Like any trained combat leader, Bruce Monroe understands a simple tactical truth: It doesn’t help to win a lot of battles if you lose the war.
Still, in Monroe’s battle against disease and ignorance, he can be tempted by anger. Right now Monroe, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, is debating whether the DGLA should drag a fight with Cedar Hill, Duncanville and DeSoto into public view. The suburbs have been kicking out educators from the AIDS Resource Center because of its affiliation with DGLA. It seems the suburbs fear that the educators, who visit schools and other community facilities once or twice a year to teach about AIDS, would promote a “homosexual agenda.” For someone who’s been looking for a high-profile fight to call his own since he became president, it’s tempting to phone The Dallas Morning News and let them run with the story. That’s what past presidents have done. That’s what William Waybourn, the man Monroe replaced as president in 1990, did with Mica England and her no-gay-cops lawsuit. That’s the kind of attention firebrand groups like the DGLA are known for.
Except the DGLA has changed. It’s become far too big, too important, to operate on a wing and a righteous cause. Now, it’s practically a corporation; call it Gay, Inc. Like a corporation, it makes decisions for the good of the whole, and they are made by more than one person. “I want to make this an issue,” Monroe says, “but John [Thomas, the DGLA’s executive director] doesn’t, and I see his point. If we do, AIDS educators might get thrown out in cities like Irving and Piano and elsewhere, and we really can’t afford that.”
So even though he’s been criticized by some for not being the fiery leader that past presidents Bill Nelson and William Waybourn were, Monroe isn’t going to manufacture a controversy. He’s too involved in trying to bring about the DGLA’s corporate transformation-so the organization will run itself, not be dependent on one or two charismatic personalities-to worry about that. It’s a transformation spawned by the astounding growth of DGLA’s health care and service system, designed to help those who are HIV+. Through this, the DGLA has gathered a base of more than 600 volunteers, 743 AIDS Resource Center clients, 2,000 financial donors for the Resource Center and 1,000 members. “It’s strengthened the community and given it a political voice,” says Urvashi Vaid, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. “The DGLA is now the most effective and creative city wide organization of its kind in the whole country.”
But the Alliance is changing. It constantly balances the money it spends on health care services with the resources necessary to fight political battles. Monroe doesn’t forget that the DGLA’s status as community watchdog arose partly because it forced Parkland Memorial to better address AIDS patients’ needs and has backed Mica England’s lawsuit. Meanwhile, Monroe must continue fighting battles: little-to-no money from politicians and institutions; varied opinions and agendas within the gay community; contempt from anti-gays; and his own ambivalence about his role within the organization.
Through all this, while trying to develop the Alliance’s political and health agenda, the DGLA must retain its passion and focus-and remain fiscally sound. “Organizationally, we tend to be very conservative about business,” Monroe says. “Because five years go if we’d failed, it would have been very sad. Now, it would be disastrous. People depend on us. It’s life or death.”
EVERYONE’S SO QUIET AND CALM, it’s hard to tell that the DGLA’s Nelson-Tebedo Community Clinic for AIDS Research board members are here to decide life and death matters.
Debbie Trott, the clinic manager, has just finished a full day in the Women’s Health Program, which tests and provides follow-up care for HIV+ women, a group under-targeted by most AIDS programs. There are only four programs like it in the country. But then, all DGLA services, like the clinic, are designed to do just that-address unmet, urgent needs.
First, some good news. The clinic is one step closer to an affiliation with a local pharmacy. Everyone congratulates everyone. Of course, every piece of good news has its unforeseen consequences, Trott will later note that the pharmacy would file insurance claims, which the clinic doesn’t. That may leave some clients susceptible to insurance companies’ red-flag treatments-they like to drop HIV+ or AIDS patients, or at least restructure policies so that it’s impossible to collect all their money.
