LGBT allies Kathleen Hicks, Marc Veasey to seek new congressional seat; Joel Burns not running

A federal court in San Antonio today released a map of proposed new congressional districts for Texas.

The proposed map from the court (the North Texas section is shown above) includes four new congressional seats resulting from reapportionment. One of the seats is a minority-majority district in eastern Tarrant County that is likely to be won by a Democrat. The district is 66 percent black or Hispanic.

Shortly after the court released its map, Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks announced that she plans to run as a Democrat for the new District 33 congressional seat. Hicks, whose district includes the Rainbow Lounge, was an outspoken supporter of the LGBT community in the wake of the police raid of the gay bar in 2009.

“The Federal Court in San Antonio has released new proposed maps for the 2012 Texas Congressional Elections,” Hicks said on Facebook moments ago. “District 33 has been drawn within Tarrant County and includes much of the City of Fort Worth. Today, I am announcing my intent to seek a place on the ballot with the Texas Democratic Party for this Congressional District, pending a final map from the court.”

Read more on the proposed map from the Texas Tribune.

UPDATE: Gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who lives in District 33, confirmed he is not running for the seat. Burns said he’ll instead endorse State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who apparently plans to run against Hicks in the primary:

“To all who’ve called in the last hour, I am NOT running for new 33rd Congressional District announced this morning,” Burns wrote. “[Husband] J.D. [Angle] and I both are proud to announce our endorsements of Rep Marc Veasey in his 1st run for Congress. I believe in Marc & know he will be a great Congressman & the best choice for Fort Worth & Arlington.”

Veasey is also a strong LGBT ally. He has repeatedly sponsored a bill backed by Equality Texas calling for a study on implementation of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. Veasey also had an openly gay chief of staff, and he gave an impassioned speech on the House floor earlier this year against an anti-gay bill.

—  John Wright

Safe haven

For 10 years, Gay-Straight Alliances in Fort Worth schools have given LGBTQ and their straight friends a place to go for support and safety

GATHERING | Rebecca Cooper, front center, opens her classroom at Southwest High School to LGBT students and their friends looking for someplace where they feel safe enough to talk openly, and where they can find friendship and support from others like them. (Andrea Grimes/Dallas Voice}

ANDREA GRIMES  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

It’s been 10 years since two high school boys started the first Gay-Straight Alliance club in Tarrant County at Fort Worth’s Southwest High School, and membership is way, way up.

This year, on any given Friday, dozens of kids show up to Rebecca Cooper’s classroom in a cramped, low-ceilinged portable building to do what a lot of kids do — braid each other’s hair or practice gymnastics in the grass outside.

But they also do what a lot of kids will never have to do: trade phone numbers so that when they come out to their family, they’ve got a place to go and a support group if the conversation ends in a fight, or worse — homelessness or even a suicide attempt. (An estimated 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.)

Between the hair braiding and the back flips, Gay-Straight Alliance clubs save lives. It’s as simple as that.

Southwest High School sponsor Rebecca Cooper says she’s seen it with her own eyes: GSAs serve as safe spaces where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students can feel empowered rather than intimidated.

“Because there’s a lack of fear [at GSAs],” says Cooper, students are confident in sharing their own personal experiences to help their peers.

At a meeting, says Cooper, you might have a kid who says, “I thought about suicide three days ago.” But “before you know it,” she says, “You’ve got six, eight, 10 kids around him, like swoosh. They’re going, ‘Here’s my phone number, I’ve been there.’”

Anti-bullying efforts have moved to the forefront of the national conversation in the past couple of years, thanks in part to high-profile campaigns like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which inspired Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns to tell his own story, during an October 2010 City Council meeting of contemplating suicide after being bullied.

But every week — and every night, and every day, really whenever a student needs a help or a hug or a sounding board — since December, 2001, students in Fort Worth’s Gay-Straight Alliances have been telling each other that it gets better, that there’s someone out there who cares.

As of this year, there are three active GSAs in the Fort Worth Independent School District: Southwest High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Western Hills High School’s Q-Status and Paschal High School’s G.L.O.W. (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever), with two more inactive high school groups seeking sponsors.

Cooper estimates that up to 70 percent of her club is straight. The unity and cooperation between straight and non-straight students is part of what makes the simple existence of GSA’s so impactful.

Not only are GSAs safe spaces for LGBTQ students, they also build rapport and trust between the LGBTQ community and the straight majority.

“Straight people want to be part of the change,” says Western Hills’ Q-Status President Italia Salinas, a junior. “You don’t have to be gay to help others have respect and support.”

Often, hurtful and hateful speech comes out of what English teacher Marvin Vann calls anti-gay individuals’ sense of a “mandated right” to denounce homosexuality because of their religious beliefs. He says Gay-Straight Alliances help give strength to students who might otherwise feel swamped and surrounded by Christians with “loving” messages — like the employee who told Italia Salinas’ friend she was going to hell for being a lesbian.

Last year, recalls Salinas, a school employee — not a teacher — told a friend of hers that she’d go to hell because of her sexuality.

While Salinas and her friend were walking down the school hallway one day, an employee asked the two girls where they were headed. When they talked about going to a Q-Status meeting and explained what it was, the employee asked Salinas’ friend if she went to church. She said she did, a Catholic church.

Salinas remembers the employee, someone they’d laughed and joked with since their freshman year, telling her friend, “I love you, but being gay is not okay, and I care about you so I don’t want you to go to hell for doing that.”

Salinas says her friend was “in shock” that a school employee would say such a thing to a student.

Cooper says she’s had to correct other teachers who would tell students it’s not okay to be gay — teachers who didn’t even realize that Cooper herself was gay.

Tensions between teachers, administrators and school employees have heightened in Fort Worth over the years, so much so that Sharon Herrera, an out lesbian herself, was brought in to teach training seminars and handle complaints.

But, as reported by the Fort Worth Weekly, Herrera was perhaps too good at her job.

Her position was eliminated at the beginning of this year, and although she’s still an employee of the district, she’s no longer conducting the seminars and handling the multitude of complaints that came across her desk, which included instances of anti-LGBTQ bullying as well sexual and racial harassment.

Everything, it seems, has gone silent. But that doesn’t mean everyone’s problems have been solved.

Herrera says that quality training that is LGBTQ-specific is vital in Fort Worth, and programs like their “It’s Not Okay” campaign, launched in June of 2010, simply do not address LGBTQ issues in a meaningful way — or at all.

Instead, it is often left up to the more-than-capable students to stand up for themselves when something goes wrong. That’s one of the wonderful things about GSAs, say participants: They get to learn real-world activism in high school.

This year, Italia Salinas says, Q-Status has not been allowed to make public announcements and hang signs in the hallways, ostensibly because they’re a non-academic group. However, a conservative Christian extracurricular group for boys at the school has been able to do those things.

Salinas and her group will have to actively fight to get their school to respect the Equal Access Act, which guarantees that if one extra-curricular club has access to school resources, all of them must.
Nine students from Fort Worth ISD marched in the city’s recent gay Pride parade, and when the Dallas Voice stopped by Southwest High School to talk to their Gay-Straight Alliance, the room positively lit up when the march was brought up.

Hands shot into the air, attached to squirming bodies, each student anxious to talk about the amazing feeling they got from being accepted in an adult space.

In fact, says Western Hills’ Q-Status teacher sponsor Bernardo Vallarino, showing kids that the LGBT community is more than just dance clubs and drugs — something he was exposed to very early on as a young man — is an integral part of what GSAs do for students.

In forming GSAs, he says, “it creates a right way of learning about the LGBTQ community that doesn’t include drugs, alcohol or inadequate sex.” The biggest take-away from GSAs, says Herrera, is that they prevent bullying and, again, save lives because of their specific focus on the needs of LGBTQ students.

Inclusivity, says Herrera, is not enough; LGBTQ kids need programs tailored to their specific challenges — challenges that are made ever more apparent every time the local news reports on yet another bullied teen’s suicide.

Southwest junior Ryan McCaleb says being gay “is the way we live, think, breathe.” But because of the social stigma and pressure from religious and conservative students and teachers, he says, “You’re the talk of the school, and everything that’s said comes back times 10.”

The Gay-Straight Alliance is a place where kids understand what that feels like — that unique feeling of shame and pain that LGBTQ kids deal with, especially LGBTQ kids in conservative cities like Fort Worth, and that their straight friends want to help alleviate. As president of Q-Status, Italia Salinas says her GSA “gives [her] hope for humanity,” that hatefulness and bullying can be prevented before it begins.

Vallarino says that in 10 years of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in FWISD, some goals may have shifted. Last year, they successfully focused on getting written policies in place against workplace and schoolharassment and supporting equal treatment, while this year they’re hoping to get a GSA in every high school and middle school.
………………………………….

MISSION STATEMENTS

• Q-Status: “Q- Status is a group built on the human differences of its members, a safe place where everyone is welcome and no one is turned away. Our focus is centered on the education of our members and the community around us. We thrive by making new friends and by accomplishing our goals of informing and educating others of the cultural and legal inequalities faced by many groups including the homosexual community and their families. Everyone is welcome (heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, questioning, confused, curious, etc.)”

• LGBTQ Saves (district-wide): “LGBTQ  S.A.V.E.S. (Students, Administrators, Volunteers, Educators Support) fosters the well-being of LGBTQ K-12 students, administrators, volunteers and educators in Tarrant County by eliminating discrimination, bullying and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. S.A.V.E.S. is an autonomous, all-volunteer group and not affiliated with any local school districts.”

• Southwest High School GSA Vision Statement: “The Gay-Straight Alliance GSA at Southwest High School is a student-led and -organized club that aims to create a safe, welcoming and accepting environment for all youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The GSA brings together gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) youth with their straight peers to address issues such as bullying, harassment, discrimination and bias. GSA allows youth to build coalitions and community that can work towards making a safer school environment for all people. Motto: Come as you are.”

But ultimately, “One thing that has never changed is that GSA’s are a safe haven.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Tarrant Country Pride Picnic today at Trinity Park

The more the merrier

Head to Trinity Park Arts Pavilion today for a good ol’ fashion picnic, but with gay people. Live entertainment, games, family and pet friendly events and even food and drink make up the annual Tarrant County Pride Picnic. Yeah, this is what a picnic should be. All that’s missing is a shirtless William Holden.

DEETS: Trinity Park Arts Pavilion at Crestline Road. Noon. TCGPWA.org

—  Rich Lopez

Taking Pride to the mainstream

A bigger parade in a new location, expanded schedule of events will help Tarrant County keep Pride going all year round

 

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — LGBT Pride celebrations aren’t new in Tarrant County. But there are definitely a few new things about this year’s 30th annual Pride celebration in Cowtown.

The biggest change is the location — and the day and time — of the annual Pride parade. Traditionally, the parade has been held on Sunday afternoons — the first weekend in October for the last couple of years, before that, at the beginning of June — and it has traditionally traveled down South Jennings Street.

This year, though, the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade moves uptown, starting near the courthouse on Main Street then heading south to disperse at the convention center, just in time for the street festival on Main Street and in General Worth Square.

The annual Pride Picnic, Tarrant County’s original Pride event which has traditionally been held on the Saturday following the parade, this year will instead be held on Sunday, Oct. 2, the day after the parade, again at the Arts Pavilion in Trinity Park.

But it’s not just the days and location that are new for Tarrant County Pride this year, organizers say; there’s also a renewed enthusiasm — a renewed and strengthened spirit of pride.

“There’s a real excitement this year. People are excited about moving the parade and the festival downtown,” said Daune Littlefield, president of the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association.

“Yes, there are a few who didn’t want to move the parade, who didn’t want to do anything differently. But there are more who are excited,” she added. “We should have grown more than we have in the last 30 years. We just got too comfortable with doing things the way we had always done them.”

It’s not been an easy task. The new location for the parade offered some logistical problems. And of course, the expanded event requires the Pride association to cooperate more with city officials.

…………………….

Changes

But at the same time, organizers’ big plans made that cooperation easier to come by.

“We’ve been planning this for awhile. In fact, it was about two years ago that we really started to think about moving the parade, making things bigger and better,” said Littlefield.

“One of the main reasons we changed the day and the time of the parade was because it would be easier to get the permits and close the streets downtown and manage the traffic if the parade was on a Saturday morning,” she explained. “And having the parade and picnic all in the same weekend makes it easier to draw in more people from out of town. And the idea of more people coming in from out of town made it easier to get the [Fort Worth] Convention and Visitors Bureau to work with us.”

And the idea of bringing in visitors from out of town also convinced the Sheraton Fort Worth hotel to partner with the committee to offer the Pride Weekend Package, offering visitors a discounted price to stay at the hotel and giving them easy access to the parade, the street festival and the number of educational seminars and entertainment events scheduled to be held at the hotel during the course of the weekend.

Littlefield and Tina Harvey, parade and vendor chair and long-term parade committee member, both acknowledged that the weekend package deal was not as successful this year as they had hoped. But both also believe it will be much more popular next year.

“We may have overdone it a little this year. Our expectations for that part may have been too high,” Harvey said. “But Pride weekend this year is going to be a huge success. People will see how successful it is, how much fun it is, and they are going to want to participate even more next year.”

Already, Harvey said, there are 48 entries registered for the parade on Saturday, which is 10 more than participated in last year’s parade. And 22 vendors, not counting the food and beverage vendors, have signed up for the street festival. That number also doesn’t count the activities available in the kid’s area.

Dianne Dunivan, picnic and merchandise chair and another longtime committee member, said Sunday’s picnic is also flush with vendors, entertainment and a kid’s area.

And both Dunivan and Harvey are quick to point out that they have worked diligently to keep prices as low as possible when it comes to food and drink stands at the street festival and picnic.

“Last year was the first time we charged for the food and the beer. We charged $1 for the beer, but the product cost us $1.08 and we had to pay taxes to the state on top of that. So we actually lost money on that last year. But that was OK, because we wanted to ease into actually charging for it,” Dunivan said.

“This year, the prices are a little higher. It will be $3 for a burger, a beer or wine, $2 for a polish sausage, and $1 for hot dogs or soft drinks. We are doing everything we can to keep the costs under control,” Dunivan said, adding that when it comes to the picnic in the park on Sunday, “We don’t have an exclusive. People can bring in their own stuff if they want. We are offering the food and the drinks as a convenience.

“We just want to make sure people know that everything is being upgraded this year. Everything is better. And, while we were cash-only last year, this year we’ll be able to take credit cards.”

Dunivan and Harvey also both stress that there is no admission fee to the parade, the festival or the picnic. Still, the committee wants to come out ahead in the money department, so they will have cash on hand as they start planning for 2012, and so they can add to the new TCGPW scholarship fund.

“That’s a big thing for us,” Littlefield said. “This year, we said we really wanted to step forward, to be even more family-friendly, and be even more visible, not just in the LGBT community, but in the community overall. Offering a scholarship is part of that.”

The scholarship, she explained, will be awarded to an LGBT person or to the child of an LGBT family. And while she believes that the association will definitely have enough money to cover expenses for this year’s parade and picnic, if there’s not enough left over to add to the scholarship fund, “we’ll just raise more money!”

And they aren’t waiting around to do that either.

…………………….

Pride throughout the year

Littlefield and the Pride committee this year are stressing that in Tarrant County they are no longer going to talk about Pride weekend. From now on, Littlefield said, “We are going to talk about Pride events. It won’t be just one weekend; we’re going to have Pride throughout the year.

“We want to keep up our visibility throughout the year. We want to keep the momentum going,” she said.

To do that TCGPWA is partnering with a variety of organizations and companies to help present and promote events that take the LGBT community out into the community at large, and that help put money in the Pride coffers.

The first such event on the schedule is Tarrant County Pride Day at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 12. It includes a two-hour tour of the stadium, including the press box, the luxury suites, the Cotton Bowl offices, the Dr. Pepper Deck, the stadium clubs and the field. Plus, each person gets a free photo of themselves at the stadium, and all for just $20 a person.

A portion of each ticket sold, Littlefield said, will benefit TCGPWA.

The association has a similar arrangement worked out with Bass Hall for Joan Rivers’ performance there on Nov. 2, she added, and more such events will be added in the future.
Legacy of the raid

This level of enthusiasm and involvement is, Littlefield acknowledged, something of a new thing in Tarrant County. And it can be traced, at least in part, back to the June 29, 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by Fort Worth police and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

While the raid was a horrible thing, Littlefield said, plenty of good things have happened in its aftermath, including the community’s renewed sense of pride and activism.

“What happened that night at the Rainbow Lounge has made us all more aware that even though things are better than they were years ago, bad things can still happen,” she said. “But if you come together and work together, you can make good things come of it in the end.”

Harvey agreed.

“After the Rainbow Lounge raid, our community started speaking out, and the city and the mayor and the police chief really stepped up to work with us,” Harvey said. “Last year, a year after the raid, [Police Chief Jeff Halstead] was the grand marshal of our parade, and he was there for the picnic, along with about 20 Fort Worth police officers. Only about five of those officers were paid to be there, the others were just there to enjoy the day and share it with us.

“When I was younger, that never would have happened,” she continued. “Back then, the cops still raided the bars all the time. The gay people were always getting beat up. But seeing the chief and those officers at the parade and the picnic last year, it was life-changing for me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I didn’t have to worry about being who I am. And this year, the mayor [Betsy Price] is our grand marshal. That’s fantastic.

“When I was young, what I learned was to keep your head down, keep your mouth shut and stay with your own group. That’s not how it is any more. Some people are willing to keep on being second-class citizens, but not me. I want us to walk down Main Street, together. I want people to see us, to see our families.  I want the young people coming up today to see that, and say to themselves, ‘I’m gonna be OK.’ That’s what Pride is about.”

