About two dozen LGBT advocates attended DART’s board meeting Tuesday night, most wearing red to support equal benefits for the transit agency’s gay and lesbian employees.
Four people addressed the board during public comments to call members out on their inaction and delay on offering domestic partner health benefits after discussion began last July. The board voted two weeks ago to delay any action until this July after the U.S. Supreme Court decides two marriage equality cases.
Lesbian GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven spoke about her shock in the board’s comments at several committee meetings and board meetings when DP benefits were discussed.
“I sat quietly at almost every DART committee meeting and board meeting I attended around domestic partner benefits,” she said. “I’ve heard Bible verses and I’ve heard one of your members say this is not about doing the right thing.”
Kirven reminded the board that it is “cruel to define a family” instead of recognizing the diverse families that DART employees belong to.
“Using your power and ability to discriminate against a group of people is more about judgment and economic injustice than it is about budget cost and restraints,” Kirven said.
DART employee Epitacio Camacho spoke about his eight years working for DART, during which he learned to value diversity in his co-workers and those who use DART’s services.
He said he values his family and wishes his LGBT co-workers could add their families to their insurance like he had done with his family.
“They all work hard. They all wear the same uniform I do and they all want equality in the workplace,” he said.
John Selig spoke as a former DART employee who said that while he loved working for DART for three years, “the entire time I was here I felt like a second-class employee.”
He urged them to consider embracing true diversity by adding DP benefits, adding that he spoke for DART’s gay employees because “no gay employee will speak for fear of retribution.”
Perhaps the most moving speech was by Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who passionately spoke about how uninformed the board was during their months of discussion.
He handed out a letter the center sent all board members and DART’s executive leadership last July with financial information from state entities that offer DP benefits, saying it was outrageous that members were still bringing up cost at the last meeting in an effort to delay a vote.
“If the board continues with its current timeline, DART will have been dealing with domestic partner benefits for one year,” he said. “The agency has shown that when it wants to it can move quickly. Just look at what you did with the deal with Arlington on transit.”
McDonnell also spoke about the Austin Independent School District adding DP benefits the day before DART voted to delay discussion.
“What does the Austin ISD know that DART doesn’t? It’s about fairness and equality in the workplace and has nothing to do with marriage equality,” he said, adding that AISD knows any opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on the issue won’t be legally binding. “It’s not a law. It does not carry the force of law and should have no bearing on what this agency does.”
When the board called another speaker on an unrelated issue, activists raised a banner and Shannon Kern shouted a chant that others repeated before marching out of the meeting with the banner.
“We call on DART to consider integrity, to consider the lives that are impacted by delaying, avoiding and ignoring the vote to a domestic partner benefits for LGBT employees,” Kern shouted. “We demand justice. We demand equality. And we will keep showing up until our demands are met. History is watching. Domestic benefits now!”
Daniel Cates, regional director for GetEQUAL TX, said the organization planned to attend every board meeting with some type of action until July.
Watch McDonnell’s comments to the board below.