Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

DOMA ruled unconstitutional by bankruptcy court

A federal bankruptcy court in California on Monday ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles ruled that it is discriminatory to prevent a legally married same-sex couple from filing for joint bankruptcy.

The couple, Gene Balas and Carlos Morales, filed a joint chapter 13 petition. They were married in 2008 in California and remain legally married.

In his ruling, the judge wrote: “This case is about equality, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, for two people who filed for protection under Title 11 of the United States Code (Bankruptcy Code).”

It is “undisputed that the Debtors are a lawfully married California couple,” the judge wrote, adding that the couple came to the court to restructure and repay their debt following extended illnesses and long periods of unemployment.

The U.S. trustee for the case filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that two men cannot file jointly for bankruptcy. The judge ruled the trustee did not ask for dismissal based on one of the 11 causes listed in bankruptcy law to dismiss, but simply because the couple are two men.

The judge said the trustee filed no relevant case law supporting his position and said the couple should not be singled out for discriminatory treatment. He cited the Obama administration’s position that DOMA is unconstitutional and ruled that, indeed it is.

—  David Taffet

Judge to rule this week in Nikki Araguz case

Nikki Araguz

Transgender widow vows appeal if she loses case

JUAN A. LOZANO  |  Associated Press

WHARTON, Texas — The transgender widow of a Texas firefighter will likely learn next week whether his family’s request to nullify their marriage and strip her of any death benefits will be granted, a judge said Friday.

State District Judge Randy Clapp made the announcement after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who was killed while battling a blaze last year. The suit argues that his widow shouldn’t get any benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

The widow, Nikki Araguz, said she had done everything medically and legally possible to show that she is female and was legally married under Texas law. She believes that she’s entitled to widow’s benefits.

“I believe the judge is going to rule in my favor,” Araguz said after the court hearing.

The lawsuit seeks control over death benefits and assets totaling more than $600,000, which the firefighter’s family wants to go to his two sons from a previous marriage. Voiding the marriage would prevent Nikki Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had together.

Thomas Araguz died while fighting a fire at an egg farm near Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, in July 2010. He was 30.

His mother, Simona Longoria, filed a lawsuit asking that her son’s marriage be voided. She and her family have said he learned of his wife’s gender history just prior to his death, and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But Nikki Araguz, 35, has insisted that her husband was aware she was born a man and that he fully supported her through the surgical process to become a woman. She underwent surgery two months after they were married in 2008.

Longoria’s attorney, Chad Ellis, argued that Texas law — specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender — supports his client’s efforts to void the marriage.

The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband’s death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage and wrongful death claim were invalid.

Ellis presented medical and school records that he said showed Nikki Araguz was born without female reproductive organs and that she presented herself as a male while growing up and going to school. He also said her birth certificate at the time of her marriage indicated she was a man.

“By law, two males cannot be married in this state,” Ellis told the judge.

Nikki Araguz, who was born in California, did not change her birth certificate to reflect she had become a female until after her husband’s death, said Edward Burwell, one of the attorneys for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of his two children.

But one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Darrell Steidley, said that when his client got her marriage license, she presented the necessary legal documents to show she was a female. He also noted changes made in 2009 to the Texas Family Code that allowed people to present numerous alternatives to a birth certificate as the proof of identity needed to get a marriage license. That was an example, he argued, of the state trying to move away from the 1999 appeals court ruling.

The changes in 2009 allowed transgendered people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married.

After the hearing, the firefighter’s family and attorneys for his ex-wife criticized plans by Nikki Araguz to star in a reality television dating show and implied she was only interested in money and fame that the case would bring her.

“That is absurd,” Nikki Araguz said in response. “I’m after my civil equality and the rights that I deserve as the wife of a fallen firefighter.”

If the judge rules against the firefighter’s family in their motion for a summary judgment, the case would then proceed to trial. Araguz said if the judge rules against her, she would appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

—  John Wright

Letting it REGISTER • Pride Weddings & Celebrations 2011

Gift registries can be intimidating. Dean Driver makes them easy

FASHION. PLATE. | Dean Driver knows how to make a tabletop pop — and how to make it easy on you to choose your gifts. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

BY RICH LOPEZ

Perhaps the one wedding tradition same-sex couples might waffle on is signing up for that beg-a-thon, the gift registry. Forget whether to do so (you should); the real question is, where can you find that particular china pattern you once saw in a magazine?

