Volunteers needed for HIV vaccine trial

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

Gallegos.Ernesto

Ernesto Gallegos

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had a partner who was positive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Off-duty D.C. officer arrested in shooting incident involving transgender women

Washington, D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr was arrested after an incident early Friday morning in which he allegedly stood on the hood of a car while firing multiple shots into the vehicle and yelling “I’m going to kill you.” Three of the car’s five occupants were transgender women, the other two were male friends, according to the Washington Blade. One of the men, identified to the Blade by a representative of D.C.’s Transgender Health Empowerment as a brother to one of the trans women in the car, was shot several timesm and two of the women were injured.

Furr, a 20-year veteran of the police force, has been charged with driving while intoxicated and assault with a dangerous weapon. Furr, who registered a .15 on a breathalyzer test when he was arrested, had allegedly gotten into an argument, about an hour and a half earlier, with the people in the car in a drugstore parking lot. Reports indicate that Furr was firing a Glock 9 and that five shells were recovered at the scene. The shooting took place at a different location, according to WTOP FM 103.5.

The T.H.E. representative told the Blade that the argument started when Furr, appearing to be drunk, approached one of the trans women and solicited her for sex and she turned him down.

Officials said Furr was on restricted duty at the time of the shooting due to a medical condition. His service weapon had been turned into the department, and officials said he was not authorized to carry a firearm when the incident occurred. Reports also indicate that Furr had previously been fired from the police department, but was later reinstated.

The shooting involving Furr came within a month and a half of the murders of two trans women, both of whom were shot to death in separate incidents 11 days apart. The two murders happened within two blocks of each other on Dix Street, according to this report from WTOP FM 103.5.  One woman was walking with a friend on July 20, in the 6100 block of Dix, when they were approached by two young black men. The attackers shot one of the women without provocation, the friend told police. On July 31, a trans woman walking the 6200 block of Dix was shot to death by a young black man who asked her for change and then opened fire.

T.H.E. and the D.C. Trans Coalition held a rally Sunday near the site of the latest shooting. The crowd of about 70 who attended included D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells and D.C. Deputy Police Chief Diane Groomes who said she was representing Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

—  admin

COVER STORY: Need to know

FAMILY TIES | Gregg Spradlin came to Dallas to help his daughter, Jamy Spradlin, recover from her gender reassignment surgery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Trans women talk about how to come out, when, and to whom

RELATED STORY: Femme X provides service to people learning to be women

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Perhaps one of the greatest fears that transgender people face is losing the love and support of family and friends when they “come out” about their gender identity. For transwoman Jamy Spradlin, honesty has definitely been the best policy.

“I don’t usually lie to people,” she said. “Covering lies is difficult.”

That policy has paid off for her.

Jamy said her father, Gregg Spradlin, who lives in Illinois, came to recently Dallas to be with her through her gender reassignment surgery.

Gregg didn’t think that was out of the ordinary. One of his children was having surgery. He’s retired and free to travel, so of course he was there for her.

Gregg said he was glad to help Jamy through her recuperation, but the best part for him was that they got to spend two weeks together.

“My relationship with Dad is closer than it’s ever been,” Jamy said.

And Gregg agreed, saying that’s because Jamy has been honest with him about who she is.

Although she has been honest with her father about her gender identity, Jamy is careful about telling others that she is transgender.

“I wait to tell people, let them get to know me,” Jamy said. “If they have their own preconceived notion about what transgender is, they’ll know me first.”

But there are no set rules about who to tell or when. In fact, Spradlin broke her own rule about waiting when she went to buy her first bra.

Jamy said she went to Victoria’s Secret where she found a saleswoman she was comfortable with and confided in. She said she had to be honest with the saleswoman and tell her that she had no idea how to measure herself for a bra or figure out what size she needed, because asking the saleswoman for that kind of help without any further explanation would be confusing: How could a woman Jamy’s age not know anything about bra size?

But Jamy also knew that other transgender women have been thrown out of stores for no reason other than who they are. So she was relieved when her saleswoman smiled, told her to come to the back and promised to get her fixed up.

Of course, that saleswoman was smart. She gained a loyal customer.

In the workplace

Dee Boydston is facing a different type of coming out situation: She was married 20 years and has a 19-year-oldc son, and recently passed a milestone in her life when she decided to live fulltime as a woman.

While her marriage is over, Boydston said, her son is completely accepting of her intent to transition.

Boydston works from home for a Fortune 500 company so transitioning on the job has not been a problem — until now.

“I’m at a point that I don’t want to flip back and forth,” she said.

Boydston communicates with other employees primarily by phone. She regularly talks to a company recruiter in Plano who recently suggested they get together for lunch.

And Boydston heads a team of employees who also work from their homes. The group will be getting together soon for a team meeting for the first time.

Both the recruiter and her team assume she’s a man.

So Boydston took her first step at work. Before they met, she told the recruiter, “I have to tell you something.”

She said the recruiter was totally accepting and their lunch meeting went fine. She’s hoping for the same acceptance from her team.

Marla Compton, who heads the transgender group GEAR at Resource Center Dallas, works for one of the largest banks. She said that the major banks tend to be transgender-friendly.

“But just because the company is transgender-friendly doesn’t mean the HR person is,” Compton said.

After applying for one job, Compton said the HR person was showing her around the office and introducing her to people she would be working with.

“Then I told her I was transgender and I never heard from her again,” Compton said.

But Compton thinks it’s important to be honest with employers so that everything from insurance to social security is filed correctly.

Dating and relationships

Dating and relationships present even more coming out challenges.

Compton said that while coming out is a personal choice, “I always tell the other person right off the bat.”

She said she has heard stories of people going out. Then the relationship begins to get physical and the other person finds out in the bedroom.

“That can be very dangerous,” Compton said. “I know of a person who kept it from a spouse for years — it was a very nasty situation.”

Spradlin’s advice is to be careful about where to come out. She said that many people meet in bars and come out where people are drinking. That might not be the best setting.

“Do it in a safe place,” she said. “A public setting but not when you’re in a position where you can be attacked.”

Compton asks herself if she feels safe and comfortable with the other person.

“That’s going to have a bearing on my choice,” she said.

But if she’s dating someone, she said she has to reveal her past. The other person will quickly realize something is missing when your past is left as a blank slate.

They’ll ask, “Why don’t you have graduation pictures? Childhood pictures?” Compton said. “If it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we have nothing to hide.”

Her best advice is to use common sense.

“There are men out there who are attracted to women who are pre-op,” Compton said. “So it’s case by case.”

But she described situations when she was in a club and could have gone home with somebody but didn’t.

“I was glad I didn’t,” she said. “Trust your instincts. Sometimes we overlook the warning signs.”

She said she doesn’t date someone — or go home with anyone — she’s not comfortable telling about her gender identity.

“If it’s someone who cares about you, your gender identity won’t matter,” Compton said.

Her experience with coming out to others is that it doesn’t faze some. She’s found others attracted to her more.

“Some admire what we have to go through,” she said.

The best therapy

Blair High, as CEO of a Plano-based corporation, was a bond trader responsible for billion dollar portfolios who had played football in school.

Today, High volunteers on the help line at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday nights, giving information on transgender issues.

“The best therapy for anyone is to be yourself,” she said.

High said that sometimes coming out can be as bad as suppressing. “Some people call [who are] thinking of killing themselves,” she said. “They can’t stand it anymore.”

High recommends they come to a meeting and meet other trans people. She said sometimes they will come and just cry for the first 30 minutes they’re there.

Often, the calls High takes are from men who are married with children. She tells them to come out to their wives. She said that they should tell the spouse that they’re having these feelings and would like to go to some therapy.

High, who has been married for 18 years, said that’s what she did with her wife.

“It was not an easy thing,” she said. “It’s still an issue.”

High said when she told her wife that she was having these feelings and wanted to go to therapy, her wife thought that was great.

“As time went by and things were the same, it wasn’t so great,” she said.

But they remain together.

“We love each other,” she said. “We care about each other.”

Trans woman Pam Curry said she “gave up trying to hide years ago.”

She said she got advice from John Thomas, the first executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, who told her to “Be true to your cause.”

Curry said she stopped worrying about it and stopped trying to be perfect.

Because she’s so open about her gender identity, Compton said she gets lots of questions. She said she’ll answer most but is surprised when she’s asked graphic sexual questions, especially by someone she’s just met.

Those are people she puts at arms length, she said.

“But I’m proud to be a transsexual,” Compton said. “I’ll never hide from it.”

—  John Wright

Femme X provides service to people learning to be women

Nikki Starr

Starr says her service benefits trans women who want to present a more feminine appearance

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Way back in 1996, Nikki Starr started Miss Victoria’s Feminine Illusions, a business dedicated to helping those — male or female — who wanted to be more feminine in appearance.

Starr suspended operations in 2001 because she traveled quite a bit with her job as an executive for a software company dealing with supply chain logistics.

But with the encouragement of a friend, Starr decided to try again, and Femme X Studios has been up and running since 2006.

Starr said she works with a variety of people: Some might have a fetish; others are transgender women who know they are women but never learned how women’s sizes work or how to put on makeup.

“They don’t know where to start,” Starr said.

While her target audience is varied, Starr said she rarely works with drag queens. She said she is not in business to help someone present an illusion or exaggeration of femininity.

“I provide a service as an image and style consultant,” she said.

Some of Starr’s clients are just coming out as transgender and learning to be more feminine. One client is a married cross-dresser whose wife does not know.

“She’s just trying to figure it out,” Starr said of her client.

Much of Starr’s business comes from people who are in the closet. Some are high-powered business executives who need a private, discreet place to explore.

Starr said she schedules three or four appointments a week and while an appointment may last up to eight hours, the basic appointment is usually three hours.

“Everything’s included,” Starr said. “They don’t have to bring anything — clothes, shoes, hair, lingerie. What do they want? Photography? Makeup?”

Starr has release forms for all pictures on her website. To assure discretion, she said she’ll use the client’s own camera and hand them the memory card. But, she noted, photography can be useful for the client to see and compare differences in makeup or hairstyles. And some do want a glamour shot session.

Starr said that some clients are very nervous on their first visit. They might spend the entire visit just drinking a glass of wine and talking. And Starr said she is careful to take that client through each step and talk about the experience as they go.

She also offers a very basic one-hour make-up class in which she discusses products, skincare and basic makeup application techniques.

Starr also helps her clients prepare for their own forays into the world of retail. Her advice for people shopping for the first time who have not developed a relationship with any salespeople is to call ahead.

“If you call ahead, they can prepare for you,” she said.

Starr used that same principle in planning an outing with a transgender group.

She made reservations for a group at the Uptown restaurant Sambuca and explained who they were. They told her, “as long as you’re dressed appropriately.” Starr said that when her group arrived, they were assigned a waiter who went out of his way to make the evening a lot of fun.

And while Starr specializes in image consulting, she refers her clients to a number of other people — including counselors, cosmetic surgeons and doctors to prescribe hormone therapy, as well as friendly gyms, retailers and restaurants.

Starr said that each of her customers is looking for something a little different and she said the key to success is spending time making sure she understands that client’s needs.

“We can customize an experience that’s right for you,” Starr said.

—  John Wright

Investigation continues into Marcal Tye’s murder

St. Francis County Sheriff’s Department investigators in Forrest City, Ark., have some leads in the March 8 murder of transwoman Marcal Tye, but have made no arrests yet and are waiting on the Arkansas State Crime Lab to complete forensic testing to move forward, according to reports in The Republic newspaper in Columbus, Ind. The Republic based its report on reports in the Forrest City Times-Herald, which requires a subscription to read its content online.

Marcal Tye

Preliminary autopsy reports indicate Tye was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head and from blunt force trauma caused by being run over. Her body was dragged several hundred feet by a car after she was shot. Investigators found two .38-caliber shell casings at the scene.

Tye, who was well known as a trans woman in Forrest City, was found dead by passersby on a country road just outside the Forrest Hill city limits in the early morning hours of March 8. The case received national attention when early news reports called Tye “a man in a dress” and quoted St. Francis County Sheriff Bobby May as calling her a crossdresser.

The FBI is investigating the case as a possible civil rights violation but has made no determination on whether her death was a hate crime. Sheriff May has said it was “an ordinary murder” and not a hate crime.

The case has also raised new concerns for the transgender community in Memphis, about 45 miles away on Interstate 45, where a number of trans women have been killed or injured in attacks over the last five to six years.

—  admin

Top 10: Controversy brewed success for ‘TOTWK’

TOTWK
UNDER ATTACK | Director Israel Luna, center, is shown with Jenna Skyy, left, and Krystal Summers, two of the stars of his ‘Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives.’

No. 6:

View all of the Top 10

Gay Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna has been building his reputation behind the camera since he wrote and directed his first feature film, Str8 Up, in 2001. His subsequent films — including The Deadbeat Club, RU Invited and Fright Flick — secured his place in the Dallas filmmaking community and made him a regular on the independent film festival circuit.

But it wasn’t until the early part 2010 and the release of his latest, the “transploitation” flick Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, that Luna got a taste of the kind of fame that filmmakers long for. And it was due, in large part, to the protests of an angry transgender activist with nothing good to say about either Luna or his movie.

If Luna wanted attention, he got it, especially from local trans activist Kelli Busey, who at first protested the use of the word “trannies” — a word considered by many to be a pejorative term for trans women — but soon expanded her objections to include the movie’s content, which includes have trans women who have been bashed taking their revenge in a most brutal fashion.
Busey, who acknowledged never having watched the movie and refused Luna’s invitations to attend a screening, said the film painted trans women as psychotic killers who all have silly names, engage in campy dialog and work as “drag” performers. She said the film’s transphobic attitude was a reflection of Luna’s — and many gay men’s — own transphobia.

When, in mid-March, Luna announced that TOTWK had been chosen for the prestigious TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, Busey turned to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for help in spreading protests against the film. GLAAD soon called for a boycott of Luna’s movie, and called on officials with TriBeCa to rescind their invitation.

TriBeCa officials responded with a reasonably polite but thoroughly firm “no” to GLAAD’s demands, and screenings of TOTWK at the festival not only drew sell-out crowds but received, for the most part, positive reviews — despite protests staged outside the screenings by transgender activists.

In June, Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film fest also screened TOTWK, and again, the movie drew protesters, this time led by Busey herself.

Yet again, though, the screenings sold out, and Q Cinema organizers put together a panel discussion of trans issues after one of them.

The panel included Fort Worth trans woman Tori Van Fleet who had initially agreed with Busey and was opposed to the movie.

Van Fleet, however, agreed to watch the movie before forming an opinion, and she came out of the first Q Cinema screening as a fan of both TOTWK and filmmaker Luna.

Luna’s movie went on to win spots in numerous festivals — including Seattle International Film Festival, Philadelphia Q Fest and Telluride Horror Shows — and audience favorite awards at many of those screenings.

As icing on the cake, in late July Luna reached a distribution deal with Breaking Glass Pictures that put the film on even more big screens through a limited theatrical run of midnight screenings that began in October, and a DVD release in November.

Earlier in the year, Busey turned her attention to an eventually successful effort to convince Dallas Area Rapid Transit to extend protections to its transgender workers, and she continues her trans advocacy online.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas