District 5 representative says she won’t appear in parade because ‘some acts God doesn’t bless’
Mayor Tom Leppert and all but one of Dallas’ 14 other city council members have said they’ll appear in Dallas’ gay Pride parade Sept. 20, according to Leppert’s openly gay chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh.
If all council members who’ve RSVP’d for the 26th annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade show up, it would be a record turnout.
The number of parade commitments from council members this year ties a record set in 2005, when openly gay Councilman Ed Oakley was in charge of invitations.
That year, Mayor Laura Miller and 13 of the 14 other council members said they planned to appear, but a few got stuck in traffic and never made it to the float, according to former Dallas Voice staff writer David Webb.
This year, the lone council member who’s refusing to appear in the parade is Methodist minister and District 5 Councilwoman Vonciel Jones-Hill, according to Heinbaugh, who now handles the invitations.
Confronted on Wednesday, Sept. 2 during a break in a City Council meeting, Hill initially declined comment and walked off. But she returned a few minutes later to explain her decision.
"I won’t be participating [this year], and based on my present beliefs, I won’t be participating in the future," Hill said. "There’s no reason I should be castigated for that."
Asked what those beliefs are, Hill said: "I believe that all people are loved by God, all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless. It does not mean the person is any less God’s child. I’m entitled to stand for what I believe, and I don’t appreciate anyone castigating me for standing for what I believe."
A day later, Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, questioned what kind of message Hill is sending to her LGBT constituents.
"Does she not support their equal rights under existing laws in the city of Dallas?" Fink said. "It’s an odd stance I think to take as a public official. … How would she feel if some member of the council refused to participate in the MLK parade? It just means we have a lot of work to do in District 5."
In 2005, the lone council member who refused to appear in the parade was District 13′s Mitchell Rasansky.
At the time, Rasansky said his decision wasn’t based on anti-gay beliefs but on his opposition to the use of alcohol. The parade is put on by the Dallas Tavern Guild, an association of gay and lesbian bars, and its sponsors include several alcoholic beverage companies.
Rasansky left the council due to term limits earlier this year, and his successor, Councilwoman Ann Margolin, said it was a no-brainer for her to accept the invitation. "I’ve always had [gay] friends and I had a lot of supporters from the gay community in my campaign," Margolin said. "They’re having a party, and I want to come. To me, it’s the neighborly thing to do."
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, a regular in the parade whose district includes much of Oak Lawn, said she believes the positive response from council members this year is a good sign.
"I think it just shows that Dallas embraces diversity," Medrano said.
Fink agreed. "I think it’s very exciting and very important that our city leaders support our community, and it’s a simple thing to do to participate in our parade," she said.
In addition to Leppert and the 13 council members, Heinbaugh said City Manager Mary Suhm, Police Chief David Kunkle and Fire-Rescue Chief Eddie Burns have all said they plan to appear in the parade this year.
Leppert missed the parade last year due to a personal commitment after fulfilling a campaign promise by appearing in the parade in 2007. Leppert was only the second mayor to appear in the parade, after Miller.
Council members who’ve said they plan to appear in the parade this year are Leppert, Delia Jasso (District 1), Medrano (District 2), David Neumann (District 3), Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway (District 4), Steve Salazar (District 6), Carolyn Davis (District 7), Tennell Atkins (District 8), Kadane (District 9), Jerry Allen (District 10), Linda Koop (District 11), Ron Natinsky (District 12), Margolin (District 13) and Angela Hunt (District 14).
Caraway, Atkins, Kadane and Allen — all of whom were first elected in 2007 — reportedly will be making their inaugural appearances at gay Pride.
"If this is their first time, I think that’s tremendous," Fink said. "Let’s just hope that it’s good weather this year."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 4, 2009.