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

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

Trial in gay teen Lawrence King’s murder delayed

Associated Press

VENTURA, Calif. — A Ventura County judge has delayed the murder trial of a teenager charged with the classroom shooting death of a 15-year-old gay student.

Brandon McInerney’s trial had been tentatively set for March 15. The 16-year-old defendant, who is being tried as an adult, is charged with the Feb. 12, 2008, shooting death of Larry King at E.O. Green School in Oxnard.

The Ventura County Star says Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell on Monday set an April 4 hearing to determine if attorneys will be ready for trial on May 2. Defense lawyers want more information, including the release of the victim’s juvenile records.

McInerney is also charged with a hate crime because he allegedly had adopted white supremacist views and King professed to be gay. A police gang expert testified in a 2009 preliminary hearing that white supremacists consider gays enemies of the white race.

—  John Wright

Joel Burns is kicking off his campaign tonight in Fort Worth. Is there any chance it’ll be for mayor?

Gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns will celebrate his 42nd birthday tonight with a re-election campaign kickoff party at the Historic Fort Worth Masonic Temple.

“When I think about my childhood birthday memories, I remember Mom baked and decorated a unique cake every year tied to a themed party she dreamed up,” Burns writes on his website, where people can also share their own birthday memories. “One year was train cars, another was cowboys, and I remember being particularly excited about the year I had a Speed Racer party. After the party we would climb into Daddy’s pick-up and drive to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. My family always made me feel special, as though all of Fort Worth was putting on this grand event just for me and my birthday. Fort Worth remains my favorite place to celebrate a birthday, and I’m proud that it remains a place that makes everyone feel welcomed and special.”

We put in a call to Burns earlier today but haven’t heard back yet. While we have no reason to believe he plans to run for anything other than re-election to his District 9 council seat, we’re sure we’re not alone in wondering if he’s entertained any thoughts whatsoever of running for mayor. Four-term incumbent Mayor Mike Moncrief announced his retirement on Thursday. The filing period begins Monday, and the race to replace Moncrief is already under way. At the very least, it’s fun to dream about the prospect of having second gay big-city mayor in Texas.

Burns did issue a statement on Thursday afternooon in response to Moncrief’s retirement:

“In his service as State Representative, County Judge, State Senator and Mayor, Mike Moncrief has been a example of public service to the citizens of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and Texas my entire life,” Burns said. “I have enjoyed serving with a mayor who has such a strong and evident love for Fort Worth and commitment to Fort Worth’s future generations.  I hope that after he and his co-captain, Rosie, have the ability to spend some much-deserved time together, that they will continue to be example of service and leadership in our City for decades to come.”

RSVP for Burns’ party — where, who knows, he might make an unexpected announcement — by going here.

—  John Wright

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

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

Dallas County ballots include 3 gay candidates

Log Cabin president says election offers LGBT voters several viable Republican candidates to back

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

The ballot for this year’s election is long — nine pages in some parts of Dallas County. Voters will decide races for district attorney, county clerk and county judge in addition to a number of family, district and criminal court judges.

Those are in addition, of course, to all statewide positions and members of the Texas and U.S. House of Representatives.

Four propositions also appear on the ballot. Two countywide questions would legalize beer and wine sales throughout Dallas County. Two are city questions about selling two parks.

Three openly gay candidates appear on the ballot. Gary Fitzsimmons is seeking re-election as county clerk. Tonya Parker is running for 116th Civil District Court judge. And Peter Schulte appears on the ballot in parts of the city. He is challenging Dan Branch for the Texas House in a district that includes parts of Oak Lawn.

All three are Democrats.

Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein touted a number of Republican candidates, especially some running for judicial positions.

“Jonathan Neerman is an attorney and lined up quite a few competent people who know what it takes,” Schlein said.

Neerman is chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party.

This is not a complete list but highlights some races of interest in the LGBT community.

District Clerk
Former City Councilman Craig Holcomb is treasurer of Fitzsimmons’ re-election campaign.

“As Dallas County district clerk, he has moved that office into the 21st century,” Holcomb said of Fitzsimmons.

For the first time, all documents are now transmitted electronically.

Fitzsimmons has saved almost $1 million for his office since he was first elected in 2006 when compared with his predecessor during the previous four years. He also removed a one-year backlog of family court filings.

“And I’ve never seen him work as hard as he has in the last four years,” Holcomb said.

Fitzsimmons worked for Holcomb for 15 years.

Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore said, “He’s one of the more competent elected officials in Dallas County.”

Fitzsimmons’ opponent in the race is Tammy Barnes, 47. She has a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement and is a candidate for a masters’ in criminal justice from the University of North Texas.

Barnes is a member of the Lancaster Zoning Board of Adjustment,  a Big Sister volunteer and president and casework volunteer for Family Outreach of Southern Dallas.

County Judge
Clay Jenkins defeated County Judge Jim Foster in the Democratic primary and now faces Republican Wade Emmert in the general election.

“We need to have someone who sees the county as needing tending and not as their own personal playground,” Moore said of the county judge’s office. “Clay has a good perspective on that.”

She said he has the personality and wherewithal to be a good county judge.

Jenkins served as an intern to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost and was Oscar Mauzy’s law clerk when he served on the Texas Supreme Court.

Jenkins is president of the law practice Jenkins & Jenkins, with offices in Dallas and Waxahachie. This is his first run for public office.

Emmert is also an attorney and serves on the Cedar Hill City Council.

“On the City Council, he develops budgets and does the things that are needed as county judge,” said Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein.

Emmert often attends Log Cabin meetings and Schlein believes that if elected he’d be open and accessible to the LGBT community.

County Commissioner District 4
Former Dallas City Council member Elba Garcia is challenging 16-year incumbent Ken Mayfield for County Commissioner District 4.

Mayfield is known for his combative style in Commissioners Court. Fitzsimmons called him “the most homophobic elected official in Dallas County.”

In 1995, Mayfield signed a letter with two other commissioners regarding condom distribution.

“We don’t want anyone, especially anyone in authority, telling our children or future grandchildren that it’s an approved or acceptable lifestyle to be a homosexual, a prostitute or a drug user,” Mayfield and the others wrote.

Garcia, on the other hand, is seen as a strong ally of the LGBT community. She served four terms on the Dallas City Council representing North Oak Cliff.

Moore called the county commissioner seat critical when it comes to funding HIV services at Parkland hospital.

“She was not only there for us, she was first in line leading the effort,” Moore said of Garcia’s tenure on the council. “She was instrumental in passing the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.”

But Mayfield, Moore said, is one of the LGBT community’s worst enemies.

In the last days leading up to the election, Mayfield has been accusing Garcia of voter fraud. Mayfield’s supporters said that absentee ballots were sent when none were requested and they charge that Garcia encouraged people to vote twice.

No charges have been filed.

District Attorney

Danny Clancy is challenging incumbent Democrat Craig Watkins for Dallas County district attorney.  Although Watkins sought LGBT support in his first campaign, Moore said that as district attorney he has been a divisive figure, accused of being a celebrity D.A. and not doing his job here.

Neerman believes that more than any other race, this is the one for the LGBT community to consider voting Republican.

Clancy has been an assistant district attorney, criminal court judge and private attorney. He has prosecuted more than 250 cases and, as judge, presided over more than 450 cases.

“Clancy will protect all of Dallas County,” said campaign spokesman Brian Mayes.

He said that this race is between a D.A. caught in a number of ethical controversies who refuses to pursue a number of cases and a prosecutor who is tough on crime.

Mayes said sexual orientation would play no role in how tough Clancy would prosecute. He said that he’s looking for support from Log Cabin Republicans and the rest of the LGBT community.

“He’s a good guy,” said Mayes. “His heart’s in the right place. He has no political agenda in fighting crime.

“It’s about competence vs. incompetence,” said Schlein. “Not about left and right.”

County Criminal Court No. 2
Dan Montalvo is challenging incumbent King Fifer for County Criminal Court No. 2.

Schlein said Montalvo spoke to Log Cabin at the recent Grand Ol’ Party. He told the group he’s challenged about being Hispanic and Republican just as Log Cabin is questioned about being gay and Republican. Schlein believes he’d be a fair judge.

Montalvo is challenging Democratic incumbent Jeff Rosenfield.

116th Civil District Court
Tonya Parker faces Mike Lee for 116th Civil District Court.

“She’s one of the most eminently qualified people running to be judge and we support her 100 percent,” Moore said.

Among her honors, Parker was listed as a rising star by Texas Monthly three times and in 2006 was named Dallas Association of Young Lawyers Outstanding Young Lawyer.

Mike Lee is an attorney whose practice focused on civil litigation. He has significant experience representing minors in cases before Dallas County juvenile courts.

“Mike Lee’s a good guy,” said Schlein. “He’s someone gay people should be comfortable with,” he said.

193rd District Court
Carl Ginsberg is an active member of Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats. He took the lead in educating his colleagues about gender-marker changes and said that there’s statutory authority to make those changes.

“Believe it or not, there’s actually the legal authority in Texas to do it,” Ginsberg told Dallas Voice earlier this year.

Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats President Pennington Ingley said, “He’s an avid supporter of ours. He’s very approachable and has been a strong supporter of LGBT issues.”

His opponent is Republican Wes Johnson.

194th District Court

Judge Ernest White presided over the Jimmy Lee Dean hate crime trial. The jury handed down a sentence even tougher than the one the prosecutor suggested.

Michael Robinson was a witness to the crime. He testified in the case and sat through the entire trial. He said he was impressed with how White handled the case and allowed his testimony to be given.

“The LGBT community needs more judges like Judge Ernest White to allow crimes like these to be heard fairly and without any bias towards the community,” Robinson said.

“Judge White allowed all the evidence to be heard so the jury could make a decision to convict Bobby Singleton [to receive] 75 years and Jonathan Gunter [to receive] 30 years [in prison].”

His opponent is Republican David Lewis.

292nd Judicial District Court

Lisa DeWitt is challenging incumbent Democrat Larry Mitchell.

“She’s a member of Log Cabin,” Schlein said of DeWitt, “an open and active supporter.”

DeWitt uses her Log Cabin endorsement in all of her campaign literature and stood up for the group when questioned about her support and involvement, Schlein said.

Log Cabin honored her recently at their Grand Ol’ Party. She has been a county attorney and a public defender.

The Democrat in the race is Larry Mitchell.

298th Civil District Court
Emily Tobolowsky is a longtime member of Stonewall Democrats but her current claim to fame is from her cousin Stephen. He plays disgraced gay music teacher Sandy Ryerson on Glee.

Before her 2007 election, Tobolowsky was an attorney with experience from commercial, real estate and employment litigation to family law.

Her opponent in the race is Bryce Quine, a trial lawyer and a partner at the law firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP.

301st Family District Court

Judge Lynn Cherry, a Democrat, ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change at the request of DART.

That ruling began a push by a number of groups to get DART to change their discriminatory policy against transgender employees and had LGBT groups questioning why the agency would interfere in a family court matter.

Cherry hasn’t commented on the matter or explained why an employer’s opinion would be considered in a family court matter.

Her opponent is George White, a family court attorney with 35 years experience. He has completed more than 8,000 cases. He was member of the Texas Army National Guard. Schlein calls him affable and said he’s been to a couple of Log Cabin meetings.

302nd Family District Court  Judge Tena Callahan declared that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The decision related to a gay couple who had married in Massachusetts and filed for divorce in Texas.

Attorney General Greg Abbott challenged the divorce. A three-judge appeals court panel overturned her decision. The divorce is again on appeal. “She would say she made the right decision and was just doing her job,” Moore said.

Her opponent is family law attorney Julie Reedy, who endorsed Callahan before deciding to run for the office herself. Reedy’s campaign website refers to Callahan’s decision by saying, “I promise NOT to legislate from the bench and will serve the court to the letter of the law.”

Propositions
Two countywide propositions appear on the ballot in Dallas. The first would lift the restriction on sale of beer and wine in convenience and grocery stores throughout the county. The second would allow restaurants throughout the county to sell beer and wine without being private clubs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Why is John Wiley Price trying to get rid of gay Parkland hospital board member Chris Luna?

Chris Luna

We’ve been trying to get in touch with openly gay former Dallas City Councilman Chris Luna, who’s reportedly being targeted by Commissioner John Wiley Price for ouster from Parkland hospital’s Board of Managers.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Price called an executive session this past Tuesday to discuss with other commissioners his proposal to oust Luna, who was appointed by openly gay County Judge Jim Foster late last year. Price has not said publicly why he wants Luna off the board:

Luna, a former Dallas City Council member, said Monday that he didn’t understand Price’s action.

“No one on the Commissioners Court has expressed any concern or dissatisfaction to me,” Luna said.

County Judge Jim Foster, who appointed Luna late last year, said Price didn’t talk to him before making a last-minute addition to the agenda of the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting.

“He has not shown me the common courtesy of picking up the phone and calling,” Foster said.

The DMN later reported that commissioners had met in executive session and opted to delay their decision about removing Luna from the board for a week, until next Tuesday.

When Luna was appointed to the board, he told Dallas Voice he was looking forward to the assignment and hoped to revive a proposal for Parkland to offer domestic partner benefits.

In response to our messages, Luna sent us an e-mail late Wednesday saying only that he would be at a professional conference Wednesday and Thursday.

We spoke Thursday morning with openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, a friend of Luna’s. Fitzsimmons noted that because Tuesday’s discussion was in a closed executive session, he doesn’t know what commissioners talked about.

“All I know is there had been some accusations made which are currently being investigated,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s a mystery.”

—  John Wright

Florida appeals court upholds decision overturning nation’s only gay adoption ban

Case likely headed to state Supreme Court

CURT ANDERSON  |  Associated Press

MIAMI — A Miami appeals court has upheld a ruling overturning Florida’s law banning adoption by gays.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal issued its decision Wednesday, Sept. 22 affirming a lower court’s decision that the ban is unconstitutional.

Florida is the only state with a law flatly banning gays from adopting children without exception. Gays can be foster parents in Florida.

A Miami-Dade County judge ruled the gay adoption ban unconstitutional in 2008, but the state appealed. The case will ultimately go to the state Supreme Court.

Martin Gill and his male partner, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit in their attempt to adopt two brothers who have been their foster children since December 2004.

—  John Wright