Sunday, December 30, 2012

Homophobic bloggers blame 'gay card' for website destruction; no forgiveness in sight


The Rare Reporter's story of the year for 2012 would have to be about the night he allegedly, single-handedly destroyed a website by playing his gay card during a quarrel with about a half-dozen anonymous hateful bloggers.

Over at the reincarnation of the old website they are still sniping at The Rare Reporter about that fateful night of about a month ago, which I previously reported here: http://therarereporter.blogspot.com/2012/12/night-in-snake-pit-hate-speech-gets.html

The story they repeatedly refer to is that a cranky old queen who is so senile he can hardly find his way to the liquor store and back, jumped one night drunk into the middle of one of their respectful discussions and caused all holy hell to break out. It seems, according to them, that no one had ever used homophobic language until I came on the scene, even though I previously had been advised I had been the subject of such hateful discussions. At any rate, it didn't take long when I entered the website with my picture and name for the snakes to strike.

Now, they claim I played my gay card and convinced the website hosting company to shut them down. The truth is that I was too busy at the time fighting off hostile remarks to make a complaint, and I have since been told that another party observing the action actually filed the complaint.

What the head blogger and his disciples cannot seem to understand is that it wasn't the complaint that got them shut down. It was their homophobic, ageist language that proved to be their undoing. The complaint only drew attention to the language.

No matter, it's good lesson to learn about the power of the gay card. I certainly will never leave home without it again, and I suggest that everyone else -- even if you are straight -- apply for one too.











Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why deny loving pet owners access over money?


It pleased me today to take a check from my family to the Cedar Creek Lake Humane Society for a 2013 donation. I love animals, and I want to do all I can to help homeless ones, and I appreciate my family's willingness to contribute to it.

It was a bit of a shock for me at the facility to discover a young couple with their baby girl unsuccessfully trying to retrieve their dog from the shelter, where it had been delivered by one of the city animal control agencies around the lake. It seems the dog, which had either been taken from their yard or escaped on its own, had been captured by a dog catcher.

The young couple appeared to be strapped for cash and unable to pay the $55 fee, which included two days of $20 boarding since the dog was delivered by the animal control officers. I was willing to pay the fee for them, but the Humane Society volunteer said the couple would first have to visit the animal control agency that picked up the dog to pay them a fee as well.

The young father explained that the dog slept with his daughter, and he asked if they could see it. The volunteer denied the request.

The reality of this situation is that the dog will eventually be put to sleep if it is not adopted. The shelter closes every Wednesday for the euthanasia of dogs and cats that have overstayed their welcome.

After the young couple left, the volunteer told me that if they could not afford the $15 fee to have the dog registered, which they apparently had not, they couldn't afford to own it.

There is something really wrong with that type of attitude when the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake regularly puts dogs to sleep when they don't get adopted.

The group does a lot of good work, but they obviously have some progress to be made, particularly when they solicit and receive large donations from the community every year. They collected $189,000 for the construction of a new building in 2012.

Let's hope they can figure out how to help this family out and reunite them with their dog. If they don't I sure won't be back with a donation next December. It is after all the Christmas season, a time of giving.

(UPDATE: There were no outstanding citations related to the dog being picked up. I paid the Humane Society fee and for a rabies vaccination so the young couple who own the dog can pick it up today. The shelter director wants the dog to be spayed, but she said that she would pay for that. They are just 17 years old, live with a relative and have no money. Several people called me offering to contribute to the cause. I'm happy we could help the young couple.

I just spoke to the young couple, and the dog is home with them. They took it for the rabies shot and made the appointment for it to be spayed next week. This story had a happy ending because someone observed the situation who had the resources to help. What happens to all of the people and pets who don't get such help?)









Friday, December 7, 2012

Night in the snake pit; hate speech gets blog shut down



If you've got snakes in the cellar there's only one way to get rid of them. You've got to go down into their dark, stinking den and chase them out in the sunshine.

That's how it seemed when I recently went to battle with a nest of vipers who pose under pseudonyms and congregate every night on a defamatory blog to hiss and spit their venom. The blog and the cowardly bullies who frequent it began breeding quite a while ago, but the menace mattered little to me until I also became a target of their wrath.

I suffered bites from several of the serpents because I began reporting about the legal problems of Joey Dauben, former publisher of the Ellis County Observer blog, after he was charged in Navarro County in December 2011 with four counts of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old male teenager. The assault allegedly occurred five years ago on a church camping trip that Dauben and the teenager attended.

While jailed, Dauben wracked up yet another felony charge, fraudulent use of identifying information, in Ellis County in connection with a blog post he wrote in mid-2011 that named and suggested violence against a Red Oak man whose ex-wife had accused her ex-husband of child molestation. In the story Dauben gave the man's name, address, phone number and place of employment. He also wrote that the man should die if the allegations proved true.

As it turned out the allegations against the Red Oak man proved false, and it landed Dauben in the biggest jam of his life -- next to the allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, which he is scheduled to fight in a trial early next year. Ellis County recently tried and convicted him on the fraud charges, and he received a probated five-year sentence.

Dauben, who started off as reporter for a small town newspaper and then moved on to self publishing under the Ellis County Observer banner as a blogger, managed during his decade of reporting to probably make more enemies than any other writer that I've ever encountered -- even more than me.

Dauben's style was so reckless and unprofessional and exhibited such a total, unapologetic disregard for the truth that he absolutely intrigued me. I felt compelled to meet him and attempt to influence him to mend his ways because I thought he probably possessed a natural raw talent that could be cultivated.

When I sent Dauben an e-mail he accepted my invitation to lunch, and he seemed interested in what I had to say about learning accepted standards of professional journalism and practicing them. He had started writing for newspapers in high school and afterwards went to work for a small newspaper without obtaining a college degree. After talking to him, I attributed his overly-aggressive style and unprofessionalism to a lack of education and training.

At the time of our meeting in the summer of 2011, Dauben had just moved to Cedar Creek Lake from Ellis County to live with his 81-year-old grandmother and help care for her. He mentioned that he had left behind a professional matter in Ellis County that worried him, and I later realized he had  referred to the botched story he wrote about the Red Oak man.

He confided in me that he feared he had finally given his enemies -- which apparently included people of all walks of life from police officers to city and county officials, to lawyers and judges -- an opportunity to destroy him.

I exchanged a few e-mails and some media information with Dauben over the ensuing months, but I didn't see him again until this year, long after he was jailed on the sexual assault charges. His arrest stunned me when I read about it in local newspapers and saw it on television stations. The heinous nature of the charge especially shocked me.

I wrote to Dauben in jail and expressed my surprise about his arrest. He wrote back, and he assured me of his innocence. I decided to withhold judgement until I heard the evidence against him presented at trial. It was a combination of my finding his story believable and giving him the benefit of the presumption of innocence unless he is proven to be guilty. Nothing about Dauben ever gave me the impression he would be interested in sexual activity with another male of any age or with a child.

I started covering his case because it is an interesting one, especially because he believes that he is a victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by his enemies to silence him. Dauben had a high profile in Dallas and around Cedar Creek Lake prior to his arrest. Every major publication in Dallas had featured stories about Dauben prior to his arrest, probably in part because he is such a colorful character.

The Ellis County case made his legal troubles even more interesting to me because the prosecutor applied a law in his case that Texas legislators designed to prosecute people who commit fraud through the use of other people's credit cards and other financial instruments. Dauben argued that it should be a civil libel case rather than a criminal one, and that is the legal action I would have anticipated.

I'm uncertain why all of Dallas' publications dropped the story after initially reporting his arrest, but I decided that it merited much more coverage. At the time I still wrote columns for the Dallas Voice so it published most of those stories, and it finally became the sole publication in Dallas covering the Dauben case.

At one point my coverage of Dauben's case caught the eye of the Navarro County prosecutors and apparently so annoyed them that they subpoenaed me to testify in a gag order hearing intended to silence Dauben, who was sending out press releases regularly.

During the hearing the Navarro County prosecutor asked me what I considered to be an inappropriate question. "What is your interest in this case," he asked. Dauben's attorney objected to the question, but the judge allowed it. I answered something to the effect that there was a lot of interest in the case because of Dauben's high profile in the media. I don't believe a straight reporter working for a mainstream newspaper would have been asked that question, and I should have realized it was an indicator of unpleasant things to come.

That's when the rumors started. They went something like this. If a gay reporter is covering Joey Dauben's case and the Dallas Voice is the only publication covering it, then Dauben must be gay, the gay reporter must be sexually attracted to Dauben or the gay reporter must be supportive of adults engaging in sex with minors or all of the above.

About this time I received electronic messages from two of Dauben's bitterest critics. Both apparently held grudges against him because of his previous reporting about them or someone close to them.

One woman who worked at a radio station in West Texas and got involved in the search for a missing child apparently hated Dauben because he had accused her of faking a photograph about alleged evidence of human remains.

The woman contacted me and said she had heard that the thought of Dauben being released from jail terrified me, and that she had consulted with a prosecutor in Ellis County on his jailing Dauben on the fraud charges if he managed to make bail in Navarro County. I denied being afraid of Dauben, and she immediately signed off the Facebook account and blocked me. I later contacted her via her e-mail account because I wanted to know how she got the erroneous information. She refused to believe me, and she accused me of getting drunk somewhere and telling people that Dauben frightened me. It never happened, but she remained unswayed by my protests.

Then the author of the blog I referenced earlier as a snake pit contacted me, implying that he understood that I had some kind of special connection with Dauben, who remained jailed at the time. He asked me if I would agree to be an anonymous source for his blog so he could write updates about Dauben's situation. The author said, "If there is some actual information ... or any message Joey is trying to get through ... I could post it on my blog and leave you completely out of it ..."  The obvious implication was that I had an inside view of what message Dauben wanted the public to hear.

I declined, saying that I really had no special inside track, nor would I do something like that in connection with any story, even if I did have an exclusive source. The truth is that Dauben probably would have communicated with anyone who would have reported about his situation, even this enemy who started the blog for the specific reason of attacking Dauben. What is extraordinary is that someone would hold such a bitter grudge against someone to start a blog devoted to the sole purpose of condemning them.

As it happened, Dauben finally made bail in Navarro County, but it would not be for the entire length of his pre-trial period. Dauben couldn't refrain from exercising his passion for writing and reporting the news, and he eventually wound up violating the terms of his release on bond, which forbid him from using the Internet in any manner. During this time, I met Dauben twice for lunch, and we communicated occasionally about his case via text messaging, in addition to a brief conversation following a hearing.

After his return to jail and his trial in Ellis County, I wrote another story about Dauben's conviction. It apparently proved to be more than Dauben's critics could stand because I began again hearing the rumors about me, my sexuality and my motives for covering the Dauben case. The Ellis County district attorney made several harsh statements about Dauben that area newspapers reported, and I had not. I didn't attend the trial so I could hardly quote someone I didn't hear speak. I reported the results of the trial, and the reaction to the verdict from the defendant's perspective -- which was ignored by local newspapers -- as relayed to me by his girlfriend. I couldn't talk to Dauben because he remained jailed in Navarro County awaiting trial.

After hearing about the resumption of the rumors, I finally decided to confront the critics on the blog, and a week ago I went online into the snake pit with my real name and my picture and took them all on at once. I acknowledge provoking them to spark a dialogue, but I had no idea how much pent-up hostility awaited me.

It was a bloody fight, and I was bitten repeatedly. I punched one to the left, elbowed another one behind me to the right, kicked them one after the other with both feet and held two incredibly ugly, foul-breathed snakes by the neck choking them when suddenly -- the website went down.

The blog's author, who goes by the name of a cookie that sounds like a woman's name but who is reportedly actually a man, later revealed that the hosting service company Wordpress.com shut down  the blog and sent a message saying that the terms of service had been breached by the hate speech, which had characterized me as an old lonely gay pervert who wanted to get it on with a younger guy who liked to engage in sex with minors. One also accused me of being drunk, which revealed to me who she must be.

The author repeatedly referred in the days following the blog's shutdown to my "extraordinary relationship" with Dauben, which actually had only amounted to three lunches in more than a year's time, and one brief conversation after a court hearing.

Naturally, the first words out of the snakes' mouths would be that I somehow had orchestrated the shutdown of the blog. Actually,  I didn't complain about the hate speech (I was too busy fighting), but even if I had, the stupid statements of the vipers obviously got the website shut down, not me.

The author of the blog relaunched it on another hosting service the following day, and the attacks against me immediately continued with a little more restraint. I stupidly continued to argue with them, and they added a false claim that the Dallas Voice had "canned" me because of my alleged  "biased" coverage of Dauben.

That was yet another lie published on the blog about me. A personal decision, which included a summer of travel, led to my decision to quit writing columns for all of the magazines that previously published my columns. I am after all retired and receiving Social Security checks after more than 30 years of newspaper work.

Now, Dauben's enemies claim that I "drank the Kool-Aid," and that I am officially a "Daubinista," but that's not true either. I don't believe Dauben's conspiracy theory, but at the same time I don't think the hatred so many people feel against him because of his former blogging helps him any. Navarro County's first attempt to try Dauben on the sexual assault charges ended in a mistrial because of an inability to seat an unbiased jury out of a jury pool of 50 people.

I did contact a former supervisor of mine from the days when I worked at the Southern Poverty Lawn Center in Montgomery, Ala., and asked him what he thought of the verdict in Ellis County. Based on my description of the case, Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he couldn't understand how Dauben got convicted on that charge under those circumstances. He suggested that Dauben's lawyer might want to contact the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas because the organization pursues free speech litigation, and I relayed the information to Dauben's camp. At the same time, I used the opportunity to ask if he intended to appeal his conviction, and I learned an appeal already had been filed.

To me, the Ellis County case represents a free speech issue. I frankly can't understand why none of Dallas' publications are interested in this aspect of the case, but I make no apologies for my interest in it. As I understand, it is the first time for the Texas law to be used in such a manner so I think the appeal court's review of it will be especially interesting. It will be setting a precedent if the verdict stands.

Dauben's attack on the Red Oak man was reprehensible, but I don't understand how what he did met the criteria for that particular law. If the verdict is allowed to stand, who knows how the law will be interpreted next time against a blogger. It might even be applied to the snake pit when hate speech erupts on the blog. If it happened once, it probably will happen again. Perhaps, tonight.

Dauben's critics apparently are angry with me in part because they think I should more fiercely criticize him. They also complain that I should have written more about the complaints of Joey's enemies rather than summarizing them, but I'm not writing a book.

In addition to ridiculing me for being old and gay and suggesting I might be a child molester, they claimed I no longer am a journalist, that I am washed up and will be ending my career as a mere blogger who will be disgraced for covering the Dauben case.

I disagree. It's not up to me or any other journalist to punish Dauben. That's not my job. It is the job of the legal system to determine if he is guilty or innocent, and he deserves the same Constitutional protections that anyone else would -- no matter what the alleged crime.

As far as it goes for myself and how badly I may get beat up for covering the Dauben case and sticking to my beliefs, it goes with the work of the job. You come across all sorts of people when you cover the news and if you mess with snakes you probably will get bit. But I think I'm going to stay out of the snake pit in the future.


















Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Small town newspaper stumbles over drag queen's name


GUN BARREL CITY, TX  -- It will be with at least a small amount of shocked amusement when some readers peruse The Monitor of Mabank this week.

On page 4 of the Dec. 6 issue of the small town community newspaper halfway down, the headline reads "Garlow's to host annual Toys for Tots benefit show," but the story makes no mention of Garlow's being a gay bar or of it being a drag show Saturday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. The entertainers who will be on hand from all over Texas who are noted in the story include "Sofonda Cox," which is the very last two words of the story.

That one no doubt went right over the heads of the reporter, the editor and anyone else who happened to see it in the proofs before they put the paper to bed. But it likely will have every LGBT resident of Cedar Creek Lake an hour southeast of Dallas in stitches. Their friends will probably get the joke too because they also know drag queens like to do funny things with their stage names.

Still, it is a great cause and if tradition continues, a lot of money and gifts will be raised for needy children. The headliners of the show, Linze Serell (pictured above) and Sable Alexander, are tireless entertainers and philanthropists who have raised many tens of thousands of dollars for charities over the years. They have been coming to Cedar Creek Lake for years to help raise money for local charities and for HIV organizations in Dallas-Fort Worth that also serve Cedar Creek Lake residents.

Some 50 bikes are already scheduled for delivery to Toys for Tots in connection with the show, and all money raised at the show from entertainers' tips and an auction will also go to the charity. Admission to the show is an unwrapped bicycle helmet or other toy, and those also will go to the charity.

To be fair, everybody around the lake knows Garlow's is a gay bar, and that it regularly hosts drag shows. The crowd always includes a large number of straight people who enjoy the shows and general atmosphere of the trendy bar.

Garlow's runs an ad weekly in the Lake Area Leader, which is a shopper owned by The Monitor's publisher that is mailed to every resident of the lake. The ad on the front page of the shopper gives the website address of the bar as a source for events, but it is often not up-to-date.

Friends, the old gay bar that went out of business last year after 15 years of operation, never advertised in The Monitor and never received or wanted any coverage. It also hosted regular drag shows and community theater variety shows by a troupe called the "Friends Players."

Some of the entertainers in the Garlow's show will include old regulars from Friends' productions. See garlows.com for information.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Passing time on a warm December afternoon


A re-reading of Truman Capote's last, unfinished novel, "Answered Prayers", kept me busy for most of an unseasonably sunny afternoon on the ranch. Afterwards, I retreated to my covered patio table to sip iced tea and gaze at the prairie and the woods in the distance. I needed a moment of serenity to return to the present and leave behind New York City's 1960's cafe society to which I had escaped for several hours.

A commotion to the left of me in the pasture broke my reflection on my most recent time travel to an exotic destination, a pastime I acquired as a youth when I discovered my family's tiny home library held an astonishing collection of books by authors like John O'Hara and Daphne Du Maurier who would tell me stories I wouldn't hear anywhere else in Childress, Texas.

There on the ranch, right before my eyes I saw two bulls and a cow engaging in exactly the type of behavior mentioned by P.B. Jones,  the narrator in Capote's novel.

As the two bulls engaged in a head-butting contest, one of the cows, approached the larger bull and mounted him. "A menage a trois," I muttered. Clearly, cafe society, as Capote so artfully captured it to everyone's great regret -- probably including his own eventually -- enjoyed no monopoly on decadent behavior. The wealthy and privileged just did what came naturally, and it usually involved sexual escapades.

Anyone who loves literature and art knows that homosexuality, bisexuality, infidelity, polygamy and just about everything else has existed and thrived throughout time. Writers told their stories, and as long as no one recognized the characters, they generally avoided a public backlash, except during situations involving censorship based on morality.

In Capote's case, he apparently felt compelled to write about society in a way which left no doubt at all about where he got the ideas. It's one thing for everyone to know what happened and who did it, but God help the writer who documents it.

I had returned to my collection of Capote books for a quick trip back in time after reading the December 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, which included a story by Sam Kashner about Capote's "social suicide note," as the excerpt, "La Cote Basque" has come to be known. The magazine also included, "Yachts and Things," which is believed to be yet another chapter heretofore unpublished but intended by Capote for the book. In it he writes about a cruise he took on a private yacht in 1966 with Washington Post publisher Kathrine Graham.

Capote, who had enjoyed the praise of cafe society and benefited handsomely from it for decades before the first publication of the excerpt of the book in Esquire in 1975, quickly found himself to be an outcast and dependent on alcohol and drugs to soothe the pain. He died spiritually broken in 1984, his talent wasted and in ruins.

It was the price he paid for telling the truth about society.

He never delivered the final manuscript for "Answered Prayers," which he intended to be his greatest masterpiece. His publisher, Random House, printed all of the chapters that could be found at the time in 1987.





Thursday, November 15, 2012

Former publisher must serve 5 years probation after criminal conviction for blog post; sex assault trial next


WAXAHACHIE, TX -- The criminal legal problems of a former website publisher in a small Texas town south of Dallas shows how much trouble can erupt when bloggers fail to adhere to basic professional journalism standards.

Joey Dauben, former publisher of Ellis County Observer, received five years probation on Nov. 15 in lieu of a one-year state jail sentence recommended by a jury after a one-day trial and conviction the previous day.

Judge Bob Carroll of the 40th District Court ordered Dauben, 31, to serve five years probation, after the jury convicted him of "fraudulent use of private identifying information" in connection with a post on his blog in 2011.

During the probation, Dauben's Internet use will be restricted. He will not be allowed to maintain a Facebook page or other website, he will be prohibited from posting comments on the Internet or on any kind of public pages and he will be allowed only one e-mail account for work and other approved personal messaging to family and friends. He will be confined to Ellis County and must observe an 11 p.m. curfew. He also must submit to a yearly polygraph test and register any electronic devices he owns.

Earlier in the year Judge Carroll ordered Dauben to forfeit the website domain name EllisCountyObserver.com in connection with the felony charge pending against him, similar to the way suspected defendants in drug-related cases are forced to forfeit automobiles and other property.

In convicting Dauben, the jury recommended a one-year sentence and a $2,400 fine, but it also suggested the former publisher be allowed to avoid jail through community supervision, as it was his first felony conviction.

In the blog post that resulted in criminal charges in Ellis County, Dauben identified a Red Oak man -- by full legal name, date-of-birth, and place of work -- whose ex-wife had accused her ex-husband of molesting their children.

When Red Oak Police charged the woman with filing a false police report, Dauben issued a retraction and an apology after being contacted by the man's lawyer. Subsequently, in June 2011, the police department in cooperation with the Henderson County Sheriff's Department raided Dauben's Cedar Creek Lake hone office, seizing his computer and files.

Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson reportedly told the jury that Dauben appeared to be acting in the capacity of a vigilante, rather than a journalist reporting the news. Wilson said that the information Dauben reported about the Red Oak man could have led to the destruction of his reputation and possible physical harm to him.

Wilson asked for a longer sentence of five years and a stiffer fine of $5,000, but he reportedly also suggested the former publisher be given probation.

In an interview prior to his trial, Dauben said that he realized he had exercised poor judgment in his post by failing to investigate the allegation before reporting it. But he contended that it should have been a civil libel legal matter instead of criminal prosecution.

Dauben, who was returned to jail because he will soon be transferred to Navarro County where he faces criminal prosecution charges he engaged in sex with a 15-year-old male teenager on a church trip five years ago, was disappointed by the conviction, but he and his support network of family and friends remain upbeat, according to his girlfriend Presley Renae Crowe.

"Joey is confident, and he knows what he has got to do," Crowe said in a phone text message. "He's ready to at least get all of this behind us, and get our life going so that maybe one day we can start a family. That idea and the thought of being with his family with no restriction is what is keeping him going."

Because of the Navarro County charges his terms of release on bond prevented him from being in the presence of his sisters' children. When he was first released on bond, he was barred from his parent's home by the judge because a church day school was at the other end of the block. That restriction was later relaxed so he could live at his parents' house rather than in a motel.

Dauben was awaiting trial free on $5,000 bond until Judge Carroll revoked his bond in Ellis County because he found in a hearing that the former publisher had violated the terms of his pre-trial release by engaging in "direct or indirect" Internet use. As a result of the developments in Ellis County his pre-trial release on $50,000 bond in Navarro County also ended.

"I just hope we can get the dollars to get him out of Navarro County Jail before his trial there, but who knows how it will pan out," Crowe said.

Dauben has declared his innocence in the charges he faces in Navarro County. He was arrested on those charges in late December 2011 and spent more than two months in jail before being released on bond. He has maintained that enemies he wrote about over the years who held grudges against him conspired to get him arrested on those charges.

The Navarro County indictment preceded the Ellis County indictment, and Dauben maintained that a bitter enemy of his -- a mainstream newspaper publisher -- served on the Ellis County grand jury. He also claimed that Wilson was acting out of vengeance because of Dauben's previous reporting about politics, and that the district attorney was infuriated that he had published a list of the grand jurors' names in a hard copy of the Ellis County Observer he distributed.

Wilson claimed that he had numerous complaints from people whom Dauben had targeted in his reports, and that they were terrified of him.

The Navarro County trial was scheduled for last month, but a mistrial was declared because Judge James Lagomarsino of the 13th District Court declared a mistrial when prosecutors and defenders failed to agreed on a sufficient number of acceptable jurors.

When Dauben was first arrested on the Navarro County charges, his bond was set at $200,000. He remained in jail for over two months because an apparent clerical error resulted in him not getting a court-appointed lawyer until his plight was reported by the media.The bond was then reduced to $50,000, and he was released until he was ordered back to jail in Ellis County.

It is not Dauben's first time to run afoul of the law and get arrested. Two years ago Dauben received a $10,000 settlement in connection with his false arrest in 2009 by Combine police officers in connection with his posting of a mug shot of a policeman.

During Dauben's decade-long career as a journalist, which started with a job at a newspaper and evolved to self-publishing under the Ellis County Observer banner, he has made numerous enemies who have rejoiced at the news of his legal problems this year. His critics call him unfair, unprofessional and reckless, while acknowledging that he possesses a natural talent for journalism.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blogger's bond revoked pending trial on Internet posting charges involving use of private information


WAXAHACHIE, TX -- A district judge ordered former Ellis County Observer publisher Joey Dauben's bail revoked on Tuesday, jailing the blogger until his trial on charges he fraudulently used private identifying information on an Internet posting last year.

The judge also ordered Dauben to undergo a mental competency evaluation to determine if he is fit to go to trial on Nov. 14. District Attorney Patrick Wilson sought the bond revocation and the competency evaluation order during a hearing to determine if the blogger had violated the terms of his release on $5,000 bond.

Dauben's court-appointed attorney Damon Fehler said the judge found that the blogger had violated the terms of his release, which prohibited him from "directly or indirectly" accessing the Internet. The judge heard evidence that Dauben had contact with an Internet radio show and several websites, the lawyer said.

Fehler said it is common for a judge to order a mental evaluation if one is suggested for a defendant in an effort to "err on the side of caution."

In an interview prior to his bond being revoked, Dauben denied that he had engaged in any Internet access. He said that he had published hard copies of newspapers, and that "friends and enemies" had published those on the Internet.

Dauben said in the interview that he expected to be jailed until he goes to trial. He acknowledged that he had erred last year by posting the name and other identifying information of a Red Oak man whose ex-wife had claimed he had molested their children.

The ex-wife later was arrested on charges of filing a false police report, according to the blogger, and Dauben was indicted on criminal charges in connection with the story he posted on the Internet. Dauben said he believes it should be a civil libel matter rather than a criminal prosecution.

"I concede that I constructed the environment that my enemies now use to silence me, but I know that what I do is the right thing to do," Dauben said in a telephone text message. "I will apologize for making mistakes, but I won't for doing my job."

Shelby Dauben, the blogger's sister, said she attended the hearing, and she accused those who testified against her brother of lying.

"They're all ignorant," she said. "It's the people who are against him making the rulings."

Dauben said that he has mailed numerous press releases and copies of the newspapers he has published while free on bond to media outlets.

He noted that when he published the names this year of the grand jurors in Ellis County who indicted him after obtaining the information through an open records request it infuriated the prosecutor. One of the grand jurors is his long-standing arch-enemy, he said.

The prosecutor accused him of contacting grand jurors, Dauben said.

"I didn't contact anyone," Dauben said. "I just published their names."

Earlier in the year Dauben was ordered by Judge Carroll to forfeit the website domain name EllisCountyObserver.com. Dauben said he dropped an appeal of that decision because he was unable to prove that he was indigent in the civil case and secure a court-appointed attorney.

Dauben claims that Ellis County officials want to silence him, and that his legal problems are part of an official conspiracy against him. He said he has long written critical stories about the county's politicians that have angered them, but prosecutors claim he crossed the line and broke the law when he falsely accused the Red Oak man of child molestation and published his name, address and phone number.

Two years ago Dauben received a $10,000 settlement in connection with his false arrest by Combine police officers in connection with his posting of a mug shot of a policeman.

In addition to the Ellis County case, Dauben faces trial in Navarro County on charges he engaged in sexual activity with a 15-year-old male five years ago. That trial is scheduled for Oct. 29.

Dauben said he is innocent of those charges as well, and that Navarro County officials are also engaged in a conspiracy against him.

The Navarro County charges are based on an investigation by the Texas Rangers.

Navarro County prosecutors also complained this year that Dauben was trying to circumvent the terms of his bond release in that county by contacting the media. They asked for an order banning the defendant or his lawyer Ed Jendrzey from discussing the case with the media, but Judge James Lagomarsino of the 13th District Court denied the request.

Prior to the appointment of Jendrzey as his court-appointed lawyer, Dauben spent two months in jail in Navarro County in lieu of $200,000 bond. The judge lowered Dauben's bond to $50,000, and was released pending trial.

Dauben is pictured above in Ennis. He was prohibited by the terms of his release on bond from leaving the counties of Ellis and Navarro. He also wore a monitoring device and was required to report to a probation officer weekly in both counties.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Straight cruise gets gay kick off by Copenhagen Pride Parade; St. Petersburg highlight of trip



COPENHAGEN -- Through the window I saw what I assumed to be a tough-looking hooker in a white sundress standing on the crowded sidewalk in the city’s historic district. Her attention seemed to be focused on something in the street in front of my stalled taxi cab where my traveling partner and I impatiently sat watching the meter tick off the time.

Anxious to get to my hotel so I could relax for an evening before boarding the Emerald Princess the next day for a Baltic Sea cruise, I asked the taxi driver about the delay. ” It’s a parade.” he said, just about the same time I noticed a rainbow flag banner in the distance.

I couldn’t believe it. I had arrived in Copenhagen not only at the exact time of the city’s annual Pride parade, but I had inadvertently become a part of it. I wasn’t staring at a hooker, but instead a drag queen. My taxi cab literally had pulled into the parade’s line-up from a side street as we crawled toward the Imperial Hotel.

It was to be my second cruise of the summer. I had toured the Mediterranean on an RSVP gay cruise off the coast of Spain in July and now in late August I was about to see Norway, Germany, Russia, Finland and Sweden on a straight cruise that ironically had turned out to have a gay kick off for me.

Later, my longtime friend and I sat at a table in the hotel’s sidewalk cafĂ© watching the rest of the parade, which included a counter protest by a small group of Neo Nazis protected by numerous police officers with dogs. The waiter told me the presence of the counter protesters surprised him because Denmark along with the other Scandinavian countries tend to be tolerant of LGBT people, a statement which was confirmed to me by guides during the rest of my trip.

The next day before we boarded the ship I realized the people of Copenhagen indeed did seem to welcome same-sex couples as we toured Tivoli Gardens,  admiring its beauty and thrilling to the carnival rides at the historic amusement park.

When it was time to head for the cruise ship where we were to meet another gay couple, I wondered if a straight cruise would be as much fun as the gay cruise – my first ever – that I had enjoyed six weeks earlier. 
My answer to that question came quickly as the ship blew its horn announcing our departure from port.

Whereas earlier in the summer when we cruised out of Barcelona enjoying a loud, colorful cocktail party with music blaring and dancing on the top deck, the departure from Copenhagen was decidedly sedate. It was to be that way for the rest of the cruise. We definitely were not on a party boat this time.

Still, it was an incredible experience, and I will never forget the awe I felt at the beauty of St. Petersburg’s cathedrals and the palaces where the czars once lived. Berlin was a masterpiece under restoration to the period before World War II bombing left it almost destroyed. The natural beauty of Norway, Finland and Sweden will remain vivid in my mind to my last days, and I certainly will always consider my visit to the Russian ballet one of the highlights of my life.

The atmosphere on the ship was friendly and welcoming by the staff and other passengers so there were no complaints to be found in that regard. There were a few other gay passengers and gay crew members. On the gay cruise, it was just a lot more fun during meals, at cocktail time and during the evenings at the gay-themed shows.

On the Mediterranean cruise we missed one of our ports of calls because Moroccan officials decided not to allow our ship to dock because of safety concerns about an all-gay cruise visiting the country for the first time. It was a surprise because Morocco has long been known for an “anything goes” type of culture, but it happened, even though the country’s tourism officials later denied they banned the ship.

The only port raising any concern on the Baltic Sea cruise would have been St. Petersburg, but I learned from our guide there that an all-gay cruised had docked several weeks earlier and he had escorted a group from the ship around the city. No one paid any of the gay tourists any mind at all, he said.

After I returned I decided to ask the Atlantis Events organizer about the two-day stop in St. Petersburg, and he confirmed that it went without a hitch.

“We had a fantastic two days in St. Petersburg and our 2,000 guests said it was the highlight of their cruise,” said Rich Campbell, president of Atlantis Events, in a message via Facebook. “We’ve been going there for years and have never received anything less than a warm welcome from the locals, officials and otherwise.”

It was a possible concern because St. Petersburg officials have made the gay news in a negative way in the past year because of a law they passed to ban public pro-gay demonstrations. Attempts to hold Pride parades have resulted in arrests. Some groups have urged gay cruises not to visit countries where there are anti-gay laws on the books.

Our guide told me the law has caused many LGBT Russian people to exercise more caution, but that it is well known there is a large gay community in St. Petersburg.  Some people have “gone underground” because of it, he said.

Campbell, who described the St. Petersburg gay community as “significant and thriving,” said his all-gay cruises, which include both RSVP and Atlantis Events, would continue to visit countries where there are anti-gay laws on the books as long as local officials welcome gay tourists. A visit to Dominica by Atlantis Events in the Caribbean earlier in the year resulted in a gay couple being arrested by local authorities because they allegedly were viewed engaged in sex on their stateroom balcony by some people on the island.

“Yes, they have a very unfortunate law on their books, but so do a lot of states in the USA, as well as our federal government,” Campbell said. “None of those are a reason not to enjoy the treasure these places have to offer.”

As far as I’m concerned, I feel fortunate to get to travel and see the world’s fabulous sights however I can, but in the future I’m going to choose the gay route whenever it is available. It’s just more fun to me and like everybody else, I prefer to be with my own kind on vacations.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reporting of anti-gay hate crimes usually under reported, not made-up as happened in Montana



The story of Joseph Baken, a 22-year-old Billings, Mont. man who reported being a victim of a violent gay bashing then recanted a few days later, is an incredible twist to a widespread, complex crime that usually goes unreported rather than the other way around.

Just a couple of weeks prior to the media reports about Baken’s allegations that three men beat him up on Aug. 5 outside of a Montana nightclub, I learned that a gay Dallas man had been attacked and robbed by a group of men in the parking lot of a popular gay bar. Although pictures of his bruised face circulated on Facebook, he declined when I asked if he would consent to an interview. He never responded to a question about whether he reported the incident to the police so I’m assuming he didn’t as the alleged incident apparently went unnoticed by the local gay newspaper.

According to hate crime experts, that’s the way it usually goes with anti-gay hate crimes – undocumented because of embarrassment about being gay -- so I was surprised to learn that the injuries Baken received to his face actually occurred when he tried to do a backflip on a sidewalk during a celebration of his 22nd birthday and landed flat on his face.  It’s unclear how much alcohol Baken had imbibed when he attempted the acrobatic stunt, but I’m assuming that might also have been a factor in his decision to make a false police report.

Whatever the reasoning, the college student certainly didn’t do himself or the LGBT community any favors by fabricating a hate crime. He pleaded guilty in Missoula, Mont., Municipal Court to filing a false police report and received a 180-day suspended sentence and a $300 fine when a video of his failed stunt showed up at the police department and the local newspaper.

That no doubt was a moment of enlightenment that left a lot of people stunned and feeling like beating up the alleged victim for real.

Police said they decided to file a false reporting charge against Baken because of the “fear and anger” that erupted when he identified a business and gave descriptions of non-existent suspects.

The false allegation was a slap in the face to the Montana police officers who took the complaint seriously, the reporters who tried to raise awareness about a serious problem and the owner of the nightclub who suffered unfair negative publicity as a result of a lie by a gay patron who apparently was welcomed in the establishment. It no doubt also deeply discouraged all of the good people of Montana who spoke out against anti-hate crime when they heard about the alleged attack.

And now what’s even worse is that it likely will make it even more difficult for someone who actually suffers an anti-gay hate crime in Montana to come forward because of fear of not being believed.

That’s a shame because LGBT people are “far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by violent hate crime,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes and hate groups.  The law center’s study of FBI hate crime statistics indicates that LGBT people are 2.4 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime than Jews, 2.6 times more likely to be attacked than blacks, 4.4 times more likely than Muslims, 13.8 times more likely than Latinos and 41.5 times more likely than straight white people.

The false reporting of anti-gay hate crimes and other hate crimes involving different types of biases such as race and religion are not without precedent, but fortunately they appear to be infrequent considering how many hate crimes do get documented every year.  I found only a handful of incidents of false reports of anti-gay hate crimes in other areas of the country in 2012.

After dwelling on the subject for about a week, the only plausible reason I can come up with for people to make a false report about a hate crime would be that they enjoy the attention and drama of the moment.  But I bet Baken, who reportedly was a background player in a 2011 film about college life called “Judas Kiss,” is having a little trouble reconnecting with that feeling now.

So I guess the moral to the story here is that if you are a victim of a hate crime it needs to be reported. If you aren’t, don’t make one up. You might get a brief rush, but the hangover will undoubtedly last for a very long time. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Disgraced former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Craig cites tea room adventure as official duty



If you laughed at former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s excuse that his habit of sitting on toilets with a “wide stance” led to a vice squad officer mistaking him for a tea room queen five years ago, his latest defense could leave you hysterical.

It may well become a frequently-mentioned “LMAOROTF” remark on Facebook as this new development related to Craig’s arrest on solicitation of sex charges in an airport restroom in 2007 starts making the rounds. It seems the former three-term senator has filed legal papers claiming his visit to the bathroom -- where the police officer claimed the politician signaled for sex under a stall --  amounted to official Senate business.

Yes, you read that right.

Craig, the toe-tapping, shoe-nudging former ultra-conservative senator from Idaho who opposed LGBT equality, is being sued by the Federal Election Commission because he allegedly used $217,000 in campaign funds to pay his lawyers who represented him after his arrest in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport bathroom during a sex sting in 2007. The Washington, D.C. law firm of Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan scooped up $139,952 from Craig in connection with the senator’s legal woes, and the Minnesota law firm of Kelly & Jacobson earned another $77,032 for their work.

Craig wound up entering a guilty plea to disorderly conduct, then told his family, his colleagues and the rest of the nation he was innocent when the national media picked up on it. The disgraced senator soon announced his plans to resign, but then he decided to finish his term. Craig did not run for re-election in 2008.

The FEC reportedly later attempted to negotiate a reimbursement from Craig for the funds that the agency’s regulators claim he illegally spent on legal bills. When he refused, they filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in June, seeking repayment of the legal fees and the assessment of fines.

The FEC suit claimed Craig’s legal bills that resulted from his adventures in a men’s restroom had nothing to do with his campaign, but Craig responded that going to the bathroom while traveling between his home state and Washington, D.C., fell under his reimbursable official duties. He cited a Senate rule that provides for reimbursement of transportation, lodging, meals and several other items.

In an effort to get the complaint dismissed, Craig and his lawyers have also cited a case involving former U.S. Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona who used campaign money in 2006 for a legal defense. The congressman, who was openly gay, came under fire in connection with a Grand Canyon rafting trip he took with two former male pages.

The FEC ruled that Kolbe’s legal expenses were legitimate because it was an official visit arranged by the National Park Service, and therefore part of his duties as a member of the House of Representatives.

It’s clear that Craig, who now has an energy consulting business with his former chief of staff, has no shame. Rather than just paying the money back to avoid further embarrassment, he has decided to fight the FEC in an effort to hang on to that money.

The late-night television pundits are bound to love it.

Still, I can sympathize with Craig on one point. Given how everything turned out for him, it probably is hard to justify paying $217,000 for a legal defense against a misdemeanor charge that resulted in you pleading guilty and losing your job. It may well be the most expensive public lewdness case ever recorded.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Popular gay Christian singing duo performs concerts, advocates for LGBT homeless youth


When a friend called me last weekend asking me to go hear gay Christian singing duo Jason and DeMarco in concert I hesitated because it’s not a genre I thought would be all that exciting. Sensing my hesitation, the friend assured me the concert would be a far different experience than anything I might be imagining.

The friend, who is my former editor and happens to be Jewish, once again proved herself right and me wrong. It truly turned into one of those periods of elation that seems to be occurring less often the older I get. The singing of Jason and DeMarco drew me and the rest of the audience in the Celebration on the Lake Church on Cedar Creek Lake in Texas up out of our chairs to clap, sing, and wave our hands in the air after only 10 minutes into the concert.

At one point I looked over at my friend, and I saw tears streaming down her face. The song “SAFE” the couple performed from their CD by the same name obviously touched a chord in her. She later told me the singing of Jason and DeMarco similarly affected her a few years ago when she first saw the film, “We Are Angels,” documenting the singers’ lives. The 2007 documentary appeared on Showtime Network.

By the time the concert ended and I had heard them sing their version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and DeMarco sing the Catholic prayer hymnal “Ave Maria” solo, I was hooked. I did something I never usually do. I stood in line at the conclusion of the concert for a chance to meet the duo and buy one of their four CDs. I chose the one that was named “SAFE” and included all of the songs that had so touched something in me the same way it did my friend.

The concert won over the entire audience in the church, not only as a result of the marvelous singing but also because of the inspiring stories they told between the numbers. The pair talked about their lives, their international tours and their nonprofit group SAFE that works to help young people who age out of the states’ foster care systems, often winding up homeless.

Jason and DeMarco released the CD “SAFE” when in 2011 they launched their philanthropic organization of the same name, which stands for Safe Affirming Family Environment. The group was formed with $70,000 in savings from their touring engagements, according to the duo.

It was something Jason knew a little bit about from personal experience because when he was younger and touring with a traditional Gospel singing group he literally got kicked off the touring bus at the next stop because he acknowledged his sexual orientation to the other members. As a result he wound up homeless for about four months until he was able to pull himself out of the situation with the help of a business person who allowed him to live in a vacant apartment in exchange for administrative work.

Jason, who grew up in Maryland as a member of the Pentecostal Church, not only survived the experience, but he began touring again entertaining the congregations of the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Church. DeMarco, a Canadian native who grew up in the Catholic Church and who was working as a waiter while struggling in Hollywood to become an entertainer, met Jason one night at the restaurant.  Prior to their coupling as singers, DeMarco had a lead in the international touring musical “California Dream Men.” Their career as a singing duo blossomed with their 11-year relationship, and they eventually made their way to Houston.

The SAFE Host Home Program operated by the organization works to connect young adults 18 or older who have aged out of the foster care system with hosts with a spare room who can temporarily provide them with shelter and food. The guest stays in the host home an average of three to six months, and the young people are expected during that time to find employment, attend weekly counseling sessions and to establish a plan of action to sustain themselves.

SAFE also counsels young LGBT people and aims to educate, support and assist open and affirming couples who are interested in fostering and adopting LGBT youth. They also reach out to gay and lesbian couples who would like to start families.

The duo decided a couple of years ago that they wanted to start their own family. With the help of a surrogate mother, birth was given to fraternal twin boys and Jason and DeMarco are each the biological father of one of the twin boys. Subsequently, Jason and Demarco adopted each other’s child.

Jason has also written a newly-released book, “The Journey of Same Sex Surrogacy – Achieving Our Ultimate Joy.” All of their CDs and the book are available at their concerts, which are funded by love offerings from the congregations for whom they perform.

The addition of twin boys to their family has changed their lives, and they plan to alter their professional lives to accommodate their 14-month-old sons, Mason and Noah. But that doesn’t mean they are going to quit singing and touring. Instead, when they launch their new tour, “The Journey: Celebrating Families of Diversity,” in 2013, it will be on a bus with the kids in tow. Jason’s parents will be along to help care for the boys and to participate in a question and answer segment for the audiences.

The 35-day, 24-city tour will begin on Feb. 1, 2013, and it will roll from Houston to Phoenix, through several cities in California and to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Dallas and back to Houston.

One woman attending the performance told Jason and Demarco that she had seen them perform live three times previously, and that she was looking forward to seeing them yet again. I imagine that I also will want to hear them sing again someday.

For information about the duo and their upcoming tour visit http://jasonanddemarco.com. Information about SAFE is available at www.safehouseforall.org.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The chicken is out of the bag now, silly cow


(UPDATE: The Jim Henson Co., creators of The Muppets that include Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog announced on Facebook it would no longer partner with Chick-fil-A because of the company's president's anti-gay remarks. In apparent response, some Chick-fil-A locations reportedly are posting signs in their doors claiming the toys were "voluntarily" being withdrawn because of safety issues, according to multiple reports on Facebook. The Henson Co. reportedly declined further comment, noting the fast food chain restaurants are on the front lines of the controversy.  Boston's mayor had already declared Chick-fil-A unwelcome in that city because of the same remarks president Dan Cathy made to the Baptist Press recently.)


When. Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy (shown in costume above, left) recently confirmed to the Baptist Press he opposed marriage equality for LGBT people it sent shock waves through the chicken-eating wing of America's liberal-minded community, but I've got to admit I really appreciated his no bullshit answer.

Cathy told the website, which offers "news with a Christian perspective," that he was guilty as charged," which I and many others interpreted to mean bigoted.

"We know," Cathy told the Baptist Press, "that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

Before you could say cluck-cluck, gay activists began launching calls for boycotts against the fast food chain best known for posting billboards across the country featuring black and white cows that urged people to "Eat more chickin." And conservatives opposed to marriage equality quickly started vowing to do exactly what the billboards suggest. As the furor grew, Cathy probably wondered if he had stepped in a big pile of you-know-what, left not by his chickens but one of his prized mascots.

My reaction was a little less invigorated than some responding to Cathy because I've never eaten at a Chick-fil-A, and I doubt that I ever would have except in an emergency. In fact, I can't even recall ever noticing the location of a Chick-fil-A, although I've certainly seen the billboards on the highway and chuckled at them.

The bottom line for me is that I'm not losing anything because I probably wouldn't have been caught dead eating in one of the fast food chain's restaurants in the first place, regardless of management's position on LGBT rights.

I like to eat good food that is made either at home or at an eatery that takes pride in every dish that it prepares, whether it be a small, home-style cafe or an exotic, upscale restaurant. Chick-fil-A with its mindless, mass-manufacturing of chicken sandwiches just doesn't intrigue me, but I can see how it might appeal to many Baptists who appear willing to thoughtlessly swallow whatever their pastors dish out.

Still, I'm glad that Chick-fil-A's top boss let everyone know exactly how he feels about LGBT people just in case I ever find myself on the highway in one of those "I think I'm starving" situations and decide to settle for the next opportunity for nourishment. Now, I at least know that if the next spot is a Chick-fil-A to drive on a little further. I don't want to help a business guided by an executive with that mindset earn a profit.

But that's not to say I'm going to punish myself to make a point.

I admit there have been a couple of times since the Human Rights Campaign launched the boycott against Exxon that I bought a tank of gas at one of the corporation's stations because I was running on near-empty. I gladly cut up my Exxon credit card many years ago, but I'm not going to push or have my car towed to another gas station just to spite the corporation's management.

Finding a place to eat, however, is another issue. Just as when I see that I've still got a quarter-tank of gas left and plenty of time to locate a more friendly brand, such as Chevron or Shell, I can stave off hunger long enough to locate a friendlier fast food chain.

So let me say, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Cathy, for enlightening me and all of the millions of other consumers in the country who are either members of the LGBT community or friends of it. We like to be informed about the prejudices of executives of large corporations so we can avoid spending our hard-earned money helping them earn big bonuses.

I know your company has tried to backtrack on the issue, posting on Facebook that you now want to "leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," but it's a little too late for that. Your subsequent pledge to treat LGBT people with respect if they enter your restaurants isn't good enough. I doubt your sincerity.

The chicken is out of the bag, Mr. Cathy.

If I regret anything at this point, it is my loss of innocence. I'll never be able to look at those billboards again and chuckle, now that I know how bigoted you and the rest of the cows are.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Morocco bans all-gay cruise; let's boycott them in return


By now everyone has probably heard that the RSVP Vacations' all-LGBT passenger cruise that glided out of Barcelona June 29 on a Holland America Line ship en route to Morocco got turned away by the Islamic nation's officials before we even got half-way across the Mediterranean Sea.

We left port with great fanfare, dancing around the pool at the back of the ship with some revelers yelling "Morocco here we come." Dance music blared in the background, expensive cocktails flowed and all of the smiling faces reflected the joy and unity we felt about the journey. Many us of stayed up quite late partying on all eleven floors of the ship way into the wee hours of June 30.

I was, in fact, still in my luxurious bed contemplating the day and thinking about what all I wanted added to an omelet in the Lido Deck Restaurant when I heard the captain begin making an announcement over the ship's intercom system. His tone was grave as he announced that Moroccan officials had canceled permission for our visit, saying they could not guarantee the safety of the passengers because of a growing controversy about our planned stop in Casablanca.

