DART unanimously approves transgender protections, but wording of policy still at issue

DART
Audience members from the LGBT community deliver a standing ovation after DART’s Board of Directors gave final approval to transgender employment protections on Tuesday night.

After removing a one-word amendment that would have gutted the measure, DART’s Board of Directors voted uanimously Tuesday night to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

About 50 people from the LGBT community packed the DART meeting, with roughly 10 of them addressing the board during a public comment period. They called on board members to approve the policy after first removing the word “except,” which was inserted by the board last week.

According to LGBT legal experts, the word would have nullified the proposed transgender protections and rescinded those for gay employees that were adopted by DART in 1995.

“A word is standing between us, and the word is ‘except,’” Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore told the DART board, adding that everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity. “All of these things also include you. Why not include us?”

Following the 30-minute public comment period, DART board member William Tsao made a motion to remove the word “except” and approve the new policy. The motion was seconded by board member Faye Wilkins before being approved unanimously.

The vote drew a standing ovation from the audience.

Later, however, some said they still had concerns about the final wording of the policy.

Cece Cox, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, sought clarification from the board following the vote. And Cox and others from the LGBT community huddled after the meeting to discuss the issue. They indicated they planned to work with DART on possible substitute language in the coming days.

“We moved the ball down the field,” RCD spokesman Rafael McDonnell said later. “We’re not at the goal line.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for video from the meeting, and for a full story, see Friday’s Voice.

—  John Wright

LGBT leaders say tonight's DART vote 'not a done deal,' urge community to pack meeting

imagesDespite published reports that DART’s Board of Directors plans to add transgender employees to the agency’s nondiscrimination policy tonight, LGBT advocates say they aren’t calling off the dogs.

After all, DART officials have been saying for months they intend to amend the policy in response to allegations of discrimination against a transgender bus driver. Then suddenly last week, the Board of Directors inserted a one-word amendment that would both gut the current proposal and rescind 15-year-old protections for gay DART employees.

The Dallas Morning News published an article this morning saying the DART board is expected to remove the amendment tonight, and reword the policy so it is fully inclusive of LGBT workers. But Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas who’s helped spearhead the LGBT community’s efforts, said he isn’t taking any chances.

“We still need a packed room tonight,” McDonnell said. “This is not a done deal until the board members vote.”

McDonnell said those slated to address the DART board tonight include RCD associate executive director Cece Cox; Equality Texas political director Randall Terrell; Lisa Scheps, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas; Rebecca Solomon from Bank of America; Edward Dykes from American Airlines; and openly gay former Dallas City Councilmen John Loza and Chris Luna.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at DART headquarters, 1401 Pacific Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

DART guts transgender policy

Closed-door session leads to proposal that could take protections from gay and lesbian employees and offer none to transgender employees

By John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

LGBT advocates expressed outrage this week after learning that Dallas Area Rapid Transit had effectively gutted a months-old proposal to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Following a 30-minute closed-door session to discuss the new policy on Tuesday, June 15, DART’s Board of Directors hastily approved an amendment stating that the agency won’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no state or federal employment protections for LGBT people, the amendment could allow DART to discriminate against workers based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT legal experts said the amendment would not only nullify the addition to the policy of gender identity, but it would also rescind DART’s protections for sexual orientation, enacted in 1995.

Cece Cox, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said she felt the LGBT community’s “trust has been shattered.”

“Without answers from DART, we are left to speculate that DART does not care about equity for LGBT people and even perhaps that this was deliberately sabotaged,” Cox said in a statement released Thursday. “We have not seen action like this since ExxonMobil rescinded employment protections at their merger in the most crass display of disregard for their LGBT employees in recent corporate history. A final vote has not taken place. DART has time to do the right thing. If it does not, DART should be prepared for outrage from the LGBTA community.”

The DART Board of Directors is scheduled to take a final vote on the new policy Tuesday, June 22. The proposal to add gender identity to the policy came about in response to allegations that the agency discriminated against a transgender bus driver.

RCD spokesman Rafael McDonnell said the nature of the LGBT community’s presence at next Tuesday’s meeting likely will depend on what happens in the meantime.

“The question is going to be, are they going to change the language?” McDonnell said Thursday. “Do they get that the language is bad? And if so, what are they doing about it? I think that will reflect the tone of what we do on Tuesday.”

By noon Thursday, DART officials gave no indication they planned to revisit the amendment, which was caught by Dallas Voice after the agency forwarded a draft of the policy to the newspaper on Wednesday afternoon.

In response to questions about the amendment, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons insisted that the agency’s intent is to add gender identity to the policy and become more inclusive.

But Lyons couldn’t explain the reason for the amendment, and he denied requests for an interview with the agency’s attorneys.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said he felt the community had been “royally screwed” by DART.

“It’s exactly the opposite of what they promised they were doing,” Upton said. “After all the work that’s gone into this, if this is what comes out of it, then we got nothing. They can say that’s not what they intended, but that’s what it says.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

Someone from Mayor Leppert's staff contacts DART board member about LGBT protections

I’m not quite sure what to make of the latest update on the DART situation from The Dallas Morning News.

The point of the story appears to be that a staffer for Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert contacted DART board member William Tsao Friday morning and encouraged Tsao to support an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy, which Tsao thought he had already done. My guess would be that the person who called Tsao was Chris Heinbaugh, the mayor’s openly gay chief of staff, whom I’ve talked to a couple of times about this issue. (Saturday’s print version of the article confirms that it was Heinbaugh who called Tsao.)

The strange thing is that Tsao was apparently not even aware of the whole controversy involving the amendment that would gut the LGBT protections until Friday morning. Don’t DART board members and staff exchange e-mails? We’ve been reporting on this situation since Wednesday afternoon, when I contacted DART spokesman Morgan Lyons about it. Wouldn’t you expect Lyons to say something about it to someone else at DART, like maybe a board member? And does Tsao not read The Morning News or Dallas Voice or the Dallas Observer?

—  John Wright

LGBT community urged to pack chambers for DART's vote Tuesday on LGBT protections

Resource Center Dallas has set up a Facebook page and is encouraging people to attend Tuesday’s DART Board of Directors meeting, where the board is scheduled to vote for the final time on a new nondiscrimination policy which, as currently written, wouldn’t protect LGBT employees.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for RCD, said those who attend the meeting shouldn’t feel compelled to speak during the public comment period.

“We need the bodies in the seats, because opponents of the community I’m sure will have folks there,” he said. “We need people at the meeting ready to fill those seats and be there to show who we are. That’s incredibly important. We want to pack the chamber, and that’s what we have to do in this case.”

The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 22 at DART headquarters, 1401 Pacific Ave. You may want to arrive early to find parking and because you’ll have to go through security to get into the board room. On-street parking is free after 6 p.m.

—  John Wright

Transgender former officer says DART board member Ray Noah liked to call her a 'him'

NOAH2004
Ray Noah

We received a note this morning from Diana J. Powe, a former police officer for the city of Richardson who happens to be transgender. Powe wrote us about Ray Noah, the DART board member from Richardson who proposed the amendment Tuesday night that gutted the agency’s proposed transgender protections. As we reported earlier, Noah has said he believes DART should have the right to discriminate against trans people when necessary. Powe, who transitioned in 2000 and retired in 2007, recounted her experiences working with Noah, who is the presiding judge for Richardson Municipal Court:

Ray Noah is not only the current (just renewed on April 26th by the Richardson City Council) DART representative for Richardson but he is also the presiding judge for the Richardson municipal court. In that capacity, he had numerous instances to interact with a transgendered employee of the city. I was a police officer in November 2000 when I transitioned from male to female with the complete support of then-police chief Ken Yarbrough, then-mayor Gary Slagel, and current city manager Bill Keffler. I continued in that capacity until I retired on May 31, 2007 after 26 years-plus with RPD. Having spent all but a little more than two years of my career in patrol, I had innumerable instances of testifying in court with Judge Noah on the bench both before and after I transitioned. While he was unfailingly polite in his demeanor and speech toward me, he also routinely accidentally referred to me when I was on the witness stand with the male pronoun post-transition. This caused some defendants and jurors obvious confusion considering the fact that I had extensive facial surgery to ensure my feminine appearance. This effect was often heightened when he would apologize in court for his mistake.

As I didn’t work for Judge Noah and knowing that he had a long history in the city (he was mayor from 1968-1983) I chose to rise above something which didn’t seem enough of a problem to create any controversy over, most especially since I had no way of knowing if his error was just that or something else. However, having read your story about this proposed change in the DART policy, I have to wonder about Judge Noah’s actual personal views on gender-variant people and whether they might be part of his motivation. I thought this piece of background might be useful as you pursue this story.

Sincerely,

Diana J. Powe

—  John Wright

DART's attorneys weren't the only ones in on the secret plot to gut LGBT protections

The Dallas Morning News has a story up at the very top of its website about Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s decision to gut proposed protections for transgender employees. (I just retrieved my hard copy from the driveway, and the story also appears on the front page of the Metro section.)

I could go on and on about how the DMN story gives zero credit to the Voice — which uncovered DART’s diabolical plan and broke this story exclusively over the last two days — but I won’t. I could talk about about how I’m not some fancy lawyer like DMN reporter Michael Lindenberger, who also happens to be gay, and about how I didn’t need a stinkin’ law degree to read the proposed policy and figure out what DART was trying to do. And I could point out that Lindenberger, a professional transportationologist who covers agencies like DART for a living, didn’t even attend Tuesday’s DART board meeting as far as I know. I could even accuse The DMN of pandering to the LGBT community in response to a meeting last week between editors and gay leaders who demanded that the newspaper do a better job of covering our issues. But I won’t. Starting after the jump, I’ll stick to the findings of Lindenberger’s story, which is actually half decent.

—  John Wright

DART board member says he was 'duped' by attorneys on nondiscrimination policy

A DART board member said Thursday evening that he was “duped” by the agency’s attorneys into approving a nondiscrimination policy that wouldn’t protect gay or transgender employees.

In an exclusive interview with Dallas Voice, DART board member Claude R. Willams Jr. said he didn’t learn until earlier in the day that neither gay nor transgender workers would be protected under the new policy.

The board’s goal was to add gender identity to the nondiscrimination policy, which has included sexual orientation since 1995. However, a one-word amendment approved by the DART board on Tuesday night would nullify protections for both gay and transgender employees.

Williams, who represents the city of Dallas on the DART board, blamed himself for not catching the amendment, which he said was recommended by the agency’s attorneys. But Williams also vowed to fix it. The DART board is scheduled to take a final vote on the new policy Tuesday, June 22.

“I feel duped and misled,” Williams said. “The new language does not embrace the thoughts and the philosophy we wanted embraced into the policy change. We depended on legal and our general counsel to come up with the wording that would embrace that philosophy, and obviously that wasn’t done.”

Williams was reluctant to point fingers at specific DART staff members, but the agency’s general counsel is Hyattye O. Simmons. Simmons is also one of the attorneys who drafted a motion opposing a transgender bus driver’s gender-marker change in family court last year.  The motion and other alleged discrimination against the transgender bus driver led to the proposal to add gender identity to the nondiscrimination policy.

“Now that I”m aware of it and now that other members who supported the policy change are aware, we’re going to have to go back and have language put in that embraces our philosophy, and it’s apparent that we might have to have an attorney we can trust who will put that in,” Williams said.

“It’s sad that now you’ve got to depend on outside attorneys to be brought in to the process,” he added. “Right now, everyone who voted for it is probably as shocked and disappointed as I am. I’ve lost a lot of confidence right now — and trust.”

To read my full story on the trans protections, go here.

—  John Wright

Anatomy of a gutting: The progession of DART's proposed transgender protections

Screen shot 2010-06-17 at 1.56.34 PM

Above are the original changes that were proposed to DART’s nondiscrimination policy back in May. The screen grab is taken directly from a slideshow presented by Kriss Ann Gamez, DART’s director of diversity and EEO. Gamez presented the slideshow on May 11 to the DART board’s Economic Opportunity and Diversity Committee, which uanimously approved the proposed changes. After the jump, I’ve reposted the proposed policy that was approved this week by the DART Board’s committee-of-the-whole. While only one word has been added to the sentence in question, the trans protections — as well as those that have been in place for sexual orientation since 1995 — have effectively been gutted. More on all this in Friday’s Voice.

—  John Wright

DART guts proposed transgender protections

UPDATE: As you can see in my above video from last night’s meeting, it was DART board member Raymond Noah who proposed the amendment that ultimately gutted the proposed transgender protections. However, given that no other board members questioned Noah’s amendment,  it’s likely that it had been crafted and discussed behind closed doors. An attorney, Noah represents Richardson, Highland Park, Addison and University Park on the DART board.

I just spoke with Ken Upton at Lambda Legal regarding my concerns about the wording of DART’s proposed nondiscrimination policy.

And Upton agrees that the addition of the word “except,” which was inserted by the DART Board of Directors last night in a closed session, has the effect of gutting the policy as it relates to both sexual orientation and gender identity. (See my post below.)

“They just screwed you guys over royally,” Upton said. “By adding that word in there, they’ve said we can discriminate all we want. It’s exactly the opposite of what they promised they were doing.”

—  John Wright