The show goes on

Partners in life and in business, Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill travel the world staging theatrical productions for the Army. And they have seen a difference since the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Inside-3

OUT ON BASE | Partners Ken Freehill and Darryl Allara have never hidden their sexual orientation or the fact that they are a couple from the military officials with whom they work. But the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has made things less tense in many military communities, they say. (Photo Courtesy Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill)

David Webb  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

The end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a long time in coming — not only for the estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. Armed Services, but also for others engaged in little-known, supportive roles for active-duty personnel.

Dallas show business couple Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill, who tour the globe as civilian contractors for U.S. Army Entertainment, were as relieved as anyone else last fall when President Barack Obama officially recognized the end of the 18-year-old discriminatory policy. The life partners quietly cheered the Department of Defense memo released Sept. 20 lifting the ban on homosexuality, knowing it would provide a new sense of freedom for both them and the gay and lesbian soldiers they encounter on military installations.

“I think that in the communities we’ve been in, things are less tense,” said Freehill during an interview at their East Dallas home recently while the couple took a holiday break from 202 days on the road in 2011.

“I think maybe those people in the past who may have felt reluctant to talk to us now feel more comfortable in approaching us,” he added.

At the military installations Allara and Freehill visit, there are ample opportunities for one-on-one conversations with soldiers. Both men are judges for the U.S. Army’s Festival of Arts, and in a separate contractual project they stage Murder 101, an interactive comedy tailored to each base using soldiers and their family members and base civilian employees as actors.

“When we walk into a room, there is so much enthusiasm from everyone,” said Freehill, who has 30 years of experience as a director, producer, writer and actor and currently performs in one-man plays locally.

In staging the murder mystery dinner theater productions, the couple meets with volunteers who are interested in performing, assigns them roles, conducts rehearsals, markets the production, directs the shows and appears in the performances — all in one week’s time. It’s a  challenging task with a taxing schedule that they’ve mastered and carried out for 10 years now.

“We’ve been very mission-oriented, bringing theater to where it doesn’t exist,” said Allara, who received a U.S. Army scholarship that led to a degree in theatrical producing and directing after he ended a tour as a medic in Vietnam in 1969.

“By the time the week is over it looks like we’ve been working with them for a month,” Allara said.

Before the ban was lifted, it was a complex situation for Allara and Freehill, who in their roles entertaining, training and evaluating soldiers and their families weren’t subject to the provisions of the military prohibition on being openly gay. They wanted to be honest about themselves, yet not detract from the mission of their work.

“I did feel the policy had to be respected, because we never wanted to put a soldier in an awkward position, and we never wanted to cause anyone to be uncomfortable,” Allara said. “Our whole mission is to bring joy to everyone.”

Even so, the couple knew people would figure out they weren’t the rank-and-file type of civilian workers that soldiers expect to see on military bases, Allara noted.

“We have never encountered overt discrimination,” Allara said. “By the same token, we have never hidden who we are. It’s not a subject we initiate, but we’ve had soldiers talk to us about it.”

Freehill said that during 2011 while the Pentagon implemented the repeal of DADT and conducted related training for military personnel the couple traveled to 37 military installations for 50 events on three continents. They completed their work without experiencing any of the types of discriminatory incidents many naysayers warned would happen in the military if Congress lifted the ban, he said.

“People figure out in short order we’re a couple, and not just a theatrical partnership,” said Freehill, who points out they have been a couple for 32 years. “They see us together. We don’t make a big deal out of it. But they aren’t dumb.”

Freehill said they have always been careful not to give anyone the wrong impression.

“We are not on the make, and we don’t give that vibe off,” Freehill said. “Everyone feels secure. We are never alone with anyone.”

Allara said his experiences with the military have, for the most part, always been positive and no more discriminatory than in any other walk of life.

As a helicopter medic in Vietnam, he got his first taste of show business when he produced theatrical shows for fellow soldiers using what he had learned at a base playhouse during basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

“For lack of a better word it was a M*A*S*H unit, and I was my unit’s Radar O’Reilly,” said Allara, who noted he “screamed all the way” when he was forced to abandon his company clerk duties and fly in the helicopters to combat zones.

Allara said that deplorable conditions in Vietnam inspired him to take on the staging of a show and probably encouraged fellow soldiers to welcome it.

For one show he requisitioned six jeeps and drivers for the use of their headlights in a theatrical production. A stage was fashioned out of an old flatbed truck.

“We had a terrible morale problem,” Allara said. “We were looking for diversion. We needed to find a way to bond everyone together.”

Rather than getting court-martialed for the jeep stunt as he feared might happen, Allara’s amateur shows, including Sorry Wrong Number, brought him praise and requests for productions at other locations, including a production of Stop the World; I Want to Get Off.

Those efforts eventually led to his Army-sponsored scholarship to theatrical school in San Diego.

Allara said it is ironic that his theatrical work in the Army led to his lifelong career because he had no interest in theater in high school. The U.S. military has sponsored entertainment programs for personnel since World War II, and most bases had theatrical playhouses before television viewing became the most popular form of entertainment.

“When I was drafted I had no thoughts about theater at all,” Allara said. “I was picked on as a kid, and standing in front of people performing was the last thing I wanted to do.”

Later, Allara attended graduate school at the University of Arizona where Freehill was an undergraduate, but they never met. Oddly, they discovered later they had participated on a theatrical production at the same time, and they have a playbill with both of their names listed to verify it.

The couple later met in Los Angeles on a theatrical production and became lovers. For a while they operated a show business school together before relocating to Dallas, where Freehill took a job as executive director for the Screen Actors Guild.

It was about that time 17 years ago when Allara resumed his association with the military, accepting a job as a traveling second judge for the Army Festival of the Arts, a 40-year-old organization. The senior judge for the organization with whom Allara worked on a Bicentennial show in 1976 sought him out for the position.

“You meet people in life,” Allara said. “They go out of your life and then they come back.”

When about five years later the senior judge retired, Allara knew he didn’t have to look far for a new second judge. The Screen Actors Guild had relocated from Dallas to another city, leaving Freehill without a job.

So he joined the Army, too, so to speak.

About 10 years ago Allara and Freehill began staging their murder mystery productions for the Army. They first had designed and produced the mystery shows in Los Angeles, and they tried them out on military audiences with success.

An early production took place in Fort Campbell, Ky., where they still command great respect from base officials, volunteers and audiences, according to Linda Howle, director of the base recreation center.

“They are amazing, and they are fantastic,” said Howle in a telephone interview. “They are very creative. Every time I have them here they do a wonderful job, and when they come back it is always an even better performance.”

Allara said one of the reasons that he and Freehill enjoy so much respect from military officials is that they have a reputation for making sure the show will go on, no matter what. Their sexual orientation seems to have mattered little, if any at all, to Army officials in charge of military entertainment.

“They know they have two theater specialists they can send anywhere in the world,” Allara said.

About 15 years ago, Allara said, he met with a commanding officer who wanted to hire him, and he told the official about his relationship with Freehill.

“I knew they were rounding up soldiers and prosecuting them,” Allara said. “I told him I didn’t want it to bite him in the ass later. He thanked me for telling him.”

Allara said one of the reasons he and Freehill work together well as a romantic and a professional couple is that it is also economically advantageous to them. The Army pays them a flat fee for their work, from which all expenses must be deducted, and the arrangement of staying together on trips allows them to save money.

“We are able to keep rates really low for the Army because we share accommodations,” Allara said.

Fees for Allara’s and Freehill’s contracts come from discretionary funds raised by the Army from ticket sales and other enterprise activity, not from tax dollars, according to the show business couple.

The couple said the only hint of discrimination they ever felt during their travels for the military was when hotel staff asked if they wouldn’t prefer separate beds or rooms. Although they’ve never lost a military contract because of their sexual orientation, they did lose a couple in Los Angeles years ago because of it, they said.

“Discrimination is everywhere,” Allara said.  “It doesn’t have to be in the military.”

Allara said that as a combat veteran he sees the greatest benefit of the new policy to gay and lesbian soldiers to be the security of being part or a team, not the advantage of freedom of expression and social acceptance.

“They now will be able to serve their country without worrying about their backs in addition to the enemy in front of them,” Allara said.

For Allara and Freehill, life will continue much as it has for the past decade, together night and day except for when they are out of town on separate judging assignments. It seems natural to wonder whether they might enjoy the occasional break from each other’s company, but that is apparently not the case.

“It’s lonely,” Freehill said. “I admit it. We usually can’t wait to get home to be in each other’s company.”

Allara said that they often debate many subjects related to their work, but they always agree on how they feel about returning home to the company of the best audience anyone could have — the three dogs they rescued.

“It’s like dying and going to heaven for us,” Allara said.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

A call for ad rates made us realize we had been the victim of discrimination

The Dallas Voice classified department received a call today from an agency asking for rates. That’s not unusual. But the client was an unexpected one — the U.S. Army.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal law says that gays and lesbians can serve. What it doesn’t assure is any equality. There is no mandate to seek out gay and lesbian recruits. No general handed down orders to make sure there are plenty of LGB troops.

What the call indicates is that recruiters are ahead of the vocal opponents of repeal. Now that they can recruits gays and lesbians — why not?

What the call also pointed out was another unintended consequence of DADT. The law hurt LGBT businesses. While the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard were spending money advertising in every other media outlet, gay media received none of that income.

Not only was the federal government discriminating against gay and lesbian soldiers, but by not advertising in LGBT publications, they were discriminating against LGBT businesses. Ironically, it wasn’t until the Army came to us for a rate card that we realized we were among the victims of DADT.

—  David Taffet

With the world on his fingertip, gay Latino Dallas activist Jesse Garcia becomes a radio host

Jesse Garcia (From KNON.org)

We’ve always known the nearly universally loved Jesse Garcia was bound for stardom, although we admit we assumed it would be in politics. But for now, at least, it looks like it’ll be in, of all things, radio.

Garcia, former president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and current president of the city’s thriving gay LULAC council, will host The Jesse Garcia Show — 60 minutes of Latino news talk and entertainment — during the drive time on Thursdays, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on KNON 89.3 FM.

From the show’s website:

Your host Jesse Garcia looks forward to empowering and entertaining you. Garcia has spent the last decade making Dallas a more tolerant city. Since 2000, this community activist has championed civil rights causes, registered voters and built bridges among communities.

One of his proudest achievements was helping organize an effort to get a street named after Cesar Chavez in downtown Dallas. Today, he enjoys mentoring youth in Oak Cliff and serves on boards for nonprofits, as well as Hispanic and Gay civil rights organizations.

Garcia is originally from the Frontera, born and raised in Brownsville, Texas . He was educated in San Antonio, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication arts from Our Lady of the Lake University and a master’s degree in communications arts from St. Mary’s University. For the last 15 years he has worked as a public affairs specialist for the federal government, promoting the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both his academic and professional careers have centered on media, which have prepared him for his next role: Radio Talk Show Host.

—  John Wright

Good will toward men

Homophobia nearly derailed the TCC’s planned Tyler concert, but some scrambling saved the day — even without drag queens

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

O, HOLY CRAP | A three-year effort for the Chorale to perform in Tyler was almost scuttled, but with a little help from Santa, Jonathan Palant, left, found a solution. Dallas will get its annual Christmas concerts, too. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

O HOLY NIGHT
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 15, 20 and 22.
8 p.m. $30–$67.
TurtleCreek.org.

……………………..

Almost since Jonathan Palant took over as artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, he’s been trying to schedule a concert in Tyler. He is friends with the choir director of the Marvin United Methodist Church, a congregation with an inclusive pastor and active concert series. It was all but a sealed deal earlier this year.

Then came word this summer that some powerful members of the church objected to a gay men’s chorus performing. The offer to perform there was revoked.

“At the time, my blood was boiling,” Palant admits. “But teaching acceptance is in our mission statement, and my personal approach is to encourage tolerance. This wasn’t a time for payback. A picture is worth a thousand words, like the one of the TCC standing beside the [all-men] U.S. Army Chorus. That makes more of a statement that a speech could.”

And he wanted to do that same with the Tyler concert.

“We circled back around and found a different location. Within three weeks we had three churches asking to host us. For acoustics and size, we went to the First Presbyterian Church, and they voted unanimously to approve it,” he says. Which means Tyler will be getting its chorale Christmas concert after all.

And the adage no press is bad press seems to be holding true. “Word has it everybody in Tyler is gonna make a night of it — I’m told it will be standing room only in the 750 seat sanctuary. It’s all the more enticing to attend [when you have been banned],” he says.

The chorale is well-known for its campy concerts, even (especially?) at Christmastime, but Palant says he wanted to go old-school this year — both in the slightly truncated Tyler version and the one that returns to the Meyerson Symphony Center for three performances, starting Wednesday.

“Since we’re back at our home in the Meyerson [following last year’s concert at the Winspear], I really wanted to make it ‘home for the holidays’ — your favorite Christmas carols that you could sing along to,” he says. “We’re leaving the plots and the theatrics behind this year and, as one member called it, the deluxe version of the TCC holiday concert because it’s very traditional — very stand and sing or as I call it ‘park and bark.’”

For traditionalists of another kind, however, there are plenty of chorale favorites. On the slate will be the popular Nigerian hymn “Betelehemu” with African drums, a few light-hearted numbers (one, called “Omnes Virginus Levite Manus” should recall the best of chorale humor, but is more invigorating than silly) and there will of course be “Silent Night” performed with American Sign Language solos and the dedication of poinsettias for departed chorale members (the number has grown to more than 180). And Santa Claus will be there as always.

“We have some new arrangements that are unique enough to keep them fresh but the melodies are still there, like an amazing version of ‘Silver Bells,’ a great gospel arrangement of ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee’ and a stunning minimalistic version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ — it’s the version used in the movie Sex and the City,” Palant says.

Sex and the City figuring into a Christmas concert? Sounds like the chorale we’ve come to know and love.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Reax to Pentagon report on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

Here are some reactions to the Pentagon study on “don’t ask don’t tell” released this afternoon. We’ve posted the full text of the study below.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

“This issue has been studied for fifty years, including by the military itself, and the results from over twenty-two studies are uniform: open service does not harm effectiveness. The small handful of Senators blocking repeal no longer have any fig leaves behind which to hide. The time for repeal is now. …

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese. “Senators who said they want to hear from military leaders and troops now have their answers.  Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will allow every qualified man and woman to serve without sacrificing the high standards that have made our military great.”

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson:

“This thorough and comprehensive report makes clear to lawmakers and the American people once and for all that the U.S. military is capable of handling the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The questions are now answered and the debate is now settled. It’s now up to the Senate to bring the defense authorization bill back to the floor, allow 10 to 20 amendments to be debated on each side, and get this bill passed. We have the votes now if the process is fair.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“This exhaustive report is overwhelmingly positive and constructive. The Pentagon validated what repeal advocates and social scientists have been saying about open service for over a decade. Still, some initial resistance may come from one or more of the service chiefs — the very leaders who will be charged with  implementing this change. Those chiefs will need to salute and lead in bringing about this needed change. Fortunately, the chiefs have already made it clear they will do precisely that if Congress acts. Now, it’s up to the Senate to make repeal happen this year.”

—  John Wright

Reid sets DADT vote

Unless measure passes before November elections, Republican gains could mean an end to repeal possibilities for the time being

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@me.com

Pop star Lady Gaga attended the VMAs on Sunday night
MAKING A POINT | Pop star Lady Gaga attended the VMAs on Sunday night, Sept. 12, with three former servicemembers who were discharged under DADT and a former West Point cadet who resigned from the academy to protest the anti-gay policy. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press)

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Monday, Sept. 13, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring the defense spending bill with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal measure to the floor next week.

Reid himself confirmed the decision in a post on Twitter, in response to a call by pop star Lady Gaga following MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday night, Sept. 12.

Gaga attended the awards show with three LGBT former servicemembers who were discharged under DADT and a former West Point cadet who left the academy in protest over the policy.

The four were U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Hall, former U.S. Air Force Major Mike Almy, former U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Stacy Vasquez and former West Point cadet Katie Miller, all members of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The pop star then spoke about the importance of repealing DADT during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres after the VMAs.

The following day, Gaga sent a Tweet to all her followers urging them to contact Reid and urge him to schedule a Senate vote on repeal. Reid responded with a Tweet saying the vote had been scheduled for this coming week.

The decision — if it sticks — is an important step forward for activists hoping to repeal the federal law that bans openly gay servicemembers from the military.

Many political observers are predicting that Republicans could take over the majority in the Senate and/or House at the mid-term elections. Such a development would almost certainly kill any chance of repeal for DADT during President Barack Obama’s first term.

The DADT repeal language was attached to the annual bill that authorizes Department of Defense spending. The language calls for repeal of the military’s ban on gay servicemembers to begin after the Secretary of Defense receives an “implementation report” he has asked for, due Dec. 1, and after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff have signed a statement certifying that they have considered whatever recommendations are made in the report, prepared the necessary regulations to accompany repeal, and certified that repeal is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

Fiscal year 2011 begins Oct. 1. With the congressional clock ticking down the last days of fiscal year 2010, the pressure is on to finish off remaining budget bills authorizing spending and appropriating FY 2011 monies.

If Congress fails to settle its budget bills by the end of FY 2010, it has the option of passing “continuing resolutions” — bills that simply set the next year’s fiscal budget at the same levels as the current year.

According to the New York Times, the Senate typically spends about two weeks on the defense spending bill. Last year’s defense authorization bill was passed by the Senate in July, but it took lawmakers more than two months to resolve differences between the Senate and House versions.

So, there is no certainty that DADT will, in fact, come up during the first week or that it will even get a vote before FY 2010 runs out.

Meanwhile, when the defense authorization bill does come to the floor and the Senate begins debate on the language seeking to repeal DADT, the debate is expected to be vigorous, at least from opponents.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republicans have made clear they are steadfastly against repeal. The question is whether Democrats believe support for repeal could lose them votes during the mid-term elections, and potentially control of Congress.

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay candidate for Kansas Legislature receives death threat

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — An openly gay Democratic candidate for the Kansas Legislature says he received a death threat containing anti-gay slurs.

Dan Manning of Wichita says he found the threat on his front door Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21 after returning from work. He says it contained cut-out words and letters from a newspaper, including “Kill” and “Will die,” as well as homophobic comments.

Manning, a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army, says he notified Wichita police, who are investigating. He says the note scared him, but also strengthened his resolve to run.

Manning faces Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr in the Nov. 2 election. Landwehr condemned the death threat, saying such actions have no place in America.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Manning says his sexual orientation hasn’t been an issue with voters he has spoken with in his campaigning.

—  John Wright