For Valentine’s Day, a resonant tale of ‘Loving’ and marriage

lovingstory03The very title of the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia is almost too perfect not to respect the irony of what it represented.

In 1958, Richard Loving married a half-black, half-Native American named Mildred in D.C., then returned to their home in rural Virginia. A month later, sheriff’s deputies entered their bedroom as they slept, arresting them for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law, which forbid mixing of the races. They were jailed, convicted and eventually banished from the state in a manner more akin to ancient Rome than modern-day America.

Virginia was hardly unique — as Barack Obama’s parents could probably tell you, 21 states banned mixed-race marriages in 1958. It would take nine years, following protracted legal wrangling, before the Lovings could live openly and legally as Virginians.

It is impossible to watch The Loving Story — which debuts on HBO, again ironically, on Valentine’s Day — and not consider it (especially in light of the events this week) as it relates to Proposition 8 and the rights of gays to wed. Indeed, the statement by one of the lawyers representing the Lovings that “marriage is a fundamental right of man” — spoken more than 40 years ago — resonates sharply for any gay person who has felt a lesser person because of the bigotry and antiquated thinking of considering a fellow man as being “other” … whether by race or sexual orientation.

There’s surprisingly little directorial commentary in this documentary, which is made up substantially of real-time newsreel and other footage of the Lovings at home and on TV, and their lawyers strategizing. Little comment is needed, especially when the offensive language of the courts speaks volumes: The races were meant to stay on separate continents, the Virginia county judge opined, cuz that’s how God wanted it.

Two things especially stand out in The Loving Story. The first is the couple at the center of it: A man and a woman of modest means and humble background who simply and truly were in love and wanted to live as man and wife and couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong. The second is that the arguments made — back then and now, on both sides — apply equally to same-sex marriage issues. We’ve come a long way, but damn, we still have so far to go.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Airs Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

—  Kevin Thomas

Top 10: County, DISD, FWISD added trans protections

TransProtections

STRIKING A POSE | LGBT activists celebrate outside the Dallas County Administration Building in April, after the Commissioners Court voted to add transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

No. 6

Although transgender rights continue to be the last frontier in the ongoing battle for LGBT equality, the trans community made significant progress in North Texas in 2011.

The all-too-familiar scenario of transgender being left out of laws protecting lesbians and gays played out in March when the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted in favor of adding sexual orientation — but not gender identity and  expression — to the nondiscrimination policy covering the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, two Democrats who spearheaded the addition of sexual orientation to the policy, said they had not been aware of the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

But after Dallas Voice reported on the oversight, LGBT advocates went back to the court to insist that commissioners correct the omission.

Republican Commissioner Maureen Dickey added insult to injury during an April Commissioners Court meeting when she not only announced she would vote against trans protections, but also compared being transgender to being overweight.

But on April 26 — after activists spoke at several consecutive meetings in an effort coordinated by Resource Center Dallas — the court voted 3-2 along party lines to add trans protections. Jenkins, Garcia and Commissioner John Wiley Price voted in favor of trans protections, while Dickey and fellow Republican Mike Cantrell voted against them.

Dallas County is the only county in the state with a trans-inclusive employment nondiscrimination policy — and momentum from the decision appeared to spread as the year went forward.

In late June, the Fort Worth school board added gender identity and expression to the district’s anti-bullying policy. And in early August, shortly before the start of a new school year, came news that the Dallas school board would consider a series of policy changes intended to protect transgender students, faculty and other employees from discrimination and harassment. The vote to add the protections came on Aug. 25.

The wave of transgender victories hit a small snag in November, when the Dallas County Community College District initially refused to add trans protections, insisting that the district’s protections based on sexual orientation covered trans people. But after another effort coordinated by the Resource Center, DCCCD President Wright Lassiter announced in November that an amendment to the district’s nondiscrimination policy to specifically protect transgender people is on the agenda for the board’s January meeting.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Jenkins takes home Stonewall’s Pink Pump

County judge among officials, members honored at Democratic group’s annual Holiday Party

AND THE WINNER IS  |  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accepts the Pink Pump Award — which consists of a bedazzled pink high-heel shoe — during Stonewall Democrats’ Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 5 at Sue Ellen’s. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

AND THE WINNER IS | Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accepts the Pink Pump Award — which consists of a bedazzled pink high-heel shoe — during Stonewall Democrats’ Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 5 at Sue Ellen’s. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THE PARTY

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Nearly two years ago, in a controversial move, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas endorsed Larry Duncan for county judge over establishment-backed candidate Clay Jenkins and openly gay incumbent Jim Foster.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Stonewall Democrats presented Jenkins — who defeated Duncan and Foster in the 2010 primary before winning the general election — with the group’s coveted Pink Pump Award, which honors a straight ally who’s gone above and beyond on behalf of the LGBT community.

Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said regardless of the decision to endorse Duncan, Jenkins has been very open to working with the group. Stonewall’s board tapped Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, for the Pink Pump primarily due to his role in adding sexual orientation — and later gender identity and expression — to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy this year.

“That’s a huge deal,” Narvaez said. “We’re the only county in the entire state of Texas that has a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy for its employees. … So much has happened — a lot of stuff that never would have happened under our last county judge, who was a member of the [LGBT] community.”

Also this year, Parkland hospital’s Board of Managers — appointed by the Commissioners Court — added domestic partner benefits for the facility’s 9,400 employees. And, although the county didn’t add DP benefits for its own workers due to budget constraints, Jenkins has said he’ll push to do so next year.

“The good part is, at least it’s come up,” Narvaez said. “It’s something that we can work toward now.”

Jenkins beat out Dallas City Councilwoman Monica Alonzo and Stonewall member Gillian Parillo to take home the Pink Pump, which comes in the form of a bedazzled pink high-heeled shoe.

The county judge was on hand at Stonewall’s Holiday Party to accept the shoe, despite undergoing surgery earlier in the day to have screws removed from his leg.

Jenkins was walking with a cane and, unlike at least one past recipient, unable to try on the Pink Pump. As he took the stage in the Vixin Lounge at Sue Ellen’s, he held up a plastic biohazard bag containing the screws — the remnants of a nasty fall he took on the ice in February.

“There is a strength in our diversity and a common bond in our shared values here in Dallas County,” Jenkins said later. “Stonewall exemplifies that strength through promoting human rights, protecting public health, registering voters and fostering leaders. I’m honored to accept this year ‘Pink Pump’ and committed to building a stronger, more progressive Dallas County.”

Jenkins was one of several elected officials and Stonewall members honored during the party, which was moved from the Round-Up Saloon this year. Narvaez said the party saw its second-highest attendance ever — behind 2008 — and raised almost four times as much as in any previous year.

The increased fundraising was due to the sale of individual sponsorships, as well as proceeds from the auctioning of lunches with elected officials. Lunch with Jenkins’ counterpart on the Commissioners Court, longtime LGBT ally Dr. Elba Garcia, went for $400. Lunch with Judge Tena Callahan, who handed down a landmark ruling in a gay divorce case in 2008, went for $300. And lunch with lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez, up for re-election in 2012, brought two matching bids of $400 each.

Alonzo, who was elected to represent District 6 on the council this year, read a proclamation from the city recognizing Stonewall Democrats, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in October. Attendees at the Holiday Party also heard from Gilberto Hinojosa, a candidate to replace Boyd Richie, who’s retiring as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Hinojosa, already endorsed by the statewide chapter of Stonewall Democrats, predicted that in 2012, Texas will “move much closer to turning blue.” Thanks to new redistricting maps, Democrats could pick up anywhere from three to six congressional districts in Texas, and up to 15 seats in the state House, he said.

Demographically, Democratic groups account for 70 percent of voters in Texas, Hinojosa said.

“There are more of us than there are of them,” he told the group. “We’re not winning because we’re not getting our base out.”

Hinojosa also touched on the State Democratic Executive Committee’s recent decision not to put a nonbinding resolution in support of same-sex marriage on the 2012 primary ballot. Although he isn’t a voting member of the SDEC, Hinojosa said he spoke in support of placing the resolution on the ballot before the vote during last month’s meeting.

“It’s an issue the party needed to take a stand on,” he said. “We lost on that issue, but there will be time to bring it back again.”

……………………….

Stonewall Democrats 2011 Award Winners

Pink Pump: Clay Jenkins
Harryette Ehrhardt Distinguished Democrat: Lorraine Raggio
Buck Massey Member of the Year: Clinton Swingle
Ally of the Year: Cathedral of Hope
Christy Kinsler Board Member of the Year: Travis Gasper

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

El Paso County votes down DP benefits

Unlike in Dallas County, commissioners were given a firm projected cost and actually took a vote. The El Paso Times reports:

County Judge Veronica Escobar brought up the issue of domestic partner benefits during a budget meeting on Tuesday.

After a discussion, Commissioners Dan Haggerty, Willie Gandara Jr. and Sergio Lewis voted against the measure, choosing not to look at providing health insurance benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. Escobar and commissioner Anna Perez supported the idea.

Escobar said it is in the best interest of the taxpayers to have as many people as possible covered with health insurance in the county. “The more people in our community who are uninsured, the more that it cost taxpayers to fund them,” she said.

Escobar said people with health insurance are more prone to receive preventive health care services than are uninsured people, who can’t afford to see a doctor and tend to use the emergency room at the University Medical Center. Taxpayers pay for services provided at the UMC emergency room, she said.

Analysts estimate it would cost the county almost $23,000 more a year to provide health insurance benefits to the partners of unmarried county workers.

—  John Wright

Dallas County unlikely to add DP benefits

County Judge Clay Jenkins

Faced with a $35 million budget shortfall, Dallas County is unlikely to begin offering benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees as part of its 2012 budget, a county spokeswoman said last week.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, has said he supports offering domestic partner benefits. The Commissioners Court, which has a Democratic majority for the first time in decades, voted earlier this year to add LGBT employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

But Dallas County spokeswoman Maria Arita said last week it costs the county an additional $3,552 for every spouse added to an employee’s health insurance. And according to the Dallas Morning News, the county is already proposing to cut $5.6 million in employee health care costs in 2012.

“It really does come down to dollars and cents,” Arita told Instant Tea. “He [Jenkins] likes equality in the workplace in every way for every employee. There’s just no equivocating about that, plain and simple, and if it were possible to offer all benefits to all employees … then he would do that.”

Jenkins is scheduled to discuss the issue further in an interview with Instant Tea on Wednesday.

The city of Dallas has offered DP benefits since 2004, and Fort Worth added them last year.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Dallas County adds trans protections

LGBT advocates who attended Tuesday’s Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting gather on the steps of the administration building after the vote.

After listening to more than 30 minutes of public comments in favor of the proposal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 along party lines Tuesday to add transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

About a dozen people from the LGBT community addressed the Commissioners Court prior to the vote, which came five weeks after the court voted unanimously to add sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 workers. Despite rumors over the last few days, no one spoke against the proposal.

Commissioner John Wiley Price provided the third and decisive vote in favor of transgender protections, joining fellow Democrats County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia. Republican Commissioners Maurine Dickey and Mike Cantrell voted against the transgender protections. (Watch video of the court’s discussion below.)

LGBT advocates who attended Tuesday’s meeting erupted in applause after the dramatic vote, and they gathered on the steps of the county administration building for an impromptu celebration moments later.

“The community’s participation is what made this happen — the letters, the phone calls, the people who showed up here,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who coordinated the community’s advocacy on the issue. “The fact that this was done in five weeks is what really surprises me. Five weeks is the blink of an eye in government time.”

—  John Wright

DA says commissioners don’t have to operate ‘in a fish bowl’ — even if what they say sounds fishy

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

A while back we filed a request, under the Texas Public Information Act, seeking any and all records related to the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s decision to add sexual orientation — but not gender identity/expression — to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the amendment, have said they thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, based on advice they received from the county’s Human Resources department. But frankly we’re a little skeptical of this claim. Since Jenkins and Garcia told us this, one critical fact has emerged: They are one vote short of the majority needed to add gender identity/expression to the policy, which leads us to wonder whether that’s why it was left out in the first place.

After all, gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons has said he shared his department’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes transgender employees, with Jenkins prior to the court’s vote to add sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the countywide policy. And during Jenkins’ campaign last year, he told us how as a civil rights attorney in private practice, he once represented a transgender person who won a lawsuit against a popular restaurant chain. As the plaintiff’s attorney in that case, wouldn’t Jenkins have become familiar with the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity/expression? And as for Garcia, she was on the Dallas City Council in 2002 when the council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes “gender identity” — albeit under the definition of sexual orientation.

To be sure, this can be a confusing distinction, especially to those who aren’t members of the LGBT community, and even to many who are. So if Jenkins and Garcia truly thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, it would be forgivable. What would be less forgivable, in that case, is their failure to consult with stakeholders, and namely people in the LGBT community, prior to voting on the sexual orientation-only amendment.

In light of all this, we filed our records request, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting answers anytime soon, if ever. In a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office dated today, Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Michele Tapia maintains that the county shouldn’t be required to release the records we requested. Tapia argues that the county can legally withhold the records because they “constitute inter- or intra-agency communications that consist of advice, recommendations, and opinions reflecting the policymaking processes of a governmental body” that “would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency.” To download a copy of Tapia’s letter, click here.

“The disclosure of these documents would chill and discourage candid discussion on improvements from staff at all levels. Further, disclosure would serve to dampen open discussion and actions to improve processes and necessary corrective actions or improvement measures,” Tapia writes. “It would be impossible to have any frank discussion of legal or policy matters in writing if all such writings were to be subjected to public scrutiny. … It has been argued, and with merit, that the efficiency of a government agency would be greatly hampered if, with respect to legal and policy matters, all government agencies were forced to operate in a fish bowl.”

Abbott’s office now has 45 days to render a decision on the county’s request about whether it can withhold the records. Of course, in the meantime, this whole thing would probably just go away if the Commissioners Court simply went back and added “gender identity/expression” to the policy.

—  John Wright

Sooner or later, county commissioners will get tired of hearing about transgender protections

Rafael_McDonnell
Rafael McDonnell

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell sends along word that three people from the LGBT community are tentatively scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

This will be the fourth consecutive week in which LGBT activists have spoken during public comments, calling on the Commissioners Court to add gender identity to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. And McDonnell said based on his conversations with commissioners, the advocacy is helping.

McDonnell said he ran into County Judge Clay Jenkins at an event last week, and Jenkins told him that public comments from the LGBT community are influencing the conversation. On Friday, McDonnell met with Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who told him she’s received 60 letters in support of adding transgender protections.

“She urged us to keep up contacting Commissioners [Maurine] Dickey and [John Wiley] Price and share our stories and explain why it’s important,” McDonnell said. “She [Garcia] clearly supports it.”

Jenkins also supports adding gender identity to the policy, but three votes are needed for passage.

Price told Instant Tea last week that he remains undecided on the issue but said public comments from transgender woman Maeve O’Connor had done more to possibly sway him than anything else. Dickey, meanwhile, hasn’t returned a phone call seeking comment.

Dickey announced last week that she won’t seek re-election in 2012, which could make her more comfortable voting in favor of transgender protections. Two years ago, when Republicans still held a majority on the Commissioners Court, Dickey broke ranks and provided the decisive vote in support of ending a ban on condom distribution.

McDonnell said those slated to speak this week are Omar Narvaez of Stonewall Democrats and Lambda Legal, Travis Gasper of Stonewall Young Democrats; and Rebecca Solomon of Bank of America.

It’s too late to sign up to speak at this Tuesday’s meeting, but below is contact info for all five commissioners:

—  John Wright

LGBT advocates call on Commissioners Court to protect transgender Dallas County employees

Pam Curry, left, and Kelli Ann Busey

Three members of the LGBT community spoke today during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s regular meeting, calling on the court to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

Kelli Ann Busey, who is transgender, commended the court for adding sexual orientation to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 employees a few weeks ago.

“But transgender people are not the same as gay people,” Busey said. “We need to be protected differently.”

Busey said many transgender people are homeless after transitioning.

“Without workplace protections, we cannot live up to our potential,” she said.

Dave Guy-Gainer spoke on behalf of Equality Texas. He told the commissioners about a poll conducted by Glengariff Group that sampled registered voters in Texas on 12 rights as they pertain to the LGBT community.

“According to the poll, 70 percent of all Texas voters support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens,” he said.

Gainer said that over the past three election cycles, Dallas County has voted for progressive government. He called Dallas County a leader for other jurisdictions across the area as well as nationally.

Pam Curry, who is transgender, told the court she is a former part-time Dallas County employee.

“I was bothered when the non-discrimination policy was passed and I was not included,” Curry told the Commissioners Court.

Curry explained to the court the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I urge the court to move quickly to correct the oversight,” she said.

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas spoke at the Commissioners Court meeting last week. He is barred from speaking again for a month but promised to keep the issue before the court by lining up speakers for each meeting.

McDonnell also forwarded to Dallas Voice a copy of an email he received from County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“I believe in equality for all,” Jenkins wrote to McDonnell. “The new non-discrimination language was formulated by the county’s Human Resources department at my request and was intended to prohibit discrimination against anyone. Our HR director informs me that her interpretation of sexual orientation includes gender identity and gender expression.  Therefore, under our current policy, discrimination will not be tolerated.

“Many people share your concern that the policy needs to be changed to specifically state that gender identity and expression are included. I have requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s office about adding identity language to the County Code and its overall impact; the first step in a proposed change,” Jenkins wrote.

“The vote that passed last month is a positive step, which I consider a victory, and I am asking for your faith and patience as the process moves forward.”

On Monday, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Commissioners Court to add transgender protections, according to President Omar Narvaez. A copy of the resolution is after the jump.

For more information about contacting commissioners directly, go here.

—  David Taffet

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