By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The squad members weren't sure how to maintain the momentum they had built after the Gay Games. Then one of them came up with a new direction. Cheer Dallas would cheer for the cure.
They unveiled their new cheer, with placards that read, "Cheer for the Cure," at the Central Park rally. They were one of 50 groups to perform.
The weekly Cheer Dallas practices typically begin with something called "groundbreaking," a sort of encounter session where members get to talk about anything that's bothering them. It helps the group to build trust--an important ingredient for a group whose activities consist of throwing each other 20 feet in the air.
"There's no 'I' in team," explains squad member Marc Morin.
Groundbreaking also serves another purpose: It promotes bonding. For many of its members, Cheer Dallas is like a surrogate family, a place wherein to share their pain.
"These guys are like my best friends," says Raymond Lopez, who was kicked out of his house at 16 for being gay. "They never say anything negative--except maybe about your hair."
Tonight, the group is excited to see Billy Quercia, who had taken a hiatus from the squad several months ago to deal with depression. A former Atlanta Falcons cheerleader and Mr. Gay Texas, Quercia was having trouble at his job as a computer programmer. He says his bosses were trying to get rid of him because they found out he was gay.
"I worked my ass off there and then they just started writing me up for nothing," he tells the group. He finally quit his job a month ago and got a new job working in the design district "where I can be who I am," he says.
Jim McCoy of Mesquite tells the group how he came from a redneck background that made him ashamed to admit he was gay. He played football for seven years--during which he secretly choreographed his sister's drill-team routines--and was engaged to a woman for five years.
"I tried to be as masculine as possible," he says.
For some members, Cheer Dallas is a family affair.
Two serious relationships have developed which have lasted for more than a year.
Lauree Yates, a 25-year-old body builder and college student, joined Cheer Dallas a year ago in solidarity with her brother, Tom, who is a year older and her best friend.
"I wanted to do something to help the gay community, and to help the straight community change their beliefs about gays," says Lauree, presently the only straight member of the squad. "They're not just a bunch of flamers, but people who care."
Ken Jorns' nickname is "mama." The guys affectionately call him that because he has done an exceptional job of shepherding the growth of Cheer Dallas, his baby; and he is older and wiser than they are, someone to whom they feel they can turn.
Jorns, 45, the son of a prominent Fort Worth physician, grew up in an era "when it was wrong to be gay." He thought he could get over being gay, so he married. It was a union that lasted nine years, until Jorns couldn't lie to his wife or himself any longer.
Even after he came out, Jorns had his share of heartache. After his marriage dissolved, Jorns fell head-over-heels in love with a man whom he trusted implicitly. Early in their relationship, they decided to get tested for HIV. They went separately for tests and Jorns tested negative and his lover told him he was negative, too.
Their relationship had disintegrated during three years. Shortly after they decided to split up, Jorns' ex-lover had a series of illnesses he couldn't shake. Jorns took him to his father, the physician, for tests and learned his former lover had full-blown AIDS.
Jorns took care of his ex for several months. "When he got pretty again he left," Jorns says. "He didn't need me anymore." The man died a few months later.
Jorns has consistently tested negative for HIV--a fact he chalks up to clean living. He doesn't smoke or do drugs and has never gotten drunk.
Only one or two members of Cheer Dallas have tested positive for the disease. Jorns hopes it stays that way.
Jorns hasn't had a Mr. Right in his life since the death of his ex-lover, so he has instead thrown himself into his work and Cheer Dallas. He envisions someday holding cheerleading camps, creating marketable merchandise like the Dallas Cowboys offer, and half-jokingly dreams of going on world tour with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
For the immediate future there's the Gay Games in Amsterdam next summer for which to prepare. Jorns is hoping corporations that have sponsored Cheer Dallas in the past--such as Budweiser, Coca Cola, and American Airlines--will help underwrite the trip.
Jorns also wants to attract more straights and people of color and women--straight or lesbian--to Cheer Dallas. "They weigh less and will make us more collegiate," Jorns explains.
The other squad members agree. "Tell women we'll compliment them and tell them how to dress," says Morin.
Jorns hopes to branch out, performing at a larger assortment of venues, particularly children's hospitals. "We want to bring happiness and excitement and life to children who don't really have a life," Jorns says.