The captain then turned the microphone over to RSVP's president Jeff Gundvaldson who confirmed that we would not get to visit Morocco, even though many of us had planned and paid for the trip last year and had already arranged for tours of the North African port made famous in the movies. Gundvaldson said he had spent much time the previous evening on the phone talking to Moroccan officials and had even involved U.S. diplomats in the discussions to no avail.

Letters were placed in the mailboxes of all staterooms from both the captain and Gundvaldson later in the day confirming that we would not be allowed to visit Morocco on July 1 and would instead be diverted to Malaga, Spain. The letters explained that the crisis had arose because of news stories announcing our imminent arrival. "This is due to the fact that Morocco is an Islamic country where laws regarding homosexuality exist, despite the country's long history of tolerance and welcoming of gay tourists."

Reaction was mixed among the passengers. Some arrived at the pool in handmade fezzes with the message, "Fuck Morocco, others wore their life vests over their swimsuits with the words "Morocco or Bust" written on them and others grumbled a little bit but got over it. None of us were willing to let the official snub ruin our trip, especially me in light of it being my first cruise ever.

Everyone was assured they would receive refunds for the land tours they had scheduled.

For the most part all of the passengers understood the dilemma the captain of the Nieuw Amsterdam and Gundvaldson faced. It wasn't totally unexpected by me because of the controversy last March when two passengers from an Atlantis Events' all-gay cruise were arrested by Island of Dominica police because they allegedly were observed in a sex act on the balcony of their stateroom while the ship rested in the port.

It's possible that widely-reported incident influenced what happened in the case of our cruise. At the time of the Dominica incident many LGBT activists began calling for Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations to avoid ports of call where homosexuality is still considered illegal.

All of us aboard ship went on to have a wonderful trip, and I saw sights that I will remember for the rest of my life. Passing by the enormous Rock of Gibraltar with its twinkling lights at dusk is a sight I will never forget. The beauty of the sun-splashed Island of Ibiza is another beautiful image burned in by brain forever. In every port I saw not only beauty, but a cleanliness in Spain that American cities would do well to try and imitate.

The only think irking me now is the comments Moroccan officials made to reporters covering the story. The officials were quoted as saying they hadn't denied the ship's entry. Clearly, the government officials don't want dollar-rich LGBT tourists avoiding the country in the future because they are so dependent on tourism. In other words, it's OK for us to visit. Just don't come into port with more than 2,000 homosexuals at a time.

Now, that's the only thing about the trip that makes me mad, and that's why I'm urging everyone to boycott Morocco in the future. There are plenty of fabulous sites in the world to visit where they are more than happy to see us show up in large numbers spending our heard-earned money.



Monday, June 25, 2012

Passengers flock to Barcelona for first all-gay cruise to Morocco, tour of Ibiza, other Spanish treasure cities



At long last I’m about to embark on one of those celebrated all-gay cruises I’ve heard about for so many years. This week I’m flying to Barcelona, where I will board the Nieuw Amsterdam en route to our first port of call, Casablanca, Morocco.

My best old friend, whom I’ve known since junior high school, will be flying out of Atlanta and meeting me in Barcelona for a day and night tour of that famed Spanish city before we begin our lengthy RSVP Vacations-sponsored journey at sea to Casablanca, the colorful destination made famous by the 1940s movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  It will be, I understand, the first visit by an all-gay cruise to visit Morocco’s most famous city.

After the international scandal that blew up last March when an all gay cruise operated by Atlantis Events docked at the Caribbean island of Dominica and two gay men from California were arrested after allegedly being seen engaging in sex on their cabin balcony, I’m hoping for a much better reception for our ship in Morocco.

Some gay activists called for a boycott of all gay cruises that go to LGBT-unfriendly ports, but I made this reservation in December, a good three months before the Dominican incident.

 But even if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Hassan Mosque, the exotic markets and Marrakech. If everyone keeps their clothes on and behaves, we should all be just fine. What’s more I don’t have a balcony on this cruise. So there’s not even a chance of my going senile and accidentally stumbling naked in view of any shocked Moroccans.

It will be my first cruise ever, something I have wanted to do for decades. The closest I had come in the past to a cruise, would be taking the daylong boat ride hosted by Diana’s Tours of Puerto Vallarta.
Incidentally, Diana, helped coordinate a group for the upcoming cruise and will also be on board. Based on the immense enjoyment I’ve had over the years enjoying Diana’s cruises down the coast of Mexico, I’m confident this cruise will be everything I’m anticipating and more.

From Morocco we will be cruising on to Cadiz and Seville, another pair of Spanish cities famed for their architectural and culinary treasures. Then after another day at sea will dock that night off the island of Ibiza, which is famous all over the world for its nightlife. After what is bound to be a glamorous night of partying followed by beauty sleep on the Nieuw Amsterdam, we will tour Ibiza’s Old City and visit Es Cavallet, the renowned gay beach of Spain.

Finally, we will visit Valencia, another city renowned for its architecture before we head back for Barcelona, where I’m spending another few days for sightseeing and resting up before making the long flight back to Dallas-Fort Worth.

The promotional materials I received indicate the Nieuw Amsterdam boasts “spacious and well-appointed staterooms, elegant restaurants, a full-service spa, two outdoor pools, intimate private cabanas, pool games, bingo, enriching lectures, themed T-dances, shows with entertainers such as Leslie Jordan, disco nightclubs, a piano bar, casinos and whatever else one might want to do on a vacation.

With an estimated 2,300 LGBT people on board, I doubt that anyone is going to get bored. For my first cruise, I don’t think I could have made a better choice, regardless of the criticism of the naysayers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prospective LGBT parents should be aware of costs involved, be prepared to adjust expenditures



As it is with everything, else the cost of raising children continues to rise, and it now costs about 35 percent more than it did a half-century ago, according to a report released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s important information for LGBT couples who want to adopt or otherwise add children to their family units to consider before taking the first steps to parenthood. Some couples might find the loss of disposable income problematic if they don’t plan accordingly for the increased expenses.

As of today, LGBT parents are raising 2 million American children, according to a joint report by the Movement Advancement Project, the Family Equality Council and the Center for American Progress. Four percent of adopted children, representing 65,000 children, are being raised by same-sex couples, according to the report.

The federal agency’s annual report, “Expenditures on Children by Families,” revealed that a child born in 2011 will cost middle-income parents $234,900 by today’s economic standards. That figure rises to $295,560 when inflation costs are factored in for the year 2028 when the child turns 18 years old.

The cost of raising each child in 2011 for the year for a middle-income, two-parent family was estimated in the report to range from $12,290 to $14,320, depending up the age of the child.

When the agency’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion first began issuing the report in 1960, the cost for raising a child over an 18-year period was projected to be $25,230 or $191,720 in 2011 dollars. The amount it costs to raise a child increased 3.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the report.

Families considered to be of middle-income status earn between $59,410 and $102,870.

For families earning less than $59,410 will be expected to spend less, a total of $169,080 over a 17-year-period of raising a child. Families earning more than $102,870 can expect to spend $389,670 over the same period.

The estimates are based on data collected from the federal Consumer Expenditure Survey and reflect expenses such as shelter, food and other necessities like transportation, child care, education, clothing and health care. Expenses such as pregnancy or adoption costs or education beyond high school were not included in the estimates.

Housing, child care, education and food costs were identified as the largest expenditures in raising a child, with housing representing 30 percent of the cost, child care and education 18 percent and food 16 percent of the total cost over the 17-year period.

The report also noted that expenses for raising children tended to be the highest in the urban Northeast, less in the urban West and Midwest and the lowest in the South and rural areas.

Even though the 2010 U.S. Census showed that only 1 percent of U.S. households were managed by same-sex partners, three percent or 14,000 of the children in foster care are residing in those homes, according to the report issued by the trio of organizations studying LGBT families. Same-sex foster parents were found to more likely be couples of color.

That report also showed that children raised by same-sex couples are more likely to live in poverty than those raised by married heterosexual couples. Same-couples with children reported average household incomes of $59,270, compared to $74,777 for married heterosexual couples.

Of American families raising children, 73 percent of heterosexual parents are white, compared to 59 percent of same-sex parents. Same-sex couples of color are more likely to be raising children than are white same-sex couples.

Same-sex couples raising children are more likely to be living in the South. LGBT parents live in 96 percent of U.S. counties, with the largest numbers living in Mississippi, Wyoming, Alaska, Arkansas and Texas.
Two-thirds of male same-sex couples and 58 percent of female same-sex couples raising children were identified as Hispanic.

As the U.S. LGBT community continues to grow and transform itself through the marriage equality movement, the numbers of such families raising children will undoubtedly grow as well. It only makes sense for those new families to be prepared to adjust their expenditures accordingly because raising children obviously becomes the most expensive and important project parents will ever undertake.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting mad, staying mad might be sign of mental illness



Getting mad and staying mad seems to be a way of life with some people, but maybe it’s more than just a case of a bad attitude, according to a Texas author who has written a book, “Born Mad,” about her struggle with a little-known mental illness called dysthymia.

Robyn Wheeler, a professional wildlife educator who is also known as “The Creature Teacher,” suffered from terminal anger for four decades until despair about her condition took her to the verge of suicide and led her into treatment and recovery from the low-grade depressive disorder that left untreated can evolve into an episode of major depression.

“I was ready to do anything to find relief – a lobotomy, an exorcist, even eating brownies,” Wheeler says in presentations today aimed at helping raise awareness about dysthymia. “I had never done recreational drugs, but I was to the point I would have done it if it would have gotten rid of my anger.”

Wheeler said the possibility she suffered from a mental illness never occurred to her because she was generally happy until something went wrong in her life, causing her to withdraw into a silent fury that could last for days, weeks or even months. Simultaneously, she often cheerfully went about her work transporting and displaying exotic animals, leading members of her family and friends to think her bouts of anger amounted to nothing more than a personality quirk.

Her deceptively pleasant outward personality masked a depression that could erupt and take Wheeler from “feeling happy and upbeat to being negative, pessimistic and deeply depressed,” she wrote in her book. As is common with most people, apparently only the people closest to Wheeler – family, friends and coworkers – frequently saw her dark side. Faithful support from many of them apparently helped keep Wheeler in denial about her mental illness for many years.

“I ruined relationships with friends and family members,” said Wheeler of the crisis that led her to a diagnosis, treatment and recovery. “I almost got a divorce. I wanted to move to another country.”

After seeing counselors, seeking spiritual guidance and reading self-help books without finding long-lasting relief, Wheeler finally saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her illness and prescribed anti-depressant medication that provided her with relief for the first time in her life. Prior to her seeking emotional help, she began to also suffer from a multitude of physical disorders that apparently arose at least in part from her mental illness.

Within three weeks of starting the medication Prozac, which is one of several drugs available for use in the treatment of depression and anxiety, Wheeler said she began to see miraculous results.

“I didn’t know people felt that way,” Wheeler said. “I felt like I was shorted for 44 years.”

Wheeler is now going on almost two years of the remission of her mood swings associated with dysthymia which can include moodiness, being overly critical, complaining, low self-esteem, chronic anger, frustration, despair, insomnia, irritability, guilt, fatigue and poor concentration.

According to a report about dysthymia based on two studies of depressive disorders reviewed by David B. Merrill, a medical expert at the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, the illness can also develop in the elderly as a result of their difficulty in caring for themselves, isolation, overall medical decline and medical illnesses.

Many people suffering from dysthymia often suffer from a long-term medical problem or other mental health illness such as anxiety, alcohol abuse and drug addiction, according to the report. About half of them will eventually experience an episode of major depression, it said.

The report recommends the use of anti-depressant medications and private and group talk therapy to treat dysthymia. The medications reportedly may take longer to show improvements in patients with dysthymia than it does in those suffering from major depression.

Wheeler said that in addition to her daily medications she reflects daily on 10 new habits and thoughts to counteract the faulty ones that previously guided her life. She notes that her search for “peace and happiness” continues on a daily basis.

Wheeler said she wrote her book last year because she found so little information available about the subject when she first learned she suffered from dysthymia. She said that she would like to see a creation of a “National Dysthymia Day” to help raise awareness about the emotionally crippling mental illness that appears to grow progressively worse untreated.

For information about Wheeler’s book and her efforts to raise awareness see www.bornmad.org. The book is published by Balboa Press, www.balboapress.com.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Setting sail in my gay 60s, I still plan to do it my way



As I set sail in my early 60s as a single, openly-gay man it occurs to me I’m traveling a largely uncharted course on a ship with a limited number of passengers whom no doubt are as clueless as me about what the future holds.

By acknowledging my sexual orientation during the summer of 1969, I declared my independence from mainstream society’s rules about the same time as the eruption of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. At the time I had no idea that I had linked my fate with a group of gay bar patrons in Greenwich Village roughly 1,500 miles away who resisted police harassment and kicked off the American LGBT Rights Movement.

For me, it was a celebration of my 21st birthday in a hippy bar in Dallas known as the Knox Street Pub that welcomed people from all elements of society, regardless of their race, religion, color, age, political thought or what has now has come to be known as sexual orientation and gender identity.

Looking back on that time I now realize that I came out in a somewhat different setting than some LGBT people of the day because I did it in an open environment, rather than in the controlled atmosphere of a gay bar. That perhaps made it easier for me to make the same declarations in the workplace, within my family and in all other aspects of my life because I had already discovered that large numbers of people accepted and even celebrated diversity.

As time passed I got to know the gay bars of Dallas and enjoy them while making friends within what I discovered was a large, thriving LGBT community. I especially loved the disco scene at the Bayou Landing and became aware of a more glamorous side to LGBT life. In the downstairs bar I met my first gay celebrity, the comedian Paul Lynde.

The more I mingled the more I learned that the LGBT community thrived all over the nation, particularly in the large cities and the tourist areas. I of course wanted to experience and enjoy them as well.

By the mid-1970s I was traveling from coast to coast, staying for various periods of time as the mood struck me. I lived and worked in New York City in 1977, getting to know the Greenwich Village area, where I liked to hang out at a gay bar called Julius. It was there I learned about the Stonewall Riots and marched in my first gay rights parade. Of course, I made it a point to hang out on Fire Island that summer and visited the Ice Palace.

Afterwards I ventured to Key West where I partied at the the Monster, and then I drove across country to explore San Francisco where I danced the night away at Buddy’s. Deciding that the city by the bay was a bit chilly for my taste, I drove down to Los Angeles and lived in the West Hollywood area, just off of Santa Monica Boulevard. In Los Angeles, I often hung out at the Rusty Nail.

Before I really knew what had happened, I had traveled and partied away more than a decade. It was about that time I decided that maybe it was time to go back and finish college. I had only planned to drop out for a semester when I came to Dallas to spend the summer in 1969, but the time obviously got away from me.

In 1982 I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in the School of Journalism to finish my degree, which took three semesters. While attending school -- in between weekends at Dirty Sally’s and Hippy Hollow -- I encountered my next big date with destiny. I was writing news stories for the Daily Texan, and came across a story about a cancer and pneumonia doctors in San Francisco and New York City had documented and suspected had a viral origin.

One of the first stories I wrote for the Daily Texan was about the identification of the AIDS epidemic. After my graduation from the university in December 1983, I began working for newspapers and magazines. Through the years I’ve written about AIDS/HIV, the LGBT Rights Movement and anti-gay hate crimes for mainstream and alternative publications large and small, including about a 10-year stint for LGBT publications as both a staff writer and a freelancer.

It never occurred to me when I first became interested in journalism as a teenager that I would one day wind up devoting most of my career to subjects of which I had no knowledge at the time.

Now, at the age of 62, I have retired, except for my freelancing. Many of the friends I made through the years are now dead of complications arising from HIV infections and drug addictions, afflictions that I somehow miraculously avoided.

Actually, I’ve only got a few longtime friends left who like me are gay, HIV-negative and single. I’m at a point of transition in my life, and I’m not sure where I will be or what I will be doing in the years to come. I think my friends pretty much feel the same way I do. Come what may, I’ll deal with it then, just as I have in years past.

To the former colleague half my age who recently said in anger to me, "Grow up," because I decided I really didn't want to write for him anymore, especially in retirement: No, thanks. At this age, I don't think I'm really going to change a whole lot anytime soon. I am what I am.

In the meantime, I’ve booked a Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona for the start of my next journey in life.