to be first cisgender reader at Houston Day of Remembrance

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones is scheduled to be the first cisgender reader in the history of Houston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, one the events sponsors, says that Jones was originally approached to be a speaker at the event because of her advocacy for trans children, but that she requested to read instead.

“I begged to read, I begged them,” corrects Jones, “they asked me if I wanted to speak and I begged them to read instead because it’s profound and it touches you. I think it’s better to read because it’s important.”
Jones said she was particularly moved at last year’s Day of Remembrance by the story of 17 month old Roy A. Jones who was beaten to death by his babysitter for “acting like a girl.” “I was so touched when they read about the baby that was killed,” said Jones, “the readers tell the story.”

Jones led efforts this year to encourage local homeless youth provider Covenant House to adopt a nondiscrimination policy that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She used her position on City Council to threaten to cut Covenant House’s funding unless they addressed accusations of discrimination. That threat persuaded the organization to overhaul their policies and begin regular meetings with community leaders to discuss their progress in serving LGBT youth.
The Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance is Saturday, November 19, from 7-9:30 pm at Farish Hall on the University of Houston Campus.

—  admin

Death: Burleigh John ‘B.J.’ Smith

Burleigh John “B.J.”  Smith, 62, of Dallas died March 29 from complications due to liver cancer.

Born in Shreveport to the late Bernard Cyril and Gwendolyn Smith, B.J.Smith worked 20 years for Cinemark Theaters as a film buyer before retiring in early 2010. He had a very outgoing and uplifting personality and he never met a stranger. His hobbies and interests included singing with the Turtle Creek Chorale for 11 years, movies, traveling, cooking and enjoying food and wine with friends.

He is survived by his partner of 31 years, Dennis Bellotto,; his sister Lynn Norton and family of Flower Mound; his brother Barney Smith and family of San Antonio; and his cherished cat Lance.

In lieu of flowers, Smith requested that memorial donations be made to AMFAR www.amfar.org or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society www.lls.org. No formal memorial service is planned at this time.

—  John Wright

WND Claims Army Colonel Has Requested To Be Relieved Of Command Over DADT

Christianist website World Net Daily is claiming that an unnamed Army colonel has requested to be relieved of his command rather than serve under a repealed DADT.

A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army has confirmed to WND that he is asking to be relieved of the command of his squadron because of the new policy. And former combat personnel are telling WND that they are continuing to keep the pressure on Congress to reverse itself. “I have already requested through my chain of command that I be relieved of command of my squadron prior to new policy implementation on grounds that my personal beliefs don’t permit me to force the coming ‘behavior modifications’ training and other inevitable policies on my soldiers,” the officer, whose name has been withheld, wrote to WND. The statement highlights the question of whether soldiers themselves are ready to go along with the controversial social experiment imposed by Congress, or whether they’ll carefully withdraw from command positions and troop ranks, pack their bags and leave the military.

World Net Daily, which is among the most widely-read conservative sites in the world, is asking for other anti-gay soldiers and officers to come forward with their post-DADT plans.

Joe. My. God.

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A Requested Catholic Church Annulment On My Mind

It’s been a difficult week for me, this past week. I’ve had writer’s block that hasn’t been because of a lack of ideas to write about, but because my mind has been focused on other things.

The big issue is that my ex-wife is pursuing a Catholic Church annulment of our marriage. We were together for about thirteen years, and separated about six-and-a-half years before our divorce was finalized. We were never Catholic — I actually joined the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons) as a product of our relationship; we were active in the Mormon Church for about a year-and-a-half before giving up on the idea of she and me should have a Mormon Temple Wedding.

After my ex-wife’s and my divorce was finalized, my ex-wife joined the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church by default considers my ex-wife’s and my wedding a valid and binding marriage. Since the Catholic Church doesn’t grant divorces, but instead only annulments…well, to quote from the website AmericanCatholic.org:

The Catholic Church presumes that marriages are valid, binding spouses for life. When couples do separate and divorce, therefore, the Church examines in detail their marriage to determine if, right from the start, some essential element was missing in their relationship. If that fact has been established, it means the spouses did not have the kind of marital link that binds them together for life.

Obviously, the Catholic Church may consider my coming out as a transsexual (after our divorce) as a possible essential element that would explain why I didn’t enter a “marital link that binds [my ex-wife and I] together for life.” The website explains essential elements in a little more detail in a section entitled On what grounds does the Church declare nullity for some failed marriages?:

In technical language, the most common reasons are insufficiency or inadequacy of judgment (also known as lack of due discretion, due to some factor such as young age, pressure to marry in haste, etc.), psychological incapacity, and absence of a proper intention to have children, be faithful, or remain together until death.

These grounds can manifest themselves in various ways. For example, a couple, discovering her pregnancy, decide to marry; only much later do they recognize the lack of wisdom in that decision. Or one spouse carries an addictive problem with alcohol or drugs into the marriage. Perhaps a person, unfaithful during courtship, continues the infidelity after marrying.

In cases like these, the Church judges may decide that something contrary to the nature of marriage or to a full, free human decision prevents this contract from being sound or binding.

Many of us are aware what the Catholic Church thinks about transsexuals. In the same Christmas 2008 Message where Pope Benedict stated (per an audio translation by Australia’s ABC News):

We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church thinks of human nature as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected. This is not out of date meta physics, but comes from the faith and the creator, and listening to the language of creation.

…Adding that the distinction between male and female gender is blurring, and stating that human beings deserve to be protected from self-destruction:

Rainforests — yes — deserve our protection, but the human being, as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction to his freedom, but is the condition of this freedom, does not deserve it less.

The Pope took a more subtle stab at transsexuals in that same Christmas message. According to Time Magazine‘s The Pope’s Christmas Condemnation of Transsexuals:

Without actually using the word, Benedict took a subtle swipe at those who might undergo sex-change operations or otherwise attempt to alter their God-given gender. Defend “the nature of man against its manipulation,” Benedict told the priests, bishops and cardinals gathered Monday in the ornate Clementine hall. “The Church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected.” The Pope again denounced the contemporary idea that gender is a malleable definition. That path, he said, leads to a “self-emancipation of man from creation and the Creator.”

Fr. William P. Saunders-Herald took the Pope’s basic statement regarding transsexual people a step farther in a Catholic Herald piece, entitled Straight Answers: The Morality of ‘Sex Change’ Operations, arguing condemnation:

[A] transsexual will never be able to enter validly into the sacrament of Matrimony. A man who undergoes sexual reassignment will never really be a woman, or vice versa; rather, a man will be a man (or a woman will be a woman), except with a mutilated body and profound psychological disordering. Moreover, a transsexual will never be able to consummate the marriage in the fullest expression of love of husband and wife, and never will there be a real openness to life and the creation of children.

To destroy organs purposefully that are healthy and functioning, and to try to create imitation organs which will never have the genuineness and functioning of authentic organs is gross and lacks charity. Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned.

Need more? Well, the Catholic News Service reported, in a January 16, 2003 news brief entitled Vatican says ‘sex-change’ operation does not change person’s gender:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — After years of study, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation has sent church leaders a confidential document concluding that “sex-change” procedures do not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the church. Consequently, the document instructs bishops never to alter the sex listed in parish baptismal records and says Catholics who have undergone “sex-change” procedures are not eligible to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life, according to a source familiar with the text. The document was completed in 2000 and sent “sub secretum” (under secrecy) to the papal representatives in each country to provide guidance on a case-by-case basis to bishops. But when it became clear that many bishops were still unaware of its existence, in 2002 the congregation sent it to the presidents of bishops’ conferences as well. “The key point is that the (transsexual) surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female,” said the source.

An Associated Press article from January of 2003 spoke to the Catholic Church’s views on transsexuals as well. From the piece entitled Vatican Denounces Transsexuals (link added to text):

Transsexuals suffer from “mental pathologies,” are ineligible for admission to Roman Catholic religious orders and should be expelled if they have already entered the priesthood or religious life, the Vatican says in new directives.

The Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent the directives to the superiors of religious orders worldwide. The leaders were told to implement the directives or turn cases over to the Congregation for handling, Vatican officials said Friday.

The directives were the latest in a series of Vatican pronouncements on eligibility for the priesthood issued ahead of a long-awaited set of guidelines for seminaries in accepting candidates for the clergy.

…In the new directives, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said transsexuals should be barred as priests, monks, friars, nuns and brothers in religious orders.

“When, from clear external behavior and the testimony of those assigned to formation, there emerges the prudent doubt about the presence of transsexuality, the superior should arrange for a careful medical and psychiatric exam,” said the directive, which was reported Friday by Adista, a liberal Catholic news agency…

So, the Catholic Church considers me to have a mental pathology, as someone who isn’t respecting a divine order of male and female, and considers me to be engaging in “self-emancipation of man from creation and the Creator.” And, of course, this is to be condemned.

My ex-wife is likely expecting the Catholic Church diocese that’s handling the annulment request to give a lot of weight into to previous comments of mine, such as one from a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) My Story piece on the Human Right’s Campaign (HRC) website. In that piece, I stated:

At fourteen a flashbulb seemed to go off in my head, and the reason I had felt “off” for most of my childhood became clear: my body [in puberty] was starting to develop in a way that didn’t match my female gender. The discordant feelings I’d always felt [had,] for a short time[,] became very lucid. However; the mantra at the time was that male-to-female transsexuals needed to be sexually attracted to men to be considered “true” transsexuals, so I was particularly confused that I felt female, but was nominally attracted to women…and not to men at all. Because I wasn’t by the standards then considered a transsexual, I identified myself as a transvestite.

But I said more than that in that accounting of my personal history. I also said:

I graduated high school in 1977 and seemed to drift a few years, identifying myself as an “ex-transvestite,” with most of the trappings that apply these days to “ex-gays.”

I went to some reparative therapy in 1978, which was the foundation of my self-delusion that I was “cured.” I entered into my marriage without trying to evade marital responsibility — I very much loved my now ex-wife, and I wanted (and did have) children with her. I disclosed that I considered myself an ex-transvestite to my ex-wife before we I asked her to marry me.

However, I have to admit that one of the unarticulated, unconscious reasons I entered into marriage was wanting to become the man I subconsciously knew I wasn’t. Although that particular reason was far from the primary reason I wanted to marry my ex-wife, it was among the reasons I married my ex-wife — even though it was at the time it was a subconscious reason. Just because I now consciously understand it was one reason among many reasons of why I wanted to get married, I didn’t understand that as a personal truth then.

As I said, my ex-wife and I had children together. My oldest son was adopted, and the adoption was contested. We first took that son home the day after he was born, but the adoption wasn’t completed until about five-and-a-half years later — there was a long court case involved in the adoption.

I currently have a good relationship with my oldest son.

I also have twin boys though who currently want nothing to do with me. Those sons were conceived through in vitro fertilization as my ex-wife and I both had conditions that contributed to our infertility as a couple. So, it took several years of trying various treatments to reach the point where they were conceived and born.

My ex-wife’s and my children, in other words, weren’t products of sexual intercourse in the marriage bed. These children weren’t accidents, but instead were brought into our then family with great effort and by great expense.

One of the difficulties I’m having with the idea of the Catholic Church annulling my ex-wife’s and my marriage is what I see as secondary effect. That secondary effect would be the Catholic Church functionally declaring the three children of my ex-wife and my marriage to be illegitimate children — at least, that’s my take on what that would mean. From an integrity standpoint, I don’t want the Catholic Church to functionally state that my children are illegitimate children. These three children were all wanted by my ex-wife and me, and these children were outgrowths of a marriage that I know to have been a real marriage — a real marriage in both the spiritual and secular sense.

There is going to be a tribunal taking up my ex-wife’s request to have the Catholic Church annul our marriage, and I’m asking the tribunal to deny my e-wife’s request. It irritates me to realize that if I had not decided to contest my ex-wife’s request for annulment, the Catholic Church would have likely grated her request pro forma, with the assumption that I didn’t honestly intend to enter into a lifetime marital link with my ex-wife. I know I actually intended no such a thing — I know I entered into my past marriage with full intent to have it be a lifetime marriage.

There are things I can point to that indicate my ex-wife believed, and still believes, our marriage was a real marriage, but I don’t plan to make those things public in a Pam’s House Blend article for reasons of privacy — but I will be bringing these up to the tribunal. My ex-wife is aware of the basic arguments that I’ll be bringing to contest the annulment.

Well, even though my ex-wife’s pursuit of a Catholic Church annulment for our past marriage isn’t the only issue that has contributed to the writer’s block I experienced last week, it certainly was the biggest contributor to that writer’s block. Hopefully the writer’s block is over, but if my writings seem a bit infrequent and sparse for a bit into more the future, you’ll have an idea why — This requested Catholic Church annulment is on my mind.

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Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

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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