Columnist also quoted anonymous comments about sheriff’s orientation
The Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance has complained to The Dallas Morning News and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s office about comments attributed to the politician in a column about lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
The column, written by Metro columnist James Ragsdale, carried the headline “Is sheriff reaching out or pandering?” and it examined the sheriff’s motives for appointing a liaison officer to the LGBT community.
Valdez’s appointment of her top deputy to serve in the position, in addition to his other duties, was the first in a string of appointments of liaison officers to religious and ethnic communities planned by the sheriff.
Ragsdale speculated that the sheriff had bigger problems to manage than concerns about her department’s relations with minority communities. He quoted Price as saying he viewed the appointment as “probably just more PR pandering.”
Ragland also quoted anonymous, unflattering comments about Valdez and her sexual orientation that he found on an underground chat room frequented by law enforcement officers. One writer asked if the “good ol’ boy system” was going to be replaced by the “good ol’ queer system.”
Pete Webb, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said he viewed the column as irresponsible and Price’s remarks as outrageous.
“I found it to be very insensitive,” Webb said. “I was actually taken aback by the article.”
Webb said he was most offended by the inclusion of the anonymous chat room quotations.
“The fact that the underground blogs and all of this inciting rhetoric was used was irresponsible of the newspaper, and it was irresponsible of the commissioner to mention that it was PR pandering,” Webb said.
Webb noted that Price’s area of representation includes large chunks of LGBT residents.
“I don’t think it is being very representative of your population or your voting block when you are ignoring them or dismissing them as part of PR propaganda,” Webb said.
Webb said Price’s remarks also surprised him because the concept of community liaison officers is not new. The Dallas Police Department has staffed such a position for more than a decade, and Washington, D.C., has a similar, large community relations staff as is planned by Valdez, he said.
Webb said he has always admired Price and his commitment to human rights. The two men share African-American heritage.
“I was really amazed that someone who worked hard to break barriers and to rise to his position and then would espouse something like that from his position,” Webb said. “To me that is bigoted.”
Webb said he has asked the newspaper’s management to provide more coverage about the practice of establishing community liaison officers in Dallas and in other cities. He has asked Price’s office to arrange a meeting between the commissioner and LGBT leaders.
Ragland, who is also African-American, said in an e-mail he has received a handful of complaints about his column and a few others complaining about Valdez’s plan.
“They’re all missing the central point of the column, which was more about the establishment of liaisons for all of the particular communities identified in the column,” Ragland wrote. “But the initial basis of the column was my decision to follow up on some readers complaining about the sheriff’s first appointment to the gay/lesbian community, and of course, the underground political chatter that appointment caused.”
Ragland said there was nothing personal about his column.
“Please note that I didn’t, and still don’t, personally take exception to the sheriff’s effort to appoint these liaisons. I pointed out that the move had drawn some criticism, and even some concern among county officials who question whether this was just pandering. That’s a fair question in my humble opinion.”
Robert W. Mong Jr., editor of The Dallas Morning News, said he is unaware of any plans for more coverage about community liaison officers anytime soon.
The newspaper will likely later report on how Valdez’s liaison officer program is working, he said.
“I do think we have an obligation at some point to go in and see if the liaisons have worked,” Mong said.
In a telephone interview Price stood by his comments to Ragland.
“I’ve been here 21 years, and I ain’t never heard nothing about gay and lesbian issues here,” Price said. “Nobody said a damn thing to me. They support me, and everything else. I’ve never heard anybody say a thing.
“I’m not being insensitive. I’m being pragmatic. Lupe needs to deal with that damn jail. We’ve got a jail that’s out of compliance. We’ve got issues. There are no gay and lesbian issues that I have ever heard. I am chairman of civil service. I’ve never heard of an issue.”
Webb said he believes Valdez, who is Hispanic, is sincere in her explanation that she wants to appoint liaison officers to improve relations between the sheriff’s department and all of the different communities.
“I’m supportive of her being willing to take a stand and to reach out to minority groups, whether they are religious or ethnic groups, that feel disenfranchised and not a part of the system,” Webb said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.
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