Dallas pension board comes to LGBT benefit compromise


Former Dallas City Councilman Chris Luna discussing the pension board’s options

Dallas City Council members Lee Kleinman and Carolyn Davis, who sit on the city employee pension board, led the fight for equal pension benefits for the city’s LGBT employees at a meeting held today (Feb. 10).

John Jenkins, a pension board member who works for Park and Recreation, said, “Some action needs to be taken today,” also arguing for equal benefits.

Former city Councilman Chris Luna appeared at the meeting to explain the IRS ruling that says pensions must be in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v Windsor to remain tax exempt. That means offering equal benefits to same-sex married couples, no matter where they live as long as they were married in a marriage equality state, Luna said.

The pension board’s attorney, Gary Lawson, however, advised that the Windsor decision and the subsequent IRS ruling don’t apply to the city’s pension. He also argued state law doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage — but didn’t explain in open session why state law that has been found unconstitutional trumps federal law or IRS regulations directed at federally chartered pensions.

But Jenkins said other attorneys have advised him differently.

“If you’re African-American, the law has been on the wrong side of history plenty of times,” Jenkins said.

While the board discussed how they would eventually have same-sex couples prove their marriages by presenting their marriage licenses, the pension fund already offers benefits to opposite-sex couples who are not married but sign a common-law marriage document.

The compromise unanimously approved today asks the city attorney for a written opinion and the IRS for an expedited ruling on the Dallas pension. Pending a favorable opinion by the city attorney, benefits will then be offered to same-sex couples. Also in the resolution is the stipulation that should the Supreme Court rule against marriage equality and uphold the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, an attempt will be made to recoup any benefits given to same-sex couples.

The city’s police and fire pension board is having similar problems offering its LGBT employees equal pension benefits and meets later this week.

—  David Taffet

GLBT Chamber announces 2012 award winners

Jack Evans, left, and George Harris

George Harris and Jack Evans, the local gay couple whom David Taffet profiled on the occasion of their 50th anniversary last year, will pick up another honor later this month from the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. Evans and Harris will collect the chamber’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award during the group’s seventh annual dinner, set for March 28 at the Adolphus Hotel. Others who’ll be honored at the dinner are listed below. For more information or to register for the dinner, go here.

—  John Wright

ELECTION: Mayor’s role vital for LGBTs

Gay former councilman says that choice between Rawlings, Kunkle means gay community ‘can’t lose’

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Even though Dallas has a “weak mayor” form of government where the city manager is the person with actual control over the city’s day-to-day operations, having mayor who supports LGBT equality is still very important for Dallas’ LGBT community, advocates said this week.

Voters go to the polls Saturday, June 18, to decide whether Mike Rawlings or David Kunkle will replace Tom Leppert, who resigned from office earlier this year to run to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. Although Leppert reached out to the LGBT community for votes, pledging his support on LGBT equality issues, when he ran against gay candidate Ed Oakley in 2007, in recent months he appeared to backtrack on those issues as he prepared for his senate campaign.

Ed Oakley

Oakley, a former City Council member, said this week that having elected officials who understand and embrace the diversity of the city played an integral part in progress the city has made on LGBT issues.

“We wouldn’t have passed [the] nondiscrimination [ordinance including protections for LGBT people] if Laura Miller wasn’t sitting in that [the mayor’s] seat,” he said.

Miller, who had campaigned on adding a nondiscrimination ordinance, put it at the top of her agenda when she came into office.

“The city manager could not have done that,” Oakley said. “The mayor accomplishes what he wants to accomplish.”

Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink agreed.

“Until Laura Miller made it [the nondiscrimination ordinance] a priority and put it on the agenda, it didn’t happen,” she said.

She said that although the city has a strong city manager form of government, the mayor can be an advocate, and he or she is the one that presides over the council that sets policy.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said the mayor is the face of the city.

“The mayor makes sure people and city services are being taken care of. He makes sure our civil rights are being protected. His big job is promoting the city,” Narvaez said.

And the city’s LGBT community can play a big role in who wins the seat this year.

In the general election on May 14, turnout in what are considered the top 10 precincts in the LGBT community, mostly in Oak Lawn and North Oak Cliff, was 38 percent, compared to a citywide turnout rate of only 11 percent.

Patti Fink

And if early voting totals are any indication, LGBT voters have the chance to play an even bigger role in the runoff outcome. In the May election, 46,109 people voted early in Dallas County.

In the runoff, only 27,962 voted early.

Narvaez said that because voter turnout is traditionally low in runoff elections, the LGBT community could decide the mayor’s race.

“People [in our community] were heavily engaged in this election,” Narvaez said. “I don’t see them suddenly not voting for mayor.”

While DGLA and Stonewall Democrats have both endorsed David Kunkle in the runoff, Mike Rawlings has the support of many members of the LGBT community, including several gay former elected officials.

Both candidates actively sought the endorsement of both DGLA and Stonewall, and both have actively campaigned in the community.

Oakley said that Rawlings’ life experiences are different than some members of the City Council that Oakely served with who did not support LGBT issues.

“He faced our issues in the corporate world,” Oakley said.

He said that Rawlings’ company, Pizza Hut, had nondiscrimination policies in place and embraced diversity.

Fink said Kunkle has a prove, and public, record on LGBT issues.

“Kunkle has a proven record working in the community and being an advocate for us,” she said, noting that as police chief, Kunkle turned the LGBT Dallas police liaison position into a fulltime position and presided over the police department while an officer transitioned without incident and with his support.

“And we worked with him on diversity training,” she said.

Former Dallas City Councilmember Chris Luna said, “The biggest role the mayor plays is cheerleader, spokesperson and figurative head of government.”

Chris Luna

He said that when something like the Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth or a raid at a gay bathhouse happens, the mayor’s job is to say, “This is wrong. I’m going to go gather the facts.”

The mayor needs to know when something’s wrong, he said.

“That’s why so many people feel burned by Leppert,” he said.

Luna said that the mayor also appoints the chairs to all boards and commissions, which many council members served on before being elected to office and Rawlings was president of the park board.

The mayor makes committee assignments. When Councilmember Angela Hunt opposed Leppert’s positions, he took away those assignments away.

“The mayor helps distribute the power,” Luna said.

In the race between Kunkle and Rawlings, Luna said, “I have my preference, but from a community standpoint, we can’t lose.”

—  John Wright

Lauding Chris Luna

Chris Luna

Dallas Voice readers might recognize Chris Luna as one of the city’s openly gay former City Council members and for his work with various organizations in the LGBT community. But he is getting recognition outside our community, as well.

Luna is one of 20 recipients, chosen from among more than 100 nominees, of the 2011 Minority Business Leader Award recently presented by the Dallas Business Journal. Recipients this year included nine minority business executives and 11 minority business owners, chosen based on the impact they have had on their companies and on their volunteer efforts in their communities.

You can read the DBJ’s article on the awards here, and to see the short video of Luna played at the awards ceremony, look at the bottom of this post.

Luna was also recently named as “Volunteer of the Year” for the Richardson Chamber of Commerce. He serves on the chamber’s board and is vice chairman for budget and finance.


—  admin

Pioneering Dallas activist Jésus Chaíréz to appear at gay LULAC meeting this week

Jésus Chaíréz
Jésus Chaíréz

Longtime Dallas activist Jésus Chaíréz is living the good (retired) life in Mexico City these days, but he’ll be in Dallas this week to attend the regular monthly meeting of LULAC 4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council, and he is asking all his friends here in Big D to come see him at the meeting.

Officials with LULAC 4871 recently announced that they have named their annual scholarship in honor of Chaíréz, and he is attending the meeting during which the scholarship will be awarded. The meeting is set for Wednesday, June 16, at 6:30 p.m., at Havana, 4006 Cedar Springs Road.

In honor of national Gay Pride Month, LULAC 4871 will also be honoring some other Latino legends in Dallas’ LGBT community, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and former Dallas City Council members John Loza and Chris Luna.

“I don’t know how long I will be in Dallas, and there is never enough time to see the many friends that I know, so please, if you can, come to this meeting located in el corazon de Oak Lawn. Hope you can make the meeting, not only to see each other but also to meet members of a great GLBT Latino organization that is kicking nalga — I mean doing great work in our community,” Chaíréz said.

—  admin