Sunday, April 29, 2018

Activist leaves estate to animal rights groups

Shari Eubanks enjoys a vegan lunch at the Rose Cafe in Santa Monica in 2010..

Texas native Shari Yvonne Eubanks spent a lifetime championing the causes that dominated her thoughts and relationships. The fierce animal rights advocate and environmentalist died at age 73 in Los Angeles Nov. 3, 2017.

Eubanks, who succumbed after a decade-long battle with smoking-related emphysema that included a double lung transplant in 2009, left her assets to various animal rights groups. The bequests included the proceeds from her lifetime collection of fine art, antiques and jewelry.

She gave generously while alive to groups protecting domestic and wild animals, and she worked tirelessly to promote clean water and 100 percent recycling, in addition to financially contributing to the causes. She read voraciously about the politics of her subjects of interest, which included theories about the deterioration of the environment and the effects on the human body.

Recognizing the harmful effects of smoking on the body Eubanks struggled for many years to quit her long habit of smoking menthol cigarettes. She finally succeeded after the emphysema diagnosis, but the damage proved to be too severe to save her lungs.

She became a vegan 40 years before her death, and she labored to influence her friends and other acquaintances to adopt plant-based diets. She abhorred and protested the use of animals for cosmetic and medical research and for the manufacture of furs, shoes and clothing. She got arrested at least once along with several other protesters for refusing police orders to end a demonstration.

Eubanks also advocated for liberal social issues, including women's and LGBT rights.

In her later years she became increasingly intolerant of people who continued to eat meat and pollute the environment, and she cut off several long-standing relationships in exasperation.

Eubanks especially loved cats, and she left a family of them behind when she died. She waged a courageous 10-month battle to survive while in the hospital, hoping she would be able to return home to her beloved cats. 

She grew up in Amarillo, Texas, the daughter of a respected local businessman. She had one brother, Neil, who died in 2008 in their hometown. Their parents preceded them in death.

Eubanks lived in Dallas for five years before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the movie industry. She went to work for the William Morris Agency as a secretary before advancing to film creation as an assistant producer. She worked for various movie companies, including Columbia Pictures, and several distinguished producers and directors, such as Barbra Streisand.

In 1990 she left the movie business and opened a successful environmental-friendly boutique in Pasadena, Calif., known as Celebrate Life, that showcased her fashion and interior design skills. The Los Angeles Times featured her store in its Sunday lifestyle section. Later, she operated a thriving marketing business representing artists who produced handcrafted greeting cards and gifts before health problems forced her to retire.

Eubanks died in the company of friends who shared her beliefs. They donated her body to the University of San Diego Medical Center for research in accordance with her wishes.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Las Vegas lives up to its 'sin city' moniker

Only a winner’s occasional whoop interrupts the bells and whistles accompanying the flashing lights of the slot machines. Piles of chips multiply and vanish on green, felt-covered tables as waitresses walk the aisles, chirping, “Cocktails anyone?”

As clouds of smoke rise above them, gamblers nervously eye the dice rolls, spinning roulette wheels and falling cards. Newcomers eagerly wait for a loser to bust or a winner to cash out so they can take their places.

The amount of money flowing out of the players’ wallets and purses is mind-boggling, but no one seems fazed by the display.

This is downtown Las Vegas, ground zero of the renowned premiere adult playground, also known as Sin City and the largest gambling mecca in the world. The gritty scene inside and outside the casinos in the entertainment district, known as the Fremont Street Experience, rival New Orleans’ French Quarter. The party rocks all night, all week long.

In recent years, word drifted across the country that the old Las Vegas, the one where tourists felt free to indulge in wretched excess of every kind, no longer existed. That’s not true in the center of the city.

The giant casino hotels on the Las Vegas Strip — the ones that feature the big concerts and other shows — embrace a cleaner, more wholesome atmosphere. But Fremont Street remains as wild and crazy as ever.

When the guests at the large casino hotels want to indulge in a little hedonism, they climb on board the shuttle that runs between the Strip and downtown in search of more excitement. The most popular spot features four aging casino hotels on corners facing each other: the Four Queens, the Fremont, the Golden Nugget and Binion’s.

There they find virtually naked men and women standing on the pedestrian-only street, promoting commercial and personal agendas. Two of the more unusual posers stood out in the raucous crowd: a woman wearing the headdress of a nun, pasties, a black bikini bottom and high heels, and a man wearing only a pink thong. Both sought “tips.”

Two women wearing the briefest leather outfits and military-style hats emblazoned with the word “Police” presumably did not really serve on the Las Vegas Police Department. But who knows in this entertainment district? Across the street two “bunnies,” complete with ears and tails on their nearly naked backsides, promoted a nightclub.

Saying that Las Vegas is gay-friendly is almost unnecessary. Nothing seems to matter much to anyone in this area. It has got to be the impetus of the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” slogan.

The only thing you won’t find on Fremont Street is kids. The hotels above the casinos are nice, but the district gets loud late at night. The street is covered by a canopy, and it features a zip line at the top for anyone daring enough to seek that high rush.

It’s clear why so many visitors to Las Vegas go for only three nights; a longer visit might not only bankrupt, it would leave you thoroughly exhausted. The body can only take so much punishment, and the bank account is likely to give out even faster.

That’s when the entertainment venues on the Strip become more appealing to gamblers.

Only Las Vegas can provide a forum for big-star performances like Cher, Britney and Ricky Martin and their prop-heavy, sensational shows in enormous theaters. Cirque du Soleil recently staged a performance of “Love,” featuring Beatles music, at the Mirage with heavy emphasis on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
No one lucky enough to be there will ever forget the props and performances by the acrobats, dancers and singers.

A cab ride to the Monte Carlo to see the Cher show became as entertaining as everything else in Las Vegas. The cab driver also worked as a dealer in one of the big casinos, and he shared his knowledge of Las Vegas. He said while Sin City is best known for gambling, the biggest income generator has become the shows and conventions. For every guest staying in the casino hotels, there are two employees. Retail stores and restaurants surround the hotel casinos on the Strip and spread out for miles.

The population of Las Vegas grew dramatically during the 1900s, in large part because gambling and other entertainment income allowed Nevada to forego a state income tax. Property taxes are also low, adding to the state’s appeal. Additionally, corporations got income tax breaks so many businesses not associated with gambling and entertainment grew, too.

Other things to see

When the casinos and the shows both become too much, Las Vegas offers the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and Discovery Museum in Symphony Park, the Neon Museum, the Las Vegas History Museum, the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum, the Nevada State Museum and the Old Las Vegas Mormon State Historic Park.

The Downtown Arts District, with numerous galleries, hosts the annual Las Vegas Film Festival, and First Friday is a monthly celebration featuring exhibits of art, music and food. The celebration typically extends into the Freemont entertainment district, bridging culture and revelry.

Hoover Dam is another popular tourist draw, and tours of the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert (including a ghost town) are available.
So it is a diverse city. Nevertheless, Las Vegas will forever be linked with entertainment. Many of Las Vegas’ residents never step foot in the casinos, but few people who visit Sin City are able to resist the lure of the slot machines and tables.

It’s the sort of experience most people like to try at least once.

Party down on Panama Canal holiday cruises

Sitting in the Ocean View bar of Holland America’s Zuiderdam somewhere in the Caribbean over the Christmas holidays, I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes — eavesdropping on the conversations around me.

I sat alone at a table behind two middle-aged couples who chatted aimlessly. I gathered they had just met, given the frequent topic-switching.

The two men began discussing the variety of bars on the ship, and what an assortment of people they observed traveling on the ship on its way through the Panama Canal. “Well, you know what the Crow’s Nest is, don’t you?” one of the men said to the other. “That’s where all the gays go.”

Of course, my ears perked up as I waited for his next comment or a response from the other man. That never happened though, because the speaker’s wife and I exchanged knowing glances and she launched an interception. “Shut up,” she said to her husband as I quietly chuckled.

“What’s the matter?” he said. “It says on the activity list that there is a nightly LGBT gathering in the Captain’s Corner of the Crow’s Nest. Doesn’t that mean gay?

She again told him to shut up, and he did — even though he obviously didn’t understand why he should.

I locked eyes with the woman and mouthed the words, “It’s OK,” and I smiled.

Finishing my drink, I decided it would be a good time go find the Crow’s Nest. I resisted the impulse to say, “See you all in the Crow’s Nest.”

Looking at the activity guide, I saw that the LGBT gathering indeed took place in the Crow’s Nest, and I would be just in time for happy hour. So off I went to the top and front of the ship.

During previous cruises I was disappointed not to find many LGBT people in the designated cocktail lounges. I saw lots of gay men and lesbians and even one drag queen on previous cruises, but they never seemed to be where the ship’s cruise director tried to send them.

But this time, I got a surprise. I did indeed find not just one or two gay men and lesbians in the bar, but a whole bevy. This is more like it, I thought.

Among the group sitting at the bar was an older, wealthy male couple from California traveling with their personal assistant.

(I knew they had to be wealthy because they had a personal assistant. Also, they occupied a suite in the sky and paid for the personal assistant to enjoy himself in a balcony room alone. I got along quite well with the personal assistant, but that’s another story.)

Traveling alone, I enjoyed 10 splendid nights of dining, drinking, gambling, dancing and dating. I also engaged it a lot of sightseeing at the various ports. It was a wonderfully fulfilling cruise that surprised me in many ways. I met gay and lesbian people traveling alone, with their parents or with partners.

To say the ship’s personnel proved to be gay-friendly would be an understatement. Many of them were gay. In fact, I saw several ship officers of the same sex dancing together in the late-night bar near the casino.

I also really enjoyed the dinners and drinks I shared with the straight people I met.

One night when I went into the dining room, I saw the man and wife I had overheard in the cocktail lounge sitting alone at a table. They beckoned to me, and I went over and sat with them. The husband could not have been more gracious.

I saw his wife in the casino alone one night, and we had a good laugh about the whole thing. “He’s clueless,” she said.

I went on a gay-only cruise in the Mediterranean several years ago, and I enjoyed it. But I can’t say that I had more fun on it than I have any of the several generic cruises I’ve taken since then.

The truth is I found the gay-only cruises to be a lot more expensive than the other cruises I’ve taken. So if your budget is tight like mine, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the less expensive cruises.

You will not be the only queer on board

Friday, April 20, 2018

Celebrated activist bashed in gay bar during 'don't ask, don't tell' era dies virtually unnoticed by media

A quarter-century ago, the nation fixated on President Bill Clinton’s proposal to enact a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for the U.S. military. The bitter controversy erupted in the national media on Jan. 30, 1993, when three Marines from Camp Lejeune and the patrons of a gay bar named Mickey Ratz in Wilmington, N.C., went to battle.
The bar fight and the injuries sustained by one of the patrons, Crae Pridgen Jr. — who lived in Dallas for a brief time and has recently died — dominated the headlines.
Since then, the event that garnered so much notoriety at the time has faded in history. Everyone has forgotten that the LGBT community celebrated Pridgen, who suffered cuts, bruises, a black eye, a cut lip and a lost tooth, as a star in the aftermath of the bar melee.
Back then, Pridgen’s appearances in restaurants and bars frequented by the LGBT community anywhere in the country triggered crowds of admirers and well-wishers. The Human Rights Campaign penned a fundraising letter under his name; he appeared at the March on Washington as a headliner, and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Marines on his behalf.
He also made an appearance on the Today show.
But it proved to be a short-lived celebrity. Everything changed in April 1993, when a judge in Wilmington acquitted the Marines on assault charges after a six-day trial that was covered live on television.
The judge ruled the prosecutors failed to meet the burden of proof, and that she believed the Marines had acted in self-defense. The Marines claimed they were taunted by gay patrons, while Pridgen maintained that the military men, who entered the club with their girlfriends, attacked and yelled “Clinton must pay,” an alleged reference to the new military policy allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve.
The loss of the criminal case devastated Pridgen’s civil suit, and it later was settled out of court. The three Marines signed a statement saying that harassment is wrong, and they made a $100 contribution to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Pridgen found it difficult to find employment after the debacle of the criminal trial, and his church expelled him from the congregation. He endured widespread criticism in his hometown and nationwide from straight conservatives.
As is the case with most victims of violence, Pridgen suffered the classic symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome, such as anxiety and depression. He attempted to relocate to other cities, spending some time in Montgomery, Ala., the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, before returning to North Carolina. While in Alabama he served as a volunteer lobbyist for the newly-formed Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Alabama.
Pridgen, who relocated to Fort Lauderdale in 1999, died March 2 at the age of 53. He appears to have lived a much quieter life in his final years, in comparison to his former high media profile. His obituary in the Wilmington Star News said that he died unexpectedly at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
During his time in Florida, Pridgen worked as a mental health technician. He also became active in Lambda South, a 12-step recovery program for LGBT people, and in Florida Roundup, a statewide conference of LGBT recovery groups, as the chair of various committees.
Few people today remember him, but Pridgen should be recognized by the LGBT community for bringing widespread attention to the ongoing effort to combat hate crimes and promote tolerance. He gave all he had to give, and he paid a heavy price for his contribution.
David Webb worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center as a writer and researcher at the time the organization represented Crae Pridgen. Webb was assigned to Pridgen’s case and worked with him closely.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Convicted mentally ill rapist attempts suicide in jail

Tommy Robinson will likely die in prison.

Tommy Robinson, a man who attacked, robbed and sexually assaulted a woman six years ago in Oak Lawn, hung out at a Cedar Creek Lake gay bar before his arrest in Dallas.

Surveillance video from 2012 captured Tommy Robinson running toward then 17-year-old Lida Nguyen in Oak Lawn as she walked to a bus stop to go to school. Robinson was convicted on Friday. On Saturday, he allegedly attempted suicide causing a one-day delay in the sentencing portion of his trial.

Robinson was sentenced Tuesday to 50 years in prison, although he was not in court because he remained in the hospital after the reported unsuccessful suicide attempt over the weekend. The prisoner, who was in intensive care, reportedly took an overdose of anti-psychotic medications he had stockpiled in jail.

Robinson, who was 59 at the time of his arrest and is now 65, was jailed in Dallas on a $1.5 million bond. Questions about his mental competency and several confinements in mental treatment facilities delayed his trial.  His lawyer described him as a broken, mentally-ill man.

Robinson, also known as "Hollywood," due to the silver-framed sunglasses he always wore, was a frequent visitor to Garlow's nightclub, but he told other customers he was not gay. He also spoke about how he suffered from a mental illness, and he said that was why he could not drink alcohol. He was characterized as eccentric, but was generally viewed to be harmless.

A Dallas police detective in charge of investigating the crime confirmed he was aware Robinson had lived in the Cedar Creek Lake area prior to his arrest in Dallas. At his arrest, he was homeless and was taken into custody while bathing in a stream in Oak Lawn, according to multiple Dallas media reports.

Robinson is also said to go by the name Tommy King.

Gun Barrel City police report no unsolved sexual assault cases in the area at the time of Robinson’s arrest in Dallas.

The 17-year-old girl was attacked on Maple Avenue as she walked on a sidewalk to catch a bus to Skyline High School, where she was a student.

She suffered 20 stab wounds to her chest and back and was apparently left for dead behind a furniture store. Employees discovered her and called 9-1-1.

The girl was able to give police a description of her assailant and was able to pick him out of a police line-up.

When Robinson was arrested near the scene of the attack, he was naked from the waist down. He reportedly had a bloody knife in his boot and a cell phone similar to the one taken from the victim.

Robinson's bond was originally set at $500,000, then tripled.

The victim returned to Dallas to gain closure in the case and to thank all those who donated to a victim’s account at the time. The victim has since graduated from high school and college, gaining a degree in education. She lives out-of-state with her sister. The man who found her said she was the hero for surviving such an ordeal. Nguyen said during the attack he looked at her the whole time and before walking away told her to “have a nice life.”

“It didn’t make me any weaker,” she said in televised reports. “It actually made me stronger that he didn’t ruin my life and I did have a nice life. What happens to you doesn’t define you. You define yourself everyday through your actions.”

Friday, November 18, 2016

Who knows where Trump will actually go?

During Sunday television news programs after the Nov. 8 general election supporters of President-Elect Donald J. Trump probably reacted with as much shock as backers of Hillary Rodham Clinton did when she lost the election to the billionaire.

The television networks buzzed Sunday with discussion about why pollsters got it so wrong when they predicted Clinton would win the election, widespread reports of angry protests in the streets of major cities and speculation about who would get top spots in Trump’s Administration. That evening on 60 Minutes Trump, his wife Melania and his four children appeared for a wide-ranging interview about his plans for the Oval Office.

Sunday morning, the media reported that Trump would be considering Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for his chief of staff, and the Trump Transition Campaign confirmed Priebus’ appointment that afternoon. After weeks of promising to “Drain the Swamp” in Washington, D.C., Trump confounded observers by “putting the top alligator in charge” of the administration, as one pundit put it.

Trump also named Stephen Bannon, the arch-conservative chairman of Breitbart News and White Nationalist, as his senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist. Earlier, observers suggested Bannon would be Trump’s choice for chief of staff.

Neither Priebus nor Bannon would be anything other than disastrous picks in the view of LGBT activists, but Bannon would be viewed as an outsider. Priebus is the ultimate insider in the Republican establishment with whom Trump so virulently quarreled during his primary and election campaigns.

When Trump and his family appeared on 60 Minutes some people surely wondered who had taken over Trump’s body and mouth. The foul-mouthed, crass bully had disappeared to be replaced by someone almost palatable.

Trump, after weeks of bashing the media as dishonest and vindictive, answered interviewer Leslie Stahl’s questions thoughtfully and politely. When she told him his election had sparked bullying in schools and on streets in the name of White Power, Trump said the news saddened him. He even looked directly into the camera and sternly said, “Stop it,” to the bullies.

The shocks kept coming in the interview as Trump backed away from his promise to repeal Obamacare on day one of his presidency. Instead, it would be replaced by something better that ensures all citizens will be insured and the best parts of Obamacare (no pre-existing conditions denials and extensions of coverage for children to age 26 when they live at home) would be kept.

On the subject of the 30-feet-high, 3,000-mile wall being built on the U.S. and Mexico border, Trump said it would in some areas merely be a fence. Despite his many campaign pledges to form a deportation troop and remove all undocumented residents, Trump said the focus would be on criminals only. The other “terrific people” would probably be accommodated somehow, he hinted.

In a gracious nod to Clinton, Trump even said he wanted to cause no harm to former President Bill Clinton and his wife. He called them “good people,” and he said he would think about his earlier threat to appoint a special prosecutor to “put her in jail” for allegedly lying before Congress about the private server and devices she used for email exchanges.


Trump proclaimed himself to be pro-life, but he said that there would be no assault on abortion rights. If the issue ever came before the U.S. Supreme Court again, the most drastic result would be a return of the issue to the states for consideration.

Finally, he said that marriage equality is already the law of the land, and there would be no impact on the rights of LGBT citizens to marry, he said. Trump even added that he knows many LGBT people.

I suspect that last one blew the socks off of many of Trump’s supporters who propelled him to the top elected office of the nation. Pollsters identified rural Americans without college educations as the group that most likely came out of the woods in larger numbers than expected to vote for him.

Human rights groups disregarded Trump’s softer rhetoric, saying his appointment of Bannon had made a mockery of Trump’s pledge to be the president for all Americans. “Stephen Bannon, a man who led a media empire into becoming what a former Breitbart editor called a cesspool for White Supremacist followers simply has no business in the White House,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Trump’s victory led to an “avalanche of racist and anti-Semitic harassment that plagued the entire presidential campaign,” he said. White Supremacist websites erupted into celebration on election night he added.

Like everyone else who voted for Clinton, I reacted in shock when I learned Trump would be our next president. I literally took to bed for a couple of days to recover from that harrowing night of election returns.

Trump’s more tolerant stance on 60 Minutes in no way protects the LGBT community from the threat of the conservative cause, but it reminds me of a few important factors. First, no candidate is ever able to deliver on all of the promises they make during a campaign, and the situation is never as good or bad as we might anticipate it to be following an election.

Most importantly, I am reminded that we as a community of LGBT people are always at the top of our game in the face of adversity. That’s not going to change, no matter who becomes president.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Beware bonus coupons for new checking accounts; expiration terms strictly enforced

Although Chase Bank lacks a branch in the Cedar Creek Lake area, the ease of online banking and hefty bonus coupons of up to $300 can attract local residents to open accounts.

Residents with Chase credit card accounts get the offers in the mail and online.

The terms seem simple enough to collect the free cash. All you need to is go online and set up a direct deposit from your "paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government," the fine print reads.

The first deposit must reach the bank account within 60 days are the deal is off.

Unfortunately, what the statement from Chase does not reveal is that the Social Security

Administration moves slower than that. It takes more like 75 to 90 days to get the first check redirected to the new account.

In such a case, Chase refuses to honor the coupon, and it will assess checking account fees ranging from $12 to $25 to the new account.

A recent call to Chase customer service revealed that the 60-day expiration date will not be waived under any circumstances. You might be able to talk the representative into waiving the checking account fee, but you will get a stern warning that future waivers are unlikely unless all of the terms are met.

(UPDATE: Contrary to the statements of Chase customer service agents, a $300 credit in the referenced checking account appeared on Nov. 8 following the publication of this article.)

It is unclear whether Chase marketing experts knew how long it takes the Social Administration to redirect deposits when they designed the marketing materials.

Customer service agents simply say that they have many customers who successfully completed the terms and received their bonuses. Two agents repeated the statement verbatim so it apparently is a canned answer for unhappy customers who collect Social Security benefits and couldn't meet the terms through no fault of their own.

The agents also have another tool and their disposal. If the customer feels duped and gets hostile, they are headed for a recording that brands them abusive. "Please do not call us again," it says. "If you need to communicate with us, send an email."

How's that for friendly service?