LGBT leaders also call for investigation of agency’s involvement in employee’s gender-marker case
LGBT leaders this week called upon Dallas Area Rapid Transit to add transgender protections to its nondiscrimination policy, adopt domestic partner benefits, implement diversity training and conduct an investigation into its involvement in a family court case last year.
Representatives from the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas addressed DART’s board of directors during its regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23, in response to an article in the Feb. 19 issue of Dallas Voice about the agency’s decision in February 2009 to challenge a longtime employee’s gender-marker change.
DART’s objections reportedly prompted state district Judge Lynn Cherry to overturn an order granting the gender-marker change, leading to allegations of transphobia and bigotry against the taxpayer-funded regional mass transit provider.
"This is a highly publicized event and article in our community," DGLA President Patti Fink told the DART board. "This is a really great opportunity for the DART board to step up in a leadership role and come into the 21st century."
According to DART spokesman Morgan Lyons, the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. DART also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees, Lyons has said.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, DART president and executive director Gary Thomas indicated that he hadn’t had a chance to look into the situation involving the transgender employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity.
"I’m certainly not in a position right now to say we’re going to do anything differently," Thomas told Dallas Voice. "I need to review the circumstances and understand better what happened."
Longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee’s who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said afterward she believes the board will "do the right thing."
"They might drag their feet, but I don’t think they’re going to react badly," Curry said. "I’m optimistic that we are heading toward a good resolution."
Curry, who brought the case to Dallas Voice’s attention two weeks ago, said she spoke to the employee by phone after Tuesday’s meeting. The employee was "thrilled" to learn about the support she’s receiving from the community, Curry said.
"I honestly don’t think [she] has anything more to worry about at this point," Curry said. "I doubt seriously they’re going to retaliate against her. It would be pretty stupid of them to retaliate now."
Earlier, Curry told the DART board that the agency’s decision to intervene in the gender-marker case was "the culmination of six years of discrimination and bigotry and harassment and fostering a hostile work environment."
Curry alleges that since the longtime employee began to transition from male to female in 2003, DART supervisors have told her she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms on the job. Lyons, the DART spokesman, has declined to comment on those allegations.
After undergoing gender reassignment surgery in 2006, the employee obtained a court order last year directing state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female. When the employee presented the court order to DART’s human resources department, the agency’s attorneys drafted a motion seeking a rehearing in the case.
In their motion, DART attorneys argued that judges don’t have the authority to change gender markers, and that birth certificates can be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time they were issued. As is common with gender marker changes, the case file is sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.
Contacted this week, Judge Cherry said she hadn’t read the Voice’s Feb. 19 article about the case and wasn’t immediately familiar with it because she presides over thousands of cases each year.
Cherry, a Democrat who’s considered an LGBT ally, received Stonewall Democrats’ Pink Pump Award last year for her support of the group.
After being provided with the case number, Cherry looked it up and said that for unknown reasons it’s still pending. Therefore, Cherry said she couldn’t comment.
In a letter to DART board member Angel Reyes prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell suggested that DART attorneys and Cherry may have committed ethical violations by engaging in ex parte communications about the case. In response to phone and e-mail messages, Reyes declined to comment on the letter.
Lyons, the DART spokesman, has said that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender-marker change before the agency filed its motion for a rehearing. But Curry alleges that the attorneys spoke privately with Cherry and pressured her into reversing the order.
According to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and the State Bar of Texas, judges and attorneys are generally prohibited from discussing pending cases unless all parties are notified and/or present.
In his letter to Reyes, McDonnell went on to say that some of DART’s peer agencies, including BART in San Francisco and MBTA in Boston, have added gender identity/expression to their nondiscrimination policies. The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth have also adopted ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
"Without a doubt, you have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender customers among the 220,000 riders on DART each weekday," McDonnell told the board.
"Resource Center Dallas is calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into this incident, and a renewed commitment to diversity through expanding the agency’s nondiscrimination policies, implementing diversity training and adopting domestic partner benefits.
"This agency’s actions — or the lack of action — are being watched by the GLBT community, and sends a signal to them on how DART values them as customers and employees," McDonnell said.
Others from the LGBT community who attended Tuesday’s meeting were Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore, Latisha McDaniel of Equality March Texas, and Blake Wilkinson and Corbin Bates of Queer LiberAction.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.