Forging new Alliances

Giancarlo Mossi organizes a GSA Summit in Dallas so other students can have the lifesaving resource he never did

Cover

Giancarlo Mossi (Photo illustration by Kevin Thomas)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Giancarlo Mossi said that after spending time in hospitals and institutions for destructive behavior such as cutting, the day he attended a Youth First Texas meeting in Collin County was the happiest day of his life.

Mossi believes he might not have attempted suicide if his high school had a Gay Straight Alliance where he could have talked to other students. He credits a Plano police officer with saving his life.

As a child, Mossi was raped and abused. By the time he reached high school, he said he couldn’t take it anymore and began “cutting,” making large gashes in his arms. He was hospitalized several times.

After one suicide attempt, the police officer handed him a card from the Youth First Texas.

“You’re like me, aren’t you?” Mossi asked the officer. The officer said he couldn’t answer but flashed a big grin.

In the hospital, a licensed therapist outed Mossi to his mother and recommended “reparative therapy” to make him straight. When it was time for him to be released, his mother refused to pick him up.

Although Mossi has since reconciled with his mother, he lives with a gay couple who took him into their home.

Mossi graduated from Plano Senior High School. He recently began acting classes and has a new job. He knows not every LGBT student can get to the YFT centers in Dallas and Collin County, so he wants students in high schools throughout North Texas to have access to Gay Straight Alliance clubs on their own campuses. And he wants existing GSAs to flourish.

To help accomplish his goal, Mossi is coordinating a GSA summit at YFT in Dallas on Feb. 4.

Andy Marra, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said there were at least 360 GSAs in Texas when the last national survey was taken in 2009. GLSEN is in the process of conducting a new national count.

GSAs are especially important in a conservative state like Texas where, according to GLSEN, 88 percent of students who identify as gay or lesbian have been verbally harassed, 46 percent physically harassed and 23 percent assaulted.

Truett-Davis

Truett-Davis

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said GSAs let LGBT kids know they’re not alone.

“GSAs give them a support system, a safe place to be,” Coleman said. “Not just LGBT kids but their friends. And if they’re not getting support at home, they have a group they can turn to.”

But Mossi said starting GSAs in some schools isn’t as easy as it should be.

When he was in 10th grade at Vines High School in Plano, he spoke to administrators about starting one there. The principal told him he’d need a faculty sponsor.

Mossi said finding a sponsor can be tricky in a school whose principal opposes having a GSA. Teachers without tenure are afraid of losing their jobs. Others don’t want to make waves. And some are afraid that if they sponsor a GSA, teachers, parents and students will assume they’re gay.

But Mossi broached the subject with a number of teachers and found one willing to sponsor the group. So he proudly went back to the principal with the name.

The principal told him he would need 100 signatures from students stating they wanted to have such a group in their school. Mossi collected the 100 signatures and presented them to the principal. That’s when the principal told him it was too late in the year to start a new club and he’d have to wait for the next year. The principal knew Mossi would be leaving Vines to attend Plano Senior High for his last two years of school.

By the time he got to Plano Senior High, Mossi was active at Youth First Texas, where he made many new friends, and devoted his time to performing with Dallas PUMP!, a youth chorale.

Ray-Dawson

Ray Dawson

Although Mossi’s experience wasn’t unusual, some schools are more supportive of GSAs.

Dawson Ray said when he and his friend Shelby Friedman formed a GSA last year at  Greenhill School, a private K-12 school in Addison, they met with “zero controversy.”

He said two teachers immediately agreed to sponsor the group and the only question the administration had was “when we’d meet and what room we wanted.”

He said the group is called True Colors because the school has a rule against student groups having affiliations with national organizations. But he said True Colors is regularly referred to as the GSA.

Each week, 50 to 60 students — more than 10 percent of the 440 high students at Greenhill — attend the GSA meeting.

He said the group holds discussions on various topics, participates in events such as the National Day of Silence and brings in speakers. When British rugby star Ben Cohen was in Dallas for gay Pride Week last year, he spoke to the Greenhill GSA. Earlier this week Cohen sent the group a check for $2,500 for club activities.

Truett Davis attends Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in downtown Dallas. He said his GSA has about 40 to 50 members and was already in existence when he came to the school.

Davis said his group sets up booths at school activities. At one, the GSA officiated mock weddings and had students sign a petition for marriage equality that was sent to Congress.

Although Booker T. is considered a safe school for LGBT students, Davis said some students’ families aren’t accepting and the club is a place for those students to talk about their situation.

Both Davis and Ray are planning to attend next week’s GSA Summit at YFT.

“I hope to get some programming ideas,” Davis said.

Ray agreed. “I want to see what other GSAs in the area are doing,” he said. “What problems they face. Offer suggestions to us.”
While some students face little resistance in forming GSAs, other schools have openly opposed allowing the clubs on campus. Under federal law, that’s illegal.

The federal Equal Access Act passed in 1984 stipulates that any public secondary school that allows non-curriculum-related clubs to meet on campus cannot discriminate due to the content of the proposed discussions. To get around this, some schools have gone so far as to disband non-curriculum-related clubs, from the chess club to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Some administrators don’t want the word “gay” used in a school group name — sometimes out of their own prejudice, sometimes out of fear of parent or community reaction. They require students to change the names of GSAs to a euphemism such the Tolerance Club. But this is also against the law. (Greenhill is a private school, so the Equal Access Act doesn’t apply.)

At R.L. Turner High School in Farmers Branch, students formed a GSA in April 2011. While they encountered no resistance from the school district, Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare attacked the group on Twitter saying, “Friday, R.L. Turner H.S. Hosts 1st meeting of the RLT Gay-Straight Alliance an org. that promotes homosexuality and transgender lifestyles,” and “To our children. It is sponsored by a teacher at Turner. Parents of CFB kids and members of the community: what do you plan to do about it?”

Although a mayor in Texas has no power over an independent school district, vocal opposition from an elected official can be daunting for a group of high school students.

But the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District did respond to the mayor and made it clear what they planned to do about the GSA — they planned to support it. Angela Shelley, a CFBISD spokeswoman, told Dallas Voice at the time that the group had already met three times and that it wasn’t the district’s first GSA.

But she said, “The GSA met all the requirements, they have a great mission and a constitution, and they’re an active group.”

And she said that despite the mayor’s protests the district didn’t want to become another Flour Bluff. Earlier in the school year, when a GSA formed in Flour Bluff, a school district in Corpus Christi, it made national news.

When 17-year-old student Bianca “Nikki” Peet tried to start the GSA, the district denied her application. To keep the group from meeting, Superintendent Julia Carbajal announced she would disband all extracurricular clubs.

Hundreds of pro-LGBT protesters gathered at the school.

After the American Civil Liberties Union intervened, threatening to file suit against the district, the superintendent relented and allowed the group to form. The faculty sponsor backed out, however. Instead, the principal “monitored” the meetings and the ACLU promised to monitor the situation.

But once the group began meeting, there was little to monitor. Gay and straight students met and discussed issues of interest to them.

In Keller, a Facebook group appeared in October 2011 called Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.

When the school district learned about the Facebook group, it issued a statement that said, “Keller ISD prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.”

But discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t prohibited by law.

The founder of the Facebook group wrote that it was not intended to be a hate group and when he saw the reaction to it, he took it down. But he vowed to continue battling the GSA unless a conservative, straight group was also formed. Had he been serious about it, nothing would have stopped his group from finding a sponsor and petitioning the school.

As a result of the controversy, the Keller GSA grew and had to move from a classroom to a lecture hall to accommodate all of the students who wanted to show support or participate.

Meanwhile, Mossi is on a one-person campaign to bring students together for the Feb. 4 meeting. He has contacted restaurants and coffee shops about providing lunch, coffee and snacks. He pulled together a list of contacts and made calls. He sent fliers to schools he knows have GSAs. He contacted the media to help spread the word. And he researched topics and put together curricula to make the Summit a worthwhile meeting.

He said he expects about 40 to 50 students, representing almost as many GSAs across North Texas, to attend. Students who would like to participate don’t have to already belong to a GSA. He said he hopes some teens who attend have no clubs in their schools and will go back and form one.

GSA Summit

Feb. 4, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
To register, contact
giancarlo.mossi@youthfirsttexas.org.

…………………

HOW TO START A GSA

1. Follow Guidelines
Establish a GSA the same way you would establish any other group or club. Look in your Student Handbook for your school’s rules. This may include getting permission from an administrator or writing a constitution.

2. Find a Faculty Advisor
Find a teacher or staff member whom you think would be supportive or who has already shown themselves to be an ally around sexual orientation issues. It could be a teacher, counselor, nurse or librarian.

3. Inform Administration of Your Plans
Tell administrators what you are doing right away. It can be very helpful to have them on your side. They can work as liaisons to teachers, parents, community members and the school board. If an administrator opposes the GSA, inform them that forming a GSA club is protected under the Federal Equal Access Act.

4. Inform Guidance Counselors and Social Workers About The Group
These individuals may know students who would be interested in attending the group.

5. Pick a Meeting Place
You may want to find a meeting place which is off the beaten track at school and offers some level of privacy.

6. Advertise
Figure out the best way to advertise at your school. It may be a combination of your school bulletin, flyers and word-of-mouth. If your flyers are defaced or torn down, do not be discouraged. Keep putting them back up. Eventually, whomever is tearing them down will give up. Besides, advertising for your group and having words up such as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning” or “end homophobia” can be part of educating the school and can actually make other students feel safer — even if they never attend a single meeting.

7. Get Food
This one is kind of obvious. People always come to meetings when you provide food!

8. Hold Your Meeting
You may want to start out with a discussion about why people feel having this group is important. You can also brainstorm things your club would like to do this year.

9. Establish Ground Rules
Many groups have ground rules in order to insure that group discussions are safe, confidential and respectful. Many groups have a ground rule that no assumptions or labels are used about a group member’s sexual orientation. This can help make straight allies feel comfortable about attending the club.

10. Plan For The Future
Develop an action plan. Brainstorm activities. Set goals for what you want to work towards. Contact Gay-Straight Alliance Network in order to get connected to other GSAs, get supported, and learn about what else is going on in the community.

Source: GSAnetwork.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

LGBT history project comes into focus

The Dallas Way elects board and officers, unveils model 1-page entry

history

HISTORY BUFFS | The newly appointed board and officers of The Dallas Way are, from left, back row, Jay Forte, Mike Grossman, Stan Aten, Robert Emery, Ann Faye, Mike Anglin, Evilu Pridgeon, Bruce Monroe and Buddy Mullino; and from left, front row, Rebecca Covell, Carl Parker, George Harris and Jack Evans. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

For almost a year, members of Dallas’ LGBT community have been meeting informally to begin a project to collect and archive the community’s history.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, The Dallas Way formalized itself by electing a board of directors and officers and filing for nonprofit status.

A year ago Jack Evans, now president of The Dallas Way, and his partner George Harris celebrated their 50th anniversary. The couple told their story in the Dallas Voice and on the radio, and Evans concluded that the interest people showed was really an interest in the broader topic of Dallas LGBT history.

The Dallas Way board member Robert Emery said, “We need to focus and clarify and collect our history to strengthen our community and to be a source of inspiration for the young.”

Bruce Monroe, who served as president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance in the early 1990s, created a Facebook page to promote the group and begin collecting stories.

Emery said the final account of the events, groups and people that make up Dallas LGBT history will be scholarly studies compiled and approved by a committee.

Emery’s vision for the group is that The Dallas Way will accurately tell the story of the community and be a reliable source for researchers in the future.

“If you see our stamp in an archive, we hope that will be the definitive story on that subject,” he said.

Writing the history of the community may seem like a daunting task, but Emery said each entry will be just one page.

“I’m not asking you to write a book,” Emery said. But he added that keeping some entries to one page might prove just as difficult as writing a comprehensive history.

Attorney Rebecca Covell, who was also elected to The Dallas Way’s board on Tuesday, called each entry “a gay wiki page.”

One of DGLA’s founders, Mike Anglin, produced the group’s first entry — the story of Bill Nelson. Anglin’s one-page document summarizes the contributions of the man for whom the health clinic on Cedar Springs

Road is named. But Anglin said that links in the article will refer readers to additional one-page stories — Nelson as the first openly gay man to run for Dallas city council, his Cedar Springs store Crossroads Market, how the food pantry began as a shelf in Crossroads Market and many other contributions he made to the community.

To research the story, Anglin called Nelson’s mother, Jean, who is now in her 80s and lives in Houston. She told Anglin she was relieved that he contacted her because she wanted her son’s memory preserved. She sent him boxes of photos and other memorabilia of his activist work — from a laminated copy of a Dallas Times Herald magazine cover to a mock-up of the quilt panel she designed for her son and his partner, Terry Tebedo.

Board member Stan Aten contacted the University of North Texas, which agreed to work with The Dallas Way to help archive and digitize the material.

Two high school students attended Tuesday’s meeting who are members of the Booker T. Washington and Greenhill School Gay Straight Alliances.

Booker T. senior Truett Davis said he became interested in learning about the Dallas LGBT community beyond his GSA when DGLA President Patti Fink and Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox spoke at his school.

“This will give perspective to young people about what has taken place,” Davis said. “This will tell us what has taken place and help us solve problems in the future. What’s already been done is important.”
The Dallas Way meets the first Tuesday of the month in the Park Room, Park Tower Condominiums, 3310 Fairmount Street at 7 p.m. Interested community members are welcome to attend a meeting or contact the group through its Facebook page.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

SPIRITUALITY: From loving ‘the sinner’ to loving your sister

Evangelist Jay Lowder of Wichita Falls makes waves by preaching acceptance of gays

Lowder.Jay

ACCEPTING NOT JUDGING | Jay Lowder has gotten a lot of heat for his position that people should worry about their own sins rather than the sins of others. (Photo courtesy Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

WICHITA FALLS — Jay Lowder believes that no matter what, you should love and accept people. He calls the idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin hypocritical.

Lowder is an unlikely person to have those views. He is president and founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries

Evangelistic Association based in Wichita Falls and is married with three children.

Lowder knows his views — recently featured on ABC News — are out of the mainstream of evangelicals.

“I take some heat for it, and I really don’t care,” he said.

When he was 18, he said he got a call from a friend.

“Hey, Jay, there’s something you need to know,” Lowder said the caller told him. “You’re sister’s gay.”

He said that news was devastating for someone raised as he was.

Soon after receiving the news, he was driving. He said he saw his sister headed in the other direction. He made a U-turn and caught up with her.

“Harsh words were spoken,” he said. “I told her she was selfish and I hated her.”

She told him it was her life, and their relationship was severed.

“I became a Christian at 21,” Lowder said. “The moment I became a Christian, I no longer hated her.”
But his acceptance of his sister wasn’t qualified by the “love the sinner” philosophy common among fellow evangelicals.

He told her he was a Christian, that he had never accepted Christ before and was sorry about the way he acted toward her. He admitted he had been judgmental and rude.

“I wanted to be close,” he said. “I loved her.”

Lowder said Jesus didn’t denigrate people. He said Jesus didn’t say to Mary Magdalene, “You’re a whore.”

“He made her heart the issue,” Lowder said.

In describing himself as an evangelist, he called it “the height of insanity” to be driving people away from Christ.

“The purpose of what I do is not to alienate people,” he said. “It’s to know and have a relationship with Christ.”

He still holds his convictions, he said, but there’s a way to approach people. People who cling to the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line use colloquialisms that sound spiritual, he said — but they use them to hate people.

But he said that Jesus taught, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” So rather than focus on other people’s sins, he said, religious people should focus on their own sins.

“Pull the speck out of your own eye before you pull it out of anyone else’s,” he said. “If I tell a lie to my wife, that’s a sin. Breaking a commandment is breaking a

Jay Lowder

commandment.”

He believes the commandments regarding homosexuality are no more or less important than any others. And he believes there’s a line between trying to rectify a situation and pointing fingers.

“I could go to a heroine addiction clinic and tell them not to do it,” he said. “But I’ve never struggled with it.”

He used the blunt analogy but then makes it clear he doesn’t think his sister has some sort of addiction. He just wants to make it clear that he’s not going to be judgmental.

He said that a Christian’s primary responsibility is to love other people.

“Don’t go around bragging about loving God if you don’t love other people,” he said.

Which brings him back to talking about his sister who lives in Dallas.

Last Thanksgiving, he said that she came to Wichita Falls for Thanksgiving, for the first time in at least 15 years. He said the family reunion was such a happy event that they begged her to come back to spend Christmas with them.

“My sister was back,” he said. “My dad was at the kitchen table, and that was the first time I saw him cry.”

Today, he only describes his sister in glowing terms.

“You won’t find a better person in the city of Dallas than my sister,” he said.

And he said their relationship remains close.

“If something happened to her, I’d be the first one she’d call,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Wait time for Amelia Court appointments questioned

ASOs strive to see more clients more quickly but, Parkland patients continue to wait months

Nobles1

Raeline Nobles

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Over the past year, the wait time to get an appointment at Parkland hospital’s Amelia Court appears to have gotten longer, although the staffing level appears to be about the same now as a year ago.

During that same time, community-based AIDS agencies in Dallas say they have expanded services and decreased wait times.

For new Parkland patients, the time from first contact to seeing a doctor can be as short as two weeks. But new patients trying to access services at the public clinic recently have reported waits of as long as four months.

Candace White, Parkland media spokeswoman, said that the clinic is taking new patient appointments as early as February and through March 1. She said she confirmed that with Sylvia Moreno, the hospital’s director of HIV services.

White attributed the delay to an increase in the number of patients accessing the clinic’s services due to successful HIV testing efforts throughout Dallas County. Some of the longer wait times quoted over the past few weeks may have been due to the holiday, she said.

However, when a Dallas Voice staff member called Amelia Court on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to make an appointment, he was transferred to voicemail to leave a message. As of deadline time on Thursday, Jan. 12, more than two days later, no one from the clinic had returned the call.

Another caller to Amelia Court was told that those February and March appointments White cited are reserved for established patients only. The next available appointment for first intake for new clients who want access to Amelia Court is April 23, the caller was told.

The Ryan White CARE Act, which funds many of the treatment programs for persons with HIV, specifies patients must receive “access to care within three weeks of presenting,” Dr. Gary Sinclair, former medical director of Amelia Court, said.

While he was at Amelia Court, Sinclair said that he and his staff reduced the waiting time to access medical care to two weeks. He left UT Southwestern and Parkland two years ago and is now an independent consultant involved in covering for physicians for Ryan White programs.

For years, all Parkland primary AIDS care was done at Amelia Court, located on Harry Hines Boulevard, a block from the main hospital. However, to relieve overcrowding at Amelia Court, doctors with experience in treating people with the virus have been seeing patients at three of the hospital’s Community Oriented Primary Care facilities in Dallas.

Parkland began opening the COPCs in 1987 to relieve its main emergency room of treating non-emergency cases.

The clinics were designed to provide convenient and affordable healthcare throughout Dallas County.

Parkland

HIGH RISE CLINIC | Amelia Court’s HIV services will move to the new Parkland Hospital under construction across Harry Hines Boulevard from the old facility. (DavidTaffet/Dallas Voice)

Some of the facilities also have specialties. Two clinics — Bluitt-Flowers Health Center in South Dallas and Southeast Dallas Health Center in Pleasant Grove — were designated as HIV treatment sites.

A third — deHaro-Saldivar Health Center in Oak Cliff — previously treated adolescents and young adults with HIV, but that service has been discontinued.

Parkland’s clinic has been staffed at about the same level for the past several years.

But as HIV has changed to a manageable chronic illness, Sinclair said that there has been “a normalization of care.”

That normalization may include longer waiting times for appointments at the public hospital, something that is common in other specializations.

But while Parkland strives to keep the wait time for primary care down, some local agencies that provide clinical service to people with HIV at low or no cost say they have expanded their service and will see new patients quickly.

“On a very human level, it can be quite terrifying to want and need medical care and not be able to find it,” AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said. “AIDS Arms built its second HIV clinic to help with these exact problems in significant and positive ways.”

The agency opened Trinity Health & Wellness Clinic in Oak Cliff this past fall and continues operating Peabody Health Center in South Dallas. Both offer full primary care for people with HIV.

AIDS Arms accepts Medicare and Medicaid as well as private health insurance. And like the county hospital, medical care is free for low-income people without any coverage and is provided on a sliding-scale for others.

Intake takes about a week to complete, Nobles said. Once a person who has an HIV-positive diagnosis is registered as a client, doctors at Trinity Clinic can see a new patient that week.

“With fast access to medical appointments at our Trinity and Peabody clinics and five licensed providers, we are a partner in the solution to very large and disturbing access to care problems in our community,” Nobles said.

The agency is seeking to expand the services it offers its patients and is currently looking for specialists in ophthalmology, cardiology and renal care to supplement its care.

In addition, AIDS Arms is involved in drug research trials, something Amelia Court no longer does.

Sinclair said he believed that was part of a shift in federal research dollars away from “’How do we treat people?’ to ‘How do we eliminate the epidemic?’”

In addition, AIDS Arms is offering several new services to its patients at its Trinity clinic.

Legal Hospice of Texas will soon begin providing on-site legal assistance for disability, social security and HIV-related discrimination issues. Bryan’s House will be providing free childcare for patients visiting the clinic on Thursday and Fridays beginning next week. And once a week, onsite psychotherapy services will be offered.

Resource Center Dallas offers a variety of specialized medical services at its Nelson-Tebedo Community Clinic on Cedar Springs Road. Dental care is the most frequently accessed and something not provided by other agencies or Parkland.

With a recent expansion of facilities at the clinic, RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said the wait time for an appointment is three weeks or less. He said the clinic is able to treat emergencies even more quickly.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Volunteers needed for HIV vaccine trial

Researchers looking for men, trans women who have sex with men to participate in study

Gallegos.Ernesto

Ernesto Gallegos

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

UT Southwestern continues recruiting volunteers to participate in a vaccine trial that has been in progress for more than a year.

The Phase II trial is taking place at almost two dozen sites across the country. According to Clinical Research Unit Community Advisory Board member Ernesto Gallegos, Dallas has been among the most successful at recruiting volunteers — but more qualified participants are needed.

Researchers are looking for healthy adult men who test HIV negative, have sex with other men, are between the ages of 18 and 50 and are circumcised.

They are also seeking transgender women who have sex with men.

Volunteers are screened to make sure they qualify for the trial.
Gallegos said participating would be a 12-to-18-month commitment.

He said his involvement began when he volunteered for the study.

He had a partner who was positive.

In his initial screening, he was disqualified because he had antibodies to the adenovirus type 5. That common virus is a cause of respiratory illnesses.

Gallegos said that when he learned he couldn’t participate directly in the study, “I stepped back [and asked], ‘How can I continue to help?’”

That’s when he joined the advisory board as its youngest member.

Volunteers receive a physical exam and, if they are accepted into the project, they are administered the vaccine in four doses.

Participants are asked to keep a written record of any reaction to the vaccine and are required to go to UT Southwestern once every three months for an HIV test, an interview and risk reduction counseling.

A participant cannot contract HIV from the vaccine because it does not contain the virus itself. It is not made from live, weakened or killed HIV or HIV-infected cells.

Phase I of the trial established that the vaccine was safe to give to humans. This phase continues to test safety and dosages.

Researchers will be looking at whether the group getting the vaccine has less chance of contracting the virus and if those who do contract the virus will show smaller amounts of HIV in the blood.

Half the test group will receive the vaccine and half a placebo.

Volunteers will not know whether they received the placebo or the vaccine until after their participation in the study is complete.

Those who are inoculated with the placebo will be eligible to participate in future vaccine studies. Generally those who got the actual vaccine are ineligible for future studies, whether the vaccine proved efficient or not.

For more information or to volunteer, go online to HopeTakesAction.org and fill out a short questionnaire or call 214-590-0610.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

UPDATE: UT Southwestern Clinical Research Manager Tiana Petersen wrote to update a few items in the story. She said participants would commit 24 months to the study. The Adenovirus type 5 is a common cold virus.

“Phase IIB, is specifically designed to study efficacy,” she wrote. “Researchers will evaluate whether receiving the vaccine injections compared to placebo injections has a significant effect on reducing the number of new HIV infections. Originally, the study was designed to answer questions about whether the vaccine regimen can lower viral load among those who do become HIV-infected, and whether the vaccine regimen continues to be safe.”

Volunteers will not know whether they took the placebo or vaccine until after the study is complete.

—  Kevin Thomas

Balch Springs PD: Investigation into gay man’s death is ongoing

Police chief says anti-gay behavior by officers not tolerated, says such behavior by investigator is unlikely

Police_Chief_Morris

Police Chief Ed Morris

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

BALCH SPRINGS — Balch Springs Police Chief Ed Morris said an investigation into the death of a gay man in his city is ongoing. Answering charges of homophobia in his department lodged by the dead man’s family, Morris said that he doesn’t tolerate that sort of behavior in his officers.

The body of Rodney Johnson was found in his trailer in Balch Springs on Nov. 12.

Morris said that there was no sign of foul play in Johnson’s death but that his department is awaiting test results from the Dallas County medical examiner before proceeding with an investigation. Those results take about three months to return.

Johnson’s sister Duby Redburn said that the officer she spoke to snickered and said, “I don’t know what sort of lifestyle he led,” when describing what he found.

“He was very insensitive,” Redburn said of the detective’s behavior.

Morris made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate that sort of behavior from his officers.

“I don’t think any of my officers would make an anti-gay comment,” he said.

He said that if he thought that any officer was guilty of that sort of behavior, that officer would be in his office immediately and he would take care of it. But Morris said he would especially surprised if he heard it about the specific officer Redburn accused.

Johnson did not show up for work at his job as a security guard at a Bank of America branch on Thursday, Nov. 10. His supervisor became worried when she couldn’t reach him by phone, so she drove to his home. When he didn’t answer the door, she called police.

The supervisor and Johnson’s family have said police never responded to the call.

But Morris said department records indicate that Johnson’s supervisor’s call to police was logged at 2:41 p.m. on Nov. 11, and that a patrol car was dispatched to Johnson’s address at 2:49 p.m. He said that was reasonable response time for that sort of non-emergency “welfare check” call.

Police arrived at 3:03 p.m. at the location, Morris said.

The officer responding to the call reported that there was no odor coming from the trailer.

He asked neighbors about Johnson’s car that was parked in an odd position. Neighbors said it had been there for several days.

Morris said they searched records to see if there were additional calls from the supervisor’s phone number but could not find any, although the supervisor said she had called both 911 and the department’s direct line phone number.

A police department spokesman initially told Dallas Voice there was no record of either call.

Johnson’s body was found the next day when his brother, Roger Johnson, got a call from Rodney’s boyfriend in Canada, worried that he hadn’t heard from him. Roger Johnson used his key to the trailer to enter, and found his brother lying on the floor, face down.

Roger Johnson had said his brother’s body was lying in a pool of blood.

The call record indicates police were dispatched in 30 seconds and arrived in minutes.

Morris said he didn’t recall seeing any blood on the floor in the police pictures taken before Johnson was transported by helicopter to the hospital. But he said the body showed signs of lividity, meaning the blood had settled to the lower part of the body, which indicated he had been lying on the floor for some time before he was found.

Other issues remain unresolved, such as an unauthorized attempt to access Johnson’s bank account the week after his death. But since the original article appeared in

Dallas Voice on Dec. 23, Redburn has been in touch with city officials and has been assured the case is still open.
Last year, Balch Springs had no homicides.

“The crime rate’s been down for the last few years,” Morris said. “We want to keep it that way.”
But he said that if there is an indication from the medical examiner that Johnson’s death was caused by anything other than natural causes, “We will actively investigate.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

DCCCD adds trans protections

Only 1 community college district trustee votes against change

DCCCD-Main-Photo

CELEBRATION | GetEQUAL activist C.D. Kirven, left, hugs Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center Dallas, as trans rights activist Pam Curry, right, looks on after the Dallas County Community College District board voted Tuesday, Jan. 3, to add protections for transgender employees and students to its nondiscrimination policies. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Dallas County Community College District board of trustees voted Tuesday, Jan. 3 to add gender identity to the district’s non-discrimination policies. The vote came less than three months after the trustees initially declined to add the specific protections, saying the policies were unnecessary.

The trustees approved three measures this week. The first protects transgender employees from discrimination and harassment, while two additional policies cover students — in the student code of conduct and in the district’s nondiscrimination statement.

The policy change was first proposed last spring when Resource Center Dallas Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell contacted DCCCD Trustee Diana Flores, who has supported the policy change from the beginning.

“It wasn’t difficult at all,” Flores said after the board meeting about convincing her fellow
trustees to support the addition. “The LGBT community did a good job of informing the board. Congratulations to the community.”

Only five speakers addressed the board on Tuesday, although another five had signed up to speak.

Dallas County Community College graduate Brad Shankle offered a unique perspective in his remarks. “I struggled with gender dysphoria, although I found a way to deal with it,” he said, adding that having the policy in place while he was a student would have made campus life easier for him.

McDonnell gave the board facts and statistics: In a little more than a year, Dallas Independent School District, DFW Airport, Dallas County and Dallas Area Rapid Transit have all added nondiscrimination protections based on gender identity and expression. Around the country, 410 colleges and universities have protections based on gender identity and expression. And more than half of Fortune 500 companies have these protections in place, McDonnell said, specifically mentioning AT&T.

Earlier in the meeting, Wesley Jameson — who works for AT&T — was sworn in as the newest DCCCD trustee.

When McDonnell asked everyone in the audience who had attended to support the changes to stand, about 20 people responded.

RCD board member and DCCCD student Maeve O’Connor told the board her story. And GetEQUAL North Texas Regional Coordinator Daniel Cates, a student at El Centro College, told the board, “No matter who you are, you deserve a safe place to work and go to school.” He said that a “yes” vote would protect everyone and set an example for other colleges in the state.

DCCCD-story-second-photo

Maeve O’Connor

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez told trustees that a transgender person is twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population and one in four has been fired simply because of gender identity.

Board Chair Jerry Prater then cut off public comments, telling those attending, “We have gotten your message, loud and clear.”

Five trustees were present to vote. Four voted in favor and only Trustee Bill Metzger voted no.

While the board was receptive to the message delivered at the January meeting, passing the policy took more than half a year from the time it was first proposed. And at one point during the fall, it looked like the protections would not even be considered.

When the board was briefed on the policy in October, some members said they thought amending the nondiscrimination statement was unnecessary because it was covered by sexual orientation, and because the city of Dallas prohibits discrimination. Although only two of the system’s colleges are located within the city of Dallas, the school’s attorney argued that the entire system was covered by the ordinance because the district’s headquarters is located in Dallas.

Confusion about the definition of sexual orientation stemmed from the wording in the 2002 Dallas ordinance. The city regulation only lists sexual orientation but the definition of the term within the ordinance includes gender identity.

But the city ordinance specifically exempts other governmental bodies. DCCCD is its own taxing authority and is, therefore, exempt from city regulations.
DCCCD is also not covered by Dallas County laws.

The county Commissioners Court amended its employment policy to include gender identity and expression in 2011. But DCCCD employees work for the community college district, not the county. And that employment policy would not cover students.

When the policy was proposed last spring, San Jacinto College, based in Pasadena east of Houston, was the only community college in Texas with gender identity protections.

In December Houston Community College added trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy.

With more than 81,000 credit students and 25,000 continuing education students enrolled in the fall 2011 semester, DCCCD is the largest community college district and the largest school in Texas. The district includes seven colleges on 13 campuses and employs 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators.
Statewide, there are 55 community colleges or community college districts. Just six of those districts have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

In addition to the three with trans protections, those that only list sexual orientation are Tarrant County College with five campuses, Austin Community College with eight campuses in Travis County and Lone Star College System based in The Woodlands north of Houston with 14 campuses in Harris and Montgomery counties.

With passage of protection by DCCCD, more than 39,000 public sector employees in Dallas County are covered by the expanded policies.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Top 10: Suicides led to anti-bullying law

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PARENTAL RESPONSE | David and Amy Truong, the parents of 13-year-old gay suicide victim Asher Brown, became tireless advocates for anti-bullying legislation this year. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

No. 4

In the fall of 2010, a number of high-profile suicides brought attention to the problem of bullying in schools. This year, the LGBT community worked to change laws and save lives.

After helping to push through policies in the Dallas and Fort Worth school districts, as well as a few others around the state, the LGBT community focused on passing statewide anti-bullying legislation in the 2011 session of the Legislature.

Equality Texas made the legislation a priority and a number of bills were introduced.

In February, Equality Texas hosted a Lobby Day. Several hundred people from around the state participated.

Among them were Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents — Amy and David Truong — and a group of 10 students from Youth First Texas.

Burns and the Truongs met with key legislators including members of the committees that would  hear the bills.

The students from YFT spoke to their senators and representatives telling their own stories of being bullied.

Legislators not usually considered allies were visibly moved by stories of violence in schools in their hometowns.

Equality Texas board chair Anne Wynn, Executive Director Dennis Coleman and Deputy Director Chuck Smith spent the spring lobbying on behalf of the bills.

The organization arranged for the Truongs as well as the parents of Montana Lance and Jon Carmichael, two other Texas suicide victims, to testify at committee hearings.

As originally crafted, the bills specified categories that would be covered. National studies have shown that the more specific the law, the more effective it is in protecting LGBT students. When sexual orientation and gender identity are not specified, school staff often ignore anti-gay bullying. But to increase the chances that anti-bullying legislation would pass, several bills were combined and all references to specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity, were deleted.

The new anti-bullying “super bill” passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House — and was eventually signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Under the new law, for the first time, the bully rather than the victim can be transferred to another classroom or school. Parental notification rules were strengthened and protections added for the person reporting the bullying. The definition of bullying now includes electronic means, or cyberbullying. And every school district must adopt an anti-bullying policy, including any necessary procedures to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents.

A second bill also passed that provides money for counseling services, which includes services for both the bully and the victim. School staff already receive training to recognize potential suicide risks. That training will be expanded to include victims of bullying.

Meanwhile, although the Dallas Independent School District approved an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy last year, Resource Center Dallas and Lambda Legal accused some DISD officials of blocking its implementation.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox along with Lambda Legal community educator Omar Narvaez addressed the DISD board about the problem in December.

Cox said she had gotten word from frustrated school district employees that principals were being instructed not to use the electronic reporting system that the board mandated. She said she would continue to track the district’s compliance with the policy in 2012.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Top 10: Out & Equal summit drew 2,600

Berry-Selisse

CORPORATE EQUALITY | Out & Equal founder Selisse Berry spoke at the Workplace Summit held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

No. 10

The Out & Equal Workplace Summit held Oct. 22-25 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel broke records and had a bigger impact on the city than any other LGBT conference Dallas has hosted.

More than 2,600 people registered for the convention, with participants coming from 42 states and 23 countries.

That included 60 corporate CEOs, including Wes Bush of Northrop Grumman and Mike Ullman of J.C. Penney, who both addressed the LGBT group.

According to Out & Equal spokesman Justin Tanis, the Workplace Summit raised a total of $2.5 million.

The Thursday night gala’s live and silent auctions brought in $74,660 that will benefit the Out & Equal Scholarship Fund for LGBT students.

The conference had a big impact on the local economy both in the LGBT community and Dallas in general.

At the Thursday night dinner, Bush handed Youth First Texas’ Sam Wilkes a check for $20,000.

According to Cordey Lash, a senior sales manager with the Hilton Anatole, the conference had a $3 million impact on the hotel, which included about 6,000 room-nights plus food and beverage sales. During three nights of the conference, the Anatole sold out, so three neighboring hotels filled hundreds of additional rooms.

Lash called the Summit “one of the most impactful conferences of the year.”

He also expected future business from corporations whose executives attended and were impressed with the city and his hotel’s facilities.

The conference had an impact on local LGBT merchants as well. Wednesday was Out & Equal community night.

The Cedar Springs strip was as crowded as on a busy Saturday night.

While many of the attendees were from companies that affirm and encourage diversity and have top ratings in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the conference also attracted employees of companies such as ExxonMobil that have poor ratings.

And the conference wasn’t all business. Top-name entertainment included Candis Cayne, the first transgender actress to have a recurring role on a primetime network series (Dirty, Sexy Money); comedians Margaret Cho and Kate Clinton; actors Meredith Baxter and Wilson Cruz; and the Turtle Creek Chorale.

Speakers included Andy Cohen, Bravo’s openly gay senior vice president of original programming and development; and Rick Welts, president and chief of operations for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

Because evaluations of the event from attendees were so positive, Tanis said Out & Equal is already talking to the Anatole about returning, possibly as early as 2014.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

RCD receives Elton John grant

Money targeted at reaching Latino community is believed to be the first grant from the foundation to a Dallas organization

Ruben-Ramirez

STEPPING UP PREVENTION EFFORTS | Community Health Programs Manager Ruben Ramirez will target the Latino community for HIV prevention funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has given Resource Center Dallas a $38,000 grant to be used in targeting HIV prevention efforts within the gay Latino community.
Community Health Programs Manager Ruben Ramirez said this week that the money will allow RCD to expand its outreach and testing program to a population that has seen a dramatic rise in infections.

“The grant will be used to expand the activities we do now and give it more visibility, and then to provide a social support group on a monthly basis,” Ramirez said.

When the organization had city funding, the center provided more testing and social support to the Latino community than is currently available, Ramirez said. The increased programming begins next month.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation generally funds innovative programs that are already successful in reducing the spread of HIV. So rather than create something new, Ramirez said the center will use the money to enhance the outreach that’s already working.

In other target groups, RCD has followed up testing with support groups and social networking that has reinforced the safer-sex and prevention message.

Ramirez said that within the Latino community, he has heard quite a bit of misinformation.

“We’re still seeing the old myths from way back when about how people get HIV,” Ramirez said, adding that he had recently spoken to someone who thought he could get HIV from sipping from the same glass as someone who was positive.

“I was astounded,” he said.

Ramirez said that although information is readily available, language and immigration barriers stand in the way of some people learning about HIV.

“And some folks just bypass the sea of information of HIV information that is out there,” he added.

In addition, those with information don’t necessarily access testing. Ramirez said RCD will collaborate with area bars to provide testing as well as with other groups.

“We’ve worked very well with AIDS Interfaith Network in the past, and the gay LULAC group,” he said.

Ramirez said plans for implementing the grant, which appears to be the first the Elton John AIDS Foundation has made to a Dallas organization and is the largest the foundation has given to an agency in Texas, are still under way.

In 2010, EJAF gave OutYouth Austin $25,000 for its HIV prevention program that included testing that targets those ages 14 to 20.
Metropolitan Community Church of Abilene received $25,000 in 2008 for its drug intervention program for people who are HIV-positive.

EJAF was established in 1992 by the singer and is based in London. John’s husband, David Furnish, is chairman of the foundation.

EJAF supports programs that aim to reduce the incidence of HIV as well as end the discrimination and stigma associated with the disease. Other grants fund direct care for people living with HIV.

Ramirez said that RCD was particularly honored to receive this grant because it was competing with other organizations around the world to get the funds.
The EJAF has raised more than $225 million and funded projects in 55 countries since its founding.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas