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?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Organizing by gay rights pioneers, massive social change sparked Stonewall Riots

Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society
Brenda Howard, known as 'Mother of Pride'
Dallas’ LGBT community will celebrate the 2016 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sunday afternoon, marking the commemoration of New York City’s Stonewall Riots in June 1969 and a special moment in Texas’ gay legal history. Most people view the spontaneous riots as the birth of the modern-day gay rights movement, but that’s not the whole story.

The three days of riots that took place at the Stonewall Inn June 28, 1969, in Greenwich Village when New York City police officers attempted to raid the club frequented by drag queens, male hustlers and butch lesbians represented a turning point, but not the beginning. The melee that shocked police officers and sent them scurrying for backup followed years of advocacy by early pioneers of social change in the United States and the rest of the world.

In 1924, the nation’s first gay rights group, The Society for Human Rights, formed in Chicago, the major city in the first state to strike down the sodomy law in 1962. The first national gay rights group, the Mattachine Society, was organized by Harry Hay in 1951 in Los Angeles. Hays, who was also a communist activist, was largely inspired by Alfred Kinsey’s publication in 1948 of “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” which revealed homosexuality to be far more widespread than society previously understood.

Lesbians also entered the picture in the 1950s with the formation of the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco, followed by a national organization of the same name in 1956. In 1966, the National Transsexual Counseling Unit in San Francisco, became the first transgender organization in the world.

Gay activists in Europe and other countries simultaneously formed groups and sought changes, making it a worldwide effort that progressed steadily and solidly before it exploded in the 1970s.

U.S. gay activists in the 1950s and 1960s, who favored the term “homophile” rather than “homosexual” to describe their organizations, often advocated assimilation into mainstream society through educational efforts directed at both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Facing an anti-gay legal system, they sought non-confrontational strategies before the volatile social and political movements of the late 1960s, including the anti-Vietnam War protests, began influencing the LGBT community and its leaders as well. Many of the early gay activists participated in the movements for equality for ethnic groups and women, including the issue of reproductive rights.

Sociologists speculate that the massive worldwide push for social change and the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, San Francisco and Hollywood created hotbeds that took public officials by surprise. Prior to the Stonewall riots, LGBT people put up little resistance to oppression from police that flourished everywhere.

As word of the Stonewall Riots spread across the United States and around the world in 1969 thanks to international news agencies, it sparked amusement among many readers and horror among some older LGBT community members in conservative areas like Dallas who feared reprisals from local police officers. At the same time it inspired admiration and unrest among younger LGBT people and within two years gay rights groups existed in every major U.S. city, as well as Canada, Europe and Australia.

In November of 1969 the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations met in Philadelphia and proposed the first gay pride parade to be held in New York City to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. Activists at the meeting pledged to encourage other LGBT communities across the nation to also stage parades, and they coined the term “Pride.” Bisexual activist Brenda Howard became known as the “Mother of Pride” for coordinating the parade and proposing a week of celebratory events to enhance the march.
The first Pride parades were held June 28, 1970 in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Chicago held one a day earlier on June 27. Many of the marches proclaimed “Gay Liberation Day” and “Gay Freedom Day” before they evolved into the universal “Gay Pride Day” in the 1980s.

Another pivotal movement occurred in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders, reversing its classification in “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” in 1952 as a mental disorder. Gay groups across the United States banded together and stressed the importance of that determination to counteract resistance by opponents such as conservative religious leaders and bigots such as celebrity singer Anita Bryant who led a fight against LGBT equality in Florida.

Today, Pride parades take place in countless cities worldwide. Most are held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. Dallas holds its parade in September to celebrate federal Judge Jerry Buchmeyer’s condemnation of the sodomy law as unconstitutional and also to take advantage of cooler weather in addition to recognizing the importance of the riots.

Dallas’ first gay parade took place in 1972 three years after he Stonewall Riots in Downtown Dallas attracting several hundred people. The next one would not be staged until 1980, and the annual parade named for Allan Ross, a longtime coordinator and official with the parade sponsor Dallas Tavern Guild, takes place in Oak Lawn where most of the city’s gay and lesbian bars operate. It attracts tens of thousands of spectators.
The Stonewall Riots gave a boost to a civil rights movement that was well underway in 1969 but struggling to gain the sort of widespread attention and support needed to change minds and hearts in large enough numbers to make a difference That summer night in New York City, the most marginalized members of the early LGBT community changed the course of history.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

'Friends of Dorothy' come out of closet; travel agent confirms new cruise line policies


t was bound to happen eventually. “Friends of Dorothy” meetings, once posted on daily cruise ship programs as mysterious, informal get-togethers, now tend to be noted for what they really are – LGBT mixers.
That came to my attention on the Carnival Vista July 9-19 cruising from Barcelona to Athens with nine port stops in France, Italy, Turkey and Greece along the way. One of three straight women with whom I traveled asked me before we flew to Spain what a “Friend of Dorothy” that she noted so often on cruise ship programs mean?

I explained that cruise ships began using the term decades ago when homosexuality remained illegal to signify that passengers who wanted to meet other gay men or lesbians that they could at a designated spot, usually one of the smaller ship bars.

“Well, who is Dorothy?” my friend persisted.
I had assumed that Dorothy referred to the main character in the “Wizard of Oz” played by Judy Garland because she and her song “Over the Rainbow” became favorites of gay men. Turns out I might have been wrong about that. Some gay historians theorize that Dorothy actually refers to Dorothy Parker, a poet and scriptwriter who produced “A Star Is Born”. Parker was infamous for her glitzy social circle in the 1940s and 1950s that included many gay men and bisexuals.
The term “Friends of Dorothy” gained widespread use after World War II, and investigators for the U.S. Military began to suspect that the mysterious organization might be a spy ring, according to the gay historians. Given that many gay activists prior to the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 belonged to the U.S. Communist Party, it’s easy to see how the organization became somewhat notorious, even though it really never officially existed.

“That’s interesting,” my friend said about the history of the term. She noted that she had always wondered what “Friends of Dorothy” meant but never before met anyone who could tell her. “I know a lot of lesbians,” she said.
She asked me what went on in the gatherings, and I said that I really didn’t know. I never went to one. I tended to turn wherever I partied into a gay bar, whether it be a country and western bar, jazz club, casino or whatever.

“Do you want to go?” I asked her. “It might be interesting to see what they do at them.”
My friend said that would be OK with her because she harbored no anti-gay bigotry. Previously married with children and grandchildren, I knew she was unlikely to be confused about her sexual orientation. Just curious, as I had become at that point too.

Much to my surprise, when we got on the ship and perused the schedules I couldn’t find a reference to “Friends of Dorothy” anywhere. My last cruise in September of last year on Holland America’s  Amsterdam going to Alaska out of Seattle had included such a meeting on the schedule in one of the bars.
“That strange,” I said.

Then my friend asked me another curious question. “What is LGBT?” she said.
I looked at the schedule, and I told her that the ship apparently had dropped the “Friends of Dorothy” ruse and was outright publicizing a gay and lesbian party.

“But what does LGBT mean?” she said.
I explained it referred to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. I was surprised she had never come across that term. I had observed plenty of LGBT people on all of my cruises, including one tall transgender woman wearing a huge platinum wig on the Alaskan cruise.

“Do you still want to go to the party? I said.
We agreed to check out the LGBT gathering, and that led to a shock. The bar turned out to be open to one of the ship hallways, and it included about a dozen barstools and a few tables with chairs. The bar was packed, but not with the people I expected to see.

Straight couples sat at all of the seats, enjoying pre-dinner cocktails. I didn’t bother asking any of them if they had come to attend the LGBT party. I knew they wouldn’t have a clue as to what I meant.
It looks like the LGBT community has come so far that it no longer needs any sort of special meetings, no matter what the cruise ships might call them.
After I reported my observations in the Dallas Voice, travel agent Doug Thompson confirmed them.
"As a travel agent I sat on the LGBT Task Force for the Cruise Line Industry Association. In 2013 we began to petition each of the cruise lines to stop the use of the term "Friends of Dorothy." Our reasoning was simple. We no longer wanted to be treated like we were in the closet as some secret society."
Thompson added that younger LGBT travelers and even older travelers not accustomed to traveling might not understand the terminology.
Cruise lines now leave the decisions of onboard programing up to individual cruise directors, but all are enthusiastic about the recommendations that "LGBT Gatherings" be included in the schedules, according to Thompson.
Passengers who do not see the information listed on the schedules can contact the front desk for information where a community board also lists information.
So there we have it. The LGBT equality movement has reached yet another height. There are plenty of LGBT-only cruises available, but they are often more expensive than mainstream cruises and not what everyone wants to experience.
As Thompson points out, you can now call your travel agent or the cruise line directly and tell them what you want a LGBT-friendly cruise.
"Any of your local travel agents will be happy to help you plan for your cruise vacation," Thompson said.








Friday, June 10, 2016

Press Club of Dallas honors The Rare Reporter

It really doesn't get any better than this.

Here I am showing off my award from the Press Club of Dallas for "Excellence in Journalism" with the beautiful NBC 5 Anchor Kristi Nelson who hosted the 2016 North Texas Legends ceremony at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza June 9.

My nephew, Mike Webb and his wife, Angela, and my good friend Paul Stoker and his wife, Rebecca, attended the ceremony. Afterwards, the five of us went to Bouchan, a French restaurant in North Oak Cliff on Davis St. for drinks and dinner. It was a magical night.

Below, I'm pictured with my nephew, Mike, and my friend, Paul.