Family angry at Balch Springs PD’s response to brother’s death

Duby Redburn says police failed to respond to the first calls for help, and that an officer made an anti-gay comment while discussing the case with her

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

BALCH SPRINGS — The sister of a gay Balch Springs man said this week she believes the Balch Springs Police Department’s failure to answer a call at his home may have contributed to his death last month. And she claims that an officer’s anti-gay response to her inquiries make her question how thoroughly her brother’s death will be investigated.

Duby Redburn said that her brother Rodney Johnson’s body was found by another brother, laying face down on the floor of his mobile home, in a pool of blood.

But when Redburn spoke to Balch Springs police Investigator Thomas Clements, she said he told her they found her brother sitting at the computer with his pants down. Redburn said the cop told her, “I don’t know what sort of lifestyle he led,” and snickered.

“He was very insensitive,” she said.

And Redburn wondered why calls to Balch Springs police two nights before the body was found went unanswered.

When 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, Cheri Mendoza, became worried. And when she couldn’t reach him by phone, her worry grew.

It just wasn’t like Johnson to just not show up for work, Mendoza said, adding “You could set your watch by him.”

So Mendoza drove to the mobile home park where Johnson lived. Unable to get into the trailer and convinced something was wrong, she called and asked police to help.

Mendoza said she called both 9-1-1 and directly to the Balch Springs Police Department. But no officer showed up.

Mendoza’s calls are not listed on the police report.

Two days later, Rodney Johnson’s boyfriend, who lives in Canada, called Rodney’s brother, Roger Johnson. The boyfriend told Roger that while he and Rodney ordinarily spoke by phone every day, he had been unable to reach Rodney for two days.

So Roger Johnson called his brother, and when he got no answer, he took his key to Rodney’s home and went to check. That’s when Roger went into the trailer and found his brother’s body.

Redburn, who lives in California, this week told Dallas Voice she is frustrated after getting no answers from the police and the delays from the Dallas County Medical Examiner. She is also angry over the officer’s anti-gay comments about her brother.

She said her brother Rodney Johnson was diabetic, but was otherwise a healthy man. She described him as “good, honorable and upstanding.”

Redburn said her brother’s arms were underneath him as if he was trying to catch his fall. He was found naked but she said Rodney always slept in pajamas.

Several days later, Roger found that the mobile home had been broken into. Among the things taken were his sheets as well as jewelry,  a camera and his Bank of America badge. On Monday, Nov. 14, someone tried to access Rodney Johnson’s bank accounts.

Redburn wondered if that was related to the death or if someone simply broke into the home because it was not occupied.

Redburn said the missing sheets bothered her. She wondered if someone had returned to the house to take any possible DNA evidence that might be found or if someone simply used the sheet to carry out other items.

The Dallas County Medical Examiner told the family that test results would take three months to come back, the standard amount of time for toxicology tests to be returned.

Balch Springs police confirmed this week that they had no investigation open. Clements, who was assigned to the case, is out of the office for the week and was unavailable to comment.

The police report doesn’t indicate receiving a call from Mendoza but begins with the call from Roger Johnson on Nov. 12.

The report states that Rodney Johnson advised that “he thinks his brother is dead,” and that “he hadn’t heard from his brother in awhile so he went over there to check on him.”

The account ends two hours later with transferring the body to Dallas County.

Redburn was concerned that Balch Springs police weren’t investigating the death. She said her brother might have died of natural causes, but she questioned the police response to her.

She wondered why the police account of how the body was found differed from what her brother reported. The police report does not mention blood on the floor or position of the body.

Redburn doesn’t know if foul play was involved. She wonders if her brother was still alive when Mendoza arrived at the house. Had police responded to Mendoza’s call, Redburn wonders if her brother could have been saved.

Redburn said she hopes the medical examiner’s report will reveal whether there was a physical attack, if he died of natural causes and why there was no investigation when blood was found.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Exxon Mobil hits new LGBT low

Company is 1st with negative score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index

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HIGH OCTANE | Queer activist CD Kirven participates in a protest organized by GetEQUAL in 2010 outside the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, where Exxon Mobil's shareholders held their annual meeting. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

IRVING — Exxon Mobil Corp. has again made history for its anti-gay employment practices.

The Irving-based company, which is No. 2 on the Fortune 500 and has more than 80,000 employees worldwide, last week became the first business to ever receive a negative score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index.

The 2012 edition of the Index, which marks the 10th anniversary of HRC’s scorecard, includes ratings for 636 major companies based on their LGBT-related employment practices.

Exxon Mobil failed to meet any of the criteria for the 2012 Index, and had points deducted for engaging in activities that undermine LGBT equality. As a result, the company received a score of minus-25 from HRC.

Before Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, Mobil offered domestic partnership benefits and had an employment nondiscrimination policy that included sexual orientation. However, ExxonMobil did away with both the benefits and the policy after the merger, and has repeatedly resisted shareholder efforts to amend the policy to protect gay employees.

The 2012 Index marks the first year HRC has handed out negative scores, and Exxon Mobil was the only company to receive one.

“For over a decade, HRC has urged Exxon Mobil to re-evaluate its employment practices and policies regarding LGBT employees,” HRC spokesman Paul Guequierre said. “They continue to give us, and the entire LGBT community, the cold shoulder.”

William F. Holbrook, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, sent Dallas Voice a copy of the company’s “Corporate Citizenship Report,” which says it has a “zero-tolerance” policy against “discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

However, Guequierre said the Corporate Citizenship Report isn’t an Equal Employment Opportunity statement, and lacks the legal force an EEO statement carries.

Exxon Mobil’s report also says the company offers health benefits to the partners of gay employees in countries where same-sex marriage is legal, but goes by federal law in the U.S., which only recognizes heterosexual spouses.

Holbrook declined to further discuss the company’s negative score on the CEI.

Exxon Mobil was one of three companies to receive the 25-point deduction for undermining LGBT equality on the 2012 Index. The other two were New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. and Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner LLP.

Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Project, said Verizon was penalized for resisting a shareholder resolution to add gender identity to the company’s employment nondiscrimination policy; while Foley & Lardner was docked for representing the National Organization for Marriage in campaigns against marriage equality in the District of Columbia and Minnesota.

Verizon received an overall score of 20, while Foley & Lardner got a 60.

“It is not a designation that we take lightly,” Fidas said of the 25-point deduction for undermining LGBT equality. “These businesses did nothing to rectify these particular situations.”

On a more positive note, Fort Worth-based AMR Corp. (American Airlines) is one of only nine companies that have received perfect scores every year since the Index began in 2002, Fidas said. The others are Aetna Inc., Alcatel-Lucent, Apple Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Nike Inc., Replacements Ltd. and Xerox Corp.

Those nine employers all managed to maintain their scores of 100 on the 2012 CEI despite new, more stringent criteria — most notably a requirement to offer comprehensive transgender health benefits, including coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

Lauri Curtis, vice president for diversity at American Airlines, said adding comprehensive trans health benefits was “the right thing to do for our business.”

“We don’t look at it as how difficult it was,” Curtis said. “The bottom line is that we have a very diverse population, both our employees as well as our customers, and that’s really what we true ourselves to. That’s our driving guidepost as it relates to our diversity efforts.

“At the end of the day it’s all about equality and respect for everyone,” she added. “I think it just underscores that this is serious stuff to us, because it’s just part of who we are. It’s been part of who we are for a long time.”

American Airlines and AT&T Inc. were the only North Texas-based companies that satisfied all of the new criteria and received perfect scores on the 2012 CEI. That’s down from nine local companies that received HRC’s top rating on the 2011 index.

Nationally, 190 companies received perfect scores this year, down from 337 last year. But Fidas said comparing this year’s scores to last year’s amounts to apples and oranges. In addition to trans health coverage, HRC added criteria in 2012 related to “soft” partner benefits, organizational competency on LGBT issues, and public support for equality.

“It’s a new standard,” Fidas said. “We raised the bar in these four significant areas, and some businesses are just going to take a little more time to get there. We don’t see that as a drop or a lack of commitment.”

In fact, Fidas said, this year’s Index shows remarkable progress as employers strive to meet the new criteria. For example, two years ago, only 49 employers offered comprehensive trans health benefits, but since then the number has jumped to 207.

Representatives from North Texas-based companies that lost their perfect scores on this year’s CEI said they’re disappointed but committed to working toward re-establishing them.

“Anytime that you were on a list and then you’re not a on a list, it does cause some angst,” said Steve Lyle, chief diversity officer for Dallas-based Texas Instruments, which received a 90 on the 2012 Index after four consecutive years of perfect scores. “We don’t want that segment or our employee population to feel disenfranchised because TI’s no longer on this list, or feel like we care less today than we did last week.”

That’s why the company sent emails to LGBT employees in advance of the Index’s release explaining the reason for the lower score: The company’s insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, doesn’t consider gender reassignment surgery to be a medically necessary procedure.

Texas Instruments could have overridden Blue Cross’ decision at a minimal cost, Lyle said. However, that would have been unfair to employees who want coverage for other procedures that aren’t considered medically necessary, including growth hormones for children and in vitro fertilization.

Lyle added that TI is interested in working with HRC and other employers to convince insurance providers that gender reassignment surgery — historically regarded as cosmetic — should instead be deemed medically necessary.

“We’re in the business of making electronics, not in determining medical necessity, but we do want to influence the conversation, because it aligns with our values,” said Lyle, who’s openly gay. “We want to be able to offer benefits to our employees that are necessary for them, but we also want to have internal equity of those benefits.”

Plano-based J.C. Penney Company Inc. also lost points for failing to offer comprehensive trans health benefits, and saw its score drop from a 100 to an 85.  Daphne Avila, a spokesman for J.C. Penney, said in an email this week that the company will “continue to explore cost-effective options for improving associate benefits.”

“Given our record of achieving a perfect score three out of the past four years, our current ranking is not where we would like it to be,” Avila wrote. “While the new guidelines present opportunities for advancement across all industries, our score – albeit not poor – does not accurately reflect our overall commitment to inclusion and diversity. … While we are unable to guarantee our future standings, please know that we are already evaluating the 2013 HRC criteria and are looking for opportunities to raise the bar.”

Representatives from Grapevine-based GameStop, which saw its score drop from 100 last year to 75 this year; and Dallas-based Brinker International, which saw its score drop from 100 to 60, didn’t respond to requests for comment this week.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Black Tie Dinner hands out $1.142M

Lemons stepping up as 2012-13 co-chair; Duncan joins staff as development director

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COMMEMORATIVE GIFT | BTD Co-chair Chris Kouvelis shows off the plate presented to each beneficiary along with a check. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Officials with the 2011 Black Tie Dinner on Thursday night, Dec. 15, distributed a total of $1.142 million to 17 local beneficiary organizations and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Although the overall total was down a bit from 2010’s total of $1.15 million, some local beneficiaries received higher individual amounts this year since the number of local beneficiaries dropped from 18 to 17 after AIDS Services of Rural Texas closed its doors in late spring.

As is traditional, half the total proceeds this year — or $571,000 — went to the Human Rights Campaign Fund. Resource Center Dallas was the local organization receiving the largest sum — $63,868.

RCD also received the largest donation to a local beneficiary last year, but that total, at $48,504, was significantly lower than this year.

The percentage of the total proceeds that each local beneficiary receives from Black Tie Dinner each year is determined by a formula based on how many tables and how many raffle tickets each organization sells for the dinner, how many volunteer hours each organization contributes to the dinner and other factors.

Chris Kouvelis, 2011-12 BTD co-chair, said in a statement released Thursday that he and other board members were pleased with the amount given to beneficiaries.

“It’s a thrill and an honor for Black Tie Dinner to be able to distribute these funds,” Kouvelis said. “It is with distribution that the reason for all the hard work done by this wonderful board is realized.”

Kouvelis served his first year as co-chair with Nan Arnold, who stepped down from the post during the check distribution event after two years as co-chair.

Arnold told Dallas Voice this week she was proud to know that during the last two years,“ we were able to increase distribution [to beneficiaries] substantially from the previous three to four years. Being able to give more to our beneficiaries is always a wonderful thing, and of course, that is our No. 1 mission.”

She said she is also very proud of how successful the 2011 dinner was.

“We really changed a lot of things this year. We had a great lineup and we sold out by August,” Arnold said. “We’ve heard a lot of good remarks about the dinner this year, and of course, we always love hearing good things.”

Black Tie officials on Thursday introduced Mitzi Lemons as co-chair for the 2012 and 2013 dinners, and they introduced Margaret Byrne Duncan as the new development director for the dinner.

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PASSING THE TORCH | Outgoing Co-chair Nan Arnold, left, and incoming Co-chair Mitzi Lemons at the Black Tie Dinner check presentation party at the Dallas Museum of Art on Thursday, Dec. 15. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

“I am leaving the board in excellent hands,” Arnold said of Lemons’ selection as the new co-chair. “Chris has been a great co-chair partner and is more than ready to take the reins [as senior co-chair]. And Mitzi has shown remarkable leadership as chair of our business operations committee.”

Arnold continued, “She [Lemons] is the first person to have the opportunity to have served [during the last year] as co-chair elect, so Chris and I have been able to work with her and mentor her all year. There is no doubt they are a terrific team and will lead the board to great things.”

Arnold steps down as co-chair after eight years on the BTD board, saying it has been “an honor and a privilege” to serve.

“I am just humbled to be a small part of a really great community in Dallas and I appreciate the opportunity to do my part to help in any way I can,” she said.

Looking back on her eight years on the board, Arnold said there have been many special moments and memories, but one in particular that stands out in her mind was being able to hand over a “substantial” donation to first-time beneficiary Home for the Holidays following the 2010 dinner.

“They were so excited; there were tears and yells of joy and appreciation,” Arnold recalled. “There were hugs all around. It was wonderful.”

Home for the Holidays, a nonprofit that helps people with HIV/AIDS travel home to be with family, received $24,375 in 2010, an amount that Home for the Holidays President Rodd Gray said earlier this year was a fortune for an organization in which board members often used their own credit cards and bank accounts to cover expenses until they could raise enough money to get reimbursed.

Home for the Holidays did not apply to be a Black Tie beneficiary this year, Gray said, explaining that the 2010 donation was enough to tide them over for some time. “We don’t need the money right now, and we didn’t want to possibly take away money from some other organization that needs it more,” Gray explained.

For Lemons, stepping into the role of Black Tie Dinner co-chair is an exciting opportunity.

“It is an honor I never dreamed I would have the privilege of experiencing, and I know it will be a time in my life that I will always cherish,” Lemons said. “To lead such a remarkable organization that impacts the LGBT community in the way that we do is almost daunting, to say the least. But I know I have the support of my co-chair [Kouvelis] and a truly amazing board and advisory board.”

Lemons has been a Black Tie board member for four years, and worked as a volunteer with the organization for two years before joining the board. She said that she was on the board at Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth when the church first applied and was selected as a Black Tie beneficiary.

When the church was selected as a beneficiary, Lemons said, “I began volunteering with Black Tie and became more and more interested in how the organization works and how it helps so many people.”

Lemons said that during her first year as Black Tie co-chair, she intends to “continue our efforts to educate not only the LGBT community about the mission of Black Tie Dinnner to help our beneficiaries, but also to educate the general public and our sponsors. There are still many opportunities in the North Texas area, and we will work hard to expand our reach.

“Although the 2011 dinner will be a hard act to follow, we are already in full swing working on an amazing 2012 dinner,” she added.

Lemons has been in law firm management for more than 25 years and currently works as a law firm administrator. She and her partner, Dr. Sarah Hardy, have been together for 15 years, and Lemons said Hardy is also “very much a part of Black Tie with her never-ending support of my role on the board and her belief in the Black Tie mission.

“The many hours of work we do as board members to produce the dinner each year would never happen without the devotion of our spouses to what we believe in,” Lemons said.
Duncan said this week that the transition to her new position as development director for Black Tie Dinner has already begun, even though she does not officially take over the position until Jan. 1.

“I am honored to be part of the nation’s largest, most successful single-event LGBT fundraiser,” Duncan said. “That success would not be possible without our extremely dedicated volunteer board of directors.”

Duncan said she became familiar with Black Tie while working for five years with AIDS Arms, one of the dinner’s beneficiary organizations. Because of that, Duncan said, “I have firsthand knowledge of how important Black Tie’s funding is to the LGBT-supportive organizations serving North Texas.”

Duncan said her goal for 2012 is to continue building on the organization’s current success and to find ways to increase the donations Black Tie gives back to its beneficiaries.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Pride proceeds


CHECK DISTRIBUTION  | 
Representatives of the five organizations named as beneficiaries of the 2011 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade gather at the Round-Up Saloon to pick up checks representing their share of proceeds from the Pride parade. Dallas Tavern Guild, which puts on the parade each year, distributed checks totaling $18,700 during the guild’s monthly meeting on Thursday, Dec. 1, with each beneficiary’s share determined by the number of shifts each group’s volunteers worked during the parade and Festival in Lee Park in September. AIDS Interfaith Network received $4,300; AIDS Arms received $3,400; AIDS Services Dallas received $2,400; Legacy Counseling Center received $1,100 and Youth First Texas received $7,500. Beneficiaries are in the front row. Tavern Guild members are behind them. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

CSMA planning to hire security

Merchants association would like to cut down on panhandling and vagrants along the retail side of Cedar Springs

SAFETY AND SECURITY  |  OutLines owner David Lester believes that a security guard will help make shopping on Cedar Springs a safer and more pleasant experience. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

SAFETY AND SECURITY | OutLines manager David Lester believes that a security guard will help make shopping on Cedar Springs a safer and more pleasant experience. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Cedar Springs Merchants Association decided to hire a guard to patrol the east side of Cedar Springs Road. Store owners and landlords will fund the additional security.

Caven Enterprises, owner of four bars on the west side Cedar Springs, has had guards patrol that side of the street for years.

CSMA President Scott Whittall said several incidents prompted hiring the guard.

“We deal with panhandlers and vagrants daily,” Whittall said.

A burglary at OutLines several weeks ago was among the incidents that prompted the move.

OutLines manager David Lester said, “A gentleman of dubious character was in the store.”

He said the salesman kept an eye on him. The man said he was going to purchase six pairs of jeans, selected a variety of sizes and styles and took them to the counter. The salesman followed the man to the cash register but as he walked behind the counter, the man grabbed the slacks and ran out the door.

Lester said the presence of security on the street would help.

“The security person will have a phone,” he said.

A salesman in a store could call the guard to come down to that store. Lester said it might not have prevented the theft, but the man would have been less likely to grab and run if a guard was standing outside the front door.

“The presence tends to tell people we’re watching,” he said.

He said at night during the week the parking in back can be dark and lonely. A security guard could watch people as they go to their cars.

However, the guard will not be full time. The days and hours will vary from week to week.

Lester said that it would be nice to have someone full-time but this is what they can afford. He said the fluctuating schedule would make it harder to announce which hours would be best for shoplifting. Some days the guard will patrol during the afternoon. Other days security will continue into the evening.

Caven Enterprises has employed security guards around its clubs and parking lots for years.

“We’ve had security as long as I’ve worked for this company,” said Caven president Gregg Kilhoffer, who has been with the company for 27 years.

On any one night Caven has three to seven guards — one at each club entrance, one in the parking lot, one in paid parking and one or two roaming the perimeter.

“Security is very important,” Kilhoffer said, “And I’m very proud of that.”

Kilhoffer, who is on the board of the merchant’s association, said he would like to see security during the day for the stores and restaurants.

“That would help us deal with people who harass customers,” he said.

Whittall said that CSMA is still interviewing companies to provide the protection required. He said he thought they had a deal with one company but that company wasn’t willing to patrol on a varying schedule.
“Vagrants know when security is there,” Whittall said.

Police advised the group to vary hours and days to keep panhandlers and vagrants off-guard.

Whittall said that in his eight years as a Cedar Springs merchant, he hadn’t encountered any violent crime along the street. And a security guard would not patrol the residential streets where many people park on weekends where muggings have occurred.

Lester said that unfortunately a guard wouldn’t have prevented the recent hit-and-run accidents involving pedestrians either.

But Whittall said panhandling is a major problem that merchants hoped to get under control.

“Not a day went by that I didn’t have to deal with it,” Whittall said.

Whittall sold Buli and the transfer to new owners happened last week. He said the new owners had to deal with a panhandler in the store the first hour they were running the business.

To fund the guard, CSMA planned to hold a holiday dinner and cabaret on Friday, Dec. 2 at The Rose Room. Whittall said that several other events that evening conflicted including a Human Rights Campaign holiday party. Only half the seats sold so CSMA decided to postpone it.

Whittall said the event will be moved to early spring. Singer Linda Petty who was slated to appear, told him that she would be available for the group whenever they rescheduled it. She said she’d rather sing for a full house to help them raise more money.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Planning, preparation can make the holidays much more jolly for all

LGBTs often deal with stress, depression during the holiday season due to family issues

Candy Marcum

Candy Marcum

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Many people have such high expectations for the holidays that they get depressed when those expectations aren’t met. And in the LGBT community, dealing with family issues is often painful.

Counselor Candy Marcum said that holiday depression is the gap between how you think your life should work and how it is working.

“If you think Christmas should be family and love and laughter and you’re having trouble paying the rent and your family rejects you, then work to lessen the gap,” Marcum said.
She suggested changing the idea of how the holiday should be.

Marcum said that many people come out to family during the holidays because that’s when families get together.

And coming out in person is usually better than over the phone.

But, Marcum said, making a big announcement at the dinner table might not be the best way to do it.
Counselor Randy Martin said that anyone intending to come out to family over the holiday needs to plan and prepare beforehand.

“Find someone to bounce it off of,” such as a friend or sibling, he said. “Like a dry run.”

But when to spring the news? Each family is different, Martin said.

In some families, it’s best to talk about big news in pairs.

In others, groups are fine.

If a family has an expectation of how holiday dinner should be, interrupting it with this sort of news might not be the best idea. But in some families it could be the perfect setting, Martin suggested said.

Going home for the holidays and introducing a new partner is another stressful situation. Even the fully accepting family may react awkwardly to the new situation.

Randy-Martin-photo

Randy Martin

Marcum suggests staying in a nearby hotel might be the answer to avoiding family conflict. That avoids the embarrassing question of sleeping arrangements.

Or talk to family ahead of time. Staying with a sibling or other relative might work also.

Martin agreed that a hotel stay could be a perfect alternative for a couple during a holiday visit: “Maybe Grandpa smokes and one of you can’t tolerate it, or your family gets up much earlier than you do,” he said.

He added that any number of situations could make it simpler all the way around not to stay with one’s parents.

Marcum said another uncomfortable situation is visiting family after a breakup. While you might have moved on, everyone else could be feeling the loss for the first time, she said.

“Now you’ve got a new one [partner],” Marcum said. “That’s awkward at best.”

Martin agreed. “The family already has a pattern down. Do what you can to let everyone else catch up,” he said.

Loneliness is another common problem many people in the LGBT community face during the holidays.

Happy childhood memories of the holidays can bring on a bout of depression when those expectations will not be met because of family rejection, Marcum said.

Others are alone for the holidays simply because of distance, cost of travel or having to work.

Martin suggested doing some extra preparation for the holidays, especially if that time of year tends to be difficult. While many people spend quite a bit of time going to parties and shopping for everyone else, he suggested spending time making plans for yourself.

“Loneliness is real,” Martin said. “We’re hard-wired to be connected. Make plans.”

And he said make back-up plans in case other plans fall through. Think of whom to contact if you’re alone — maybe someone to go with to a movie.
Marcum agreed, adding, “Be good to yourself.”

“Make a plan that pleases you,” she said. “Whatever gives you joy.”

She suggested going to church, volunteering in a soup kitchen or having friends or neighbors over.

“Buy yourself something,” she suggested. “Wrap it up and put it under the tree.”

She said that when sadness around the holiday is a result bad family relations, keep the door open.

“Take the high road with your family,” Marcum said. “Continue to reach out.”

That includes inviting them to visit, and calling or sending cards and emails to keep in touch.

Martin’s general advice is to stay connected. He said that if exercise is part of your regular routine, make time to get in a workout. He said to not let all the parties and shopping and pressure from the holiday become overwhelming.

And Marcum gives a word of warning about drinking during the holiday “Watch your alcohol intake,” she said. “Alcohol is a depressant.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Potts’ agenda? To show the boring reality of LGBT life

Oral Roberts’ grandson vacuums and makes coffee in a public display designed to debunk the idea that there’s an ominous ‘gay agenda’

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GAY AGENDA | Randy Roberts Potts and his boyfriend, Keaton Johnson, perform ‘The Gay Agenda’ to show what ordinary lives gays and lesbians lead. (Photo by Ange Fitzgerald courtesy of Randy Roberts Potts)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

To bridge the gap between what most evangelicals imagine when they think of a gay couple and what he knows most gay couples do, Randy Roberts Potts has come up with The Gay Agenda, a performance piece designed to be boring.

For a weekend, Potts, the out gay grandson of evangelist Oral Roberts, and his boyfriend Keaton Johnson will set up house, so to speak, in a public space in various locations in the central U.S. They will watch TV, make coffee and even take a nap.

What they won’t do is kiss or even touch much.

And they hope people from the area will come and watch — but only for a short time. Because what they’ll be doing is extremely boring.

They expect that local media will come and talk to them about their mundane lives. And on Sunday morning, Potts hopes a local church will allow him to come and speak.

Like many gay people, Potts had to deal with family issues wrapped up in religion. And like many other gay men, before he came out, he married and had three kids.

But Potts’ family was a special challenge. His grandfather Oral Roberts’ side of the family was the liberal side.

Potts said that he hasn’t spoken to his mother — Oral’s daughter Roberta who sits on the board of Oral Roberts University — in a year. But he doesn’t mourn that loss. He said he never had a close relationship with her.

On his father’s even more conservative side of the family, dancing was out and they never watched movies. Potts said he taught cousins on that side of the family what the pictures and numbers on playing cards meant.

But Potts is healthy and happy. He shares joint custody of his children and adores them. He and his boyfriend just celebrated their one-year anniversary. And his boyfriend’s family has warmly welcomed him into their family.

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AND PUPPY MAKES 3 | Potts and Johnson spent most of their time at the Aurora Arts Festival on the sofa watching TV. (Photo by Ange Fitzgerald courtesy of Randy Roberts Potts)

But Potts understands the pain many people from similar backgrounds feel. And he knows that much of it comes from the misconception people have about the lives gay people lead.

Before taking their show on the road, Potts and Johnson did a test run at the Aurora Arts Festival in the Arts District in Downtown Dallas on Oct. 30. They set up a living room along the street near the Winspear Opera House and proceeded to do those routine things people do at home. They spent much of the evening sitting and watching TV.

A small sign identified the art project. Potts said one woman watched curiously for a few minutes, then noticed the sign, grabbed her young daughter’s hand and moved along quickly. Others responded with amusement or simple bewilderment.

Potts said that there was little show of affection between him and his partner. He said that normally people don’t spend their time at home being affectionate. They just hang out together and do something dull like watch TV.

And the point wasn’t to shock people: When Potts and Johnson sat together on the couch, they were watching television. They weren’t kissing. They weren’t touching.

One of them got up to make some coffee. He brought a cup of coffee to the other, fixed the way he likes it. Again, that’s something couples do at home.
Boring.

That’s the point.

“Most people think of two men having sex,” Potts said. “This project is to push back on that stereotype.”

After the successful tryout in Dallas, Potts plans to take the installation on tour. Over the next year, he’d like to take the installation to some smaller cities, maybe one a month.

Tulsa? Maybe they’ll visit his hometown eventually. He said that may be the finale of the tour. But the first stop will be in his home state in Oklahoma City.

Potts said he’s not looking for confrontation or dangerous situations and he’s not looking to be a martyr. The goal is simply to perform The Gay Agenda in small cities throughout the center of the country.

In Dallas during the art fair, Potts said he felt safe performing out in the street. But in small-town America, he wants some level of protection.

So the plan is to rent an abandoned store window and borrow some living room furniture from some local gays so Potts and Johnson don’t have to haul their apartment all over the country. Then, for two days, they’ll lead their boring lives in the storefront for anyone in town to watch.

On Sunday morning, he said, he hoped a local church would allow the grandson of the famous evangelist to speak to the congregation.

“I don’t consider myself a preacher. “But churches are on the forefront of the battle for gay rights,” he explained.

To help fund the project, Potts is collaborating with the non-partisan Liberty Education Forum, a sister organization of Log Cabin Republicans. Potts said he thought that group would be a perfect partner because of its experience working in conservative areas.

He said the idea is to leave people with a different impression of gay people and what they do in their private lives in a way they’re not getting on television.

Potts said that the characters from Will & Grace and Modern Family have made The Gay Agenda possible. But this time the characters aren’t in New York or California, but right there in small-town America next to the kind of people the LGBT equality message needs to reach.

And while Potts doesn’t expect churches to suddenly embrace their LGBT members and neighbors, he hopes to nudge them toward providing a safer community.

If the piece succeeds in drawing attention and softening views, Potts said he’d like to see other same-sex couples perform The Gay Agenda in their own hometowns. But for now, he just hopes Liberty Education Forum will help him book about one performance a month over the course of the next year.

Why take the risk?

“If I felt accepted by my family, I wouldn’t go out and do this,” Potts said. “It’s my attempt to say, ‘I’m not that weird.’”
Johnson is in his late 20s and has been out since high school. His motivation is different.

“He wants to make things be the way he thought they always were,” Potts said.

Potts noted that there’s not much outreach to the evangelical community. The national organizations mostly work with potential allies. Most people in the LGBT community are afraid of or don’t know how to approach evangelicals.

But Potts knows that community intimately and deals with his strict religious upbringing with some amusement. He speaks of the university his grandfather founded with some pride, mentioning the school’s two best-known alumni — presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and Homer Simpson’s next door neighbor, Ned Flanders.

“Okaly dokaly,” Potts said. “Look at his wall. He has an ORU diploma hanging up.”

And although he tends to avoid contact with his immediate family in Oklahoma, Potts did attend his grandfather’s funeral. But he was not invited to sit with the family. And while his mother was delivering the eulogy, she spotted him in the audience. From the stage, in front of thousands of people, she began yelling at him.

Potts said he figures she was the one who looked foolish, not him.

Sharing the message

A year ago, Potts made an “It Gets Better” video dedicated to his Uncle Ronnie, Oral’s son who was also gay and who committed suicide. The video has gotten more than 130,000 hits.

And when he takes The Gay Agenda to smaller cities in Middle America, he said he hopes people will see that gays and lesbians lead the same sort of lives as straight people, that LGBTs aren’t a threat. If he gets to speak in a church, Potts said he hopes the congregation will get his simple message.

“I will be talking about the difference between tolerance and acceptance,” he said. “The LGBT community has been tolerated, in varying degrees, for the last 40 years since Stonewall. Tolerance is better than what came before, when our freedom of assembly rights were not guaranteed and even gay book clubs could be [and often were] stormed by the police.”

He said he wants people to understand that gays and lesbians would like to be open about themselves on Main Street, not just on a cruise, in a gay bar or on a gay-themed sitcom.

“Our little performance piece is symbolic of a move out of the ghetto and onto Main Street — how we’re received in each community will say a lot about how accepted our community is in that locale,” Potts said. “Our gay agenda, if there is one, is to be loved and accepted.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

The Gay Agenda facebook page.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hess marks 25 years with RCD

Co-workers call him the steadying force, the quiet authority and the keeper of institutional knowledge

A QUARTER CENTURY  |  Craig Hess was Resource Center Dallas’ second employee when he started 25 years ago. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

A QUARTER CENTURY | Craig Hess was Resource Center Dallas’ second employee when he started 25 years ago. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Craig Hess marked his 25th anniversary as an employee of Resource Center Dallas appropriately enough on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

To put that amount of time in perspective, World AIDS Day dates back only 23 years.

Currently, Hess is the insurance assistance coordinator at RCD. When he was hired in 1986, he started as the volunteer coordinator.

Hess was the second person hired by the organization — after community educator Mike Richards and before the agency’s first executive director, John Thomas. Hess said three people were hired that day.
“When I took the job, it was temporary — six months and they’ll find a cure,” he said. “This has been the longest temporary job I ever had.”

RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell called Hess “a living history book” and “the keeper of institutional knowledge” for the agency. He said that Hess is a steadying force at the center and is treated with a great deal of respect.

“He’s the quiet authority,” McDonnell said.

Hess describes himself a little differently.

“I’m the voice of reason among the insanity,” he said.

Hess said he’s amazed at what Resource Center Dallas has become.

In the beginning, he said, “This was as grassroots as it could be. And now we’re a United Way agency. Government funding? We never thought of that back then.”

He recounted how the insurance program he heads got started in the late 1990s. Dallas County helped Resource Center Dallas make COBRA payments for its clients. At the time, Parkland Hospital estimated that the $60,000 in insurance payments it funded saved the county more than $6 million.

“Now it’s more like $100 million saved,” Hess said.

Hess said his background is in accounting.

“I like doing it because it’s very exacting,” he said. “There’s no leeway. It’s very organized. This is extreme accounting.”

He called his job the one no one else wants to do.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox was among the agency’s staff who heaped praise on Hess.

“When I first met Craig, he wore a different pair of high tops everyday and drove a Cadillac convertible,” Cox said. “He’s always had his own style and there’s something to be said for that.”

But her admiration for him was apparent.

“He’s given 25 years of service to this community,” she said. “He’s dedicated his life to that service.”

Cox said that she gets letters from clients about how much Hess has helped them.

“With this job comes many complaints,” she said. “To have a client take the time to send a letter of gratitude catches my attention.”

But she said to get letters about him repeatedly is a testament to his value to the organization and its clients.

Client Services Manager Jennifer Hurn said it struck her when Hess remarked that the names on the buildings are real people to him.

“Most of us here now can’t say that,” she said.

Hess agreed and was more comfortable talking about the many other people who helped build the center than about his own accomplishments.

He mentioned Bill Hunt who helped create the Food Pantry and the hot meals program that he dubbed “Chez Louise.”

“Bill wanted lunch served on china because it was about dignity,” he said. “Social, not institutional.”

And Hess has taken that lesson to heart. He explained why he’s devoted his life to RCD’s clients.

“I could be any one of the clients,” he said. “If this happened to me, how would I want people to treat me?”

So how long can clients count on him to continue doing his temporary job?

“I’m there till it’s over,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

LGBT advocates give DISD an ‘F’ on implementing anti-bullying policy

Cox, Narvaez say some administrators are telling employees not to use online reporting system

DISD

CALLING OUT DISD | Cece Cox with Resource Center Dallas and Omar Narvaez with Lambda Legal this week urged DISD board members to force employees to step up implementation of the district’s anti-bullying policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox this week accused Dallas Independent School District officials of instructing principals to ignore the reporting requirement in the school district’s anti-bullying policy.

Speaking at a DISD board meeting Thursday morning, Dec. 1, Cox called board members that adopted the policy visionary, but gave the district a grade of “F” in implementing the policy.

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez also spoke at the Dec. 1 board meeting.
DISD passed the anti-bullying policy in November 2010, soon after a string of teens across the country committed suicide after having been repeatedly bullied at school. The Dallas policy was implemented more than six months before the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Perry signed a new statewide anti-bullying law.

Narvaez said that the Dallas policy was cited repeatedly in Austin as the anti-bullying bill made its way through the Legislature.

But he said that a year after the Dallas policy was adopted, only about a third of principals have been trained on the computer-based reporting system, that most schools do not have the system in place and even more do not know how to use it.

Narvaez urged DISD to step up its implementation.

Cox said that many schools only sporadically adhere to key provisions of the policy —  enforcement and reporting.

A year after adopting the policy, Cox said, “I’m sorry to report the wheels have fallen off. Your grade is ‘F.’”

She said that there was a deliberate attempt by some DISD administrators to stop the implementation of the anti-bullying policy. “My agency has received reports from [DISD] employees,” Cox said.

“They have been told not to use the online reporting system.”

She warned the board of the serious consequences of ignoring bullying in schools: “You will have blood on your hands.”

Narvaez also praised the policy that passed unanimously a year ago, noting that it is being used as “a blueprint across the state.”

But, he added, two-thirds of DISD principals still need to be trained on the reporting system.

“It’s time we forget about politics,” he said.

Narvaez told the board several stories of DISD students having been bullied for a variety of reasons beyond sexual orientation and reminded them that the policy would keep all students safer.

Narvaez said that while some administrators fear that repeated reports of bullying would be counted against a school, instead, schools with the highest rates of reporting should be seen as having principals doing their jobs diligently and that schools that don’t report incidents of bullying should be seen as having principals ignoring the problem.

After the two spoke during the brief public comments section of the board meeting, DISD trustee Nancy Bingham spoke privately with Cox. Bingham, an early supporter of the anti-bullying policy, said the board would be getting a briefing.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas