After listening to more than 30 minutes of public comments in favor of the proposal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 along party lines Tuesday to add transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.
About a dozen people from the LGBT community addressed the Commissioners Court prior to the vote, which came five weeks after the court voted unanimously to add sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 workers. Despite rumors over the last few days, no one spoke against the proposal.
Commissioner John Wiley Price provided the third and decisive vote in favor of transgender protections, joining fellow Democrats County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia. Republican Commissioners Maurine Dickey and Mike Cantrell voted against the transgender protections. (Watch video of the court’s discussion below.)
LGBT advocates who attended Tuesday’s meeting erupted in applause after the dramatic vote, and they gathered on the steps of the county administration building for an impromptu celebration moments later.
“The community’s participation is what made this happen — the letters, the phone calls, the people who showed up here,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who coordinated the community’s advocacy on the issue. “The fact that this was done in five weeks is what really surprises me. Five weeks is the blink of an eye in government time.”
LGBT advocates spoke at each of the court’s regular meetings since the vote to add sexual orientation to the policy, calling on commissioners to go back and make it fully inclusive. But no turnout was as large as Tuesday’s, when LGBT advocates exceeded the time limit for public comment on the issue, prompting the Commissioners Court to vote to wave the rules to allow more speakers.
Those who spoke at the meeting ranged from pioneering Dallas lesbian activist Louise Young, to 24-year-old trans man Jeffrey Barnett, to well-known trans fitness trainer Chris Tina Foxx Bruce, a former Dallas resident who flew in from San Diego for the vote.
Even Dickey and Cantrell, who voted against the proposal, said they appreciated the public input.
“In the seven years I’ve been here, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more meaningful and sincere group of people,” Dickey said, adding that she supported the addition of sexual orientation to the policy. “I’m going going to vote against [this] for one reason, and that is that I’m reluctant to add special protected classes under the umbrella of Dallas County policy.”
“I’ve heard the speakers and I appreciate all that they’ve brought to the table today,” Cantrell said in explaining his vote. “I didn’t hear anyone talk about any other county that’s passed this, so anyway, but my ‘no’ vote today will be based on the liability that I believe that it will cost the county and ultimately the taxpayers.”
Price, who previously said he was undecided on the issue, said he initially thought transgender employees were included under sexual orientation.
But Price said he asked that the item be placed on the agenda for Tuesday after, in addition to hearing compelling arguments during public comments, he consulted with medical experts.
“I think there is a lot of medical evidence,” Price said before the vote. “At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing, and this court will do that.”
The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as Dallas Area Rapid Transit, already include transgender employees in their nondiscrimination policies. More than half of Fortune 500 companies also include protections based on gender identity/expression.