Labor Day, Walmart and me


Jackie Cote, right, and her wife, Dee

By Jackie Cote

Special Contributor

Labor Day is the traditional end of summer.  For me it’s been a special summer with my wife Dee.

Dee has ovarian cancer, and is now receiving hospice care at our home in New Bedford, Mass. This spring we decided to start ticking items off her bucket list.

We just spent some time in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with Dee’s son and daughter-in-law. There, Dee got to dip her feet in the sand and the water, collect a few shells, and spend time with family. It was fantastic.

Dee’s bucket list is pretty simple: Next we’ll go to New Hampshire, where we’ll take the scenic train route around Lake Winnipesaukee.

It’s been incredibly meaningful to both of us to spend this time together. In our 24 years together, we’ve been through thick and thin, and have always been each other’s rock. Now, when Dee is well enough, we venture out. And when she’s not, we are just making sure to appreciate every minute we have together.

Labor Day is also the day we celebrate ordinary working people. That’s very much me and Dee. For the past 16 years, I’ve served as an associate at Walmart, and for many years Dee was also a Walmart associate.

Unfortunately, on this Labor Day, I’m forced to think about how much employers respect — or disrespect — the people whose labor make their businesses successful. That’s because when I most needed my employer to come through for my family, I was shocked and disappointed that Walmart would not step up, and refused to treat my family with the respect it deserves.

I had always been concerned about Dee’s health, since she had a history of cancer. When we got married — as soon as it was legal in Massachusetts — Dee had been cancer-free for some time. And though we got married primarily for the same reason everyone does — because we love each other — it also meant we would be able to take care of each other financially and legally in the dozens of ways that straight married couples already could.

Starting in 2008 and continuing through 2012, I tried to add Dee to Walmart’s health insurance plan during Walmart’s open enrollment period, in an effort to receive a benefit that was made available to all other married Walmart employees. But when I entered Dee’s gender as “female,” the online system stopped me from going any further.

So I picked up the phone and called Walmart’s headquarters — and I was told that Walmart did not offer health insurance to the same-sex spouses of Walmart employees.

Soon, my inability to insure Dee became more than an insult, when Dee’s cancer re-emerged in August 2012. Over a short period of time, we racked up medical bills in excess of $150,000 that we were unable to pay. In addition to the nightmare of cancer, we endured the stress of being hounded by bill collectors. And Dee particularly felt guilty, being unable to pay the wonderful health workers who were providing her with such good care.

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, Walmart changed its policy to extend spousal health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of Walmart employees. That’s a good step, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough because Walmart didn’t address the fact that hundreds or possibly thousands of people like me and Dee were greatly harmed when Walmart engaged in discrimination.

The harms we suffered continue this day. It doesn’t address the fact that Walmart changed its policy voluntarily, that Walmart claims it is lawful to discriminate against gay and lesbian workers, and that Walmart could change its policy to again discriminate at any time.

Dee and I want to be able to pay back the medical professionals we owe money to, and we want to be able to focus on Dee’s health without worrying about collection calls. We also want to be able to help other people who are in our situation — former or current Walmart employees married to someone of the same sex, who were unable to get their spouses covered by Walmart’s health insurance plan before Jan. 1, 2014.

That’s why we are working with lawyers at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs to sue Walmart on behalf of all the working families who were harmed by Walmart’s unlawful discrimination. We are hopeful that we can make things right for ourselves and for others.

That would make a meaningful Labor Day.

Jackie Cote is the named plaintiff in the class action lawsuit Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores pending in the federal court in Boston, Mass. Inquiries about the case, including from similarly situated employees, can be directed to

—  Tammye Nash

SSA will apply marriage benefits retroactively, grant pending spousal benefits


Lambda Legal plaintiff Kathy Murphy of Texas

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today (Thursday, Aug. 20), that the Social Security Administration will apply the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide retroactively and process pending spousal benefits claims for couples that lived in jurisdictions that didn’t recognize their marriages prior to the ruling.

The announcement came in a status conference with Lambda Legal in a Chicago federal court. The DOJ said the new policy will apply to previously filed claims still pending in the administrative process or litigation.

Lambda Legal filed federal lawsuits last year on behalf of widower Dave Williams, formerly of Arkansas and now living in Chicago, Texas widow Kathy Murphy, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Williams and Murphy were both denied benefits after the deaths of their spouses because although they were legally married, they lived in jurisdictions that did not legally recognize those marriages.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said today that her organization is pleased to have gotten this confirmation from the SSA, and although SSA has not announced when the policy change will be posted and implemented, “we look forward to reviewing the details and working with the agency to ensure that those who had been wrongly denied in the pas will not have to wait longer to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government. … We urge the SSA to move quickly to right the injustice to same-sex spouses whose marriages were unconstitutionally disrespected and who await Social Security protections.”

—  Tammye Nash

Public Employee Benefits Cooperative extends benefits to employees

pebcThanks to the good work by Resource Center and Fairness Fort Worth, the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative, which covers Dallas, Denton, Tarrant and Parker counties and North Texas Tollway Authority employees, has extended benefits to same sex spouses and dependent children effective immediately.

Earlier this week multiple state systems ranging from the Teachers Retirement System to the University of Texas Systems announced similar plans following the Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality.


—  James Russell

Obama budget includes Social Security for same-sex married couples


President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama unveiled his fiscal year 2016 budget today (Monday, Feb. 2), and it includes a proposal allowing legally married same-sex couples to receive Social Security benefits, even if they live in a state where there marriage is not legally recognized, according to numerous reports including this one at

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in the U.S. v Windsor decision in June 2013. Last June, a number of regulatory changes were announced that made most of the federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex married couples also available to legally-married same-sex couples. But not Social Security or veterans benefits.

Government officials  said small number of provisions in federal law explicitly prohibit the government from providing benefits to same-sex couples when it comes to the Social Security agency and the Veterans Affairs Department. President Obama can’t extend those benefits through regulatory changes; those changes will have to come through a vote in Congress.

Given that the Republicans control Congress right now, it’s not likely we’ll see the necessary changes made any time soon. But having the president include those changes in his budget proposal and call on Congress to make the necessary changes is some progress at least.

And of course, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality this spring, it might not make any difference anyway, since same-sex marriage will be legal in every state then.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Monday that Obama’s proposal “would fix a crucial gap in federal protections for same-sex couples. President Obama’s leadership in helping bring the freedom to marry to all Americans will be a shining part of [his] legacy.”

Not being eligible for Social Security survivor benefits “can mean a significant drop in benefits after the death of spouse, a hardship that non-gay married couples do not face,” Wolfson said, pointing to the case of Arlene Goldberg, a Florida woman who was forced to leave her home after her wife died. As of Jan. 5, however, same-sex marriage is legally recognized in Florida.

—  Tammye Nash

UPDATE: Defined benefit retirement plans must also recognize same-sex marriages


David Mack Henderson

In the Dec. 5 issue of Dallas Voice, we reported on the discovery by Resource Center Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell and Fairness Fort Worth President David Mack Henderson that the Internal Revenue Service requires that defined contribution retirement plans — such as 401(a), 401(k) and 125 cafeteria plans —  recognize same-sex spouses of plan members if the couple were married in a jurisdiction that legally recognizes such marriages — even if the couple lives in a state that bans marriage equality.

Henderson has since discovered that defined benefit plans must also recognize same-sex spouses:

“From Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals of the Same Sex Who Are Married Under State Law:
Q17. What are some examples of the consequences of these rules for qualified retirement plans?
A17. The following are some examples of the consequences of these rules:
Plan A, a qualified defined benefit plan, is maintained by Employer X, which operates only in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages. Nonetheless, Plan A must treat a participant who is married to a spouse of the same sex under the laws of a different jurisdiction as married for purposes of applying the qualification requirements that relate to spouses.”

A defined benefit pension plan is a type of pension plan in which an employer/sponsor promises a specified monthly benefit on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee’s earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending directly on individual investment returns. A defined contribution plan, on the other hand, does not promise a specific amount of benefits at retirement. In these plans, the employee or the employer (or both) contribute to the employee’s individual account under the plan, sometimes at a set rate.

You can also find information on the Equality Texas website.

—  Tammye Nash

Business Briefs: AssociaTitle names Mark Sadlek director of business development

AssociaTitle names Mark Sadlek director of business development

Mark Sadlek

AssociaTitle announced it appointed Mark J. Sadlek director of business development at its corporate headquarters in the heart of Uptown Dallas at Crescent Court.

“We are thrilled to be adding Mark Sadlek to the AssociaTitle team,” said AssociaTitle President Paul Reyes. “He is a seasoned real estate professional in the Dallas area with a track record of proven success and will serve both our clients and our company well.”

Sadlek joins AssociaTitle from Republic Title of Texas, where he served as vice president of business development and director of coaching services. He worked to build and promote the company externally with Realtors, developers and lenders. His focus also included business coaching and training.

He has also served as vice president of business development for American Title and as home mortgage consultant for Shelter Mortgage & Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Previous to his work in the North Dallas real estate industry, Sadlek worked in marketing and sales for almost 20 years and was intimately involved in the start-up of two companies, VerCeram and Velux-America.

For the past nine years, Sadlek has worked in the North Dallas real estate industry, building positive relationships with local Realtors and lenders. He was awarded the 2010 Affiliate of the Year Award from MetroTex Association of Realtors, served on the MetroTex Board as an affiliate appointee board member, and chaired the Affiliate Forum Committee of MetroTex.

He was a co-founder and co-chair of Leadership Lambda Inc., an LGBT leadership development organization. He was also a board member of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) and has chaired the Heart Strings Fundraiser at the Majestic Theatre. Additionally, Sadlek served on the Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign, as well as a co-chair of the Dallas-Fort Worth Federal Club.

Ernst & Young Announces Gross Up for Jan. 1

On Jan. 1, Ernst & Young joined more than 30 major U.S. employers that are equalizing the pay for gay and lesbian employees by covering the cost of state and federal taxes for domestic partners.

Employees enrolled in domestic partner benefits incur additional taxes as the value of those benefits is treated as taxable income under federal law, while the value of opposite-sex spousal benefits is not.

Federal law treats domestic partner benefits differently from federally-recognized spousal benefits.

—  David Taffet

Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Go with the flow

Trying yoga for the first time can be an intimidating experience. But that misses the point of this ancient practice that combines stretching, breath … and peace

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer

Some do it for their mind, some do it for their body, some do it for both. But all yoga students have one thing in common: Making the first step and taking up the practice. And while this age-old combination of stretching and breathing is meant to calm the mind and strengthen the muscles, a maiden voyage into a posterior-lifting position like downward-facing dog in a room full of strangers can send one’s heart racing. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

“People new to yoga should remember that everyone in class was a beginner at one point,” says Petri Brill, manager of YogaSport Dallas on Lemmon Avenue. “Yoga is a journey, not a destination. There is no perfect practice or perfect yogi or perfect yoga body. I think people worry about they’ll look [or] feel foolish in their first down-dog [and] that they’ll be judged. Our [yoga] community is diverse, encouraging and accepting: no judgment here!”

Mary Pierce Armstrong, who teaches at MarYoga, agrees that you should always look inward. “Yoga will come to meet you no matter where you are starting from. As long as you take the breath and the breaks you need, you will be doing awesome.”

For Wendy Moore, a 44-year-old yoga newbie, has taken these words of wisdom to the mat — literally. Moore recently completed her second MarYoga class as part of her new year regime. Any inhibitions she had about the experience were dispelled during her first visit.

“[I was] concerned about my general lack of bendy-ness, and not knowing where to put what arm and leg,” she says, “but if you look around you will figure out where your limbs are supposed to be by what others are doing.” Moore has continued to work on poses between classes with some slight variations mimicked by “what her cats are able to do.”

Keith Murray, a 37-year-old registered nurse, tried yoga for the first time more than eight years ago and was immediately hooked. He was taking classes three times a week before long. “I was a little intimidated about the whole thing at first,” he says, “but after my first couple of sessions my intimidation grew into excitement.”

A busy work schedule has kept Murray from his regular routine over the years, but he is trying to change that. “I still maintain a crazy life and work routine, but building yoga back into my life has really helped me to find balance again.”

According to yoga teacher Jennifer Lawson of SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing, it’s not just busy schedules and bundled nerves that keep people from the practice of yoga; it’s also our cultural fixation on success. “There tends to be so much emphasis on achievement and perfection that many of us are becoming accustomed to playing it safe in order to avoid the possibility of shame.”

Lawson recommends coming together as a group in a class with experienced and inexperienced yogis to create an environment that emphasizes the experience and process of yoga and not the destination or end result.

For Anisha Mandol, a 42-year-old business development manager who has been practicing yoga for about two years, these words ring true. “Once you understand your expectation from practicing, no one else’s matters. The benefits of yoga are fluid and dynamic, and each person has their own unique experience. Own yours,” she says.

And so it would seem that just as the journey of a million miles begins with one step, the journey toward a yoga-filled life begins with a single stretch on the matt (and maybe a little Namaste for good measure).



Options are plentiful for the budding yogi looking for a class. Get your stretch on at these studios in and around the gayborhood. You can also find information on their class offerings and schedules on their websites.

Yoga Sport Dallas
4140 Lemmon Ave, Suite 280

SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing
611 N. Bishop Ave.

MarYoga at Chi Studio
807 Fletcher St.

Sunstone Yoga
2907 Routh St. (and other locations)

Gaia Flow Yoga Uptown
3000 Blackburn St., Suite 140B

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Kiss-in seeks domestic partner benefits for U of H

Pucker up!

Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday, while some battle the supermarket crowds for chocolate and champagne and others battle  that soul-sucking feeling that they will be alone forever, students at the University of Houston will be battling for equal benefits for LGBT employees.

“Our LGBT faculty and staff at the University of Houston are not given the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts,” says James Lee, one of the student organizers. “This rally is an issue campaign to let administration know we care about our professors, directors and advisers and we think they all deserve to be treated equally.”

Lee explains that the event is not just for same-sex couples, the organizers want opposite-sex couples to participate to help demonstrate that straight and LGBT relationships are the same.  Got no one to kiss? No problem, says Lee, “We will have rally signs and other goodies you can show support with.”

The smooch-fest kicks off at 12:30 pm in Butler Plaza (in front of the MD Anderson Library).

—  admin

Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tournament at Axiom

Aces high

Hope for Peace and Justice teams up with Pocket Rockets tonight for their Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tourney and mixer. With over $400 in prizes, the event benefits the anti-bullying campaign, the Safe Schools Program. Raffles, silent auction, drinks and food make the evening an event. And don’t worry. Non-poker players are just as welcome. Hey, it is a mixer, also.

DEETS: Axiom Sushi Lounge,  4123 Cedar Springs Road. 6:30 p.m.

—  Rich Lopez