RCD discusses DP benefits with DART

Andrew Moss

After Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials refused to meet with a former police officer about offering domestic partner benefits, Resource Center Dallas met with DART officials this week.

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell, CEO Cece Cox and board member Gary Fraundorfer, who is vice president of human resources at AT&T, met with DART Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver this week to discuss LGBT issues after RCD sent a letter requesting a meeting.

McDonnell said the meeting went well and Oliver encouraged them to speak to board members and offered his personal support.

“He outlined and stated his support for LGBT issues,” he said.

McDonnell said it will take some “serious educating” of DART board members before they’ll vote to add DP benefits.

He said the discussion also touched on trans health services and other LGBT issues, but those would also require the board’s approval.

Former employee Andrew Moss created a Change.org petition a few weeks ago to get DART to add DP benefits after health issues prevented him from working. His husband still works for DART.

Although DART refused to meet with Moss, he said he helped RCD meet with Oliver because the organization had tried to schedule meetings with no success.

McDonnell said the “petition has certainly put DP benefits on their radar.” He told Moss about how the meeting went, and Moss said he thinks board members won’t need too much education if the problem and inequality was explained to them.

“I really, honestly believe if you have the support of executive management, I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen,” he said.

Overall, he said he’s glad DART agreed to meet with someone about the issue and believes DART will soon offer the benefits.

“I feel very optimistic,” Moss said. “I think it’s going to turn out like it should.”

—  Anna Waugh

DART refuses to meet with former employee about adding DP benefits

Former Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officer Andrew Moss was supposed to meet with a DART official this week, but no meeting took place and won’t anytime soon.

Moss no longer works at DART and has stopped working for health reasons. His partner still works there so he could add Moss to his health insurance if DART offered DP benefits. He started a Change.org petition encouraging the agency to add the benefits, which has garnered 1,044 signatures.

DART contacted Moss two weeks ago after Instant Tea brought the petition to their attention, he said. Planning began for a meeting with him and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver.

The following week, Resource Center Dallas sent a letter to DART officials to encourage them to offer DP benefits. Moss was told he could meet with Jesse Oliver Monday or Tuesday of this week.

He received a letter from Betty Bird, DART’s director of compensation and benefits stating there were no plans to change the healthcare coverage for employees. The letter states eligible dependents are unmarried children under 26 and spouses recognized under Texas law.

Moss said he called Bird Monday and was informed that Oliver had asked her to send him the letter because he had no intention of meeting with Moss to discuss the matter. That news was a surprise to Moss after DART had reached out to him for a meeting.

“I was so surprised because they told me that I would meet with him,” Moss said, adding that Oliver likely backed out of a meeting once he found out it was LGBT-related. “I think the opinion changed, that he was open at one point to a conversation until he realized it was about LGBT issues and domestic partner benefits.”

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the agency didn’t reach out to Moss, but he did request a meeting several times. He said Moss is not an employee any longer and a letter explaining the policy was sent to him, so “there was just no reason to meet with him.”

However, DART officials will meet with the Resource Center Dallas representatives and are working to schedule a time. Lyons said officials have met with RCD in the past and have granted a request for a meeting after they received a letter from the center last week.

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell said employees have not yet been contacted to set up a meeting with DART.

Moss said he’ll appeal to the Board of Directors to get the issue discussed and possibly voted on. In the meantime, he said he’ll work to gain more support from the LGBT community for the cause.

“DART has the opportunity and the power to do the right thing and be on the right side of civil rights,” he said. “There’s nothing stopping them from doing what’s right.”

View the letter below.

—  Anna Waugh

RCD presses DART to add DP benefits

Andrew Moss

Resource Center Dallas CEO and Executive Director Cece Cox sent Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials a letter Monday urging the agency to offer its 3,500 employees domestic partner benefits.

Cox’s letter, addressed to DART Board Chair John Carter and Diversity Committee Chair Claude Williams, comes in response to a Change.org petition created by a former employee. The letter states that adding DP benefits is about “fairness and equitable treatment for all employees” and lists how other companies and cities have offered DP benefits at a lower-than-expected cost.

It goes on to request that DART review its “nondiscrimination policy, add gender expression as was the intent of the board when it voted on it in June 2010, and eliminate cumbersome, confusing language that obfuscates the intent of a policy to protect all employees fr0m discrimination.”

DART’s board approved adding trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy in 2010 amid controversy, but advocates have called the language less than ideal.

Former DART police officer Andrew Moss, who started the petition, said DART reached out to him to schedule a meeting with Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver for early next week. His petition has garnered 920 signatures.

Moss said he plans to explain how DP benefits would add value to the company, as well as change a negative view of DART in the gay community.

“DART hasn’t had a positive image in the LGBT community and hopefully a move like this will improve the image,” he said.

Moss said DART’s quick reaction in setting up a meeting means the agency views the issues as “something that’s pressing.”

While he hopes the meeting ultimately helps change DART’s stance on DP benefits, he’s not sure what to expect.

“A lot of it really just depends on what he (Oliver) expects from the meeting,” Moss said. “If I go in there and his mind’s made up, it’s fruitless.”

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell told Instant Tea that the center reached out to Oliver after he was hired this spring to meet with him about diversity issues, but he never received a response. He said the letter is another request for a meeting and offered his support of Moss.

“Resource Center Dallas supports Andrew Moss’ efforts encouraging DART to establish domestic partner benefits for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees,” McDonnell said. “This was an issue the Center initially brought up in 2010, when we worked with DART to establish transgender nondiscrimination protections for the agency’s employees.”

Read RCD’s letter below.

—  Anna Waugh

Former employee petitions DART to offer domestic partner benefits

Andrew Moss

A former Dallas Area Rapid Transit employee is petitioning the company to add domestic partner benefits after health issues have forced him to stop working.

Andrew Moss worked as a DART police officer for five years until 2008. He then worked for the city of Fort Worth until his health prevented him from working. He’s now on COBRA but that will expire in December, he said.

Moss legally married his husband in California in 2008, but Texas doesn’t recognize the marriage. He said his husband still works as a police officer for DART and could add Moss to his health insurance plan as early as January if DART offered DP benefits.

“My husband goes to work and risks his life for DART and should get the same benefits that his counterparts of a different sexual orientation get,” Moss said.

Moss has started a Change.org petition called “Urge Dallas Area Rapid Transit DART to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits” to persuade DART President Gary Thomas and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver to add the benefits.

As of Thursday afternoon, 36 people had signed it.

“In my discussion with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, I was advised by their Human Resources Managers that DART ‘Prefers not to get into the choices of their employees,’” Moss mentions in the petition letter. “I wasn’t aware my husband and I and countless others woke up one day and decided to be LGBT. DART appears to be less than willing to even attempt to assist their LGBT population in obtaining benefits or other effective workplace protections.”

—  Anna Waugh

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell explains gender identity to the Dallas County Commisisoners Court

Due to some scheduled meetings here at the Brewery, it’s not looking like Instant Tea will make it down to Commissioners Court this morning, where Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell plans to address the court during public comments about the exclusion of gender identity/expression from Dallas County’s new nondiscrimination policy.

In lieu of being there, we thought we’d go ahead and post McDonnell’s prepared remarks, which he was kind enough to send over last night. We’ll also be following up on this topic later. But for now, McDonnell’s remarks are after the jump:

—  John Wright

Top 10: Bus driver’s plight led to trans protections at DART

No. 5:

View all of the Top 10

Ever since Democrats took over the Dallas County courthouse in 2006, judges here have been routinely granting gender-marker changes — court orders that allow transgender people to obtain driver’s licenses and other forms of ID that match their appearance.

Needless to say, this has been a critical development for the transgender community, but as it turns out, even with Democrats in power, gender-marker changes don’t always go smoothly.

In one controversial case uncovered by Dallas Voice in February, an employer tried to intervene in family court to challenge an employee’s gender-marker change, prompting a Democratic judge who was considered a strong LGBT ally to overturn her decision to grant it.

The employer was Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the judge was Lynn Cherry, and this newspaper’s report about the case prompted an outcry from LGBT advocates.

After all, if DART was willing to intervene in family court to challenge an employee’s gender-marker change, would the agency do the same if it didn’t agree with a divorce settlement or a child custody arrangement?

DART offered no good explanation as to why it had sought to intervene in the case, leaving the LGBT community to believe the decision was fueled by bigotry and transphobia. And LGBT advocates demanded that the agency redeem itself by adding gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy.

The employee in the case, a longtime DART bus driver who asked not to be identified, said the agency’s decision to challenge her gender-marker change was the culmination of years of discrimination and harassment on the part of the agency.

DART had added sexual orientation but not gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 1995.

After meetings between representatives from DART and Resource Center Dallas, the proposal to add gender identity appeared to be on a fast track for approval when it unanimously cleared a committee in April.

But suddenly in May, despite the fact that the amendment had been under review for months, the agency’s Board of Directors voted to table it so they could seek more information about the definition of gender identity.

Then, following a 30-minute, possibly illegal closed-door session in mid-June, the board hastily approved new language that effectively gutted the proposal.

The new language said the agency wouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no federal or state protections for LGBT workers, legal experts said the new language would’ve not only undermined the trans protections, but also rescinded DART’s sexual orientation protections from 15 years ago.

The LGBT community was outraged anew and even more galvanized than ever over the issue.

Claude Williams, an LGBT ally on the DART board, accused the agency’s attorneys of “duping” board members into supporting the new language. Incidentally, it was these same attorneys who’d sought to challenge the employee’s gender marker change.

Finally, on June 22, Williams and other allies on the DART board put forth a motion to remove the language that would’ve gutted the proposal, and to approve it as previously written — with both gay and transgender protections in tact.

Faced with immense pressure from the LGBT community, the board unanimously approved the motion — and received a standing ovation from what was the largest LGBT audience to attend a government meeting in North Texas since Fort Worth City Council meetings in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid.

— John Wright

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Thanks for an amazing year at RCD

LGBT, HIV communities should be prepared for new challenges in 2011

What a year! Who could have predicted all the twists and turns it has taken, or the events that galvanized our country and united our communities?

IMG_1262
HELL FREEZES OVER  | A member of the Phelps clan from Westboro Baptist Church protests outside Resource Center Dallas in July. A counterprotest fundraiser organized by RCD netted more than $11,000 to buy a new ice maker for the agency’s hot lunch program. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

So much happened in 2010 involving Resource Center Dallas, and none of it could have occurred without the strong support of the HIV/AIDS and LGBT communities in North Texas.

Looking back, I am filled with gratitude and wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you. Here’s what you helped us accomplish:

• Dallas Area Rapid Transit expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity, in the wake of news stories about the discrimination experienced by a transgender bus driver;

• RCD joined forces with the Kaiser Family Foundation, Dallas County Health and Human Services, and AIDS ARMS to bring the “Greater than AIDS” campaign to Dallas, highlighting services available to people living with HIV/AIDS and promoting HIV prevention;

• DFW International Airport expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity, following a request from RCD and Fairness Fort Worth;

• A fundraising counterprotest against a “church” from Kansas brought out hundreds of community members in a rainstorm and netted more than $11,000 to buy a new ice maker for our HIV/AIDS clients’ hot lunch program;

• Following advocacy by RCD, Lambda Legal, LULAC and a coalition of other community groups, the Dallas Independent School District adopted a first-of-its-kind-in-Texas comprehensive, enumerative antibullying policy that covers not only LGBT students, but all students;

• We partnered with 138 community groups, including the Tarrant County Health Department and the Urban League of Greater Dallas, in the “Stomp Out Syphilis” campaign; administered over 3,100 HIV tests; and delivered HIV prevention messages to more than 8,600 people;

• We completed diversity training for all 700-plus employees of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage commission statewide — the first time a state agency conducted this training for all its employees;

• And, we served more than 21,500 weekday lunches and provided about 29,000 visits to our food pantry for our HIV/AIDS clients in 2010 — distributing more than 350 tons of groceries.

These accomplishments, funded while the economy remained sluggish and both the need and demand for our services continued to increase, show the generous nature and support of our communities and allies. Each and every one of you who got involved deserves recognition and a deep, sincere thank you — especially the more than 1,100 people who volunteered at RCD in 2010.

As we stand on the cusp of another year, we do not know what opportunities for change will be presented. Clearly, the political landscape has shifted, and the new realities in Washington and Austin will provide opportunities and challenges for the LGBT and HIV communities.

One key area — funding for ADAP (AIDS drug assistance programs), medical care and social services for people living with HIV — will be an issue for Texas lawmakers already grappling with a large budget deficit.

The movement toward marriage equality will continue in the federal courts, as well as state legislatures. Even though “don’t ask, don’t tell” is coming to an end, work needs to be done so that gay and lesbian members of the military can serve openly — and, there remains a prohibition on openly transgender members of the armed services.

Over the past year, the LGBT and HIV communities responded to issues as they developed. We made phone calls, wrote letters, spoke truth to power, and rallied. We donated our time to organizations quietly and without thought of recognition. We sent our dollars in to provide economic support to organizations that share our values, focus and interests.

What 2010 teaches us is that we must be ready to meet whatever challenges we encounter. Resource Center Dallas will be there, engaged on behalf of not only our communities but all North Texans. We’ll continue to develop partnerships across the region, because the issues of HIV, discrimination and equality don’t respect city limits or county lines. And, we’ll be turning to the communities again for your help and support.

Playwright and author Thornton Wilder reminds us, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

Throughout this year, you and our work with and for you kept us fully alive and conscious of our shared treasure. For that, and the opportunity you offer us to serve you and our communities, Resource Center and I say thank you. And Happy New Year!

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at Resource Center Dallas.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Working together to make history

There is work still to be done to get DART’s policy where it needs to be, but Tuesday’s vote was a big first step toward victory

Cece Cox andRafael McDonnell Guest Columnists

The North Texas LGBT community made history Tuesday night, June 22. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board of directors unanimously voted to expand its nondiscrimination protections to include gender identity.

Never before in our area has a governmental body unanimously voted to expand LGBT nondiscrimination protections. In fact, we believe that the nature of the vote was a first statewide.

This could not have happened without an impressive and inspiring collection of groups and people working with Resource Center Dallas, all working towards the same goal of inclusion. The list includes Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, LULAC 4871, GEAR, Equality March Texas, Lambda Legal, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Out&Equal DFW Council, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, HRC DFW Steering Committee, GET EQUAL NOW, and Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies.

Among the people who deserve special thanks for their help are Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas City Council, especially members Linda Koop, Dave Newman, Delia Jasso and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano.

Former council members Chris Luna and John Loza delivered impassioned remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, as did the Rev. Steve Sprinkle with Brite Divinity School and Rebecca Solomon with Bank of America.

At the heart of this story, though, there are two heroines. One is the unnamed transgender employee of the transit agency dubbed Ms. T-DART. The other is her friend, Pamela Curry. Without Ms. T-DART coming forward about her workplace treatment and DART’s intervention in her genetic marker change case, and without Pamela giving voice to the story, the nondiscrimination provisions may not have been expanded.

Admittedly, the language that the DART board adopted isn’t perfect. Work remains to be done. DART can only create an inclusive workplace if its culture matches its policies, which requires commitment, time and effort.

We will hold DART to the board’s intent, and continue to work with the agency as it drafts language for its policy manual reflecting the wishes of the board.

More than three months ago, Resource Center Dallas recognized the story of Ms. T-DART as an opportunity to offer resources to DART staff, who, in turn, worked with their board. From our experience providing cultural sensitivity training to corporations and public entities such as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, we know learning and understanding happens when solid relationships are built between communities and when those communities truly listen to one another.

More often that not, people and organizations act out of a lack of understanding rather than malice.

Even before this week’s board vote, DART staff took an important first step toward understanding inclusion when it worked with Resource Center Dallas to provide training to some of its staff.

We applaud DART for addressing what it means to have a workplace that values all employees, including those who happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay. Understanding its own diverse employees will aid DART in recruiting and retention, and in serving its diverse public in north Texas.

The efforts to change DART’s policies highlight two important additional issues for the LGBT community.

First, these debates would not have even happened if a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act was the law of the land. The bill is pending in Congress, but is in danger of becoming a casualty of election year politics. As a community, we need to force our lawmakers to act on our concerns.

Second, recent events point out the need for LGBT people to serve on boards, commissions and in government to effect change from the inside.

It was 15 years ago this week that DART first expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. It took two board votes, amid opposition from at least two groups.
This time, community engagement through calls, letters and e-mails to the DART board and Dallas City Council members led to a unanimous vote.

We all should be proud of our willingness to speak out for justice and to work together. While work remains so that DART’s policy fully reflects the board’s expressed intent for protections based on gender identity and expression, we remain hopeful that the impressive collaboration of GLBT community and DART leadership will accomplish just that.

Cece Cox is associate executive director of GLBT community services for Resource Center Dallas. E-mail her at ccox@rcdallas.org. Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at RCD. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

'Blue sheet' uncovered: A copy of the DART resolution on transgender protections

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons just sent along a copy of the two-page resolution that was apparently approved by the DART board last night. Lyons also promises to call soon, but based on his e-mail, it looks like the board did in fact approve the proposed nondiscrimination policy minus the word “except.” In other words, board member Claude Williams’ interpretation was correct. I guess this is the “blue sheet” to which Board Chairman William Velasco was alluding. But as you can see after the jump, this version ain’t blue.

—  John Wright

Questions linger over DART board's vote Tuesday night on transgender protections

DART board member Ray Noah, left, and agency general counsel Hyattye Simmons look on during last night's meeting. Noah is the board member who inserted the one-word amendment that would have gutted the proposal. And Simmons has been accused of engineering the plan.
DART board member Ray Noah, left, and agency general counsel Hyattye Simmons look on Tuesday night. Noah is the board member who proposed a one-word amendment last week that would have gutted the transgender protections. And Simmons may have been a co-conspirator.

We have phone calls and e-mails in to DART spokesman Morgan Lyons seeking clarification and confirmation about what exactly the agency’s Board of Directors approved last night with regard to transgender protections.

There are two conflicting interpretations of what happened during the meeting. We’ll explain after the jump.

—  John Wright