New federal contract rule could affect ExxonMobil

exxon-protestCompanies doing business with the federal government must amend EEO policies

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

A new rule affecting companies that do business with the federal government may finally force ExxonMobil to add gender identity and sexual orientation into its Equal Employment Opportunity policy.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance finalized rules this week banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The new rule allows the federal government to implement an executive order issued by President Barack Obama over the summer.

While most major corporations already have nondiscrimination policies in place, Irving-based ExxonMobil has steadfastly resisted making nondiscrimination a corporate policy by fighting shareholder resolutions and refusing to place wording in its EEO statement.

Before Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, Mobil was one of the most progressive U.S. companies in terms of protecting LGBT employees and providing benefits for same-sex partners. After the merger with Exxon, all of those rights and benefits were removed.

Each year, shareholders have proposed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the EEO policy. For the past several years, the New York state pension funds, which own $1.5 billion in ExxonMobil stock, have put the proposal before shareholders for a vote. Each year, the proposal has been voted down by shareholders.

One year, the company even went to court to prevent the proposal from going to shareholders for a vote. The company lost in court, but won the vote taken at the annual meeting, held each year at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

Exxon has argued that it doesn’t discriminate against any of its employees and this year began offering partner benefits.

On a scale of 0 to 100, Human Rights Campaign again rated Exxon a negative 25 in its Corporate Equality Index. Despite the fact that the company is once again offering benefits it took away from Mobil employees when the companies merged in 1999, there are no employment protections in place for LGBT workers. HRC said that because of that gap in protections, an employee could apply for benefits but then be fired after outing himself.

While ExxonMobil has no employment protections in place, the company has rarely been accused of employment discrimination. Last year, however, the national workplace discrimination organization Freedom to Work filed a suit against the company in Illinois.

According to Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida, Freedom to Work used a paired testing method that is a longstanding practice civil rights organizations use to root out illegal discrimination in employment and housing.

Two test resumes were submitted for a position with the company. One was an LGBT applicant who was highly qualified for the position. Another was a less-qualified straight woman.

Exxon responded by treating the better-qualified LGBT applicant far worse than the less qualified non-LGBT applicant.

On three occasions, Exxon contacted the less-qualified, non-LGBT candidate for an interview, and Exxon even suggested that it would hold open the job for that person. The better-qualified LGBT candidate was never contacted by Exxon about the position.

“While our litigation against Exxon is currently before the Illinois Human Rights Department, the oil giant’s failure to change their policies opens them up to new legal complaints based on President Obama’s latest executive order,” Almeida said in a written statement. “As we look to settle our case, we call on Labor Secretary Tom Perez to help ensure that ExxonMobil adequately amends its Standards of Business Conduct and does away with its notorious and offensive anti-LGBT workplace policies and practices.”

Pride at Work Executive Director Jerame Davis welcomed the change to federal contractor employment policy but said the “rule is not a silver bullet.”

“Every day, LGBT workers face untold difficulties in the workplace,” Davis said in a statement. “From taunts and harassment to being denied promotions and being fired, LGBT employees are regular targets on the job and in the hiring process.”

Although some workers in every state will now be covered by workplace protections, the rule still doesn’t cover all workers.

The new rules only cover workers in companies that do business with the federal government. Other gay and lesbian employees remain without protection in 29 states, and transgender employees are vulnerable in 32 states. The new rule applies to federal contractors who hold contract entered into or modified on or after April 8.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 12, 2014

—  David Taffet

Fort Worth ‘pastor’ threatens ‘faggots’ with death

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 12.10.08 PM

“Pastor” Donnie Romero

As marriage equality spreads and cities like Plano pass nondiscrimination ordinances, LGBT bigots are becoming more venomous.

Pastor Donnie Romero of Stedfast Baptist Church in Fort Worth is preaching that gays should be put to death.

The website for the church does not list an address, so it’s unknown whether this is a real congregation. In a video the church released, Romero is posed at a podium against a blank wall.

“I’m not going to let these dirty faggots in my church,” he says on a video he released. “They’re all pedophiles.”

The only voices in the background is a baby’s cry and the voice of one man. Those sounds may have been added to this manufactured piece.

However, the “pastor” does seem to be threatening the lives of people and Fort Worth police have been contacted.

—  David Taffet

Same-sex couples half as likely to divorce as straights

Williams-Institute-Logo copyA new study by the Williams Institute found that gay and lesbian couples who marry are half as likely to divorce as straight couples.

The study found that 1.1 percent of same-sex couples dissolve their relationships each year while 2 percent of opposite-sex couples divorce.

While same-sex marriage is new in most states, the statistics include 13 years of data from domestic partnerships in California and almost 10 years of data from civil unions in New Jersey.

The study also found female couples are more likely than male couples to formalize their relationships. Also, even in states that already had marriage equality, same-sex couples were more likely to marry after the Windsor decision that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

—  David Taffet

Olgin murder trial update

David Strickland

David Strickland

David Strickland appeared for a status hearing in November in a case in which he pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including murder, in connection with a 2012 attack on lesbian couple Mollie Olgin and Kristene Chapa in Portland, Texas.

Demonstrators outside the courtroom demanded the defendant be charged with a hate crime as well as for sexually assaulting both women, shooting both and killing one. Although detectives never ruled out hate as a motive, prosecutors said there was no evidence the attack was a hate crime.

The attack took place in a park about midnight on a Saturday night in June 2012. Both Chapa and Olgin were shot. Chapa survived.

Vigils were held in both Dallas and Fort Worth at the time of the murder and more than $2,000 was raised in the area to help Crime Stoppers find the murderer.

The trial will take place in the San Patricio County Courthouse in Sinton, north of Corpus Christi.

Strickland’s wife was also arrested in June. She was suspected of tampering with evidence, but that charge has been dropped.

Strickland appeared in court wearing a bullet-proof vest and defense attorneys may ask for a change of venue. The next hearing is set for Feb. 6.

—  David Taffet

Fayetteville repeals nondiscrimination ordinance

map_of_fayetteville_arVoters in Fayetteville, Ark., repealed a nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the city council in August. The special election was held on Tuesday, Dec. 9.

According to the Fayetteville Flyer, the vote was 7,523 votes for repeal and 7,040 against.

The ordinance prohibited landlords from evicting someone or businesses from firing someone because of sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status or veteran status.

Voters in Fayetteville repealed a similar law in 1998, according to the city’s newspaper.

So it’s now legal once again to fire someone because he’s a veteran or deny housing to a couple who was legally married in Arkansas earlier this year.

—  David Taffet

Plano passes nondiscrimination ordinance, but with limits

PlanoWith Toyota moving U.S. headquarters to Plano, the Plano City Council this week addressed concerns expressed by the company earlier this year about the city and state’s lack of protections for its LGBT residents.

Last night (Monday, Dec. 8), the council expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity — but the ordinance comes with quite a few restrictions. Religious, political, governmental, educational and non-profit organizations are exempt, except those doing business with the city.

There’s a bathroom clause that allows businesses to segregate restrooms based on gender. That condition may be taken by some as a green light to discriminate against transgender employees and patrons of businesses, despite protection based on gender identity.

The governmental exemption doesn’t exempt Plano from discriminating, but it doesn’t require Collin County to provide the same protections in order to continue working with the city.

Liberty Institute was at the Plano City Council meeting to call the ordinance unconstitutional and threatening to sue the city if it passed.

Plano had a population of 270,000 in the last census, making it the ninth largest city in Texas and 70th largest city in the U.S.

—  David Taffet

Baylor would flunk HEI but passes patient care with flying colors

BaylorAlthough a presidential executive order requires hospitals to give same-sex partners the same privileges as opposite sex partners, it’s good to see when that’s working locally.

Several years ago, after a Florida hospital refused to allow a lesbians to see her wife before her wife died, I surveyed local hospitals about what their policies.

Parkland said all families were welcome and told me they were reviewing their policies to make sure that was carried out. As a result of their review, they put several additional protections in place.

Other hospitals in the area? Not so much. Presbyterian, Baylor, Medical City and Methodist either refused to answer or told me they’d get back to me and never did.

Around that time, Baylor even dropped all family memberships at its Tom Landry Fitness Center in order to avoid offering one gay couple the couples’ price.

This year, Baylor declined to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s Hospital Equality Index, but we know they offer no partner benefits and have no nondiscrimination policies in place.

So when my partner went to Baylor yesterday, I was curious just what sort of reception we’d receive.

I dropped Brian at Baylor in the morning for an examination. At noon, he said a minor procedure was scheduled for 3 p.m. So I headed over to the hospital at about 2 p.m.

Brian listed me as his husband on admission papers.

When I arrived at the emergency room, the only question I was asked was, “Are you family?”

I said yes, was given a pass and taken to his room.

When he was wheeled to the endoscopy unit, the nurses and doctor explained to me exactly what the procedure would entail. After the procedure, the doctor came into the waiting room to tell me Brian was fine, what he found and how I should care for him over the next week.

Of course, any policy of treating same-sex partners equally relies on personnel carrying it out properly. One person’s bigotry set off a chain of events in the case of the fitness center membership. Had the couple’s membership been quietly approved, a complaint wouldn’t have been filed against Baylor and the hospital wouldn’t have received negative publicity during the city’s year-long investigation.

It takes wonderful medical professionals to understand it doesn’t matter who’s going to be caring for their patient. They were just glad their patient had someone to care for him.

Sometimes it seems we spend too much time reporting on the negative and we forget to report when things work exactly the way they should. And something routine like going to the hospital shouldn’t be news. But if I was thinking about just how we’d be treated, I thought others might be thinking the same in case they need to be hospitalized.

In our case, no one batted an eye at our relationship. No one cared. I was simply the family member — the person who’d care for the patient when he was sent home. Nothing special. That shouldn’t be news, but maybe it is.

So I’m delighted to report Baylor passed with flying colors.

—  David Taffet

Texas won’t issue driver’s license to gay man because he’s married

Screen shot 2014-12-08 at 1.11.38 PMAccording to a report in the Des Moines Register, an Iowa gay couple who moved to an Austin suburb can’t get Texas drivers license because of their marriage.

Michael Miller Gribble changed his name on all legal documents after he and his husband married. When they moved to Texas, he brought his marriage license and birth certificate to apply for his new driver’s license. He was turned away because Texas won’t recognize a marriage license from a same-sex couple as proof of a name change.

He was told he could either get a divorce or a legal name change. Opposite-sex couples do not need a court-order to change last names. A marriage license is proof of the change.

The newspaper reports that couples from Iowa have had similar problems in Nebraska, Florida and South Dakota. Iowa has been a marriage-equality state since 2009.

Gribble applied for a passport that will reflect his new name. He can use that as proof of who he is rather than a marriage license and birth certificate.

He pointed out the extra cost and inconvenience involved and pointed out the unfair financial penalties of being gay or lesbian that goes against the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

This isn’t the first time that the state of Texas has refused to issue a driver’s license because of a same-sex-marriage-related name change. It happened earlier this year to a lesbian who legally married her female partner in California and then moved with her wife to Texas. And in October, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced on Twitter that the state refused to give her 16-year-old daughter a driver’s license because the girl’s birth certificate listed two moms.

—  David Taffet

My annual ‘Why I Hate Hanukah’ post

I love the Jewish holidays — well, all of them except this one and I’ll probably offend just about everyone explaining why

HanukahDAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

It’s not Krismus, Crissmass or Xristmas. So why do we get to choose Hanuka, Hannuka, Hanukka, Chanuka, Chanukka, Channukah and any other combination of H or CH, one or two N’s, one or two K’s and a final H or not?

I just cannot and will not support a holiday they can’t decide how to spell.

There are lots of other reasons I don’t like this least important holiday on the Jewish calendar.

First and foremost, because it certainly is the least important holiday on the Jewish calendar. Most other Jewish holidays have roots in the Bible. This one is from the Book of Maccabbees, which we threw out of the Bible more than 2,000 years ago.

We threw the book out but celebrate its holiday? Nonsense.

A little history to explain what Hannukah celebrates: In 167 B.C.E., a few thousand Jewish fighters, called the Maccabees, beat the crap out of about 40,000 Assyrians and gained independence. They did it by inventing guerrilla warfare.

About 250 years later, in order to continue practicing their religion under the Romans who would have been ticked off knowing a small band of Jews could beat the crap out of a large army, Jews made up the “great miracle” story of the oil lasting eight days until they received a new shipment in Jerusalem.

Eight days? Really? J-town is about 40 miles from the coast where the oil is refined. Sounds like someone was partying in Tel Aviv a few days before hopping down to Jaffa, stopping at the Exxon station and hightailing it back home.

So Chanuka celebrates the invention of guerrilla warfare, or it celebrates a bullshit made-up story. Take your pick.

Now, other Jewish holidays also may be based on events that never happened. Who knows if Moses lifted his staff and parted the Red Sea? That’s part of the story of Passover.

But Passover also celebrates some good concepts — like slavery bad, freedom good.

And who knows if Queen Esther told the king she was Jewish? Turns out the king really loved her hot ass so he put to death Haman, who was planning to exterminate the Jews. Thus we have Purim, which teaches that genocide is evil.

And did Moses come down from Mount Sinai — the mountain in Sinai, not the hospital on Long Island — with the 15 Commandments?

Whether that actually happened or not, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the law. We learn not to murder or covet thy neighbor’s ass or thy neighbor’s wife’s ass — all good things.

But Hanuka is the first holiday that celebrates something we actually know never happened. Oil? Miracle? All made up. We know we made it up. Maybe those 10 plagues that preceded the Exodus never happened either, but at least we don’t know they never happened.

Channukah is also the laziest holiday on the Jewish calendar. One simple prayer that’s ripped off from Shabbat with the change of just one word — that’s how lazy we were with this holiday.

Light a few spindly candles. Give your wife a fur coat or a new Cadillac and, azoy, it’s done.

Passover involves cleaning out the kitchen and replacing all the dishes with Passover plates and removing all the food and replacing it with special Passover food.

(I’m not sure what most Jews will be doing for Passover this year since Manischewitz was purchased by Bain Capital last spring — but that’s another story.)

A huge Passover meal is prepared. Families gather and tell the story of the Exodus and sing songs and eat.

Yom Kippur involves an evening and then a full day of fasting and prayer followed by a huge feast to break the fast.

Sukkot is celebrated by eating a meal in a makeshift shelter built outside in the yard and decorated with fruits and vegetables and Christmas lights. (Well, I think the Christmas lights on the Sukkah tradition might be a Dallas thing.) As we eat out under the stars that shine through the top of the sukkah, we give thanks for the bountiful harvest.

But Chanukkah? Hanukah has one measly prayer and one monotonous song: “I have a little dreidl. They made it in China out of plastic. And when it’s dry and ready. Then dreidl I shall play.” Repeat. Repeat. Keep repeating til you can’t stand the damn song anymore.

And just how do you play dreidl? A dreidl is a four-sided top with a letter on each face. As you spin the top, place bets on which letter will land face up.

Yes, one of the joys of Hanukah is teaching little children to gamble. I guess had little Bugsy Seigel, Meyer Lansky and the rest of the

Jewish mafia not learned gambling at Chanukah, there may never have been a Las Vegas.

And traditionally, Hanuka isn’t the gift-giving holiday. Purim is.

Channukah became the gift-giving holiday sometime after World War II in suburban America, so little Jewish kids wouldn’t feel left out.

Funny, I never felt left out. I always thought I could celebrate and enjoy my friends’ holidays with them and they could celebrate my holidays with me.

We always have non-Jewish friends at our Passover seder, Sukkot dinner and Purim party. And we do our non-Jewish friends a great favor by not subjecting them to 10 hours of Yom Kippur services.

This year, Channuka begins on Dec. 16, so the annual Jewish Christmas Eve ritual of eating Chinese food, as mandated in Leviticus, takes place just as Hanukah ends.

This year, Congregation Beth El Binah’s biblically ordered Christmas feast takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 24 at Thairrific in Oak Lawn. Yes, we know it’s Thai and not Chinese, but God spoke to us and said it is better for an LGBT congregation to feast on Cedar

Springs and the basic concept that pork is kosher only when wrapped in a wonton still applies.

And for the record, here’s how the holiday should be spelled in English taken from the Hebrew spelling:            .

The first letter is a gutteral KH as in — well, we don’t have that sound in English. But not a CH as in chocolate and not an H as in “holy shit everyone spells this holiday wrong.”

Hebrew words don’t have double letters, so no double N or double K and there is a final H in the Hebrew spelling. And sometimes in

Hebrew the word has the OO as the middle letter. Some spellings leave it out.

Long story short about Hebrew vowels — they’re traditionally understood, not written. You know which vowel to use going by a long set of rules.

So the correct spelling of the holiday, the one no one has ever used and no one — except me — suggests we begin to use, is KH not CH, one N, a long OO, one K and a final H: Khanookah.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 5, 2014.

—  David Taffet

Grindr scammer targeting Dallas gay men

‘Gay father’ from Burleson hitting up dates for cash for tires, school supplies

BE AWARE  |  At least two Dallas gay men have been scammed by a man identified as Michael Bellah of Burleson. This is a photo of Bellah, taken from his Facebook page, and both men confirmed that this a photo of the man who scammed money from them.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Robert Blake is a divorced dad who’s retired from the Air Force and lives in Cedar Hill.
He met Michael Bellah on Grindr. Bellah claimed to also be a divorced dad who served a short time in the Air Force.

“We chatted for a while and eventually we met and had dinner,” Blake said.

Blake said Bellah was running late for their dinner date. He didn’t arrive until 10:30 p.m., claiming he had a flat tire. They went out to dinner anyway, and during the meal, Bellah told Blake he had gotten the tires he needed but had to come up with $100 by the next day to pay the tire store manager.

He also told Blake how school was starting soon and he had to give his ex-wife money for school supplies. To top it all off, Bellah said, he was short on cash because payroll at his company was “messed up.”

“I paid for dinner,” Blake said.

Still, Blake said, he and Bellah hit it off because they had things in common. Bellah told him he had served in the Air Force a short time before he got a medical discharge.

“Being a divorced gay dad that lost everything when I came out, I knew what it was like to struggle to make ends meet,” Blake said. “I felt sorry for him, and gave him a check for $250 as a loan.”

Blake said he felt compassion for someone in that position because he’d been there.

“This was also a bad life lesson that I learned the hard way,” he said.

Blake said he called Bellah a number of times to ask about a follow-up date and to ask when he could get his money back. But Bellah always had an excuse why he couldn’t meet Blake.

One evening, Blake was having dinner with his friend John* from church. “We started talking and I told him about my situation with

Michael,” Blake said. “When I told him he lives in Burleson, he said, ‘Oh. Interesting.’”

Then John added, “I met him on Scruff about a year and a half ago.”

John said Bellah told him that his children were having medical issues. He asked John to do a Facebook fundraiser for him.

“I got six friends to donate a total of about $300,” John said, adding that he should have gotten a clue when Bellah refused to put the fundraiser on his own Facebook page.

John was in the middle of moving to Dallas. After he was settled, they connected again. And again Bellah asked for money: “I know you’re tight because you’ve unemployed. But can you loan me money?” John recalled Bellah saying.

He said they had been dating for about a month when he told another friend about Bellah. John said that friend said, “Please tell me you didn’t give him money.”

But John had. He gave Bellah a check for $275.

John asked Bellah about this other friend who warned him.

“That’s when problems started,” he said.

He said he called a number of times about getting the loan repaid but Bellah just got angry at him and said he shouldn’t have given him the money if he couldn’t afford it. Then Bellah stopped answering John’s calls.

He said he signed into Scruff on another friend’s account. Soon after they started talking, Bellah was at it again.

“I was getting the sob story again about the sick kids,” he said.

According to Blake, others have been scammed as well.

“I have another friend that lived in south Arlington that Michael approached and asked for $500,” Blake said. “My friend is a little brash and told him to f-off.”

Dallas Voice contacted Bellah through Facebook, asking him to comment for this story. In a Facebook message, Bellah said he was “not discussing my personal business with someone I do not know. If you would like to present facts of these allegations I will be happy to discuss them with you.”

Even though he was provided with the Dallas Voice phone number and said he would be in contact with the Voice reporter, as of press deadline Thursday, Dec. 4, Bellah had not contacted Dallas Voice further.
*Editor’s note: The man identified as John asked that his full name not be used to protect his identity.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 5, 2014.

—  David Taffet