The Missing People's Agenda

Plus: The Turkey Test; New Sheriff in Town

The Turkey Test

"I'm running out of fliers in Spanish," Win Speicher said as she walked down Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff last Friday. "And I need some more condoms." Just then she saw a Hispanic woman walking in the opposite direction and stopped her as she said in Spanish, "We're offering HIV testing on November 12...and turkeys to people who return to get their test results."

Speicher is a case manager at AIDS Arms, the AIDS provider in Oak Cliff. She and several other workers from AIDS Arms repeated that message nearly 200 times in an hour and a half as they walked up and down Jefferson. Tacia Coker was one of those workers; earlier this fall, she concocted an idea that has now become known as Testing for Turkeys. The program attempts to ensure that HIV test takers who show up on the 12th will return on the 19th to get their results by giving them a voucher they can redeem for a turkey at a local grocery store. "The numbers here in Dallas are so low from people picking up their results that funding is being cut," Coker says. "We've got to get people to return to get their results."

KERA President Gary Ferrell
KERA President Gary Ferrell

Because getting HIV test takers to pick up their results has always been a problem, AIDS entities nationwide have long offered incentives. But giving away turkeys is something "I have never heard of," says Dr. Thomas Coates, a professor of infectious diseases at UCLA and the former director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies in San Francisco. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 25 percent of people who are living with HIV or AIDS don't know that they have the virus or the disease, and has consequently required AIDS organizations that receive federal money to sharply increase their HIV-testing return rates.

But no one has been able to tell AIDS organizations how to overcome the deeply intractable problems of human fear and laziness. "Once we test them and go over their risk factors, some of them don't want to know their result," says Jimmy Wigenton, the lead HIV counselor at Dallas' Mosaic Family Services. So they leave. And that's for the OraQuick test, which requires only a blood prick and a 30-minute wait. --Claiborne Smith

New Sheriff in Town

Two months before Election Day, Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Dallas sheriff, was invited by outgoing Sheriff Jim Bowles to meet his staff. Asked by someone why she wanted the job, Valdez replied that she wanted to "shine up" the badge of an office tarnished by turmoil and charges of corruption. Says one longtime deputy: "She said, 'I'm not like anybody in here. I'm the element of change. I'm a lesbian.'"

After Valdez's upset win last week over Republican Danny Chandler--the veteran deputy supported by virtually all deputies--employees of the sheriff's department are bracing themselves for the unknown. "They knew the management style they'd get from Chandler," the deputy says. "They don't know what they'll get from a lesbian."

Deputies are trying to guess how her endorsement by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund will affect policy in a law-enforcement agency that manages jails housing 7,000 inmates. The Victory Fund requires that candidates receiving its financial support be openly homosexual, publicly endorse gay civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation and "advocate aggressive public policies and positions" concerning gay and lesbian health.

"The first thing you would assume is that we will begin to hire openly gay deputy sheriffs," the deputy says. While there may already be gay deputies in the department, the anti-gay culture in law enforcement keeps them in the closet. "It's pretty hard for gays to get past our psychological tests," the deputy says. "You used to have to take a polygraph asking if you'd had homosexual relationships." (That question is no longer asked.)

Another big question: Will a lesbian sheriff want to change the inmate classification system? To limit sexual assaults, always a problem in jails, incoming prisoners are housed in cells based on their history and declared sexual orientation. Homosexual inmates aren't put in cells with straight inmates. State prisoners who are shipped here to testify aren't put in tanks with young first-time offenders arrested for shoplifting. Will Valdez declare the classification system discriminatory against gays and lesbians?

Then there's the question of how Valdez will work with the Dallas County Commissioners Court, which oversees the sheriff's budget; three of the four commissioners are conservative Republicans. With Bowles now taking credit for getting "Lupe the Lesbian" elected at the expense of his bitter rival Chandler, the county Republican Party is so mad at Bowles they can't see straight. Or gay. --Glenna Whitley

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