The bad news at the meeting is what sportscasters call a bittersweet victory. The clinic is testing lots more people for the HIV virus. Lots more. Too many. Through the first three quarters of 1991, the clinic averaged 472 tests a quarter, testing two days a week, That was BM: Before Magic. After basketball star Magic Johnson announced he was HIV+, the total almost doubled, to 917. The clinic is losing at least $8 per test or about $1,000 a week.
Nobody panics. They’re used to being poor. “What about money from the Ryan White Care Act?” a board member asks.
Trott shakes her head. “You can’t test with that money. It’s for are.”
Bruce Monroe speaks up. He was the first person ever tested at the clinic. “It’s time we take my idea and try to send out a fund-raising letter.” Monroe has worked at KERA public TV and radio for seven years. He knows all about fund raising, and he’s pitched this idea more than once. It’s never flown. “It’s just that I haven’t seen a national concern about this, Bruce,” John Thomas says. “Not enough to make me optimistic that people will give money.”
The debate touches practical and ethical problems. Why not raise the price to $20? Some complain that would mean the very poor couldn’t be tested. (Eighty percent of the AIDS Resource Center clients live below the poverty level-many can’t keep jobs with their poor health, and gays’ families often don’t offer support.) Finally they decide to recommend to their governing board, the Foundation for Human Understanding, that they raise the price to $15 and buy a mailing list to do 5,000 fund-raising letters. As with most compromises, no one’s thrilled.
These yin and yang discussions-trying to square ideals with real cash needs-mirror the problems faced by other non-profit groups that have grown as quickly as the DGLA. In 1983, the Dallas Gay Alliance (its name not yet Politically Correct) had a budget of under $25,000. This year it’s $1.2 million. There’s a $500,000 renovation of the AIDS Resource Center already drawn up. There’s a new kitchen to serve hot meals to the many clients who suffer from malnutrition. A new satellite food pantry should open this year in Oak Cliff so the more than 100 South Dallas clients won’t have to travel to Cedar Springs and Throckmorton in Oak Lawn. There’s the pharmacy, the new dental program, the credit union, the DGLA MasterCard (the only credit card sponsored by a gay organization), the rock-bottom priced clothing store, the education program, early intervention, the AIDS hotline-more than 30 programs and growing, each one offering either free or low-priced goods and services. “I have often told people in other cities,” says Chicago-based journalist Rex Wockner, who covers the national gay beat, “that they would do good to do half of what the DGLA does.”
“WE’RE THE ONLY $1.2 MILLION agency with only two staplers,” says Bill Hunt, head of client services for the AIDS Resource Center. He gives a sardonic smile and hands some paperwork to a volunteer who shares the elongated cubbyhole of an office in the warehouse of the food pantry. The volunteer has spent the past six hours updating the client list. There’s always updating to do. The Resource Center- which handles all AIDS-related services-gained 400 clients last year and lost 201. They died. Like the clinic’s testing numbers, though, the rolls are increasing exponentially. The Resource Center now averages 65 new clients a month.
Hunt helps clients work their way through each program in the DGLA’s extended and specialized AIDS care system. He began as a volunteer in the mid-’80s. His job was to come into the offices twice a week and empty the trash. Not long after that, in June 1986, he was elected to the DGLA board. After David Heller died of AIDS in 1990, Hunt took over client services.
Hunt is cussing today, which means he feels pretty good. Usually he doesn’t, because he has AIDS. Five people call him every day during lunch to remind him to eat. He doesn’t have much of an appetite because of his potent regimen of drugs. He reaches into his black bag to illustrate. Each day he takes 800 mgs of myanbutol; 1000 mgs of cipro; 200 mgs of clarithromycin; 100 mgs of lamprene; 100 mgs of dapsone; 600 mgs of risanpin; there’s fluconazole, anti-viral drugs, marinol, seldane-“I don’t even know what these green ones are,” Hunt admits- eyedrops, cough syrup, this one for when he doubles over in pain, a handful of others- at least 15 pills or doses daily.
“The first challenge of HIV is learning you can live with HIV,” says Hunt, 37. That means living with the medical costs. One of Hunt’s prescriptions costs $8.75 per pill. That’s down a dollar from what it used to be. DGLA’s low-cost services are available to all clients so that, even if they have money to live on, their money can be spent on medicine.
Few in Dallas get all the drugs they want, though; many would gladly take part in experimental drug trials, regardless of the risk. (“You’d be surprised what you would do if you had AIDS,” says Monroe, who does not have the HIV virus.)
Parkland’s AIDS Clinic and DGLA’s Nelson-Tebedo clinic do participate in joint research, but not as much heavy-duty, cutting-edge drug testing as all would like. “I remember one meeting where Bruce [Monroe] and I were fighting,” Hunt says. “I was in a bad mood. I had just got my tests back, and my T-cell count [which indicates the body’s ability to fight diseases] was way down. I was asking why the clinic can’t get drug trials. Bruce said the clinic wasn’t about medicine, it was about hope. I said, ’F- your hope. I want drugs.’”
But city, state, federal and even private institutions don’t like to fund preventive testing. It’s not as sexy as funding research. So the DGLA takes the low-cost preventive approach: It educates. A recent complication in testing and providing follow-up care for HIV+ patients at Nelson-Tebedo is the changing demographics. The percentage of gay men who test HIV+ is shrinking; the fastest-rising groups are intravenous drug users, women and teens-many heterosexual. “With this shift to heterosexuals,” says clinic manager Trott, “it took a lot more time to counsel them, because the heterosexual community’s level of AIDS education was so poor.”
And once you start talking about educating heterosexuals-Pandora’s box. The thought of gays educating non-gays through DGLA’s speaker program or hotline has raised objections from reactionaries. The DGLA isn’t vague and avoids moralizing, unlike some government entities. A National Research Council report, for example, found that U.S. Public Health Service brochures titled Understanding AIDS confused “moral advice with information” and failed to “communicate in a value-free manner with simple and explicit language that avoids moralizing.”
The AIDS Resource Center currently works with the Dallas Independent School District in training teachers who will be providing AIDS information. It sends speakers to area colleges and sponsors a rural Texas outreach program that tackled the very real medical problem of rural doctors not knowing how to handle AIDS patients. “They were teaching staff at a rural hospital, and the staff was joking about it,” Monroe says. “One week later the hospital had an AIDS patient. They called and said, ’Thank you so much. We wouldn’t have known what to do.’”
Another part of the educating is teaching that the disease is spread by types of behavior, not types of people. It’s behavior that many kids practice-unprotected sex. Often there is no middle ground with the DGLA’s most outspoken critics until one of the critics’ family members tests HIV+. “But as much as a cynical son-of-a-bitch as I am,” Hunt says, “there is no joy in my telling parents, ’I told you so.’”
BRUCE MONROE PUTS HIS CHED-dar burger down. “It was a great day for the [Dallas] gay community,” he says, straight-faced, chewing his last bite. Jan. 22, 1992. That’s the day the Dallas City Council, after six hours of public testimony lasting until 2 a.m., voted not to allow Mica England or other gays to apply for jobs as police officers. About one-third of the audience decried gays and their cause. Children were paraded around with “No homo cops” buttons. Dallas looked like the city of continuing hate in the Sunday New York Times and each half-hour on CNN Headline News.
“We saw lots, hundreds, of people who had never been to City Hall,” Monroe explains. “They stood up, gave their name, said they were gay and asked for the law to change.” He smiles. “I think he [Mayor Steve Bartlett] was surprised that there was such a strong gay contingent.”
Mica England is the kind of political fight the DGLA is expected to take on. “People look to us for that leadership,” Bill Hunt says. “When the shit’s going down, we’ll stand up and say it’s wrong.
“We’ve become a strong social service organization,” Hunt says, “bul people forget that we’re an agency with a political origin. I wish sometimes all we had to deal with was politics, because we would kick ass.”
Conventional Dallas wisdom is that all gay organizations are “confrontational,” but that’s because people tend to confuse the DGLA with other groups-like ACT UP, which drew chalk-lined figures outside City Hall to protest the lack of AIDS funding. The DGLA, in fact, is much more low-key. Witness three examples: It was kept quiet that Monroe and others had a meeting with State Attorney General Dan Morales in which Morales and the DGLA discussed the best way to fight the Texas sodomy statute (21.06) that Dallas cites as a reason for not hiring gays (“Morales doesn’t like the law,” Monroe says, “but he has to honor it as long as it’s on the books”); the DGLA also has chosen not to make public what is an open secret within political circles: that two council members are gay (“I know at least one councilmember was just waiting for us to say something,” Monroe says, “but we don’t believe in ’outing.’ It accomplishes nothing. And we want results, not pointless fights”); finally, they did not publicize what a source in the city attorney’s office told them: that the staff told the council that Dallas would probably lose its no-gay-cops appeal-and its taxpayer investment of at least $50,000- on the England lawsuit.
The other well-organized gay political group in town that tends to be confused with DGLA is the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition of Dallas. The Coalition and the Alliance have a common history. In 1988, the then-DGA made a decision to become less involved in local politics so it could concentrate on its AIDS care services. Some members who were heavily involved in party politics screamed. They thought the DGA was selling out. They broke off and formed the Coalition, which sees working within the political process as the fastest, most effective way to achieve change.
The Alliance, meanwhile, targets existing legislation. “The DGLA has been out front on political activism,” says Vaid, head of the Gay & Lesbian Task Force. “Often, service organizations are afraid to take a stand. The traditional social service model is, ’Well, we serve clients. We’re not an advocacy organization.’ The DGLA does both.” Because of these different operating philosophies, there has been a natural, albeit cordial, tension between the two groups.
Not that the LGPC’s approach isn’t viable. William Waybourn, who left the DGLA presidency in 1990, now heads the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based Political Action Committee that has already helped finance the vietorious campaign of an openly lesbian Seattle councilwoman. The DGLA realizes the need to cultivate relationships with local politicos, but executive director John Thomas sees that as limiting. Too often, it means backing liberal Democrats in knee-jerk fashion-which means accepting vague, party ideology rather than nailing candidates down on specific issues.
The DGLA also sees no advantage in endorsing candidates-it tries to stay party-neutral to make sure its negotiating position with elected officials isn’t weakened. Endorsements are left to the LGPC, which recently revealed City Councilman Glen Box’s embarrassing flip-flop: Box said Dallas shouldn’t hire gay officers, even though he stated the opposite on a 1989 Coalition questionnaire.
Monroe says the Alliance and the Coalition now communicate often and have forged a working relationship. “There was a lot of tension between the two groups,” Monroe says. “But we’ve finally realized that we were both right in our approaches.”
And, as Monroe says, it would have been a shame if the two groups continued to bicker. After all, if you follow the Dallas gay community’s family tree, you see that the DGLA and the Coalition are both limbs sprouted from a common trunk: Dallas’ first gay group, the Circle of Friends.
GAY GROUPS IN THE U.S. DATE BACK at least to 1924 and the Chicago Society for Human Rights, which was disbanded when police arrested its members. After World War II, Henry Hay started the Mattachine Society, named after the medieval court jesters who could speak the truth because they did it in a joking manner.
The first such group in the Southwest was me Circle of Friends, a social club started in Dallas in 1965. Phil Johnson, who houses an extensive gay archive in his East Dallas home, was one of the founding members. There were five gay men and four non-gay ministers. The ministers gave the group legitimacy and a needed cover-at that time, a person could be sent to prison for 15 years for being gay.
In 1969, the modern gay movement began with the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City where police were harassing homosexuals. At that time, the Circle of Friends had already been working to eliminate the sodomy law from the Texas Penal Code. (They succeeded only in reducing sodomy to its present status as a class C misdemeanor. The Texas Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the summer whether the law, known as 21.06, violates state constitutional rights.)
After Stonewall, the Circle of Friends became more visible. In 1970 the gay Metropolitan Community Church was fashioned after the MCC in California (Dallas’ MCC is now the largest gay church in the world, about twice the size of the next largest). In 1972 the Circle of Friends held a downtown Gay Pride parade with about 100 participants. “My car was the lead-off car,” Johnson says. “I was so scared.” The crowd was less than receptive. He remembers a woman walking illegally behind the parade with a placard that said “God’s Law Demands Legal Execution of Homosexuals.” “That was the only time anyone applauded,” Johnson recalls.
In 1976 the increasing membership wanted to be more active politically and needed a new title to represent that. The Dallas Gay Political Coalition was born. Soon after, young, professional types-Steve Wilkins, Don Baker, Bill Nelson-began operating within political circles, schmoozing with the city’s power brokers when necessary. They talked current gay concerns, concerns that soon became overshadowed by the plague that would devastate gays during the ’80s.
With the increased awareness of AIDS in the 1980s, the DGPC began making an attempt, albeit a relatively small one, to fill educational needs. In ’81, the Coalition changed its name to the Dallas Gay Alliance to reflect the development of its social services such as its education and health committees. Early on, like most concerned agencies, the Alliance was pretty much in the dark about the best advice to give on AIDS-recommendations then included always showering before sex.
By 1985, the DGA had started the AIDS Resource Center. Then, DGA president Bill Nelson [he ran for Dallas City Council in 1985 and 1987; he died of AIDS in 19901, distraught after visiting a person with AIDS who was starving to death, bought two bags of groceries and placed them in his retail store window at Cedar Springs and Throck-morton. He taped a sign above the bags that asked for donation:; to those AIDS victims dying from hunger. That began the food pantry. By this time, the Alliance’s conversion to primarily a social service provider was almost complete.
The DGA, meanwhile, continued to grow, both in membership and function. In 1988 the AIDS Resource Center hired its first full-time staff. (It now lumbers 15 full-timers, eight part-timers,) Executive director John Thomas is the city manager to Bruce Monroe’s mayor. The board of the Foundation for Human Understanding, the non-profity entity that oversees the DGLA, is concerned with pol;cy, not day-to-day decisions. “Bill Nelson was terrified of the group becoming staff-oriented,” Thomas says, “because he worried the Foundation would not be as responsible in running it [the DGLA]. And now it’s true. We’re staff-driven. The staff often initiates policy.”
If the Alliance has matured to where it runs much like a corporation, then there has to be someone who keeps the long-range in mind; who makes sure the grass roots are never completely uprooted. The weight of that responsibility fells upon Bruce Monroe.
BRUCE, AS PRESIDENT, IS A lightning rod for controversy,” says William Waybourn from his Washington office. “He has to have a sense of direction in where the organization needs to go-what is the best policy, and how to develop that policy. Yet he also has to deal with the divergent views within the gay community. To do that, you have to have what I call P&C: principle and conviction. He’s shown both for the last two years.”
Urvashi Vaid puts her praise more succinctly, and lines it with an ironic reference to her least favorite Republican. “Bruce has the vision thing. And the charm thing, too.”
High praise for such an unassuming guy. Monroe was born 36 years ago this month in New Mexico. He came to Dallas in October of 1982 and in 1985 got a warehouse job at KERA. He’s now a manager of marketing projects for KERA.
Monroe didn’t get involved with the Alliance until 1985 when he joined-without knowing it, actually-after he met the Alliance’s treasurer. “I told him it was too political,” Monroe remembers. “He joined me anyway.
“That was a different time,” he recalls. “I was a lot younger. We didn’t know near as much about AIDS as we do now. I just wanted to live in Grand Prairie. But I finally thought, oh well, this would be a good way to meet people. I looked at it as a social opportunity.”
He began on the membership committee and helped build parade floats. And even though he admired Bill Nelson, the group’s magnetic president, “I didn’t really like Bill then,” he says. “I was really negative about him. I can’t even remember why-something he said in the newspaper. But people told me I just needed to understand him. So I talked to him.”
Complained to him, actually. Monroe didn’t care for the newsletter the Alliance put out, so he let Nelson and William Waybourn know. “Then do something about it,” Waybourn said. He did. And soon after, the more regular exposure to the political and social and health care issues Monroe was writing about changed him. He became angry. In 1987, he moved from Grand Prairie to a house behind the DGA’s Oak Lawn offices. “It became my life,” he says. He served on the DGA board, as well as the board of the Foundation. Once there, he became fascinated with the idea of the DGA’s development as a non-profit organization. He pushed for the organization to become computerized. (“Everyone’s files at client services used to be kept on paper, by hand.”) He became DGA president in 1990.
Monroe took over after Thomas became executive director. “I see my role as someone who’s studied non-profit organizations, who understands them, and who knows how to help them grow.”
The way to do that with the DGLA is far from clear, as gay community needs are quickly changing. Greg Thielemann, a professor of political economy, teaches ’The Politics of AIDS” at the University of Texas at Dallas. “In terms of health policy, the gays and lesbians across the country did a remarkable job in mobilizing-and they did all that from a private standpoint,” Thielemann says. “And the only reason there’s been a decrease in AIDS among gay men is the concerted efforts by gay groups to educate.
“But,” he continues, “politicians are finally getting involved, because the epidemiology of AIDS is changing-it’s becoming a disease of the poor. So a lot of people who were involved from day one are no longer involved just because they’re gay. Which is ironic, because the reason AIDS is so bad is because there is an absolute contempt for gays on the part of elected officials. So I’m sure the DGLA is having trouble deciding which basket to put its eggs in.”
If Thielemann is correct, there will be a continuing level of homophobia-or at the least an avoidance of gay issues-for the DGLA to fight for the next five years, regardless of who is in office. With that in mind, they’ve put together a five-year plan with broad goals, which will be released later this month at the DGLA retreat.
Privately though, Monroe doesn’t talk like he’ll be leading battles in five years. He won’t seek reelection to the DGLA presidency when his term expires in July. Instead he will run for a Foundation board position. Since part of the five-year plan is for the DGLA board to become political again, he doesn’t think he’s the best person for that job anymore. “The DGLA board is not doing anything now because John Thomas and the staff are doing everything so well,” Monroe explains. “So the goal now is to get the board back into action: voter-registration drives, a renewed spirit of cooperation with the LGPC, etc. And I like political activism, but with my job, I really don’t have time to do it well.”
So Monroe’s mark will not be one of high-profile fights, but of continuing the more easily overlooked expansion that has given the DGLA respectability. If he needs an activist fix, well, he is part of ACT UP, the AIDS protest group. Monroe was among those who went to the Austin sheriffs department, handcuffed, and asked to be arrested for breaking state law 21.06. (They weren’t.)
But the contradiction that has beenMonroe-low-key personality who doesn’tmind in-your-face activism once in awhile-betrays him again. He’s a bookwormat heart. He lowers his voice. “My goldenparachute is to start a national gay archives,”he says. He wants to make sure the community doesn’t forget what the DGLA andgroups like it have done to help fight AIDSor forget the ongoing political battles, hesays.
Monroe cuts the interview off. He’s running late. “I’ve got to get back. Things todo.” There’s the crime problem in theAlliance office’s neighborhood, where twopeople have been shot in the past week;mere’s the party they’re sponsoring for MicaEngland; he also needs to see John Thomas,who’s busy filling out an application formore Ryan White Care Act funds. The clinicneeds money, and people are still dying. Thebattle quietly rages on.
Like any trained combat leader, Bruce Monroe understands a simple tactical truth: It doesn’t help to win a lot of battles if you lose the war.