Komen controversy alarms LGBT health orgs

Dallas-based breast cancer agency funds many gay-related projects, centers; some leaders fear cuts after Planned Parenthood decision

SAYING GOODBYE  |  Karen Handel, shown waving to supporters during her 2010 Georgia gubernatorial campaign, resigned Feb. 7 as senior vice president for public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Associated Press)

SAYING GOODBYE  | Karen Handel, shown waving to supporters during her 2010 Georgia gubernatorial campaign, resigned Feb. 7 as senior vice president for public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Associated Press)

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service

As the dust settles on the controversy over a decision by the nation’s largest organization fighting breast cancer to withdraw grants from the nation’s largest provider of services regarding reproduction, the LGBT community is taking stock of the damage and the potential damage.

Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced Jan. 31 that it would no longer provide grants to Planned Parenthood. Then, four days later, after being hit with a harsh public backlash, it reversed that decision. But the controversy has raised questions about the relationship between politics and philanthropy, and about whether LGBT health services could be the next to see their funds cut.

In response to a request for comment about LGBT health services, Komen’s media office said, “We are not doing media interviews at this time.”

Komen’s relationships with LGBT health organizations are long-standing and extensive. The Komen website lists more than 30 grants in total for LGBT-related breast health projects between 2007 and 2011. And Komen and its local affiliates help fund many major LGBT health centers, including the Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization; the Howard Brown Health Center (Chicago); Lyon-Martin Health Services (San Francisco); the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center (New York City); the LGBT Community Center (New York City); Fenway Health (Boston), and the Mazzoni Center (Philadelphia).

Komen said it withdrew the Planned Parenthood funding because it has a policy of not funding organizations under congressional investigation.

Last fall, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., began an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood has illegally used federal money to fund abortion services. Stearns has long been known for his anti-abortion views. And many suspected Komen’s decision was less motivated by the “investigation” than for the politics, and they said so, loudly. Their suspicions were made all the stronger because Komen had hired Karen Handel as its senior vice president for public policy last April. Handel, during her unsuccessful run for Georgia governor in 2010, had promised to defund Planned Parenthood in that state, if elected. Handel also stated during her campaign that she opposed same-sex marriage, domestic partner health benefits and gay adoption. By Feb. 7, Handel had resigned from Komen, citing the controversy. But some have argued since then that Handel was just a symptom of the Komen board and CEO, Nancy Brinker, who hired her.

Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the largest LGBT community organization in the country, was one of the first to issue a statement on Feb. 1, saying Komen “has stunningly decided to shun its mission by siding with right-wing extremists rather than with low income women — including large numbers of lesbians and transgender women — at risk of breast cancer.” Many other groups and individuals criticized Komen’s decision, too, some vowing to withhold contributions and participation in Komen’s highly popular “Race for the Cure” events.

Liz Margolies, executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, said her group has never received Komen funding but said the defunding of Planned Parenthood would have been “a blow to the health of the LGBT community.” LGBT people, she said, experience “increased obstacles in accessing care and difficulty finding culturally competent providers,” along with lower rates of health insurance coverage. Planned Parenthood filled this gap for many LGBT people.

The Komen controversy raised additional concerns about future funding for LGBT health services.

The Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization, currently has a $200,000, two-year grant from the central Komen organization’s National Capital Area Grants Program in Washington, D.C. The money forms approximately 10 percent of Mautner’s total budget. Leslie Calman, executive director of the Mautner Project, said in an interview that Komen has been an “extremely generous donor.” Mautner received a $500,000, two-year, capacity-building grant between 2008 and 2010 that “saved the Mautner Project” when it had been in danger of going under, she said.

In Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center received a $75,000 grant from Komen’s local affiliate in 2010 to support its Breast Health Awareness Peer Educator Project, “designed to encourage breast health conversation and education among sexual minority women of color over 40.”

Cindi Creager, a spokesperson for New York City’s LGBT Community Center, said the Center has received “varying levels of funding” from Komen Greater NYC since 2004, most recently, an $80,000 grant in 2010. The Center has a grant application pending for 2012.

Nurit Shein, executive director of the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, said her center has received $30,000 this year from Komen’s Philadelphia affiliate to do “education, clinical breast exams, and referrals to mammograms,” and has received similar grants for several years.

Wendy Stark, executive director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, said the Komen affiliate has funded that Center for over 10 years. Dr. Anita Radix, director of research and education at Callen-Lorde, sits on Komen’s National Multicultural Advisory Board. Among other things, Komen money supports the “very critical position” of a case manager in women’s health at Callen-Lorde. “We’ve found them to be very supportive of LGBT health,” said Stark.

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has not received grants from Komen, but Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the Center, said that, even though Komen reversed its decision regarding Planned Parenthood, the L.A. Center still “[finds] it distressing that the foundation was so willing to play politics at the expense of vital services such as breast cancer screenings.”

“If pro-choice organizations are first, we can’t help but wonder if LGBT organizations are next,” he said.

Nurit Shein in Philadelphia agreed, saying that Komen’s hiring of the anti-gay Handel made her wonder, “Are lesbians next?” after the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Shein also sits on Komen’s National Multicultural Advisory Board, which addresses issues of the LGBT community, among others. She said in an interview that she has been “sharing our disappointment and concerns” with Komen officials about the controversy. But she said the situation also indicates a “disconnect” between Komen’s local affiliates and its national headquarters. The Philadelphia affiliate “has been a true partner with us,” she asserted.

In Massachusetts, the state Komen affiliate in 2011 funded the annual Audre Lorde Cancer Awareness Brunch at Boston’s Fenway Health. Audre Lorde was a lesbian activist and writer who died in 1992 from breast cancer.

Boston’s Fenway Health Center spokesperson Philip Finch said, “We’d certainly be receptive to their funding it in the future, as long as they have policies which are supportive of women and women’s health,” such as the policy to fund Planned Parenthood again.

In a statement Feb. 3, Komen’s Brinker said, “We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.” She added that Komen will amend its grantmaking criteria “to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

And the Maunter Project’s Calman said Komen had been “scrupulously apolitical” until the Planned Parenthood defunding, even though Brinker is a Republican and served as a presidential appointee under President George W. Bush. Calman noted that Mollie Williams, Komen’s managing director of community health programs, who resigned in protest at the defunding of Planned Parenthood, sits on the Mautner Project Technical Advisory Council and has been “a good friend to the Mautner Project.”

Calman said she had been “alarmed and dismayed” at Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, and characterized it as “a huge misstep.” But she said that, going forward, she looks forward to “continued support” from Komen.

Shein of Philadelphia said she would like to hear “a stronger statement” from Komen about “mixing politics and philanthropy,” but is “glad” the national organization reversed its decision.

Creager, of New York’s LGBT Community Center, said the center will continue to “pay attention to new developments,” but added, “We hope and believe Komen will continue to address the needs of LBT people with breast cancer by continuing to partner with the Center and other LGBT organizations.”

The situation with Planned Parenthood may even have made that more likely. The L.A. Center’s Key noted that, “Komen knows the world is watching — and there will be an immediate outcry over any decision that prioritizes politics over lives.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay Planned Parenthood exec reacts to Komen controversy

N. Texas CEO Ken Lambrecht says he hopes to convince Nancy Brinker to rejoin group’s advisory council

lambrechtstein

PLANNED PARENTS | Ken Lambrecht, left, and his partner, Ken Stein, along with their daughter Samantha moved to Dallas last year when Lambrecht became president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Texas. (Photo courtesy of Ken Lambrecht)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Ken Lambrecht said he often has to come out twice — first when he tells people he’s gay, and next when he tells them he’s the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Texas.

But Lambrecht said having a gay man head a predominantly women’s healthcare organization is a good match.

“It’s an organization that’s all about equality and access for disenfranchised individuals to quality healthcare,” he said. “So for me, it was a natural fit.”
His only comments about the recent Susan G. Komen controversy are gracious.

“Nancy Brinker [the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure] was on the North Texas Planned Parenthood Advisory Council,” he said, adding that he wants to meet with her soon to see if he can get her back on his board. “We have a lot of bipartisan support for our mission here in North Texas. We have a great number of Republican and Democratic supporters who understand that women’s healthcare and social issues should not be politicized.”

His only other reference to the controversy was to thank the many donors who poured money into Planned Parenthood over the last two weeks. But he clearly understands why his organization is controversial.

“I believe there will always be a perception of controversy around Planned Parenthood because we talk about issues that we were told societally not to talk about,” he said.

“Don’t talk about sex,” he said. “Don’t talk about politics. Don’t talk about religion. And don’t talk about money. And all I do all day is talk openly about the science of sex, talk about political influences against sexual health or sexual identity, speak about religious attacks on individual sexual expression and sexual identity, and then we ask people for money. So there will always be a perception of controversy around Planned Parenthood because we talk about everything we were told not to.”