The answer to that question is probably Dean Driver. With his new company, Consilium Lifestyle Collections, Driver makes what could be a daunting (even intimidating) task for same-sex couples possibly the easiest  job out of all the wedding planning.

“I don’t know if the average gay couple feels comfortable going into stores,” Driver says. “They may, but many retailers just aren’t reaching out to gay couples.”

Teaming up with Consilium Creative Marketing, Driver created what may be the first by-appointment source of its kind in Dallas to provide a wedding gift registry for same-sex couples. While the services are for everyone, Driver believes that this personal touch can bring comfort to any gay newlyweds hesitant about how to sign up for gifts. It also gives them a home field advantage when looking for fine tabletop products and more.

“The way we do business is changing, and this has afforded me the ability to do in-home consultations and also wedding registries,” Driver says. “I come to the client with samples to get an idea of their lifestyle and suggest products and can see what will work with what’s already in the home.”

The affable Driver knows his stuff. After working with tabletop industries for years in large markets like New York, he has access to many luxury brands and even unique home products. The usual china and crystal items are no problem, but items like linens and household accessories are more easily available through him.

Driver’s first piece of advice on getting started with a registry: Don’t be intimidated.

“I demystify all that for you,” he says. “That’s what I’m here for. I’ll make it easier for you. And people shouldn’t think that everything offered in a registry costs so much. We do have some unique options that are moderately priced.”

Consilium has only been around for a few months, but it has burst out of the gate with a selection of up to 50 brands, some exclusive to them. And with Driver’s knowledge and background, he can pretty much get anybody anything they want.

“I’m a sort of an expert in tabletops, and I have my finger on the pulse of the industry,” he says. “I go to Paris, to Milan and see all the new patterns. And if you saw a plate in a magazine and brought it to me,  I could pinpoint what it is. When I say anything, I mean anything — and you may be only person in the country to have it.”

Something his company can guarantee is the death of that most dreaded wedding tradition: The return. Once items are selected for the registry, gift givers don’t have to worry about buying an item that’s already been purchased. Instead, the company does gift cards only, which are beautifully packaged for the giver to present.

“This prevents exchanges or duplicates,” he says. “Plus, clients may change their minds and gift cards give them an opportunity to get something else. And it’s a little more green without all that wrapping paper and shipping to worry about.”

Driver and company seems to have gotten rid of all the excuses couples can make to partake in registering for gifts. Being that a wedding is a life-changing event, Driver mostly wonders why not go all out?

“Couples shouldn’t shy away from getting nice things,” he says. “This is the one time to get the nice stuff, so why not? Anything you want, I can get.”

The only caveat — Driver encourages people to use the nice stuff everyday.

“Yeah, don’t pack it away in a cabinet like our parents did,” he says.

Of course, if there’s one thing gays know how to do it’s merchandise.

For more information, visit ConsiliumLifestyleCollections.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Congratulate me. I'm officially an unmarried partner

WeddingCake

I received my census form today, filled it out and put it in the mail. (The census comes with a postage paid envelope so no waiting on long lines at the post office for a stamp).

The census is short and easy to fill out. Several questions are about how you self-identify.

Transgender people should enter the sex that they identify as. However, there will be no count of transgender people. You will be counted as male or female. Period.

Gays or lesbians will be counted as same-sex couples if “Person 2″ marks “Husband or wife” or “Unmarried partner” and both people in the house are the same sex. Although we are not, Miguel and I marked “Unmarried partner”so we would count.

Well, actually we marked “Pareja no casada” because I filled out the form en espanol. Why? Porque yo could. Hopefully this will confuse somebody because I filled it out in the column that’s in Spanish and marked that I was not hispanic. Race, however, is another item that should be entered as you self-identify.

The one question I had a problem with is age and date of birth. I know my date of birth. I’ll say it. I was born in 1953. But I self-identify as 35. According to Elizabeth Lopez Lyon, the LGBT partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau in Dallas, that should be filled out as actual age, not how I self-identify.

—  David Taffet

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