We’ll have an update on the status of domestic partner benefits for Dallas County employees in this coming Friday’s print edition. But for now I wanted to mention that if there was ever a time for the local LGBT community to raise its collective voice on this issue, it’s right now. Actually it was last week or even before that, but now will have to do. And while I understand that many of our best and brightest LGBT leaders are in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, surely there is someone here manning the fort, no?
Remember, Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and the current situation is eerily reminiscent of the Dallas County nondiscrimination debacle of 2011. That’s when, with no one from the LGBT community watching, the newly Democratic-controlled Commissioners Court quietly approved a nondiscrimination policy that included sexual orientation but NOT gender identity. When Dallas Voice discovered this, County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, both Democrats and LGBT allies, claimed they weren’t aware of the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and apparently they had put forward the policy without consulting with anyone from the community. It’s a true story, and the end result was a protracted fight before Commissioner John Wiley Price finally relented and cast the third and deciding vote in favor of transgender protections.
Now, as we reported last week, Jenkins is accusing a regional benefits board, the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative, of throwing a wrench in his plans to begin offering DP benefits to the same-sex partners of Dallas County employees in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. While I initially suspected that the PEBC was being used as a political smokescreen to hide the fact that Jenkins and Garcia don’t have a third vote for DP benefits on the Commissioners Court (and can you blame me after last year?), there does now appear to be some validity to Jenkins’ claim. However, we still question why it took so long to discover that the PEBC was opposed to Jenkins’ plan, and why these concerns weren’t addressed very publicly and long before the Commissioners Court was so far along in the budget process. Regardless, Jenkins tells us he’s working on a last-ditch plan to offer DP benefits to Dallas County employees without the PEBC board’s approval. But even if he figures out a way to do so, he and Garcia will still presumably need a third vote — and Price remains a question mark.
Remember, all three of the commissioners who make up the court’s Democratic majority have been endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. Now is the time to hold our elected officials accountable and demand that Dallas County — which has an openly gay sheriff and district clerk — begin treating its LGBT employees equally. Below is contact information for all five commissioners. We’d suggest giving them a call or dropping them a line to let them know the whole LGBT community — and not just this newspaper — is watching.
UPDATE: Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager at Resource Center Dallas, called to let us know that both he and CEO Cece Cox have been in contact with commissioners about this issue in recent weeks. “At the same time, I will say I certainly endorse people calling and contacting the Commissioners Court and reaching out to them,” McDonnell said. “We saw how well that worked last year, when we got nondiscrimination passed. Certainly, pick up the phone and make a call, or send an email.”
County Judge Clay Jenkins – 214-653-7949
Dist. 1 Maurine Dickey – 214-653-7552
Dist. 2 Mike Cantrell – 214-653-6100
Dist. 3 John Wiley Price – 214-653-6671
Dist. 4 Dr. Elba Garcia – 214-653-6670
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