A cautionary tale for LGBT travelers

Allan Turnipseed

Murder of former Dallas resident in Mexican state of Jalisco should remind us never to get too comfortable, anywhere we live

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

No one knows what thoughts flashed through American expatriate Allan Turnipseed’s mind during the last moments of his life in his Mexican retirement home on Lake Chapala last month.

But they surely must have been thoughts tinged with shock and disbelief.

It was a turn of events that likely came about because the former Dallas resident became too comfortable in a foreign country plagued by violence. He may have let down his guard and placed trust in young strangers whose minds harbored deadly thoughts.

Turnipseed’s 40-year partner, Bob Tennison, reportedly discovered the 62-year-old lying face down in a hallway of their home. The victim’s assailants tied his hand behind his back and shot him in the head, according to published Mexican reports.

Two homeless, teenage Hispanic brothers, who were known associates of a street gang, confessed they had forced their way into the home to rob it. They killed Turnipseed after he threatened to turn them in to police, according to the reports. They allegedly took the equivalent of about $1,000 and a Toyota pickup from the scene before going shopping to purchase tennis shoes and clothing, as well as marijuana and food.

The shocking crime cut short the life of a respected member of Dallas’ LGBT community who had owned a local business and participated in the Stonewall Business and Professional Association. The prominent graphic designer — who was born in Canada, grew up in Dallas and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington — also left behind several grieving relatives and many close friends.

It appears that Turnipseed had become as socially and charitably active during his seven-year residence in his Mexican community as he had been in Dallas. That probably led to a false sense of security that many tourists and expatriate residents tend to develop in Mexico.

I know that because of my frequent trips over the past two decades to Puerto Vallarta, which is 204 miles west of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in the same state of Jalisco.

About four years ago, I was robbed on the street in Puerto Vallarta. I had become so comfortable visiting the city that I walked back to my hotel on the beach from a downtown nightclub one night, confident that no harm could come to me.

As I walked toward my hotel, two friendly young Mexican men joined me on the sidewalk. They walked beside me, asking me all of the questions to which I had become accustomed from the tribe of young hustlers that prowl the beach by day and the streets by night.

Suddenly, one of them was grabbing my wallet out of my pants pocket and the other one was sprinting down the street like a football player. He caught the pass of my wallet through the air, and both of them disappeared into the night.

I was lucky. The robbery consisted mostly of subterfuge. But it could just have easily gone very badly in different circumstances with the use of a knife or gun.

As it happened, I only lost a couple of hundred dollars, my credit cards and my peace of mind.

Some would say I was asking for trouble by walking alone at night, and I’m sure that’s true. I would never do the same thing in Dallas, which goes to show how comfortable I used to feel in Puerto Vallarta.

I imagine Turnipseed felt the same level of comfort. After all, he was in his own home, opening the door to a knock from a couple of teenagers with whom he had came into contact through a friend, who reportedly had given the youths food and shelter. The pair of brothers, who reportedly were American citizens abandoned by their parents, were a familiar sight in the community.

What Turnipseed might not have known is that many residents knew the two youths had reputations as thieves.

What I have come to realize is that known criminals commonly circulate in the midst of tourists on the beach and at other public places without interference in Mexico.

That information usually is gleaned only from bartenders and waiters, who either take a liking to a tourist or just don’t want to see a good source of tips disabled or permanently eliminated.

Mexico is an enchanting country, and most of its inhabitants are good people. But it has always been a much more dangerous destination than some people realize, and Turnipseed’s murder is not the first grisly attack on American residents on Lake Chapala.

While most of the recent Mexican violence can be attributed to the drug cartels’ wars with each other and the government, it likely has also created an atmosphere where human life is considered by criminals to be less valuable.

Mexico is a favorite destination for many LGBT tourists from Texas, and many people have successfully retired or maintain vacation homes there. Publicity about Turnipseed’s murder is unlikely to change that.

But hopefully it will be a strong reminder to all Americans that caution is more critical than ever when undertaking travel south of the border.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Not-so-secure security with new TSA procedures

Backscatter scanners, aggressive pat-downs give us a false sense of security when the terrorists have already won by making us afraid

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

As a gay man, I have been groped before. In fact, it used to be hard to get a drink in a gay bar without getting a few “friendly contacts.”

Was it welcome? Not always. Did I feel violated? Not really; it came with the territory.

So that said, how would I feel about being groped by a blue-gloved Transportation Security agent? Violated!

First and foremost, the new security procedures being added to current screenings are ineffective. Recently, a German TV show demonstrated clearly how the exact chemicals used in the infamous “underwear bomb” could be walked through the full-body scanners without detection.

Additionally, the whole “three bottles with no more than three ounces in a plastic bag” ruse does nothing to prevent high-powered explosive components from being brought through screening. That same TV segment showed how these passed right through the scanner and X-ray with no notice.

Three bottles of three ounces of chemicals were plenty to create a roaring incendiary bomb with sufficient heat to burn through the metal fry pan holding it.

The whole security screening is more for us than for security. It makes us feel like the TSA and the government are doing something to protect us. It is more theater than security — and now it’s getting really personal.

The companies that make the scanners have sold the TSA and the government the bill of goods that these invasive X-ray machines are foolproof. They aren’t.

They also have tried to convince us that they are not an invasion of privacy. Well, they are, Blanche; they are.

We have been told the image of your naked body is being viewed by some anonymous person upstairs at the airport who supposedly will not share the image with anyone. Gizmodo, a high-tech online site, already obtained more than 100 images stored improperly by U.S. marshals in Orlando. Perhaps they would make nice greeting cards?

We have been told the scanners pose no health threat. However, if you travel frequently or are part of an airline crew, you get exposed to the radiation from these scanners over and over — and the jury is out on that.

Back in April, faculty members at the University of California, San Francisco, sent a letter expressing their concerns about possible health risks related to the backscatter X-ray scanners to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

So if you opt for a “pat down” from a TSA agent, which is your right if you decide you don’t want to go through the scanner, you get a not-so-delicate, full-body grope, sans happy ending. That’s where I get back to the whole violated thing.

Standard procedure is male agents pat down men and female agents pat down women. What about gay men and lesbians? Do we get a choice?

And even more to the point, what about someone who is transgender? It really gets difficult and becomes a clear invasion of privacy when you have to explain that the agent might not find the same anatomy they are expecting to find.

Again it’s an indignity, and just plain unnecessary.

I know we all want to be safe when flying, but if our line of defense is a group of poorly trained and underpaid folks wearing plastic gloves, we are already on shaky ground. According to many security experts, if the terrorists get to the airport, it’s too late anyway.

So speaking of terrorists, I feel pretty sure I will get a lot of flack from people asking me if I “want the terrorists to win?” Well, here is the stark truth: They already have won.

Their intent is not so much killing and destruction but terror. Look at our laws and how a small group of radicals managed to scare us into passing the Patriot Act and dozens of other measures that supposedly provide security at the expense of freedom.

Even the dastardly crime of 9/11, though it was spectacular, was far less deadly than the yearly total of deaths of innocent Americans through automobile accidents. Yet we have no “war on driving,” or even common sense safety reform for cars and roadways.

Why? Because that doesn’t terrify us. We falsely believe that we are safe in our cars and on our roadways, but get cold sweats every time we board a plane.
If that isn’t a triumph for the terrorists I don’t know what is.

Do I believe we should have no security at all? No, absolutely we should. But it should be balanced with our fundamental right to not be photographed in the nude or groped in the airport.

It’s time we stopped letting equipment manufacturers guide our security precautions and start actually weighing the risks and evaluating the practical measures that can reduce them.

If you actually believe these invasive searches are needed, why not just go the “full monty” and issue bathrobes to all passengers? Then we and we can all fly naked.

Oh yes, and then there is that whole cavity search thing. Now that might actually make flying fun again!

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens