Arlington is embracing its LGBT community

Posted on 16 Oct 2015 at 6:45am

As the city has grown to be the 50th largest city in the country, Arlington is slowly catching up in areas of diversity


APD Assistant Police Chief Jamie Ayala, above, marched in this month’s Tarrant County Pride Parade. Founders plaza in Arlington, middle. APD Police Headquarters, below. (Photos by Tammye Nash and Cassie Quinn)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

When the Municipal Equality Index comes out in November, Dallas and Fort Worth will fare well. But for the most part, surrounding cities will not.

Plano passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that was well intentioned but lacks protections for the trans community.

In 2013, Irving received a score of 10. Last year, that city dropped to 0. If the school district’s and mayor’s approach to a creative and smart Muslim student is any indication of Irving’s level of tolerance, its score should remain where it is.

But on the south side of the Metroplex, Arlington has been quietly working to become a place that welcomes everyone. Last year’s MEI score was 11 — 10 points for reporting hate crimes and 1 point for “leadership’s public position on LGBT equality.”

But local activists say that score doesn’t reflect what’s actually going on in the city.

That’s important to the LGBT community for a city as large as Arlington, the third largest city in the Metroplex. With a population of 380,000, it ranks seventh in Texas and 51st in the U.S. (Last year, Arlington ranked 50th, but New Orleans continues to regain population each year as it recovers from Katrina and passed Arlington by a few hundred residents this year.)

To put the city’s size in perspective, Arlington has a larger population than other Major League Baseball cities St. Louis, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. And each of those cities is the center of its metropolitan area.

Arlington, on the other hand, grew as a suburb that took advantage of its convenient location between Dallas and Fort Worth and proved a good place to locate attractions like Six Flags Over Texas, close to both cities. Monitoring diversity policies in the bedroom community wasn’t something most people thought about — until

Arlington-Founders-plazaArlington recently began popping up on lists of largest cities in the U.S.

“There have been measurable improvements in work done in the city,” Fairness Fort Worth President David Henderson said.

That work actually dates to 2012 when University of Texas at Arlington hosted a White House LBGT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder was the keynote speaker for the event the city helped host. City officials attended and took note.

While Arlington City Council hasn’t yet added sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s EEO policy for city employment by ordinance, they’ve added it in practice.

On the human resources page of the Arlington city website, it says, “Each day we work to bring these values to life by valuing the whole range of human differences, including age, ethnicity, education, sexual orientation, work style, race, gender and more.”

Henderson said the city hasn’t just added hollow words to its website. “Arlington reached out about more than one employee considering transitioning” on the job, he said.

The city contacted Fairness Fort Worth to discuss best practices to allow the employees to transition on the job and how to answer questions or concerns fellow employees may have.

The city also contracted with Fairness Fort Worth to provide cultural competence training for its police department and parks and recreation staff. Henderson said about half the city staff has participated in the ongoing training sessions.

Arlingon Police Chief Will Johnson told Dallas Voice this week, “We are excited to be able to facilitate this comprehensive training program that reinforces our oath of office and commitment to provide equal protection under the law for all persons. The Arlington Police Department strives to promote equality and respect by providing procedural justice in both police-citizen encounters and in the workplace.”

In addition, Arlington Police Department Assistant Chief Jaime Ayala participated in this month’s Tarrant County Pride parade along with other members of his department.

That cooperation between APD and the LGBT community began several years ago after a group of teenagers vandalized several cars in an Arlington neighborhood. One of the targeted vehicles had a family sticker indicating it belonged to a lesbian couple.

Arlington-Police-station“We built relationships as a result of that hate crime,” Henderson said.

Those relationships have grown to include  Chief Johnson inviting Henderson to participate with him in visiting neighborhoods with him on National Night Out and communicating with him when groups like Westboro Baptist Church have visited Rangers and Cowboys games.

DeeJay Johannessen, executive director of Health Education Learning Project, lives in Arlington and would like to see the city’s elected officials be more proactive. He called on Arlington leaders to make the city a safe environment for its employees and citizens. (Johannessen’s partner, Chris Hightower, ran for city council in 2011 as an out gay man, losing by a narrow margin in a runoff.)

Johannessen said Arlington’s four largest employers — the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, General Motors and Arlington ISD — all have nondiscrimination policies. He believes the city will step up and add protections only when businesses force it to do so.

Current negotiations with the Texas Rangers may be the tipping point. Arlington wants to keep the team but Dallas, with nondiscrimination protections in place, would love to move it to a downtown Dallas location.

Arlington is one of only two major league baseball hometowns without some form of LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances in place. Major League Baseball already includes nondiscrimination policy for the league.

Arlington Independent School District already has protections in place.

Johannessen said he’s spoken to AISD trustees who are very serious about stopping bullying. The Texas anti-bullying law was written by former Arlington state Rep. Diane Patrick.

In its Student Code of Conduct under misbehavior, “Statements or acts demeaning to a person’s race, gender, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity” are listed as discrimination.

Sexual orientation is also included in the AISD nondiscrimination statement. Gender identity is not mentioned in the 109-page manual.

Arlington is in negotiation with MGM Resorts to build a hotel and convention center in the city’s entertainment district. For the last three years, MGM Resorts earned a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index. That company is less likely to expand to a city without protections for its employees and visitors it’s helping attract.

Johannessen suggested the city take baby steps. Under Arlington’s city charter, nondiscrimination protection for city employees could be added administratively. That’s how Grand Prairie added protections that were in place for several years before anyone even noticed.

A city-wide ordinance would have to be voted on by the city council. That’s less likely to happen, Johannessen said, because council members would be afraid of losing their seats.

While it looks like Arlington should receive a higher score on the MEI than it received last year, city spokesman Reginald Lewis said the city has never disputed its score.

Arlington should receive points for its school district’s enumerated anti-bullying policy and bonus points should be awarded for city departments helping employees transition on the job. But Lewis said his understanding was that the score was derived from a survey taken by the organization in Washington and couldn’t be challenged.

Whether or not Arlington does get credit on this year’s MEI for work done to improve the lives of its LGBT residents and people who work in and for the city, lots of work needs to be done and Henderson said Fairness Fort Worth will continue to do what it can to help.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2015.

Clarification: The Dallas Voice incorrectly attributed DeeJay Johannessen as the source for the City of Arlington’s negotiation with MGM in the Arlington is Embracing its LGBT Community article published on 10/16/15.  Johannessen’s comments were instead responsive to how the city could strengthen negotiations with any company looking to move to Arlington, including MGM.

Comments (powered by FaceBook)