Dallas LGBT Task Force aims to expand diversity training to all city employees within 3 years

Posted on 15 Jun 2012 at 10:53am

Sherry Durant, Dallas Fire-Rescue LGBT liaison, explains the goal of expanding LGBT training to all city employees at a city services event June 13. The event was the second in the city’s June Pride series. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Fire-Rescue plans to expand its LGBT training program to its veteran employees this summer and eventually to every city employee over the next three years, according to Sherry Durant, the department’s LGBT liaison.

Durant was among six city officials who spoke and answered questions during a panel discussion at the Oak Lawn library branch on Wednesday night. The event drew about 40 people and was the second in Dallas’ “Honor, Educate and Celebrate” June Pride Month series planned by Councilwoman Delia Jasso’s LGBT Task Force.

Task Force member Pam Gerber said the group has discussed expanding LGBT training to all Dallas city employees and will work with officials to achieve the goal in the future. The only city departments that currently conduct comprehensive LGBT diversity training are police and fire.

Durant, who’s served as LGBT liaison for DFR since 2008 and is a member of the Task Force, said 1,048 new recruits have undergone LGBT training since the training program began in 2004. She said she has been working with the Dallas County Gay and Lesbian Alliance and Resource Center Dallas to create a training program for veteran Fire-Rescue employees. The veteran employee training will begin in late July or early August, she said, estimating that it would take about 36 weeks for the 1,248 employees to complete the training.

After DFR finishes its veteran employee training, Durant said she wants to help the veteran police employees undergo the training and then move onto other city departments, so all city employees will have LGBT training within the next three years.

City Manager Mary Suhm, Assistant fire Chief Joseph Vasquez and Sr. Cpl. Laura Martin, LGBT liaison for Dallas police, joined Durant on the panel and shared what their departments offer the LGBT community. Executive Assistant City Attorney Melissa Miles and Chalisa Warren, senior public information representative with the Fair Housing Office, spoke about the city’s decade-old nondiscrimination ordinance.

Martin oversees the Police Department’s sensitivity training, which helps recruits understand how to handle interactions with members of the LGBT community. She said she will also teach the current officers over the next two years about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. She said a lot of officers are not aware of how the law works because it is a federal law and affects how departments report hate crime statistics to the FBI.

Suhm said during her 35 years working for the city she has seen a lot of improvements for the LGBT community, from training in the police department in the early ’90s to later working with City Council to pass domestic partner benefits for city employees.

Miles said her section of the city attorney’s office handles the discrimination complaints after the Fair Housing Office investigates, working with the alleged violators to inform them about the ordinance and to help educate them even if the complaint is dismissed for no cause.

Questions about the reporting hate crimes and discrimination under the ordinance came up during the meeting, as several in the audience said people do not report incidents of hate or discrimination because they want it to remain confidential.

Fair Housing Office Assistant Director Beverly Davis said many people have come into the office and refused to file a complaint because it is public record. She reminds them that their names will not be released unless an open records equest is filed, but she said it prevents many people from complaining because they never want their name released.

Miles said she understands people not wanting to file a complaint because she at one point she felt she had a complaint but didn’t want to report it because she wanted to keep her personal life private. But she said she did speak with Fair Housing and felt better, so encouraged the audience to at least speak with the office even if they do not file a complaint.

Miles said the ordinance is effective because the city can only do so much by training and educating employers and businesses. She said a “no cause” result only means the company was not taken to municipal court and fined $500, which the city doesn’t want. Rather, the city wants to sit down with potential violators and train them to prevent future discrimination.

“The problem is the city doesn’t have the power and until it’s empowered by a state law or a federal law that will create a law that has teeth, what we have is a policy,” Miles said. “But it has a great deal of power to say this is the law in the city of Dallas.”

The complaint about Baylor’s Tom Landry Fitness Center not issuing a family membership to a gay couple was brought up, but could not be discussed because the case is still open. Still, Suhm said she hoped it would resolve itself like other cases eventually have, with the business realizing it is in the wrong and changing its policy.

“So many of these resolve because we sit down and say this is a problem and you need to think about it and do something about it,” she said. “I’m really hoping that Baylor does that.”

Other questions focused on adding full comprehensive health benefits for transgender city employees, whether the city would fund a campaign to educate the LGBT community about the nondiscrimination ordinance, and whether police are reprimanded for reacting unprofessionally when interacting with LGBT people.

Suhm said the city’s health benefits are in general not very good, but encouraged the audience to remind their council members and other officials that transgender benefits are needed as the economy improves and the budget can cover more. She also said the budget has no money for marketing campaigns and relies on the training by departments to spread the word.

Martin said officers are disciplined for treating an LGBT person rudely just as if someone complained that an office used a curse word while interacting with them.

The general consensus from the meeting was that no department can do anything about a hate crime, rude encounter or incident of discrimination if a complaint is not filed.

The next event in the June Pride Month series is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, at the United Black Ellument Cultural Center, 3116 Commerce St, Suite C. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, 116th Civil District Court Judge Tonya Parker and former Councilman John Loza will lead a conversation on out elected officials.

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