El Paso County becomes 2nd in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits

Tom Brown

El Paso County became only the second county in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits after the Commissioners Court approved offering the benefits to gay and unmarried couples Monday.

Commissioners approved DP benefits 3-1 during a vote in the morning meeting, ABC-7 reports.

Estimated annual cost for the benefits is $23,905. Domestic partners can be of the same or opposite sex but must be at least 18 years old and have lived together for at least one year.

The El Paso City Council passed DP benefits in 2009 and again in 2011 after a repeal effort by pastor Tom Brown overturned the decision.

Domestic partner benefits for El Paso County employees were first proposed in 2009 but the vote was postponed and later deleted as an agenda item. In 2011, the motion failed to pass.

Travis County currently offers DP benefits. Cities in Texas that offer DP benefits are Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. Dallas County Judge  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins recently told Dallas Voice he hopes to add DP benefits this year.

Those who wish to enroll for the benefits in El Paso County must also submit three of the following documents: common ownership of a motor vehicle, driver’s licenses listing a common address, proof of joint bank accounts or credit accounts, designation as property power of attorney or health care power of attorney, designation as the primary beneficiary for life insurance, retirement benefits or primary beneficiary designation under a partner’s will.

—  Dallasvoice

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

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Jim Schutze

“It’s why we can’t have protest movements in Dallas. People here are too obedient. Gay rights, black activism, Tea Party — doesn’t matter. There’s something in the water. If the mob in Tahrir Square had been made up entirely of members of the Dallas Tea Party, all Mubarek would have had to do to shut the thing down was tell them all to go sit in time-out.”

— Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze,
in a blog post bemoaning the timidness of Tuesday’s protests
at the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting

—  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

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

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