………………………

Tarrant County Pride Schedule

FRIDAY, SEPT. 30
• Noon-10 p.m. Trading Post & Arts Exhibit, Second Floor, Piney Woods Room, Sheraton FW
• 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. “Community School House” Education Sessions, Second Floor, West Room, Sheraton FW
*10:30-11:30 a.m. Samaritan House: Where there is a home, there is hope
* 1:30-2:30 p.m. Healing Wings: 30 years of HIV: Impact on the GLBT Community
* 3-4 p.m. Sessions Break
* 4:30-5:30 p.m. Outreach Addiction Services: Sex: Safety the Gay Way
* 6-7 p.m. Fairness Fort Worth: Grassroots Organizing: The creation of Fairness Fort Worth, Inc.
* 1-3 p.m. QCinema screens “March On!,” documentary screening, Second Floor, Taste of Texas Ballroom, Sheraton FW
* 7:33 p.m. “Strut your Pride” Show, hosted by Imperial Court de Fort Worth/Arlington, Best Friends Club, www.ic-fwa.org
* 8-10 p.m. Open Door Productions presents comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, Second Floor, Taste of Texas Ballroom, Sheraton FW, limited general seating $25, for tickets visit: OpenDoorProductionstx.com
* Boot Scootin’, Club Reflection
* $300 Balloon Drop, dancers, live DJ, Rainbow Lounge
* Kick it Up Country Night, Best Friends
* 9 p.m. So You Think You Can Sing? Karaoke, Percussions

SATURDAY, OCT. 1
• 10 a.m.-noon “Ride the Rainbow” Pride Parade, Main Street at Weatherford, downtown Fort Worth
• 11 a.m.-2 p.m. AIDS Outreach Center Car Wash benefiting the 20th Anniversary AIDS Walk, Staybridge Suites, 220 Clifford Center Drive, Fort Worth. Contact Jaime Shultety at jaimes@aoc.org or 817-916-5210.
• Noon-6 p.m. Pride Street Festival, General Worth Square, Main and Ninth Streets
Coors Main Stage:
* 12 p.m. Eddy Herrera www.soundcloud.com/eustoliog
* 2 p.m. Eddy Herrera www.soundcloud.com/eustoliog
* 3 p.m. Aurora Bleu, www.AuroraBleu.com
* 4 p.m. Parade Awards
* 5 p.m. Aurora Bleu, www.AuroraBleu.com
• 5-7 p.m. It Only Makes Me Laugh Comedy Showcase, Patio @ Rainbow Lounge
• 6-9 p.m. Cowtown “Pride” Cookout, hosted by Cowtown Leathermen, Club Reflection Patio, www.cowtownleathermen.com
• 7-11 p.m. Threesome, live band, on Patio @ Rainbow Lounge
• 8-10 p.m. Burlesque Show starring Tasha Kohl, Mosaic Lounge (underground), 515 Houston St. entrance on 5th St.
• 8-10 p.m. Fall Fest Events, hosted by NTXCC, Club Reflection Patio, www.ntxcc.org
• 9 p.m. Anton Shaw live, Percussions
• Boot Scootin’, Club Reflection
• 1 a.m. Pride Night $500 balloon drop Best Friends

SUNDAY, OCT. 2
• Noon-6 p.m. Pride Picnic, Trinity Park Arts Pavilion
Bud Light Mainstage Schedule
* 1 p.m. Terry Sweeney
* 2 p.m. Valerie Stevens and Kickback
* 3 p.m. Mallorie
* 4 p.m. To be announced
* 5 p.m. Butch Country
• 2-7 p.m. Afternoon Cookout, Patio @ Rainbow Lounge
• 6-9 p.m. Family Night, Best Friends
• 8 p.m. Pride Karaoke, Club Reflection
• 9 p.m. Karaoke with Pete Day, Percussions
• 11 p.m. Whitney Paige Show, Rainbow Lounge
(For more events throughout the week, go online to TCGPWA.org.)

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

—  Michael Stephens

Pride 2011 • 30th annual Tarrant Pride Parade moves to downtown Fort Worth

Organizers say this year’s event will be bigger and better than ever, with parade and street festival on Saturday, and popular Pride Picnic on Sunday, October 1-2

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — The Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade marks its 30th anniversary this year, and organizers with the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association said this week they are going all out to make this year’s event the biggest and best ever.

This year the parade moves from its previous Sunday afternoon time slot to Saturday morning, Oct. 1, along with the street festival that is now in it’s second year. The parade is also changing locations, moving from the traditional route down South Jennings to a more visible downtown route, moving down Main Street from Weatherford Street south to 7th Street.

The parade begins at 10 a.m., and the street festival — which will be set up in General Worth Square, on Main Street between 8th Street and 9th Street — follows immediately, from noon to 6 p.m.

TCGPWA’s popular annual Pride Picnic is doing a little moving of its own this year: It will still be held in Trinity Park, at the intersection of Crestline Road and Foch Street. But this year the picnic is moving from its traditional Saturday time slot to Sunday, Oct. 2, from noon to 6 p.m.

“I think we’re going to have a big turnout for the parade, just for the curiosity factor if nothing else,” TCGPWA Secretary Carla Parry said this week. “We’ve never had the parade downtown before. Having it downtown has never been an option before. So I think there will be a huge crowd there.”

Parry said that planning for the bigger events in the new location has been going very smoothly so far, and “Hopefully, no wrenches get thrown into our works between now and then!”

The expanded activities and downtown route this year mean higher costs for organizers, and the TCGPWA has been working diligently all year to raise the money needed to cover those costs. Parry said this week that things on the fundraising front also appear to be coming along well.

“The fundraising is right on target for where we need it to be,” Parry said. “We are giving out a scholarship this year for the first time, and we would love to bring in over and above the amount we need just to pay for the parade and festival and picnic, so that we could put that extra in the scholarship fund. But we are on par for what we need to pay for everything.

“Actually, all the money from the alcohol and food sales at the picnic on that Sunday comes back to the association, and that is money that we can add to the scholarship fund,” she added.

Parry said that city officials have been “very accommodating” in the process of planning this year’s expanded Pride events and moving the parade and street festival downtown.

She said that while the 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by Fort Worth police and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission was “a horrible thing that never should have happened,” she is proud that the city and its LGBT community have used that event as the impetus for improving policies and relationships.

“We’ve made huge strides forward here in Fort Worth since the raid,” Parry said, and those strides are reflected in the city’s attitude toward planning this year’s events.

One very visible sign of that improved relationship will be Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price’s participation this year as one of three Pride parade grand marshals.

Tony Coronado, chair of TCGPWA’s corporate partners and sponsorships committee, said that Price was nominated for grand marshal by Fairness Fort Worth President and TCGPWA member Tom Anable, who also confirmed with Price that she was available and willing to participate in the parade. Her nomination was then confirmed by a vote of the association’s general membership, Coronado said.

Also elected as grand marshals this year are Q Cinema co-founder and activist Todd Camp, and female impersonator Zoe Daniels. Honorary grand marshals are retired Fort Worth

Police Officer Mike Miller and female impersonator Tasha Kohl, aka Jerry Faulkner.

“Our grand marshals this year reflect the present and the future of our community, and our honorary grand marshals were chosen as symbols to remember and honor our past,” Coronado said.

He explained that Miller is considered “our first, unofficial LGBT liaison with the police department.” Faulkner, who brought Tasha Kohl, his longtime and very popular drag alter ego, out of retirement to perform in shows over the summer to raise money for the Pride events, has a history of fundraising for the LGBT community and organizations in Tarrant County and around the Metroplex.

“The female impersonators, the drag queens, have always played a very important role in the [LGBT] community in Fort Worth and Tarrant County,” Coronado said, explaining why the TCGPWA includes them in the grand marshal and honorary grand marshal honorees for Pride each year.

“In fact, our annual Pride Picnic is actually our foundational Pride event here, the first Pride event ever held in Fort Worth, and it was started by drag queens all those years ago who wanted to get the community to come together to relax and have fun,” he said.

Parry said the street festival this year will be larger than the inaugural event last year, with corporate sponsors Coors Light and Coors Distributing Co. of Fort Worth once again donating the Coors Light stage. Local entertainer Aurora Blue headlines the entertainment for the festival, and will be joined in the lineup by a number of other performers.

The festival will feature a kids activity area, including a booth with Fort Worth P.D.’s IdentiKid program, “plenty of vendors” and a number of food and beverage stands as well as organizational and game booths. Entertainment, vendors, informational booths, a kid’s activity area and a games area with volleyball and horseshoes will again be part of the Pride Picnic on Oct. 2, Parry said, along with, of course, food and beverage stands.

Tarrant County Gay Pride officially kicks off Thursday night, Sept. 29, with shows and parties at nightclubs in Fort Worth, and continues through the following week.

For more information about Tarrant County Pride, go online to TCGPWA.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Teacher accuses TC College of discrimination

Gill says English Department chair at Northeast Campus told her the state and the school ‘do not like homosexuals’

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.

Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.

Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.

Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.

Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.

Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.

The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.

On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.

That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”

Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.

Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.

Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.

She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.

Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”

And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.

Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.

“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”

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

—  Michael Stephens

Tarrant AIDS agencies take a hit

AOC faced with nearly $300,000 in funding cuts as client load increases; Planning Council trying to track funds from defunct ARRT

Allan Gould

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Tarrant County largest AIDS service organization has found itself facing nearly $300,000 in federal funding cuts as it prepares to start its 2011-2012 fiscal year. And the area as a whole, while not seeing cuts as deep as had been feared, will be seeing fewer federal dollars than before.

Cuts at AOC
Tarrant County AIDS Outreach Center Executive Director Allan Gould said this week that his agency had been told in March that even though AOC was at that time receiving only part of the Ryan White Part A funds for which it had been approved, “we were told to go ahead and spend based on last year’s budget, and that we would get level funding [equal to the previous year] through Ryan White.”

But last week, Gould said, “six months into it, we found out that there would be some substantial cuts. That’s when we realized there is about $290,000 that we were expecting that we won’t be getting.”

And that, Gould said, is in addition to some $300,000 the agency had already known was being cut.

“We are adapting the budget, and we will survive. But it’s tough,” Gould said. “We are looking at what we’re doing, looking at what we feel are the absolute necessities and what areas can take the financial hit.

“Our fiscal year [started Thursday, Sept. 1] and we had a solid budget. Now we are having to reconfigure our budget and start over. We already knew we had to cut $300,000, and we did that. We had a solid budget. Now we have to cut another nearly $300,000,” he said. “It’s really going to hurt. We have been able to go back and balance our budget. But I can’t remember any time when we have had to try and do so much with so little.”

Under the reconfigured budget, Gould said that the agency’s case management programs would be cut by 40 percent, going from seven case managers to four. The three positions being lost will be cut through attrition, he said.

Despite the fact that proper nutrition has been proven to be pivotal in maintaining optimum health for people with HIV/AIDS, AOC is being forced to cut its nutritional therapy program by 50 percent, Gould said.

“Despite how important it is to the clients’ good health, nutritional therapy is not considered medically necessary,” he said.

AOC’s other programs, Gould added, are taking a 12 percent cut across the board.

At the same time funding is being slashed, Gould said, AOC has been taking on more and more new clients as other AIDS service organizations in the area have been forced to close.
“Over the last two years, we have absorbed quite a few new clients from other agencies,” he said, pointing to the Tarrant County AIDS Interfaith Network, which closed in 2009, to the Catholic Charities’ decision to end its Lady Hogan Project and to the closure last month of AIDS Resources of Rural Texas, which had offices in Weatherford and Abilene.

Jamie Schield

AIDS Outreach folded the TCAIN clients into its programs in 2009, taking over the network’s primary program, the Geisel-Morris Dental Clinic for people with HIV/AIDS. AOC also absorbed some of the Lady Hogan Project clients, and Gould said at least some of the ARRT clients have turned to AIDS Outreach for help as well.

He explained that when AOC took over TCAIN in 2009, “at the same time we were approached by ARRT about taking over their services in Weatherford and Abilene, too. But we were not in a position to be able to do that at the time.”

Although talks between the two agencies continued, Gould said, AOC officials had recently told those at ARRT that AOC probably would not be able to assume the other agency’s programs any time soon.

But since ARRT closed its doors at the end of August, Gould acknowledged, AIDS Outreach has been left with no choice other than to try and find ways to help those ARRT clients now left without resources.

“We immediately absorbed about 150 clients from ARRT’s Weatherford office,” Gould said, “on top of the 85 or so from the Lady Hogan Project and the 300 or 400 from TCAIN. We had about 1,600 clients before. Now we have around 2,000.

“That was a huge jump for us to make [in client load], and we only got a little extra money from those other agencies. We were able to make it work, but just barely. But with these recent cuts in federal funding, it’s going to be much more difficult,” he said. “There will be instances, I am afraid, when someone comes to us for help, and we are just going to have to say no.”

Gould acknowledged that he wasn’t surprised to see federal funds cut again, but he was surprised by how deep the cuts were.

“I am still in shock that they expect the programs to continue operating at current levels. It’s an almost surreal atmosphere,” he said. “We are constantly being asked to do more for more people, but do it with less funding and less manpower. And we have to do it under continual threats of even more cuts.”

Although he is “dismayed and frustrated” by the cuts — and by the level of political infighting and negativity he sees coming from Congress today — Gould said AIDS Outreach will continue to provide services to the HIV/AIDS community.

“The bottom line is, this is reality, and we are going to have to work with what we have. We have to be diligent in our expectations of help from the federal government, and we have to be prepared about what our next steps are,” he said.

“But we will not go away. And we won’t change our mission just to chase the dollars. We are prepared to make the adjustments we have to make to remain viable for the long run.”

N. Central TX HIV Planning Council

The closing of ARRT is also causing some headaches over at the North Central Texas HIV Planning Council, which allocates federal and state funding in Tarrant, Parker, Hood and Johnson counties.

Although the cuts there were not as drastic as had been expected, “it’s still a decrease in funds for the area,” Planning Council Coordinator Jamie Schield said.

“It’s not as bad as we thought. Originally, we thought we were looking at about $520,000 in cuts. But it turned out to be just $185,000” in Ryan White Part A funds, Schield said.

“And this is the first year that the federal government has given us the money in five different parts. It makes it hard for planning, hard for the agencies to work and to get the contracts out,” Schield added. “I guess they had some problems in Washington. The money is just not out yet.”

Schield and Planning Council HIV Grants Manager Margie Drake this week explained federal funding dispersed through the Ryan White HIV Treatment Modernization ACT — previously the Ryan White CARE Act — is divided into Part A, Part B, Part C and Part D funds.

Part A funds come directly from the federal government to the Planning Council to be dispersed among local AIDS service agencies. Part B funds go from the federal government to the state government and then to the Planning Council.

Part C funds are focused on medical treatment, and Part D funds are focused on women, children and youth with HIV/AIDS.

HOPWA funds are focused on housing people with HIV/AIDS.

The council also disperses money from the state to HIV/AIDS services, Drake said.

“All these categories have lots of overlap, but there are different amounts, different reporting requirements and different disbursement rules,” Drake said. “Tarrant County is one of the few places in the nation that actually has a planning council, and that gives us more knowledge, more control to make sure we are not duplicating services. It lets us focus the money where it’s needed most.”

However, the $395,000 in Part C funds that went to ARRT’s Weatherford and Abilene offices were not under the council’s control, and Schield said his agency is now left wondering what will happen to those funds.

“They got $395,000 total for the two service areas, and they got about half of that up front,” Schield said. “Now that ARRT has closed its doors, we don’t know what the feds are doing with the remainder of those funds that had been allocated for the current year. We want to apply for those Part C funds in the future, and the Tarrant County Commissioners [on Wednesday] gave us permission to do that.”

The problem is, Tarrant County is likely to be faced now with former ARRT clients seeking the services they lost, and money to provide those services is in short supply.

“We definitely think that there will be clients coming here [to Tarrant County] looking for help, especially those clients that went to ARRT’s Weatherford office,” Drake said.

“We can only serve maybe a third of those clients with the money we have. We don’t know what the federal government is going to do with [ARRT’s remaining Part C funds], and we’ve got clients right now that need care. We are doing the best we can to put a bandage on the situation and make sure no client goes without the services they have to have.”

Schield added, “Coordination of services and funding is really pretty good out here. We do that well. But the problem now is that we need to keep the money here where it’s needed.

“Our biggest thing now is to keep that [ARRT Part C] money here in the community. It’s a very urgent issue on our end to get some answers from the federal government about where that money is going, so we can plan on our end to make sure our clients here get what they need,” he said.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Tarrant Pride fundraising kicks into high gear

PRIDE 2010 | The Rev. Carol West was one of the grand marshalls for the 2010 Tarrant Pride Parade.

TCGPWA still about $15,000 short of goal to pay for picnic, 30th annual parade set for downtown

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — With less than two months to go until the 30th annual Tarrant County Pride Week steps off through downtown Fort Worth on Oct. 1, the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association still needs to raise more money to pay for a bigger, better parade and the Pride Picnic planned for the following Day in Trinity Park.

Since the Rainbow Lounge raid in June 2009, Fort Worth’s LGBT community has been re-energized and more active and organized. The 2010 parade, which followed the traditional route down Jennings Avenue on the city’s south side, was the largest, by far, in recent memory, and included a new feature, a street party on Jennings before and after the parade.

But this year, as the community’s presence and influence has grown, and to mark the event’s 30th anniversary, TCGPWA organizers decided the parade should be even more high profile, moving the event to downtown Cowtown.

