DCCCD adds trans protections

Only 1 community college district trustee votes against change

DCCCD-Main-Photo

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: No protections for gender identity

Community college district officials say trans people are already covered under sexual orientation; RCD encourages supporters to contact board members

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Rafael McDonnell

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas is calling on LGBT equality advocates and allies to contact Dallas County Community College District officials and ask them to schedule a vote during the DCCCD board’s Dec. 6 meeting on adding protections based on gender identity to the district’s nondiscrimination policies.

RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said the center decided to issue the call this week after district board members said they would not vote to add gender identity to the policy. DCCD’s legal counsel, Robert J. Young, notified McDonnell of the decision in a letter on Monday, Nov. 7.

McDonnell had been in contact with DCCCD board and staff since spring, encouraging them to add gender identity and expression to the community college district’s nondiscrimination policy. Sexual orientation is already included.

In his letter, Young wrote that the board does not believe it is necessary to change the district’s nondiscrimination policy because “gender identity” is included under “sexual orientation,” and because the city of Dallas ordinances include transgender protections.

“Since our current non-discrimination policy states that it protects ‘any other category protected by law,’ it is clear that ‘gender identity’ is already covered by virtue of the city of Dallas ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation (defined by the city to include gender identity),” he wrote.

DCCCD’s headquarters building is on South Lamar Street, in The Cedars section of Dallas. Two campuses — El Centro College and Mountain View College — and three branch campuses are also in the city.

But five of the seven DCCCD colleges and three branch campuses are in suburban cities not covered by any city of Dallas ordinance. Richland College, the school with the largest enrollment, is in Richardson.

According to DCCCD District Director of Media Relations Ann Hatch, if someone were to file a complaint, that complaint would be filed with the district in the city of Dallas. She said that the district complies with city of Dallas ordinances.

The city ordinance, however, specifically excludes any governmental body — which would include DCCCD — from the nondiscrimination policy.

Gender identity is included in the city definition of sexual orientation. When the ordinance was passed, then-Mayor Laura Miller had the definition expanded to include gender identity rather than delaying the vote with a discussion of transgender issues.

In 2002, when the ordinance passed, it was more common to include gender identity and expression in the definition of sexual orientation. Today, these categories are usually listed separately in policies seeking to prohibit all forms of discrimination.

In an email, Hatch said that Young realized his reference to the city ordinance was incorrect.

“However, the DCCCD Board of Trustees does not believe that it is necessary to change the district’s nondiscrimination policy, which does include sexual orientation,” Hatch wrote. “If someone at any of our colleges and locations should choose to file a complaint concerning gender identity, that person could reference sexual orientation, which is among the categories listed in our nondiscrimination policy.”

McDonnell provided the DCCCD board with written policies of other governmental bodies including the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, DFW International Airport and Dallas County. All include gender identity. Dallas County also includes gender expression.

Only the city of Dallas policy places gender identity into its definition of sexual orientation.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things, which was spelled out to them in our initial meetings during the summer and they are willfully choosing to ignore it,” said McDonnell.

He said that DCCCD’s inclusion of gender identity under sexual orientation was using wording that is 10 years old.

But from the letter, there is a clear message of no intention to discriminate.

In his letter to McDonnell, Young said the district is a “welcoming place for all its employees and a good place to work,” and cited anecdotal evidence to back up the claim. He said that a long-term employee transitioned while on the job and felt positive about the help and support she received.

But McDonnell insisted that isn’t enough.

“If they don’t discriminate, he needs to say it in a policy,” McDonnell said. “It’s not good enough to say it in a letter.”

When the district is taken as a whole, DCCCD is the largest college in Texas with 72,000 students and 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators. The school is spread across Dallas County on seven main campuses and six community branches.

Texas has 55 community colleges or community college districts. Only six of those include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies.

Pasedena-based San Jacinto College, with three campuses east of Houston, is the only two-year school in Texas to offer protection that specifies gender identity and expression.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  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

Students for a Democratic Society forms at El Centro

STUDENT RADICALS | Deante Toombs, left, Stephen Benavides, standing, and Brashad Lewis helped revive the ’60s anti-war group SDS on college campuses in the Dallas area. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LGBT rights are now a central issue for the anti-Vietnam War group revived in 2006

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Students at El Centro College and UT Arlington have organized new chapters of Students for a Democratic Society, and the group has popped up on as many as 90 college campuses around the country.

The reincarnation of SDS, a major force in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era, began in 2006.

At the Equality March for LGBT rights held in Downtown Dallas on June 25, members of SDS marched for gay rights and spoke at the rally at the JFK Memorial. All of the SDS members participating were straight.

Brashad Lewis does public relations for the local groups and plans to start a group on a Tarrant County College campus that he’ll attend in the fall.

He said the group hopes to bring the national convention of SDS chapters to Dallas or Arlington in October. They’ve submitted their bids and will hear back soon.

But organizers say that should the Dallas bid win, one minor obstacle stands in the way: The El Centro group is currently without a faculty advisor.

Stephen Benavides, a graduate student at UTA, said that he was at El Centro and a Dallas County Community College officer motioned for him to come over and then assaulted him with a police baton.

Benavides said that a complaint has been filed.

Then four days later, the faculty advisor to the group abruptly quit.

Deante Toombs, an El Centro student, said that to reserve rooms for the conference, the group needs to be recognized, but finding another faculty advisor should be no problem.

Benavides said that the advisor at UTA is a former SDS member from the ’60s with tenure and has no fear of reprisals.

But he said that the incident at El Centro shows that the group is being followed and members being targeted despite the peaceful history of SDS.

In another incident, SDS organized a protest of cuts to teaching staff and financial aid and increased class size. Protesters planned to meet at Rosa Parks Plaza near El Centro. Rather than the peaceful demonstration planned, marchers were met with DART police on bicycles blocking entrance to the square. Marchers used streets and sidewalks instead and paraded on downtown streets to protest the cuts.

Toombs said that LGBT equality is a central issue for SDS.

“SDS stands in solidarity with issues affecting minorities, gays, women,” Toombs said.

“It’s 2011,” Benavides said. “Are we still having problems with this now?”

He said that’s why the group participated in the Equality March and may march in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
Toombs said that the group is being targeted differently than it was in the ’60s. Then the FBI infiltrated with agitators to get information while trying to break the groups up through dissention.

Today, they’re being threatened with prosecution under the Patriot Act as if they’re a terrorist threat.

In addition to local campus issues, the original SDS organized nationally to protest the Vietnam War. Benavides said that local issues — LGBT rights, cuts in school funding — are important to SDS groups across the country, but the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya are why they came together.

Lewis said the attacks from campus police, reportedly instigated by federal authorities that want SDS disbanded, are using the divide and conquer method.

Toombs said that the group at El Centro has protested peacefully and exercised its right of free speech.

What has surprised him is the power the name still holds 40 years after the original group officially folded.

SDS is the model for all types of student groups based on causes that followed over succeeding decades — women’s rights, LGBT rights, AIDS, civil rights, environmental issues. These groups worked on a shoestring budget and used direct action to demand certain results. Without Facebook or the Internet to interact, SDS held annual national conventions to meet each other and exchange ideas.

At a convention in 1969, SDS officially ended, but a number of local campus groups lasted into the early to mid ’70s to continue protesting the war and to work on local campus issues.

Best known among early SDS organizers was Tom Hayden. Hayden later went on to serve in the California Legislature and ran for governor and mayor of Los Angeles and was a U.S. senator. But he is still best known as the first husband of Jane Fonda. At the time, Fonda was known more for her antiwar activism rather than her acting.

Bernadette Dohrn, another well-known SDS member, founded the radical wing known as the Weather Underground with her husband Bill Ayers. Dohrn is now an associate professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law, but during the early ’70s, she was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

Still, most of the actions of the group were peaceful. They staged draft-card burnings to protest the war. They did sit-ins to take over campus administration buildings. They marched and rallied.

Benavides said that if they took over a campus building today, they’d send in the SWAT team.

But Benavides, Toombs and Lewis have fashioned their campus groups on the model of the peaceful wing of the group.

“Education is a right,” Benavides said.

Toombs said that discrimination can’t be tolerated.

But none proposed any violent action to achieve their goals.

On July 27, SDS is sponsoring a conference on Islamophobia and the New McCarthyism at UTA. They’re working on a women’s conference in August and hope to host the national convention in October. David Taffet, who wrote this article, was a member of SDS at SUNY Albany in the early 1970s.

—  John Wright

Students building Equality at Eastfield College

BUILDING EQUALITY | When Philomena Aceto, right, realized that Eastfield College had no LGBT organization on campus, she and another student decided to start one themselves. Judith Dumont, left, signed on as the fledgling group’s faculty advisor.

Snow delays start of Eastfield College GSA, but organizers say first meeting will be rescheduled

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

MESQUITE — Eastfield College was the largest of the area’s community colleges without a Gay Straight Alliance, according to student Philomena Aceto. But now Aceto is working to change that.

Aceto — whose partner is longtime activist Dawn Meifert and who has her own history as an activist — began working on her degree at Eastfield last summer. She met Kris Fleskes, another student, and they realized there was no representation for the LGBT community on the more than 18,000-student campus.

Other area two-year colleges have GSAs and campus LGBT alliances. Last fall, P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities, opened successfully at Navarro Community College in Corsicana. The GSA at Richland College, the largest Dallas County Community College, meets twice a month.

“Let’s start one,” Aceto urged Fleskes.

Any campus group must have a faculty advisor but faculty cannot start a group themselves. So Fleskes and Aceto met with two Eastfield staff members, Judith Dumont and Kristie Vowels.

Dumont, former director of Youth First Texas, is now the faculty advisor for the new group.

When she began working at Eastfield last summer, Dumont said, she tried to make her office the safe space on campus for the LGBT community and indicated that by putting an HRC sticker and “proud ally” stickers on her door.

She said she cheered when the two students approached her about starting the GSA.

Aceto said Vowels told her, “You are exactly what we’ve been praying for.”

The group’s first meeting has been postponed twice because of weather. Aceto said that’s just giving her more time to promote the club in classes and on campus.

“I’m out preaching it every day,” Aceto said. “This isn’t about being gay. It’s about equality.”

To emphasize that point, they’re calling their group Equality.

Aceto said she’s has been running up against some resistance and a lot of indifference in an area she called one of the most conservative in Dallas County.

“We’re curious how the campus will receive us,” Dumont said.

She attended advisor training and said there was no reaction when she announced the name of the group she would facilitate.

“I’m hoping everything will be OK,” she said.

But Dumont agreed that the campus was very conservative.

“There were raised eyebrows on campus when I didn’t change my name after I got married in November,” she said.

Aceto said she would like to bring some interesting speakers to campus and produce some creative programming.

“We want to go after bullying,” she said.

Dumont said the group was important as a safe space not just for students, but for faculty, staff and administrators as well.

She said she’s already planning to participate in National Day of Silence. Last year, Dumont organized that event among students who are active with Youth First Texas.

Eastfield College was closed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, the most recent launch date for Equality. Aceto said the group would reschedule over the next week.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright