Redistricting plan could hurt LGBT voters

Map approved by Dallas council would cost community an ally, put heavily gay neighborhood in homophobic councilwoman’s district

DRAWN OUT | Raymond Crawford, president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, refers to the area southwest of Kiest Boulevard and Hampton Road as a “gayborhood.” Under the redistricting plan, Kiestwood would be placed in the district represented by anti-gay Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Much has been made of the fact that a redistricting plan approved by the Dallas City Council last week could disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

But the redistricting plan, should it be signed off on by the U.S. Department of Justice, could also hurt the LGBT community.

Newly elected District 3 Councilman Scott Griggs said the map approved by the council would effectively cost the LGBT community an ally at the horseshoe because he’s been drawn into District 1, currently represented by Delia Jasso.

Meanwhile, under the plan, heavily LGBT areas of Oak Cliff currently represented by Griggs and Jasso have been drawn into districts that are home to Dwaine Caraway and Vonciel Hill.

“Delia and I have been pretty involved and very supportive of the GLBT community over the years,” said Griggs, who hasn’t indicated whether he’d run against Jasso in 2013 if the plan holds up. “You have two other council members who haven’t shown as much support.

“You are losing an ally,” Griggs added. “Is Dwaine [Caraway] or her [Hill] going to be as open or responsive as Delia and I have been?”

Jasso, who formed a citizens LGBT task force after taking office in 2009, couldn’t be reached for comment this week. But Jasso reportedly supports other Hispanic leaders who plan a lawsuit against the city if the redistricting plan is approved by the justice department.

Led by attorney Domingo Garcia, they allege the plan violates the Voting Rights Act. The plan guarantees that only two to four of the council’s 14 districts would be represented by Hispanics, who account for 42 percent of the city’s population.

Jasso believes she might have difficulty retaining her seat, because the new District 1 would include heavily Anglo areas with high voter turnout, including Kessler Park, Stevens Park and Winnetka Heights.

Openly gay former Councilman John Loza, who’s Hispanic and served on the city’s redistricting commission, agreed.

“I think that map is horrendous, and I’m really hoping that a lawsuit is brought forward based on that map, and I’d be happy to testify against it if and when it happens,” Loza said.

Loza lamented that the redistricting commission spent 95 hours working on the map it submitted to the council. But the council redrew the commission’s map based on what Loza called “a backroom deal,” and the panel’s work went “down the toilet.”

Loza said although his primary concern is Hispanic representation, he’s also bothered by the fact that two of the LGBT community’s strongest allies were placed in the same district.

“I don’t think it’s as unfortunate to the LGBT community as it is to the Latino community, but I think it does both communities a disservice,” he said.

Under the plan, Oak Cliff south of Illinois Avenue is split along Hampton Avenue, with the east side being placed in what would be Caraway’s district and the west side in Hill’s.

Hill is the lone current council member who’s refused to appear at gay Pride or sign a letter congratulating organizers of the event.

Asked in 2009 why she won’t ride in the parade, Hill voiced religious objections to homosexuality, saying she believes that “there are acts God does not bless.”

Raymond Crawford, who is gay and serves as president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, refers to the area southwest of Hampton Road and Kiest Boulevard as a “gayborhood.” Crawford counts 15 gay households on his street — Southwood Drive — alone.

Under the redistricting plan, the 400-plus-home Kiestwood neighborhood, currently represented by Griggs, would be placed in Hill’s district.

“The day she [Hill] comes to call to do some door-knocking or to get some votes, whether I’m the president or not, it’s going to be an interesting conversation with Councilmember Hill,” Crawford said this week. “She’ll be in trouble in 2013 based on her previous statements.”

Hill didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.

VIEW A MAP OF THE REDISTRICTING PLAN: CLICK HERE

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay couple complains about city’s handling of discrimination complaint against Morning News

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

A few weeks ago we reported that two Dallas council members are reviewing the city’s handling of complaints filed under an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

We’re still awaiting the results of that review, as well as the city’s response to an open records request filed by Dallas Voice for statistics related to complaints filed under the ordinance.

In the meantime, a gay couple who recently filed a complaint under the ordinance is complaining about the city’s handling of the matter. Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup filed a complaint against The Dallas Morning News, which refuses to publish same-sex marriage announcements in its Weddings section. The couple claims the DMN policy is a violation of the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.

In a letter to Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, the Walkups said it’s been more than 60 days since they filed their complaint, and they haven’t heard anything from the city. The Fair Housing Office is charged with investigating complaints under the ordinance. Below is a copy of the couple’s e-mail, which they forwarded to Dallas Voice as well as City Councilwomen Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano:

Hi Beverly,

It has been over 60 days since we formally filed a complaint against the DMN for discrimination based on our sexual orientation. As you recall, my husband and I had a legal wedding on 12/10/2010 and tried to submit our paid wedding announcement to the Dallas Morning News and we were denied equal access to this public accommodation. Our ad was refused and money refunded based on the Texas ban on SSM.

We reached out to you 30 days ago to seek a status on our case and you told us to “be patient” and we have been. After 60 days, we must say that the lack of any follow-up to our case has been an extreme disappointment. We are a customer of the City of Dallas and your department has not done anything to reach out to us to advise us of any updates about our case.

We expect better service from the people we pay to enforce our laws and there should be no excuse to the lack of follow-up on our discrimination complaint. Please advise when we can expect an update from your department.

Mark & Dante Walkup

—  John Wright

Hunt, Medrano say they’re investigating city’s handling of anti-LGBT discrimination complaints

Dallas City Councilwomen Pauline Medrano, left, and Angela Hunt

Council members respond to letter from Resource Center Dallas questioning why no cases have been prosecuted in 9 years

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Two Dallas council members said this week they’re investigating the city’s handling of complaints under a 2002 ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Councilwomen Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano announced their investigation in response to a Jan. 31 letter from Resource Center Dallas, questioning why the city hasn’t prosecuted any complaints in the nine years since the ordinance took effect.

Resource Center Dallas’ letter came in the wake of Dallas Voice reports about a discrimination complaint filed against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, an East Dallas gym that refuses to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

Hunt said she’s “deeply troubled” by the Tom Landry Fitness Center’s policy and has asked city officials to keep her posted on their investigation of the complaint.

“We’ve also requested that the city attorneys look into each of the 40 complaints that have been filed since 2002 and investigate why none has been prosecuted,” Hunt said. “They anticipate that their analysis should be finished within a couple of weeks and I will be taking a very close look at this.”

Medrano said she’s working with both the City Attorney’s Office and the Fair Housing Office, which is charged with investigating discrimination complaints before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for review — and possible prosecution.

“Each of their offices will make a list of the files, including the names of the complainants, the date of the complaint and what the discrimination involved — i.e. housing or employment, etc. — and how the complaint was resolved,” Medrano said. “The lists will be then be reconciled to make sure we have located and reviewed all the complaints. So I’m hoping to get that list, and when I do I definitely will share it.”

Councilwoman Delia Jasso, who also received a copy of the letter from Resource Center Dallas, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Dallas Voice filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act this week seeking statistics on the number of complaints that have been filed under the ordinance and their dispositions.

A 2008 investigation by the newspaper determined that at the time, there had been 33 complaints filed under the ordinance. In 22 of those cases, the City Attorney’s Office determined that there was no cause to prosecute. Of the other 11 cases, three were successfully resolved through mediation; three people withdrew their complaints after signing statements indicating that defendants had taken actions necessary to address their concerns; five complaints were found to be nonjurisdictional, meaning the incidents occurred outside city limits or defendants were exempt from the ordinance; and in one case the party filing the complaint couldn’t be located.

The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The definition of sexual orientation includes gender identity and expression. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, said this week that while her office was still working to compile statistics, she believes there have been roughly 50 complaints filed under the ordinance since 2002.

“We do everything we can when we get a complaint to make sure that the ordinance is enforced and that individual rights are protected as outlined in the ordinance,” Davis said. “It’s something that we take very, very seriously.”

Rafael McDonell, who drafted Resource Center Dallas’ letter to Hunt, Medrano and Jasso, said this week he was pleased to hear they are looking into the matter.

“It’s encouraging that they’re going back and putting these cases under a microscope,” he said. “Our concern is just based on statistics, there would be at least a couple of cases they would have moved on. The fact that they’re going to review all of them and make sure they didn’t miss something is a good thing.”

Other Texas cities with bans on discrimination against LGBT people, including Austin and Fort Worth, also have human rights commissions.

“I think the commission over in Fort Worth has been really strong in terms of how they have led on not just LGBT issues, but all human rights issues, and it would be great to have something like that here in Dallas,” McDonnell said. “Ultimately what I hope comes out of this process is a strong commitment to using the nondiscrimination policy to its best end. Policies are only as good as how they’re carried out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright