Introducing the new United Way

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is reaching out to the LGBT community. We must reach back and answer the agency’s call to action if we want to make our community the best that it can be

 

ANDY SMITH  |  Special Contributor

Many of us in the LGBT community are familiar with United Way. However, if you’ve not followed them closely recently, you might not realize they’re changing the way they do business.

They’ve gone from being an organization that collects funds in the workplace and distributes money to charities to one that is focused on making a lasting impact in our community.

Additionally, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is actively seeking to reflect the face of our community in its leadership, staff, volunteers, donors and service providers. They want everyone, including the LGBT community, to join with them to enact positive, measured change.

To borrow from a car commercial, “This is not your father’s United Way.”

United Way isn’t just talking, they are actively working to be a true partner to the LGBT community. For example, they have added gender identity and expression to their EEO statement, which already included sexual orientation. They also walked in the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, participated in the 2010 Out & Equal Workplace Summit, recruited openly LGBT persons to serve on the grant allocations panels and are actively looking for openly LGBT candidates for their board and campaign cabinet.

Also, many people may not know that AIDS Arms has been a United Way partner agency for 19 years and the Resource Center of Dallas for 10 years.

After months of engagement with a wide variety of local civic and community leaders, our local United Way has launched a bold new venture called United2020. The plan is centered on three key areas:  Education, Income and Health. Over the next decade they hope to accomplish the following:

• Education: Ensuring that 50 percent more students are prepared to succeed beyond high school graduation.

• Income: Lifting 250,000 individuals out of poverty, and keeping them out.

• Health: Improving our region’s health through expanded access to care, promoting healthy behaviors and preventative programs.

In a historic departure from the traditional model of a closed group of “partner” agencies, United Way has opened its funding application process to all nonprofit agencies that can make substantial strides toward achieving the 2020 goals. This change has resulted in grant applications from more than 70 new organizations, many specifically serving the LGBT community.

This new open process and increased competition for dollars is critical — yielding stronger programs with better outcomes.

The plan’s success will require support from every sector of our community. This is why United Way is specifically reaching out to Dallas’ LGBT community and inviting us to engage with them in the United 2020 work by giving, advocating and volunteering.

United Way’s work will get done through active and meaningful partnerships, collaborations and programs that are squarely pointed at changing conditions that impact our daily lives. If you think about the three focus areas, they will directly affect the LGBT community.

Without a quality education, it is virtually impossible for a gay or lesbian youth to find a job. Improving our region’s health means supporting the health and medical services of the Resource Center Dallas, a United Way agency that’s a leader in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.

In short, the “Live United” call to action gives us the best chance at building a community that truly is a great place for all to live and prosper. If executed properly, this plan will provide a roadmap for our community’s future.

The new United Way is also busy removing roadblocks and obstacles to educational opportunities, job training and expanded access to healthcare. They’re advocating change to unnecessary, unfair or discriminatory laws that impede the ability of someone to make a good life in our region, while championing legislation critical to the success of United 2020.

For example, United Way is actively lending support to the anti-bullying bill now before the Texas Legislature, an LGBT advocacy effort closely connected to our Education goal.

To help ensure that they are on the right track with these new approaches, United Way has contracted with the Center for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas to provide ongoing independent evaluation of their efforts. They will publish an annual community scorecard, which will detail progress and challenges.

This will hold them more accountable and inclusively engage others to in their work.

Do we simply stand by? Or do we accept this call to action, and rally to address these serious issues our community faces?

As an active United Way volunteer, I can tell you that we have an excellent chance to make this work with the right support. None of this happens without you. None of this happens without widespread commitment and focus to make the North Texas area one of the best places to live and thrive in our country.

Andy Smith, LGBT community activist, is the director of Corporate Philanthropy for Texas Instruments Incorporated and leads United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ LGBT Partnership Committee.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

National spotlight focuses on Burns

As Fort Worth councilman’s staff, volunteers continue to field e-mails, calls from bullied teens seeking help, Dallasites stage a 2nd vigil to remember teen suicide victims


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

PROUD COUPLE  |  Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
PROUD COUPLE | Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Joel Burns has been a familiar name and face in North Texas since 2007 when he was first elected to the Fort Worth City Council, becoming Cowtown’s first openly gay council member.

But in the last two weeks, thousands have learned Burns’ name and are hailing him as a hero of the LGBT community and the battle against bullying and teen suicide.

Fort Worth City Council’s Oct. 12 meeting started out as usual. But then Burns took his turn during that part of the meeting in which councilmembers routinely offer recognition to individuals and events in their own districts. But this time, Burns took on a national topic.

Struggling to choke back tears until finally giving up and letting the tears run down his face, Burns talked about several teenagers who were LGBT, or at least perceived to be LGBT, who had recently taken their own lives after enduring months, sometimes years, of anti-gay bullying and harassment.

And then the councilman told his own story, how he had himself been bullied as a teen and had contemplated suicide.

By the time he finished, everyone in the Council Chamber had risen to their feet to salute him with applause.

But it didn’t stop there. Burns posted the official  Fort Worth City Council video on YouTube as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign to encourage and reassure LGBT teens — and suddenly, Burns was an Internet sensation.

Newspapers around the world posted the video on their websites and it went viral on YouTube. Before he knew it, Burns was being asked to be on, first local and then national and international news programs, including The Today Show with Matt Lauer. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Burns was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ television talk show.

During an appearance on Ellen, Burns said that the best part of the last two weeks has been the number of teens from around the world who have e-mailed him and contacted him on Facebook.

“The countless number of kids from around the world … who said, ‘I was in a really, really bad place and I was making plans to take my own life,’” he said. “The fact that they have reconsidered — that makes it worth me crying at City Council, the heartache for my mom and dad, worth every bit of all that because they’re still alive.”

While Burns has been traveling coast-to-coast speaking out against bullying on all of the network morning shows in New York, on cable news and on Ellen in Los Angeles, a team of volunteers has been sorting through thousands of messages pouring into his e-mail inbox at Fort Worth City Hall.

By Monday, Oct. 18, more than 20,000 e-mails had arrived after the video had been streamed 1.3 million times. On Thursday, Oct. 21, the number of YouTube hits passed 2 million, and the e-mail and Facebook messages continue to pour in.

The YouTube page has logged more than 27,000 comments.

Actually reaching Burns or his office this week has been almost impossible. His office phone switches to directly to voice mail.

The Fort Worth City Hall media office said they would pass a message to his office to contact Dallas Voice. But spokesman Bill Begley said he’d walk a message down to Burns’ office himself.

Will Trevino in Councilmember Kathleen Hicks’ office said that former staff and volunteers in Burns’ office had been working overtime trying to keep up with the flood of messages.

Remembering the lost ones
Wednesday was Spirit Day, designated to remember young people who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Many wore purple to show solidarity for efforts to stop the bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the call for an end to bullying by releasing an “It Gets Better” video earlier this week and wearing purple on Spirit Day.

More than 200 people gathered in the Caven parking lot off Cedar Springs Road and held a candlelight vigil marching to the Legacy of Love monument at Oak Lawn Avenue.

Marchers carried purple signs that read “Hope” and “It Gets Better.”

At the monument, organizer Ivan Watson read the names of recent suicide victims and a moment of silence was observed for each one.

Watson said he was inspired to organize the vigil after hearing about Asher Brown, the recent Houston suicide victim.

Organizer Steve Weir of DallasGay-Agenda.com billed the event as a peace march and vigil in memory of those who died and a stand against bullying D/FW area. He said that school policies must change to make schools safe for LGBT youth.

Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center Dallas said he searched bullying policies of school districts across the state and found none that specifically addresses bullying based on sexual orientation. Austin’s comes closest, he said.

McDonnell also said that Philadelphia’s school system passed a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that specifically addresses sexual orientation and sexual identity.

“It’s in Lew Blackburn’s hands,” McDonnell said.

Blackburn is the DISD trustee who has shown the most interest in crafting a policy that will protect LGBT students and those perceived to be.

The “It Gets Better” campaign continues. Randy Potts is the grandson of evangelist Oral Roberts. His uncle was gay and committed suicide. He is recording an “It Gets Better” video this weekend.

To watch video from Wednesday’s vigil, go to DallasVoice.com/videos

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas