WATCH: Joel Burns, Fort Worth City Council proclaim Bullying Awareness Day

The other day we told you the city of Fort Worth was set to proclaim Bullying Awareness Day on Oct. 12, which will mark the one-year anniversary of gay Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” speech. Courtesy of the city’s YouTube channel, below is video of Burns addressing the council on Tuesday morning and reading the proclamation. A press release from Burns’ office, along with the full text of the proclamation, is after the jump.

—  John Wright

FFW, Fort Worth HRC win IAOHRA President’s Award

Anable, Tucker say honor is recognition of Fort Worth’s ongoing efforts to improve city’s position, policies on human rights issues

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

AUSTIN — The International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies this week presented its President’s Award jointly to Fairness Fort Worth and the city of Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission.

The award presentation occurred during the IAOHRA’s annual conference held the first part of this week in Austin.

“It was totally unexpected, at least from our standpoint,” said Tom Anable, Fairness Fort Worth president. “I had no idea that this was happening.

“They lured me down here [to Austin] by asking me to speak as part of a panel on Tuesday. When the panel was done and I was getting ready to leave, they asked me to stay for the dinner that night” when the award was presented.

Anable said that he believes the award will help the city of Fort Worth in terms of economic development and in being recognized as a city that cares about its citizens.
He added that he hopes it will encourage “other agencies in stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Anable also said he “couldn’t be more pleased” that the IAOHRA gave the award to the FFW and the city Human Relations Commission jointly.

“It shows that they recognize how well we work together to solve our problems in Fort Worth,” he said. “And this is a huge coup for the city. They have done a great job in addressing the problems.”

Human Relations Commission Chair Estrus Tucker said his agency is “deeply honored” to have received the IAOHRA President’s Award.

“This award is a testament to the invaluable role of organizational allies and friendships beyond identity politics in advancing civil and human rights,” Tucker said.

“Together, our efforts, in collaboration with others, demonstrate the importance of championing our common human well being, despite the socio-political identity labels that too often divide and confuse us.”

Anable and Tucker said FFW and the Human Relations Commission received the award in recognition of their efforts in the wake of the June, 2009 raid on the gay bar Rainbow Lounge by Fort Worth Police officers and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Within a week of the raid, Fairness Fort Worth was formed, initially to help organize efforts by FWPD and TABC investigators to interview witnesses to the raid.

By the beginning of 2010, FFW had incorporated and has gone on to become an umbrella organization of sorts that helps coordinate LGBT rights efforts and events among other organizations and governmental agencies.

The Human Relations Commission took an early leadership role in prompting FWPD and TABC to investigate the actions of those officers and agents involved in the role, and in prompting the city government to respond quickly and appropriately.

The City Council quickly established a Diversity Task Force — which included several members of Fairness Fort Worth and the Human Relations Commission — to examine areas in which the city could improve its relationship with the Fort Worth LGBT community. The council eventually approved all of the task force’s recommendations except one involving expanding health benefits for transgender employees.

That one item has been tabled pending ongoing investigation into possible costs. But the council did quickly approve changes to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression, and the council approved domestic partner benefits.

The council also agreed to expanding diversity training to cover more LGBT issues, and to have every city employee take the training.

“By Sept. 15 this year, we should be at the 50 percent mark in terms of the number of city employees who have been through the diversity training,” Anable said this week. “I think that shows the city’s continuing commitment to this issue.”

Tucker agreed, saying, “Our continued efforts and this award, in part, transform the pain and injustices of the Rainbow Lounge incident.”

Tucker, chair of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission for about 10 years, has also been an IOHRA member for about 10 years. He was elected to the board last year to serve the remainder of the unexpired term of Vanessa Ruiz Bolling, former executive director of Fort Worth’s Community Relations Department.

This week, Tucker was re-elected to a full term on the board.

IAOHRA is a private, non-profit corporation founded in 1949 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. With a membership of about 160 human rights agencies in the U.S. and Canada, the organization’sprimary focus is to promote civil and human rights around the world.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

AOC holds ‘Evening of Hope’

CELEBRATING | Sandy Lanier, center, co-founder of AIDS Outreach Center’s Sandy Lanier Nutrition Center, was on hand along with AOC Executive Director Allan Gould Jr., right, and AOC Director of Development Jim Downing for the agency’s second annual Evening of Hope Gala.

2nd annual gala marks Tarrant County ASO’s 25th anniversary

FROM STAFF REPORTS
editor@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — AIDS Outreach Center continued its 25th anniversary celebration in June with the second annual Evening of Hope Gala, held June 25 at Ridglea Country Club.

The event featured Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Michael Skipper as keynote speaker, along with NBC 5 news anchor Scott Friedman as host. Sandy Lanier, cofounder of AOC’s Sandy Lanier Nutrition Center, was honorary chair, and Michael Cinatl was event chair.

The evening began with a VIP reception, followed by an open reception and a silent auction, then dinner, a live auction and dancing.

AOC Executive Director Allan Gould Jr. said that as the country marks the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS, AOC is, after 25 years, celebrating its transition from its initial purpose of providing end-of-life services to those with AIDS to today’s mission of “giving those with HIV/AIDS a promising future, with hope through ongoing scientific advancements.”

“As long as we continue to find individuals who test positive for HIV, we will remain resolute in our mission,” Gould said. “AIDS Outreach Center will grow and transform itself to be at the forefront of testing, outreach, prevention and education to halt the spread of HIV. We will be steadfast in delivering the compassionate care and essential services to those already infected/affected. We are here as long as there is a need!”

AOC is the only 501(c)(3) organization in Fort Worth serving Tarrant County and seven surrounding rural counties, offering prevention, education and outreach programs and comprehensive direct HIV support services to men, women, children, and their families.

AIDS Outreach Center also advocates for a strong and sound HIV public policy.

—  John Wright

Who decides what’s medically necessary?

Mara Keisling

Trans advocate says trans health benefits are about what medical treatments are necessary, not about cost or personal beliefs

TAMMYE NASH  | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Say the phrase “transgender health benefits,” and most people immediately think insurance coverage that pays at least some of the costs of sexual reassignment surgery. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

The problem, said National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling, is that issues of medical treatment are being made by accountants rather than by doctors. And trans-phobia is playing a role in too many of those decisions.

Neither the city of Dallas, the city of Fort Worth, Dallas County nor Tarrant County offer fully inclusive health care benefits for their employees. But they are not alone.

According to reports, when city officials in Portland, Ore., voted unanimously earlier this month to offer transgender health care benefits, the city became only the third local government in the nation to do so. San Francisco city and county — one combined government — was first, and Oregon’s Multanomah County was second.

In the business world, the odds are a little better for trans employees looking for adequate insurance coverage. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2009, 22 percent of the Fortune 100 companies offered trans-inclusive health benefits, while such benefits were offered by 7 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and 3 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies.

Still, those numbers are dishearteningly low. And sometimes, even when a trans person thinks they are covered, insurance companies — whether in an attempt to cut costs or out of anti-trans bigotry — will find a way to deny claims.

“A lot of insurance plans exclude what they call ‘transition-related care,’” Keisling said. “That can mean a lot of different things, but they all have similar implications.”

“Transition-related care” can be divided into two parts, Keisling said: the costs directly related to gender reassignment surgery, and the other treatments and services that are related, things like checking hormone levels, lab tests, and mental health services associated with the transition process.

“Even someone who has fully transitioned probably still needs to get her hormone levels checked on a regular basis. And insurance companies will deny those claims by saying they are ‘transition-related,’” Keisling said.

This is also the issue of sex-specific care, she continued. After transitioning, a trans woman will qualify for regular mammograms, but not for regular prostate exams — which she still needs, too.

And a lot of trans men face similar difficulties, Keisling said. “A trans man might need a pap smear or some other kind of gynecological care, and they are often told no, insurance won’t cover that,” she said.

She described another case in which a trans man was told by his doctors that he was facing serious gynecological problems and needed to have a hysterectomy. Because he was trans, however, insurance wouldn’t pay.

“Insurance said, ‘No. We don’t pay for sex-change operations. The doctors said this is transition surgery. This is a medically-necessary procedure.’ But they wouldn’t pay,” she said.

But in some cases, the discrimination is even more blatant.

“The insurance for federal government employees specifically excludes coverage for the costs of [gender reassignment surgery], but there have been a number of cases where that was used to exclude coverage of any type for transgenders,” Keisling said.

“I know of a federal employee who was told insurance wouldn’t pay for care for her son’s broken arm because she was transgender. Another trans woman who was anemic and needed transfusions was told insurance wouldn’t cover the treatments because she had ‘transsexual blood,’” she said.

“The list goes on and on. I know another trans woman who was playing for a woman’s softball team and broke her arm during a game,” Keisling continued. “She went to the hospital, had the X-rays and got her arm set. Then the insurance company turned around and denied the claim. They said if she weren’t transsexual, she wouldn’t have been out there playing for a women’s team and she wouldn’t have broken her arm.”

When it comes to these “really egregious stories” that are “so clearly wrong,” Keisling said, the victims can hire lawyers and get remedies through the courts. Still, she said, “You have to know what to do, how to get things fixed.” And court cases aren’t cheap, either.

Still, things do seem to be changing for the better, at least when it comes to federal employees, Keisling said. Federal officials recently issues a letter to employees stressing that when it comes to the exclusionary language in the insurance policy, “surgery means just that — surgery, not pre-operative care or post-operative care. And they stressed that this isn’t a change. They aren’t just now saying that. That has always been the rule. They just want to make sure people know the rule and follow it.”

Officials with the Veterans Administration also sent a similar letter regarding insurance coverage for transgender veterans.

But the message doesn’t seem to be filtering down to lower levels of government. For instance, mayoral runoff candidates in both Dallas and Fort Worth have said that when it comes to the question of health benefits for transgender city employees, they have to study the issue more before deciding where they stand. And for three of them — Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle in Dallas and Betsy Price in Fort Worth — it comes down to a question of costs.

Jim Lane, the other Fort Worth mayoral candidate, said at a recent candidate forum that as it had been explained to him in terms of Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome: In the 1970s, most people dismissed claims of post-traumatic stress. But as medical science has advanced, post-traumatic stress has become acknowledged as a serious problem that requires medical-necessary treatment.

That, Keisling said, is what it all comes down to: What is medically necessary? And who gets to answer that question?

“We want the insurance to cover things that are medically necessary. We are not asking them to cover things that are not medically necessary,” she said. “Boob jobs are not in the medically necessary category. Electrolysis treatments, fertility treatments — those things are not medically necessary.”

Gender transition, though, is different. And, Keisling said, the American Medical Association agrees.

“The American Medical Association has said that transition-related health care is medically necessary. It is not experimental. It is not optional. It is medically necessary,” she said. “And we don’t want insurance companies deciding what is medically necessary. We don’t want city council members deciding what’s medically necessary. We want doctors making those decisions.”

The issue of cost, Keisling said, should not be an issue at all.

In fact, according to HRC’s website on transgender health care, “the annualized costs to the employer of providing insurance coverage for transgender-related care are typically minimal” and even “negligible for medium-sized to larger employers.”

The HRC website notes that the best available data on cost comes from the city of San Francisco and San Francisco County, and only limited data is available even then, since trans benefits are a relatively recent occurrence there.

“The cost of services per employee per year was minimal, with costs per insured per year averaging between $0.77 and $0.96: less than a dollar per year per enrollee,” according to information on the HRC website, which is based on the report San Francisco Transgender Benefit: Actual Cost and Utilization (2001-2006). “The precise number of claimants is uncertain since for most years the data is reported by claim and not by claimant. Thus the average dollars per claimant per year ranged between $3,194 and $12,771. The average five-year cost per claimant was between $15,963 and $63,853 for the period from 2001-2006.”

Keisling said, “Does it cost money to offer these benefits? Sure. But the truth is, it will save more money in the long run. With the proper benefits, people get to be healthy, physically and mentally, and that has an undeniable impact on the quality of the work they do.

“The real problem is that when people think of transition and treatment for transgenders, they think of it as something dirty,” Keisling added. “But it’s not dirty. It’s not shameful. It’s just like any other kind of medical care. This is about medical treatments that are medically necessary and that’s it. That whole debate over ‘medically necessary’ is done. It’s over.

“Now the businesses are starting to fall in line, and even the federal government. Now it’s time for the cities, for the counties to get on the stick and start offering their employees the benefits they deserve.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: FW officials briefed on LGBT progress; GLAAD rips Houston’s Fox affiliate

Jon Nelson

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Fort Worth officials received a briefing Tuesday on progress the city has made in addressing the concerns of the LGBT community in the nearly two years since the Rainbow Lounge raid. According to the Star-Telegram, the city has implemented 19 of 20 recommendations made by an LGBT task force formed after the raid. The only recommendation left outstanding is that the city provide health insurance to cover the cost of sex reassignment surgery for transgender employees. Other ongoing concerns include some apparent resistance to diversity training among police and firefighters, as well as the question of whether the city should subsidize domestic partner benefits. But overall, everyone seems pleased with the progress. “I think there is no city, because I’ve looked, in the United States which has done more in less time on these issues than the city of Fort Worth,” said Jon Nelson, a member of the task force and a leader of Fairness Fort Worth.

2. A Texas House committee is expected to take up a bill this morning that would allow same-sex parents to put both their names on the birth certificate of an adopted child. HB 415, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would resolve an issue in Texas that’s been the subject of a high-profile lawsuit in Louisiana, where a federal appeals court recently ruled against a same-sex couple in a case that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the full House could give final approval today to an anti-bullying bill that’s become Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s legislative session. HB 1942, by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, would then go to the Senate for consideration.

3. GLAAD is calling on Houston’s Fox affiliate (KRIV-26) to apologize for a segment that aired last week called, “Is TV too gay?” which criticized Glee‘s portrayal of gay teens. The segment aired the same night as a Glee‘s “Born This Way” episode and featured Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, which has been certified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Watch the full segment below. To sign GLAAD’s petition, go here.

 

—  John Wright

Fort Worth settles with Rainbow Lounge patrons

CASE CLOSED | It has been a year and a half since Chad Gibson was injured in the Rainbow Lounge raid. This week, the Fort Worth City Council approved a $400,000 settlement payment.

Chad Gibson to receive $400,000; TABC agreement not yet signed

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — The Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday, March 22, voted unanimously and without discussion to accept a consent agenda that included an award of $400,000 to Chad Gibson, the man who received head injuries in the 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid.

George Armstrong, another man injured that night, settled for a lower amount. Because his award was less than $50,000, the council did not have to vote on that settlement.

The two injured men entered into mediation with the city of Fort Worth and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Any agreement from settlement negotiations with TABC has not been signed. The state’s approval process takes longer than the city’s.

Don Tittle, the attorney who represented Gibson and Armstrong in mediation with the city, said, “We thought it was a fair resolution.”

Adam Seidel is a defense attorney who has been working with Gibson and Armstrong since criminal charges were filed the night of the raid. Those charges have since been dropped.

Seidel said that both Gibson and Armstrong would have preferred the events at Rainbow Lounge hadn’t happened at all.

“An experience like that impacts you for some period of time,” Seidel said. “You don’t just put that into a small box and put it away.”

Gibson continues to receive medical treatment related to his head injury. Armstrong had a rotator cuff injury and will likely face surgery.

“This will make finishing that easier for him,” Seidel said.

Jason P. Lamers, the manager of Fort Worth’s Office of Media and Public Affairs, sent the official city response. He said the council acted on advice of the legal counsel, and the intention was to limit the city’s financial exposure.

“This settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of the city, but rather a recognition of the nature of civil rights litigation,” said Lamers. “It was city staff’s recommendation — and the City Council agreed — that, considering the circumstances, not only is this settlement the right thing to do, but it is also in the best interest of the city and taxpayers.”

Tittle wasn’t sure why the city included a statement of no admission of liability.

“We released all claims as part of the deal,” he said.

He thought they might have been concerned that since the two-year statute of limitations had not passed, someone else might come forward with a suit.

“But it waters down the good will,” he said.

And although Fort Worth, and presumably TABC, claim no liability for the incident, Tittle said, “$400,000 speaks for itself.”

Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, a group formed in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid, only commented on the progress that has been made since the event.

He said that this was the first time the city of Fort Worth had ever entered into mediation without a federal lawsuit being filed. He also said it was the first time Fort Worth had ever compensated a member of the LGBT community for unfair treatment by the city.

David Mack Henderson, also with Fairness Fort Worth, was at the city council meeting. He said that a number of reporters with TV cameras were at City Hall and requested interviews but he refused. He said Fort Worth’s LGBT community is moving on and that there was nothing to talk about.

“We’re just part of the city — the way it should be,” Henderson said.

Lamers said that you couldn’t talk about the Rainbow Lounge story without talking about the strides the LGBT community has made in Fort Worth.

“Fort Worth has made remarkable progress to become an even more inclusive city than it ever was,” he said. “That’s a credit to our City Council, our police department led by Chief Jeff Halstead and the GLBT leaders in the city’s workforce and in our communities. We’re very proud of theprogress that has been made.”

After the Rainbow Lounge raid, Halstead made significant changes to the police department by clarifying the department’s policies on conducting bar checks, adding an LGBT liaison and, recently, enacting an anti-bias policing policy to strengthen existing rules against discrimination by officers.

The council voted in October 2009 to add transgender protections to its nondiscrimination policies. The council also appointed a city manager’s diversity task force and has approved 14 of 15 recommendations the task force made, including offering domestic partner benefits for city employees.

Anable said that the city has worked closely with the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association to stage this year’s parade. Pride will be held downtown for the 30th anniversary making it more visible than it’s ever been, he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

AOC plans Black HIV/AIDS Awareness event in Fort Worth

AIDS Outreach Center, in collaboration with the city of Fort Worth, will commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Monday, Feb. 7, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort Worth City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.

The theme for the event is “It Takes a Village” and AIDS Outreach Center’s Prevention and Outreach staff will provide testing at the event.

In addition, on Sunday, Feb. 6, the center’s Prevention and Outreach staff will offer testing at the Christ Center Missionary Baptist Church, 2126 Amanda Ave. in Fort Worth, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact AIDS Outreach Center’s Outreach Specialist John Reed or Cynthia Vargas at Johnr@aoc.org or Cynthiav@aoc.org for more information.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day  raises HIV awareness and reduces the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS within the African-American community, and encourages at risk individuals to get tested and know their HIV status to help stop the spread of HIV within one of the fastest growing segments of the population.

In 2011, AOC will celebrate 25 years as the leading organization in Tarrant and seven surrounding rural counties serving people with HIV/AIDS and their families, educating about HIV prevention and advocating for sound HIV public policy. For information, go online to aoc.org.

Dallas Pride auctioning dates, raffling dinners for AIDS Arms

Dallas Pride Cheer presents a Valentine’s Dinner and Date Auction Thursday, Feb. 10, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at JR.’s Bar & Grill, 3923 Cedar Springs Road, to benefit AIDS Arms.

Auction items include dinner and a date with a Dallas Pride cheerleader, and raffles will be held for gift certificates for dinners for two at upscale and fine dining restaurants.

OLOUC  presents program by 3 men exonerated after years in prison

The Oak Lawn Community Outreach Center of Oak Lawn Methodist Church will host “A Community Conversation: How Can Something Like This Happen?” on Sunday, Feb. 6, at 12:30 p.m. in the church’s fellowship hall, located at Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road.

The event features three men who were wrongfully imprisoned and spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.

The three, who co-authored the book “Tested,” will talk about how they held onto hope and reconstructed their lives.
Jeff Crilley, formerly of Fox 4 News and now president of Real News Public Relations, will moderate.

This event is free and open to the public.  For more information, call 214-521-5197 ext. 203.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

FWISD to update bullying policy

Director of counseling says officials did not realize sexual orientation didn’t include gender identity, expression, and applauds new bullying awareness campaign

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Report nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — When the Dallas Independent School District was lauded recently for becoming the first school district in the state to approve an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy, officials in the Fort Worth Independent School District reacted with consternation.
The Fort Worth District, officials said, had passed such a policy months before, in March.

But the problem, Kathryn Everest, director of guidance and counseling for the Fort Worth district, said this week, was that “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

And what school officials didn’t know was that the term “sexual orientation” does not include issues of gender identity and gender expression, Everest said.

“Our policy protects all students,” Everest said, adding that she initially believed simply saying “all students” would be adequate. But she said she understands the need for more specific wording after discussion with those in the community advocating for changes in the policy.

Everest said that she met Monday afternoon, Nov. 22, with gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Jon Nelson of Fairness Fort Worth. Both men, she said, have pledged to help the district fine-tune the wording of its policies.

“We want to make it plain that everyone is included. Now that we have found out what we didn’t know — that sexual orientation doesn’t include gender identity and gender expression — we will make those changes. We’re not fighting it, and we’re not intimidated by it. We just didn’t know,” Everest said.

She added that the policy in question relates specifically to students. The district also has a mirror policy protecting faculty and staff members, and it, too, will be updated, Everest said.

“We want our policies to align with the city of Fort Worth’s policy,” she said. The Fort Worth City Council voted last year to amend its nondiscrimination ordinance, which already included protections based on sexual orientation, to include specific protections based on gender identity and gender expression.

Another point of confusion centered on the wording of Fort Worth’s anti-bullying policy itself. The policy defines bullying, gives examples and outlines the procedure for reporting incidences of bullying and for investigating those reports. But it does not enumerate specific groups protected under the policy, as the Dallas ISD policy does.

Everest explained this week that the Fort Worth ISD’s “Freedom from Bullying” policy is an extension of the district’s “Freedom from Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Policy, which reads:

“The District prohibits discrimination including harassment, against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or on any other basis prohibited by law, that adversely affects the student.”

Everest said FWISD officials now recognize that, technicalities aside, the bullying policy should also include that wording — with the addition of gender identity and gender expression — so that it is clear.

Although gender identity and gender expression were not among the protected categories listed, evidence of the district’s intention to provide protections based on those categories exists in the discrimination policy, under the category of examples:

“Examples of prohibited harassment  may include offensive or derogatory language directed at another person’s religious beliefs or practices, accent, skin color, gender identity or need for accommodation … .”

‘It’s not okay’

While the Fort Worth school district may be lagging behind the Dallas ISD in perfecting the wording of its nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies, Fort Worth is several steps ahead of Dallas when it comes to it’s anti-bullying campaign, Everest said.

The district implemented the “It’s not okay” campaign at the beginning of the current school year, focusing each month on a different aspect of harassment. Topics are “bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, teen dating violence, suicidal thinking, sexual harassment, use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and gangs.

The campaign includes efforts to explain each topic and to promote the district’s procedures for reporting and investigating offenses. A primary component, Everest said, is the “Friends 4 Life” hotline that anyone can call to report specific incidents or concerns. Students discovered to be targets of bullying or harassment are paired with counselors who work with them and help them find other resources if necessary, Everest said.

She said students had input in designing the campaign, helping choose the topics and suggesting ways to address each one. The district also has designed posters on each topic to be displayed in schools, as well as billboards that are going up each month around the city.

“By the end of the school year, we will have billboards across the city addressing each one of these topics,” Everest said. “There is a kind of entrenched generational acceptance of certain kinds of harassment and bullying — the idea that it’s just what kids do, and you need to get over it and move on. That’s what we have to change. We have to say to the whole world that it’s not OK.

“And this [campaign] is not just a flash in the pan, not just a one-time thing,” Everest continued. Our goal is to make it an ongoing program, something that is deep and broad and addresses all the angles. That’s how you change the social norms. That’s how you stop the bullying.”

She added, “This is all a learning process for us. We are making corrections and improvements as we go along. We thought we were covering everything, and now that we know we didn’t, we will make the changes we need to make.

“Our goal is to make our entire educational community as safe as possible — our students, our faculty and our staff. And we will do what we need to do to make that happen.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Anti-gay protesters pack Fort Worth City Council chamber

Opponents of city’s diversity initiatives speaking during council meeting, even though issue wasn’t on the agenda

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — A crowd of about 200 people opposing recent diversity initiatives implemented by the city of Fort Worth packed Cowtown’s City Council chambers on Tuesday, July 13, even though nothing related to the initiatives was on the council’s agenda.

Five individuals representing the opponents spoke during the portion of the meeting allotted for citizen comments, while four representatives from Fairness Fort Worth spoke in support of the city’s efforts to improve relations with its LGBT community.

The diversity initiatives grew out of recommendations forwarded to the council by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force and approved by City Manager Dale Fisler late last year. The task force — comprising 16 city employees and 16 LGBT community representatives, all appointed by Fisler — was formed last summer in the wake of the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by officers with the Fort Worth Police Department and agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The recommendations suggested by the task force included improved diversity training for all city employees, domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian city employees, coverage of gender reassignment surgery for transgender employees in transition, promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism, and lobbying for passage of state and federal laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment.

The task force also recommended that the council amend the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Most of the recommendations involved procedural changes that could be implemented by the city manager without a vote by the council.

The council did vote, 6-3, on Nov. 11 last year to add specific gender identity protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance.

The vote came after a marathon hearing during which numerous people spoke in favor of and against the amendment.

However city staff are still studying the feasibility of offering domestic partner benefits and adding coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

A spokesman in the office of Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said this week that the resurgence of opposition may have been tied to the one-year anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge raid. This week’s meeting was the council’s first since the June 28 anniversary date.

But Thomas Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said his organization believes Diversity Task Force opponents had intended to speak during time set aside for public comments on the proposed budget for the city’s Crime Control and Prevention District budget. That budget includes funds to pay for diversity training for police officers and for officer recruitment efforts within the LGBT community, he said.

However, the council voted to delay the public hearing on that budget for two weeks.

“They were there because they felt like they got shut out of the process [of the Diversity Task Force] last year,” Anable, who was a member of the task force, said on Wednesday, after the council meeting. “Every meeting that the task force had was open to the public, and nobody showed up.”

Anable said he believes the move to bring the opponents to the Tuesday night council meeting this week was led by Richard Clough, a failed candidate for Tarrant County judge who is an associate minister with Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

“They said last November when the task force’s report was presented to the council, and when the council voted on the transgender ordinance, they said then that they had been left out and that they would be back,” Anable said. “I think, with the CCPD budget on the agenda this week, they saw an opportunity to try and make a sneak attack.”

Anable said Fairness Fort Worth learned on Monday of e-mails that had been circulated over the weekend among conservative and evangelical Christian churches, calling on evangelical Christians to pack the council chambers at Tuesday’s meeting.

But instead of sending out a calling for the LGBT community and its allies to attend also, Anable said his organization chose to organize a small, but visible, contingent to attend as a show of support for the city’s initiatives, with specific community leaders signing up to speak.

“We didn’t want a big catfight,” Anable said.

“We just wanted to have people there to show support, with just a few speaking. We wanted to give a calm and dignified response.”

Anable said after the meeting he feels confident that the city council will not reverse the progress it has made so far on diversity issues — a confidence that was reinforced by Mayor Mike Moncrief’s statements both before and after the citizen comment session.

Moncrief opened the comment session with an admonition to both sides to “be respectful” and with a pledge that the city would not go backward.

“I am very pleased with the progress we have had to date,” the mayor said. It has certainly reflected the diversity of our city. And it reflects this city’s belief that no one should be discriminated against, no matter who they are. And that is not going to change.

That is important for all of us, whether its an ordinance or not, that should be an ordinance in life. No one should be discriminated against.”

The five men who spoke against the Diversity Task Force and the city’s diversity initiatives all criticized city officials for “promoting a homosexual agenda” against the wishes of what they said is a majority of the city’s residents.

Clough, who stood at the podium flanked by supporters wearing paper badges printed with the word “Truth,” began by accusing Mayor Mike Moncrief and the council of “intentionally hiding the implementation of a homosexual agenda.”

The accusation prompted an angry rebuttal for the mayor, who threatened to have Clough removed from the council chambers if he continued with “personal attacks.”

The two men argued briefly, with Clough continuing to speak over the mayor’s admonishments and with Moncrief at one point turning off the microphone at the podium where Clough stood.

“We have a way of doing business here, and that is not to come in here and personally attack anybody. We don’t attack you, nor does anyone on our staff. We don’t expect you to come in here and attack us,” Moncrief said. “If you want to talk about the diversity task force, that is all well and good. But don’t expect to come in here and get away with personal attacks.”

When Moncrief allowed Clough to continue, the minister accused the mayor of refusing to meet with him, although some council members had met with him. Clough said that “every voice was not heard” on the Diversity Task Force’s recommendations, adding that the council was going against the wishes of the majority of the city’s citizens who had, he said, voted against same-sex marriage in 2004 by a 77 percent majority.

He criticized the city for spending money to send lobbyists to Washington, D.C., to promote passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and for promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism.

“Who are you promoting it to? Queer liberation [possibly a reference to the now-defunct direct action group Queer LiberAction]? To NAMBLA — the North American Man-Boy Love Association? Or are you just promoting it to the gay chambers?” Clough said.

Clough also criticized the addition of gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, suggesting that council members “ask the ladies do they want a man who suffers from gender identity disorder coming in on them in the bathroom. … If they gays want to promote something, let them spend their own money to promote it.”

Clough said the city “has no business promoting the homosexual lifestyle, just like it has no business promoting the heterosexual lifestyle.”

He said that while the city should “stand against hatred or discrimination or abuse of any kind,” the media and the LGBT community have “distorted the facts” surrounding the Rainbow Lounge raid and are using that to “promote the homosexual agenda.”

“Homosexuality can be divisive. That’s not my intent,” Clough said. “My intent is to have all voices heard and find a solution that is best for all.”

Robert Hayes said the city’s leadership “should serve the people of the city, serve the masses, and not cater to the wishes of the few.” He said that the raid at the Rainbow Lounge was a situation that should have been investigated by police department officials, and “not a situation to make sweeping changes in the city.”

“Do we set up a task force if we find the city has an unusually large number of employees coming down with the flu? Do we set one up to discuss who can live in what area of town? Then my question is, why did we set up a task force for diversity when it appears we only had a question of the use of force and the appropriate degree of force that was used?” Hayes said.

The Rev. Perfeto Esquibel, pastor of Christian Worship Center of Fort Worth, complained that the task force “seems to be made up of only one certain interest group rather than a combination of people with different opinions about gay civil rights.”

Esquibel also said it is “a slap in the face” to racial and ethnic minorities to call LGBT people a minority. He said the task force and the city’s diversity initiatives are part of a “gay rights agenda” being pushed by a “minute” number of people, and that most Fort Worth residents are Christians who believe that “the Bible is the word of God, and it’s what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based on.”

John Carlson, a Fort Worth businessman and husband of Texas Eagle Forum President Pat Carlson, told the council he believed it was irresponsible to spend city dollars on diversity initiatives when the city is facing a budget shortfall.

“This diversity will expand benefits and increase spending. Taxpayers do not want increased spending or taxes,” Carlson said.

He said that as a businessman who provides insurance to his employees, he knows that health insurance costs increase every year. Providing coverage to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees would increase the city’s costs, he said, because gays and lesbians engage in ‘undeniably risky behavior. … If that lifestyle were a pack of cigarettes, it would require a surgeon general’s warning.”

Carlson said, “If you insure domestic partners, what if they have more than one partner? … Why not insure boyfriends or girlfriends? … Where does this coverage end? It just goes on.”

Scott Graham, who described himself as a businessman and former police officer, said he had conducted his own investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid.

He repeated allegations that patrons in the bar that night sexually harassed and groped officers (those allegations were found to be either false or grossly exaggerated during official investigations), and accused witnesses and LGBT community leaders of “gross misrepresentations” of the raid and of “mak[ing] things up as they went along.”

Graham said, “Government was created by God to protect His definition of family,” and then asked for — and received — permission to “pray and speak a blessing over our city.”

The Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, was the first of four speakers to speak in support of the Diversity Task Force and its recommendations. Noting that she is a member of Fairness Fort Worth and one of the people who leads the city’s new diversity training, West said that the training makes clear that it’s purpose is not to address religious issues or question anyone’s religious beliefs.

The training, she said, is designed to give “a perspective of the GLBT community. … Is there a homosexual agenda? I have heard a lot of talk about it, and you [task force opponents] talk a lot more about it than we [LGBT people] ever do.

“We teach that everyone is your customer. We say treat everyone with respect. Treat people with dignity. We teach about not demeaning people, not making people unwanted,” West said. “If that is a homosexual agenda, then it needs to be spread around.”

Steve Dutton, a task force member, and Lisa Thomas, a member of the task force, the city’s Human Rights Commission and Fairness Fort Worth, also spoke during the council meeting. But said the diveristy initiatives are a question of equal treatment, not religious beliefs.

To close the public comment session, Moncrief said he believes there is “respect in this city. There is room for all of us.

“We are trying to work through something very difficult. We weren’t pleased to be in the national spotlight for what happened or didn’t happen. But it was and is up to us to find out what happened. Obviously, somebody did something. TABC certainly felt somebody did something they shouldn’t have, because they fired the two agents that were involved.”

He added, “Don’t feel like we were not listening, because we were. We are. I hope you all feel like you have been heard tonight. … What’s in the Bible or what isn’t in the Bible, that’s not our job. Our job is to maintain the quality of life in our city, and that’s what this [diversity] training is all about.”

……..

To watch complete video of the Fort Worth City Council meeting, go online to FortWorthGov.org.

—  Kevin Thomas