The Passing of an Icon: Jean Nelson

Jean Nelson

Jean Nelson

A NOTICE FROM THE DALLAS WAY:

It is with sadness that The Dallas Way announces the recent passing of one of its first contributors and supporters, Jean Nelson, the mother of the great gay rights activist Bill Nelson. Jean passed away peacefully in her home in Houston, at the age of 93, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. She was born October 30, 1922.

In the tumultuous decade of the 1980s, Jean’s life seemed to be one of constant challenge and adversity. She lost her husband of 26 years when he had an automobile accident on his way home from work. She then became the main caregiver for his aging parents, both of whom also died during this period.

Her son Bill let her know about his sexual orientation shortly before it was published in a headline story in the Dallas Time Herald, bringing his 10-year teaching career at W. T. White High School to an end as he rose to become a principal leader of the Dallas gay community. Soon she found herself supporting Bill in his efforts to combat the AIDS crisis of the 1980s through the creation of the AIDS Food Pantry, the AIDS Resource Center and the AIDS Clinic.

Bill’s partner, Terry Tebedo, became Jean’s “second son.” When both Bill and Terry were diagnosed with HIV, she became their chief caregiver. Terry died in 1988. Shortly thereafter Jean moved into Bill’s home to serve for 18 months as his main caregiver. About this experience, Jean once said: “I had gotten extremely mad when Bill’s doctor announced to us that Bill had two more weeks to live. He looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. Nelson, you need to put Bill in hospice and get on with your life.’ What a thing to say to a mother and son who continued to tell others you don’t ever give up!”

Jean eventually lost Bill to AIDS in 1990.

Wanting to leave behind the painful memories of her last decade in Dallas, Jean soon moved to Houston to live near her daughter Sheila, and Sheila’s young children. But she found she had been forever changed by her experiences in Dallas. At the age of 70 she decided to become a trained and certified hospice volunteer. The course she enrolled in had a meaningful first assignment:

Bill Jean Terry

From left, Bill Nelson, Jean Nelson, Terry Tebedo

“Our first assignment was to write a letter to the person we had lost. My first reaction – NO WAY !! That night I was awakened with all the words I wanted to say to my son. I got up at 3 a.m. and started writing! The words were just flowing! I don’t think I was ready to give God credit at this time, but it did seem strange. I had never been able to express my feelings, and now the words I wanted to say to Bill kept coming. It almost seemed that my son’s talents were being passed on to me.”

Her next challenge was to face the idea of making a panel for her son as part of the AIDS Quilt project. “Before I left Dallas, Bill’s friends had asked me if I could make a block for the AIDS quilt. This was a tool being used to bring awareness of how quickly AIDS was spreading. Now I was ready. So while I was taking the [hospice] course, Sheila and I created a beautiful pictorial review of Bill’s life. We also made one for Terry, Bill’s partner.”

When she finished the hospice course and became certified, a new career opened up before her. “Hospice training was very thorough, teaching me how to accept death and giving me the desire to help others. I chose to go to homes to sit with a loved one who was dying, giving the caregiver ‘time out’ – to go to church, go out to lunch, the grocery store – whatever. My patients were mainly cancer patients; one had AIDS, one had been injured in a car accident. These visits helped me to feel good about myself – that I could still help others even though I was old. I continued my volunteering for several years. … Tears have been replaced with laughter from good memories. Love leaves behind more than death takes away.”

JT Mike Bruce Dick Jean

Dick Weaver (red stripe not facing camera) then from left, Mike Anglin, Jean, Bruce Monroe and John Thomas.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic was being relocated to a new and larger facility. Jean was asked to return to Dallas to speak at the opening ceremony. She mustered to courage to return to Dallas and to stand up in front of so many who knew and loved her “two sons.”

Here is what she said to them:

“My emotions have gone from one extreme to another. Happiness because of what I see here today. A wonderful place to seek and find knowledge and hopefully a cure someday for this dreaded disease called AIDS. And extreme sadness because Bill and Terry are not here with me today for the official opening of the new Nelson-Tebedo clinic named in their honor. Therefore, I think it should be my role today to thank you for Bill and Terry. Bill, of course, was here to have the thrill of seeing the huge banner across the [original] building ‘Nelson-Tebedo Clinic’ – remarking at the time ‘But Mom, I think most buildings are named for those who have gone on.’ Oh, how I wish he could see what a super place it is today!

“I, too, want to say thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to make this a success. Thanks to the staff I love and admire for their dedication. Karen Estes, who worked so hard to see that all construction work was done correctly. A very special thanks to Gloria and Dr. Green. With their guidance I’m sure the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic will rank tops in the nation.

“What a thrill it is for the mother to see a clinic for the purpose of fighting AIDS name for her two sons. A very special memorial for two very special young men who spent so much of their life working for the cause of human rights, so that this will be a better place for everyone. … So thanks a million. Thanks for the love shown here today. This will be another one of my wonderful memories.”

On November 28, 2001, Jean was asked to speak at the second World AIDS Day worship service taking place at the John Wesley United Methodist Church in Houston. Here is what she shared with that audience:

“Last year, when I read the announcement in the church paper that John Wesley would be observing World AIDS Day, I was not only filled with joy, but I knew I needed to share this joy with our minister, Don.

“Without an appointment, I arrived at the church. … When my turn arrived to see Don, I walked into his office and said ‘Don, I’d like to re-introduce myself.’ To this he replied ‘But Jean, I already know who you are. You are Jean Nelson.’

“I replied, ‘I mean the real me. I’m Jean Nelson, the mom of a gay son who died of AIDS in 1990. I’ve come to thank you for the service to observe World AIDS Day.’

“Now we are having our second service, and I have been asked to have a part in this program. What I would like to do tonight, God willing, is to introduce my son Bill to you.

“Bill started out life as a very timid child, making first grade very difficult because he wanted all of his work to be perfect. He had great teachers through elementary, junior high and high school, receiving many achievement awards. During high school he was very active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Lovers Lane Methodist Church, where he had attended all his life. His leadership abilities really became very strong. For example, when the World’s Fair was in Montreal, Canada, he went to our minister, Tom Shipp, asking permission to plan a trip [to Montreal] for the MYF. Tom was reluctant at first because of the huge responsibility but told Bill if he thought he could organize it he could give it a try. Bill started immediately — with his dad’s help — planning the route the bus should take, writing Methodist churches along the route for permission to spend one night. The responses from the churches were great. The trip did happen. After months of preparation, 33 teenagers and six adults boarded a Greyhound bus.

“After graduating from high school, Bill attended SMU for five years — going to France for one semester to study French. He graduated with a bachelor of arts and masters degree in liberal arts, English and French.

“He did his practice teaching at his own high school [W. T. White High School in Dallas, Texas], teaching French. After graduation he was hired as a permanent teacher at his high school. There, with two other teachers, he created a new course called ‘The American Experience’ — a two-hour course that included a combination of English, history, art, music and architecture. His extra activities including coaching a wrestling team and teaching stagecraft. After three years he received the outstanding teacher award.

“After 10 years of teaching — when he chose to announce to the world that he was gay — no teaching job was then available. At this time he and his partner, Terry Tebedo, started an antique/junk store on Cedar Springs called Crossroads Market. He also became very interested in human rights, ending up as president of the Dallas Gay Alliance and then the Texas Human Rights Foundation.

“Since I moved to Houston, my daughter Sheila and I have made two panels for the AIDS quilt. One in memory of Bill’s life, the second in memory of Bill and Terry’s life and their fight for human rights. The quilt has become a powerful tool to bring awareness of AIDS.

“Dallas — though extremely conservative — learned to love my son. After his death a 30-minute tribute to his life was shown on Channel 13.

“I’m a much stronger person because of my son’s life. Never did I dream I could stand before you and talk. Tonight I’m here to continue carrying the torch for human rights and awareness of AIDS. I had a super guy for a son. Thank you for letting me introduce him to you.”

—  David Taffet

Gay SMU Dean David Chard named president of Wheelock College

David ChardDavid Chard, the first dean of SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, will become president of Wheelock College in Boston in July 1.

Chard, who is gay, will be the college’s 14th president.

Founded in 1888, Wheelock College focuses on preparing students for careers in education, social work and child life.

“Chard stood out not only for his outstanding leadership at Southern Methodist University, but for his innovative thinking, focus on diversity and inclusion, and lifelong commitment to education,” said Kate Taylor, chair of the Wheelock College Board of Trustees.

SMU President Gerald Turner praised Chard’s work elevating the Simmons to national prominence.

“David Chard has been the ideal dean to build the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development as a national resource with a particular impact on our community,” Turner said in a statement. “He has led programs and attracted research funding that will strengthen the quality of education through evidence-based practices. He has made the Simmons school a strategic partner with the community in improving education opportunities for under-served young people. He is a national leader in education. We wish him the best of success at Wheelock.”

One of those strategic partnerships includes the SMU Center for Family Counseling at Resource Center. The partnership, which has been operating since 2008, allows graduate counseling students to provide counseling services under the supervision of doctoral licensed university faculty and staff at Resource Center.

“David is a very, very, very good friend,” Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said. “I was introduced to him early on when I was at Resource Center and he was at SMU. We’ve worked closely together and also developed a business relationship.”

Cox, who also serves on the Simmons School’s executive committee, said Chard’s being openly gay was a positive step for the university.

“His being openly gay was instrumental in raising awareness of and influencing positive efforts regarding the LGBT community,” Cox added. “When you have a seat at the table, you have a say.”

Chard will also be one of the few out leaders of a private, four-year college or university in the country. Others include Sterling College’s Matthew Derr, president of the rural environmental liberal arts college in Vermont and Nancy Roseman, president of Dickinson College, a Pennsylvania liberal arts college.

Chard was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Board of Directors of the National Board for Education in 2012 and elected chair. The board oversees and directs the work of the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Steven Currall, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs, will be appointing an interim dean prior to Dean Chard’s departure from SMU. A search committee will look for Chard’s replacement through the 2016-17 school year.

—  James Russell

3 Texas groups sign letter demanding NCAA divest from campuses seeking Title IX exemptions

Criswell-College

Criswell College in Dallas is among the institutions to apply for a Title IX exemption.

Fairness Fort Worth, Resource Center and Houston’s  Legacy Center have joined a coalition of more than 80 LGBT sports, religious and youth advocacy groups signed on to a letter issued publicly yesterday (Wednesday, March 9) calling on the National Collegiate Athletic Association to divest from all religious-based institutions that have made Title IX waiver requests targeting transgender youth.

In their letter to the organization, which oversees and regulates athletics in higher education, they say the Title IX exemptions contradict the NCAA’s mission.

“Our partners on this open letter agree with the NCAA when it says that, ‘Diversity and inclusion improves the learning environment for all student-athletes, and enhances excellence within the Association.’ It is because we believe diversity and inclusion leads to the best learning environments that we ask NCAA to divest from all religious based campuses who have requested these discriminatory waivers,” the letter reads.

An educational institution run by a religious organization may apply for a Title IX exemption from the Department of Education if it “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

The requests grew in response to the Department of Education decision in 2014 to include transgender students under Title IX protections.

The Title IX waiver allows campus administrators to deny transgender students admission, usage of public accommodations, and protections against anti-LGBT actions from students and faculty.

“Religion-based bigotry is the basis for the vast majority of prejudice and discrimination LGBT people face, especially young people,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and one of the signatories, said in a statement. “The NCAA cannot stand for this outright discrimination among its member institutions and we urge them to take action to ensure an inclusive sports culture that is safe and fair for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

There are currently fifty-nine religious-based colleges and universities on the list, according to Campus Pride’s “Shame List.”

East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton and Howard Payne University in Brownwood are among the 37 campuses who received exemptions. University of Dallas in Irving, Criswell College in Dallas and Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene have applied for waivers.

“As people of faith or spirit, we call upon the NCAA to act on its stated values as an LGBTQ inclusive organization and divest from these schools who are willfully and intentionally creating unsafe environments for LGBTQ students,” said Jordyn Sun, national campus organizer at Soulforce. “No athlete should play sports under the specter of fear and discrimination. Instead, these schools should simply follow the law.”

—  James Russell

Lady Bunny keeps Toast to Life hopping

Lady Bunny kept Toast to Life, the annual fundraiser for Resource Center, lively and fun. The dance, food tasting and silent auction event took place at The Empire Room on Riverfront Boulevard on Saturday, March 6. Total amount raised will be announced at a later time.

—  David Taffet

UBE raises HIV awareness through fashion show tonight

Brown.Jalenzski1

Jalenzski Brown

A few tickets are still available for United Black Ellument’s “Black Love & Unity Fashion Show and Community Appreciation Dinner” tonight from 7-11 p.m. at Quixotic World Theater, 2824 Main St. in Deep Ellum.

This evening showcases Dallas’ community of young Black same-gender-loving men in a positive light while creating space for attendees to receive social support in the fight against HIV/AIDS. UBE will recognize individuals and organizations in the community who have contributed to ending the HIV epidemic among young black same-gender-loving men in Dallas County.

The “Black Love and Unity Fashion Show” will explore life as a young black same-gender-loving man navigating the HIV landscape. Scenes from the show include: “Pre-Diagnosis,” “Sex and Intimacy,” “Diagnosis,” and “Living in Your Truth.”

“The ability of a community to move itself progressively forward is contingent upon it’s ability to cultivate loving spaces and act in a unified manner,” said Jalenzski Brown, team leader of UBE. “With the disproportionate impact of the HIV epidemic in the Black community, more specifically among Black same-gender-loving men, the to time to act is now.”

UBE, a program of Resource Center, enables young black same-gender-loving men to fulfill their greatest potential for good and creates new ways for young men to come together, meet, socialize and support each other.

Although tickets are free, seating is limited so RSVP to ubedallas.org/blacklove.

—  David Taffet

Resource Center food pantry service to continue at current location through March 11

Renovations are under way at the future location of Resource Center’s food pantry

Resource Center is extending service at the current food pantry, currently located at 5450 Denton Drive Cutoff, through March 11.

“We will have a further update on the relocation of the pantry next week,” Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center, said in a message.

The food pantry’s move is part of the center’s capital campaign, which includes a new facility across from Cathedral of Hope and consolidation of numerous services at the current Reagan and Brown location. You can read about the plans for the new facility here and the food pantry and other services here.

—  James Russell

Bunny hops

Drag queen DJ talks music and politics as she gets ready to head back to Dallas for Toast to Life

BUNNYpic24FULLRES

Lady Bunny knows how to keep ’em dancing.

DAVID TAFFET   | Senior Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

“In Texas, I’ve become the DJ for socialites.” That’s how it seems to Lady Bunny, who was the DJ on Halloween at Hotel Zaza and at the Fresh Arts benefit, both in Houston.

In Dallas, she’s DJ’d an event at the Rachofsky home known for its art collection and for a Dallas Theater Center fundraiser, as well as at a wedding held on marriage equality night at the W Hotel.

Bunny admits that she’s “not the greatest mixer,” and that she doesn’t have a lot in common politically with many of the people who attended those Texas fundraisers. “But I know music and I know what they’ll like,” she declares.

And after all, that’s what counts, right?

Bunny says she knows how to please a crowd and has a wide variety of experience as a DJ. “When you DJ from Pride to Fashion Week in Paris to gay weddings to bar mitzvahs, you find out what a crowd likes,” she says.

Screen shot 2016-02-25 at 3.17.44 PMAnd knowing what the crowd likes shouldn’t be too difficult for Bunny when she’s next in Dallas, because she’ll be spinning for a crowd that’s much closer to her on the political spectrum: She’ll be the star attraction at Resource Center’s 18th annual Toast to Life fundraiser on March 5 at The Empire Room.

Surprisingly, Bunny has also made a name for herself in the fashion world since a fashion publication called Visionaire hired her as their in-house DJ.

“That started my DJ career outside New York,” she says.

Her first party in Paris, on the Eiffel Tower, attracted fashion model Iman and designer Karl Lagerfeld as guests. From there, she’s done Toyko, Milan, Bangkok, Beijing, Seoul and London.

“That gave me credibility as a DJ,” she says. “It became OK to hire this drag queen.”

Bunny says it was her years of working in clubs that helped her be successful as a DJ. “I remember what songs turned the party out,” she says. “In every decade.”

It also doesn’t hurt that she breaks the ice by getting into the music and cutting up. “You get a DJ and a clown for the price of one,” she says.

Currently, Bunny is on a DJ tour promoting the upcoming eighth season of Drag Race. Before coming to Dallas next week, she hits Phoenix and Kalamazoo. From here, she heads overseas to London, Manchester and Milan. But that doesn’t mean she’s carrying a lot of luggage around.

“I shock people how light I travel,” she says.

For this tour, Bunny needs seven dresses. So she just packs fewer men’s clothes. What about all of her wigs? They’re big, she says, not teased out. So they stack and she combs them out.

Bunny says even when she’s in men’s clothes with no make up, she gets called “ma’am,” especially when they hear her voice. It’s not rude, she adds; at least they’re calling her ma’am, not something derogatory.

But she’s had a number of funny experiences with that. “A men’s room attendant in Mexico told me I went into the wrong restroom,” she recalls. When she explained she was a man, he propositioned her.

As passionate as Bunny is with her music and entertaining, she’s equally as hot about her politics.

First, she rips fellow New Yorker Donald Trump.

“I was in L.A. and Walgreens had a life-sized cutout of Donald Trump,” she says of an experience that happened before Trump launched his presidential bid. “Do they know no one in New York even likes Donald Trump? He’s regarded as a joke.”

Bunny says she doesn’t think Trump is even seriously running. She’s still expecting him to drop out and turn his run into a reality show about how to prank the press. He is, she says, a “jerk spouting nonsense.”

But the anger Trump has tapped into is real, she adds: “People are angry. We’re told the recession is over but people are still working two jobs and are still on food stamps.”

After eight years of Bush and eight years of Obama, she says, most of the wealth is going to “the 1 percent.”

She criticizes Hillary Clinton for voting for the Iraq War, something Bunny believes was a disaster. “I’m a drag queen and she has access to secret dossiers,” Bunny said. “She has the foreign policy of a Republican.”

Bunny says she has a 75-year-old Republican aunt who lives in the south who’s voting for Bernie because “the Republicans are clowns and she doesn’t trust Hillary.” Bunny’s advice? Get involved.

Oh, and support Resource Center by coming to Toast to Life. Bunny promises it’ll be a blast.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2016.

—  Craig Tuggle

Resource Center food pantry move temporarily delayed

Resource-Center

Renovations are under way at the future location of Resource Center’s food pantry

Resource Center is delaying the planned relocation of its food pantry from its current location due to an unexpected construction delay at the Reagan and Brown building.

The pantry, currently located at 5450 Denton Drive Cutoff, was scheduled to relocate on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Thanks to the generosity of the current pantry landlord, operations will continue at the Denton Drive location through the week of Feb. 29.

Center staff and volunteers are working diligently to ensure that client needs are met during this transition phase.  The center expects to have additional updated information in the coming days, and will share details once they are available.

—  James Russell

DA Hawk visits Resource Center

Cox and Hawk

District Attorney, left, and Resource Center CEO Cece Cox.

Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk toured Resource Center with CEO Cece Cox, today, Wednesday, Feb. 10.

It was the Republican’s first visit to the center since taking office last year.

Rafael McDonnell, Resource Center’s communications and advocacy manager, said he approached Hawk about touring after December’s meeting addressing the uptick of violence along Cedar Springs.

Hawk was familiar with the Resource Center from her time as judge, but the tour offered an opportunity to see how the center operates.

Hawk’s tour included stops in the food pantry, which is currently under construction, and a chance to meet center staff.

McDonnell said the center is interested in developing a relationship with Hawk and her staff. The tour hopefully established that relationship.

—  James Russell

Resource Center fast tracks pantry renovation

Services continue without disruption, despite unexpected lease cancellation

Resource-Center

Workers strip what was the Red, Blue and Yellow rooms to the bare walls to build the new food pantry. (James Russell/Dallas Voice)


JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

The food pantry is one of Resource Center’s most popular programs. Currently located on the Denton Drive Cutoff, just off Maple Avenue near Inwood Road, the pantry serves more than 800 people a week. So when center officials learned that the landlord at that space was unexpectedly cancelling the pantry’s lease, they knew that halting the popular service, even temporarily, was out of the question.

But it wasn’t just center staffers worried the pantry’s clientele would be inconvenienced. It also meant making significant changes to the center’s ongoing capital campaign timeline.

Resource Center is in the midst of an $8.7 million capital campaign intended to help the center meet the needs of an ever-growing community. Originally, the idea was to first move staff and social services into the new 20,000-square-foot facility under construction on Cedar Springs Road at Inwood when that facility was finished. That move would free space at the current Reagan-and-Brown location to move into phase two: consolidating HIV services, nutrition services and the food pantry.

Now, both the construction and renovation are happening at the same time. On the revised timeline, the pantry should be ready by mid-February, the new facility in March, and the Reagan-and-Brown renovations by the summer.

“This timeline was not ideal, but we are committed to clients,” Resource Center CEO Cece Cox noted. “We will not miss one day of service at the pantry. Staff is working to accommodate clients to ensure that their needs are being met during this transitional phase.”

In order to continue to meet the high demand for service, it will take $600,000 to renovate the Reagan-and-Brown building, including the construction and relocation of the food pantry.

The food pantry began in 1985 out of a cardboard box at Crossroads Market, then located at the intersection of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton. As need grew, so did the pantry. It moved to a larger space in the 3900 block of Cedar Springs, and eventually to its current location at Denton Drive Cutoff.

Now, through a partnership with the North Texas Food Bank, the center is able to readily restock its pantry with fresh produce, dairy, meats and frozen meals for the 1,900 clients who use it every month.

Cox said the total square footage of the Reagan-and-Brown facility will be about 12,000 square feet. The pantry space will be smaller than the current one. But the new one will be “more efficient in terms of client use,” said Cox.

It will also benefit clients who use public transit.

“When you use public transportation, you’re subject to longer wait times,” Cox said. Clients may be using already limited resources just to access the pantry and services, she added.

Doris Carrillo, Resource Center’s client services manager, said, “The new food pantry means a friendlier and more centralized location for clients.” She called the Denton Cut Off location “isolated.”

“The new food pantry location offers a one-stop shop for all of our clients’ nutritional and supportive needs.

With the move of the pantry to Reagan-and-Brown, clients won’t have to sacrifice stocking up on groceries over a daily hot meal. Now they can have both, due to convenient access to all programs,” Carrillo added.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.

—  James Russell