Republican commissioners speak out against domestic partner benefits

LGBT activist C.d. Kirven addresses the Dallas County Commissioners Court about the importance of offering domestic partner benefits Tuesday morning. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The two Republican members of the Dallas County Commissioners Court said they oppose a plan to offer domestic partner benefits to county employees on Tuesday, citing the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

After the Commissioners Court was briefed on the plan, several speakers highlighted the issue of equality and the county’s need to be competitive to recruit and retain quality employees. The speakers were Cece Cox with Resource Center Dallas, Omar Narvaez with Lambda Legal, Travis Gasper with Equality Texas and C.d. Kirven with GetEQUAL TX.

Republican Commissioner Mike Cantrell then read a statement into the record, calling the plan part of a political agenda. He said the county should not offer the benefits because the federal and state government don’t recognize domestic partners.

“The county is an arm of the state government and as an elected official, my duties are bound to conform with legislation that dictates and defines what determines a legal union,” he said.

—  Dallasvoice

Dallas County weighs health-insurance vouchers for unmarried partners

Garcia.Elba

Commissioner Elba Garcia

A long-discussed proposal for Dallas County to offer health benefits to the partners of gay employees is finally taking shape.

The Dallas County Commissioners Court will be briefed on the domestic partner benefits plan Tuesday, according to an agenda posted online today.

The plan, detailed below, will provide benefits to both opposite- and same-sex domestic partners who do not have insurance provided to them through other means.

Commissioner Elba Garcia told Instant Tea that heterosexual domestic partners were added to prevent any perceived discrimination.

Garcia said the plan would offer subsidies to employees whose partners buy private insurance, and they would be refunded by the county the same amount the county pays for an employee’s insurance.

She said this was the only way to provide benefits outside of the county’s healthcare provider because the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative would not allow Dallas County to offer the benefits through the co-op.

Those who enroll will have to sign a domestic partner affidavit for Human Resources, as well as provide two forms of proof that they have lived together for six months, such as a lease agreement or joint bank accounts, Garcia said. She said partners must be at least 18 and not be married.

The projected cost is under $100,000, Garcia said.

Garcia said members of the court could suggest changes on Tuesday or it could be approved for a vote at the next meeting. Garcia, along with Commissioner John Wiley Price and County Judge Clay Jenkins, who make up the court’s Democratic majority, have said they support offering domestic partner benefits.

Gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons wrote a letter to the commissioners that will also appear on the briefing agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. The letter, below, states that “the provision of these benefits is a simple and clear issue of fairness that will make the county’s commitment to non-discrimination a reality for many of our employees.”

Fitzsimmons told Instant Tea that the plan isn’t ideal but what the best option to offer the benefits outside of the PEBC.

“Until such time that as the situation changes with the PEBC, this is an appropriate accommodation,” he said.

See the detailed plans below.

—  Dallasvoice

EQTX pushes for Dallas County commissioners to approve DP benefits

Equality Texas is calling on Dallas County citizens and employees to tell members of the Commissioners Court to approve offering domestic partner benefits to county employees.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group created an action letter that people can sign online and send to commissioners.

Equality Texas Interim Executive Director Chuck Smith said offering DP benefits has become a standard practice.

“It’s what people in the real world, real businesses in the real world, do in order to attract and retain good employees to where it’s not a big step,” he said. “It’s not going out on a limb for municipalities and counties to start doing this.”

Dallas County would become the third county to approve the benefits after Travis and El Paso counties.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia are working on a plan to offer the benefits despite the lack of support from a regional government partner agency. A Commissioners Court vote is expected in the next few months.

—  Dallasvoice

Veasey touts vote against marriage amendment, says LGBT community is “galvanized” behind him

State Rep. Marc Veasey addresses the crowd at a Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats meeting July 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

With 13 days left until early voting for the runoff begins, it’s crunch time for both state Rep. Marc Veasey and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia to gain voters in the other’s county.

Both Veasey and Garcia were scheduled to speak at the Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats meeting Monday night, but Garcia was unable to attend at the last minute.

Instead, Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Choco Meza spoke briefly on his behalf.

Meza, who lives in San Antonio but was in the area visiting family, said she wanted to come speak on Garcia’s behalf because she’s known him most of her adult life. She said she wouldn’t give up time with her family to speak to strangers “if I didn’t believe so strongly like I do about Domingo.”

She reminded the audience that Garcia was “in the forefront in any legislation regarding LGBT issues when he served in the Legislature” from 1996 to 2002, where he voted for a hate crimes bill that includess sexual orientation in 2001.

State Rep. Marc Veasey then spoke to the large crowd of about 50 people amid cheers and applause. A large majority of the audience was sporting Veasey campaign stickers.

Veasey was the top vote-getter in the primary, winning Tarrant County and coming in second in Dallas County.

Veasey said he couldn’t have come so far without the help from supporters in Tarrant County and the LGBT supporters from the county.

“It’s because of you and your belief in me and you being willing to stand up for my record, and that’s why we ran such a good strong campaign the first round,” he said.

Highlighting that he won a precinct in Dallas with the most LGBT families, he said he was gaining momentum among Dallas County voters to secure a win on July 31.

“The LGBT community has really galvanized behind me and I’m really proud of that,” he said. “I want to know that not just because of that but because it’s the right thing to do, that when I go to Congress that you can always count on me to be a strong advocate on the issues that are important to your families and to your community.”

In closing, he reminded the audience of his freshman year in the state House in 2005, when he voted against an amendment to the Texas Constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions when others representatives walked out of the vote or voted with Republicans.

“I’ll never forget that day,” he said. “I saw people that quite frankly that shouldn’t have done it, but I saw people walk off the House floor because they didn’t want to take that vote.

“I never skip votes and I can promise you that when those votes that are important to the LGBT community come onto the United States House floor, that I will be there fighting for you.”

A debate between Veasey and Garcia will air tonight on KERA at 10 p.m. with encores played at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday. It will also play on KERA 90.1 FM at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Watch the debate below.

Watch The Texas Debates: Congressional District 33 on PBS. See more from KERA Specials.

—  Dallasvoice

GetEQUAL calls charges and penalties excessive for gay couple arrested in marriage sit-in

Beau Chandler, left, and Mark Jiminez used their jail mugshots to create this equal rights poster.

GetEQUAL issued a press release Monday in which the group calls the charges excessive for the gay couple that was arrested after appling for a marriage license and refusing to leave the Dallas County Clerk’s Office when it was denied.

Beau Chandler and Mark “Major” Jiminez were charged with class-B misdemeanor criminal trespassing, which carries a maximum $2,000 fine and/or up to 180 days in jail.

“I stand before each and every one of you and tell you that I would spend 181 days in jail as an unjust penalty for trying to marry the man I love, and as soon as I got out I would start the process over again. We will be married,” Jiminez said Thursday night to a crowd gathered at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center that had been waiting for the couple’s release.

Chandler said: “We will continue to demand our marriage licenses until the answer is yes. We owe it to ourselves to do what our hearts tell us is right.”

GetEQUAL Texas state co-coordinator Michael Diviesti said: “The day after we celebrated our country’s freedom, Mark and Beau stood with courage for their freedom to marry, only to be arrested. Shame on our government for putting them through this. Texans are standing up to demand that discrimination be removed from the books. It is up to our government to work for the people. We are outraged that this couple is facing 180 days in jail and more than double the normal fine for demanding their equal right to civil marriage.”

Diviesti said arrests stemming from political sit-ins are usually handled as class-C misdemeanors with a maximum $250 fine.

The couple is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 2 at 8:30 a.m. at the Frank Crowley Courthouse, but they are slated for separate courtrooms. Jiminez said he wonders whether that was done purposely to force the couple to hire separate attorneys, keep them from supporting each other in court and split supporters who want to see the trials — further undermining gay and lesbian families. Both plan to plead not guilty.

Diviesti urged supporters to gather at the Crowley building on Aug. 2 at 8 a.m. to support the couple.

Jiminez and Chandler are scheduled to appear on Lambda Weekly at 7 a.m. Wednesday, on 89.3 KNON-fm.

—  David Taffet

Couple released after marriage sit-in arrest

LGBT protesters gather outside the Lew Sterrett Justice Center on Thursday evening.

Beau Chandler, left, and Mark "Major" Jiminez apply for a marriage license at the clerk's office.

After about four hours in custody, Mark Jiminez and Beau Chandler were released from jail after being charged with criminal trespass, a class-B misdemeanor. The couple refused to leave the County Clerk’s office on Thursday when they applied for and were denied their marriage license.

“The arresting officers were very quiet in the police cars,” Jiminez said. “But we told them we weren’t trying to be assholes.”

When they got to the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, they were processed and put in holding, where there are three TVs. A story about their arrests had just appeared on Channel 8 when they got there.

The others being held turned to them and said, “Hey! I know you!”

“We had a discussion with a community I never thought I would have this discussion with,” Jiminez said. They talked to the others in the holding cell about marriage equality.

Someone Jiminez described as a “friendly cop” escorted them to the 7th floor.

“Just please don’t kiss or hold hands,” the detention officer told them. As they were being escorted,  other officers asked if they could help. But the “friendly” officer told them, “No, I got this.”

Bail was set at $500 each. The couple withdrew the money from the ATM outside the courtroom inside the jail.

As they left Lew Sterrett, they were figuring out how to get back to their cars, which were parked near the Records Building a few blocks away.

On the corner they saw some protesters.

“We thought Westboro Baptist had come down to protest us,” Jiminez said.

But he said they saw members of the DFW Sisters and other friends and supporters.

“They told us they were prepared to stand there all night until we got out,” he said.

When they got home, they had 400 emails. Jiminez said that by the time he answered 150 of them, there were 200 more.

The couple has a court date at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 2. They both have the same date and time, but will appear in different courtrooms.

A class-B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a maximum $2,000 fine.

Jiminez said they are looking for an attorney and plan to plead not guilty. If convicted, they plan to appeal.

“We took this step and we’re not gonna let it stop,” he said.

—  David Taffet

Dallas County jail maintenance worker alleges anti-gay jokes added to hostile environment

David Womble

One of the three plaintiffs suing Dallas County for $60 million for racial discrimination says anti-gay remarks and jokes were also part of the harassment he suffered.

R.L. Lawson, 41, complained that David Womble, a quality assurance supervisor of facilities management of Dallas County, “engaged in negligent homosexual jokes and remarks toward another employee” in a meeting in October 2010.

Lawson alleges that the comments “further caused a hostile work environment,” according to the lawsuit. At a later meeting, Womble “engaged in unwarranted and demeaning homosexual jokes, ridicule and mockery at the expense of a co-worker of Plaintiff Lawson.”

Womble’s behavior also allegedly included wearing fake gold teeth and impersonating a black person with an exaggerated walk while making racial comments, according to the lawsuit. After Lawson complained about the anti-gay remarks, a black soda can was hanging from a noose in the office.

Womble, who is one of four individual defendants in the lawsuit in addition to the county and the Commissioners Court, later received a pay raise after Lawson complained about the racial and anti-gay comments.

Womble has a past of anti-gay comments. He was reprimanded in 2003 for similar comments and again 2009 for making inappropriate comments to two female employees, according to The Dallas Morning News.

County officials have begun investigating the racial discrimination claims.

—  Dallasvoice

As lesbian Judge Tonya Parker makes national news, Stonewall Democrats shows her some love

Judge Tonya Parker

Judge Tonya Parker

Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker’s comments about not performing marriages until same-sex couples can legally wed in Texas have made national headlines this week, since first being reported here on Instant Tea.

Parker’s speech at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas has been featured in The Washington Post, The Huffington PostWFAA’s Thursday newscast and on the front page of today’s Dallas Morning News (subscription only).

Media outlets that picked up the story highlighted Parker’s strong support for the LGBT community, with the only negative comments mixed in with the hundreds of thankful and encouraging comments on the various sites, including Dallas Voice’s original post and our YouTube video.

