Grief, anger, vows to overcome at Fort Worth vigil for Orlando

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A standing-room-only crowd of 500-plus people packed into the sanctuary of Fort Worth’s Celebration Community Church Monday evening, June 13, for a vigil in memory of the victims killed and injured in the Sunday morning shooting at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando.

After the church’s choir opened the evening with the song “Orphans of God” — There are no strangers; there are no outcasts, there are no orphans of God. So many fallen, but hallelujah, there are no orphans of God — city leaders and pastors and leaders from LGBT and mainstream churches around Fort Worth offered comfort, encouragement and hope.

Mayor Betsy Price spoke of overcoming the kind of evil that lies at the root of the Orlando massacre, and Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald pledged that his department would make every effort to keep similar attacks from happening here. The chief asked the community to always contact his department with any concerns, and he introduced a member of FWPD’s Code Blue Training program who then spoke of her nephew who was killed in the Orlando shooting.

One pastor spoke of gay bars as being sacred places of refuge for LGBT people when there were no churches or other places that offered shelter and comfort. Another recalled the 1973 arson fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in which 32 people were killed. Even as the community grieves for the victims of Orlando, he said, we must realize how far we have come since 1973, as the world grieves with us this time.

Another speaker described his anger, but pledged to put aside anger and instead respond with love. And one woman from a mainstream church apologized that she and many mainstream churches have not stepped up sooner to treat the LGBT community with love and respect.

Ministers read the names of the Orlando dead as a candle was lit for each one. Then Fort Worth District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh lit one candle in honor of all victims of violence, Fitzgerald lit one candle in honor of the first responders, and Price lit one candle in honor of the wounded in Orlando. The service ended with the “passing of the light,” as people moved through the building, using their candles to lit candles held by those standing near them.

—  Tammye Nash

Price named chair of organization devoted to electing Republicans

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in the Tarrant County Pride Parade last year.

Mayor Betsy Price riding in Tarrant County’s LGBT Pride parade

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has been named chair of the Community Leaders of America, “the national caucus of Republican mayors and city council members,” according to a statement released today (Wednesday, Jan. 20), by the CLA.

“Up until just over two years ago there was no national strategy focused on supporting conservatives running for mayor and city council. CLA’s commitment to supporting these Republican officeholders and candidates is unrivaled, and I’m proud to continue that record of support in the elections ahead,” Price said in the CLA statement. “I look forward to working with my fellow conservative municipal elected officials to take advantage of the opportunities to grow and expand the Republican Mayors and City Council caucus.”

Outgoing CLA Chair Richard J. Berry, mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., praised Price as “one of the hardest working mayors I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years,” and said her “focus on the issues has made Fort Worth a national leader when it comes to health, jobs, safety, and community engagement.”

Price, a Fort Worth native, was first elected mayor of Cowtown in 2011, just two years after a raid by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents and some Fort Worth Police officers on a gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge made international headlines. Although municipal elections in Texas are nonpartisan, Price’s status as a Republican was well established — she had served as treasurer of Tarrant County for several years, and those elections are partisan — and the city’s LGBT leaders initially worried that she might derail progress toward LGBT equality the city had made since the raid.

But while she hasn’t been actively promoting LGBT issues at the city level, Price has pretty much stuck by the promise she made during her first campaign to treat everyone equally and fairly. She has served as grand marshal of the city’s annual gay Pride parade, and last fall helped kick off Tarrant County Gay Pride Week, among other things.

“I am the mayor for everybody,” Price said at Pride Week festivities.

When I got the email with the statement from the CLA, I decided to check into that organization’s mission and goals. After all, Republican organizations overall are not known for being particularly LGBT-friendly. So I sent CLA an email:

“I am editor of Dallas Voice, and I received your email regarding Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price being named chair of your organization. Can you tell me where CLA stands on issues related to LGBT equality? Thank you.”

I quickly received this answer:

“Hi Nash – thanks for the note.

The Community Leaders of America (CLA) is the caucus of America’s local elected Republican leaders with representatives from every state and from communities of all sizes. CLA was created as a direct response to the lack of a unified national strategy supporting Republicans running for local elected offices.

“Unlike their state and federal counterparts, America’s local leaders live and work in the very communities they represent. Their constituents are the families they see in the work place, at the grocery store, or out and about in the community every single day. Choosing to push a problem in need of a solution off to another day, or legislative session, is not an option for these local leaders. They must govern and lead practically, in a principled, efficient, and effective manner. These selfless individuals, and the communities they represent, are the ideas engines that will help propel America down a path where every community has the opportunity to thrive and prosper for generations to come.

“Thanks,

“Ben Cannatti

“Political and Communications Director

“Community Leaders of America”

So yeah, I still have no idea what Community Leaders of America thinks about us LGBT folks. But I am going to give Mayor Price the benefit of the doubt on this one. After all, she hasn’t done us wrong so far.

—  Tammye Nash

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price: ‘We are proud to be a diverse community in our views and beliefs’

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in the Tarrant County Pride Parade last year.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in the 2012 Tarrant County Pride Parade.

In a statement provided to Dallas Voice, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, a LGBT ally, chimed in on the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality this morning:

“My focus as Mayor has always been on ensuring that our community leads the nation as a model of compassion and unity for all people. While city government officials have no authority to implement or authorize laws pertaining to marriage, the City of Fort Worth has been a trailblazer in equal employment opportunities, benefits for domestic partners, and citywide protections and equality for all,” she said. “We are proud to be a diverse community in our views and beliefs.  As Texas takes action to implement this historic Supreme Court decision, I know our citizens will respect one another, and continue moving forward as a community of one, standing together united.”

—  James Russell

Anti-gay preacher arrested at Tarrant Pride awaits trial date, can’t leave area

A protester from Joey Faust’s Kingdom Baptist Church holds a sign near the Tarrant County Courthouse during gay Pride.

Christian News Network is reporting that Joey Faust, a preacher from the town of Venus south of Fort Worth who was arrested at the Tarrant County Pride Parade, is still awaiting a trial date. As a condition for his bail, Faust must report to his bondsman once a week to let him know he hasn’t skipped town.

Faust was arrested with a member of his church when he tried to enter the street during the parade. Police were watching for him because in 2011 he entered the street during the parade and reached into Mayor Betsy Price’s car. Price was grand marshal that year.

Faust, pastor of Kingdom Baptist Church, was charged with interfering with police duties and told Christian News he was held for 20 hours and released on $1,500 bail. He faces up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

“They did everything they could to make it as miserable and as difficult as possible,” Faust told Christian News Network. He said everyone else was being released faster than they were.

Faust’s defense seems to be that others were allowed to cross the street, while he and his small band of protesters were forced to stay on the sidewalk.

Faust told Christian News he asked police why only those opposed to homosexuality were restricted.

Police told him they were separating them for safety reasons.

—  David Taffet

Keller teen to ask mayor to sign marriage pledge

Isaiah Smith, left, collecting signatures in Keller. (Screen grab from KDAF Channel 33)

KELLER — Sixteen-year-old Isaiah Smith wants Keller Mayor Pat McGrail to join the mayors of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and several smaller cities in Texas by signing Freedom to Marry’s pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price have declined to sign the pledge, which now contains the signatures of more than 150 mayors nationwide.

Smith said he’ll be at Keller City Hall this afternoon to address city officials at the the regularly scheduled council meeting. Smith is a junior at Keller High School, but he said he’s not acting on behalf of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance. He said he’s going to City Hall with just one other friend and thinks his mayor should do the right thing.

“I’ll be giving a speech on why he should sign,” Smith told Instant Tea.

McGrail would become the first North Texas mayor to sign, if he listens to his young constituent.

Smith has also been collecting signatures on a petition calling for the council to pass an ordinance outlawing discrimination in restaurants in the city. He will present the petition to the City Council later this month.

Last week in a statewide day of action, callers contacted Rawlings to keep up the pressure to sign the pledge.

—  David Taffet

Fort Worth’s Betsy Price won’t sign marriage pledge; N. Texas still has no mayors on list

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in the Tarrant County Pride Parade last year.

In case you missed it, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price issued a statement the other day saying she doesn’t plan to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage. Although Price is a Republican, she expressed support for the LGBT community during her campaign last year and served as grand marshal of the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade in October. On the marriage pledge issue, however, Price is a taking similar tack to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings:

“I remain focused on the business of the City of Fort Worth,” Price said in a statement. “The issue of same sex marriage is one for the state, not local government.”

Six Texas mayors have now joined about 100 others from across the U.S. in signing the pledge in support of same-sex marriage, according to Freedom to Marry. But none of those six is from North Texas, which is kinda sad. After all, Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S., so you’d think we’d have a least one name on the list. As it stands, Bexar County is leading the way in the Lone Star State with three mayors who’ve signed the pledge: Julian Castro of San Antonio, Bruce Smiley-Kalff of Castle Hills (pop. 4,202) and A. David Marne of Shavano Park (pop. 1,754). The other three mayors from Texas are Annise Parker of Houston, Joe Jaworski of Galveston and Lee Leffingwell of Austin.

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for coverage of tonight’s protest outside Dallas City Hall and Saturday’s meeting between Mayor Rawlings and LGBT leaders. I’ll also do my best to keep you updated on Twitter, where someday I hope to have 1,000 followers.

—  John Wright

What’s ahead for LGBTs in Dallas, Fort Worth under cities’ new mayors

Dallas-mayor elect Mike Rawlings and his family were led in a prayer by the Rev. Steven C. Nash of Mount Tabor Baptist Church following his victory speech on Saturday. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

With municipal election runoffs finally complete in North Texas, LGBT advocates in Dallas and Fort Worth said they are looking forward to working with new mayors and councilmembers in both cities.

Mayoral runoff candidates in both cities openly and diligently courted LGBT voters, and all four candidates participated in forums specifically addressing LGBT issues. Advocates said those efforts indicate that Dallas Mayor-elect Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor-elect Betsy Price will likely be willing to work with the LGBT community in the years to come.

Fort Worth

“I was very pleased that both candidates, Betsy Price and Jim Lane, had an open dialog with our community during the runoff campaign,” Fairness Fort Worth President Thomas Anable said. “And I believe we can continue making the kind of progress we have made over the last two years as we go forward with Betsy Price as our mayor.”

Price, former Tarrant County tax assessor/collector, defeated lawyer and former City Council member Jim Lane, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Anable noted that Price and her husband, in another outreach to the LGBT community, attended Celebration Community Church on the Sunday before the June 18 runoff vote. Celebration, pastured by the Rev. Carol West, has a primarily LGBT congregation.

Anable said the city’s Employee Health Benefits Committee is expected to present estimates to the council during negotiations on the FY 2011 budget on costs associated with expanding health care benefits for the city’s transgender employees. Including insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery is the only one of 20 recommendations made by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force — convened in 2009 following the Rainbow Lounge raid — that has not already been implemented.

Although the city now offers domestic partner benefits, Anable said, the employee is required to pay the full cost of those benefits. The Employee Health Benefits Committee is also investigating the cost to the city to pay the same percentage on DP benefits that it already pays on benefits for employees’ opposite-gender spouses and children.

“We have already completed diversity training for 20 percent of the city’s employees, and with Mayor-elect Price having said she is on board with continuing that training, and with set-asides for GLBT-owned businesses, we are looking forward to working with her on these and other issues,” Anable said. “I have to say I am very pleased with the way the [electoral] process worked in Fort Worth.”

Dallas

In Dallas, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez and Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink said they are looking forward to a productive relationship with Mayor-elect Mike Rawlings, even though both organizations endorsed his opponent, David Kunkle, in the runoff.

Rawlings defeated Kunkle, 56 percent to 44 percent.

“We had some differences in policy approaches during the election cycle itself, but I fully expect that Mayor-elect Rawlings and DGLA will have a good working relationship going forward,” Fink said. “I know that DGLA will work to have a good relationship, and I don’t expect that Mayor-elect Rawlings would want any less.

“Elections are a time when we have some heated discussions about who we want to lead our city, but when it’s done, we all come together and work for what’s best for the city,” Fink added.

DGLA endorsed another candidate, Ron Natinsky, in the general election, at the same time issuing a rare warning against Rawlings, saying that Rawlings seemed likely to put business considerations ahead of human rights considerations.

However, when Natinsky failed to make the runoff, DGLA gave its endorsement to Kunkle without re-issuing the warning against Rawlings.
Narvaez said that while members of his organization that their endorsed candidate did not win, “we are looking forward to working with Mike Rawlings…. I think we will see some really good things coming out of the City Council in the next few years.”

Narvaez said that although Stonewall Democrats endorsed Kunkle as an organization, “we had several members who supported Rawlings and worked on his campaign and with him. Mike Rawlings is a great idea man who will work well with all the communities in our city. I don’t think he is the kind of person to hold a grudge. He is too mature for something like that. He is a bigger man than that.”

Narvaez said the fact that Kunkle came out ahead in voting precincts identified as being heavily LGBT means that Rawlings “knows he has some work to do in the LGBT community.” But, he added, he believes the mayor-elect is willing to do that work.

“I think he will be there to support our community, and we will support him as well, because our main mission is to move Dallas forward and make it a better, more inclusive city for everyone.”

Both Narvaez and Fink said they are excited about the LGBT Pride month reception planned for Monday at Dallas City Hall, during which Councilwoman Delia Jasso will present an LGBT Pride Month proclamation from the council.

“We can start working on it now, and maybe next year we can have a whole month of Pride events [involving city officials],” Fink said. “We heard a lot of support for that across the board from council candidates and council members who screened with us during the election.”

Narvaez added, “Hopefully next year, the Pride Month celebration will include a rainbow flag flying over City Hall.”

Narvaez said he hopes to see the City Council move forward in the coming months with plans to form and city human rights commission or board, and that Stonewall Democrats will continue to work with city officials to find ways to reinstate city funding for HIV/AIDS services and programs.

Fink said that while the city already has numerous policies and protections in place for its LGBT employees and citizens, “we want to work to ensure that those policies and protections are optimized.”

—  John Wright

ELECTIONS: Rawlings, Price cruise to victory; Hightower narrowly defeated in Arlington

Dallas Mayor-elect Mike Rawlings celebrates his victory at the Meddlesome Moth on Saturday night. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Anti-gay robocalls may have been difference in Arlington race, as gay candidate loses by just 74 votes

FROM STAFF REPORTS

Mike Rawlings and Betsy Price cruised to victories in runoffs for mayor in Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively, on Saturday night, while Chris Hightower was narrowly defeated in his bid to become Arlington’s first openly gay council member.

Hightower was one of three openly gay candidates who lost city council races in Texas on Saturday, along with Randi Shade in Austin and Elena Guajardo in San Antonio.

According to unofficial results, with all precincts reporting, Hightower was defeated by just 74 votes. District 5 incumbent Lana Wolff captured 997 votes to Hightower’s 923, or 52 percent to 48 percent, and it may have been some rabidly anti-gay last-minute robocalls that made
the difference.

Chris Hightower delivers his concession speech Saturday night at Arlington’s Atomic Cafe. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Hightower himself declined to comment on the calls, saying “I’m not going to even give that any credibility.”

One of the calls, recorded by a Hightower supporter, was made by a man identifying himself as Joe Barnett, who called Hightower “a convicted sex pervert,” a “sex creep,” and “this weirdo.”

The caller also warned voters that they needed to “protect our children and our grandchildren from sex perverts running around our neighborhoods.”

The call ended with Barnett encouraging residents to “vote for a Wolff, not a pervert.”

The caller also said Hightower had been arrested and jailed for “sex crimes,” and that he’d pleaded guilty and been given probation,
allegations that Hightower’s mother, former state Rep. Paula Hightower Pierson, said Saturday night were patently false.

The incident to which the caller was apparently referring occurred in the 1990s when Hightower owned a gift and video store on Jennings Street in Fort Worth. When someone complained to police that Hightower was selling gay pornography, police raided the shop, confiscating the videos and arresting Hightower on a misdemeanor charge.

The charges were later determined to be unfounded and were dismissed, and Hightower has no criminal record.

Hightower led by 31 votes after the early ballots were counted, giving his supporters who had gathered at Arlington’s Atomic Café high hopes for the outcome. But after ballots were tallied from the first two ballot boxes — in precincts where Hightower had been expected to do well —
his lead had dropped to only two votes, and his supporters’ hopes begin to dim.

When vote counts had been counted from four of five boxes, leaving only those precincts that were strongest for Wolff yet to be tallied, the incumbent led by 35 votes, and Hightower conceded the race.

He thanked his supporters, friends and family, including his partner of 10 years, D.J. Johanesson who, Hightower said, had been “standing behind me, every step of the way. He also offered special thanks to his mother, and to the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which had endorsed him.

“We had a lot of stuff thrown our way that wasn’t expected,”

Hightower said in an oblique reference to the anti-gay tactics, “and they [the Victory Fund] helped us learn how to handle that.”

Hightower said he and his supporters had run “a good, hard, positive campaign,” adding that he believes this campaign had “laid the
groundwork” for the future.

“We’re not going to stop here,” he declared, drawings cheers from the crowd.

“I am proud of Arlington,” Hightower said. “Look how far we’ve come: We almost did it! It makes me have hope for the future.”

District 5 has 21,391 registered voters, and turnout for the runoff was 9.05 percent. Turnout in the May 14 general election was 9.78 percent.

In the Dallas’ mayoral runoff, Rawlings captured 56 percent of the vote to David Kunkle’s 44 percent, or 31,077 to 24,617. The outcome of the race was apparent shortly after 7 p.m., when early voting numbers were released and put Rawlings well ahead.

Hundreds of people crowded into the Meddlesome Moth in the Design District, just across Stemmons Freeway from the gayborhood, for Rawlings’ watch party. They included openly gay former city councilmen Ed Oakley and John Loza, as well as former city plan commissioner Neil Emmons.

“If you look around this group, you can see there’s a lot of diversity here,” Rawlings said during his victory speech at about 9:30 p.m.. “That’s important. There are people here with different views, believe it or not, but instead of focusing on where we differ, we chose to focus on what brings us together.”

Kunkle, the city’s former police chief, was endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the only two LGBT groups that make endorsements in city elections. However, Rawlings had the backing of several gay former council members including Oakley, Loza, Chris Luna and Craig Holcomb.

“Stonewall Democrats and DGLA were very important endorsements for me that I’m very proud of,” Kunkle said Saturday night during his watch party at the San Francisco Rose on Greenville Avenue. “They worked very hard in the campaign.”

Former Police Chief David Kunkle shares a moment with his wife and campaign manager Sarah Dodd during his watch party at the San Francisco Rose on Greenville Avenue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

“I want to thank everyone here tonight and all those who supported me in the campaign,” Kunkle said later during his concession speech. “I called Mike Rawlings and told him I think he’ll be a great mayor for Dallas and offered him all the support I can give him.”

DGLA issued a rare warning about Rawlings before the May 14 election, saying the former Pizza Hut CEO’s “passion for commerce and business interests supremely outweights his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.” Rawlings adamantly denied the allegation, which was based on a statement he made in an interview with the group, and DGLA chose not to re-issue its warning in the runoff.

Oakley, who initially endorsed Ron Natinsky then got behind Rawlings in the runoff, said he isn’t worried about the new mayor on LGBT issues.

“The city’s going to be in good hands,” Oakley said at the Rawlings watch party. “We couldn’t have gone wrong with any of the three candidates as far as our issues go.”

Four years ago, Oakley was defeated in a runoff for mayor by a similar margin against Tom Leppert, who recently came out against both same-sex marriage and civil unions after stepping down to run for U.S. Senate.

Asked whether he thinks there’s any risk Rawlings would betray the LGBT community in the same manner as Leppert, Oakley responded, “I told him I’d hunt him down if he did.”

Also in Dallas, Sandy Greyson, who has a pro-LGBT voting record in public office, defeated Donna Starnes in a runoff for Natinsky’s old seat. Greyson voted in favor of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, when she was on the council in 2002. She also voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to DART’s nondiscrimination policy in 1995, when she sat on the transit agency’s board.

In Fort Worth, former Tax Assessor/Collector Price won the mayoral runoff over former City Councilman Jim Lane, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Price took an 18 point lead after early voting, and stayed ahead throughout the night, although Lane did close the gap to 12 percent by the end of the night.

Before the final count was in, Lane declined to concede the race but did tell reporters that Price is “smart” and will “do a good job” as mayor, according to spectators at his campaign’s watch party.

Both Fort Worth mayoral candidates had courted the LGBT vote throughout the runoff.

In other races of interest to the LGBT community:

• In the race for the Carrollton Place 2 council seat, Bonnie Kaplan, who promised to represent all citizens in her district, lost to Anthony Wilder, who used Kaplan’s statement against her. Kaplan said during the campaign that Carrollton is very diverse and she embraces the diversity. Wilder, meanwhile, said gays and Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve on boards and commissions. Kaplan received 806 votes to Wilder’s 926 votes.

• In Austin, lesbian incumbent Randi Shade lost her re-election bid to Kathie Tovo, 56 to 44 percent. Tovo was seen by many voters as the progressive in the race and had quite a bit of support in the LGBT community. Shade was endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

• In San Antonio, lesbian candidate Elena Guajardo was seeking a second term on the San Antonio City Council. She was elected to a term in 2005 but defeated in 2007. Guajardo’s opponent received 76 percent of the vote.

—  John Wright

ELECTION: Advocates urge LGBTs to vote in FW runoff

Burns: Future mayor’s support could make the difference in maintaining recent progress in Cowtown

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH  —  Spurred on by the national spotlight focused on the city in the wake of the June 28, 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge and the harsh criticism that followed, Fort Worth has in the last two years made huge strides forward in protecting its LGBT citizens and treating them fairly.

LGBT advocates and city officials alike praised that progress, boasting about how far the city has come in such a short time: The city now offers its gay and lesbian employees benefits for their same-sex partners; the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance now includes protections for transgender people, and all city employees are required to attend diversity training classes that specifically address LGBT issues.

Joel Burns

But those changes haven’t come without protest from some of the city’s more socially conservative quarters. And this year’s municipal elections provided those conservatives with a chance to use the power of their votes to turn back the clock. It seems, though, they missed their chance.

The May 14 general election saw all but two of the City Council incumbents — a majority of whom supported the changes — returned to their offices. The two not re-elected — Mayor Mike Moncrief and District 7 Councilman Carter Burdette — did not run for re-election. Both those races will be decided in the Saturday, June 18, runoff election.

The race to replace Burdette, who voted against the amendment to the nondiscrimination ordinance, comes down to Dennis Shingleton and Jon

Perry, neither of whom has made any significant outreach to the LGBT community in this race.

But the runoff battle between Betsy Price and Jim Lane to replace Moncrief as mayor has been a different story. Both candidates have expressed support for equality and fair treatment, and — for the first time ever — Fort Worth’s mayoral candidates participated in a forum specifically on LGBT issues, held June 1 and sponsored by LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce.

At that forum, but Lane and Price said they believed the protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender express ion in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance should be maintained, although Price reportedly said of the ordinance at another forum in April that she didn’t “like the idea that the city is in this business at all.”

Both candidates said they support maintaining the Fort Worth Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer position and continuing diversity education training now mandated for all city employees. Both also said they would support continuing efforts to promote Fort Worth as a tourist and convention destination within the LGBT community.

Price and Lane both said, however, that when it comes to the one remaining item on the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force’s “to-do” list — expanding health benefits for transgender city employees — they need to study the issue further before making a decision on where they stand.

Fort Worth, like other cities in the Metroplex, has a “weak mayor” form of government, one where the city manager is the one with the power to hire and fire department heads, prepare the annual budget and oversee the day-to-day operations of the city.

Yes, the City Council is the entity that hires — and fires — the city manager. And yes, the council has final say on the budget. But, as Fort Worth’s gay Councilman Joel Burns pointed out, each council member including the mayor is just one of nine votes in deciding these and other questions.

So why does it matter so much whether the new mayor of Fort Worth supports equality and fair treatment for the city’s LGBT residents? Because of what the mayor represents.

Lisa Thomas

“Yes, the mayor has one vote, the same as any other council member. But that one vote is an influential vote,” said Burns, who represents Fort Worth’s District 9 and was re-elected last month, without opposition, to a second full term.

“The mayor is in a position to take a leadership role, to use that office as a bully pulpit and set an example for other people on the council,” Burns continued. “The mayor can have a real influence on the way other council members vote on an issue.

“Look back at 2009 when we voted [to amend the nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for transgenders]. Mayor Moncrief voted with us on that issue and we won. But we might not have won without the influence his vote may have had on some other councilmembers,” Burns said.

“Plus, the mayor plays a very important role as the city’s main ambassador,” and the LGBT community benefits from having a mayor who promotes Fort Worth as a city that welcomes everyone, including LGBT visitors, and that treats its own LGBT citizens fairly, Burns said.

Burns said this week he doesn’t expect to see many LGBT issues coming before the council in the near future; of the 20 initiatives and changes proposed by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force in the months after the Rainbow Lounge raid, 19 have already been approved and implemented.

The one proposal not yet approved involves health care benefits for trans employees. City staff have been studying the potential costs of expanding those benefits and results of that research is likely to be presented when the council considers the budget later this year.

While the city has made tremendous progress, Burns said, LGBT residents need to stay involved and informed, and they need to get out and vote in the runoff on Saturday.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said, “but now we need to make sure we don’t take any steps backward.”

Lisa Thomas, an openly gay member of Fort Worth’s Human Rights Commission and president of Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, echoed Burns’ sentiments.

“I believe it is imperative that we elect a mayor in Fort Worth that supports the rights of all citizens and visitors,” Thomas said in an email this week to Dallas Voice.

“The LGBT community has come so far in the past two years. … But there is more to be done, and we need a mayor that understands our issues and will strive with us to address the remaining recommendations [of the Diversity Task Force] and continue to improve the working relationships that have been developed,” Thomas said.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Early voting begins today in runoffs for mayor in Dallas and Fort Worth

Mike Rawlings, left, and David Kunkle, are in runoff for Dallas mayor.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Early voting begins today in runoffs for mayor in Dallas and Fort Worth. For a complete list of voting locations and times in Dallas, go here, and for Fort Worth, go here.

2. Lisa Stone’s friends held a vigil Sunday in Mesquite to mark one year since the gay Dallas woman vanished. Watch a report on the vigil from NBC 5 below.

3. Check out our photo slideshow from Razzle Dazzle Dallas.

View more videos at: http://nbcdfw.com.

—  John Wright