Dunn wants to be a voice for LGBT Amarillo

CHURCH TIES | Amarillo mayoral candidate Sandra Dunn is a member of the board at Metropolitan Community Church of Amarillo. (James Bright/Dallas Voice)

Transgender mayoral candidate says anti-gay pastor’s campaign prompted friends to encourage her to run, but she is running to make the city better for everyone

JAMES BRIGHT  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

The opportunity to run for public office appeals to people from all walks of life. Sometimes these races attract more candidates than anyone would expect.

One such election is the mayoral race in Amarillo. There are 11 candidates registered for the May election, and transgender graduate student Sandra Dunn is hoping to motivate the LGBT community of Amarillo to put her ahead of the rest.

Although Dunn hopes she will have the opportunity to help the citizens of Amarillo, it was a few of her friends who got her to run for the office. She said they approached her after outspoken anti-gay pastor David Grisham filed to run in the election.

But Dunn’s reasons for pursing the office have nothing to do with Grisham.

“It can’t be about David Grisham,” she said. “It’s time to step forward into the light, wake everyone up, shake some cages, let people know that there are transgenders here and they can do the job.”

Dunn said the financial sector is where she hopes to make most of her changes if elected mayor.

“There’s a lot of money being spent on ideas that could be spent on infrastructure,” she said.

Safety is another area Dunn hopes to secure if elected. She said there are arrow signs throughout the city, some of which require maintenance and some of which are dangerous to drivers.

“Some of these signs are blocking stop signs,” she said.

Although Dunn only recently expressed interest in holding office, she has been involved in Amarillo politics for some time as a business owner. A retired Army reservist, holding the rank of Sgt. 1st Class, Dunn opened a military surplus store that took up about a city block. Unfortunately tragedy struck when Dunn’s business partner was beaten to death on July 29, which led to the closure of the store.

“We were building toward having a business we could run when we retired,” she said.

Dunn relied on her partner, and due to his death could not afford to keep the store open. The ripples of this tragedy have reached so far as to affect Dunn’s filing for the election.

Although she planned to transition in both name and gender early in the winter of 2010, the death of her partner made it impossible to go through with those plans. Due to the fact that she was unable to obtain a legal name change prior to the filing date of the election, Dunn was forced to register as F.E. (SandraDunn) Dunaway, using her birth name on the ballot and her name of choice as a nickname.

Dunn said her name came from an eclectic mix of influences. Dunn came from a family member for whom she has great respect, but Sandra came from a more unorthodox place.

“When I was younger I knew a bunch of girls named Sandra and they were always fun, so I went with that,” she said.

Later, Dunn and a few of her friends got together and decided she needed a middle name. After a short brainstorm, they settled on Faye — and Sandra Faye Dunn was officially born.

Despite the tragedy that befell Dunn over the past year, she has managed to maintain a stellar relationship with her family. She was married to the same woman for 16 years and is close with her kids, and Dunn said her daughter has thoroughly enjoyed her run for office.

“She has had the opportunity to do ‘Trans 101’ many times,” she said.

Although Dunn’s 25-year-old son lives in a different city, she said he is just as supportive when it comes to her campaign.

“He recognizes it’s my life and he stands beside me,” she said.

If Dunn is elected, she said the LGBT community would know they have voice that’s coming from them. She said there is still a lot of discrimination and she would like to work to combat how differences are handled in the city of Amarillo.

“You experience this mostly when applying for a job,” she said. “It’s almost like your IQ has dropped.”

Dunn said she is not trying to change the attitude of citizens of Amarillo, but will work to find a peaceful solution to their differences.

“Everyone is entitled to their beliefs,” she said. “What I’m after is to get people to open up their minds and see what these people are about. Be upfront with your beliefs, but don’t be hateful.”

Dunn said Grisham’s campaign and his group Repent Amarillo run off negative imagery and messaging. Although she has had only one encounter with him and has not personally heard him disparage her, Dunn said Grisham has poured out his opinions on his Facebook page.

“He spews a lot of hate and is very disrespectful,” she said.

Grisham isn’t alone with as far as being affiliated with a church. Dunn serves on the board of the Metropolitan Community Church of Amarillo as the secretary. She said she attends 98 percent of the church functions and enjoys the diversity in the congregation. “We have straight people who come here too,” she said.

Regardless of what happens in May, it is really a win-win situation for Dunn who will complete her masters degree in psychology online from the University of the Rockies in Colorado. She said if she doesn’t win she will most likely not run again in two years, but instead spend her time counseling transgender people like herself.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Ramos refuses to resign, hurls new epithets

Dan Ramos

Daniel Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, reports that Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Ramos refused to apologize or resign during a press conference earlier today.

Instead, Ramos hurled new epithets and against referred to gay Democrats as “termites,” said Graney, who lives in San Antonio.

Graney said Ramos is holding a fundraiser tonight for the Democratic Party in downtown San Antonio, and members of Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio plan to protest outside.

From the Bexar County Democrats website, directly above a photo of Ramos:

Who We Are

Before all other things, we are a family of many different kinds of people. We come from all walks of life. We are home-makers, business people, factory workers, public servants, educators, soldiers, preachers, you name it – we’ve got it. We come from all skin colors, religions, cultures, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities. We don’t exclude. That is who we are!

UPDATE: Sam Sanchez of QSanAntonio.com was at the press conference and reports that rather than resigning, Ramos said gays are like “white termites who have infiltrated the party much like termites infiltrate your house.”

Ramos called Choco Meza, the woman who opposed him in last year’s election, a lesbian, and he said gays have infiltrated the party. Sanchez reports that Ramos called Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie a racist bastard and an idiot who is advised by gay people.

CORRECTION: As indicated in the comment below, Ramos did not hold the fundraiser. The event was sponsored by Proud Democrats of San Antonio, a group that has not yet condemned Ramos’ statements. The top of their website indicates that they promote equality, diversity and tolerance. I guess that would include Nazi termites.

—  David Taffet

Ladies first

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas proves just why the city needs them

M.M. Adjarian  | Contributing Writer MMAdjarian@GMail.com

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas
LADIES FOR CHOIR | The Women’s Chorus of Dallas plans to go above and beyond on their next season.

GALA CHORUS CONCERT
With the Turtle Creek Chorale. Cathedral of Hope,
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Sept. 5 at 4 p.m. GalaChoruses.org or TWCD.org.

For more than 20 years, the Women’s Chorus of Dallas thrived, happily performing with  SMU’s Caruth Auditorium as its base of operation. But when the chance came last March to become one of the companies based in the new AT&T Performing Arts Center, the group leapt at the opportunity.

“It was pretty powerful when we first moved in there and had our first rehearsal,” recalls Melinda Imthurn, TWCD’s artistic director. “It felt like a different chorus. The women — I could just see it in their faces and hear it in their voices — felt [like] they were home.”

The chorus had arrived — in more ways than one. The move sent a clear message about TWCD’s importance as a Dallas arts organization, and “[as a specifically] women’s arts organization in the Arts District,” says Imthurn. The group does their part to let Dallas shine as part of this weekend’s Gala Choruses Annual

Leadership Conference and plays host, with the Turtle Creek Chorale, as the resident vocal groups of this area.

Like most music groups of its kind, the chorus —originally founded in 1989 as a lesbian community arts organization — started small. The Women’s Chorus has matured into a group with a diverse membership and a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic face reflective of the city’s denizens. Choral performers come from all walks of life and sexual orientations and bring with them a wide range of musical talents, abilities and skills.

That diversity doesn’t stop at the kinds of women who perform with the chorus. The group incorporates costumes, dancing and the spoken word into its concerts, enhancing the overall vocal vibrancy. As Imthurn explains, these performance extras, combined with concerts that are scripted to more resemble theatrical presentations, “make the music more accessible to people, especially those who might not have experience with choral music.”

And then there’s the superbly eclectic repertoire. Much of what TWCD performs at any given concert is choral music from the venerable European tradition. But there are the musical surprises that include everything from Billboard hits to Broadway show tunes to African folk songs … all presented without missing a stylistic beat. TWCD prides itself on being appropriate to each genre. “[It’s] something the chorus works hard at,” says Imthurn.

In keeping with its mission to promote the “strength, diversity and joy of women,” much of the material that the chorus presents is, one way or another, woman-centered. And it is one of the few organizations that gives voice, both literally and figuratively, to lesbian themes onstage. One of the upcoming projects that Imthurn is especially excited about for the 2010–11 season is a performance at the Texas Discovery Garden for Mother’s Day.

“What we’ll be doing for that particular performance is first [to] sing songs that honor mothers, grandmothers, parental-type figures, mentors, teachers and secondly [to sing songs] about nature,” Imthurn says. TWCD members will then encircle the garden’s butterfly sanctuary and 100 butterflies will be released.

TWCD also maintains a keen sense of social mission. It has actively raised awareness of issues pertaining to AIDS and domestic violence prevention; it also participates in fundraising for such organizations as AIDS LifeWalk, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

According to Imthurn, in everything it does, the chorus is clearly a group that takes the “art” in “heart” and brings it to a new level … which is what drew Imthurn — who started as a performer with TWCD in 2004 — to the group in the first place.

“What made me fall in love with the chorus was the heart of the chorus and the heart you can hear in the music,” she says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas