DART passes partner health benefits

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Members of the LGBT community gathered outside the DART board room after passage of the plus-one plan

After debating the issue for more than a year, DART passed what it called its Healthcare Equalization plan that gives its employees domestic partner benefits this evening. The vote was 10-3. Michael Cheney and Randall Chrisman, who walked out of the board to break quorum two weeks ago, voted against the plan along with Mark Enoch.

The so-called plus-one plan allows any DART employee to put another adult in the household on the DART healthcare plan.

A number of speakers addressed the DART board at the end of the meeting. Rather than asking for their votes as they have for more than a year, speakers thanked the members for voting for the plan.

More on DART in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

DVtv: Dallas Day of Decision rally

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In this week’s issue, we explain the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on Texans.

But on Wednesday night, after the news had sunk in, LGBT Dallasites and people around the nation celebrated with rallies.

Cars honked and the crowd swelled Wednesday, and even when a woman took the mike and went on an anti-LGBT rant, the audience carried on in celebration of the historic decisions.

Watch our video below.

—  Anna Waugh

Dallas among best cities for travelers

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When the gay travel writers’ group left Dallas last week, chances are some of them had a pretty satisfying experience. That would be borne out by a recent survey by CardHub.com about the best (and worst) cities for summer travel.

Based on analysis of information from Kayak.com about 30 major U.S. cities, the survey came up with a list of departure cities that were “best” in terms of average time and money spent, and ranked Dallas No. 2, behind winner Denver for domestic travel; for international travel, Washington, D.C., was tops. When you combine domestic and international information, Dallas came in fourth overall, behind Chicago, Washington and New York.

Among the worst wasn’t far away, though. San Antonio was exceeded only by Riverside, Calif., in terms of bad domestic departures.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas unveils EPIC crime-fighting program, which includes Cedar Springs

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Crime hotspots the new EPIC initiative will target. (From DPD)

A new Dallas initiative will bring community leaders and police together to improve crime hotspots across the city.

Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas police Chief David Brown launched EPIC (Economic Partners Investing in Communities) today as a partnership between the city and growth and crime programs.

The goal is to target several TAAGs, or Target Area Action Grids, that have a high concentration of crime, as shown in a Dallas police photo above. The areas include the Wycliff-Lemmon TAAG, which encompasses the Cedar Springs gay entertainment district.

Crime in the Wycliff-Lemmon TAAG has decreased immensely over the last few years. Hopefully, this new partnership will help it decrease even more.

On a related note, Oak Lawn crime watch leader Nancy Weinberger sent over the below map showing where offenses occurred in April. The Oak Lawn crime watch group holds its regular monthly meeting at noon on Wednesday at the Oak Lawn library.

—  Anna Waugh

PHOTOS: Protesters, including Phil Donahue, descend on Bush library

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Our writer Sarah Denise Morgan lives close to SMU, so she was able to get easy access to all the goings-on at the Bush Library. She files this report.

The inaugural events at the Bush Library brought out peaceful protesters including a protest advocate, Phil Donahue, who commented, “We’re fighting the last war.”

Donahue was onsite across from the Bush library, where space was allocated for the demonstration amidst threats to sue the city if the protest was not allowed. “Millions are told they are not patriotic [for protesting] and no one gets elected class president for doing this.” Donahue felt it was important to take this stand.

Another particularly peaceful warrior, CNN’s openly gay  iReporter Joey Daniel Retana, who lives in Fort Worth, was in full protest regalia wearing an orange prison jump suit with a black hood and a sign reading “Torture” in protest of the Abu Ghraib incidents and recent findings. “The idea that we can vote someone in as commander and chief and then prove that they were torturing, we are vindicated in our stand,” he said.

Retana stood for freedom and human rights, saying, “Being here is the right thing to do. We are all entitled to some kind of freedom. As a gay man, it empowers me in every way. I feel empowered to speak out for equality for every community.”

Retana was particularly happy to see celebrity support from Donahue and made sure to let Donahue know his mother was a big fan.

More photos below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Texas GOP lawmaker pledges support for gay rights, says party is changing

State Rep. Sarah Davis

State Rep. Sarah Davis

AUSTIN — Log Cabin Republicans from across Texas met in Austin this weekend to share ideas on the Republican Party’s growing support for gay rights and how they could influence lawmakers in the state to back equality.

Members from Dallas, Houston and Austin chapters attended the first-ever statewide conference, as well as a few people from San Antonio, who decided they would try to start a chapter later this year.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, addressed a group of about 35 people Friday as the keynote in the speaker series.

Davis began her speech by acknowledging the audience’s “courage and the bravery that I think many of you have shown probably spending a great period of your life struggling with your identity and then finally having the courage and the strength of character to come out to your friends and family as a Republican.”

While Davis is not a member of the LGBT community, she said she understands what it is like, recalling when members of the Republican Party looked at her suspiciously when she was the only member of the party to vote against the sonogram bill last session because she believed it was about personal freedom and keeping the government out of the doctor’s office.

Davis said her philosophy is to vote on the basis of personal freedom, individual responsibility and limited government, adding that Republicans allow social issues to cloud their judgment when it comes to those ideals, including placing “what I believe to be inappropriate restrictions on your personal relationships involving two consenting adults.”

—  Anna Waugh

Marriage equality rallies planned across TX before high court takes up issue

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Several marriage equality rallies will take place in Texas next week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act.

The court will hear arguments March 26 and 27, and events across the country have been planned for the beginning of the week in what’s being called the “United For Marriage: Light the way to Justice” campaign.

Cowtowns’s LGBT community will gather bright and early at the Rainbow Lounge — on March 25 beginning at 6 a.m. — for a rally to celebrate the arguments and Fort Worth state Rep. Lon Burnam’s HB 1300, which calls for marriage equality after the state’s marriage amendment is repealed. The rally is scheduled to last until noon.

Dallas’ GetEQUAL TX rally is at the Legacy of Love monument that night, starting at 7 p.m. And in Denton, a 6 p.m. rally will be at the Denton Courthouse Square, 110 W. Hickory St. in Denton, on Monday.

In Waco on Monday night, a marriage equality forum will take place instead of a rally. Planned by the social action team at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, it begins at 6:30 p.m. and will feature speakers and same-sex couples sharing disparities they face because they are same-sex couples.

Rallies have been planned for Tuesday in Houston at City Hall at 7 p.m. and in Austin at the state Capitol at 7 p.m. And San Antonio LGBT advocates will meet at Milam Park at 7:30 p.m. that night to demonstrate a need for marriage equality.

To view events nationwide, go here.

—  Anna Waugh

Comprehensive transgender healthcare for Dallas employees is ‘off the table’

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Despite efforts by local activists, the city of Dallas likely won’t add comprehensive healthcare for its transgender employees this year.

Trans Pride Initiative President Nell Gaither met with City Manager Mary Suhm, as well as representatives from the Human Resources department and UnitedHealthcare, last week to discuss what the city’s plans actually cover due to confusion in January.

Gaither said the city covers everything related to trans healthcare except gender reassignment surgery, including hormones, counseling and wellness checkups regardless of gender.

She said the possibility of covering the surgery next year wasn’t discussed, as the conversation focused on ways to communicate the coverage to city benefit workers and all the city’s employees, who are encouraged to contact Human Resources if they have questions or if something is not covered that should be.

“The city’s position is they’re covered these [benefits] for several years, so that’s what we’re going with,” Gaither said, adding that surgery won’t be added. “It’s off the table.”

—  Anna Waugh

City of Dallas again tries to keep complaints of anti-gay bias secret

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Alan Rodriguez, right, filed a complaint with the city in February 2011 after the Tom Landry Fitness Center refused to issue him and his partner a family membership. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

After Dallas Voice won a legal battle against the Dallas City Attorney’s Office four years ago, the city is again trying to deny the newspaper access to records related to complaints filed under the city’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance.

The Baylor-owned Tom Landry Fitness Center’s decision to end family memberships to prevent a gay couple from receiving the discount was highlighted in this week’s Dallas Voice. Before the article was published, we requested to view the case file since Melissa Miles, an assistant city attorney who oversees the complaints, told us the case was closed.

A week before, Beverly Davis, assistant director of the Fair Housing Office, told Dallas Voice the case was still open, but later agreed to let us review the file after the city cleared it for review in three days. But we were not able to view the file before the story was published.

Then the city sent us a letter on Tuesday, informing us they were sending our request to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for a decision on whether we could have access to the file.

We reached out to try and clarify why this was done because in 2008 Dallas Voice hired an attorney to represent us in an effort to have access to the discrimination files, and the attorney general issued an opinion that the city had to allow Dallas Voice to view them.

Assistant City Attorney Michael Bostic confirmed today that the Baylor case is closed, but he said the city is still reviewing whether to release the file.

When asked about the attorney general’s 2008 opinion saying discrimination cases are public record, Bostic initially said he didn’t recall it.

“No one has any recollection,” Bostic said, before requesting that Dallas Voice send a copy of the AG’s opinion to him.

—  Anna Waugh

Aerial spraying begins tonight, includes most of Oak Lawn and Uptown

Updated map, 4:50 p.m.

Aerial spraying for mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus begins tonight from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. The area of Dallas, Highland Park and University Park to be sprayed are bound by LBJ Freeway, the North Dallas Tollway and I-30.

Uptown and most of Oak Lawn are included in the spraying area. The only area bounded by those highways that is not included is Mesquite.

Another 20,000 acres may be added later today, according to a mid-morning release from the city of Dallas.

In Oak Lawn, there have been three human cases of West Nile Virus in the 75219 zip code and one case in 75235. In Uptown’s 74204 zip code, one human case has been reported. The 75235 zip code west of the Tollway is not included in tonight’s announced spraying area.

One case has been reported in each of North Oak Cliff’s two zip codes — 75208 and 75211 — but Oak Cliff, south of I-30, is not included in the spraying area.

—  David Taffet