Dallas County adds sexual orientation — but not gender identity — to nondiscrimination policy

Clay Jenkins

The Dallas County Commissioners Court voted earlier today to add sexual orientation to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

However, the amendment adding “sexual orientation” to the policy does not include gender identity/expression, meaning it covers gay and lesbian employees but not transgender workers.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, and Commissioner Elba Garcia told Instant Tea they were under the impression that sexual orientation includes gender identity/expression, which it does not. Jenkins and Garcia, both Democrats who took office in January, spearheaded the proposal to add sexual orientation to the policy.

Jenkins and Garcia said there was no debate on or opposition to the amendment adding sexual orientation to the policy, which first appeared on the court’s briefing agenda a month ago. The policy covers the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

“Dr. Garcia and I talked about this before we were elected, and it was a campaign promise,” Jenkins said. “This is something we wanted to do as quickly as possible. We wanted to send a message by doing this as quickly as we did that it was long overdue.”

The city of Dallas’ employment nondiscrimination policy has included sexual orientation since 1995. However, a Republican majority on the Commissioners Court reportedly has prevented Dallas County from enacting similar protections. Jenkins and Garcia, along with Commissioner John Wiley Price, comprise a Democratic majority on the Commissioners Court for the first time in three decades.

Jenkins and Garcia said they also want to add domestic partner benefits for county employees, but first they must determine what the fiscal impact would be. The county is facing a $33 million budget shortfall this year.

Jenkins said he’s asked the county’s budget director to determine how much offering domestic partner benefits would cost, adding that he believes the county-owned Parkland hospital is at a “huge competitive disadvantage” without them.

“I think it’s very important that we send a message as an employer that we will be competitive with the rest of the marketplace,” he said.

Jenkins also said that while he thought it was covered by sexual orientation, he’d be willing to revisit the issue of adding gender identity/expression to the nondiscrimination policy.

“It was our intent in adding sexual orientation to broaden that to include all members of the GLBT community,” he said.

—  John Wright

Lawmakers to file DOMA repeal Wednesday

Federal District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts has ruled — in two separate cases, no less — that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and the Justice Department, under his administration, will no longer defend it in court.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said that the House of Representatives will defend DOMA in court since the Obama administration won’t.

And now, a group of five U.S. senators is set to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut will officially announce their DOMA repeal bill in a press conference at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday in the Senate Office Building.

Of course, with Republicans in charge of the House already having announced their plans to defend DOMA in court, and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s not likely that Obama will get to keep his campaign promise this year. Still, it’s nice to know DOMA repeal is still on the agenda.

—  admin

Military will write rules on repeal of gay ban

LOLITA C. BALDOR  |  Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Gays and lesbians will be treated just like any other soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines, the new rules say. But commanders will have some flexibility when they believe it’s needed to maintain order and discipline in their units.

As the U.S. military begins to map out how it will implement the new edict allowing gays to serve openly, the first order of business is drafting the regulations. The rule changes under discussion won’t dictate how troops feel about the change, but will strictly enforce how they act on it.

The U.S. Senate voted Saturday, Dec. 18, to repeal the ban on openly gay service, following earlier action by the Congress. Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Wednesday. But in letters to the troops over the weekend, the four military service chiefs warned that the ban is still in place, and will be for some time to come.

“The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately; it will take time,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in an e-mail to airmen. “Meanwhile, the current law remains in effect. All Air Force members should conduct themselves accordingly.”

Recommendations to implement the repeal were outlined in a 67-page report last month, and now must be formed into concrete regulations. Defense officials said Monday that they still don’t know how long it will take before the Pentagon completes its implementation plan and certifies the change will not damage combat readiness. Once certified, the implementation would begin 60 days later.

The report, however, provides a fairly detailed preview of what troops and the American public can expect, once the new rules are in place.

It puts the heaviest burden on commanders who will have to walk a fine line between enforcing the updated code of military conduct and recognizing when they may need to make some concessions.

The plans call for strict and immediate action when the new rules are violated. But there is also an emphasis on educating troops who are having problems. For example, in a series of vignettes listed in the report, the first course of action is often counseling.

What if a recruiter refuses to process recruits who say they are gay? What about a sailor who requests a new sleeping area to get away from a gay roommate? Can a service member file a complaint against a chaplain who preaches against homosexuality? And can a gay or lesbian service member get leave to travel home when their partner is ill?

In each case the recommended process is careful and deliberate. The recruiter and the sailor should be counseled about the new rules — but in both cases commanders have the authority to approve a move if they believe it’s necessary in order to maintain unit stability. And, yes, chaplains can still preach what they believe.

The health and social benefits, however, are a murky area that Pentagon officials say they are trying to work through.

In some cases, service members may be able to designate a same-sex partner for benefits. In most cases, however, they are treated much like unmarried heterosexual couples. So, same-sex partners will probably not be able to share on-base housing, and commanders don’t have to make allowances for same-sex couples when making duty assignments around the globe.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan was peppered with questions about the progress of the implementation plan and what it will say. He said he had no answers yet, as Pentagon officials are just beginning to pull the plan together.

But he also stressed that the ban on open service is still in effect, and any service member who decided to declare he or she was gay would risk enforcement of the current law — which calls for removal from service. Under a new process put in place by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, any discharges under the so-called don’t ask, don’t tell law now have to be approved by the service secretaries.

Gates has said the military will not drag out the implementation process, but it will move carefully and deliberately.

—  John Wright

Senate vote on DADT repeal just hours away

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the standalone bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” sometime after 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, or 9:30 a.m. Dallas time, on Saturday. With at least four Republicans on board, supporters say they have the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to a final vote, which could come as early as late afternoon. From the Associated Press:

The Senate was headed toward a landmark vote Saturday on legislation that would let gays serve openly in the military, testing waning opposition among Republicans and putting Democrats within striking distance of overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Passage would be a historic victory for President Barack Obama, who made repeal of the 17-year-old law a campaign promise in 2008. It also would be a political win for congressional Democrats who have struggled repeatedly in the final hours of the lame-duck session to overcome Republican objections. …

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in U.S. history, gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers — the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — are required to certify to Congress that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ ability to fight. After that, 60 days must pass before any changes go into effect.

You can watch the historic proceedings live on the CSPAN website. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

DOJ responds to DADT ruling; Gibbs says filing doesn’t diminish Obama’s commitment to repeal

Lawyers with the Justice Department on Thursday night, Sept. 23,  asked U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips not to grant an immediate injunction ordering that the military stop enforcing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law/policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The filing came 14 days after Judge Phillips ruled that DADT is unconstitutional and should be immediately ended. ( You can read ABC News’ report here.)

The filing Thursday by DOJ lawyers asked for a “reasonable” amount of time to consider an injunction.

The fact that the government continues to defend the policy, despite President Barack Obama’s clearly and repeatedly stated opposition to DADT and his pledge to end it left Log Cabin Republicans, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit in question, more than a little angry.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans

LCR Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper issued this statement Friday morning, Sept. 24: “We are deeply disappointed with the administration’s decision. Yet again, the Obama administration has failed to live up to its campaign promise to repeal this unconstitutional law for the servicemembers of this country.”

In the same press release that included Cooper’s statement, Dan Woods, the attorney with White and Case who is representing Log Cabin in the trial, had this to say: “The Justice Department’s objections fail to recognize the implications of the government’s defeat at trial. It is as if the South announced that it won the Civil War. The objections also fail to mention that the court has previously denied the government’s requests for a stay on three prior occasions and nothing has changed to suggest that a stay is now appropriate; if anything, the Senate vote this week shows that the court was correct in denying the prior requests for a stay. But what is most troubling is that the government’s request for a stay ignores the harm that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ causes to current and potential members of our Armed Forces. That is the saddest, most disappointing and, in light of the president’s position, most hypocritical part of the objections.”

The Senate vote to which Woods referred was the one on Tuesday, Sept. 21, in which every Senate Republican and three Senate Democrats voted against the motion for cloture, which would have ended a Republican filibuster and forced a final vote on the Department of Defense funding bill that included an amendment repealing DADT. That bill had already passed the House. One of the Democrats who voted against the motion was Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had made the motion. He voted against it in a procedural maneuver so that he would be able to bring it up again later.

Moderate Republicans in the Senate who might otherwise have voted with the Democrats on that motion voted against it because Reid had also included an amendment dealing with immigration — the Dream Act — and had refused to allow Republicans to offer any amendments to the DOD spending measure.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday defended the DOJ’s filing, saying that it was the department’s job to defend “acts of Congress” when they are challenged. But Gates insisted the filing “in no way diminished the president’s commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT — indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy.”

Gates added: “The president was disappointed this week when a majority of the Senate was willing to proceed with the National Defense Authorization Act, but political posturing created a 60 vote threshold. The president spoke out against DADT in his first State of the Union address, and the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both testified in support of repeal. And the Department of Defense continues to work on a plan on how to implement repeal. This president, along with his administration, will continue to work will continue to work with the Senate leadership to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT as outlined in the NDAA this fall.”

UPDATE: Also Friday, a group of 69 progressive members of the House sent a letter to Obama asking that him not to appeal Phillips’ decision. Thursday’s filing was not technically an appeal, but experts say it was a strong indication that the DOJ does plan to appeal. For more on the letter, go here.

—  admin