“We’re taking it to Main Street America” this year, said Duane Littlefield, president of TCGPWA.

This year’s parade has also been moved to a Saturday morning instead of a Sunday afternoon.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. on Oct. 1, and will move down Main Street in the heart of the downtown district. The street festival will follow, beginning at noon at General Worth Square, and lasting til 6 p.m.

The Pride Picnic, previously held on the Saturday following parade Sunday, this year will be held the next day, from noon to 6 p.m.

But this bigger, better Pride celebration costs money. The budget for the parade and picnic weekend is $25,000, a significant increase from the previous budget of $6,600 according to Tony Coronado, TWGPWA corporate partner and sponsorships committee chair.

And unlike the Dallas Pride parade each September that is staged by a professional organization, the Dallas Tavern Guild, the Fort Worth events are mounted completely by a volunteer community organization.

Coronado said the committee has so far raised about $10,000 of the total needed. But is confident that upcoming fundraising events can make up the difference — as long as the community turns out to support them.

On Aug. 20, TCGPWA is holding a benefit garage sale, and on Aug. 21, “The Diva Show” starring local drag legend Tasha Kohl begins at 8 p.m. at Best Friends Club. Three additional shows are planned at Best Friends through September, including a pageant, that will all help bulk up the Pride celebration coffers.

In addition, Coronado said that most groups that will participate in the parade have not registered yet. Parade entries cost $50 for an eco-friendly or walking group, $75 for a non-profit and $125 for a standard entry which may be a car, float or a truck.

Groups have until Sept. 15 to register.

Coronado said the association has lined up some sponsors, the majority of whom are “providing in-kind services,” Coronado said. That list includes Coors, which will supply the main stage for the festival.

But, Littlefield added, “We could always use more sponsors.”

She said that another way to contribute is to purchase the weekend package available on the TCGPWA website. The Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel & Spa is the host hotel and the weekend includes lunch at Billy Bob’s in the Stockyards, a film screening at the Water Gardens and excursions to the museums in the city’s Cultural District.

“Buy into that package,” Littlefield urged. “It will help tremendously.”

She said the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau has been “gung ho supportive” in helping the association plan and promote Pride weekend.

The downtown route is about four times the length of the old parade route, and Littlefield said that requires more announcing stations and more police. And for the first time, the Fort Worth parade will use barricades to keep spectators on the sidewalks, adding another expense.

More volunteers are also needed this year for set-up, clean up and logistics, which also adds to the price.

Newly elected Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price will be one of the grand marshals for this year’s parade, and Billy Moon — grand marshal of the first Pride parade in Fort Worth 30 years ago — will be one of the honorary grand marshals. Tasha Kohl has also been named honorary grand marshal.

Coronado said the Pride Week association named Kohl as an honorary grand marshal in part as a shout-out to the city’s female impersonators who are the ones who started the Pride picnic and who have always been an integral part of the fundraising efforts for the parade and other activities.

Because this year’s parade is taking place downtown, the parade will be more accessible to Dallasites making the trip across the Trinity for the parade by train.

On Saturday, the TRE leaves Union Station in downtown Dallas at 8:49 a.m. and arrives at the Fort Worth Intermodal Center (the next to last stop) at 9:44 a.m. That station is three blocks from the parade route.

The parade begins at the Tarrant County Courthouse on Weatherford Street at 10 a.m. proceeding down Main Street to 7th Street. The festival that begins at noon will be on Main Street from 8th to 9th streets near the Water Gardens. The Intermodal Center is on Jones Street at 9th Street.

Volunteers can sign up on line. Forms for parade entries are also available at TCGPWA.org

—  John Wright

Who decides what’s medically necessary?

Mara Keisling

Trans advocate says trans health benefits are about what medical treatments are necessary, not about cost or personal beliefs

TAMMYE NASH  | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Say the phrase “transgender health benefits,” and most people immediately think insurance coverage that pays at least some of the costs of sexual reassignment surgery. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

The problem, said National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling, is that issues of medical treatment are being made by accountants rather than by doctors. And trans-phobia is playing a role in too many of those decisions.

Neither the city of Dallas, the city of Fort Worth, Dallas County nor Tarrant County offer fully inclusive health care benefits for their employees. But they are not alone.

According to reports, when city officials in Portland, Ore., voted unanimously earlier this month to offer transgender health care benefits, the city became only the third local government in the nation to do so. San Francisco city and county — one combined government — was first, and Oregon’s Multanomah County was second.

In the business world, the odds are a little better for trans employees looking for adequate insurance coverage. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2009, 22 percent of the Fortune 100 companies offered trans-inclusive health benefits, while such benefits were offered by 7 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and 3 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies.

Still, those numbers are dishearteningly low. And sometimes, even when a trans person thinks they are covered, insurance companies — whether in an attempt to cut costs or out of anti-trans bigotry — will find a way to deny claims.

“A lot of insurance plans exclude what they call ‘transition-related care,’” Keisling said. “That can mean a lot of different things, but they all have similar implications.”

“Transition-related care” can be divided into two parts, Keisling said: the costs directly related to gender reassignment surgery, and the other treatments and services that are related, things like checking hormone levels, lab tests, and mental health services associated with the transition process.

“Even someone who has fully transitioned probably still needs to get her hormone levels checked on a regular basis. And insurance companies will deny those claims by saying they are ‘transition-related,’” Keisling said.

This is also the issue of sex-specific care, she continued. After transitioning, a trans woman will qualify for regular mammograms, but not for regular prostate exams — which she still needs, too.

And a lot of trans men face similar difficulties, Keisling said. “A trans man might need a pap smear or some other kind of gynecological care, and they are often told no, insurance won’t cover that,” she said.

She described another case in which a trans man was told by his doctors that he was facing serious gynecological problems and needed to have a hysterectomy. Because he was trans, however, insurance wouldn’t pay.

“Insurance said, ‘No. We don’t pay for sex-change operations. The doctors said this is transition surgery. This is a medically-necessary procedure.’ But they wouldn’t pay,” she said.

But in some cases, the discrimination is even more blatant.

“The insurance for federal government employees specifically excludes coverage for the costs of [gender reassignment surgery], but there have been a number of cases where that was used to exclude coverage of any type for transgenders,” Keisling said.

“I know of a federal employee who was told insurance wouldn’t pay for care for her son’s broken arm because she was transgender. Another trans woman who was anemic and needed transfusions was told insurance wouldn’t cover the treatments because she had ‘transsexual blood,’” she said.

“The list goes on and on. I know another trans woman who was playing for a woman’s softball team and broke her arm during a game,” Keisling continued. “She went to the hospital, had the X-rays and got her arm set. Then the insurance company turned around and denied the claim. They said if she weren’t transsexual, she wouldn’t have been out there playing for a women’s team and she wouldn’t have broken her arm.”

When it comes to these “really egregious stories” that are “so clearly wrong,” Keisling said, the victims can hire lawyers and get remedies through the courts. Still, she said, “You have to know what to do, how to get things fixed.” And court cases aren’t cheap, either.

Still, things do seem to be changing for the better, at least when it comes to federal employees, Keisling said. Federal officials recently issues a letter to employees stressing that when it comes to the exclusionary language in the insurance policy, “surgery means just that — surgery, not pre-operative care or post-operative care. And they stressed that this isn’t a change. They aren’t just now saying that. That has always been the rule. They just want to make sure people know the rule and follow it.”

Officials with the Veterans Administration also sent a similar letter regarding insurance coverage for transgender veterans.

But the message doesn’t seem to be filtering down to lower levels of government. For instance, mayoral runoff candidates in both Dallas and Fort Worth have said that when it comes to the question of health benefits for transgender city employees, they have to study the issue more before deciding where they stand. And for three of them — Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle in Dallas and Betsy Price in Fort Worth — it comes down to a question of costs.

Jim Lane, the other Fort Worth mayoral candidate, said at a recent candidate forum that as it had been explained to him in terms of Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome: In the 1970s, most people dismissed claims of post-traumatic stress. But as medical science has advanced, post-traumatic stress has become acknowledged as a serious problem that requires medical-necessary treatment.

That, Keisling said, is what it all comes down to: What is medically necessary? And who gets to answer that question?

“We want the insurance to cover things that are medically necessary. We are not asking them to cover things that are not medically necessary,” she said. “Boob jobs are not in the medically necessary category. Electrolysis treatments, fertility treatments — those things are not medically necessary.”

Gender transition, though, is different. And, Keisling said, the American Medical Association agrees.

“The American Medical Association has said that transition-related health care is medically necessary. It is not experimental. It is not optional. It is medically necessary,” she said. “And we don’t want insurance companies deciding what is medically necessary. We don’t want city council members deciding what’s medically necessary. We want doctors making those decisions.”

The issue of cost, Keisling said, should not be an issue at all.

In fact, according to HRC’s website on transgender health care, “the annualized costs to the employer of providing insurance coverage for transgender-related care are typically minimal” and even “negligible for medium-sized to larger employers.”

The HRC website notes that the best available data on cost comes from the city of San Francisco and San Francisco County, and only limited data is available even then, since trans benefits are a relatively recent occurrence there.

“The cost of services per employee per year was minimal, with costs per insured per year averaging between $0.77 and $0.96: less than a dollar per year per enrollee,” according to information on the HRC website, which is based on the report San Francisco Transgender Benefit: Actual Cost and Utilization (2001-2006). “The precise number of claimants is uncertain since for most years the data is reported by claim and not by claimant. Thus the average dollars per claimant per year ranged between $3,194 and $12,771. The average five-year cost per claimant was between $15,963 and $63,853 for the period from 2001-2006.”

Keisling said, “Does it cost money to offer these benefits? Sure. But the truth is, it will save more money in the long run. With the proper benefits, people get to be healthy, physically and mentally, and that has an undeniable impact on the quality of the work they do.

“The real problem is that when people think of transition and treatment for transgenders, they think of it as something dirty,” Keisling added. “But it’s not dirty. It’s not shameful. It’s just like any other kind of medical care. This is about medical treatments that are medically necessary and that’s it. That whole debate over ‘medically necessary’ is done. It’s over.

“Now the businesses are starting to fall in line, and even the federal government. Now it’s time for the cities, for the counties to get on the stick and start offering their employees the benefits they deserve.”

—  John Wright

FW Mayor Mike Moncrief presents ‘Believing in Youth Award’ to gay Councilman Joel Burns

Joel Burns, right, and husband JD Angle

Last night, I posted a brief blog about Joel Burns being recognized for his anti-bullying efforts by Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, but I didn’t have many details. Now, here are some details for you.

Moncrief presented Burns with the 8th annual “Believing in Youth Award” Thursday night during the Believing in Youth Award Dinner, an event that benefited Santa Fe Youth Services. According to a press release from Moncrief’s office, the award “honors those who take personal responsibility for being a role model and building resiliency in our young people through formal and informal, intentional and unintentional efforts.”

Santa Fe Youth Services is a nonprofit agency that has provided services to youth and families in Tarrant County for more than 10 years.

Burns was chosen as the recipient in recognition of his efforts to combat bullying that gained national attention last October when he delivered an impromptu “It Gets Better” message to LGBT youth during a City Council meeting. Burns, in an emotional address that left many in the council chambers in tears, spoke of his own experience as a gay teen bullied by classmates and how he even contemplated suicide at one point, and how his life has gotten exponentially better in the years since.

A video of his speech went viral on YouTube and within days, the gay Fort Worth council member had been invited to speak on numerous TV shows, including The Today Show and Ellen. In December he went to Austin for a press conference announcing the introduction of anti-bullying bills in the Texas Legislature, and he returned to Austin in March for LGBT Lobby Day to call once again for the legislation to be passed.

Also in March, Burns was invited to attend an anti-bullying summit presented by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Last month, Burns received a GLAAD Media Award for his efforts.

—  admin