“The Ransom of Red Chief” – 53 Years Later

The Ranson of Red Chief

“The Ransom of Red Chief” as it appeared in the 8th grade literature textbook. Photo by John Selig

I was substitute teaching 7th grade Language Arts at a talented and gifted middle school here in Dallas that is one of my absolute favorite places to teach. While the kids were working on an assignment I was scanning through their 8th grade literature textbook. I did say they were talented and gifted. All of a sudden I came across “The Ransom of Red Chief,” by O. Henry. In the blink of an eye I was shockingly taken back over 53 years! For a few seconds I froze and didn’t know how to process what I was feeling.

I hadn’t seen anything about “The Ransom of Red Chief” since late November 1963. So why did this totally freak me out? “The Ransom of Red Chief” will always have a direct link for me to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. JFK was assassinated on Friday, November 22nd approximately 3 or 4 miles from where Rodolfo and I live. President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, landed at Love Field about 2 miles from our condo. Their motorcade drove just a block from where I am siting right now and he died at Parkland Hospital about 2 miles from here.

The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

The Texas School Book Depository is the building on the left. The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald shot President through a window on the 6th Floor. Many still question their findings and believe there was a conspiracy. Photo by John Selig

I remember President Kennedy’s assassination vividly. I was in 6th grade and our teacher, Mr. Kregler, dismissed us early. I walked home with several classmates instead of taking the bus because of the early dismissal. I lived maybe a mile from the school but I never walked home except for this one time. When I got home my mom was in the den watching TV and she was crying (something I rarely saw her do). Dad came home early too and we were all glued to the TV for the next 3 days until after JFK was buried. It was the first time that TV, which was only broadcasted in black and white back then, had no commercial interruptions, just continuous live coverage of the national tragedy. President Kennedy was my parents’ hero. They felt about him much the same as I do about Barack Obama.

President John F. Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally were shot on Elm Street just in front of the Grassy Knoll. Many people on the Grassy Knoll claimed to hear shots coming from the Grassy Knoll, not just the Texas School Book Depository. Photo by John Selig

My 11th  birthday was just four days later on Tuesday, November 26th, the day after JFK was buried. I wasn’t allowed to open any birthday presents (some of which arrived prior to my birthday) until after President Kennedy was buried.

Notice the white “X” in shadow at bottom left. This is position of President Kennedy’s limo when he was shot. The Grassy Knoll is on the right and the Texas School Book Depository is behind where I was standing when I took this photo. Photo by John Selig

Celebrating My 11th Birthday

My parents had a tough call to make. Instead of a typical birthday party my parents had purchased tickets to a matinee performance of a play in New York City. They had gotten tickets for us along with two of my friends. Mom and dad decided to go ahead and take us to see the play. They didn’t think it was fair to prevent my friends and me from attending the play, a special treat that we were excited about seeing, because of the national tragedy. I know this wasn’t an easy decision for them to make as they were devastated by the assassination.

We got in our silver-blue 1963 Chevrolet Impala and drove into The City as planned. People I knew who lived in the New York Metropolitan Area always used “The City” as the preferred name when referring to New York City (specifically Manhattan, not the other four boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and The Bronx) which are also part of NYC. Dad drove the 40 miles into Manhattan from Huntington, my hometown, located on Long Island’s North Shore. We listened to continuous am-radio news coverage during the entire drive into The City. However, we lost radio reception as we drove through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, which goes under the East River between Queens and Manhattan.

The Queens Midtown Tunnel had historical significance to our family. The first time mom ever drove a car was when my grandmother was driving home with my mother from a doctor’s follow-up appointment in The City after a recent surgery my grandmother had undergone. Mom was just 12 years old as I distinctly remember her proudly sharing this story. So, mom’s sink or swim introduction to driving took place in 1937 or 1938. Back then cars were the size of small cities. As my grandmother approached the tunnel from the Manhattan side she pulled over and told my mother that she felt very weak and asked mom if she thought she could drive them home. This meant that mom would have to drive through the tunnel and then about another ten miles to their home in Queens on roads with lots of traffic. Mom replied, “Sure.” Not only did she have to drive a huge car on busy roads but also all cars back then had standard transmissions. The means that mom had to instantly learn how to shift and deal with a clutch having never driven before. WOW!!! I always remember mom as being an exceptional driver. Mom frequently received positive comments from others about the way she drove.

As We Emerged From The Queens Midtown Tunnel Into The City

As we exited the tunnel on Sunday, November 24th in 1963, in the opposite direction from mom’s first driving experience over 25 years earlier, radio reception returned as we emerged onto 34th street. We immediately heard a news broadcaster report that Lee Harvey Oswald was being taken through the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters to be placed into an armored car that was going to transfer him to the county jail. Oswald never made it to the armored car. Less than a minute after radio reception returned we heard nightclub operator Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald live as it happened. I can still hear the sound of gunfire just as New York’s majestic skyscrapers popped into view.

I don’t remember anything about the play except for its name, “The Ransom of Red Chief.” Over the years I have shared my memories of President Kennedy’s assassination. However, I haven’t run across the story since that Sunday over 53 years ago… that is until this morning.

So you can imagine how I totally freaked out this morning as I was dragged back to events that happened 1,400 miles away from where I was living at the time but were within blocks and just a few miles from where I live now.

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Walking – My Magic Elixir

Selfie taken during one of my walks in Oak Lawn with ear buds in listening to podcast on my iPhone. Photo by John Selig

Selfie taken during Oak Lawn walk while listening to podcast on iPhone. Photo by John Selig

I hate to exercise. I have always hated to exercise. Having no hand-eye coordination, poor depth perception and being uncoordinated made my life in gym class a living hell. I was the last person chosen for any team. I hated watching sports in person and on TV and would rather do anything else. The only sport I ever enjoyed was skiing and since we don’t live in ski country it isn’t something I get to do.

One of the reasons I chose The University of Chicago for my graduate work, besides it being a top academic university, was a comment made by famed U of C President, Robert Maynard Hutchins, when he shut down The University of Chicago’s Big Ten football program during the Great Depression. The university had enough money to remain a world-class research institution or a Big Ten football school but not both. Hutchins chose academics. He stated, “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it passes.” Upon hearing this quote I knew I had found home. Mind you, the University of Chicago has a gym, sports teams and plenty of excellent exercise facilities, which are used regularly by many students and faculty. Still, prior to my enrollment a refrigerator had been crowned homecoming queen and during football games the all-kazoo marching band had more members than University of Chicago fans watching games.

Needless to say, you don’t find me getting up before dawn to go to the gym the way my husband does. I kid people telling them, “Rodolfo gets up at 4:30 a.m. and goes to the gym; I go to the John.” All jokes aside, I am the one missing out. I know how important exercise is to maintain a healthy lifestyle as doctors have pushed me to find exercise I enjoy doing, or at least don’t hate, and incorporate it into my routine.

Coming to Terms with Depression –

As my marriage to my former wife began to crumble at age thirty-six in 1989 I entered therapy to finally face my dragons. Before even admitting I was gay I realized that I had been clinically depressed since my teenage years. Being gay runs on my mom’s side of the family and depression runs in my dad’s side. Later I was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). I had been moved out of a crib when I was just one year old because I would rock and bang my head against the back of the crib causing it to bang into the wall so loudly that our neighbors could hear it. My parents had well respected doctors but back in the mid-1950s my pediatrician told my mom that I had to be moved from the crib to a bed before I hurt myself. However, he warned my mom that by moving me to a bed at such an early age, before I was developmentally ready, could increase the possibility that I might turn out to be a homosexual. So at least now I know why I turned out gay. I was moved to a bed to early! Where the heck did such whacked theories come from?

Fortunately, the new selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac had recently come on the market just prior to my facing depression. They worked wonders for me. I spent several years in therapy dealing with my depression and coming out. I was informed that exercise could be extremely helpful in lessening the impact of depression. Still, I would rather eat raw liver infused with hot peppers than exercise. Prior to my coming out I had lost a great deal of weight and joined a gym where I mainly walked. As my marriage to my former wife failed and my depression was intense I stopped exercising. Over the next few years I regained all the weight I had lost. I cannot even count the number of diets I have been on in my lifetime. Let’s just say that I have lost and regained John Goodman several times.

This past January I joined the unemployed and have been spending time looking for my next job. I enjoy spending time at home as I keep busy with my photography, writing, activism and reading. In January I was elected to our homeowner Association where I am currently serving as Vice President. Still, eating is habit forming and finding a job is my primary concern. Don’t let anybody tell you that there isn’t age discrimination in the job market. My search has proven to be challenging to say the least. Any leads on marketing management positions in the Dallas area would definitely be appreciated. My depression is well controlled and has been for years but it is hard not to feel down on occasion. Rodolfo has tried repeatedly to get me to go for a walk with him when I have been down. It has always helped but getting me off my butt has never been easy and when I have been depressed, forget it! My son has also been concerned that my lack of exercise not only impacted my mood but also that a sedentary lifestyle shortens life expectancy. For years Nathaniel has pushed me to exercise. Will Kolb, a Dallas friend, is a strong advocate of exercising to combat depression and his experience and encouragement was also a motivator.

Walking As An Exercise Program –

In June I realized that my energy level was definitely low. If Rodolfo and I went somewhere and I had to walk more than a few blocks I got winded. A few times I felt a bit light-headed and needed to sit down. This frightened Rodolfo and me. I realized that I needed to do something to build my endurance so I decided that going for a walk each day wouldn’t be the end of the world. I started out by walking a few blocks and over a six-week timeframe built my walking up to 2 to 2 ½ miles at least 4 mornings per week and I now often go for a short walk in the afternoon. I also have incorporated climbing stairs. Our condo is two stories so every time I need to go up or down stairs I do it three or four times. By climbing stairs several times a day it is easy to include twenty to forty flights of stairs as part of my workout.

The benefits have been amazing. When I take a walk I feel an immediate mood change. I can be experiencing the doldrums and a walk pulls me right out of them. Most of the time I really look forward to my walks and when I don’t feel like going I push myself to do so anyhow. Walking provides me an opportunity to concentrate on me. I often think through options and opportunities in my job search and other aspects of my life. As I am getting ready to head out the door I put my ear buds into my ears and connect them to my iPhone and turn on one of the many podcasts that I enjoy. Yes, I am able to listen to a podcast, do some internal thought processing and still pay careful attention to my surroundings to avoid getting hit by a car. Walking provides a welcome opportunity for me to make time in my day to “smell the roses.” It is a special time just for me.

I love living in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas. I have lived here for nineteen years. Oak Lawn is close to downtown with many great shops and restaurants and it is the center of gay life in Dallas. It also has a large Latino population and much of Oak Lawn is gentrifying with new housing and business construction. There are lots of trees and a number of nice parks as well. There is something unique about walking through your neighborhood that enables you to notice things that you just don’t see even though you regularly drive the same streets.

Walking Provides Photo Opportunities –

My walking route varies some but at this point my favorite route is 2 ½ miles in the morning and 8/10 of a mile in the afternoon. As much as I walk those routes I notice something different every time I take a walk. Photography has been a favorite pastime for forty-five years. I have an eye for composition and I love taking photos. The advent of digital photography over the past fifteen years has made photography much more affordable while providing the opportunity to enjoy instant access and sharing. I shoot lots of photos and my Nikon DSLR is with me when I travel or attend different events and gatherings. My iPhone is much lighter and is always with me including when I walk. Amazingly I notice something on every walk that I hadn’t previously observed.

I am astounded at the quality of the photographs that I am able take with my iPhone 6 Plus. I often email photos taken with my iPhone and share them on Facebook and Twitter. Surprisingly, many are good enough to print. I have included some in the photography galleries on my website. Not only does the iPhone take surprisingly good photos its new health application provides excellent exercise data including steps taken, miles walked and flights climbed. Exercise data is presented for the current day, week, month and year. This information in and of itself provides motivation for me to keep walking.

Knowing that I was going to write this blog post I decided to take some photos along my daily routes to share with this post. Keep in mind that every one of these photos was shot during one of my usual walks and everyone was shot with my iPhone. I didn’t plan the shots in advance. As I happened across each opportunity I saw a photo and decided to take it. Sometimes patterns, lighting or color grabbed my attention. Sometimes something undefined just slapped me across the face like the fire engine photos and the tops of fire hydrants. I have included two galleries of walking photos. The first gallery is from my daily walks in Oak Lawn.

Dragon lawn art at corner of Cedar Springs Road and and Wycliff Avenue. Photo by John Selig

Dragon lawn art at corner of Cedar Springs Road and and Wycliff Avenue. Photo by John Selig

Legacy of Love Monument at corner of Cedar Springs Road and Oak Lawn Avenue. Many LGBT rallies are held here. Photo by John Selig

Legacy of Love Monument at corner of Cedar Springs Road and Oak Lawn Avenue. Many LGBT rallies are held here. Photo by John Selig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have added a second photo gallery featuring photos I shot in NorthPark Center. Two weeks ago I was meeting some friends for lunch and I went to the mall before lunch to run an errand. I had some extra time and I decided to walk around the mall several times to get some additional exercise. I walk at a brisk pace but when I see a photo opportunity, as I do when walking outside, I stop, grab my iPhone, take a few photos and start walking again. I am including information about NorthPark Center and photos I took there because mall walking provides an excellent opportunity to get exercise. I love walking outdoors so that I can take in nature’s beauty and enjoy my neighborhood. I have even been able to brave the high temperatures of the Dallas summers by walking early. However, when it gets too hot, too cold or when it is raining or snowing going to the mall is a readily available option.

Located less than six miles from where we live NorthPark Center is one of the 20 largest malls in the United States (you know, everything in Texas has to be bigger). The developer of the mall, Raymond Nasher, was a huge collector of sculpture and just a small part of his and his wife’s sculpture collection is displayed in NorthPark Center. A much larger assortment of their amazing sculpture collection is housed at the Nasher Gallery in the Dallas Arts District. NorthPark Center is also adorned with seasonal plants and flowers.

20 Elements by Joel Shapiro at NorthPark Center. Photo by John Selig

20 Elements by Joel Shapiro at NorthPark Center. Photo by John Selig

Ad Astra by Mark di Suvero at NorthPark Center. Photo by John Selig

Ad Astra by Mark di Suvero at NorthPark Center. Photo by John Selig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sharing my photographs taken on recent walks for two reasons. First of all, I love sharing my photos. Photography is a cherished gift and I love for others to be able to enjoy my photos. Secondly, though others may not see photos as they walk they will appreciate the world they see. Perhaps my photos will encourage others to start their own walking program.

Walking Has Been Elixir for My Depression –

I recently visited my psychiatrist for my regular med check and informed him of the dramatic benefits I have noticed from walking. He was both thrilled and surprised. He told me that he regularly tries to convince patients with depression to exercise and his track record of getting them to do so has been disappointing. I can definitely understand this all too well. People can discuss the benefits of exercise until they are blue in the face. Unless one is ready to start an exercise program they just aren’t going to do it. I am fortunate that I listened to Rodolfo, my son, my doctors and my friend Will Kolb and finally decided that walking was going to be a regular part of my day.

The challenge for me is going to be to keep my walking program going, especially after I find a new job. Fortunately, I find that I crave my walks especially during the week. Perhaps I will be able to take DART light rail to work; we live a bit over a mile from the nearest station. I may also get up early enough to get my walking in before getting ready for work. I may also walk during lunch. I realize the importance and benefits gained by walking and I am motivated.

My University of Chicago roots run deep and I am never going to be a star athlete. I still rather watch HGTV than any sports program on TV save the Olympics. But including regular walks, as part of my lifestyle has become part of my routine and my mood, endurance and energy levels have all benefited from it.

 

Walking Photo Galleries –

Oak Lawn Photos taken with iPhone during various walks in my neighborhood

NorthPark Center Photos taken with iPhone during mall walks

Recommended Links –

Exercise and Depression (Harvard Medical School) – regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression

Benefits of Walking (Walking and Depression – HowStuff Works) – doctors are convinced by the evidence in favor of using exercise to treat depression

NorthPark Center has over 235 stores and restaurants and has annual sales of over $1 billion

NorthPark Center – description in Wikipedia

Nasher Sculpture Center has one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary sculpture in the world

Nasher Sculpture Center description in Wikipedia

Mall Walking: A Program Resource Guide encourages mall walking programs

Tips for Mall Walkers walk for fun and fitness

The University of Chicago where I received my MBA

University of Chicago Photo Gallery I shot these with my Nikon D90 DSLR in July 2015

 

Posted in General, Medical, Photography | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Happy 100th Birthday Kathy Ochiltree

Kathy Ochiltree - 2005, Courtesy of Cam & Helene Ochiltree

Kathy Ochiltree – 2005, Courtesy of Cam & Helene Ochiltree

Just a year ago February my mom’s closest friend, Kathy Ochiltree, passed away two months shy of her 99th birthday. It was a difficult loss for those of us who loved Kathy, for Kathy’s wisdom, non-judgmental character, caring nature and delightful sense of humor are something we all miss.

Mom was a volunteer throughout my childhood and into my collage years with the Huntington Hospital Auxiliary. For years mom was on the auxiliary’s board and her specialty was interviewing new volunteers and assigning them to available volunteer positions. Mom was the best judge of character that I have ever known. After spending a few minutes with somebody she met mom had this uncanny ability to tell a great deal about him or her. Upon meeting my friends mom would eventually tell me which ones impressed her and which she found troubling. Often she would hold her counsel but eventually it would come out. Darn if she wasn’t always right. The friends that turned out to be troublesome were the ones that set off red flags when she met them.

 My Mom’s Friendship with Kathy

In 1959, Kathy Ochiltree and her family moved to Huntington and lived just a few streets away from us. Kathy’s best childhood friend, Betty Hawes, lived in town so the Ochiltrees decided to live in Huntington when husband Scott’s work relocated the family to the New York Metropolitan Area. Soon after moving to Huntington Kathy decided to volunteer at the hospital where she met my mom and the two instantly became friends. Kathy and Scott had three sons. I went to junior high and high school with their youngest, Cam. Steve and Craig were older and I didn’t get to know them well. My mom also became friends with Betty, Kathy’s friend. Betty’s son John and I attended school together starting in the same Kindergarten class all the way through high school. John and I have remained in touch through our mutual closeness with Kathy.

Scott Ochiltree soon became ill and Kathy had to find a paying job to help support the family. She ended up becoming the Executive Secretary to the President of our town’s chamber of commerce. By that point mom and Kathy were so close that they didn’t need the shared volunteering experience to maintain their friendship. Mom and Kathy always enjoyed spending time together. Kathy was ten years older than my mom and mom always respected her opinion. Both of my parents were avid moviegoers, something that I learned from them and I remain so to this day. Kathy was also a movie enthusiast and the three of them often went to see movies together.

Through the years I got to know Kathy as she became part of our family. As a child I referred to her as “Aunt Kathy.” As I was an only child I often was included in many social activities with my parents and their friends so I got to know most of my parents’ friends well. In fact, when I was young I often found it easier to socialize with adults than with kids my own age. I have so many delightful memories growing up with my parents and time spent with Kathy. As Scott Ochiltree was quite ill I didn’t get to know him as well as he wasn’t able to partake in many of the diners out and movie nights that Kathy and my folks shared. Scott was a good man, a good husband and good father. That much I remember.

Our family had a beagle named Peanuts. He was great fun, terrified of thunderstorms and he loved to chew on the laundry room door and its doorframe. When we would leave Peanuts alone at home we would confine him to the laundry room so that he would not wreck havoc on the entire house. He didn’t like being kept in the laundry room but confinement was necessary because Peanuts became mischievous when given the run of the house if he was left to his own devices for more than an hour or two. The neighbors would often hear Peanuts howl when we left him; beagles are great howlers so don’t choose one for a family pet if you are looking for a quiet dog. My dad was always frustrated when we would return home and find wood splinters all over the floor as Peanuts vented his frustrations with being cooped up by trying to chew his way out of his perceived jail. Dad jokingly said that Peanuts was a “longhaired termite.” The Ochiltrees had a female beagle and my folks and Kathy and Scott decided to breed them the next time she went into heat. When the fateful day arrived we took Peanuts over to the Ochiltrees’ house to let the two of them do the deed. Well, nothing happened. Peanuts never rose to the occasion. My folks, Kathy and Scott shared many laughs over Peanuts’s lacking in the paramour skills department for years.

Kathy Ochiltree 2005, Courtesy of Cam and Helene Ochiltree

Kathy Ochiltree 2005, Courtesy of Cam and Helene Ochiltree

Mom passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 51 in February 1977 while I was completing my MBA at The University of Chicago. We found out that mom had cancer less than two months earlier. Mom’s passing at such a young age was a huge loss and my dad died of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, just six years later at age 58. I still miss my parents dearly and think of them every day.

The timing of mom’s death especially upset Kathy. The evening before she died Mom called Kathy around 8 p.m. and asked Kathy to come to see her at the hospital as there was something that she wanted to tell Kathy. They spoke on the phone for just a short time as it was taxing for mom but Kathy promised to come see mom first thing in the morning. Mom passed away five or six hours later. Kathy berated her self for not going to see mom immediately. But how could she have known that the next morning would be too late? Kathy and I both wondered what mom was going to share with her.

 My Friendship with Kathy

Mom and Kathy had a cherished friendship that spanned eighteen years. I remained close to Kathy until she died thirty-seven years later. It saddens me that so many people only interact with their own generation. Most of the elderly do not live with their families and many grandchildren rarely see their grandparents. One of the many valuable lessons I learned from my mom was the joy of befriending all sorts of people from many different backgrounds and different age groups. I remained close with many of my grandparents’ friends and my parents’ friends until they died. I have always enjoyed friendships with people considerably older than me, from my own generation and also younger than me. The elderly have a lifetime’s worth of experience and knowledge. They can share wisdom gained through life experiences that we have not lived through. Younger people have enthusiasm and their eagerness to learn and grow can spur us older folks to get out of ruts that have become too comfortable. I have found few things in life more rewarding than mentoring young people.

Whenever I returned to my hometown to visit I always stopped by to see Kathy and of course we would talk by phone. Sometimes we would speak often. Sometimes I allowed too much time to pass, which I now sadly regret. My trips home grew infrequent as family moved away from Metro New York or passed away. Fortunately, during the last years of Kathy’s life I was in touch regularly, often calling at least once a week. To say she was extraordinary would be an understatement. Nothing could perk me up more than calling Kathy on my mobile during my drive home from work and making her laugh, as Kathy’s laugh was infectious. She was sharper and better informed on politics, the arts, current events and the latest trends than most people half her age. Kathy had wisdom and a zest for life beyond belief.

I came out of the closet twenty-five years ago. Many gay people when they come out to their parents often are told, “Don’t tell your grandparents as they won’t be able to handle it.” Not long after coming out in 1990 I told Kathy that I was gay and her love was unconditional. By that point my parents and grandparents were all dead. Kathy’s acceptance and love meant the world to me. I always appreciated her emotional support, felt her love and her guidance was so valuable. The number of people who knew me back when I was a child and knew my parents is sadly small in number so I would often turn to Kathy when I needed a parental figure for guidance. Years ago John Hawes mentioned to me that whenever he would go over to the Ochiltree’s home he knew that no matter what he shared the Ochiltrees wouldn’t judge him. That kind safe space and support is rare indeed. The people that we can turn to for guidance and support without being judged are amongst life’s greatest treasures.

Kathy lived in her house, by herself until just a few months before she died. Her son, Cam, and daughter-in-law, Helene lived just a mile or so away and they kept a close eye on her. More loving and caring children no parent could want. Still, Kathy was self-reliant and wanted to live as independently as possible. She abhorred being a bother to anybody. Cam and Helene made it possible for Kathy to live on her own for as long as possible.

I cherish so many of our phone calls. Of course, finding time where Kathy was available to talk was often not easy because she was always so busy. She played cards, went to movies and theatre, attended church (where she sang in the choir) and was in “Newsday,” the newspaper covering Long Island, in an article about an exercise group for senior citizen women called “Gentle Bends” that was published in January 2013 (just over a year before she died). Kathy was proud that she was the oldest member by ten years of the exercise group.

Outliving Her Car

One day when Kathy was in her mid-90s she mentioned that her car, which was from the 1970s, was no longer reliable. She chuckled as she told me, “Well, it was a contest to see which one of us would go first, me or my car. It looks like I am going to outlive the car.” She mentioned possibly leasing a new car. She ended up driving Cam and Helene’s old Jeep Cherokee. Visualizing Kathy getting in an out of a Cherokee brought a huge smile to my face. My legs are short and I bitch like crazy whenever I have to get in or out of an SUV. Good for Kathy to think nothing of doing so!

I often shared stories about Kathy with friends because she was so unique and was so important to me. When I shared the story about Kathy and her car some reacted in horror, their mouths would drop open and they would remark that she shouldn’t be driving at her age. They just didn’t know Kathy. She kept up with current events, politics and the arts. She knew as much about the world around her as most people half her age. Kathy was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton when Hillary ran for President in 2008. Kathy would have been the first person to stop driving if she felt she was no longer capable of doing so. Nobody would need to suggest that Kathy Ochiltree stop driving.

During one of our phone conversations a year or two later I asked Kathy  how her car was doing. She replied that she had stopped driving a few months earlier. I asked what made her decide to stop. Kathy responded, “I was in the parking lot of King Kullen (the local supermarket) one day and I was about to pull out. I said to myself, ‘Kathy, you have never had a car accident. If another driver backs into your car nobody is going to believe that it wasn’t your fault.’ So, I decided it was time to stop driving.” That was the Kathy I love so much.

I know giving up driving was a difficult decision for Kathy, as she hated being a burden on anybody else. She just didn’t understand that others loved to do things for her because anytime anybody got to spend with Kathy was a high point of their day, if not their entire week. She had good neighbors who looked in on her as well. Long Island and the rest of the New York Metro Area have been hit with some treacherous weather during the past five years including Hurricane Sandy and a number of record-breaking blizzards. Kathy lost electricity on several occasions. She was also snowed in a few times. Fortunately, if Cam or Helene were unable to make it over, Kathy’s neighbors would shovel her out and make sure she had what she needed and take her in if need be until Cam and Helene could overcome nature’s fury.

Kathy Ochiltree at a tea thrown in her honor. Kathy is seated in front row 3rd from right holding cute girl, Courtesy of Came and Helene Ochiltree

Kathy Ochiltree at a tea thrown in her honor. Kathy is seated in front row 3rd from right holding cute girl, Courtesy of Cam and Helene Ochiltree

I loved reminiscing about memories of my parents with Kathy, as she was the only close friend who was still around with whom I could do that. I am so happy that Nathaniel, my son, was able to have a long phone conversation with Kathy a few years ago. He got to ask Kathy questions about his grandparents that nobody else could answer. My dad passed away when Nathaniel was very young so he doesn’t remember Dad and mom died a year before Nathaniel was born. Kathy was one of less than a handful of people he ever spoke with who filled him in on his grandparents.

 The Only Time I Saw My Mom Speechless Involved Kathy

I remember a humorous conversation with Kathy where I reminded her of a chat that she, my mom and I had in our backyard during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of collage back in 1971. I had a close relationship with my parents and I was a good kid who gave them few challenges. I really didn’t have much to hide from my parents so I was honest with them (other than the fact that I was gay, which I was still failing to admit even to myself). During my freshman year of college I, like all but one or two college-attending baby boomers I knew, began smoking marijuana. I did so responsibly, when I had no tests the next day and all of my schoolwork was completed. It never got in the way of my responsibilities. I had told my mom. She wasn’t thrilled but she wasn’t shocked and she didn’t overreact. Mom once told me when I wondered how I would keep myself from becoming too strict as a parent, “You can’t expect your children to adopt the exact same standards as your generation. The best you can hope for is that they adhere to the best standards that are considered acceptable by their generation.” Her valuable insights proved to be so helpful as I raised Nathaniel. Mom was a wise woman indeed.

As none of you, with perhaps the exception of one or two people reading this, knew my mom, I need to share a few things about mom. She had a great sense of humor, always had a twinkle in her eyes and enjoyed a good laugh. Mom always held a strong opinion and wasn’t the slightest bit inhibited about sharing said opinion. In fact, there were usually only two ways to do most things, her way and the wrong way. I have to be honest and admit that I am a great deal like my mom. Just like mom, nobody has ever described me as being soft-spoken or non-committal. During one conversation with Kathy during her last few months alive I mentioned that I bet she saw a lot of my mom in me. She laughed her delightful chuckle and responded that she saw a great deal of both my parents in me. Kathy’s warmth and support traveled from Huntington to Dallas right over the phone and I had a huge smile on my face upon hearing her kind words. I was proud and became teary-eyed. My parents had been excellent role models and I grew up with unconditional love, something that far too many kids never have had. Although both of my parents were taken from me far too early I had been fortunate, very fortunate.

So back to our discussion about that fateful day in our backyard during the summer of 1971, I reminisced with Kathy about the three of us talking. She added that we must have been sitting in the white Adirondacks chairs, probably having some of my mom’s great iced tea that she made all summer long, using oranges instead of lemons. I verbally nodded. I reminded Kathy that my mom sarcastically brought up the fact that I had been smoking marijuana in college. Mom stated, “Well, I would never smoke marijuana! Would you Kathy?” Mom knew darn well what Kathy’s answer would be, or at least she thought that she did. Kathy answered without missing a beat, “Oh, I smoked pot with Cam. It was fun.” Kathy and I both started howling at the memory. I told her, “That was the one and only time in my entire life that I ever saw Natica Selig speechless!” We both were crying we were laughing so hard. Don’t worry; I cleared this with Cam before including this fond memory.

Music and Movies 

One day I caught Kathy just a few minutes before she was being picked up to attend a concert with a friend. I asked her what type of music she was going to hear. Kathy mentioned that it was going to be a harp and flute concert and added that she grew up in a musical home and that she liked all kinds of music. Then she floored me, “I even enjoy listening to rap music.” Can you imagine somebody in his or her mid-nineties listening to and enjoying rap? Kathy was wise beyond description as she added, “Some of it is really good, not all of it, but some of it I really like. If you want to understand the younger generation you need to meet them on their own turf.” WOW! Of course, she was right but how many of us would listen to rap to understand and connect with young people?

Kathy never lost her love of going to the movies. Just before moving from her home into the nursing home she had seen the “Dallas Buyers Club” starring Matthew McConaughey. She asked if I had seen it and when I told her I had not but it was on my list of movies to see she told me I must see it. The movie was about an AIDS patient who smuggled in unapproved drugs to help save lives as nothing then available was stopping AIDS patients from dying. My husband, Rodolfo, and I live just a mile or two two from where the actual story took place. The real life version of one of the main doctor characters in the movie called in a prescription to my pharmacy for me when he was on call for my doctor not long ago. The receptionist character in the movie was actually three people in real life, one of whom I have known for over twenty years. Yet it was Kathy who pushed me to go see the movie. Rodolfo and I went to see it the following weekend and loved it, of course.

 Saying Goodbye

During the last months of her life Kathy was in a great deal of pain from sciatica and hated having to give up her home and live in a nursing care facility. She developed several infections that landed her in the hospital and Kathy eventually decided that it was time to stop fighting and that she only wanted care to keep her comfortable. Kathy had put a great deal of thought into her end of life, didn’t fear death and when it was time to let go, it was time. During one conversation while Kathy was in the nursing care facility she told me that she had lived a long, happy life. Kathy stated that she was more fortunate than most people. She added, “Now, I am going to die at some point. I don’t want anybody getting all upset and acting as if my passing was a tragedy.” I assured her that nobody could possibly think that her end of life would be a tragedy the way somebody much younger having his or her life cut short would be. I added, however, that many people had a great deal of love for her and that she would be deeply missed, “Your passing won’t be a tragedy, but it will still be as huge a loss for those of us who love you as it would be if it were a tragedy.” In some ways she was a surrogate mom. Kathy hadn’t looked at the impact that her death would have on others and myself in the way I had described and it gave her pause to think.

Kathy Ochiltree, Christmas 2013, Courtesy of Cam & Helene Ochiltree

Kathy Ochiltree, Christmas 2013, Courtesy of Cam & Helene Ochiltree

In one of our last phone conversations about ten days before Kathy passed away, Kathy told me how much our friendship meant to her, how much she loved both of my parents and how much she loved me. I kept conversations short at that point so as not to tax her energy. However, I did get to tell Kathy how she had made a huge impact on my life, that I loved her and that my cherished memories of her would always be held close to my heart.

Kathy Ochiltree passed away peacefully on February 26, 2014. Cam and Helene had just been with her and went home to grab dinner. Her minister was with her when she died. He had placed a set of ear buds in her ears and played her favorite song as she peacefully passed away.

For those of you reading this that have elderly loved ones living, cherish them while you still have them. Take the opportunity to record some of their stories for future generations. I had tried to get Kathy to let me record a conversation with her that I could share with her family and friends as a lasting memory but before we found the time to do so it became too taxing for her. I am sorry that we never followed through. Make the time to capture oral histories from elderly loved ones. Take out a smartphone and turn on the audio record app or video camera and ask questions. Record their precious memories of family history (include stories told to them by older generations) as well as your loved one’s view of what our country and the world were like as they grew up. What historical events occurred during their lifetimes and what reaction did their family and friends have to those events? Capture stories about loved one’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters that will be lost to future generations once they are no longer around. Those memories are priceless and so is having a record of them sharing their stories.

On April 24th Kathy Ochiltree would have been 100 years old. She almost made it. But Kathy lead a full life filled with a phenomenal collection of family, friends and many, many people who adored and loved her. Kathy’s passing was not a tragedy. It was and remains a huge loss. I wanted to write about Kathy soon after she died but I just couldn’t. The milestone of Kathy’s 100th birthday feels like the appropriate time to pay homage to her memory. Kathy, I love you and I miss you. Thank you for being such a good friend to my parents and to me. I am most fortunate because I have had you in my life since I was six years old. Mom only had you for eighteen years. Thank you for being so supportive. Thank you for being so accepting. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being you. Like my parents I think of you every day. I miss you, I love you and I always will!

 

Recommended Links

‘Gentle Bends’ women’s exercise group – Newsday article on the exercise group Kathy enjoyed attending (Kathy is the furthest to the right in the story’s photo), published 1/3/13

 

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The Eye Behind the Camera

 

Photographer’s Selfie. Photo by John Selig

Photographer’s Selfie. Photo by John Selig

People who know me well will tell you that they rarely see me when I don’t have ready access to a camera be it my Nikon D90 DSLR or my iPhone 6 Plus. I have been an avid photographer since purchasing my first 35 mm camera in January of 1970 during my senior year of high school. Within days of purchasing my Minolta SRT 101 I became my high school’s yearbook photographer as the previous yearbook photographer had just resigned having been accepted to college. Talk about pressure of turning out publishable photographs right from the start.

My dad bought me my first camera back in early 1963 when I was 10. It was a Kodak Instamatic 100 and dad got it for me, paying just $16, during the first week it went on sale. I took decent photos with the Instamatic including many during a 6-week cross country YMCA camping trip that I took with 80 teenage boys the summer after 10th grade.

Learning Photography with My Minolta SRT 101 35mm Camera

My SRT 101 provided me the motivation to take photography seriously and the opportunity to shoot essentially unlimited photos for the yearbook with school paying for the film and the processing. I couldn’t hope for a better learning environment and my skills improved rapidly. I remain an avid photographer. Having switched to digital photography in June 2002, I once again can shoot limitless quantities of photos without worrying about the expense of film and processing.

Minolta SRT 101 Link on Flickr Steve Harwood (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Minolta SRT 101 Link on Flickr Steve Harwood (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I feel fortunate that I learned photography shooting film as the skills I learned shooting different types of film and in the darkroom still impact my skills behind the camera and with Adobe Photoshop on my computer.

There was also something special about having to impatiently wait to get developed photos back from the lab. I never take for granted how remarkable it is to be able to see photos as soon as I take them. Being able to snap photos with my iPhone, edit them and then instantly post them from my iPhone to Facebook or email them anywhere in the world in just seconds still astounds me.

Technical Skill Can Be Learned But One is Born with an Eye for Composition

People have always enjoyed my photographs and I still feel joy when they express amazement with what they see. The technical aspects of photography can be learned but I believe that you either have a natural eye for what makes a good photograph or you don’t. Certainly, you can learn to improve you composition. There are a variety of standard rules that make sense to follow most of the time such as not having a horizon in the middle of your photos; have the sky make up either one-third of the height of the photo or two-thirds, not one-half.

Somehow, I have always had an eye for a good photo. One of my mentors was Tom Cattrall. Tom, a brilliant man who received his master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University when he was just 19-years old, coached me by teaching me how my new camera worked when I started taking photos for the yearbook. Years later, Tom remarked that he had taken photos for over twenty years when he first met me. Here I was shooting one of my first rolls of film with my first 35 mm camera and I was seeing shots that he just didn’t see. He grinned when he admitted that it really pissed him off. Tom was a valuable and cherished mentor for years impacting many facets of my life beyond photography including my college and graduate school education. His patience and willingness to be an important role model inspired me to pay it forward with the next generation through my work with AFS international exchange students and other youth.

Tom Cattrall taught me an important lesson that I remember 45 years after learning it. People frequently ask photographers what type of camera they use. Tom told me, “John, the film doesn’t know what kind of camera you are using. More sophisticated, expensive camera equipment makes it easier for the photographer to utilize different techniques. However, you can take a perfectly good photo using a shoebox with a pinhole at one end. The pinhole acts like a lens and piece of paper covering the pinhole works like a shutter.” My Nikon D 90 DSLR takes far better photos than I took with my first digital camera, which was a 4.1 mega-pixel Sony that I used from 2002 to mid-2009. I still was able to produce photos with the Sony Cybershot that were good enough for two book covers plus my and other websites. My Nikon DSLR is my camera of choice but I am surprised by the quality that my iPhone is able to produce in a pinch.

My Photography Is a Gift, My Writing a Talent

I am fortunate in that I love to both take photos and to write. Photography has been a part of my life since my teen years. My writing didn’t begin to take hold until the late 1980s when I was in my late 30s. As I began to write more and submit articles to various publications I learned that it is rare for photographers to write or for writers to take photographs. Editors were surprised when I submitted copy and they mentioned that they would schedule a photographer to take photos to accompany my article. I told them that I was shooting the photos as well. Whenever I submitted photos with articles that were published my photos were always used.

The creative processes of taking photographs and writing are completely different for me. Comparing the two has enabled me to grasp the difference between a gift and a talent. The process of composing photographs for me is effortless. I am almost unaware of what catches my eye. In a way it is as if I am channeling some hidden energy and my muse just takes over. I see this as a gift. People comment on my photos and of course I am proud of them. However, I am often embarrassed because I feel as if I didn’t do anything. The photos just happened.

When I am taking photos and I am with my husband, Rodolfo, or with Nathaniel, my son, they know to keep track of me because I will shoot a bunch of photos moving around just to get the right lighting, the right angle, the right composition. I may shot one or two photos or fifty. It can take ten seconds or fifteen minutes of shoot time. While taking the photos I am not the slightest bit aware of where they are. Most of the time I can find them but sometimes they need to find me.

Writing is different in that I find the process to be intellectual. I am totally aware of what I am writing. Writing comes fairly easily but for me it as a talent, not a gift. I write my initial draft and then rework what I have written, correcting spelling and grammar, reworking and polishing what I have written. I add descriptions for more clarity and color and cut unnecessary content to meet word count limitations. It takes time and energy. Writing is work, fun work. Photography just happens.

Artistic Talent Runs in the Maternal Side of My Family Going Back Generations

What I find surprising is that artistic gifts run deep in the maternal side of my family going

Sketch by my Great-Uncle Adrian in the early 1920s while in Paris during his college years before becoming MGM's  Chief Costume Designer

Sketch by my Great-Uncle Adrian in the early 1920s while in Paris during his college years before becoming MGM’s Chief Costume Designer

back generations. Most famous was my grandmother’s brother, Adrian. He is still regarded by many in the film industry as the greatest costume designer in the history of Hollywood. Adrian was at MGM from the late 1920s through the early 1940s and designed costumes for Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer and many others. He designed costumes for over 250 films. His film credits most often read, “Gowns by Adrian.” His most famous film was “The Wizard of Oz.” Yes, my great-uncle designed the famed “Ruby Red Slippers” now housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Adrian died in 1959 while designing costumes for Camelot, the Broadway musical. I could go on and on about Adrian. I plan on writing a blog post on Adrian sometime in the future.

In June 2002 I went home to New York for the first time in years. The Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibit solely featuring Adrian’s gowns. I was given the opportunity of a lifetime by receiving a personal tour of the exhibit by its curator. That same weekend I drove forty miles east to my hometown, Huntington, on Long Island. As I no longer have any family in Huntington, it was the first time I had been in my hometown since before I came out twelve years earlier. The Long Island Pride Parade was taking place and I marched with my high school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), right down the main street of my town. What a head-trip that was. I was interviewed by “Newsday” and featured prominently in their newspaper article on the parade.

My Grandma Bea around the age of 3 wearing a bonnet designed and made for her by her parents who were milliners, circa 1899

My Grandma Bea around the age of 3 wearing a bonnet designed and made for her by her parents who were milliners, circa 1899

Adrian greatly admired my grandmother, as most people who knew her throughout her life did. Grandma Bea was seven years Adrian’s senior. Before marrying my grandfather my grandmother taught ballroom dance and deportment. Merriam-Webster defines deportment as “the way a person behaves, stands and moves especially in a formal situation.” I remember as a young child having her correct my posture. Grandma Bea also did a few oil paintings. My aunt was a very talented artist and taught high school art. One of my cousins went to music school and has done some acting. Going back a few generations, my grandmother’s and Adrian’s parents were both extremely talented milliners. I have a cherished photo of my grandmother around the age of three from the late 1890s in a bonnet designed and made by her parents.

A great-uncle of my grandmother’s designed sets for Broadway plays. Distant cousins of mine have been artists as well. One was a medical illustrator. There are graphic artists, other photographers and artistic relatives in my extended family as well.

I am thankful for the artistic gift that seems to have flowed throughout my family. I am no Adrian, not by a long shot, but the enjoyment of photography, art and my creativity has always been there. I wish I could draw or paint. Unfortunately I have limited depth perception and am saddled with more color blindness than I want to admit. But I can compose and take photographs.

I have had others in my life that have had a major impact on my photography. My friend, Ken Guglielmo, was a dorm mate freshman year of college. He remains a close friend. Ken is both a gifted fine artist as well as a successful commercial artist who has been the art director at some of the finest advertising agencies in New York. Ken has always been a huge fan of my photography and he has worked with a slew of big name photographers so his compliments carry a lot of weight.

In the late 1980s I seriously considered chucking my marketing career and going to photography school. I applied to and was accepted at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Brooks is considered a top photography school. While considering giving up my marketing career made possible through my training and MBA from The University of Chicago I met a Brooks graduate by the name of Hal Ungar. After graduating from Brooks Hal went on to become a photo assistant to world-famous photographer, Yousuf Karsh, who is considered to be one of the greatest portrait photographers of the twentieth century. Hal became a close friend and after spending lots of time with him I realized that earning a living, as a photographer was no sure thing even with the training I would receive from Brooks.

I decided to keep my day job. I realized that I would be better served keeping photography as a beloved hobby rather than pursuing it as a profession. Over the next decade I had the opportunity to take a number of courses with Hal including darkroom, lighting, medium format photography (cameras like the Hasselblad used for weddings) and also large format photography (the really large cameras with bellows that held film for one photo at a time). Most of these classes were just a day or two. They gave me more of an appreciation than expertise. The darkroom classes were held at a local junior college and they lasted longer. As helpful as classes Hal taught were, the Ungar Photography Club was just as valuable. Hal would ask us to shoot slides and bring them to meetings where Hal would critique them, providing coaching from the master himself. Hal also had outstanding guest speakers. Thanks to Hal my skill improved and I became more aware of the technical side of photography. My eye for composition improved as well.

What Do I Like to Shoot?

I am often asked, “What do you like to shoot.” If you peruse the photography section of my website you will see galleries dating back to 2002. The film photos I’ve shot over thirty years (1970s until 2002) are not included on the site. Rodolfo and I have just added nearly 300 photos in twenty-two new galleries, which I shot between July 2011 through April 2015. New photo galleries will be added going forward. Photos in galleries starting with July 2011 are much larger in size than earlier ones for more optimal viewing.

I love shooting a wide variety of photos from travel to still life to photojournalism. I shoot a lot of abstract photography, which I think best displays my eye for composition. My photos tend to feature geometric shape, natural and artistic beauty and I am naturally drawn to subjects with lots of color saturation. I am often asked, “How did you see that?” My photo galleries contain few photos of people. I enjoy taking photos of people but my website features my art photography.

Photojournalism provided amazing opportunities when I came out of the closet. I got to meet and befriend some of the great people in the LGBT movement here in Dallas and nationally including having press credentials for the 1993 March on Washington. The photographer is always asked to come to the front of crowd where the action is taking place. My writing provided me the added opportunity to spend time with folks after the photos were shot. I haven’t included many people because most of my people photos are not art. I don’t have a studio with lighting.

I have been fortunate in that just about every job I have had has enabled me to use my photography. The owner of one company where I worked was a fan of my photography. One day he told me that he had recently heard a conversation on radio where the host mentioned to the photographer how amazing it was that good photographers could see things that most people couldn’t see. The host stated to the photographer, “You go to a locale and can take the whole thing in. The rest of us aren’t able to do that.” The photographer replied, “Actually, we don’t take the whole thing in. We notice parts of the scene, that others don’t see.” That totally fits with what I see as a photographer. I notice geometric shapes, how lighting and color blend and play off objects and that influences what I shoot.

I hope you enjoy my photographs. Please visit the photos section of my website and visit again often as more photos will be added.

 

Recommended Links

Yusuf Karsh – One of the masters of 20th century photography

Adrian – My great-uncle considered by many as Hollywood’s greatest costume designer

Brooks Institute – Nationally renown photography school I almost attended

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Lobbying The Texas State Legislature

Texas State Capitol Dome Photo by John Selig

Texas State Capitol Dome
Photo by John Selig

Last Spring Rodolfo and I sold our condo in an expensive high-rise near downtown Dallas and opted to purchase a condo in garden apartment style community not far from our high-rise. As soon as we moved into our new place we felt right at home and immediately enjoyed meeting our neighbors.

Joining Our Homeowner Association (HOA) Board

Our complex is almost as old as I am <ancient I know>, which means it is loaded with charm <just like me – right?> that one just doesn’t find in new construction. With age, however, comes maintenance. The homeowner association here is active. As a way of getting to know others in our complex I volunteered to do my part in becoming a building rep. I agreed to forward information from our HOA board and our management company to owners living in in our building.

This past fall the HOA Board President asked if I would be willing to serve on the board. I agreed to do so and I was one of two new board members elected at our Annual HOA Meeting held in January. I just started my three-year term.

About a month ago our property manager from our management company let us know that they would be taking a busload of people from Dallas to Austin to lobby Texas State Legislators on potential legislation that might impact homeowner associations and she wanted to know if any of us on the board would be willing to join them and go to Austin for the day.

Photo by John Selig

Side view of the dome – Photo by John Selig

The Texas State Legislature meets for five months starting in January every other year (odd numbered years). The Governor of Texas can call the Legislature back for special sessions, which happens occasionally but in general legislation in Texas takes place in just five months every other year. Needless to say it is a bit of a madhouse pushing thousands of bills through in such a short period of time.

What HOAs Do

Homeowners associations (or HOAs for short) are important in many home subdivisions, townhome communities and condominiums. Owners pay monthly dues. Those dues enable a variety of services to be performed. Services vary but often include, pool maintenance, water, exterior maintenance including painting, building exterior maintenance and roof repairs, as well as landscaping, snow removal and garbage collection. Some HOAs cover other services such as cable, valet parking, concierge service, etc.

Owners elect HOA boards that typically work with a management company that takes care of providing the services. HOA boards set the policies and direct the management companies. Major changes in rules and by-laws require approval by a percentage of owners set in their HOA’s by-laws.

HOAs boards sometimes get a bad rap if they do not work well representing the owners but most do a good job, work hard and assess what is doable based upon the budgets the HOAs have available. Living within a community that has an HOA isn’t for everybody. HOAs have by-laws and rules. If you don’t like living in such a community you are better off living where you are responsible for all work and thus do not have to live in accord with your neighbors. Unfortunately, some people do break the HOA rules (typical infractions may involve pets, excess noise or ignoring remodeling standards). Enforcing rules falls under the purview of HOA boards and management companies. Those who do not want to live by rules tend not to be happy when they are called to task for breaking rules and assessed fines.

Lobbying Texas State Legislators on Behalf of HOAs

Last week the busload from our management company joined with others from around the state to lobby Texas State Representatives and Senators to remind our elected officials of the importance of HOAs to many Texans. Legislation is being introduced this session that won’t be controversial but is designed to clear up some ambiguity that exists in current laws. We also wanted to make certain that if any anti-HOA legislation happened to be introduced that it would be defeated.

Photo by John Selig

Close-up of the very top of the dome – Photo by John Selig

I agreed to participate in the lobby day and I am glad I did so. I have never lobbied before and it was a gratifying experience. Besides getting to know staff members from our management company I had an impact on the “sausage making process” (as the legislative process is often referred to as) and I have to admit that being able to share my experience and opinions felt good.

I am convinced that our country is doomed unless we get corporate money out of politics. Lobbyist money influencing and controlling elections and legislative decisions benefits only special interests. I am strongly in favor of a passing a constitutional amendment removing such money from national, state and local government. However, lobbyists representing diverse positions on issues are crucial to informing elected officials of the varying facets to proposed or needed legislation. Lobbyist supplied information along with comments from citizens enables elected officials and their staff to educate themselves and then make their decisions based upon weighing the merits of the variety of information they have been presented. It is when money from lobbyists gets involved that government stops being “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Our group visited three state representatives all of whom were Republicans. Appointments had been set up for us in advance with a legislative aide for each of the three State Representatives we visited. As a liberal gay man who is not thrilled with the Republican Party Platform in the State of Texas and the policies supported by the Republican majorities in both houses of the Texas State Legislature, I had to bite my tongue and stay on the topic at hand. As much as I wanted to do so, calling the three legislators to task on their positions on LGBT rights, as well as a long list of other social and economic issues, was not the reason I was in their offices.

There were about ten of us in our group, which was headed up by an attorney whose practice serves HOAs. He discussed the purpose of our visit and then had each of us introduced ourselves.

Most everybody in our group (and most of the other groups) worked for an HOA management company or a provider of services to HOAs. Some of the people lived within an HOA community. I was the only member of our group currently serving on an HOA board so I took some time to share the importance of HOAs providing services that would be much more difficult for individual owners to obtain for themselves. I mentioned that HOA boards were made up of volunteers who took their responsibility seriously. I stressed the importance of legislation impacting HOAs being positive because it impacted many Texans who relied on their HOAs.

While waiting for our first appointment in the Capitol we congregated in a vast lobby under the magnificent dome of the massive Texas State Capitol, which was completed in 1888. The current Texas State Capitol is the third building to be the state capitol. According to Wikipedia the Texas State Capitol is 308 feet tall making it the sixth tallest state capitol in the United States. In fact, it is taller than the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. I was spellbound by the splendor of the dome.

Photo by John Selig

Close-up side view of the dome – Photo by John Selig

Those of you who know me, or who have explored my website, are aware that photography has been an important part of my life for many years. I had a great time taking photographs of the inside of the dome with my iPhone 6 Plus and I have included several of them with this post. I certainly wished that I had brought my Nikon DSLR camera with me because then I could have really gone to town taking photos.

Our three meetings lasted approximately fifteen minutes each. We were well received and listened to by all three legislative aides. After the three meetings I felt that we had been heard and I was proud to have been part of the legislative process. I encourage others, given the opportunity, to meet with your elected officials or their staff to share information and positions on topics of importance to you. Although government seems to be focused on the needs of the major corporations and industries and the 1% who own them, citizens should take the opportunity to influence elected officials thus having them still report to the electorate who give them the privilege to serve us.

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Hope In The Lone Star State

 

Attendeed at the Out for Health 2015 Conference

Attendees at The 2015 Out for Health 2015 Summit at the Texas Health Science Center at Houston on February 7, 2015 – Photo By John Selig

Thirty years ago this coming September I moved to Texas and with the exception of a fifteen-month stint in Scottsdale, Arizona I have lived here ever since. I’ve experienced many major life milestones while living in Dallas. My son attended grades two through ten here, my marriage of thirteen years to my former wife disintegrated and I came out of the closet twenty-five years ago. I became a gay activist, writer and podcaster all of which were new to me. In December 2001, just three months after the horrors of 9/11, I met my amazing husband.

Texas – The Reddest of the Red States

With all of the many good memories that have enriched my life these thirty years I have never been able to overcome my frustration felt by being a liberal living in the reddest of red states. Six years after I arrived Ann Richards became Governor of Texas, not because Texas had taken a swerve to the left but because her opponent ran such a disastrous campaign; even many conservatives couldn’t stomach pulling the lever for Clayton Williams. Four years later Governor Richards ran a reelection campaign while dealing with the grief of her mother’s recent passing. George W. Bush defeated her and ever since the Texas State Government has veered further to the right with the two Governors who succeeded Bush being even more conservative and archaic than Bush. With Bush being as abysmal and inept as he was, being worse tan him hasn’t been easy.

Even In Texas LGBT Rights Advance

In spite of the ultra-conservative and deeply fundamentalist-Christian domination of Texas politics there have been advances in LGBT civil rights even in Texas. In May of 2001, Governor Rick Perry signed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which included gays. While serving as Governor, George W. Bush had refused to support the bill two years earlier.

Non-discrimination laws adding LGBT people have been enacted in many of the large cities throughout the state along with the addition of domestic partnership benefits for city employees. With the exception of the Mayor of Dallas, large city mayors throughout the state of Texas have joined with more than 500 mayors across the country by publicly supporting same-sex marriage. Dallas has a lesbian sheriff and Houston a d lesbian mayor. Despite having highly conservative state officeholders, public opinion has swayed to become much more accepting of LGBT Texans including support for same-sex marriage.

