Pride 2011 • Joel Burns: The difference a speech makes

When Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns followed his heart and spoke at a council meeting about his experiences as a bullied gay teen, the nation listened — and, he hopes, it helped make things get better

Burns.Joel
Joel Burns

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Honorary Grand Marshall

When Joel Burns made a speech to the Fort Worth City Council about his experiences being bullied as a teenager, he had no idea the kind of impact his words would have on people around this country.

But a year later, when organizers of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade chose “It Only Gets Better,” as the parade theme, Burns was the obvious choice for honorary grand marshal.

Burns said that his husband, J.D. Angle, calls the day Burns spoke at the council, “the day I blew up our lives.”

In some ways, that speech also blew up Fort Worth City Hall.

Burns received so many emails in the days following his emotional speech that the city had to replace its email server.

The phone system was so overwhelmed that it also had to be replaced.

And Burns’ office was so busy answering calls and replying to messages from teens from across the country who were bullied that the mayor’s office was running messages to him.

During a speech at the recent national convention of LEAGUE, the LGBT employee resource group for AT&T, Burns joked about what he learned from his sudden celebrity: “Between Ellen [DeGeneres] and Matt Lauer, Ellen’s the better kisser,” he said.

But on a serious side, Burns recalled receiving a torn piece of paper from a teen. It was what would have been the rest of a suicide note, which the teen decided not to finish after seeing Burns’ video.

“This is what remains of the note I left my roommate. Thank you,” the young man wrote to Burns.

Burns said that he wishes he could go back in time and tell his 13-year-old self that it really does get better.

He said that he believes that as human beings, we are drawn to bold action. But during our lives we tamp that impulse down. We learn that there are sometimes consequences and so we decide not to speak out, he said.

As a councilman, “My job is to fill potholes,” Burns said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

But last year he started hearing about young people taking their lives. He mentioned Asher Brown in Houston and a teen in Indiana who hung himself in his family’s barn. Then came another suicide in California, then Zack Harrington who killed himself after hearing anti-gay hate speech at a city council meeting in Norman, Okla.

“Someone should do something about this,” Burns said he told himself.

The Fort Worth City Council meets on Tuesday evenings with pre-council meetings held throughout the day. When Burns decided to tell his story, he told Angle, who advised against it.

“But I remember what it was like to be 13 and beaten up,” Burns said.

So when Angle realized there was no stopping Burns, he suggested that his partner write his speech down.

“J.D. said I suck extemporaneously,” Burns explained.

So Burns went home from the pre-council meeting and wrote a stream-of-consciousness account of what happened to him as a teenager. He said he had hoped to reach a few hundred people — those that actually watch Fort Worth City Council meetings online and those that sit through council meetings at City Hall.

But then local TV news stations broadcast portions of his speech, and then it was posted to YouTube. Burns called his parents as soon as he realized more people than just Fort Worth City Council junkies were watching it.

Inside Edition showed up at his parent’s house the next day.

Burns said that he’s closer to his family now than he’s ever been. He laughed about his parents’ differing reactions. He said his mother asked him if there was anything they could have done better and his father told him, “You need an alarm. And a gun.”

Burns said he had an hour-and-a-half conversation with his brother Cody that week as well, the longest conversation they had ever had. His brother was 15 years younger and so Burns was already out of the house through most of Cody’s life.

Burns said he cherishes that talk even more now because in March his brother was killed in a car accident.

When Burns spoke to the LEAGUE national convention in Dallas on Sept. 10, everyone attending had seen the YouTube video from the council meeting. As Burns told them the story behind the speech, the reaction was very emotional.

“I got beaten up everyday, not because I was gay but because I was Hispanic,” said Ernie Renteria, a LEAGUE member from Austin.

LEAGUE member Darrin Chin was attending from Los Angeles and said he first heard of Burns after speech at the council meeting.

“He’s a very inspiring person,” Chin said.

Chin and his partner have a 15-year-old adopted son. He said his son came out last year and they worry about him being the target of bullying.

Josh Hampshire of Bay City, Mich. said he was called everything from “sissy to the f-bomb. I was shoved into plenty of lockers.”

For him, he said, Burns’ speech really hit home.

“As someone who’s been on the edge, it really does get better,” Hampshire said. “I’m glad someone is looking out for our youth.”

One of LEAGUE’s youngest members is John Wakim of Providence, R.I. At 22, he’s already been with AT&T for five years. He said the company gives him a place where he feels safe for the first time in his life.

“I think everyone was bullied at school,” Wakim said. He agreed that things do get better for LGBT youth and that he can really relate to Burns’ story.

Burns said he has no idea how many young people may have benefited from his speech during the council meeting that night and his many appearances afterwards. But from the volume of calls and emails he has received, he said he does believe he’s made a difference.

But Burns said he is determined to not just use the video that went viral as platform for personal fame. He wants to make a real difference.

So when the Texas Legislature was in session this year, Burns lobbied House and Senate members with the parents of teen suicide victims Asher Brown. He said spending time with them was an honor, and Burns still tears up as he describes Asher’s mother’s anguish when she came home to a house wrapped in police tape.

In March, Burns also participated in a White House anti-bullying conference that he hopes will help set national standards for student safety in schools.

Burns said he is still surprised at the continued attention his council speech attracts, but that he realizes that his experience as a gay teen is a common one.

Burns said he learned from his experience that there are days that you’re supposed to fix the potholes but there’s a time when you have to speak out. He said that with two anti-bullying laws passed in Texas this year, “We’ve had amazing success here in Texas.”

For more information, go online to FortWorthGov.org/Government/District9.

To watch Joel Burns’ speech on being bullied, go to YouTube.com/Watch?v=ax96cghOnY4.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Pride 2011 • 26 years of success, and it keeps getting better

Co-grand marshals Alan Pierce and Gary Miller say they are fortunate to have family, friends and a successful business

Grand-Marshals-Gary.Alan
Gary Miller, left, and Alan Pierce

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Grand Marshals

Alan Pierce and Gary Miller, co-grand marshals with Chris Bengston of this year’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, have been partners in life for 26 years, and partners in business for 12.

The two, who own the popular country-western bar Round-Up Saloon, said this week they’ve seen a lot of changes through the years, and are first-hand witnesses to the fact that it does, indeed, keep on getting better.

“Last year when we were celebrating the Round-Up’s 30th anniversary, we asked some of our customers who have been around awhile what they remembered from the early days of the bar, back in the 1980s,” Pierce said.

“Back then, the cops were still harassing people in the gay bars. It was still illegal for two people of the same sex to dance together. So when the cops would come in the bar, all the customers would just stop whatever they were doing and sit down on the dance floor,” Pierce said. “They would just sit there, very calmly, until the cops left.”

It was the same, he added, in Houston where he lived and worked for about 5 years as a school teacher.

“They were still arresting people in Houston,” Pierce said. “Since I was a school teacher, if I had been arrested, I would have immediately lost my job.”

These days, he said, “It’s definitely not that way anymore. It has definitely gotten better.”

Pierce, who was born and grew up in New Mexico, made his way to Texas when he went to college at Abilene Christian University. After college, he moved to Houston where he worked as a school teacher and came out as a gay man. In 1983, he left the field of education and bought in as co-owner of the Brazos River Bottom, a gay country-western bar in Houston, in 1983.

That’s how Pierce met the new president of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association, a man from Dallas named Gary Miller.

Miller, born and raised in the Lake Texoma area, was married “for awhile” to a woman with whom he said he and Pierce “still have a great relationship. I have a wonderful son, and a wonderful daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandsons.

“They are all very accepting of us [he and Pierce]. They come down here to the bar to socialize with us, and we are included in all the family gatherings and events. That’s a big part of why it just keeps getting better for us, because we have these children and grandchildren in our lives,” Miller said.

Because he got married early and had a son, Miller — who Pierce gleefully points out is the older of the two — “didn’t come out until I was a little older, in the early 1980s,” Miller said.

But he quickly got involved in TGRA, and it was on a TGRA trip to Houston that he met Pierce.

“We were just friends at first. We were friends for at least a couple of years before we actually started dating,” Pierce said. Miller added, “When
we started dating, I was in Dallas, and Alan was still in Houston. We kept Southwest Airlines pretty busy, going back and forth to spend time together.”

In 1987, Pierce finally decided to move to Dallas so he and Miller could be together full time. By then, Miller had been working for several years at The Round-Up Saloon, thanks to his friendship with bar manager Tom Davis. And when, two years later in February 1989, the Round-Up’s building was destroyed in a fire set by an arsonist, Pierce was there to help rebuild.

After the fire — which was set by a man who had robbed the offices of the Dallas Gay Alliance next door and started the blaze to cover up the robbery — the Round-Up relocated temporarily to a building on Maple Avenue at Throckmorton (the building that most recently housed The Brick/Joe’s until that bar relocated to Wycliff and
the building on Maple was torn down).

It was the end of what had been a difficult decade for Dallas’ LGBT community. “So many people were sick and dying,” Pierce said, “and there was nobody willing to take care of them except the [LGBT] community.”

But as the ’80s came to an end, advances in treatment for HIV/AIDS were beginning to give those with the disease a brighter outlook, and Dallas’ LGBT community was also beginning to shine.

“The whole thing was really beginning to blossom,” Pierce recalled. “We had all these organizations and services in place. We were still fighting the police department’s ban on hiring gays and lesbians, but that was changing, too. Things were getting better.”

Even the fire, which was without a doubt a horrible thing to happen, turned out to be a kind of blessing in disguise for the Round-Up, giving bar owner Tom Sweeney a chance to rebuild, creating a bigger and better space than before.

And Pierce, who had worked in construction, too, in Houston, was there to handle most of the rebuilding for the bar, Miller said.

Eventually, longtime Round-Up manager Tom Davis died, and Miller took over as bar manager. Then in 1999, owner Tom Sweeney decided he was ready to sell, and Miller and Pierce were there to buy the nightclub.

The Round-Up came with a long history of community involvement, and Pierce and Miller said since they bought the bar they have worked to keep that tradition alive.

“We lived through the ’80s, through the AIDS crisis when we all got involved to raise funds to help our friends,” Miller said. “And we have just kept on helping. Because once you get that feeling that comes from doing something good for someone, you never want that feeling to go away.”

As a country-western bar, the Round-Up has always had close ties with TGRA, and has always helped to raise funds and supplies for the Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry and other AIDS programs. The nightclub and its owners developed a relationship with Legacy Counseling Center and Legacy Founders Cottage, a hospice for people with AIDS, when some of the bar’s employees needed the hospice’s services, and the Round-Up continues to hold annual fundraising events for Legacy.

“We have a great venue for events, and it’s necessary to continue raising money, so we do it,” Miller said. “There’s still an AIDS crisis and there are still a lot of people who need help.”
Pierce added, “And if it’s not AIDS, then it will be something else, someone else who needs help. I have always said that about the gay community: We take care of our own.”

Despite the sometimes dire economic situation over recent years, Pierce and Miller said the Round-Up has continued to thrive. Its reputation as the premiere country-western gay bar in the country brings in plenty of people visiting Dallas, including some well-known celebrities over the years, like Tyne Daley, Chelsea Handler and Emma Watson.

And of course, there’s the Round-Up’s status as the bar in Dallas that helped Lady Gaga get her start, booking the singer in 2008 when she was still an unknown. Now, Mama Monster makes it a point to visit the Round-Up whenever she’s in Dallas.

The Round-Up is also a longtime member of the Dallas Tavern Guild, with both Pierce and Miller having held several offices there. They are also proud members of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, which this summer revived Razzle Dazzle Dallas.

“We enjoy what we do, and we are always trying to think of ways to make things better,” Miller said. “We’ve been very fortunate. And I’ll tell you one thing that has helped make things better for us is the ban on smoking in the bars. Alan and I were behind that from the start. I know it hurt some of the bars, the ones that didn’t have patios and didn’t have any way to build a patio. But it’s been nothing but good for us. Our business increased the first night of the ban, and it hasn’t gone back down since.”

Both Miller and Pierce agreed that luck has been on their side over the years, giving the Round-Up a chance to evolve into “a great place to socialize,” Miller said.

“I think people like coming to our bar because they can relax and enjoy themselves there. There’s no big drug scene there, and we work hard to keep the drugs out. We’re not known as a place where there’s a lot of fighting in the bar, because we just don’t allow that,” Miller said. “The scene has changed a lot over the years. There are a lot more straight people who come in now. They like our music; they like to dance. Everyone gets along.”

Pierce added, “I read somewhere not that long ago that gay bars are becoming extinct. I don’t think we are becoming extinct, I just think we’re evolving. And that’s a good thing.”

Miller and Pierce said it is a great honor to have been chosen to serve with Bengston this year as grand marshals of Dallas’ Pride parade, and Pierce said they feel doubly honored tohave been chosen grand marshals of the Dallas parade and honorary grand marshals of the International Gay Rodeo Association’s finals rodeo coming to Fort Worth in October.

“It’s a good feeling, a really good feeling, when you’re chosen by your friends and colleagues for something like this,” Miller said. “Alan and I are very lucky in our life. We’re a good fit for each other, a match that will really last. We’ve been together now for 26 years, and it really does just keep getting better.”

For more information, go online to RoundUpSaloon.com

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Pride 2011 • The mom of Caven Enterprises

Chris-B.1-cropped

From cooking Thanksgiving dinner for Daire Center clients to heading up the team that builds the Caven parade float, parade co-grand marshal Chris Bengston has been a force behind the scenes of the community for 26 years

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

GRAND MARSHAL

When Caven Enterprises’ Chris Bengston saw the list of people nominated for grand marshal of Dallas’ 2011 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, her name was not on it. And she wasn’t at the Dallas Tavern Guild meeting where her name was added.

So when Caven Enterprises President Gregg Kilhoffer called her to come back to the office, she had no idea what was going on.

When Kilhoffer called, he told her that there was an incident at one of the bars and her name was involved. So Bengston ran back to the office as quickly as possible, frantically trying to figure out what she had done.

Actually, everyone at Caven Enterprises just wanted to see her face when she found out that she would be one of this year’s Pride parade grand marshals.

What they saw there on her face was shock.

To Bengston, all of the events she planned and dinners she cooked and money she raised for practically every organization in the city over the years was just something she always did out of love for the community.

“I guess people were paying attention to what I was doing,” she said, still incredulous that she would have been named to lead the parade.
Kilhoffer calls Bengston the company’s mom.

Before moving to Dallas, Bengston was married. Her husband served in the Army and went to Vietnam.

“When he came back, things didn’t work out,”she said, adding that she just never remarried.

“That’s just the way things worked out,” she said.

But when she was in her 40s, Bengston became pregnant, even though, she said, “I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant.”

Her son, Alex, was the first Caven baby. He’s now a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos.

But while Alex was the first Caven baby, he wasn’t the last.

“What’s neat,” Bengston said, “are the number of employees with children now.”

Kilhoffer said several employees became like a dad to Alex.

When Alex was young, Bengston took a number of young Caven employees along with her son on a variety of outings — to the Fort Worth Zoo or the Arboretum or sporting events. She exposed many young people to things they’d never done before.

Kilhoffer said Bengston gave many of the company’s young employees the family they never had. He said she was “Caven’s own Youth First Texas” and “It Gets Better” campaign before either existed.

“I’m constantly getting emails about her, thanking her for going above and beyond,” Kilhoffer said. “She’ll drop anything she’s doing to help anyone.”
Bengston has been involved in hundreds of projects over the years that benefited the community.

One of her fondest memories is working with the Daire Center, an adult daycare center for people with HIV/AIDS, when it was part of Oak Lawn Community Services. Kilhoffer remembers the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that Bengston cooked for the center.

“At 4 in the morning, she’d call to see where I was,” he said. She was already preparing the holiday meal.

He said she spent days, not just cooking, but doing all the shopping and making more than just a ham or turkey. She wanted to make sure, he said, that people who had nowhere else to go would have a holiday celebration that started with hors d’oeuvres and didn’t end until they had her homemade desserts.

“I could go on and on,” Kilhoffer said. “She’s been involved in so many things. Everyone knows they can call on her and she’s the volunteer who will make things happen.”

For years, Bengston and fellow Caven employee Donald Solomon have been involved in the holiday gift project for students at Sam Houston Elementary School. That school, located just a block behind the Cedar Springs bars, is one of the poorest in the Dallas Independent School District. Each year, Caven employees, led by Solomon and Bengston, make sure that every child at the school gets a gift at Christmas.

And before the school year begins, they make sure that there are enough school supplies. During the year, Bengston will get calls from the school for additional items, and she always responds. The Oak Lawn Library also has relied on her help when they’ve needed supplies.

“For Razzle Dazzle Dallas [revived this year by Cedar Springs Merchants Association, of which Caven is a member], she was the one who calmed us down and kept us focused,” Kilhoffer said.

Bengston organized a fundraiser after Hurricane Katrina for people who had been evacuated from New Orleans and were staying at Reunion Arena. And she’s helped stage fashion shows in an alcohol-free Rose Room, located in Caven’s Station 4 bar, to benefit Youth First Texas.

Bengston’s also involved with GayBingo, held monthly in the Rose Room, helping Resource Center Dallas and a variety of other beneficiary organizations raise money. And she helps with LifeWalk. And the Pink Party, which raises money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Much of the $50,000 that the Dallas Bears raised for community groups at their weekend round-up this year came from the Bear Dance — an event that Bengston made sure went off without a hitch.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, Caven lost quite a few employees to AIDS,” Kilhoffer said. “She [Bengston] was such a help to those who were dying, and to their partners. She sat in the hospital and comforted so many people in their last days.”

For years, Bengston spent the night before the parade building Caven’s parade float along with three friends. Then she spent parade day working behind the scenes.
So she’s rarely gotten to just enjoy the parade.

But after she was named grand marshal this year, Bengston said she asked those three friends — Scott Pepin, Stacy Golf and Bill Scott — to join her in the carriage to enjoy the parade with her.

Bengston said she does the things she does because she’s worked in the LGBT community for 26 years and she wants to see it remain strong.

“I am truly blessed,” Bengston said. “I’ve made a very nice living and appreciate all of the years of memories and acceptance. I’ve had the best times of my life here.”

And she plans to keep on giving. But there’s one lesson she said she learned that keeps her humble after years of working with Caven.

After staging so many fundraising events at the Rose Room, Bengston said, “There are so many guys who look better in an evening gown than I do.”

For more information on Caven Enterprises, go online to Caven.com.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Pride 2011 • First-timers gearing up for Pride parade

Some 15 of the 2011 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade entries are participating for the first time, and organizers expect the annual event to go smoothly once again

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

When the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade steps off at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, a number of the participants will be marching for the first time.
According to Dallas Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman, about 15 percent of the entries are new participants this year.

Abandoned Vehicle Enforcement
Among  the new entries is Abandoned Vehicle Enforcement.

The Fort Worth towing company has taken over much of the private property non-consent towing business in Oak Lawn over the last year. Owner Scott Gorby said that a towing company that had much of the business in Oak Lawn, but was damaging cars and acting illegally, is out of business.

He added that one property after another has been recommending his company, in part because he’s part of the community and he services more than 2,000 accounts.
Of the company’s 30 employees, Gorby said nine are gay and more than 20 want to ride the company float that will feature a truck on top of their flatbed with beach balls, frisbees, T-shirts, beads, candy and music.

The banner on the side of the truck will read, “It only gets better when companies support their employees of the LGBT community. WE DO.”

“I never thought when I was 40 I’d be running a towing company,” Gorby said, but that’s just part of the diversity in the LGBT community.

Once in A Blue Moon
Once In A Blue Moon Dances has been staging women’s dances for a dozen years but this is their first time participating in the parade.

“It’s an awesome marketing tool,” said Gloria McDonald, also known at the dances as DJ4Peace. “We’ll get our name out and the best view is from inside the parade.”

The group will have a float featuring a silhouette of ladies dancing against a moon.

Once in a Blue Moon holds women’s dances the second Saturday of each month as well as theme dances on Halloween, New Years and Valentine’s Day. They meet at DanceMasters, 10675 E. Northwest Highway.

Teddy Bears for Troopers

Teddy Bears for Troopers was created in 2005 by Jesse Boudria when she was just 9 years old. Her stepdad is a state trooper who mentioned to her that they often kept teddy bears in their patrol cars to give to children who are frightened of police during an arrest of a parent or when they were involved in a serious accident.

During her first year, Boudria collected about 100 bears but now has given Texas troopers more than 4,000. Dallas, Irving and Grand Prairie police have also received bears from her organization.

The group has started a new program called Komfort a Kid, designed to help children get through the first 24 hours after being removed from their home by Child Protective Services.
Boudria’s mother, Tricia Adams, said that her daughter wanted to participate in the parade because she is very supportive of gay rights.

“Her 20-year-old brother is gay, as well as several other members of her extended family,” Adams said. “By participating in the parade this year, she hopes to increase awareness about Teddy Bears for Troopers and hopes that people who are involved in various organizations will contact TBFT to schedule a teddy bear drive.”
Boudria’s already attended Pride three times.
“We have a close friend who was a Strangerette Officer — David Cheek,” Adams said.

Tyler Area Gays
Members of Tyler Area Gays have marched before with the East Texas P-FLAG entry. But this year, the group held spaghetti dinners and garage sales to raise the money to build a float.

Tyler Area Gays is a three-year-old group that has gained quite a bit of visibility in East Texas. On World AIDS Day last year, members dedicated a monument in Bergfield Park to remember hate crime victim Nicholas West.

Responding to Mayor Barbara Bass’ call to plant trees in the city, TAG collected $500 and planted 20 trees. And their name is posted along Highway 69 as part of the Adopt-A-Highway project.

Why that particular road?

“Someone in the highway department has a good sense of humor,” a TAG spokesman said.

The group expects about 25 members to come to Dallas from East Texas to ride the float and others to just enjoy the parade from the sidelines.

Dallas Derby Devils
The Dallas Derby Devils, DFW’s all-female flat track roller derby league, will be rolling down Cedar Springs on skates, tossing beads as they go.

Organizer Julie Zais said her sister is bisexual but she got the group involved.

“I’ve been to the parade every year,” she said, “And I’m a huge supporter.”

Zais said she hopes at least half the league’s 120 skaters will be there.

“We have tryouts soon,” she said, and the league’s playoffs in North Richland Hills are coming up on Sept. 24.

Pride on parade
According to Doughman, this year’s parade includes 105 to 110 entries, a few more than last year.

“We’re somewhat constrained by the city,” he said, explaining that the city doesn’t want main intersections closed more than two hours and the parade crosses several busy roads including Oak Lawn Avenue at Cedar Springs Road.

“If it got bigger, we’d need a broader location,” he said. And that means taking the parade out of Oak Lawn. “If we take it out of Oak Lawn, we’ll kill it,” he said.
Costs for producing the parade have almost tripled in the past decade. He said that Homeland Security and the Patriot Act have imposed restrictions that have added expense.

In the 1990s, the parade cost about $50,000 to produce. This year, the Dallas Tavern Guild expects expenses to top $140,000. Before recent regulations, 30 police were enough to cover the afternoon event. Now 85 must be hired. Fencing an area for festivals is the latest regulation adding to costs.

Still, Doughman expects this year’s parade to appear as seamless as ever.

He advised people to arrive early to find parking, which is always a problem. DART’s Green Line runs to Market Center Station and is a short walk to the end of the parade staging area on Wycliff  Avenue, but about a mile from the main viewing area. No shuttle buses run from the station to the Cedar Springs area.

Gorby reminded people to watch for towing signs and not to park in private lots that do not share their parking with neighboring businesses and the community.

Although a record crowd may attend, Doughman expects little trouble. He said that last year there were no arrests and few incidents that required police.

The Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade steps off Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. The parade begins on Cedar
Springs Road, at the Wycliff Avenue intersection, then moves down Cedar Springs, across Oak Lawn Avenue, to Turtle Creek Boulevard, where the route turns left to end at Lee Park.

The Festival in Lee Park immediately follows, and this year, for the first time, the park will be fenced in, with a $5 entry fee charged at the gate. For more information on the festival changes, see the story on Page 10 in this issue. For more information on the parade and festival, go online to DallasTavernGuild.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

A decade of remembrance

RIDERLESS CARRIAGE | Ten years after 9/11, the American landscape looks far different — for gay rights as well.

What a difference a decade makes. In September of 2001, days after the loss of lives on 9/11 scarred America, the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade had a first: Instead of a grand marshal riding in the parade, a horse-drawn carriage remained empty, save for a sign reading “Dedicated to the victims lost in the tragedy of Sept. 11.”

Dallas Tavern Guild’s Michael Doughman remembers that moment as clearly as if it were yesterday, but for him, the carriage was a symbol beyond its intentions. Or at least, it became one.

“It was a sobering but very powerful moment when that carriage went by,” he recalls. “I’ve often thought about it and when I reflect that it’s been 10 years, I give thought to the progress that we’ve made as a country.”

That progress transcends into the LGBT community, as hot-button issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell” and same-sex marriages have developed in positive ways since 9/11 — whether directly or not. The empty carriage symbolized not only the loss of that fateful day, but also those lost in other battles.

“I saw that empty carriage and thought all the people that I had lost to AIDS, to cancer,” Doughman says. “I think it also represented a loss and absence in general. It was significant of more loss in other arenas, whether it was illness, or hate crimes or something else.”

Doughman say there are plans for a 9/11 acknowledgement at the beginning of this year’s parade. While details have not been finalized, he doesn’t want what happened then to disappear into history books. As time passes, he says, it serves as much more than just a memory.

“We’re aware that even 10 years later, commemorating helps us to keep vigilant,” he says, “for our rights, for everyone and for this country.”

— Rich Lopez

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

—  Michael Stephens

Changes on tap for Pride festival

Organizers don’t expect decision to fence in Lee Park, ban outside alcohol at event following parade to have major impact on attendance

DOUGHMAN.Michael
Michael Doughman

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

When the Dallas Tavern Guild announced a $5 admission charge for Sunday’s Festival in Lee Park earlier this year, it led to some major backlash on social media networks and in the comments section of DallasVoice.com.

But Michael Doughman, executive director of the Tavern Guild, said the backlash hasn’t translated into significantly reduced interest in the event from vendors and nonprofit groups.
As of this week, only five fewer organizations had signed up for booths at the festival, which takes place before, during and after the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

“We don’t consider that a loss in attendance at the park at all,” Doughman said. “We do have some nonprofit organizations that opted not to be in the park this year, and that’s certainly their choice. We don’t think that it’s going to harm anything.

“We have over 70 vendors already paid in the park,” Doughman added. “If that were the general consensus, a whole lot of those people wouldn’t be coming either, but they are.”

The Tavern Guild, which puts on both the parade and festival, chose to fence in the park this year to be proactive since the city plans to require it in the future, Doughman said.

The fencing will also allow the Tavern Guild to prevent people from bringing in their own alcohol, which Doughman says has become a problem.

“We’ve had a really, really rapid rise in the number of people [getting] highly intoxicated,” he said.

Those who want to consume alcohol at the festival this year will have to purchase it from vendors — who’ll be selling plastic bottles of beer at the same prices as before, $3 for domestics and $4 for imports, Doughman said.

Lori Chance, special events manager for the city of Dallas, confirmed that her office likely would have required the Pride festival to be fenced beginning in 2012.

“Typically anytime alcohol is involved, we require fencing, and that’s so they can control the ingress and egress,” Chance said. “We’re headed in that direction because of the alcohol. Their choice is to fence the entire park … or to make a secluded area for alcohol, and the alcohol has to stay in that area only.”

While the decision to fence in the festival was made in anticipation of the city requirement, Doughman said the $5 admission charge is designed to raise money for the event’s beneficiaries.

The Tavern Guild historically has donated a combined $20,000 to $25,000 to three or four beneficiaries. But in recent years, there’s been only $7,500 or $8,000 left over for one  beneficiary — Youth First Texas.
This year, the Tavern Guild has added AIDS Arms, AIDS Services of Dallas, AIDS Interfaith Network and Legacy Counseling Center.

“If you begrudge $5 to be divided among four of the AIDS services and YFT, then that’s not the spirit of Pride to begin with,” Doughman said. “It’s always been about raising money for the community.”

The Festival in Lee Park normally attracts about 7,500 people, and organizers are predicting a decline in attendance of up to 1,500 this year due to the admission charge, Doughman said. But even if attendance is as low as 5,000, it will still mean an extra $25,000 for the beneficiaries. In addition, Doughman said 25 percent of net proceeds from alcohol sales will go to the Texas Gay Rodeo Association, while 75 percent will go back to the Tavern Guild and its beneficiaries.

Still, not everyone is willing to pay the price.

Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans Dallas, said his group is among those that won’t have a booth at the festival this year because of the admission charge, which he called “a stupid business decision.”

Schlein said Log Cabin decided it wouldn’t be worth the $150 registration fee because of reduced attendance.

He said Log Cabin, which is also skipping the parade this year, used “free market principles” to make a statement.

“To have to pay for it just doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of gay Pride weekend,” Schlein said. “This is a tax on the gay Pride parade.”

Festival in Lee Park
Sunday, Sept. 18.
Park opens at 11 a.m.
No coolers, glass containers or alcohol can be brought into the park. There will be an exception for vendors who want to bring in coolers for volunteers. Admission is $5. ATM machines will be situated near festival entrances for those who don’t have cash. More info at www.DallasPrideParade.com.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Councilmembers line up to ride in Pride parade

Jones Hill again fails to RSVP, has said religious beliefs prevent her participation; Greyson cites scheduling conflict

RIDE IN PRIDE | Members of the Dallas City Council ride together on a float in the 2009 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade as then-Mayor Tom Leppert walks alongside. This year all but two of the 15 councilmembers have said they will participate in the Pride parade.

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Thirteen of the 15 Dallas City Council members, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, are expected to ride on the city’s float at gay Pride later this month, according to Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild.

Doughman, chief organizer of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, said this week that Vonciel Jones Hill and Sandy Greyson are the only councilmembers who didn’t RSVP affirmatively for the 28th annual event set for Sept. 18.

Jones Hill, in her third two-year term representing District 5, has indicated in the past that she won’t attend gay Pride because of her religious beliefs.
Greyson, elected to represent District 12 earlier this year, reportedly has a scheduling conflict.

Rawlings, who also took office this year, will become only the third mayor in Dallas history to appear at gay Pride, after Tom Leppert and Laura Miller.

“The mayor looks forward to being in the gay Pride parade and being part of the festivities,” Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said this week.

Greyson, meanwhile, hadn’t responded to a phone message from Dallas Voice by press time.

“It’s a scheduling conflict,” Greyson’s assistant, Lorri Ellis, said when asked why the councilwoman won’t be attending Pride.

Michael Doughman and Sandy Greyson

Greyson, who served on the council from 1997-2005, voted in favor of a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2002. And in 1995, as a DART board member, she voted to add sexual orientation to the transit agency’s nondiscrimination policy.

Greyson also signed a letter from the council that appears in this year’s Pride Guide — distributed inside today’s Dallas Voice — congratulating organizers on the event.
The only councilmember who didn’t sign the letter was Jones Hill.

“I won’t be participating [this year], and based on my present beliefs, I won’t be participating in the future,” Jones Hill told Dallas Voice in 2008, when she was the lone councilmember who didn’t RSVP affirmatively for the parade. “There’s no reason I should be castigated for that.”

Asked what those beliefs are that stop her from attending Pride, Hill said: “I believe that all people are loved by God, all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless.

“It does not mean the person is any less God’s child. I’m entitled to stand for what I believe, and I don’t appreciate anyone castigating me for standing for what I believe,” she said.

For the last several years, Jones Hill’s absence has thwarted a longtime goal of openly gay former Councilman Ed Oakley, who’s sought to have all 15 councilmembers attend the parade. Before that, former Councilman Mitchell Rasansky was often the lone holdout.

Doughman said he thinks having 13 of 15 councilmembers attend Pride is “exceptional for a city of this size.”

But he added that the Tavern Guild doesn’t pay much attention to the subject.

“I’m trying very hard to keep the politics out of this parade,” he said. “People want a celebration.”

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

—  Michael Stephens

Cheer we go!

IMG_0236
DANCING IN THE STREETS | Dallas Pride Cheer marches in last year’s Texas Freedom Parade, but will debut a new act at Razzle Dazzle, before moving to a national showcase in San Francisco next month. (Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Pride Cheer gets its razzle dazzling — for Dallas and San Francisco

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer
jeftingley@sbcglobal.net

As anyone who’s ever played a team sport can tell you, even the bleakest of losing streaks has been brightened by the erratic pom-poms and endless effervescence of a cheerleading squad. But the perkiest of cheerleaders still needs their own support system from time to time.

That’s the case with Dallas Pride Cheer, a local, mostly gay group who use their powers of pep not for sports but by performing at parades and other events to raise money for charitable causes, including Make-A-Wish, Bryan’s House and AIDS Arms.

On June 25 and 26, the all-volunteer squad will boost not a team, but our city by taking their talents to San Francisco for Pride Parade weekend. There, they will join other teams from around the world for a series of performances benefiting the Cheer for Life Foundation, a
nonprofit that supports agencies around the globe that provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other ailments.

“We currently have 14 people from our 24-person squad going to represent Dallas,” says team captain Bobby Bridgwater, a former UNT cheerleader who parlayed his love of the sport into the nonprofit organization. “Everyone’s been working very hard to create the perfect routine and to raise money to travel to California.”

To help fund travel expenses, Dallas Pride Cheer is hosting a car wash on Saturday in the Caven parking lot, behind Zini’s Pizza Throckmorton.

In preparation for San Francisco and the many other local events they participate in, the group practices every Sunday at Pride All-Star Gym in Carrollton. Members range in age from 20 to 51, with a variety of backgrounds as current and former cheerleaders, athletes and coaches. And they are always looking for more.

“We are always looking for new talent to add to our group,” says Bridgwater. “Depending on the person’s experience we can plug [someone] into a routine. It’s best if we find someone with knowledge of technique, tumbling and stunting. As a group, we are always pushing new stunts, new basket tosses and so on. It’s a whole year of learning as a group.”

The routine Dallas Cheer Pride performs in San Francisco will be repeated in Dallas in September during the Alan Ross Freedom Parade. But those interested in seeing the squad sooner can check them out during this year’s Razzle Dazzle Dallas, which kicks off June 1.

“Razzle Dazzle is what we have been putting together for the past year,” says Bridgwater. “In addition to our cheer portion is a new, fun dance routine. You won’t see it anywhere else. It’s just something for us to shake it and have fun.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Leppert lies to National Journal, claims he was never asked about gay marriage

Former Mayor Tom Leppert shakes hands with spectators along the route during the 2007 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, Dallas’ annual gay Pride parade.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. In an interview with the National Journal’s Hotline on Call blog that was published Thursday, former Dallas mayor and current Senate candidate Tom Leppert addressed his recent shift to the right on LGBT issues, claiming his views haven’t changed:

Leppert insists that he has not pivoted to the right in preparation for his statewide run. Observers simply mischaracterized his beliefs in the past, he said.

“My positions that you’ve seen that would put me clearly on the conservative side, they’ve never changed,” Leppert told Hotline On Call. “I was somebody that got some things done and somebody that could bring people together. Sometimes that got labeled a certain way.”

Leppert said he worked together with gay rights groups and other typically liberal constituencies in order to successfully run the city of Dallas. But he maintained his beliefs have never wavered, regardless of public perception. Leppert explained that he was never asked for his position on gay marriage during his City Hall tenure.

“As mayor I thought it was my responsibility, and I think I did a good job, in leading the city where I engaged all groups,” Leppert said. “On a lot of the issues I would disagree with the folks, but I would still find common ground.”

Leppert’s assertion that he was never asked about same-sex marriage while mayor is patently false. I posed the question during an interview with Leppert about his first year in office in 2008. And I posted his response on Instant Tea:

“I don’t know, to be truthful with you,” Leppert said when asked if he supported same-sex marriage. “It hasn’t come up. It hasn’t been an issue that I’ve spent any time on. I don’t know. I’d probably have to give it some thought, to be truthful with you. I would see pieces on both sides, to be truthful with you, so I haven’t thought about it.”

2. The Texas Legislature refuses to protect gays from workplace discrimination, but Tarrant County Republican State Rep. Bill Zedler has filed a bill that would protect creationists.

3. A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll. Support for same-sex marriage has gone from 36 percent five years ago to 53 percent today.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert to announce resignation today

Mayor Tom Leppert appears in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade in 2007.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is expected to announce his resignation at the close of today’s City Council meeting.

Leppert’s resignation has long been expected as he prepares to seek the Republican nomination for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat in 2012. It’s really just been a question of when, and now we know: Leppert will step down four months short of the end of his term.

For a Republican in Texas, Leppert has been a relatively good mayor for the LGBT community. After defeating openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley to become mayor in 2007, Leppert reached out and appeared to understand the LGBT community’s importance in Dallas.

Leppert hired an openly gay chief of staff, former WFAA reporter Chris Heinbaugh, and became only the second mayor to appear at gay Pride, doing so in two of his four years in office. Leppert made a habit of showing up at GLBT Chamber events and also attended two of four Black Tie Dinners.

But in the latter part of his term Leppert clearly veered to the right in an effort to position himself for the Republican Senate primary — including joining the virulently anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how Leppert treats LGBT issues in his Senate campaign. Being a moderate Republican won’t win him many votes in a statewide Republican primary, but at the same time it will be difficult to hide from his record in Dallas.

Leppert’s resignation means that Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway will temporarily become mayor until after the May elections. Although Caraway is a Democrat, he hasn’t been much of an advocate for the LGBT community.

—  John Wright