DCCCD adds trans protections

Only 1 community college district trustee votes against change

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CELEBRATION | GetEQUAL activist C.D. Kirven, left, hugs Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center Dallas, as trans rights activist Pam Curry, right, looks on after the Dallas County Community College District board voted Tuesday, Jan. 3, to add protections for transgender employees and students to its nondiscrimination policies. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Dallas County Community College District board of trustees voted Tuesday, Jan. 3 to add gender identity to the district’s non-discrimination policies. The vote came less than three months after the trustees initially declined to add the specific protections, saying the policies were unnecessary.

The trustees approved three measures this week. The first protects transgender employees from discrimination and harassment, while two additional policies cover students — in the student code of conduct and in the district’s nondiscrimination statement.

The policy change was first proposed last spring when Resource Center Dallas Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell contacted DCCCD Trustee Diana Flores, who has supported the policy change from the beginning.

“It wasn’t difficult at all,” Flores said after the board meeting about convincing her fellow
trustees to support the addition. “The LGBT community did a good job of informing the board. Congratulations to the community.”

Only five speakers addressed the board on Tuesday, although another five had signed up to speak.

Dallas County Community College graduate Brad Shankle offered a unique perspective in his remarks. “I struggled with gender dysphoria, although I found a way to deal with it,” he said, adding that having the policy in place while he was a student would have made campus life easier for him.

McDonnell gave the board facts and statistics: In a little more than a year, Dallas Independent School District, DFW Airport, Dallas County and Dallas Area Rapid Transit have all added nondiscrimination protections based on gender identity and expression. Around the country, 410 colleges and universities have protections based on gender identity and expression. And more than half of Fortune 500 companies have these protections in place, McDonnell said, specifically mentioning AT&T.

Earlier in the meeting, Wesley Jameson — who works for AT&T — was sworn in as the newest DCCCD trustee.

When McDonnell asked everyone in the audience who had attended to support the changes to stand, about 20 people responded.

RCD board member and DCCCD student Maeve O’Connor told the board her story. And GetEQUAL North Texas Regional Coordinator Daniel Cates, a student at El Centro College, told the board, “No matter who you are, you deserve a safe place to work and go to school.” He said that a “yes” vote would protect everyone and set an example for other colleges in the state.

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Maeve O’Connor

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez told trustees that a transgender person is twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population and one in four has been fired simply because of gender identity.

Board Chair Jerry Prater then cut off public comments, telling those attending, “We have gotten your message, loud and clear.”

Five trustees were present to vote. Four voted in favor and only Trustee Bill Metzger voted no.

While the board was receptive to the message delivered at the January meeting, passing the policy took more than half a year from the time it was first proposed. And at one point during the fall, it looked like the protections would not even be considered.

When the board was briefed on the policy in October, some members said they thought amending the nondiscrimination statement was unnecessary because it was covered by sexual orientation, and because the city of Dallas prohibits discrimination. Although only two of the system’s colleges are located within the city of Dallas, the school’s attorney argued that the entire system was covered by the ordinance because the district’s headquarters is located in Dallas.

Confusion about the definition of sexual orientation stemmed from the wording in the 2002 Dallas ordinance. The city regulation only lists sexual orientation but the definition of the term within the ordinance includes gender identity.

But the city ordinance specifically exempts other governmental bodies. DCCCD is its own taxing authority and is, therefore, exempt from city regulations.
DCCCD is also not covered by Dallas County laws.

The county Commissioners Court amended its employment policy to include gender identity and expression in 2011. But DCCCD employees work for the community college district, not the county. And that employment policy would not cover students.

When the policy was proposed last spring, San Jacinto College, based in Pasadena east of Houston, was the only community college in Texas with gender identity protections.

In December Houston Community College added trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy.

With more than 81,000 credit students and 25,000 continuing education students enrolled in the fall 2011 semester, DCCCD is the largest community college district and the largest school in Texas. The district includes seven colleges on 13 campuses and employs 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators.
Statewide, there are 55 community colleges or community college districts. Just six of those districts have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

In addition to the three with trans protections, those that only list sexual orientation are Tarrant County College with five campuses, Austin Community College with eight campuses in Travis County and Lone Star College System based in The Woodlands north of Houston with 14 campuses in Harris and Montgomery counties.

With passage of protection by DCCCD, more than 39,000 public sector employees in Dallas County are covered by the expanded policies.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

DCCCD considering transgender policy

College district would become second in state to add protections

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PROTECTING EVERYONE | A DCCCD student studies on a bench outside El Centro Community College in Downtown Dallas. El Centro is part of the Dallas County Community College District, which is considering adding protections for transgenders to its nondiscrimination policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, Dallas County Community College District board of trustees was briefed in closed-door session about adding gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy.

The district already has protection based on sexual orientation.

If the board votes to approve the change, DCCCD would become only the second community college in Texas to add gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policies. San Jacinto College, with three campuses based in Pasadena, east of Houston, is currently the only two-year college in the state to offer those protections.

Resource Center Dallas Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said he has been talking to DCCCD Trustee Diana Flores since spring about adding transgender protections, and had hope the changes would be in place for the fall semester.

But the issue was not added to the agenda at the September meeting as hoped. Staff told McDonnell they expected it to be on the consent agenda at the October meeting. Instead the board received a briefing.

McDonnell said he didn’t think the policy would have a problem passing, and that the briefing was about how to implement the change.

He said he hopes the policy would come up at next month’s meeting and be in place by the start of the spring semester.

DCCCD is the largest school in Texas, with 72,000 students in seven colleges on 13 campuses. The school employs 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators.

The district is governed by a board of trustees who are elected for six-year terms and serve without compensation.

McDonnell said Flores, one of the seven elected trustees, has been the champion of adding transgender protections.

The University of Texas at Austin website lists 55 community colleges or community college districts in Texas. Just six of those districts have nondiscrimination policies that specifically include sexual orientation.

In addition to DCCCD and San Jacinto College, Tarrant County College, Austin Community College, Houston Community College and Lone Star College System in North Harris and Montgomery Counties north of Houston offer protection based on sexual orientation.

Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance has approached Collin County Community College in the past about adding LGBT protections to its nondiscrimination policy, but the school has not done so.

With the growing LGBT population in the suburbs north of Dallas, McDonnell thought that school would be one of the next to add protections.

Other two-year schools in the area include Corsicana-based Navarro College with campuses in Waxahachie and Midlothian and Gainesville-based North Central Texas College with campuses in Flower Mound and Corinth. Neither has policies specifically protecting LGBT students, faculty and staff.

Among its student activities, Navarro College lists P.R.I.S.M. (GSA). That gay-straight alliance group formed last year. The listing links to no additional web page. With its active LGBT student group, McDonnell thought Navarro College might be among the next schools approached to add protections.

Out at Collin is an LGBT group at CCCC and under that organization’s membership requirements, a nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

That is the only student group that does include such a policy, however.

Although the CCCC listing links to a page, the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are not found on there. Only goals of the group, such as “Empower the misunderstood and give a voice to the under-represented” and “Bring awareness and dispel stereotypes to the larger community” are listed.

NCTC has fewer student activities than the other area colleges and lists no organized LGBT group. But most of the 13 “Official Student Organizations” listed on the Corinth and

Flower Mound campuses are curriculum-related. The only social groups are Christians In Action and Latino Leadership Council.

Although a written nondiscrimination policy doesn’t insure equal treatment, it does give an employee or student some recourse.

Protections in the Tarrant County College policies were added after instructor Jackie Gill was fired because of her perceived sexual orientation. She filed a lawsuit against the school on Sept. 7. Lambda Legal is representing her in the case.

Lambda Legal staff attorney Ken Upton said that the school has retained an attorney and has another month to answer the charges. He said that they will have 90 days to six months to do discovery.

“Then I suspect they’ll order alternative dispute resolution,” he said, meaning mediation or arbitration.

Upton said Gill’s case is interesting because she was fired before TCC had sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.

He said the school would have to show that they have a legitimate reason to dismiss faculty based on their sexual orientation. But if they did have a legitimate reason, why would they have added the category to their nondiscrimination policy?

“Private companies have great policies that are not enforceable in court,” Upton said. But a government agency that has a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation would have to show a compelling interest to fire gays and lesbians.

Despite her treatment by one faculty member, Gill “wants to teach and she loves the school,” Upton said. “They have five campuses and they have a demand. They’re looking for instructors.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas