Task Force will also pursue DP benefits for city employees
FORT WORTH — The Fort Worth Human Relations Commission this week voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for the city to amend its anti-discrimination policy to include protections for transgenders.
The resolution now goes to the new City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, and then on to the City Council for final approval.
The city amended its nondiscrimination ordinance in 2000 to include protections based on sexual orientation, becoming one of the first cities in Texas to do so. The vote to add gender identity and expression in the list of protected classes came during the commission’s regular meeting on Tuesday night, July 28.
Human Rights Commission member Lisa Thomas said Wednesday, July 29, that this week’s vote was the culmination of more than a year’s work.
"The commission has been working on this issue since before I joined more than a year ago," said Thomas, who was appointed to the commission by openly gay City Councilman Joel Burns.
"At our March meeting, some of the transgender community spoke to the commission, telling the commissioners about their lives and the issues and discrimination they encounter trying to live their lives," Thomas said. "Those citizen presentations were informative and very moving."
Thomas said the resolution will be presented to the Diversity Task Force, of which Thomas is also a member.
After that, she said, "I believe it will be formally presented to the City Council. This is a big step in ensuring that all people who live and work in Fort Worth are treated equally."
Increasing awareness around the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance is, in fact, one of the three main tenets of the task force’s mission, according to a statement released Wednesday by City Manager Dale Fisseler’s office.
The task force was created earlier this month in the wake of the uproar over a June 28 raid by Fort Worth police officers and agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission at the Rainbow Lounge, a gay nightclub. Five people were arrested and charged with public intoxication in the raid, which occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. One of the five, Chad Gibson, incurred a brain injury that left him hospitalized for a week, and the raid sparked outrage not only in North Texas, but around the country.
Since the raid, the TABC has begun an internal investigation into why the raid happened and how Gibson was injured, while the Fort Worth Police Department has two investigations under way — one by the Internal Affairs Division and one by the Major Case Squad. The Fort Worth City Council first asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to review the findings of the Fort Worth PD investigations, and then voted at its July 21 meeting to ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office to conduct its own investigation.
The council also voted at the July 21 meeting to establish the Diversity Task Force.
Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead provided a "high-level update" on the Rainbow Lounge investigations during the task force’s first meeting on Thursday, July 23, according to Thomas.
"He stated that his goal is to provide something like an executive summary in mid-August to the City Council," Thomas said.
Burns said Tuesday that the task force is only intended to be in place for a few months, but that it’s mission is to set in motion changes that will have positive long-term effects on the relationship between city officials and the LGBT community.
The task force members were initially charged with providing input on "appropriate training on customer service for LGBT citizens," increasing community awareness of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance and inclusiveness policies, and facilitating better communication between the city and its LGBT community.
But Burns said that at its first meeting on Thursday, July 23, members discussed expanding the task force’s scope, including the possibility of providing partner benefits to city employees.
The statement from the city manager’s office said task force members created three subcommittees during that first meeting: human resources, community relations and economic development.
Thomas said the task force members also suggested including representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations around Tarrant County to participate in the discussions. She said the Human Resources Subcommittee would focus on diversity training and "other potential HR issues."
The Community Relations Committee will "work on how to best communicate to the LGBT community what protections already exist for them and that there is a Human Relations Commission that can work with them to address problems like discrimination in employment and housing."
The Economic Development will "look at marketing our city to the LGBT community, encouraging LGBT families and businesses to move here," Thomas said.
Thomas said the first meeting "ended on a high note, with everyone expressing hope as to all that the Diversity Task Force can accomplish with the city and its citizens working together."
Burns said he sees the task force’s work so far as "very encouraging," and that what started with the Rainbow Lounge raid as a big problem for the city could turn into huge opportunities for progress: "I have had a lot of emotions over this. I started out angry, and then it made me very sad. Now, I am hopeful.
"This was a bad situation, but I believe the city of Fort Worth has responded in a way that is very heartening and encouraging," he continued. "We are having conversations now that we might never have had if this hadn’t happened. I think what comes out of this will be some things that are very positive for our city."
TASK FORCE MEMBERS
The Fort Worth City Manager’s Diversity Task Force will meet on the fourth Thursday of each month through October.
Task Force members from the city staff are: Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager Charles Daniels; Assistant City Manager Tom Higgins, Assistant City Manager Karen Montgomery, city manager’s Chief of Staff Shirley Little, Community Relations Director Vanessa Boling, Public Education Specialist Veronica Villegas, Human Resources Director Karen Marshall, Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead, LGBT Liaison Officer Sara Straten, Diversity Advisory Committee Chair Karen Edwards-Fisher and District 8 Council Aide Will Trevino.
Community members on the task force are: Human Relations Commission Chair Estrus Tucker, Human Relations Commission member Lisa Thomas, Fairness Fort Worth founder Jon Nelson, CPA Robert Fernandez, Samaritan House Executive Director Steve Dutton, Fort Worth ISD trustee Carlos Vasquez, Scott Bellen of Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, Cheryl Kimberling with the Multicultural Alliance, Joan Kline, Imperial Court de Fort Worth and Arlington Treasurer Brendan Peoples, Reba Henry, Q Cinema founder Todd Camp, Fort Worth Partnership for Community Development President and CEO Charlotte Sobel and J.D. Angle.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.