Parker emailed a statement in response to a Dallas Voice interview request Friday, writing “I faithfully and fully perform all of my duties as the Presiding Judge of the 116th Civil District Court, where it is my honor to serve the citizens of Dallas County and the parties who have matters before the Court.

“Performing marriage ceremonies is not a duty that I have as the Presiding Judge of a civil district court.  It is a right and privilege invested in me under the Family Code.  I choose not to exercise it, as many other Judges do not exercise it.  Because it is not part of our duties, some Judges even charge a fee to perform the ceremonies.

“I do not, and would never, impede any person’s right to get married.  In fact, when people wander into my courtroom, usually while I am presiding over other matters, I direct them to the Judges in the courthouse who do perform marriage ceremonies.   If my deputy is not busy, I will even ask him to escort or help these individuals find another Judge who performs the ceremonies.  I do this because I believe in the right of people to marry and pursue happiness.”

According to Chapter 3 of the Texas Family Code, a county judge is among the judges and religious leaders allowed to perform marriages and “may conduct the marriage ceremony.”

The term “may” is defined in the terminology section of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct as a term that “denotes permissible discretion or, depending on the context, refers to action that is not covered by specific proscriptions.”

Parker said Tuesday that she chooses not to conduct the ceremony and refers couples to other judges with the explanation of why she will not preside over the union.

“I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away,” Parker said.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez issued a statement Thursday saying the group is collectively proud of Parker’s work in turning the 116th Civil District Court into “an efficient model for other courts,” as well as her stance on marriage equality, with the group “responding in total support of Judge Tonya Parker as follows:”

—  Dallasvoice

Gay Dallas judge won’t conduct marriages because they ‘can’t be performed for me’

Judge Tonya Parker

Judge Tonya Parker

Out lesbian Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker touted her refusal to conduct marriage ceremonies in her courtroom on Tuesday night.

“I have the power, of course, to perform marriage ceremonies,” Parker said. “I don’t.”

The mention of her decision to not perform marriage ceremonies came while the 116th Civil District Court judge addressed the audience at the monthly meeting of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, of which Parker is a member. While Parker highlighted her progress in her first year as judge in what had been “the worst district court at the courthouse” with more old pending cases than the other 12 district courts, she also spoke about the importance of having an LGBT person on the bench.

Parker is the first LGBT person elected judge in Dallas County and is believed to be the first openly LGBT African-American elected official in the state’s history. As such, Parker said she takes into account the importance of her position to make members of the LGBT community feel comfortable and equal in her courtroom by “going out of my way to do things that other people might not do because they are not who I am.”

Using the example of turning young couples away who want the court to marry them quickly because they are often pregnant and desperate, Parker said she refers them to other judges because of the state’s marriage inequality, informing them that that is why she will not marry them.

“I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away,” Parker said. “So I usually will offer them something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people.’ And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it.”

—  Dallasvoice

Wait time for Amelia Court appointments questioned

ASOs strive to see more clients more quickly but, Parkland patients continue to wait months

Nobles1

Raeline Nobles

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Over the past year, the wait time to get an appointment at Parkland hospital’s Amelia Court appears to have gotten longer, although the staffing level appears to be about the same now as a year ago.

During that same time, community-based AIDS agencies in Dallas say they have expanded services and decreased wait times.

For new Parkland patients, the time from first contact to seeing a doctor can be as short as two weeks. But new patients trying to access services at the public clinic recently have reported waits of as long as four months.

Candace White, Parkland media spokeswoman, said that the clinic is taking new patient appointments as early as February and through March 1. She said she confirmed that with Sylvia Moreno, the hospital’s director of HIV services.

White attributed the delay to an increase in the number of patients accessing the clinic’s services due to successful HIV testing efforts throughout Dallas County. Some of the longer wait times quoted over the past few weeks may have been due to the holiday, she said.

However, when a Dallas Voice staff member called Amelia Court on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to make an appointment, he was transferred to voicemail to leave a message. As of deadline time on Thursday, Jan. 12, more than two days later, no one from the clinic had returned the call.

Another caller to Amelia Court was told that those February and March appointments White cited are reserved for established patients only. The next available appointment for first intake for new clients who want access to Amelia Court is April 23, the caller was told.

The Ryan White CARE Act, which funds many of the treatment programs for persons with HIV, specifies patients must receive “access to care within three weeks of presenting,” Dr. Gary Sinclair, former medical director of Amelia Court, said.

While he was at Amelia Court, Sinclair said that he and his staff reduced the waiting time to access medical care to two weeks. He left UT Southwestern and Parkland two years ago and is now an independent consultant involved in covering for physicians for Ryan White programs.

For years, all Parkland primary AIDS care was done at Amelia Court, located on Harry Hines Boulevard, a block from the main hospital. However, to relieve overcrowding at Amelia Court, doctors with experience in treating people with the virus have been seeing patients at three of the hospital’s Community Oriented Primary Care facilities in Dallas.

Parkland began opening the COPCs in 1987 to relieve its main emergency room of treating non-emergency cases.

The clinics were designed to provide convenient and affordable healthcare throughout Dallas County.

Parkland

HIGH RISE CLINIC | Amelia Court’s HIV services will move to the new Parkland Hospital under construction across Harry Hines Boulevard from the old facility. (DavidTaffet/Dallas Voice)

Some of the facilities also have specialties. Two clinics — Bluitt-Flowers Health Center in South Dallas and Southeast Dallas Health Center in Pleasant Grove — were designated as HIV treatment sites.

A third — deHaro-Saldivar Health Center in Oak Cliff — previously treated adolescents and young adults with HIV, but that service has been discontinued.

Parkland’s clinic has been staffed at about the same level for the past several years.

But as HIV has changed to a manageable chronic illness, Sinclair said that there has been “a normalization of care.”

That normalization may include longer waiting times for appointments at the public hospital, something that is common in other specializations.

But while Parkland strives to keep the wait time for primary care down, some local agencies that provide clinical service to people with HIV at low or no cost say they have expanded their service and will see new patients quickly.

“On a very human level, it can be quite terrifying to want and need medical care and not be able to find it,” AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said. “AIDS Arms built its second HIV clinic to help with these exact problems in significant and positive ways.”

The agency opened Trinity Health & Wellness Clinic in Oak Cliff this past fall and continues operating Peabody Health Center in South Dallas. Both offer full primary care for people with HIV.

AIDS Arms accepts Medicare and Medicaid as well as private health insurance. And like the county hospital, medical care is free for low-income people without any coverage and is provided on a sliding-scale for others.

Intake takes about a week to complete, Nobles said. Once a person who has an HIV-positive diagnosis is registered as a client, doctors at Trinity Clinic can see a new patient that week.

“With fast access to medical appointments at our Trinity and Peabody clinics and five licensed providers, we are a partner in the solution to very large and disturbing access to care problems in our community,” Nobles said.

The agency is seeking to expand the services it offers its patients and is currently looking for specialists in ophthalmology, cardiology and renal care to supplement its care.

In addition, AIDS Arms is involved in drug research trials, something Amelia Court no longer does.

Sinclair said he believed that was part of a shift in federal research dollars away from “’How do we treat people?’ to ‘How do we eliminate the epidemic?’”

In addition, AIDS Arms is offering several new services to its patients at its Trinity clinic.

Legal Hospice of Texas will soon begin providing on-site legal assistance for disability, social security and HIV-related discrimination issues. Bryan’s House will be providing free childcare for patients visiting the clinic on Thursday and Fridays beginning next week. And once a week, onsite psychotherapy services will be offered.

Resource Center Dallas offers a variety of specialized medical services at its Nelson-Tebedo Community Clinic on Cedar Springs Road. Dental care is the most frequently accessed and something not provided by other agencies or Parkland.

With a recent expansion of facilities at the clinic, RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said the wait time for an appointment is three weeks or less. He said the clinic is able to treat emergencies even more quickly.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas