Mayor talks ENDA with LGBT leaders

Posted on 22 Mar 2012 at 5:05pm

Closed-door meeting at Resource Center Dallas comes 2 months after Rawlings refused to sign pledge in support of same-sex marriage

Mayor-Rawlings-visits-Center-0312-013

ALL SMILES | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings poses Thursday, March 22, with LGBT advocates at Resource Center Dallas, where they met to discuss the need for statewide employment nondiscrimination protections. Those who attended the meeting with Rawlings were, from left, LGBT activists Rebecca Solomon and Pam Gerber, Resource Center Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox; Rawlings’ chief of staff Paula Blackmon, and Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman. (Rafael McDonnell/Special to Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings won’t sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage, but LGBT leaders are hoping he’ll help push employment nondiscrimination protections during next year’s state legislative session.

Rawlings met behind closed doors for more than an hour Thursday, March 22, with a handful of leaders from the LGBT community at Resource Center Dallas.

Although much smaller than the previous gathering in January, Thursday’s meeting was the second between Rawlings and LGBT leaders in the wake of his refusal to join mayors from across the country in signing the pledge from Freedom to Marry.

Participants said afterward that discussion focused mainly on the need for a Texas version of the Employment Nondisrimination Act, which would prohibit job bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“The goal was to learn more about ENDA,” Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said after the meeting. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on this, and a lot of discussion. A broader-based coalition needs to be built around this, so we’re going to explore that.”

Rawlings wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Blackmon said the group plans to meet again in the next few months after individual parties gather more information based on Thursday’s discussions.

In addition to Blackmon and Rawlings, the meeting was attended by Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of the Resource Center; LGBT activists Pam Gerber and Rebecca Solomon; and Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas.

“We hashed out priorities,” Coleman said. “The meeting was information sharing. … We told the mayor that our priority is making sure that people aren’t fired because of who they are.”

Cox said discussion focused specifically on ways to leverage the business community — including large North Texas-based corporations that already have their own LGBT protections — in support of a Texas ENDA.

Texas is one of about 20 states that lack bans on employment discrimination against LGBT people, which also isn’t prohibited under federal law.

Dallas has had a city ordinance banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations since 2002.

Cox said Rawlings toured the Resource Cneter for about 40 minutes prior to the meeting and asked a lot of questions about services and statitics related to HIV/AIDS.

“While I understand there are people in our community who are really disappointed about his unwillingness, still, to sign the marriage pledge, ENDA and employment protections are an important topic as well,” Cox said. “As a community it would be foolish to turn someone away who expressly said, ‘I want to learn about this issue and see if I can work on it.’ I think he’s sincere about learning and sincere about wanting to have an impact where he can have an impact.”

Gerber, one of Rawlings’ prominent supporters during last year’s campaign, described the mayor as “very thoughtful, hungry for information and wanting to be strategic in how to accomplish meaningful results.”

”We didn’t get any specifics about what the city or the mayor would be doing,” Gerber said. “It was a much higher, 20,000-foot-level conversation. He is absolutely trying to be strategically tactical with this, so that it will have not just a short-term effect but a longterm systemic impact.”

Gerber compared Rawlings’ involvement with LGBT issues to his interest in improving education in the Dallas Independent School District.

“He doesn’t just want to have dinner with the new superintendent,” Gerber said. “He’s going to the top of the stream and changing the way people think. I think what he’s doing is very profound. Maybe the skeptics will say it’s BS, but the reality is the skeptics are probably being too focused on the trees, and not enough on the forest.”

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, said he wasn’t invited to Thursday’s meeting and wasn’t aware of until Dallas Voice contacted him afterward.

Cates launched an online petition calling for Rawlings to sign the marriage pledge, led a protest outside City Hall, and delivered hundreds of cards to the mayor’s office on Valentine’s Day.

Cates said although he isn’t surprised that he wasn’t invited to Thursday’s gathering, he’s concerned that meetings between the LGBT communtiy and Rawlings are becoming
“less broad and much more exclusive.”

Cates said he trusts the judgment of LGBT leaders who attended the meeting, and applauds Rawlings for being willing to discuss employment nondiscrimination. But Cates noted that Rawlings argued he didn’t want to sign the pledge because same-sex marriage isn’t within the mayor’s duties.

“I don’t’ understand how this [ENDA] is not outside his official duties, and signing the pledge is,” Cates said, adding that GetEQUAL plans to continue reminding Rawlings about the pledge. “There’s no such thing as partial support for equality.”

As of Thursday, 191 mayors from across the country had signed the pledge, including those from all eight cities larger than Dallas. Six mayors from Texas have signed the pledge, including those from Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2012.

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