Openly gay candidate runs for chair of Denton County Democratic Party

John McClelland serves on water board, founded chapters of Drinking Liberally and Stonewall Democrats

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IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED | John McClelland lost races for Dallas City Council and Texas House before winning a seat on the local water board. Now he’s running for Denton County Democratic Party chair.

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

DENTON — When he got elected to the district board of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply in March 2010, John McClelland says he became the first openly gay elected official in the county’s history.

This year he’s running for chair of the county’s Democratic Party with the hopes of finally turning Denton — and possibly the whole Lone Star State — blue.

And it all started with a drink.

When President George W. Bush got re-elected in 2004, McClelland consoled himself with the thought that things in the U.S. couldn’t really get much worse. Then in 2005, they did.

The state’s voters passed Proposition 2, an amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Texas Constitution.

McClelland had identified as a Republican during his college days, but gradually came to feel like he couldn’t be gay in the GOP.

He spent time making phone calls, marching on the Capitol and organizing voters against Prop 2. But in the end it still passed with 76 percent of the vote. And by the time it was all over, all McClelland wanted was a drink.

He’d read about Drinking Liberally, a group of New York progressives dedicated to discussing politics over drinks, so he decided to start his own

Addison chapter. He placed an ad on Craigslist and seven people showed up, mostly wondering why he’d even bothered organizing a progressive meeting in such a conservative state.

“Most of the people just wanted a place to sit down, talk and air their grievances, kinda like

Festivus [the made-up holiday celebrated on TV’s Seinfeld], just without the pole and the wrestling match,” he said.

But as the meet-ups continued, McClelland felt he couldn’t just sit around without doing something to make the world a better place. So in 2007, he decided to run against Ron Natinsky for the Dallas City Council District 12 seat.

Natinsky got 4,452 votes. McClelland got 979.

Undeterred, he decided to run against Republican incumbent Myra Crownover in the 2008 race for Texas House District 64.

Crownover received 40,758 votes and McClelland only received 28,195. But considering that Crownover had raised $216,471 for her campaign and McClelland had only raised $28,134, McClelland considered it a worthwhile achievement.

“Being an openly gay, Democrat in a red district in Denton County, that’s pretty good.”

Though he admits that having Barack Obama at the top of the ticket certainly helped, McClelland feels that voters didn’t care that he was a Democrat or gay; they just wanted new leadership and knew that McClelland was qualified.

Though he kept hanging out with the Drinking Liberally crowd, after Obama got elected in 2008, their national outlook became more optimistic.

Instead of complaining about Bush all the time, they complained about the Republicans controlling the state Legislature.

Likewise, McClelland himself had changed. Not only had he run two local races, he had also founded the Stonewall Democrats of Denton County, the national gay political organization’s fifth chapter in North Texas.

“It’s important for LGBT people to have that sort of thing, to be around one another and educate the people that you’re dealing with in the grand scheme of the big tent,” McClelland says. “There are a lot of people who don’t even know what Stonewall means. A lot of people think it refers to Stonewall Jackson, the war general, instead of Stonewall bar.”

He continued acting as his Stonewall chapter’s president after he got elected to the district board of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply in March 2010. But after three years in the office, he has stepped down and refocused his efforts on becoming Denton County Democratic Party chair.

Typically, a county Democratic Party chair supports Democratic campaigns by working closely with candidates, conducting primary elections and helping precinct chairs get out the vote.

But McClelland thinks that the Denton County Democratic Party can do a lot more to help make this happen. As chair, he would train precinct chairs on how to use voter databases to contact voters and host events, fundraise through local donors who normally give to the Democratic

National Committee but not to their local party (“the money doesn’t trickle down,” he says) and prepare future candidates and party organizers through a county program called “Project Farm Team.”

Right now he has 2,000 hangers sitting on his floor just waiting to grace the doors of potential voters.

“I want to get Democrats elected, that’s the main reason I’m doing this, that’s the goal,” McClelland said. “Without Denton or Collin county, it’s gonna be a pretty tough spot getting a Democrat elected, like a governor or a U.S. Senator. Getting Denton County to turn blue is one of the keys to getting the entire state to turn blue.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

BUSINESS: Beaming with Pride

Gay couple Mark Reed and Dante Walkup fulfill their decade-old dream of installing LED lights on Reunion Tower

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GLOWING NEW SHOWROOM | Dante Walkup, left, and Mark Reed recently moved Wiedamark Lighting to a new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. (Patrick Hoffman/Special to the Voice)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

When Mark Reed and Dante Walkup became a serious couple in 2000, they agreed they wanted to have fun in their 50s. But to do that they’d want to leave their respective jobs as a furniture salesman and a psychologist and start their own business.

Having spent the last year installing LED lights around their Las Colinas home, the couple decided they’d use their sales and communications skills to start an LED lighting company — a relatively new business idea at the time.

They converted their three-car garage into a warehouse and turned their basement, bedroom and kitchen into workspaces for them and five other employees.

Since then, Wiedamark has grown into a $3.5 million dollar company with about 300 retailers internationally and a brand new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. But from their very first year, Reed and Walkup knew they wanted to put their business on the map by updating one of Dallas’ most iconic buildings — they wanted to refit Reunion Tower with their LEDs.

Tower

HIGH LIGHTS OF THE JOB | A technician from Ropeworks installs one of the 259 new fixtures. (Frank Huster/Special to the Voice)

If you’ve ever been on Cedar Springs, chances are you’ve probably seen some of Wiedamark’s lights. The fiberglass chandelier hanging over the bar at Sue Ellen’s, the mood-lighting wall sconces in the Rose Room at S4, the colored lighting at the Legacy of Love Monument — that’s all Wiedamark.

Reed and Walkup don’t usually install the lights themselves. They order the fixtures from China and Taiwan, then resell them to retailers who install them for companies looking to add a splash of color to their venues.

After several years on Oak Lawn Avenue near Maple, Wiedamark recently relocated to Harry Hines. Their new digs are easy to ignore by day but lit up in turquoise, emerald and ruby at night. Inside, it seems more like an art gallery than a commercial space.

Over their reception desk hangs four large lime-green letters spelling “LOVE.” A wall-size LED screen in their conference room displays an unfurling rainbow, its bows opening up like the pages of a book. But the colorful hallway in the back contains the real wonders: sculpted walls that seem to breathe in the golden-to-violet light, dance floor tiles that change color with each step and a mirrored lounge with a glistening ceiling of twinkling LED stars.

Interiors, exteriors, landscapes, pools, bars, bathrooms — you name it, they can put lights in it.

They’ve provided resort lighting in Jamaica and highlights at the Maya Bar in New Zealand, just to name a few. A wealthy Saudi Arabian once wanted them to install high-end lights in his palace. Instead of traveling to his home country, they invited him to meet them during a trip to Vienna.

Reed and Walkup say that in their nine years of business they have never made a single cold call. As one of the first online shippers of LED equipment, the customers found them.

Their first year in, the Hyatt Hotel hired them to light its Christmas party, giving Reed and Walkup the perfect chance to share their Reunion Tower idea with Hyatt’s head of engineering, Brett Killingsworth. The idea instantly intrigued him.

In many ways LEDs were better than the tower’s older, 130-watt bulbs: LEDs use a fraction of the energy, stay cool to the touch and can last up to 10 times longer than old-fashioned bulbs. But unfortunately for Reed and Walkup, 2004 technology had not yet advanced far enough to make LED lights visible on the tower from miles away.

So immediately, Reed and Walkup’s team began working on an improved LED design that would take five years to complete.

To help make the light more visible from a greater range of view, they fitted a spherical dome onto a flat-surfaced LED, creating something resembling the Jetsons’ space car.

At 4 a.m. one day,  Walkup took the prototype and held it off the top of Reunion Tower while Reed checked whether he could see it clearly from four different locations several miles away. He could.

But the prototype had a major design flaw — it couldn’t keep out rainwater. A high-pressure water test left its circuit board drenched, something that would cause it to fail in a storm.

So over the next few years, they bolted the LED dome to a hexagonal metal base which increased the size and weight while preventing seepage. But even then, their design corroded when exposed to salty air conditions.

Frustrated with their failed attempts, Reed and Walkup turned to an engineer friend for help. He streamlined their design

Ball

SHINING DEBUT | The tower was fittingly awash in rainbow colors on New Year’s Eve.

into a lighter, less clunky model made entirely of non-corrosive stainless steel. And best of all, it kept out rainwater.
Sixteen weeks later, they had manufactured all the lights they needed.

But now that they had a workable design, they had an even bigger task ahead — installing 259 lights on the tower’s 118-foot geodesic sphere, all without endangering their workers or dropping the 20-pound fixtures onto someone 560 feet below.

Seattle’s Space Needle, Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam all need regular maintenance and inspection by certified professionals willing to work hundreds if not thousands of feet off the ground.

The group who does this kind of work is Ropeworks, a team of certified technicians from Reno, Nev., trained in rope access, tower climbing, rescue and fall protection. After seeing Ropeworks’ presentation, Reed thought they could best handle the high wind speeds and low temperatures atop Reunion Tower in the fall.

So from Oct. 30 through Nov. 21, from 5 a.m. till 6 p.m., seven days a week, four certified master electricians from Ropeworks rappelled from the top of the tower and hung along the dome’s 260 intersecting aluminum struts to disassemble the tower’s old fixtures and install Wiedamark’s new ones.

The Woodbine Development Co. (which owns the tower) hoped to keep the new lights secret until a surprise showing 15 minutes before New Year’s Day. But on Nov. 21 at 4:30 a.m., a Dallas photographer captured some footage of Wiedamark testing the lights.

The photographer then sent photo and video footage to WFAA-TV and the Dallas Observer.

By the next morning, everyone knew that for the first time in its 33-year history, the Reunion Tower had new lights.

“I was happy [the news] was out,” says Walkup. “We couldn’t talk about it in public, but our friends had known about the project for a long time. [Waiting for the unveiling] was like being pregnant for nine months, but then having the birth delayed to 10 months, then 11 months, then 12 months. And all this time you’re just waiting for it to finally happen.”

On New Year’s Eve, Reed and Walkup stood on the ninth floor balcony of their friend’s downtown condominium, the unlit dome of Reunion Tower clearly in view. Then the dome lit up at a quarter till midnight, a digital countdown on the ball ticking off each second.

Then, at midnight sharp, the Reunion Tower dome sparkled in a ecstatic wash of reds, greens, blues, and purples while Reed, Walkup and the rest of Dallas rang in the New Year.

After a 10-minute light show, the numbers 2012 encircled the dome in bright yellow until 5 o’ clock that morning.

Mentioning the new Omni Hotel and the other colorful LED-lit projects that have joined the Dallas landscape in the last few years, Walkup notes: “Dallas is a colorful city. We want to make it an exciting place to live and colored light helps people recognize that. Light is modern and fresh. It conveys youth. Dallas, a city of young ideas.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Parker expected to win re-election in Houston

With lesbian mayor at the top of the ballot, 4 LGBTS among candidates for seats on City Council

Annise-Parker-wins

Annise-Parker-wins

 

Daniel Williams  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who’s 2009 election made her the first out LGBT mayor of a major American city, faces five challengers in her bid for re-election on Nov. 8, and more than one of those challengers brings a decidedly anti-gay record to the race.

Most prominent among the anti-gay candidates is Dave Wilson, who is infamous for his decades-long efforts to roll back advancements for LGBT Houstonians.

In recent weeks, the Wilson campaign has launched robocalls attacking Parker, as Wilson claims, using her position to advance her “alternative lifestyle.”

Also in the race are perennial socialist candidate Amanda Ulman, little-knowns Kevin Simms and Jack O’Conner, and Fernando Herrera.

Last year Herrera ran as the Republican candidate for Texas House District 148 against Democrat Rep. Jessica Farrar. During that race Herrera responded to a questionnaire from the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation with a statement that he opposed allowing same-sex couples to adopt or be foster parents.

A poll of 748 likely voters, published by television station KHOU-Houston on Oct. 17, shows Parker with a commanding lead, with 37 percent of the respondents saying they intended to vote for her. Most pundits expect the incumbent to win re-election handily.

Her five challengers split 11 percent.

But the big winner in the poll was “Do Not Know,” the option that pulled in more than 50 percent, reflecting the disinterest most Houstonians appear have towards the race.

Council elections

Houston has a 16-member city council, made up of 11 members representing districts assigned letters A-K, and five at-large positions. All 16 council members are up for election, as is the city controller, the position Parker held before being elected mayor.

Incumbent City Controller Ronald Green is unopposed.

The lack of a real contest in the mayoral race has driven voter participation down 20 percent from the last municipal elections in 2009, sending candidates scurrying for every available vote.

With Parker at the top of the ticket, several LGBT candidates are among those vying for a seat at the council table.

In at-large position 2, transgender candidate Jenifer Rene Poole and gay candidate Bolivar “Bo” Fraga are among the crowded field of 10 jockeying for position in the race.

Poole has the support of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, the Houston Stonewall Democrats and the Houston Young Stonewall Democrats, while Fraga has the endorsement by the term-limited position incumbent, lesbian political veteran Sue Lovell.

Other position 2 candidates are Eric Dick, Elizabeth Perez, David Robinson, Kristi Thibaut, Griff Griffin, Rozzy Shorter, Andrew Burks and Gordon Goss.

In District C, gay candidate Josh Verde is one in a field of five contenders, including former state Rep. Ellen Cohen, who has the backing of the GLBT Political Caucus and Stonewall.

Other District C candidates are Brian Cweren, Karen Derr and Joshua Verde.

Gay candidate Mike Laster enjoys the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the GLBT Political Caucus and both Stonewall clubs in his District J race. Laster has handily outstripped his two rivals — Rodrigo Canedo and Criselda Romero — in both fundraising and endorsements, but the race remains highly contested.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Safe haven

For 10 years, Gay-Straight Alliances in Fort Worth schools have given LGBTQ and their straight friends a place to go for support and safety

GATHERING | Rebecca Cooper, front center, opens her classroom at Southwest High School to LGBT students and their friends looking for someplace where they feel safe enough to talk openly, and where they can find friendship and support from others like them. (Andrea Grimes/Dallas Voice}

ANDREA GRIMES  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

It’s been 10 years since two high school boys started the first Gay-Straight Alliance club in Tarrant County at Fort Worth’s Southwest High School, and membership is way, way up.

This year, on any given Friday, dozens of kids show up to Rebecca Cooper’s classroom in a cramped, low-ceilinged portable building to do what a lot of kids do — braid each other’s hair or practice gymnastics in the grass outside.

But they also do what a lot of kids will never have to do: trade phone numbers so that when they come out to their family, they’ve got a place to go and a support group if the conversation ends in a fight, or worse — homelessness or even a suicide attempt. (An estimated 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.)

Between the hair braiding and the back flips, Gay-Straight Alliance clubs save lives. It’s as simple as that.

Southwest High School sponsor Rebecca Cooper says she’s seen it with her own eyes: GSAs serve as safe spaces where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students can feel empowered rather than intimidated.

“Because there’s a lack of fear [at GSAs],” says Cooper, students are confident in sharing their own personal experiences to help their peers.

At a meeting, says Cooper, you might have a kid who says, “I thought about suicide three days ago.” But “before you know it,” she says, “You’ve got six, eight, 10 kids around him, like swoosh. They’re going, ‘Here’s my phone number, I’ve been there.’”

Anti-bullying efforts have moved to the forefront of the national conversation in the past couple of years, thanks in part to high-profile campaigns like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which inspired Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns to tell his own story, during an October 2010 City Council meeting of contemplating suicide after being bullied.

But every week — and every night, and every day, really whenever a student needs a help or a hug or a sounding board — since December, 2001, students in Fort Worth’s Gay-Straight Alliances have been telling each other that it gets better, that there’s someone out there who cares.

As of this year, there are three active GSAs in the Fort Worth Independent School District: Southwest High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Western Hills High School’s Q-Status and Paschal High School’s G.L.O.W. (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever), with two more inactive high school groups seeking sponsors.

Cooper estimates that up to 70 percent of her club is straight. The unity and cooperation between straight and non-straight students is part of what makes the simple existence of GSA’s so impactful.

Not only are GSAs safe spaces for LGBTQ students, they also build rapport and trust between the LGBTQ community and the straight majority.

“Straight people want to be part of the change,” says Western Hills’ Q-Status President Italia Salinas, a junior. “You don’t have to be gay to help others have respect and support.”

Often, hurtful and hateful speech comes out of what English teacher Marvin Vann calls anti-gay individuals’ sense of a “mandated right” to denounce homosexuality because of their religious beliefs. He says Gay-Straight Alliances help give strength to students who might otherwise feel swamped and surrounded by Christians with “loving” messages — like the employee who told Italia Salinas’ friend she was going to hell for being a lesbian.

Last year, recalls Salinas, a school employee — not a teacher — told a friend of hers that she’d go to hell because of her sexuality.

While Salinas and her friend were walking down the school hallway one day, an employee asked the two girls where they were headed. When they talked about going to a Q-Status meeting and explained what it was, the employee asked Salinas’ friend if she went to church. She said she did, a Catholic church.

Salinas remembers the employee, someone they’d laughed and joked with since their freshman year, telling her friend, “I love you, but being gay is not okay, and I care about you so I don’t want you to go to hell for doing that.”

Salinas says her friend was “in shock” that a school employee would say such a thing to a student.

Cooper says she’s had to correct other teachers who would tell students it’s not okay to be gay — teachers who didn’t even realize that Cooper herself was gay.

Tensions between teachers, administrators and school employees have heightened in Fort Worth over the years, so much so that Sharon Herrera, an out lesbian herself, was brought in to teach training seminars and handle complaints.

But, as reported by the Fort Worth Weekly, Herrera was perhaps too good at her job.

Her position was eliminated at the beginning of this year, and although she’s still an employee of the district, she’s no longer conducting the seminars and handling the multitude of complaints that came across her desk, which included instances of anti-LGBTQ bullying as well sexual and racial harassment.

Everything, it seems, has gone silent. But that doesn’t mean everyone’s problems have been solved.

Herrera says that quality training that is LGBTQ-specific is vital in Fort Worth, and programs like their “It’s Not Okay” campaign, launched in June of 2010, simply do not address LGBTQ issues in a meaningful way — or at all.

Instead, it is often left up to the more-than-capable students to stand up for themselves when something goes wrong. That’s one of the wonderful things about GSAs, say participants: They get to learn real-world activism in high school.

This year, Italia Salinas says, Q-Status has not been allowed to make public announcements and hang signs in the hallways, ostensibly because they’re a non-academic group. However, a conservative Christian extracurricular group for boys at the school has been able to do those things.

Salinas and her group will have to actively fight to get their school to respect the Equal Access Act, which guarantees that if one extra-curricular club has access to school resources, all of them must.
Nine students from Fort Worth ISD marched in the city’s recent gay Pride parade, and when the Dallas Voice stopped by Southwest High School to talk to their Gay-Straight Alliance, the room positively lit up when the march was brought up.

Hands shot into the air, attached to squirming bodies, each student anxious to talk about the amazing feeling they got from being accepted in an adult space.

In fact, says Western Hills’ Q-Status teacher sponsor Bernardo Vallarino, showing kids that the LGBT community is more than just dance clubs and drugs — something he was exposed to very early on as a young man — is an integral part of what GSAs do for students.

In forming GSAs, he says, “it creates a right way of learning about the LGBTQ community that doesn’t include drugs, alcohol or inadequate sex.” The biggest take-away from GSAs, says Herrera, is that they prevent bullying and, again, save lives because of their specific focus on the needs of LGBTQ students.

Inclusivity, says Herrera, is not enough; LGBTQ kids need programs tailored to their specific challenges — challenges that are made ever more apparent every time the local news reports on yet another bullied teen’s suicide.

Southwest junior Ryan McCaleb says being gay “is the way we live, think, breathe.” But because of the social stigma and pressure from religious and conservative students and teachers, he says, “You’re the talk of the school, and everything that’s said comes back times 10.”

The Gay-Straight Alliance is a place where kids understand what that feels like — that unique feeling of shame and pain that LGBTQ kids deal with, especially LGBTQ kids in conservative cities like Fort Worth, and that their straight friends want to help alleviate. As president of Q-Status, Italia Salinas says her GSA “gives [her] hope for humanity,” that hatefulness and bullying can be prevented before it begins.

Vallarino says that in 10 years of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in FWISD, some goals may have shifted. Last year, they successfully focused on getting written policies in place against workplace and schoolharassment and supporting equal treatment, while this year they’re hoping to get a GSA in every high school and middle school.
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MISSION STATEMENTS

• Q-Status: “Q- Status is a group built on the human differences of its members, a safe place where everyone is welcome and no one is turned away. Our focus is centered on the education of our members and the community around us. We thrive by making new friends and by accomplishing our goals of informing and educating others of the cultural and legal inequalities faced by many groups including the homosexual community and their families. Everyone is welcome (heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, questioning, confused, curious, etc.)”

• LGBTQ Saves (district-wide): “LGBTQ  S.A.V.E.S. (Students, Administrators, Volunteers, Educators Support) fosters the well-being of LGBTQ K-12 students, administrators, volunteers and educators in Tarrant County by eliminating discrimination, bullying and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. S.A.V.E.S. is an autonomous, all-volunteer group and not affiliated with any local school districts.”

• Southwest High School GSA Vision Statement: “The Gay-Straight Alliance GSA at Southwest High School is a student-led and -organized club that aims to create a safe, welcoming and accepting environment for all youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The GSA brings together gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) youth with their straight peers to address issues such as bullying, harassment, discrimination and bias. GSA allows youth to build coalitions and community that can work towards making a safer school environment for all people. Motto: Come as you are.”

But ultimately, “One thing that has never changed is that GSA’s are a safe haven.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Not just a ‘female problem’

Research shows that as many as 15 percent of gay, bi men have eating disorders, but most who do won’t seek treatment

Catherine Nordon  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

I have grown uncomfortably comfortable in the high rise lobby chair. Having spent months and months over the course of two years sitting in the same dull brown chair, I have claimed it as my own personal space.

Stuck here, more than an hour away from our small home town, I need something to call my own as I wait for my beautiful 18-year-old daughter to finish out her day at the Dallas outpatient eating disorder program.

As I pull my faded Converse shoes up into the chair, my eyes are drawn to the eating disorder recovery symbol that is tattooed on my wrist to serve as a constant reminder of the 29 years that I spent with an eating disorder, and where I want to stay.

There are 10 million individuals in this country that suffer from an eating disorder, and there is not a race, a group or a community of people that are protected from the disease.

And because eating disorders, specifically anorexia, have the highest morbidity rate of any psychiatric disease, 10 million is a frightening number.

It has almost become an urban legend that eating disorders are a “woman’s disease,” because gay men are affected by eating disorders at an alarmingly higher rate than any other group.

Brad Kennington, LMFT, L.P.C., is the executive director of Cedar Springs Austin, an eating disorder treatment center in west Austin. He believes that the gay culture — obsessed as it can be  with youthfulness, the body and physical attractiveness — plays a critical role in the development of eating and body image issues with gay men.

“The body-focused, hyper-sexualized gay culture, which places a tremendous value on a guy’s looks, can certainly trigger body image and self-esteem issues that can then lead to an eating disorder,” Kennington says.
Kennington, who has specialized in treating male eating disorders for nearly 10 years, shared some interesting findings: According to a 2007 Harvard study, 25 percent of all anorexics and bulimics are male, and 40 percent of binge eaters are male.

In the general population, 5 to 7 percent of males are gay. Studies show that up to 42 percent of eating disordered males are gay, so gay men are disproportionally represented in the male eating disordered population.

Research also shows that 15 percent of gay and bisexual men have struggled with disordered eating.

Kennington explains how important the body can be in the gay community: “One’s body equals one’s identity. Having the so-called ‘perfect’ body also gives a guy status and power in the gay world.”

Kennington notes the vast difference in not only the actual numbers of people who seek treatment for their eating disorders, but the significantly lower number of men that will seek treatment.

“For men,” he says, “shame plays an incredible role in not wanting to seek treatment. The myth that eating disorders are a female problem helps keep men and boys who struggle with eating, over-exercising and body image locked in a closet of shame, not wanting to step out and ask for help.” There is a stigma associated with having an eating disorder, especially for males. But, Kennington stresses, “Eating disorders are not a female problem, they are a human problem.”

When struggling with the idea of seeking treatment, Kennington says all gay men need to have the courage to ask for help.

“In some ways, it is another ‘coming out’ process to admit to yourself and others that you have an eating disorder,” he says.

Kennington says he hopes that the perception of having an eating disorder changes and that individuals will come forward and seek the help and the peace that they so deserve. But for that to happen, there has to be a change, not only in society as a whole, but more specifically within the gay community: People must retrain themselves to have the desire to be the “most healthy” that they can be.

Eating disorders often co-exist with other addictions, like alcohol and drug abuse, which are like the “gateway drugs” that can lead into the development of  eating disorders.

Depression and anxiety also play major roles not only in the foundation for an eating disorder, but in perpetuating the disease.

And if any of these struggles are left untreated, then all of these co-existing issues can make the eating disorder longer-lasting and significantly worse. Sometimes, one addiction replaces another, while at other times, all addictions can thrive together.

Discrimination — or at least, fear of discrimination — within hospital and treatment settings could be one factor that keeps gay men from seeking treatment for eating disorders.

But Jim Harris, Psy.D., the program manager for the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Eating Disorder Program, promises that his eating disorder program is comfortable and familiar with working with gay clients.

Noting how important a life partner is to the recovery process, Harris says, “We encourage life partners to join our weekly multi-family group supporting recovery for their partner as they are a vital to the therapeutic process.”

Often, the individual struggling with an eating disorder won’t reach out for help on their own, leaving it up to family and friends to intervene.

Lara Pence, Psy.D. M.B.A., site director for The Renfrew Center in Dallas, says the question she is most often asked is how to approach a loved one who needs help with an eating disorder.

Pence says, “I think that is what really is important is that you approach the person out of concern and support [instead of] judgment. So often when someone has an eating disorder, they are not interested in hearing about what is wrong with them, but rather they need to know that someone is going to be there for them.”

Pence says that those trying to help a loved one with an eating disorder “tend to want to approach someone with the evidence of behaviors that they have used, like, ‘I have seen you do this.’

“But people are very protective of their eating disorder, and that approach doesn’t go very well,” she continues. “So it is more effective to approach the individual from the angle by saying something like, ‘I noticed that you feel sad to me,’ or ‘I have noticed that you aren’t yourself.’”

Pence says she believes that “the common thread in the gay community is that you meet a lot of people that are having an identity crisis and the struggle with coming out as gay, which although different, is similar to straight women with an eating disorder who aren’t comfortable with who they are.”

So a variety of issues come into play in treating eating disorders, especially among men. It is not an easy process.

But life is designed to be lived in full color, not in the black-and-ewhite world created by an eating disorder.

So if you or someone that you know is struggling, love yourself or your partner enough to find recovery. Take the first step and reach out for help.

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TREATMENT RESOURCES

• Cedar Springs Austin
4613 Bee Cave Road
Austin, Texas 78746
512-732-2400
info@cedarspringaustin.com

• Eating Disorder Program
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital
8200 Walnut Hill Lane
Dallas, Texas 75231
214-345-7355
TexasHealth.org

• The Renfrew Center
9400 N. Central Expressway, Ste. 150
Dallas, Texas 75231
RenfrewCenter.com

• National Eating Disorders Association
800-931-2237
NationalEatingDisorders.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

LSR Journal: Changing tactics to address changing needs

2011 LSRFA co-chairs John Tripp and Danny Simpson lead the annual fundraising event into a new decade

LSRFA-Simpson.Tripp
LSRFA Co-chairs Danny Simpson, left, and John Tripp (Photo courtesy Roger Lippert)

M.M. Adjarian  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

This year — 2011 — marks the first year of the second decade that Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS has been in existence. For event co-chairs John

Tripp and Danny Simpson, it’s the beginning of a new era for both the organization and in the struggle to eradicate a devastating disease.

Tripp and Simpson have a big job. As co-chairs, they are tasked with keeping LSRFA organizers and cyclists motivated to keep going throughout the year and focused on the September weekend when the event actually takes place.

“Everybody knows why we are here, but at the end of the day, we’re all volunteers. [John and I] are the [organization’s] cheerleaders,” says Simpson, a portfolio revenue manager for the International Hotels Group.

Both men came to the LSRFA in 2008. But where Tripp, a resources professional for Deloitte & Touche, started — and still continues on — as a cyclist, Simpson started as the organization’s events and ceremonies planner.

The pair finally began working together as co-chairs this year. Their goal is simple: to build upon the foundation established by their predecessors and grow the ride.

Achieving that goal has been a challenge — but one they welcome.

“We’re really focused on getting our brand out there and getting recognized and making people understand who we are,” says Simpson.

Adds Tripp, “[It’s vital that we can communicate] with our community to say, ‘This is our story and this is why we do what we do.’”

The co-chairs also plan on transforming the LSRFA by making the actual ride more visible than it has been in the past.

“This year, one of the things that [event manager] Jerry Calumn heard unanimously from all riders was that they wanted a route that was more visible and could be seen by communities we were supporting,” Tripp explains. “There are serious pockets of our community that have never heard of us and have lived in Dallas-Fort Worth for many years.”

Partnering with fundraisers such as Neiman Marcus’ Fashion’s Night Out and Audi Dallas’ Casino Night is yet another operational change that Tripp and Simpson are currently overseeing.

As deeply committed to the organization as the two men are, neither has much time to spare. But the sacrifice is well worth it and is, in their eyes, a necessity.

Observes Tripp, “HIV infection rates are skyrocketing within minority communities, the LGBT community [and among members of] the youngest generations, but now that people aren’t dying, the disease is not as high profile.”

The medications that now exist to control HIV/AIDS are at the heart of this newest twist in the epidemic. While the medications have saved countless lives, they have also given rise to a dangerous complacency that if left unchecked, make HIV/AIDS become even deadlier than it already is.

“What [really] frustrates me is that the younger generation isn’t understanding that they’ll face drastic differences in their aging process because of HIV,” Tripp says. “ Their organs are going to have to deal with these medicines for the rest of their lives.”

And with the economy in a weakened state, supporting organizations that provide services for those suffering from HIV/AIDS has now become more critical than ever before.

“If you are lucky and have healthcare,” says Tripp, who is HIV-positive, “you could probably survive on and afford your medications every month for anywhere from $240 to $2,000 per year. What happens, though, if you run out of your healthcare or are suddenly unemployed?”

The AIDS crisis has not gone away; it’s only changed form in a world that has also changed. Combating it will require new tactics, but Tripp and Simpson are up to the challenge and boldly look forward to joining with others in the fight.

“[You may be] upset that you are having to help other people and are having to help them pay for their medicines through social welfare programs,” says Tripp.  “[But] what are you doing to fight [the disease]?”

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Sept. 24-25. To donate to an individual rider, to a team or to the Ride itself, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

LSR Journal:Pedalling — and padding — his way to Zen

Chef Kerry Chace says cycling is a great way to burn off calories and relax, as long as you’ve got the proper gear

Kerry-Chace.LSR-cutout
Kerry Chace

M.M. Adjarian  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

If you had told Kerry Chace a few years ago that cycling would one day become akin to a spiritual practice, he would’ve thought you were joking. But now, the joke’s on him.

This second-year Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS cyclist can’t imagine not spending his spare time pedalling for his body and mind as well as his community.

“I’m a corporate chef so I consume a lot of calories during the week, and I have to burn them off,” Chace grins. “So every weekend I’ve got to get on my bike and burn off as many doughnuts as possible.”

Chace came to LSRFA last year after he saw a Twitter post about it. When he signed up to participate, though, he had no time to do any of the fundraising required of each cyclist: It was already mid-September — just two weeks before the event.

But that didn’t stop him.

“I just wrote the check myself at registration,” Chace recalls. “And all of a sudden, I was in the Ride.”

The Calgary native was no stranger to charity cycling events and had participated in the 1998 Texas Tanqueray AIDS Ride. But once the TTAR was over, he didn’t saddle up for another 12 years.

On a whim, Chace finally rolled out his bicycle again in the spring of 2010 and decided to go around White Rock Lake.

“[One day], some guy came up beside me and said, ‘Dude, you need to get a better bike.’ [I suddenly became aware that] I was pushing big fat tires and an old bicycle.”

And, Chace said, that wasn’t his only sudden realization.

“What you see on a bike [is not what] you would see if you were in the car,” he says. “If you’re up by White Rock Lake, you can see the sailboats. It’s amazing what you become aware of and smell and see.”

To hear Chace talk, you would almost think that he is describing a spiritual experience. And in fact, he is: His lakeside outings helped him find inner tranquility and balance.

“I’ve told others that maybe [the feeling comes] because I’m moving faster than my brain is working,” he explains. “It’s a very calm feeling I get when I’m riding, even though it could be 110 degrees and I’m going uphill.

“I just kind of lose myself, so I say that it’s yoga on wheels.”

He chuckles: “Some people think I’m absolutely crazy. But while I’m riding, my mind is clear; it’s really Zen.”

His cycling experiences have only been enhanced by participating in the LSRFA. Not only has the Dallas chef been able to indulge his newfound passion for “yoga on wheels,” he’s also been able to make many new friends while celebrating the lives of those he’s lost to the AIDS epidemic.

Chace says he has also gotten to know a lot about himself and the proper way to enjoy cycling.

“I remember when I first got my jersey and bike shorts. I didn’t think [the shorts] were very flattering; it was vanity, I guess. I’m like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t make my butt look very good.’ So I got some really cheap ones with very thin padding,” he recalls.

Chace now understands that to achieve a state of Zen bliss, he must be mindful of the choices he makes on the physical plane.

“You really want as much padding as you can back there,” he grins. “Get yourself a good pair of shorts or you will be looking for a pillow.”

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Sept. 24-25. To donate to an individual rider, to a team or to the Ride itself, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

LSR Journal: New friends and a new commitment

Ana-Maria Baker started out last year as a LSRFA cyclist because she saw it as another way to get fit. Then she made friends with riders who were HIV-positive, and her view of the ride changed

Ana-Maria Baker

M.M. ADJARIAN  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

The Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS may have been born in the Dallas-Fort Worth LGBT community. But as second-year cyclist Ana-Maria Baker well knows, the HIV/AIDS epidemic affects everyone — and you don’t have to be gay to care.

Baker, a revenue management professional for Hilton Hotels, came to participate in LSRFA the same way that so many other people do: through the suggestion of a friend who happened to have been affiliated with the ride.

“He [the friend] knew that I was into fitness,” Baker says. “And I thought it would be a good challenge for me, so I signed up.”

Although Baker was a runner and a regular at her local gym, she was totally new to cycling. But once in the saddle, she became happily addicted to the two-wheeled experience.

“It’s awesome!” she raves. “With working out, you can get bored because your body gets used to it. But every time [I go cycling], it’s something new.”

The fact that she was doing something she adored in service of a good cause made it that much easier for her to keep up with her newfound hobby. But it was the relationships she established along the way that made her want to commit to LSRFA long term.

“I made a particularly good set of friends last year,” recalls Baker. “On the morning before the ride, I noticed they all had the same jerseys on. And I said, ‘Hey, how come I didn’t get the message about the matching jerseys?’

“One of them made a joke and said, ‘Honey, you don’t want to wear this jersey,’” she continues. “[Then I found out] that the jersey stood for the Positive Pedaler team — my [new] friends were all HIV-positive.”

In the blink of an eye, what for Baker had just been a fitness event suddenly became much more personal.

“These were people I had gotten to know really well,” she says. “[But] I had [had] no idea that they were impacted by the disease. It stopped me in my tracks and made me realize what I was riding for.”

The event has now become a family affair. This year, Baker’s husband, a paramedic, will be serving on the LSRFA medical team.

“He’s gotten to know some of the friends I made last year, so he really wants to be part of it, too,” Baker says. “He wants to help out because he thinks the LSRFA is such a neat thing.”

As straight supporters of the ride, the Bakers know they are in the minority. But this fact doesn’t faze either one of them.

“Nobody makes you feel any different because [ultimately] you aren’t,” says the sophomore cyclist.

Her participation in LSRFA has also given Baker insights that have deepened her understanding of the friends and community on whose behalf she — and now her husband — volunteer.

“I feel that the gay community is a lot more accepting than the straight community,” Baker remarks. “And for them to be so accepting of me — well, it just makes me sad for the straight community and how we treat [LGBT people].”

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Sept. 24-25. To donate to an individual rider, to a team or to the Ride itself, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

LSR Journal: 2 of a kind — but different

Paul Cross and Jim McCoy were single when they each started volunteering for Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS; now as a couple, their dedication is renewed

Paul Cross, left, and Jim McCoy

M.M. Adjarian  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

If ever two people exemplified the idea of “different strokes for different folks,” it’s longtime Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS supporters Paul Cross and Jim McCoy.

Each man loves to cycle, especially if he’s with the other. But as for the individual approaches Cross and McCoy take to bike riding — that’s another matter entirely.

Both men have either participated in or donated to the LSRFA since 2001, the year the ride began. In that inaugural ride, when both were still single, Cross served as a pit crew volunteer and McCoy cycled.

By 2003, however, the two bachelors had become life partners and rode together in LSRFA as a couple. Their commitment to each other took top priority after that.

“We had been meaning to get back to it [the ride] over the last three or four years,” says McCoy, a consultant in healthcare IT. “It’s just one of those things we had in common — our [desire to help] the community.”

Shared goals have made for a strong union between the two men. But it’s the differences that have kept their relationship consistently interesting. Take, for example, their divergent cycling styles.

“[After we got together,] people kind of laughed at us: They called us the Tortoise and the Hare,” McCoy says. “When I want to go fast, Paul goes slow. And then when Paul wants to go fast, I want to go slow.”

These differences in style translate into differences in perspective. If McCoy tends to be the one more eager to get from one point to another as quickly as possible, his partner takes special pleasure in smelling the proverbial roses along the way.

“I like to just ride and look around and just watch everything,” says Cross, a banker.

“But then when we get to a hill, I’m the one with the energy,” he adds with a certain smugness.

The behavior these 40-something partners display in the saddle could not be more dissimilar. Yet both men are alike in how they carry exceptionally painful memories of the devastation HIV/AIDS wrought in the gay community.

“One of the things I’ll remember throughout my life is when This Week in Texas came out and there were no obituaries to report,” says McCoy. “That was in the late 90s. For a long time [before that], you had pages and pages of obituaries.”

What they saw in the dangerous decades of the 1980s and ’90s has served as the impetus behind their participation not only in the LSRFA, but in other HIV/AIDS-related causes such as Cheer Dallas and the AIDS Life Walk.

“We’re not ‘going out’ people,” admits Cross.  “But where there’s a fundraiser or event, we’re definitely there.”

The Tortoise and the Hare still haven’t decided how many miles they’ll be doing together in this year’s Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS: Tortoise says 180 and Hare says 150. Regardless of how far they plan to pedal or the approach each will take to reach the finish line, both are united in their belief that they’re cycling for a cause that matters.

Says McCoy, “With the way the economy is, there are a lot of people who need a lot of assistance. Programs are constantly getting cut.”

“Everyone seems to have put [HIV/AIDS] on the back burner like it’s not out there anymore, but it is,” adds Cross. “And we still need to raise awareness.”

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Sept. 24-25. To donate to an individual rider, to a team or to the Ride itself, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Responding to “The Response”

From partisan to apolitical, from atheistic to interfaith — groups from around the state are speaking out against Gov. Perry’s Houston prayer meeting

Rick Perry

Daniel Williams  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

HOUSTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has partnered with the American Family Association to present a day of prayer and fasting they have dubbed “The Response” on Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Organizers are calling the event “a call to prayer for a nation in crises.”

But opponents have a different take. They are calling the event everything from a political maneuver pandering to the right wing intended to kick off Perry’s 2012 presidential bid to an unconstitutional confluence of church and state.

And those opponents from around the state have been hard at work in recent weeks, planning their own response to the Perry prayer meeting.

Perry’s choice to partner with the American Family Association, which is paying for the Saturday event, quickly raised eyebrows in the LGBT community, where AFA is considered one of the country’s leading anti-gay groups. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified AFA as an anti-gay hate group.

AFA’s contention that homosexuality is sinful according to the Bible is not enough, in and of itself, to put AFA on the SPLC hate group list.

But the AFA’s “propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling” was more than enough to earn a place on the list.

To bring attention to their concerns over “The Response,” opponents have planned a variety of events in Houston and around the state: from partisan to apolitical, from atheist to interfaith.

Each event, organizers say, strives to stand in contrast to what they see as the blurring of church/state separation and the promotion of hate against LGBT people fostered by “The Response.”

Houston GLBT Caucus

For Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, “The Response” is just the latest in a long line of anti-LGBT events the caucus has encountered.

The caucus is spearheading an event highlighting the LGBT community’s response at 7 p.m, Friday, Aug. 5. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and longtime LGBT ally in the Texas Legislature, will deliver the keynote address for the event at Tranquility Park at 400 Rusk St., in downtown Houston.

The Friday night LGBT event is being staged just one block from the site of a 1977 rally the caucus held to oppose Anita Bryant, who at the time was one of the most visible and most vocal foes of LGBT equality.

Fresh off her successful campaign to repeal a Dade County, Fla., ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Bryant brought her “Save The Children” campaign to Houston. And the GLBT Caucus responded.

“The caucus has always stood up against the forces of hate. Look at our response in ’77,” said Freeman.

The caucus organized a massive counter-protest when Bryant came to town. And among those participating was a 22-year-old student and activist named Annise Parker.

Parker later became as the caucus’ eighth president before beginning her political career. She now serves as Houston’s mayor, becoming the first out LGBT mayor of a major American city when she was elected in 2009.

Freeman says responding to Perry’s rally is a duty for LGBT activists, a continuation of the caucus’ legacy of fighting hate and fostering young leadership.

“We have to support our community and say that hate is not acceptable in any capacity,” he said.

(left to right) The Rev. Adam Robinson, Daniel Scott Cates, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman
(left to right) The Rev. Adam Robinson, Daniel Scott Cates, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman

GetEQUAL

Dallasite Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, is heading to Houston on Friday to participate in the caucus’ rally. But the main reason for his trip is a protest planned by GetEQUAL outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday as “The Response” takes place inside.

Cates said the national attention paid to the fact that Perry is partnering with a hate group to stage “The Response” has helped galvanize activism in Texas.

“For a while we’ve been pretty quiet. I think that with events like this and events like the [June 2009] Rainbow Lounge [raid in Fort Worth], people are waking up,” Cates said.

“What’s interesting about the reaction to ‘The Response’ is that it’s been statewide,” he continued. “You’re seeing all these cities — Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas — all these different cities coming together.”

GetEqual’s protest will be at the corner of Kirby Drive and McNee Road, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Michael Divesti with GetEQUAL said that the protesters will remain at Reliant Stadium throughout the day. He urged participants to bring water and drink it often to fight the heat.

“We don’t want anyone getting heat stroke out there,” Divesti said.

GetEQUAL is partnering with the American Atheists for the protest, but GetEQUAL leaders stressed that the event is not anti-prayer.

“We’re not at all anti-prayer or anti-religion,” said Cates. “We’re anti-the-state-getting-involved-in-religion.

“I pray; my faith is very important to me,” he added.

CNN reported last month that Perry may not even speak at the rally, although it was his idea to stage the event. The possibility doesn’t surprise Divesti, who believes “The Response” has always been more about political pandering than sincere prayer.

“Perry was a Democrat until he figured out he would be more popular as a Republican. He was Methodist until he figured out he would be more popular as an evangelical,” Divesti said. “He believed in state’s rights until he figured out he would be more popular as a DOMA supporter. So now that his support of the AFA is proving unpopular on the national stage, is anyone surprised he’s scrambling to distance himself?”

FW First Congregational Church

Also planning to protest outside of Reliant Stadium on Saturday is a group from Fort Worth’s First Congregational Church.

Marvin Van, who is organizing the group, said he expects 15 to 20 people to make the trek to Houston on Friday night to participate in an interfaith service at Mount Ararat Baptist Church before spending Saturday at Reliant Stadium.

Van said that as representatives of a mainstream Christian church, his group is in a unique position to respond to “The Response.”

“We are very specifically protesting the misuse of the gospel to promote hate speech,” Van said.

“We know we’re not going to convince the governor or the AFA. That’s not why we’re going. We’re going for that gay or lesbian teenager or that Muslim teenager who thinks Christianity is only about hate,” he said.

FIGHTING HATE  |  In 1977, Anita Bryant brought her “Save the Children” campaign to Houston and the LGBT community responded.
FIGHTING HATE | In 1977, Anita Bryant brought her “Save the Children” campaign to Houston and the LGBT community responded.

Harris County Democratic Party

While Cates, Divesti and the people of First Congregational Church are protesting at Reliant Stadium Saturday, the Harris County Democratic Party will hold its fourth “Trailblazers Luncheon” downtown at the Hyatt Regency Hotel — ironically, the same hotel that was the venue for Anita Bryant’s 1977 event.

The traditional luncheon is the Harris County party’s way of highlighting contributions by members of historically oppressed communities. Previous luncheons have honored women, African-Americans and Latinos. According to the event’s co-chairs, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman, the party had already planned to honor members of the LGBT community at this year’s luncheon before learning of “The Response.”

“We hadn’t decided on a date for the event yet. But when Perry’s event was announced, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to counter-program,” Pritchett said.

Shipman added, “I think the tag line of the luncheon says it best: ‘A Celebration of Diversity.’ We’re focusing on the positive.”

Pritchett said while he sees parallels between Saturday’s “Response” and Anita Bryant’s 1977 “Save the Children” event in Houston, he believes Perry’s rally is worse.

“We should feel even more attacked because it’s our own governor bringing a hate group here,” he said. “He was elected to represent all Texans, but instead decided to align himself with the most extreme fringe.”

Pritchett also said he isn’t surprised Perry has refused so far to confirm whether he will speak at “The Response” event on Saturday, because the governor has “seen a negative push-back from his association with the AFA. He doesn’t know how that’s going to affect him when he’s trying to court moderate voters in a presidential election.”

Tickets for the Trailblazer’s Luncheon are available at the door and on-line at HCDP.org. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m.

First UU Church of Houston

Another — uniquely apropos — response to “The Response” is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday: an interfaith prayer service.

The Rev. Adam Robinson of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, who is organizing the event, said that it’s sometimes difficult for people of faith to oppose events like “The Response” for fear of appearing anti-prayer.

“It’s hard for faith leaders to take a stand and not make it look like they oppose praying to God to make the country better,” Robinson acknowledged. But, he said, he felt he had a responsibility to do something.
“I despise that our governor has aligned himself with a hate group. I feel called to provide people with an alternative,” Robinson said.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston is located at 5200 Fannin St.

The aftermath?

Dennis Coleman, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas, said he believes “The Response” has already backfired on Perry.

“There’s been a galvanization of the community around the state,” Coleman said. “Texans are taken aback by the people our governor has aligned himself with.”

But Coleman said he suspects Perry’s attempt to distance himself from the prayer meeting has more to do with fears of low turnout at the event rather than concerns over being associated with a hate group.

“I think he’s backpeddling because his event’s a flop, not because of the association with the AFA,” Coleman said. “The AFA is controversial, but Perry is controversial. He wants this to be a success. He doesn’t want 7,500 people in a 75,000 seat arena. But I think that’s what he’s going to get.”

Coleman is traveling to Houston to speak at the GLBT Caucus’ Friday night rally and to present the keynote address at the Trailblazer’s Luncheon on Saturday. The legacy of “The Response” remains to be determined and will depend largely on whether Perry decides to finally announce his much-hinted-at presidential bid.

But for those organizing the responses to “The Response,” the event has created a unique flash-point, a moment in time to focus and unite the people of Texas in opposition to hate.

“We’ve had so many victories lately — in local government, in the state legislatures and nationally,” Coleman said. “But it’s sometimes hard for people to find a single, concrete issue that they can wrap their hands around and participate in.

“Gov. Perry, by aligning himself with the AFA and other hate groups, has provided that moment, and LGBT Texans and their allies have responded unanimously: ‘There is no room for hate in our state.’”

……………………………..

Texans responds to ‘The Response’

• The Houston GLBT Caucus will hold a rally Friday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m., at Tranquility Park, 400 Rusk St. in downtown Houston. State Rep. Garnet Coleman will be keynote speaker.

• GetEQUAL will hold a day-long protest outside Reliant Stadium, at the corner of Kirby Drive and McNee Road, beginning at 8 p.m. and lasting as long as “The Response.” Participants are urged to bring plenty of water.

• Members of Fort Worth First Congregational Church, 4201 Trail Lake Drive, will be leaving for Houston on Friday night and will be holding a rally outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday. Call the church at 817-923-2990 for details.

• The Harris County Democratic Party will hold its fourth annual “Trailblazers Luncheon” Saturday at Houston’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Tickets for the Trailblazer’s Luncheon are available at the door and on-line at HCDP.org. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m. Go online for more information.

• First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, led by the Rev. Adam Robinson, will hold an interfaith prayer service Saturday at 2 p.m. to offer a faith-based alternative to “The Response.” The church is located at 5200 Fannin St. For more information call the church at  713-526-5200.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens