On World AIDS Day: some HIV statistics

For World AIDS Day, here are some statistics gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and the Dallas County Department of Health about HIV/AIDS:

• Someone becomes infected with HIV every 9½ minutes.

• One in five people infected with HIV is unaware of it.

• Since 1981, more than 30 million people worldwide have died from the disease.

• Since 1981, more than 600,000 in the United States have died from the disease.

• 61,595 people in Texas are infected with HIV.

• Today, 34 million people worldwide have HIV/AIDS.

• Although African-Americans make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up nearly half the people in the country who are living with HIV.

• Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans living with HIV do not have their infection under control.

• About 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV.

• Only 28 percent of those have a suppressed viral load.

• Of those living with HIV who are in ongoing care and on anti-retroviral treatment, 77 percent have suppressed levels of the virus.

• Only 51 percent of those with HIV in the United States receive ongoing medical care and treatment.

On Dec. 1, AIDS organizations from across Dallas County will gather at Main Street Garden at 7:30 p.m. for an AIDS remembrance.

—  David Taffet

DCHHS offering free HIV tests on World AIDS Day

Tomorrow — Thursday, Dec. 1 — is World AIDS Day, and special events are planned across the Metroplex, including an event at Main Street Garden at 7:30 p.m. in downtown Dallas, and a display of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, free HIV testing and more at Cathedral of Hope, beginning at 11 a.m.

Now Dallas County Health and Human Services has announced that they will be offering free rapid HIV testing from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Early Intervention Clinic on the third floor of the DCHHS building, 2377 N. Stemmons Frwy. in Dallas.

DCHHS is also offering free tests for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside DCHHS’ mobile medical clinic, which will be stationed at Paul Quinn College, 3837 Simpson Stuart Road; and free HIV and syphilis testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle in Denton, with testing locations on campus at the student wellness center, Kerr Hall, the student union and Discovery Park.

And if you can’t get to one of these location on Thursday, the mobile medical unit will be at the Big T Bazaar, 4515 Village Fair Drive in Dallas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, for free testing, too.

According to 2010 statistics provided by DCHHS, nearly 14,000 people in Dallas County are living with HIV, and about 908 new cases of HIV/AIDS were diagnosed here last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV and — here’s the scary part — 1 in 5 don’t even know they are infected with the virus.

Remember people: You cannot get proper treatment for HIV if you don’t know you are infected. You cannot take proper precautions to avoid passing the virus to someone else if you don’t know you are infected. And you won’t know if you are infected unless you get tested!

—  admin

Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett to participate in World AIDS Day event

Dallas Cowboys' tight end Martellus Bennett

Dallas Cowboys’ tight end Martellus Bennett will speak Thursday, Dec. 1 at the World AIDS Day event at Main Street Garden in Downtown Dallas at 7:30 p.m.

Bennett may be best known in the LGBT community for cheating on a girlfriend who had nude pics of him last year — and for making a rap video that included a gay slur the year before.

The theme of World AIDS Day this year is “Getting to Zero.” Organizers said that meant zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Among the other speakers at the hour-long event are restaurant-owner Monica Greene, Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation founder Anthony Chisom, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt. Openly gay Cantor Don Croll will begin the event with an invocation. Pastor Doris G. Deckard, founder of the Church of the Solid Rock, will close the ceremony. The Women’s Chorus of Dallas and the African drum ensemble from Booker T. Washington High School will perform.

Six panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display.

The Greater Than AIDS movement will set up a video and photo booth where individuals can share their “Deciding Moment” — a personal decision to take a stand against HIV and to be greater than the disease.

Local HIV/AIDS organizations and community groups will be on hand with information on HIV prevention, care, and treatment.

The event is free and open to the public. Main Street Garden, 1900 Main Street. Dec. 1, 7:30-8:30 p.m.

—  David Taffet

SMU marks World AIDS Day with film screening

Dec. 1 isn’t just World AIDS Day — it’s also the 22nd annual Day With(out) Art, a movement launched in 1989 by the group Visual AIDS to mark the effect of the AIDS crisis on the arts community. In observance of the day, SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts will be among more than 50 colleges, museums and arts groups holding a free screening of the film Untitled.

Untitled, from Jim Hodges, Encke King and Carlos Marques da Cruz,  is an hour-long,  non-linear documentary featuring montages of archival footage recalling the period of activism in the early days of the AIDS crisis. The screening will take place in the Greer Carson Screening Room (room 3527) of the Owen Arts Building on SMU’s campus, 6101 Bishop Ave. at 5:30 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

World AIDS Day event planned in Plano

Roseann Rosetti opening a Quilt panel

In addition to co-sponsoring the World AIDS Day event at the new Main Street Garden in Dallas, C.U.R.E. will host a commemoration in Plano.

Billed as a ceremony of healing and hope, the Plano gathering will remember people lost to AIDS. Panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display. It takes place at Community Unitarian Universalist Church at 2875 East Parker Road. Plano-based Health Services of North Texas is also sponsoring.

“Our ceremony will include the dedication of new panels created by family and friends of a loved one lost to AIDS,” said C.U.R.E. co-founder Roseann Rosetti. “The new panels will be presented to The Names Project Foundation to be included as part of the nationally acclaimed AIDS Memorial Quilt.”

Anyone with a new panel to present may attend the ceremony.

“If you would like to present a panel in honor of someone you know and love, C.U.R.E. will be honored have you dedicate and present your panel at our World AIDS Day ceremony,” Rosetti said.

The panels will be sent to the Names Project’s home in Atlanta to be sewn into blocks for exhibit.

—  David Taffet

Remembering the fallen and helping others bear burdens

DFW Sisters will once again mark World AIDS Day by taking their Veil of Remembrance into the community for signatures

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NEVER FORGET | Sister MaeLynn Hanzment, left, and Sister Ophelia Nutz handle the Veil of Remembrance from World AIDS Day 2010 with loving care. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Names have power. And for those who have lost a loved one to AIDS, being able to write those names down and know the memories those names evoke will be preserved and treasured in doing so, can be powerful medicine for healing.

The DFW Sisters, Abbey of the Lone Star, will once again give members of DFW’s LGBT community the opportunity to exercise that healing when they take to the streets on World AIDS Day with their Veil of Remembrance.

“It’s our way of honoring those we’ve lost and making sure their memories live on,” explained Sister Ophelia Nutz, mistress of rituals and ceremonies for the DFW Sisters.

The Veil is a plain white cloth that Sister Ophelia will wear attached to her headdress. Anyone who has lost someone to HIV/AIDS is welcome to write that person’s name on the Veil.

The DFW Sisters, a fully professed house of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence elevated by The United Nuns Privy Council in October, created their first Veil of Remembrance last year as they marked their first World AIDS Day as an officially recognized Sisters mission.

“We spent most of the day last year at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, participating in their World AIDS Day event,” Sister Ophelia said. “They had just lost a fairly prominent community member there to AIDS, and once they found out what we were doing, what the Veil was for, everyone there wanted to sign it.”

After that event, the sisters came back to Dallas, taking the Veil into the bars here.

“People reacted to the Veil as if it weren’t that big of a deal really — until they thought of someone they had lost,” Sister Ophelia said. “But when they were told that they could write that person’s name on the Veil, that they could write down that memory, some people got very emotional. There’s more than one tear stain on that Veil, I promise you. Some people were too emotional to even sign it themselves, so they asked me to write down a name and a date for them.”

This year, she said, the sisters will start the day by taking the Veil to the noon hot meals program lunch at Resource Center Dallas. Then they will head to Fort Worth for World AIDS Day events at the Tarrant County Health Department, before coming back to Dallas to participate in the World AIDS Day events being held in downtown Dallas

The sisters will wind up the night by taking the Veil to the bars in Dallas.

“We’ll just meander, handing out pens and gathering signatures on the Veil,” Sister Ophelia said.

Sister Ophelia said that she wore the Veil throughout the day on World AIDS Day last year, and will do so again this year. But when the sisters head out next Thursday, they will do so with a new Veil, ready for more names and memories.

Last year’s Veil, Sister Ophelia said, was retired at the end of the night, just as this year’s Veil will be.

She said the sisters will start the day by “saying a few words to kind of sanctify the veil, make it ready to hold those precious memories.” And at the end of the night, they will once again gather to honor the memories this year’s Veil will hold.

“Afterwards, in a more private ritual, we will gather to read the names on the Veil and to light candles in their memory,” Sister Ophelia said.

“At the end, we will have a ceremony to fold the Veil and put it away. We take good care of the Veils; we hold them close and dear to us, just like those who signed it hold their lost loved ones close and dear.”

The Sistory

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were born in San Francisco in 1979 when, tired of the monotony of the city’s ever-present “clone” trend, three men donned nuns’ habits (given in 1976 by a convent of Roman Catholic nuns to a group in Iowa called the Sugar Plum Fairies for a production of The Sound of Music, and a year later transported to San Francisco by Ken Bunch, who later became Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch) and headed out to the local nude beach on Easter weekend.

By the end of the year, their ranks had grown and they chose the name Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, adopting as their mission statement, “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”

The sisters participated in a variety of activities, from performing their pom-pom routine at the first Gay Olympics (now the Gay Games), to protesting the Three Mile Island nuclear plant to staging a gay disco/bingo fundraiser for gay Cuban refugees.

But by 1981, AIDS had begun to emerge as the LGBT community’s biggest, most devastating threat, even though it wasn’t yet called AIDS. The sisters produced the world’s first fundraiser for an AIDS organization that year, a dog show that featured singer Sylvester as one of the judges.

By 1982, San Francisco was at crisis levels, and two sisters, Florence Nightmare and Roz Erection, both registered nurses, worked with other medical professionals to create “Play Fair!,” a safer-sex pamphlet intended to help curb the spread of “the gay cancer” and other STDs.

As the epidemic grew, the sisters fought harder, doing their best to spread the word not just about preventing AIDS but about LGBT equality in general. But the disease was taking its toll: “In 1984, ’85, the sisters in San Francisco had about 16 members. Within a year, that number had dropped to four, because people were dying so fast from AIDS,” Sister Ophelia said.

“That’s why the sisters always have a purse full of safe sex kits,” she added. “And since the Dallas County health department stopped doing it, we are the only ones in Dallas handing out free condoms.”

More than camp

While many people may think of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as little more than campy entertainment, for the sisters themselves, it is serious business, Sister Ophelia said.

“For a lot of us, for most of us, this is a real calling, a way to give something back to the community,” she said. “This isn’t just something we do for fun. And it’s not something just anyone can do. There’s a whole process you have to go through to be a sister, and we have a packet that everyone who wants to be a sister has to read right at the start that explains the cost, so that they know what is involved.

“There’s just so much more to it than people realize,” Sister Ophelia added. “People just don’t realize everything that goes in to being a sister.”

She points to another “veil” the sisters offer up — the Veil of Shame — as an example of how the sisters serve their community as so much more than just comic relief.

On the Veil of Shame, Sister Ophelia said, the sisters invite people to write down “every hateful, mean thing that has ever been said to them or done to them, to write that down and let it go. We offer to bear that burden for them, and afterwards, we take the veil out and we have a ceremony to burn it, to release all that negative energy and to let that burden go.

“The last time we did the Veil of Shame, I had several people tell me how much easier they felt after writing that stuff down,” she added. “And I have to tell you, to wear that veil, to carry around all that pain — it took everything I had in me not to break down and start bawling my eyes out.”

Even without the Veil of Remembrance or the Veil of Shame, Sister Ophelia said that when the sisters go out in their garb, they often serve as a kind of spiritual advisor and confessor for the people they meet.

“If I go out to a bar in my regular clothes, just as myself, I am not going to have strangers walk up to me and start telling me their problems.

But when we  go out as the sisters, people come up to us all the time and they will tell us their deepest, darkest secrets. And we have to be ready to help them,” Sister Ophelia said.

“We’ve all had what we call ‘a sister moment,’ when something like that has happened to us,” she continued. “Maybe it’s because of the sense of anonymity we have when we go out in our makeup and our habits. I think that maybe that makes it easier for people to approach us. At least, it’s easier for those who aren’t afraid of clowns!”

And despite their camp antics and outrageous makeup and costumes, despite the fact that they are just men looking for a way to give something back to their community, Sister Ophelia said, when someone comes to them in need, whatever the need is, the sisters will answer the call.

“We have to be able to offer them help, to give them resources, to give them somewhere to go to get the help they need,” she said. “After all, that’s why we’re there.”

……………………..

2011 World AIDS Day

A coalition of 15 North Texas AIDS service agencies and other community organizations have joined forces this year to present a joint event commemorating World AIDS Day.

The 2011 World AIDS Day Dallas event will be held Thursday, Dec. 1, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Main Street Garden, 1900 Main St., in downtown Dallas. It will feature speeches by local community leaders and AIDS activists, performances by the Booker T. Washington High School African Drum Ensemble and The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, and a display of blocks from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Todd Hedrick, chair of the event and a board member with AIDS Interfaith Network, said organizers’ goal for the evening is to “raise awareness and help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Dallas,” in keeping with the national focus on “getting to zero,” meaning zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

AIDS Interfaith Network took the lead in organizing this year’s events. Partner organizations are AIDS Arms, AIDS Services of Dallas, the Anthony Chisum AIDS Foundation, Booker T. Washington High School, Bryan’s House, C.U.R.E., Legacy Counseling Center, Legal Hospice of Dallas, ONE, Out & Equal DFW, Parkland Health and Hospital System, Razzle Dazzle Dallas, Resource Center Dallas, RESULTS and The Women’s Chorus of Dallas.

Sponsors are AIN, Downtown Dallas Inc., Greater Than AIDS, Texas Instruments, BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, Dallas Light and Sound. ThinkHaus Creative, Avita Drugs, Caven Enterprises Inc., C.U.R.E., Dallas Tavern Guild, Kevin Sloan Studio, Michael Dyess and Bert Burkhalter, Sterling’s Bookkeeping and Tax Service and The UPS Store in Highland Park.

World AIDS Day at CoH
Cathedral of Hope UCC, located at 5910 Cedar Springs Road, will also be holding special World AIDS Day events on Thursday, beginning with a display of 20 panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, open that day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Free and anonymous HIV and syphilis testing provided by UT Southwestern Medical Center will be available at the church from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and F.A.C.E. — Faith Acceptance Caring Educating, an HIV/AIDS support group at the church, will host a reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., with organizations and resource groups from across the Metroplex invited to participate by having information tables at the reception.

A special worship service based on the “Get To Zero” theme and including a performance by the Turtle Creek Chorale begins at 7 p.m.

World AIDS Day in Tarrant County
The Tarrant County Public Health Department will be holding a World AIDS Day event Thursday, Dec. 1, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the health department offices, 1101 S. Main St. in Fort Worth.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Ellen DeGeneres named special envoy for global AIDS awareness

Ellen DeGeneres

While speaking today on HIV/AIDS issues at the National Institutes of Health, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that out, proud lesbian comedian, actress and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has been named a special envoy for global AIDS awareness.

In a statement in response to the announcement, DeGeneres said she is honored to have been chosen by Secretary Clinton for the position.

“The fight against AIDS is something that has always been close to my heart.  And I’m happy that I can use my platform to educate people and spread hope,” DeGeneres said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look up what ‘envoy’ means.”

In a letter to DeGeneres, Clinton said the talk show host’s “energy, compassion and star power” will make her an effective voice for AIDS awareness.

“Your words will encourage Americans in joining you to make their voices heard in our campaign to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The enormous platform of your television show and your social media channels will enable you to reach millions of people with the strong and hopeful message that we can win this fight,” Clinton wrote.

In addition to her studio and television audience for her talk show each day, DeGeneres reaches 8 million followers on Twitter and 5.8 million people through Facebook. She has been outspoken advocate on anti-bullying issues and an advocate on animal rescue and rehabilitation and breast cancer issues. DeGeneres previously worked with the advocacy organization ONE to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS issues.

Clinton’s speech today is expected to be the first in a series of speeches and messages from the Obama administration leading up to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

—  admin

CURE postpones quilt display

Tyler Sweatman

Tyler Sweatman, event director of CURE’s Dallas AIDS Memorial Quilt display, announced that the event has been postponed. Last week, he said, Pepsi pulled out as the event’s lead sponsor.

The event was to be held at the Dallas Convention Center the last weekend in September. It would have been the largest display of the Quilt in about 15 years.

The Collin County-based CURE wrote on its website:

After much discussion and careful evaluation the C.U.R.E. Board of Directors has decided to suspend preparation for C.U.R.E. 2011.

2011 has been a remarkable year with much attention and many initiatives presented to mark and commemorate 30 years of AIDS.  The year brought focus to the strides taken in treatment and medications for AIDS.   2011 reminded us of the 40 million people still living with HIV and AIDS but also, and of equal importance, the still increasing numbers of new infections.

“Pepsi was the lead cash sponsor and they pulled out at the 11th hour,” Sweatman said.

He said they’re looking for another company to sponsor the event and they hope it will happen in 2012. Sweatman is not on the board of CURE so he said he can’t speak for the group.

“But they’re regrouping right now,” he said.

He said he expects CURE to instead do something to mark World AIDS Day again this year. In each of the last few years, CURE has had a Quilt display in a storefront in downtown Plano and at various corporations in the city.

—  David Taffet

‘$30 for 30 years’ to help bring Quilt to Dallas

Tyler Sweatman and Rosemarie Odom at a 2010 Quilt display in Plano.

C.U.R.E. is bringing panels from the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt to the Dallas Convention Center from Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in commemoration of 30 years of AIDS.

The display will be the largest exhibit of panels since the entire quilt was laid out on the National Mall in Washington D.C. in 1996. Event coordinator Tyler Sweatman said he expects 8,000 panels to be shown in Dallas.

To sponsor a panel, C.U.R.E. started an adopt-a-panel campaign called “$30 for 30 years.” Click on the link to make a donation.

The Collin County-based group was founded by Rosemarie Odom and Roseann Rossetti in 2001 when they volunteered for a World AIDS Day Quilt display in Plano. The group’s goal is for people to take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS; to focus on HIV/AIDS education and outreach to the youth, women and community members of diverse ethnic background; and to present a public means of remembrance and healing.

—  David Taffet

On the road to Tyler with the Turtle Creek Chorale

Gay men’s chorus went to East Texas prepared for protest, but instead found a warm welcome

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

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NEW IN TOWN | Members of the Turtle Creek Chorale get off the bus in Tyler for their concert at First Presbyterian Church. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

TYLER — After their trip to Spain last summer, Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Jonathan Palant invited me to join them on their next trip. With expenses approved, I was ready. Little did I know that the group’s next tour would be a bus trip to Tyler.

On Saturday, Dec. 11, I accompanied the chorale members as they traveled to East Texas for an out-of-town tryout of their upcoming holiday concert.  One chorale member on the bus assured me, “It’s just like Spain — except nothing like it at all.”

Controversy surrounded the Tyler trip since the church that was originally to host the concert rescinded the invitation. That happened after several large donors threatened to pull their support, causing Marvin Methodist Church to inform the chorale they were no longer welcome to perform there.

But nearby First Presbyterian Church stepped in and welcomed the group to perform a concert as part of that church’s December music and fine arts series.

On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 11, the Chorale left from Cathedral of Hope at 2:30 p.m. in two buses. Several members drove separately.

The group started off for Tyler with at least a little nervousness. Demonstrators had protested the performance of The Laramie Project in Tyler over the summer.

The play about Matthew Shepard recalled a similar incident that occurred in Tyler in 1993 when Nicholas West was kidnapped and murdered in Bergfeld Park. On World AIDS Day this year, a plaque was unveiled in the park memorializing West’s death. That mere placing of a marker to remember a murder also stirred controversy in this East Texas city.

And the demonstrators had threatened to return to protest Saturday night’s chorale performance. Singers said that threat was on their minds as they drove to East Texas that afternoon. In its 31-year history, the chorale has never been protested.

When the buses pulled up to the church right off of Broadway, Tyler’s main street, only church staff greeted the chorale. No protesters in sight.

Chorale members retrieved their garment bags from under the buses, filed into the church, laid their concert attire down over the pews and quickly gathered at the pulpit to begin blocking and rehearsing.

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GETTING READY | The Turtle Creek Chorale rehearses at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler before their performance there Saturday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Several songs got full run-throughs. The singers’ entrance and exit from the pulpit-turned-stage was quickly improvised. Small groups like Encore, soloists, a drum group and a tambourine quartet figured out how they would make their way from various positions among the chorus to front and off-center on the main floor.

Betelehemu, a Nigerian Christmas song, required foot motion and hand gestures during the performance. A few members weren’t coordinating their motions. Palant suggested those singers only do the hand gestures. A second run-through of the song went smoother.

At 6 p.m., the church served dinner in the Fellowship Hall. By 6:50 p.m., most of the singers were upstairs in the classrooms, changing into their tuxedos.

I checked the sidewalks around the church. Still no protesters.

The pews were already filling up.

At 7:10 p.m., everyone met in the chapel behind the main sanctuary. Don Jones, who signs every concert for the hearing-impaired, rehearsed the group’s signing of Silent Night.

Then Palant reviewed what he called stage etiquette.

“Jackets unbuttoned,” he said.

Someone joked that was because Palant could no longer button his.

“Never applaud our own singers,” Palant said. “Smile.”

Don’t wipe tears. Emotion is good. Wiping is distracting. Place hands down when jazz hands aren’t required.

For the chorale, no gesture, no motion, no entrance on stage goes unrehearsed.

Before leaving the chapel, everyone joined hands for a pre-performance chorale ritual: Palant said the Jewish prayer of thanks that marks special occasions called Shehechianu.

He said the prayer was a favorite of his in his own tradition and it became a chorale tradition in his second season. Members embraced it and several explained its beauty to me.

Palant told the singers that this concert was an example of “the power of harmony to tear down walls.”

Some audience members had arriving early because of a mix-up in the newspaper. The Patriot Singers and Chorale of UT Tyler were scheduled at 6 p.m. the following night. The newspaper switched the Dallas group and UT’s appearances.

When told who tonight’s performers were, one couple left. Another several shrugged and decide to stay anyway.

By 7:30 p.m., the sanctuary was standing room only. Although no protesters showed up outside the church, the audience was as aware of the controversy as the chorale.

Cecily Luft is a board member of the church. She said that two weeks earlier, the chapel where the chorale was now gathered was the site of a World AIDS Day service and the dedication ceremony for the Nicholas West plaque.

Rabbi Neal Katz from Tyler’s Congregation Beth El and the Rev. Stuart Baskin, First Presbyterian’s pastor, conducted the service, said Luft. Sheriff Lupe Valdez also spoke at the event in the church.

Luft said that when Music Director Donald Duncan told the board about what happened at the Methodist church down the street, they unanimously voted to invite the chorale to perform there.

“Gay” never entered the discussion, she said.

“This is the most gay-friendly church in Tyler,” Luft said. “It just was never an issue.”

Then she boasted, “And we have the best acoustics in Tyler.”

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READY TO TAKE THE STAGE | Turtle Creek Chorale members dressed for performance wait to begin their concert at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The acoustics were magnificent in the church and the chorale sounded best from the choir loft or balcony at the rear of the church.

After the chorale filed into the sanctuary and sang its first number, Deck the Halls, Duncan welcomed the group to Tyler.

“Despite the controversy surrounding your venue, we are very glad you are here,” he said. “As you can see by the crowd, a whole lot of people in Tyler are welcoming you, too, and you are welcome back anytime.”

His remarks were interrupted by applause several times.

Later in the concert, Palant introduced several people, including the group Tyler Area Gays, which filled several rows and had done much of the publicity for the event. Loud applause from the crowd greeted Tyler’s gay group.

Duncan acknowledged NPR reporter Wade Goodwin, who was there working on a piece about the chorale for Public Radio.

The audience took Palant’s jokes in good humor, including calling Tyler “the bastion of liberalism,” although his question, “Are there any Latin scholars here?” met silence followed by uneasy laughter.

Throughout the show, the applause was warm, but Betelehemu brought a number of audience members to their feet. If any of the swaying on stage was not coordinated, no one noticed.

After the concert, CD sales were brisk.

One audience member filing out of the church made a point of saying, “We’re Methodists and we loved it,” indicating that not everyone at Marvin Methodist agreed with that church’s decision to uninvite the group.

On the return bus trip to Dallas, everyone was excited about the day.

“I thought it was a great performance,” said chorale member Kevin Hodges. “I told a woman who said ‘thank you’ that it’s a joy for us.”

“I was choking back tears,” said singer Gene Olvera. “Invigorating,” added Darrin Humphrey, another chorale member.

“To me, it’s the sort of thing that made me stay in the chorale 17 years,” said C. E. Bunkley. “There’s purpose to it.”

Palant told the riders in his bus that he wants to do another out-of-town performance next year in another city that might not be completely welcoming.

He said that unlike many other gay men’s choruses around the country, the chorale gets out of the gay ghetto: “That’s part of our mission.”

“It was fun,” said chorale President Dean Baugh. “Up until the point I looked out and people were crying.”

“I was very proud,” said singer Hank Henley.

On the return bus ride, chorale members discussed the lack of protesters. Several suggested that as much as some might have been offended by the chorale’s appearance in town, maybe that group has more shame than Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro clan and just wouldn’t protest a church.

Palant commented on the energy he felt from both the audience and his group. “As a performer, you perform with your dukes up,” he said. “You puff up your chest and it influences the performance. Tonight was a good example. They fed off our energy and we fed off theirs. We wanted to give them more.”

He said he consciously did not bring up the controversy of the location but was glad that Duncan had.

“I wanted to make an issue of it earlier on,” said Stephen Tosha, the chorale’s senior executive director. He said he wanted the chorale to move more in that direction.

But singer DiMarcus Williams summed up why most of the members of the chorale devote so much time and energy and why they spend so much of their own money to continue performing with the group.

“It was nice to be performing in front of such a welcoming and receptive audience,” said Williams.

Turtle Creek Chorale Holiday Concert, Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. $30–$67. TurtleCreek.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas