And the winner is …Nando Moreno
Nando Moreno is winner of the Dallas Voice annual Readers Voice Award drawing.
He said he always enters contests Dallas Voice runs and votes when we have something to vote on and this was the first time he’s won anything in nine years.
If you party out on the Strip, Nando may look familiar. He’s a bartender at TMC and has been there close to five years. But, he said, he got up early to get to Dallas Voice’s office, pose for a picture and pick up his prize.
What will he do with his $500 prize?
“I’ve been looking at tickets to go to Puerto Rico,” he said.
To visit family? Friends?
“No,” he said. “I’ve never been.”
And this was perfect timing, because his birthday’s in March. And while March is busy at the bar, he was planning to take a vacation in April.
Anything special he plans to see?
“Monkey Island,” he said.
He explained that Monkey Island is off the east coast of Puerto Rico is inhabited by mostly monkeys and you take a small boat to get there.
And he’s looking forward to exploring San Juan nightlife.
“They said they get crazy there so I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the greatest “best of” issue you’re gonna find anywhere! Are you looking for the best local drag performer? We’ve got it! Wanna know which strong man is the best personal fitness trainer? We’ve got that, too — that and so much more. And it’s all right here, waiting for you, under the 2023 Readers Voice Awards big top.
This year, during the month of January, Dallas Voice readers expressed their opinions on who and what constitute the best of the best in the North Texas LGBTQ (and allied) community. There were 3,800 votes cast across eight categories to determine the winners of 101 “best of” awards. And now, we have collected all that right here for you in the pages of the 2023 RVA issue.
So step right up, turn the page and enjoy the show!
— Tammye Nash
This Year’s RVA Staff
Leo Cusimano, publisher
Tammye Nash, managing editor
David Taffet, senior staff writer
Rich Lopez, writer and
DESIGN AND LAYOUT
Kevin Thomas, art director
Linda Depriter, distribution manager
Best Local LGBTQ Community Role Model
HELP Center for LGBT Health & Wellness
1919 8th Ave., Fort Worth
602 E. South St., Arlington
DeeJay Johannessen says that, “like most people” involved in activism around HIV/AIDS, his own activism started because “someone I loved was affected. My first partner was someone living with AIDS.”
This was about 35 years ago, in 1988 — before the days of the Ryan White CARE Act and the drug “cocktails” that helped prolong people’s lives, and WELL before the days of PrEP.
Back then, he said, “AIDS service organizations depended almost entirely on volunteers and donations. Every day was a fight to get the care our community needed to survive.”
As Johannessen became more actively involved in helping provide HIV services, he also became more aware of the need for advocates willing to fighting for the rights not just of those with HIV but for LGBTQ people and civil rights in general.
He moved to Texas in 1998 and was hired as executive director for the Health Education Learning Project — now known as the HELP Center for LGBTQ Health and Wellness, and as “a natural consequence” of that job, his activism continued to grow.
“When I was looking for a job before moving to Texas, I spoke with one of HELP’s founders, Memie Hardie. I flew down for an interview, was offered the position and immediately started working as the executive director,” Johannessen recalled. “My one ask of the board was that I be allowed to grow the organization to meet our community’s needs better.
“In 1988 HELP had three staff members and a budget of $150,000. Today we have a staff of 25 and a budget of $25 million.”
Since then, Johannessen has been involved in activism at both the local and state levels. He was part of the effort to pass anti-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people in both Fort Worth and Arlington, and he has spoken often at the state Capitol against legislation harmful to LGBTQ people and those with HIV/AIDS. He lobbied for the passage of the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, and was a founding member of Fairness Fort Worth. Today he also serves on the Texas HIV Syndicate, a statewide planning body focused on implementing and directing HIV services across the state.
Johannessen knows the importance of electing fair-minded people to office at every level of government. That’s why he and his partner, Chris Hightower, operated a political consulting business for several years, working with candidates for both city council and state representative offices.
Johannessen noted HELP was founded in 1994 at the height of the AIDS epidemic in North Texas by “three visionary women — a Catholic nun, a former Catholic nun and the mother of someone living with AIDS.” Those women he said, “recognized that politics posed the greatest obstacle to the delivery of effective and culturally competent prevention programming to the LGBTQ community. Their goal was to make sure that everyone who needed care got that care.
“As a result, HELP is committed to developing relationships with each client, seeing and treating them as individuals, rather than as statistics,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, other fine service organizations are out there. But HELP is unique because 100 percent of our services are free for our clients. In our PrEP program, there is never a charge to see a provider, to get labs done or to receive medication — whether you have insurance or not.”
Last year, he said, HELP distributed more than $65 million in medications to more than 5,000 clients, “not one of whom paid a penny.”
Johannessen said he and Hightower, who is president and CEO of the Arlington Museum of Art, have been together ever since meeting at the Tarrant County Gay Pride celebration in 2000. The best part of their relationship, he said, is that they support each other and “give each other space to do what’s necessary to succeed personally and professionally.”
Despite the fact that he has been so active for so long in the North Texas LGBTQ community, Johannessen said being voted as Best LGBTQ Community Role Model in the 2023 RVAs caught him off guard.
“Quite honestly, it is suprising. It is an honor and a testament to our board that allows me to go out every day and do the work that is needed for our community.
“My goal is always to make our community the safest place for the current and future members of our LGBTQ+ family.”
— Tammye Nash