Still, it isn’t easy being gay and living in Texas where the state government continuously works against the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people while mega-churches spew hate against us from their pulpits and in the media. Such attacks become frustrating, depressing and at times overwhelming. Sometimes I ask myself why we haven’t moved to a blue state where Rodolfo and I would receive much more support. Fortunately, the large cities in Texas including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Ft. Worth and, of course, Austin are all supportive. Still, the voters from the suburbs and rural parts of the state control who makes it into state government. At times I have to admit that I feel like throwing in the towel. I get tired of fighting and just want to live in peace and not have to deal with the Republican and fundamentalist Christian hate in this state that dominates everything from school textbook selection, appointments and legislation. But then something amazing happens.

Invitation To Be Keynote Speaker at 2015 Out For Health Summit

Several weeks ago I was the keynote speaker at the 2015 Out for Health LGBTQ & Ally Healthcare Summit. Hosted by the LGBT Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston the summit put on for the Texas Association for GLBTQ Health (TAGH) had over one hundred thirty attendees from nine medical healthcare campuses across the state of Texas. In addition to the hosting University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, other University of Texas medical campuses participated including University of Texas Health Science at San Antonio, University of North Texas Science Center (Denton), University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas) and University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston along with Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Science Center at Lubbock, Texas Tech University Health Science Center at El Paso and the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

The majority of participants at the summit were LGBT medical school students but there were also over forty professionals from fields including nursing, law, pharmacy, PhDs, dentistry, public health, physicians assistants and advocates in attendance as well. Several of the attendees were straight allies.

Dr. Gus Krucke

I had received a phone call two weeks prior to the summit, which was held on Saturday February 7th. The call was from my dear friend of over 15 years Dr. Gus Krucke, whom besides being double board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine is an Assistant Professor in General Internal Medicine. During his free time (not that he has any) Dr. Krucke serves as the volunteer Medical Director of the Bering Omega AIDS Hospice. Recently Gus also agreed to take on the role of faculty advisor to The University of Texas Medical School at Houston Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Gus, who was my best man when Rodolfo and I married in Canada nearly 11 years ago, is a world-class physician. In 2010 Gus was awarded the Leonard Tow Humanitarian in Medicine Award. This prestigious award honors faculty who are exemplary in their compassion and sensitivity in the delivery of care to patients and their families, who administer scientifically excellent clinical care and who serve as role models for medical students.

Dr. Gus Krucke

Dr. Gus Krucke – Asst. Professor at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston – Photo By John Selig

There isn’t another physician in the United States with Dr. Gus Krucke’s unique skill set. In the recommended links section at the bottom of this post you will want to check out the article I wrote about Gus for A&U Magazine and a John Selig Outspoken podcast episode featuring a conversation I had with Gus. At the end of the podcast Gus reads a tearjerker of a letter he wrote to a patient of his after the patient had died. Gus read the letter as part of his presentation at the Out for Health Conference and he read it at the ceremony where he received the Leonard Tow Humanitarian in Medicine Award in 2010. Be forewarned, you will want to have a tissue on hand as it is impossible to listen to Dr. Gus Krucke read this letter without crying. Gus is as good a writer and presenter as he is a physician.

Dr. Gus Krucke has dedicated his practice of medicine to the care indigent patients living with HIV/AIDS at the Thomas Street Clinic. Besides seeing patients for regular visits to the clinic he also provides urgent care needs rather than having patients wait for hours and cost tax payers more at local emergency rooms. He is able to treat very sick patients in his Treatment Room. Dr. Krucke deals with patient needs beyond just treating their medical issues through his ability to be compassionate and show empathy. He is concerned with their emotional health and family/friend support structure as well.

I spent a day with Gus at his Thomas Street Clinic office years ago when I wrote the A&U article on him referenced above. Dr. Krucke is loved by his patients and is one of the favorite doctors for medical students when they are on rotation. I also got to go on rounds with Gus and several residents in the hospital. Gus is one of the most loving, caring human beings I have ever known. He is also exacting in the quality of treatment that he expects for his patients and Katy bar the door for anybody who doesn’t follow through with exceptional treatment.

Not only is Gus one of my closest friends, he is a personal hero of mine. Aside from his outstanding accomplishments as a physician and a teacher Gus has been a pioneer in advancing understanding of LGBT people by being out to other physicians, nursing staff, administrators, medical students, patients and their families. Gus is deeply admired not only for his medical skills but also for his human skills and for being the gay role model that he is. His compassion, laced with his keen wit has touched thousands of people. Such an impact opens minds, changes opinions and makes people realize that gay people are important members of society who deserve the same human rights as all other Americans.

Gus called in Mid-January and he explained that the GSA at his medical school would be hosting a summit where the Mayor of Houston had agreed to be the keynote speaker. However, she cancelled when a schedule conflict arose and he asked if I could come to Houston for the summit and be their keynote speaker. I immediately replied yes and told him that it would be an honor to do so. Gus then handed the phone over to one of the two 4th-year medical students who were in charge of the summit. Let’s face it, when my friend Gus Krucke asks for my help, if there is any way humanly possible for me to do so, I will drop what I am doing and be there for him.

2015 Out For Health Summit

I was requested to put together a presentation that shared suggestions on how medical professionals could be advocates/activists in their own lives and practices. Putting the presentation together and delivering it was a joy for me. My presentation was the first one on the agenda of a very full day. I shared my own story of coming out at the age of thirty-seven and being shocked at the amount of prejudice and hate faced by gay people. I was and remain especially concerned by the challenges faced by gay youth. I gave those attending the summit a resource list of LGBT organizations that would provide them with a good start and encouraged them to add other organizations to their own lists and also add LGBT friendly healthcare providers whom they could refer patients and families. I wrote my blog post titled “The 30-Minute LGBT Activist,” which I published on February 4th, to serve as the backbone of my presentation. It included the resources that I shared at the summit.

Once my presentation concluded I was able to spend the rest of the day observing the other presentations on a variety of topics involving healthcare and LGBT patients delivered by a cadre of impassioned experts in their fields including Dr. Krucke’s presentation on aging issues. Gus’s presentation even featured brief appearances of a tiara and a magic wand punctuated with two snaps and a twirl followed by a room filled with grins and laughter. What an outstanding day it was! Presentation covered a variety of topics including:

  • Child & Adolescent Mental Health in the LGBTQ Community
  • LGBT & HIV Healthcare Law
  • HIV/AIDS Stigma in The Medical Community and Public
  • PrEP: HIV Prophylaxis (the use of prescription drugs by people who do not have HIV/AIDS as a strategy for prevention)
  • Transgender Sexual & Reproductive Health
  • Caring for an Aging LGBT and HIV+ Community

In addition, a lively panel discussion was held with many questions and comments from those attending the conference about applying for residency programs as openly LGBT physicians. Surprisingly, it appeared that being openly gay wasn’t a problem for residents at hospitals around the country and yes, even not a problem here in Texas.

I learned a great deal at the 2015 Out for Health LGBTQ & Ally Healthcare Summit about healthcare in general, needs and services for LGBT patients and about the confidence and commitment of the next generation of LGBT healthcare professionals being the best they can be while at the same time being openly gay. Special kudos are deserved by Dustin Staloch and Will Tyson who are the two 4th year UTHealth Medical School students who did an outstanding job organizing and running the 2015 Out for Health Summit.

Hope For The Future – Even In Texas

In 2015 it is okay to practice medicine as on openly gay physician or other healthcare professionals in Texas. Transgender issues still remain but much progress is being made. Texas may be the reddest of the red states but even here something that couldn’t be imaginable even a decade or two ago is now possible. Our opponents are vocal in government, from their pulpits and in the media. However, we are winning the battle for LGBT civil rights even in the Lone Star State. We cannot afford to become complacent and there is still much work to be done. But we are going to win this battle, even here in Texas!

 

Update On Friday March 6, 2014, just two days after this post was published, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings joined 225 other U.S. mayors as part of an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court of The United States to strike down laws in states that make same-sex marriages illegal. The Supreme Court hears arguments on this issue on April 28th. Until now Mayor Rawlins had been unwilling to take an official step in support of same-sex marriage until his joining other mayor as part of the amicus brief. Other Texas mayors participating included: Houston, along with three small cities – Shaven Park, Valley Mills and Socorro (Near San Antonio, Waco and El Paso, respectively. This is just another example of how Texas is evolving on LGBT issues.

 

Recommended Links –

Texas Association for GLBTQ Health (TAGH) – supports current and future clinicians in providing GLBTQ patients with equitable healthcare – link also provides additional information about and photos from the 2015 Out for Health Summit

A&U Article on Dr. Gus Krucke – “Body, Mind & Soul,” February 2004

Podcast with Dr. Gus Krucke – John Selig Outspoken – Episode 58 – February 21, 2009

The University of Texas Medical School at Houston – With nearly 1,000 medical students and a similar number of residents and fellows, UTHealth Medical School is one of the largest and most diverse medical schools in the country

Thomas Street Health Center – a freestanding HIV/AIDS clinic, which provides medical care and psychological and social services to those who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS

Bering Omega Community Services – in 1986 a retired 76-year-old Montessori school teacher, Eleanor Munger, founded Omega House, a residential hospice, to provide a safe and caring environment for people living through the final stages of HIV/AIDS

Posted in Activism, LGBT, Medical | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Televisions Invade Restaurants

TV In Restaurant

Photo by John Selig

 

Having spent the majority of my career as a marketing professional in the restaurant industry I always notice emerging restaurant trends. I love really good food but as a marketer I am always concerned with customer service and what takes place in the front of the house; the front of the house is the part of the restaurant where the customers are.

Television Invasion

One trend that has been developing over the past few years is the intrusion of televisions into more restaurant dining areas. Televisions have always been popular in sports bars, as patrons like to join with friends to watch the game while sharing drinks and bar food with their friends. TVs have also been found in bar sections of many restaurants for the same reason.

However, televisions are becoming the norm in the front of the house in most quick service restaurants (fast food) and midscale restaurants. Unfortunately, TVs have been creeping into fine dining restaurants as well. I find this trend both disappointing and unsettling.

Art of Conversation During Family Meals

For years families have been spending less time speaking with each other during mealtime. When I was growing up in Huntington, Long Island, forty miles east of New York City in the 1950s and 60s, my family always enjoyed eating dinner together in the dining room. We grabbed breakfast and lunch at a small kitchen table when we were home but we always sat down to dinner in the dining room. Dinner was the one time of day that we could always count on to catch up with each other.

There were no electronic distractions to compete with conversation as there are today. My parents would share the events that took place during their day and I would talk about the latest goings on at school, homework assignments, upcoming projects and tests and they would also hear the latest news concerning my friends. Often, friends were welcome at our table and of course they would share as well. TV dinners became popular in the 1950s and we ate them on occasion but never in front of the TV. Dinner in the Selig household was always eaten in the dining room.

By the time my son was born in the late 1970s microwave ovens had become popular and it was becoming much more popular for families to eat their meals while watching television. If somebody didn’t make it home in time for dinner, no problem, just grab a plate of food and nuke it in the microwave for two or three minutes. Dining rooms sat idle for most families with meals being eaten there the few times each year that people entertained extended family or friends.

Tech Usage By Kids

In today’s world it is hard to make it through a meal without several phone calls, texts, social media messages being received on each person’s smartphone. The Wireless Foundation’s website has some sobering facts concerning cellphones and kids. Here are just a few:

  • On Average, children are 12.1 years old when they receive their first mobile device.
  • 56% of children, age 8 to 12, have a cellphone.
  • Among children 8 years of age and younger, 21% use smartphones.
  • 37% of teenagers, ages 12 to 17, have a smartphone, an increase from 23% reported in 2011 (reported in 2013).
  • 23% of teenagers, ages 12 to 17, have a tablet computer compared to 25 % of adults.
  • 51% of high school students carry a smartphone with them to school every day, compared with 28% of middle school students.
  • 51% of teens, ages 13 to 17, use social media daily.

Check out the link to the Wireless Foundation’s website at the end of this post for more facts with sources. Many of the statistics are a few years old so expect usage numbers to actually be higher today. Obviously, tech use by adults is robust as well.

I am no enemy of tech by any means. In the early 80s I had the same type computer that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak saw at Xerox’s PARC research facility in Palo Alto, CA, which gave them the idea to produce the Mac. I text, blog, podcast and I’m addicted to social media and email. I am rarely more than a few feet away from my Mac, iPad or iPhone. My tech usage is much more in line with a member of the millennial generation than my fellow baby boomers.

What concerns me, however, is that today’s families are missing out on the art of conversation around the dinner table. Several years ago I substitute taught for a year and I listened to kids. I found out that many didn’t communicate much with their parents. One high school student told me that I was the first adult to ever speak WITH him (others had just told him what to do and then the “conversation” was over). It is important for parents to stay involved with their kids, catch up on their schoolwork and assignments, get to know their friends and share in their lives. One of the best opportunities to do this is during meals.

It is equally important for couples to stay connected with each other and meals are a logical time to do so. Other times couples may be watching TV, reading, on the phone with family or friends or involved with hobbies. Kids are doing homework, with friends or absorbed in other activities. But meals provide an opportunity for undivided attention for couples and families with kids to let each person share.

Tech Invades Mealtime

Today’s tech can easily invade this precious family time if allowed to do so. Some families have a “no tech during meals” rule but many do not. Between family members being on different schedules for work, school and other activities it is not uncommon for many to only exchange a few comments with some family members for days on end. Personally, I love the no tech rule during meals. My husband, Rodolfo, broke me of answering phone calls during meals whether they are on a landline or my mobile phone.

When dining out tech interruptions are just as enticing, if not more so, than they are at home. The next time you are at a restaurant take a look around you and look at the number of people texting, checking social media and email. You will be astounded. You’ll likely notice more data service usage than actual phone discussions taking place. All such usage is an impediment to conversation.

It has gotten to the point where spending quality time sharing in a restaurant has become as rare as it is at home. This is true whether it is couples out on the town, families eating out or business associates having a meal together.

Randi Zuckerberg – “dot Complicated”

In December 2013 I had the opportunity to meet Facebook Founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg. Randi was every bit as amazing as her brother. When she spoke at the tech conference Randi introduced herself, “I am the Zuckerberg who actually graduated with a degree from Harvard.” Until 2011 Randi was the Director of Market Development and Spokeswoman for Facebook. In 2011 she started Zuckerberg Media and has produced shows and digital content for a prestigious list of clients. During her presentation she discussed he new book, “dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives.”

One of my favorite stories Randi shared concerned a group of friends who met at a restaurant. Each person placed their cellphone in a pile in the middle of the table. The friends agreed that the first person to answer their phone had to pay for everybody’s meal. During the meal phones rang but all remained unanswered.

I met Randi after her presentation when she signed my copy “dot Complicated.” I was so impressed with Randi’s presentation that I told her, “When I came here today I was looking forward to hearing Mark Zuckerberg’s sister speak. You were so outstanding that if I ever meet Mark I will say, ‘you must be Randi Zuckerberg’s brother.’” Randi responded with a wide grin. I recommend reading “dot Complicated.”

Impact on Conversation

It is bad enough having to compete with smartphones and even tablets in restaurants these days but with the ongoing invasion of televisions it is almost impossible to keep your tablemates’ attention. You cannot help but notice a TV over the shoulder of the person sitting across from you. Most often there is no sound but it doesn’t matter because your attention is drawn to them against your will whether or not you want it to be.

It is easy enough not to speak with family members when eating at home. Now when we go out to eat it is even easier not to speak with them. I am saddened by the on-going invasion of TVs into restaurants. It is becoming easier to communicate with people via text, video chats and social media than it is in person. I cannot help but wonder what impact these obstacles to in person conversation will have on how we communicate with loved ones, friends and colleagues. How will these trends impact how our children learn, make friends and live their lives?

 

Recommended Links

The Wireless Foundation – – kids wireless usage facts

Randi Zuckerberg – information about Randi, Zuckerberg Media and Randi’s book, “dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives”

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The 30-Minute LGBT Activist

30 minutes thats all it takes

Photo by John Selig

 

LGBT folks often ask me what can they do to help in our battle for equal rights. Most people do not have a lot of time to spare. They want to help out but are intimidated in not knowing what to do.

Much of what I do is really quite easy to accomplish, it doesn’t take any personal connections and can be done in 30 minutes or less. Here is a simple process I have put together that I call “The 30-Minute LGBT Activist” that can be used to take on a bite-sized project. The specifics can be adapted depending upon situation. I am going to use an example of a recent news story I saw last week on KDAF-TV, the Dallas/Ft. Worth CW-TV affiliate. Their news program, “NewsFlix,” aired a segment on Bruce Jenner’s rumored gender identity reassignment. Regardless of the opportunity involved there are a number of common steps I use when I take on an issue.

LGBT Knowledge Resources

There is an endless amount of information available on LGBT issues and it really can be quite daunting to know where to turn when and issue arises. Obviously the nature of the issue will dictate which source(s) will have the information you need. The list I am providing at the end of this post is by no means exhaustive but it is a good start for anybody to begin his or her search. Each of these resources are worth reviewing in advance and checking on from time to time for updates to give yourself a good overview of what is going on that impacts gay people.

When an issue arises first thing I do is find out as much as possible about what took place, get information on the different organizations involved and turn to resources that have expertise within the LGBT community about the issue at hand.

Make a Game Plan

Once a topic comes to mind make a quick game plan on what you can do to help. Your actions can vary from publicizing what happened to making a few phone calls to writing a letter to the editor to publicizing what happened or a combination of all of the above.

As an example, if a student is bullied at a local school you can find out the phone number for the school and the principal’s name. Also find out what the school/community did about it and what further action is needed.

Next, put together a brief message describing what happened, what you want everybody to do (call the principal) and a few bullet points that people who call the principal can use as talking points. Then post your message on Facebook and email it to contacts. You can also post the message in the comment sections of any online articles about the incident in both the LGBT and mainstream media and as a comment on anybody discussing the issue on Facebook. You can also send information about the incident and what you have done to LGBT organizations and media sources that might be interested.

Trans Jenner

Last week I was watching a local newscast on KDAF-TV’s “NewsFix” news show and they had a story on Bruce Jenner’s rumored gender transitioning. There has been a bunch of media attention to Bruce Jenner lately and apparently he is going to be getting his own reality show shortly apart from The Kardashians. Now mind you Bruce Jenner has not said anything publicly to confirm or deny these rumors. Not only did I find the tone of the story itself offensive, the introductory comments by the newscasters leading into the story were snide, mocking and off-putting. The story was not one that would make any transgender person feel comfortable.

Today a story with a similar tone would not have been run about a gay man or lesbian. Media has become much more savvy on how to cover stories involving sexual orientation over the past ten to fifteen years. Although there has been some progress on the public’s understanding and acceptance of gender identity there is still a great deal of progress that needs to be made, As I watched the segment about Bruce Jenner titled “Trans Jenner” I thought about the discomfort and even anger that was likely to be felt by any transgender people watching. I decided I needed to do my part to confront this.

An hour after the newscast I went into my 30-minute activist mode and got to work. I did a Google search for information that I knew I would need. I got the correct name of the TV station and the news show, the website for the station and a link to the “Trans Jenner” segment from the NewsFix page on the website. I also obtained the general phone number for KDAF-TV as well as one for the news department. I had recently read about the particularly high rate of suicide attempts by people who are transgender and I searched on “transgender suicide” and found research information from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law that said that more than 41% of people who have identified as transgender have attempted suicide. The Williams Institute is one of the organizations I have provided information in the resource list below.

With all the information I needed at hand I put my plan into action. First, I went to GLAAD’s website, to their “Take Action” section, and selected “Report Incident.” I also have a link to GLAAD as part of the resource list below. GLAAD works closely with media and will contact them when LGBT issues are not handled properly. GLAAD does a great deal of training with the media and through their efforts LGBT news coverage and portrayal of LGBT characters on TV and in films has improved significantly over the years. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals are years ahead of coverage of transgender people. I completed the information requested on the form and included a link to the “Trans Jenner” segment itself. Upon submission of the form I received an email from GLAAD stating that they had received the completed form.

Next, I phoned the news department at KDAF-TV. I politely introduced myself by name and explained my displeasure with the “Trans Jenner” news story and especially the manner in which the story was introduced by the news anchors. I then mentioned that upwards of 41% of people who are transgender attempt suicide. I then asked the person on the phone if he though that a person who was transgender or who was questioning their gender identity would be less or more likely to attempt suicide after watching KDAF’s “Trans Jenner” segment. I could tell that my question made him pause and think. I complimented the station in their improved coverage on gay and lesbian issues but mentioned that they needed to educate themselves more on issues involving transgender people. I also mentioned that I had contacted GLAAD about the segment. He responded that he thought that it would be a good idea for me to leave a message on the news director’s voice mail. Once I reached the news director’s voiced mail I left a detailed message covering what I hat just told the person who took my call.

Then I went to the website for our local LGBT newspaper and left a brief description of the “Trans Jenner” segment and what I had done in response it. I included a link to the segment and the phone number for the KDAF News Department in case they wanted to follow-up. I also posted on Facebook, including a link to the segment and the KDAF phone numbers and I invited people to watch the story and contact the station themselves.

I was able to do all of the above well within 30 minutes. As to what happened as a result of my efforts I received a comment on my Facebook post from a friend the next morning that the link to “Trans Jenner” on KDAF’s website was no longer working. Obviously, somebody at the station must have decided to remove the “Trans Jenner” segment from the site after listening to my complaint. Hopefully it also gave KDAF-TV’s news team pause for thought. As to what steps were taken by GLAAD that is beyond my control. I did my part by informing them.

I encourage others to become 30-Minute LGBT Activists. It really is quite easy to do, you can make a difference and after you take on a small project you will be surprised how empowered you will feel.

 

Resource List

Freedom to Marry – works to obtain same-sex marriage in all 50 states

Lambda Legal – is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work

Equality Texas – Equality Texas advocates and lobbies for elimination of discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Equality Texas Foundation educates and engages the public about policies and their effect on Texans of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions

The Trevor Project – national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people ages 13-24

Family Acceptance Project – is a research, intervention, education and polity initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for LGBT children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families; connected with San Francisco State University

GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) – the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law – is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. A national think tank at UCLA School of Law, the Williams Institute produces high-quality research with real-world relevance and disseminates it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public

PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) – education, support and advocacy for parents, families, friends, allies of LGBTQ people with 350 local chapters in all 50 states

It Gets Better Project – communicates to LGBT youth that it gets better through over 50,000 user-created videos from celebrities, organizations, politicians, media personalities and activists

Truth Wins Out – works to demolish underpinnings of homophobia by debunking harmful lies, discrediting hateful myths and countering anti-gay organizations such as the Family Research Council, American Family Association, organizations conducting reparative therapy, ex-gay organizations, etc.

GLMA (Healthcare Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality) – world’s largest and oldest association of LGBT healthcare professionals

Human Rights Campaign – the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for LGBT Americans; represents 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide, holds Black-Tie dinners around the country

National LGBTQ Task Force – nation’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy group advancing full freedom, justice and equality. Conducts annual “Creating Change Conference” for activists

National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) – programs focus on employment, immigration, youth, elder law, transgender law, sports, marriage, relationship protections, reproductive rights and family law to create safer homes, safer jobs and a more just world for LGBT people

National Center for Transgender Equality – dedicated to advancing the equality of transgendered people through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment

GLAAD – (formerly Gays and Lesbians Alliance Against Defamation) – works with print, broadcast and online news sources to bring people powerful stories from the LGBT community that build support for equality and when news outlets get it wrong, GLAAD is there to respond and advocate for fairness and accuracy

Family Equality Council – is changing attitudes and policies to ensure all families are respected, loved and celebrated; especially families with parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender

Out & Equal – shaping the future of global LGBT workplace equality and inclusion

Straight Spouse Network – is an international organization that provides personal, confidential support and information to heterosexual spouse/partners, current or former, of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender mates and mixed-orientation or transgender/non-transgender couples for constructively resolving coming-out problems

Southern Poverty Law Center – based in Montgomery, Alabama the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups; dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society; using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy

 

News Sources

The Huffington Post / Gay Voices – LGBT section of The Huffington Post

The Bilerico Project – LGBT news blog

The Advocate – LGBT magazine (online edition) – liberal blog from John Aravosis, well known gay activist – covers general news as well as LGBT issues

Towleroad – a site with homosexual tendencies (blog)

Americablog – liberal blog hosted by LGBT activist John Aravosis that covers mainstream and LGBT news

Joe.My.God – is a multiple award-winning (Advocate Magazine, Bloggies, Best Of Blogs, etc) blog focused on issues of interest to the LGBT community

Dallas Voice – online version of The Dallas Voice newspaper serving North Texas

 

 

 

 

 

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Same-Sex Marriage Heads Back to The Supreme Court of The United States – Why This Case Is So Important to Us

Me and my husband, Rodolfo Arredondo. Photo by Paul Jentz.

Me and my husband, Rodolfo Arredondo                             Photo by Paul Jentz

I have eagerly greeted, albeit with nervous optimism, the exciting announcement on January 16th by the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS) that they will hear another case concerning same-sex marriage during this year’s session. Just maybe, my marriage to the most incredible husband will be legal throughout the entire United States before the 4th of July of this year.

My husband, Rodolfo, and I were married in Canada nearly 11 years ago, in April 2004 before any state in the U.S. would allow same-sex marriage. The Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia had begun allowing Same-Sex marriages in June and July of 2003, respectively, with the province of Quebec joining them in March of 2004. Same-sex marriage became legal in all of Canada on July 20th in 2005. Massachusetts was first the state in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriage and the first wedding took place there on May 17, 2004.

Why We Got Married Married

Rodolfo and I decided to get married in Canada because we did not want to wait for same-sex marriage to become legal where we lived some indefinite time in the future. We were and remain very much in love and believed that our marriage might help other people to understand and accept same-sex marriage. However, the real reason we married was because we loved each other and we wanted the same rights and obligations that heterosexual couples obtain when they marry. Even though we wouldn’t have the same rights where we live, we knew that we were equal and that there were people elsewhere who recognized our marriage.

Those who attended our wedding, including family and friends, commented that it had been a long time since they had seen two people so in love and that ours was one of the most special weddings that they had attended. Nearly eleven years after our wedding I love Rodolfo even more today. He treats me in a way that nobody else ever has. My first thought each morning as I awaken is how fortunate I am to share my life with Rodolfo.

We had been a committed couple for more than two years prior to our wedding. I didn’t believe that marriage would have that much of an impact on our relationship. We already were very much in love. Still, we were both surprised that following our marriage ceremony that our commitment to each other was somehow stronger. So much has changed in the United States since then. Today 70% of Americans live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. However, Rodolfo and I are still waiting for the same rights as the fortunate gay married couples living amongst the 70%.

Deep In The Heart of Texas

Rodolfo and I live in Texas, which is hardly amongst the most supportive states with regards to civil rights. Texas remains one of the 14 states where our marriage is still not recognized. Court cases involving the appeal of federal judge rulings supporting same-sex marriage and striking down bans in the states of Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana were presented before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on January 9th. Each of the 3 states had appealed victories for same-sex marriages hoping to have them overturned. The 5th Circuit is reputed to be the most conservative of the Circuit Courts yet the arguments and questions from the justices on the court indicated that our side fared well.

We are hopeful that Texas will be forced by SCOTUS to treat our marriage the same as the 36 states and the District of Columbia whom all allow same-sex marriage. We are also hopeful that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will rule in our favor even before this subject is ruled upon by SCOTUS in June. Such a decision by the 5th Circuit would aid in the case before SCOTUS.

Our Marriage Won’t Harm Yours

A decision to allow same-sex marriages in Texas and throughout the country will have a huge impact on our lives. For those who are against same-sex marriage I have some strong advice… please don’t marry somebody of the same-sex. However, you should not have the right to deny us the same human rights that you take for granted. Our marriage won’t harm yours! In fact, our marriage should be of no more concern to you than yours is to us.

The Texas State Legislature, strongly dominated by right wing, fundamentalist Republicans may be considering a bill in this year’s session to deny wages and retirement benefits to any state or municipal official who grants or recognizes a marriage license for a same-sex couple. Such behavior shows the depth of hatred towards gays that still exists in Texas and elsewhere in this nation and showcases just why civil rights cannot be granted based upon majority rules.

Human Rights Determined By Courts

Human rights issues are typically decided in the courts, as the judiciary is charged with protecting the rights of all citizens, not just the majority. Courts concern themselves with the rights of minorities who can easily be overridden by the majority. Might shouldn’t make right!

Still, public opinion has moved from being opposed to same-sex marriage to majority support nationally. This dramatic shift in every state has happened much faster than the LGBT community could have ever predicted. Democrats and Independents support same-sex marriage at higher percentages than Republicans but even support amongst Republican is growing. Same-sex marriage is a non-issue with most young people. The elderly are the most opposed. Straight LGBT ally support has been critical in bringing about this shift. So has the impact of gay people coming out and sharing our own stories. When gay couples explain the hardships we face by being denied a large number of legal rights, because we are unable to marry, our straight family, friends and co-workers are shocked.

But again, civil rights should not simply be decided in voting booths. A large percentage of people living in the Deep South are against interracial marriage. SCOTUS invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage in its landmark civil rights decision in Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, nearly 50 years ago. Many southern whites would still like to ban interracial marriages. No doubt there are states where a large number of voters would still support segregated schools.

SCOTUS is doing the right thing by taking up the same-sex marriage issue. It will be easier for justices on SCOTUS to rule in our favor with the strong shift in public opinion as well as the overwhelming support of Federal Courts and Appellate Courts. The only Appellate Court to rule against same-sex marriage so far has been the 6th Circuit involving cases brought by the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee where the 6th Circuit overturned the opinions of the federal judges.

Opponents argue that allowing same-sex couples to marry infringes upon their religious rights. Granting civil rights to others does nothing to infringe on religious rights. If a religion is against same-sex marriage they do not have to perform or recognize such marriages. That doesn’t mean that people practicing a religion should get to demand laws against everybody else not being able to marry. Do we have laws in this country that prohibit the sale and consumption of pork and seafood? Is it illegal to dance, use electricity, ride in horseless carriages, dress in fancy clothes, work on the Sabbath, be given blood transfusions or wear make-up?

Marriage is a State Contract Not a Religious Contract

Despite what fundamentalist preachers claim, marriage is a state contract. One goes to a government office to obtain a marriage license. Religious officials are able to perform marriage ceremonies but so can justices of the peace, judges, ship captains and others. No religious organization can be forced to conduct a marriage that is against their beliefs. Some faiths will not marry people of different faiths and they have every right to refuse to conduct such marriages. No religion will be required to conduct or recognize same-sex marriages. It is important to add, however, that there are many faiths that support same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage needs to be decided upon at the national level and should not differ from one state to another. Here is one reason why. Let’s assume my husband and I live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage and we are driving to another state that does as well. Let’s also assume that we will be driving through a state where same-sex marriage is not legal. If we have a car accident in a state that recognizes our marriage and one of us is badly hurt the other can make medical decisions for the injured spouse. However, if the accident happens in a state that doesn’t recognize our marriage then we are screwed. This is ridiculous. Would anybody else settle for such a status for his or her own marriage?

Where Things Stand Now

Here is where things stand now. SCOTUS has agreed to hear arguments in the four cases combined together challenging marriage equality in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee). This case involves the only federal court to have ruled against marriage equality since the landmark ruling by SCOTUS in U.S. vs. Windsor in June 2013, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). SCOTUS will decide two issues. First, does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? Second, does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

In it’s announcement agreeing to hear this appeal SCOTUS has set the following schedule. The plaintiffs’ opening brief (our side) is due to SCOTUS February 27th. Response briefs from the states opposing same-sex marriage are due to SCOTUS on March 27th. Both sides have until April 17th to file final briefs with SCOTUS. This leaves enough time for both sides to present oral arguments before SCOTUS in late April with SCOTUS expected to issue its decisions by the end of June.

This is obviously a highly charged emotional time for Rodolfo and me and other same-sex couples who are only asking for the same rights as other couples who choose to marry. Not all gays and lesbians want to get married. But for those of us who are already legally married or who someday hope to be this case is highly important. Regardless of which way SCOTUS rules there will be court cases afterwards to deal with the implications of their rulings. Most respected legal minds expect our side to win this case. But I learned from my parents long ago never to count my chickens before they hatch. I will remain nervous to the very end. Even so, I can see a day soon when Rodolfo and I will no longer legally be second-class citizens.

 

Recommended Links:

Freedom To Marry Freedom to Marry was launched in 2003 by Evan Wolfson, the civil rights attorney generally considered the architect of the national marriage equality movement.

Lambda Legal Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIVthrough impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Equality Texas Equality Texas advocates and lobbies for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Equality Texas Foundation educates and engages the public about policies and their effect on Texans of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.  

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