And that’s been true since the organization was founded in New York 95 years ago by Margaret Sanger, a public health nurse whose mother died in childbirth. Sanger coined the term birth control and opened the first clinic that eventually led to a Supreme Court case that legalized contraception.

Planned Parenthood has provided healthcare in Dallas since 1935 and in Fort Worth since 1938 and its beginnings here were no less controversial.

Lambrecht said that among the Dallas founders was Catherine Ripley. Her family manufactured Ripley Shirts in Oak Cliff since 1920.

Ripley would send empty shirt boxes to New York, and Sanger would return them filled with condoms and diaphragms. The 1873 Comstock Act made it a federal crime to send any “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices and information on abortion.

Lambrecht describes Planned Parenthood as a “sexual health provider and a gynecology office for women without insurance.”

He said that 97 percent of the services provided are preventive in nature and noted, “We provide more adoptions than abortions.”

Abortion, he said, is actually done by a different legal entity. That was something Texas required in 2005 under legislation that bars the state from funding any agency that performs abortions. So he assures anyone making donations to Planned Parenthood that the money can’t be used for abortions.

Surgical services such as vasectomies and abortions are provided by Planned Parenthood Surgical Health Services. And abortions are performed at only two centers in North Texas, while medical services are provided at 21 clinics in 13 counties across the region.

A donation to Planned Parenthood is going directly to health services such as gynecological exams, HIV testing, birth control, pap smears and mammography.

Mammography is not done in the office, but by referral often in a mobile mammography unit that comes to the office. However, the money Komen gives to Planned Parenthood is used to pay for those breast exams through a voucher. Over the last three years, PPNT paid for 1,700 screenings that found 10 cancers. “That’s 10 lives saved,” he said, adding this was a direct result of the partnership between his organization and Komen.

Lambrecht said most gynecologists don’t have their own mammography equipment — mostly because of the cost — and refer out the screenings.

Throughout the U.S., Planned Parenthood sees 3 million patients a year. Last year, 87,000 of those were in North Texas.

Lambrecht believes that nationally Planned Parenthood will continue to receive widespread support because one in five women has received services from the organization at some time in their lives.

He said a bigger story than the Komen controversy is the Catholic bishops fighting the Obama administration over the birth control mandate in healthcare reform.

“All women, regardless of their employer, should have access to birth control,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans recognize that birth control access is preventive health care and planning is essential. We encourage the White House to stand with women and keep birth control without a co-pay for women.”

He said most women spend 35 years trying to avoid a pregnancy and five years trying to get pregnant.

He said that everyone is welcomed at Planned Parenthood without any judgment — and that includes transgender men and women who need any sort of gynecological services. He pointed to the staff as an indication of the organization’s diversity. Of the 80 regional CEOs, he said eight are gay or lesbian, and his staff of 200 includes transgender as well as gay and lesbian employees.

“We’re the most pro-family, pro-LGBT, pro-diversity organization,” he said.

Lambrecht and his partner, Ken Stein, have been together 11 years and have a 10-year-old daughter, Samantha. Before moving to Dallas last year, they lived in Austin in what Lambrecht called a very suburban community.

When Lambrecht took the job in Dallas, they moved to Oak Lawn. One day when he and his daughter were walking to Eatzi’s, she asked him, “Daddy, why is everyone in Dallas gay?”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

A Bra of size

Breast cancer survivor Leslie Ezelle teams with artist George Tobolowsky to create a traveling sculpture of hope and female empowerment

THINK PINK | A huge bra sculpture will lead a ‘pinking’ trend where people can donate to Susan G. Komen.

JENNY BLOCK  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Turning adversity into opportunity is the hallmark of a fighter. But using a giant bra do it? Well, that requires vision, commitment… and maybe a sense of humor.

“Cancer was not on my to-do list,” says Leslie Ezelle, HGTV Design Star contestant, former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and breast cancer survivor. But as anyone who has wrangled with the disease knows, cancer doesn’t care about to-do lists or anything else for that matter.

Ezelle, generally gregarious, withdrew when she got the diagnosis.

“I was a turd when I went through breast cancer, though people were fantastic the entire time,” she says. Ezelle resented it when people gave her pink things as signs of solidarity and support.

“Someone gave me a hat and I threw it like a little baby brat. I was sick of anything pink. I was having what I call my ‘titty-pity party.’ Serving bitter, party of one!”

After six surgeries and a healing process Ezelle says would have gone much more smoothly had she laid down and rested as advised, Ezelle was cured but still withdrawn. Her mom finally snapped her out of her haze, encouraging her to audition for Design Star.

She was eliminated before the finale, but that didn’t dampen her newfound love of life. After being kicked off the show, she started working with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to assuage some of her guilt about her bad patient behavior.

Enter a 14-foot high, 13-foot wide, 1950s-inspired metal bra sculpture, created by Ezelle and artist George Tobolowsky, titled “Ann-e Girl.” Named after the late sister of Ezelle’s partner, who succumbed to breast cancer, the piece, crafted from metal straps, will be hung on a metal branch signifying the “tree of life.” It will be the harbinger of “pinking” whatever location at which the bra appears, and help Ezelle in her goal to raise an additional $29,000 for Komen — in about a month.

“You can’t strap a good woman down is the theme,” Ezelle explains. “The bra will move. Wherever the bra goes, that is when the building goes pink, trailblazing through Dallas and leaving a wake of pink behind it.”

“Pinking” involves painting, lighting or decorating an area or building in pink to raise funds and awareness for the Komen fund. “Dallas is a little late to the party — pinking has been really successful in other cities,” Ezelle says.

The movement will begin with the pinking of the West Village on Pride Saturday at 5 p.m., when the sculpture will be unveiled. The event will include live performances, video presentations and tributes to the battle against breast cancer. One of the videos is of mothers with breast cancer — survivors and those who have lost the battle — and their children.

“For the music, I’ve changed some of the words to a Bob Dylan song that Adele does called ‘Make you Feel my Love,’” says Ezelle. “Now it’s basically the words a mom who died because of breast cancer would have said to her kids. Like my contact at Komen always says, ‘It’s the tearjerkers that really get people involved.’ This will be a tearjerker.”

Attendees will have the chance to register with Team Leslie for the Komen Dallas Race for the Cure on Oct. 15, and also to write something on a bra in honor of someone they love who is fighting or has lost the battle with breast cancer. The bras will be then be hung on the trees by Mi Cocina and the Magnolia moviehouse.

“Family and friends and Komen were there for me even when I didn’t want to play pink. As I’m working on this project, I’m realizing how lucky I am. I checked out emotionally but I didn’t have to totally check out. I didn’t have to die. Now that I’m drinking the pink, I get it. I understand why people are so into it. I see how great [being an activist] can make you feel and how infectious it really is.”

It’s hard to imagine where the idea for a massive, metal bra sculpture came from. But it was logical for Ezelle.

“My mom taught art and did this project with all of these bras made out of different materials,” she says. “When all of this came up, I immediately thought of that project.”

Four additional locations are already confirmed, but Ezelle hopes to add City Hall and Cowboys Stadium. The plan is to have businesses “buy” a strap on the bra for $5,000, which will enable them to have the bra on display at their location and have their company name and an additional inscription engraved on the piece.

Ezelle has already raised more than $30,000 but hopes that number will soar to $50,000 by the end of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. After that, she will make the sculpture available to other charities that support women’s causes. “It’s a sculpture that can do a lot of good things. We need to put her to work in other ways. Maybe with the bra straps I can do that,” she says.

Because if a bra is supposed to do anything, it’s provide support.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas’ Leslie Ezelle booted from ‘Design Star’

This hasn’t been a good few weeks for Dallas’ gay reality contestants. Two weeks ago, Lewisville’s Ben Starr almost made it to the final of MasterChef, having to settle instead for the praise of host Gordon Ramsay. Then Monday night, Leslie Ezelle — the breast cancer survivor and local interior decorator we profiled in July — was one of two contestants eliminated from HGTV’s Design Star. But Ezelle is taking it in stride: Rather than sulk, she invited some of her friends over to a viewing party to watch her get eliminated.

Why share your loss with the public? After surviving six cancer surgeries, Ezelle felt it was only fair to let her four children and stepchildren know you can’t succeed unless you try. And it gave her another chance to make her case for Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure on Oct. 15.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pink Party raises $6K to fight breast cancer

Rick Espaillat, media director for Caven Enterprises, reports that with the help of the Sue Ellen’s Walking Team (pictured), last Friday’s 3rd annual Pink Party raised $6,000 that will be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We’ve posted a full slideshow from the event here.

—  John Wright