Contact all five Dallas County commissioners and ask them to add transgender protections

County Judge Clay Jenkins says he was not aware that sexual orientation didn’t include transgender people.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed today that he’s requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s Office about adding transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Jenkins’ request for information from county attorneys follows the Commissioners Court’s vote last week to add sexual orientation, but not gender identity, to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 employees.

Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, two newly elected Democrats who spearheaded the proposal to add sexual orientation to the policy, said they thought sexual orientation covered transgender employees, which experts say it does not.

Since then, Jenkins said he’s received about a dozen e-mails from people in the LGBT community — which he called a lot — asking him to revisit the issue.

“The reason that it’s not in there is not because we don’t support it,” Jenkins said of transgender protections. “I don’t want people to misinterpret that I wasn’t for one type of discrimination but somehow was for another type of discrimination. Nothing could be further from the truth than that.”

Jenkins said he’s asked the civil division of the DA’s office to assess the impact on county code of adding gender identity to the policy.

“It’s going to depend on getting three votes … and the first step is to look at what impact it would have,” Jenkins told Instant Tea. “I care about making sure that we have a welcome and open workplace for all, and discrimination against no one. I’m against any type of discrimination in the workplace. I’m for treating all people equally.”

Rafael McDonnell, of Resource Center Dallas, spoke during public comments of the Commissioners Court’s regular meeting Tuesday. McDonnell said he thanked commissioners for adding sexual orientation to the policy — which they did on a 4-0 vote with Commissioner Maurine Dickey absent — and asked them to go back and add gender identity.

McDonnell said Commissioners Court rules prohibit him from speaking again during public comments for a month, so he encouraged others in the community to sign up to speak in coming weeks. To sign up, call the clerk’s office at 214-653-7886. The Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays in the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St. in Dallas.

McDonnell and others also encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact all five commissioners to thank them for adding sexual orientation and ask them to add gender identity. Here is their contact info, with confirmed email addresses:

County Judge Clay Jenkins – 214-653-7949
Email: Clay.Jenkins@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 1 Maurine Dickey – 214-653-7552
Email: Maurine.Dickey@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 2 Mike Cantrell – 214-653-6100
Email: MCantrell@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 3 John Wiley Price – 214-653-6671
Email: John.Price@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 4 Dr. Elba Garcia – 214-653-6670
Email: Elba.GarciaDDS@DallasCounty.org

—  John Wright

Fitzsimmons says commissioners should consult with DA’s office about nondiscrimination policy

Gary Fitzsimmons

Late yesterday we spoke to openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons about the Commissioners Court’s approval of an amendment to Dallas County’s employment nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. Fitzsimmons said he was never asked to review the proposed amendment and was not aware that the Commissioners Court would be voting on it Tuesday. (Coincidentally, Fitzsimmons added transgender employees to the nondiscrimination policy for his department three years ago after Dallas Voice pointed out that it was missing. Fitzsimmons had added sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the policy after taking office in 2007.)

In response to a request under Texas open records law, Fitzsimmons provided an e-mail exchange between himself and County Judge Clay Jenkins from Tuesday afternoon. Jenkins had forwarded to Fitzsimmons an e-mail he received from Stonewall Democrats President Omar Narvaez, in which Narvaez warned of backlash from the LGBT community because transgender employees aren’t covered by the amendment.

Fitzsimmons responded to Jenkins by providing a copy of the nondiscrimination policy for his department, and by suggesting that the county judge ask the District Attorney’s Office to review the issue. We’ve posted the e-mail exchange between Fitzsimmons and Jenkins after the jump.

And again, our question is, why in hell didn’t this discussion take place three months ago?

—  John Wright

Contact Clay Jenkins and Elba Garcia and ask them to add transgender protections

Above is a screen grab of the transgender-less amendment to Dallas County’s employment nondiscrimination policy that was approved by the  Commissioners Court earlier today. The sexual orientation-only amendment can also be found on page 113 of the Commissioners Court Briefing Agenda for today. As we reported earlier, County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the amendment, said they thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, and apparently they didn’t consult with anyone from the LGBT community about the amendment. This includes lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez and gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who both have nondiscrimination policies for their county departments that protect transgender employees. Moreover, no one from the LGBT community contacted Jenkins or Garcia in the last three months to ensure that this amendment was drafted properly and on track for approval. We all share the blame for this, including this newspaper. Now, the Commissioners Court will have to be asked to go back and amend the policy again, which will take months and possibly draw opposition from the religious right — with its bogus claims about restroom abuse. This is extremely unfortunate, but that’s the row the LGBT community must now hoe. An entire segment of the community has been left out of this policy — a segment that is in fact more likely than gays, lesbians or bisexuals to suffer employment discrimination. After the jump is a letter from Resource Center Dallas sent to both Jenkins and Garcia responding to the new policy. If you’d like to contact Jenkins and Garcia to thank them for adding sexual orientation to the policy and ask them to also add gender identity/expression, here is their info:

Clay Jenkins
411 Elm Street, 2nd Floor • Dallas, Texas 75202 • 214.653.7949
clay.jenkins@dallascounty.org

Dr. Elba Garcia
411 Elm Street, 2nd Floor • Dallas, Texas 75202 • 214.653-6670
elba.garciadds@dallascounty.org

—  John Wright

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

Disorder in the court — again

Last week, all hell broke loose in the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting when some folks angry over what was, in effect, the firing of County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbert decided to express that anger to the person they considered primarily responsible for something they saw as unfair: Commissioner John Wiley Price.

One speaker, Dallas lawyer Jeff Turner, a white man, used the term “chief mullah” in referring to Price, who is black. Price said he heard Turner say, “chief moolah” and considered it a racist term. Price, in term, noted that all the speakers criticizing him were white and suggested they all “Go to hell.”  He reportedly told the speakers to go to hell several times, and even said, “You too, fat boy,” to another speaker.

Today, though, County Judge Clay Jenkins was determined not to let things get out of hand. But some folks, according to this report by Dallas Morning News, went a little too far. DMN says Jenkins refused to allow any speaker to say anything at all critical about the court as a whole or any of the commissioners — something that those who got gaveled down by Jenkins considered to be downright unconstitutional.

What did Commissioner Price think? His comment was, “You wanted decorum, you got decorum.”

The Morning News also reports that the court has passed a new code of conduct for themselves, but didn’t say what the new conduct requires.

My favorite part of the whole thing though was this comment posted on the DMN story by a reader: “I miss [openly gay former County] Judge [Jim] Foster already.”

—  admin

News flash: Jim Foster is gay!

County Judge Jim Foster auditioned for an endorsement from Stonewall Democrats’ of Dallas this year, but he didn’t receive it.

Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster left office over the weekend, “as quietly as he entered it,” according to The Dallas Morning News. But what really surprised us about The DMN’s compulsory farewell was that it didn’t once mention the fact that Foster is openly gay.

Which is kind of amazing, really, given that Foster was the first openly gay county judge in the state — and given that his limited political background before taking office had been largely in the LGBT community, with groups like Stonewall Democrats. Foster also owns a business that provides security for the major gay bars on Cedar Springs.

So, to some degree, this was an oversight by The DMN, but it was also probably a reflection of the fact that Foster hasn’t been very open about his sexual orientation during his four years in office. We’re told that as recently as this year, many people in county government didn’t even realize Foster is gay. He never sought an endorsement form the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and not even Stonewall Democrats backed him in this year’s Democratic Primary.

Of course, Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Foster was partly due to the fact that in four years, he didn’t do much on behalf of LGBT equality. Foster never formally proposed adding benefits for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian county employees. He never even formally proposed adding sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. Foster will tell you this was because he didn’t have the votes, but as an openly gay elected official who’d been endorsed by Stonewall in 2006, he could have at least tried.

Also this weekend, the two new members of the Commissioners Court, Clay Jenkins and Dr. Elba Garcia, were sworn in. With a Democratic majority for the first time in decades, we’d say it’s high time for the Commissioners Court to do what Foster failed to and bring the county into the 21st century on gay rights.

—  John Wright

Top 10: Dallas Dems narrowly survived GOP tidal wave

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While Texas turned redder, Dallas County remained an island of blue. On Election Day, Texas followed national trends turning Democratic incumbents out of office and replacing them with conservative Republicans.

For the first time in Texas history, more than 100 Republicans will sit in the 150-member Texas House of Representatives. As recently as 1983, Democrats held more than 100 House seats.

Several gay-friendly Democratic House incumbents lost their seats in North Texas.

However, Democrats swept countywide races for the third consecutive election cycle.

Among the winners were Tonya Parker, who will become the first known openly gay African-American elected official in Texas. Parker is also the first openly LGBT judge elected in Dallas County. Openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons won re-election, as did Judge Tena Callahan, a straight ally who in 2009 declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, for the first time in a generation, Democrats will control the Dallas County Commissioners Court, possibly paving the way for LGBT employment protections and domestic partner benefits.

Former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia unseated anti-gay Republican Commissioner Ken Mayfield, with strong support in heavily LGBT neighborhoods in Oak Cliff.

Clay Jenkins, who defeated openly gay County Judge Jim Foster in the Democratic primary, knocked off Republican Wade Emmert in the general election and will serve as chair of the court.

But Republicans retained all statewide offices in Texas, including governor. Anti-gay incumbent Rick Perry was elected to a third full term, easily defeating Democrat Bill White, who’d received a rare endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign.

Nationwide, a record 106 openly LGBT candidates won election, including David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who’ll become the fourth openly gay member of Congress.

In California, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who first decided his city would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was elected that state’s lieutenant governor.

But mostly the news around the country was good for conservatives.

Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where the leadership will include two conservative North Texas congressman, Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions.

In the Senate, the Democratic lead was cut to 51 seats plus two Independents who caucus with the Democrats.

While tea party-affiliated candidates won a number of Texas seats, Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s tea party opponent received only 25 percent of the vote.

With the Republican majority in the House, most agree there’s little chance the 112th Congress will pass any pro-LGBT legislation. Incoming House members have already threatened to work on a repeal of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Count on the Senate, however, to stop any anti-gay bills from making their way to the White House.

Other troubling signs for the LGBT community included an election in Iowa, where three judges who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage were defeated after a multimmillion campaign by the religous right. Anti-gay activists have begun a movement to impeach the remaining four.

Because of Republican gains, the LGBT community is not looking for additional advances in equality legislation in 2011 on the federal level. However, some state legislatures and the courts may provide some bright spots.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

ELECTION 2010: Democrats narrowly hang on in Dallas County; 2 of 3 gay candidates win

District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons re-elected; Tonya Parker becomes first black LGBT person elected in county; Garcia tops Mayfield

MORE ELECTION COVERAGE:
LGBT groups react to big losses in House, Senate
Record 106 gay candidates elected in 2010

Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, center, watches election results come in with other Democratic elected officials on Tuesday night at Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park. Also pictured are, clockwise from front left, Tax Assessor John Ames, Chief Deputy District Clerk Virginia Etherly, Fitzsimmons’ mother and father, County Treasurer Joe Wells, Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and County Clerk John Warren. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Staving off a Republican tsunami that inundated much of the rest of the state and nation, Democrats narrowly held on to power in Dallas County on Tuesday night.

Two of three openly gay candidates on the ballot locally, District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons and judicial candidate Tonya Parker, won their races as part of the closer-than-expected countywide Democratic victory. A third openly gay candidate, Democrat Pete Schulte, was defeated by Republican incumbent Dan Branch in Texas House District 108.

Parker, who defeated Mike Lee for the 116th Judicial District seat, is the first openly LGBT person ever elected judge in Dallas County. She will also become the first openly LGBT African-American elected official in the county’s history.

Meanwhile, Democrats also managed to seize a majority on the Dallas County Commissioners Court for the first time in three decades. Democrat Clay Jenkins defeated Republican Wade Emmert in the race to replace openly gay incumbent Jim Foster, who chairs the court and was defeated by Jenkins in the Democratic primary. And longtime LGBT ally Dr. Elba Garcia, a former city councilwoman, toppled anti-gay incumbent Ken Mayfield for the District 4 seat.

The victories made Dallas County one of the lone bright spots for Democrats in Texas, as Republicans swept statewide races and significantly increased their majority in the Texas House.

At the top of the statewide ballot, LGBT ally and Democrat Bill White was soundly defeated by anti-gay Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry.

In Dallas County state legislative races, Democratic incumbent State Reps. Carol Kent, Kirk England, Allen Vaught and Robert Miklos were all trailing their Republican challengers. And gay-friendly Democratic challenger Loretta Haldenwang was trailing incumbent Republican State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown.

In Tarrant County, Democratic incumbent and LGBT ally Lon Burnam was on his way to an easy win in his campaign for an eighth term representing District 90 in the Texas Legislature. However, two other Democratic lawmakers considered to be friends of — or at least, friendly toward — the LGBT community were losing their re-election bids. Paula Pierson, first elected to represent District 93 in 2006, was trailing Republican Barbara Nash. And in District 96, incumbent Democrat Chris Turner was trailing Republican Bill Zedler.

Nationally, Republicans took control of the U.S. House and picked up seats in the Senate, likely ruling out passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act for the next two years.

In Dallas, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a staunch LGBT ally, easily held off Republican challenger Stephen Broden. The LGBT community also picked up another openly gay member of Congress, as Providence Mayor David Cicilline won his U.S. House race in Rhode Island.

For complete election coverage, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  John Wright

Dallas Cty. races neck and neck in early voting

Early voting results are in, and countywide races in Dallas County are, for the most part, neck and neck between Democrats and Republicans. Early voting is expected to account for roughly half of all turnout, so it can be a good indication of where local races are heading. However, Democratic turnout is typically higher than Republican turnout on Election Day, so the fact that Democrats are even or ahead after early voting is a good sign that the county will stay blue.

“Our assumption is that we will continue to climb on Election Day, and that’s traditionally the case in gubernatorial years,” said openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who led Republican opponent Tammy Barnes by fewer than 1,500 votes after early voting, out of more than 200,000 ballots cast.  “At this point, I’m feeling pretty good. I think this is where I wanted to be, over 50 percent with early vote. Right now the results seem to be consistent with what everybody was expecting.”

While Fitzsimmons has a slight lead in his race, other Democratic candidates for countywide office were slightly behind. District Attorney Craig Watkins trailed challenger Danny Clancy and Democratic county judge nominee Clay Jenkins trailed Republican Wade Emmert.

In another Dallas County race of significant LGBT interest, Democrat Dr. Elba Garcia led Republican incumbent Ken Mayfield by fewer than 1,000 votes as they vie for the District 4 seat on the Commissioners Court.

State legislative races didn’t look quite so good for Democrats after early voting. Incumbent State Reps. Allen Vaught, Carol Kent, Robert Miklos and Kirk England all trailed their races after early voting. Democratic challengers Pete Schulte and Loretta Haldenwang were also behind.

—  John Wright

Election Day watch party locations

AT&T Plaza at Victory Park on south side of AA Arena

Election Day watch parties will be held Tuesday night at various locations in Dallas. Each county party will hold a rally and many candidates are hosting gatherings of their own.

The Dallas County Democratic Party will rally at AT&T Plaza in Victory Park by the south entrance of American Airlines Center. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas will be at Victory Park. The location in case of rain is the Jack Daniels Grill inside the arena.

The Dallas County Republican Party will be at Hotel Palomar on Central Expressway at Mockingbird Lane. Log Cabin Republicans will be at a private house in North Dallas. Contact the group for more information.

Openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons hosts a party at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Elba Garcia, the Democrat running for the District 4 seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court, will be at the Kessler Theater on Davis Street in Oak Cliff.

County judge candidate Clay Jenkins and State Rep. Eric Johnson will be at Studio Bar & Grill, 1135 South Lamar near Gilleys and Southside on Lamar.

A number of candidates will be at Victory Park, including Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and State Rep. Carol Kent. Openly gay judicial candidate Tonya Parker will be nearby at the W Hotel.

Bill White’s Dallas campaign will be at Victory Park as well. White will be in Houston.

—  David Taffet