DART committee to be briefed on domestic partner benefits this afternoon

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit administrative committee will hear a proposal this afternoon on offering domestic partner benefits.

Claude Williams, a DART board member and vice chair of the administrative committee, requested the item be brought up for discussion and a presentation be made at the committee’s September meeting. Members then requested more information before the briefing, so it was moved to the October meeting.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the committee can respond in a few ways to the presentation, including requesting more information or asking for a proposal to be drafted for them to vote on at a future meeting.

Williams told Instant Tea that after the briefing, the item is placed on the agenda as an action item for the next meeting. If approved by the seven-member administrative committee, it would be sent for a first and second reading by the full DART board. Readings are often combined, but Williams said this issue is a tough one, so the board would likely take it’s time to consider the benefits and use every meeting in the process.

“Realistically before final adoption it will probably be the January meeting,” Williams said.

Andrew Moss, the former DART police officer who started a petition in July and spurred the progress with DART, said he was happy the committee would consider the possibility of benefits.

“I am so thrilled that DART is listening for the first time,” Moss said.

He said that while some people may be upset that the process hasn’t happened fast enough, the cost of the benefits could be added to the budget later, which Lyons previously said was a possibility.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he and an intern worked to compile a list of several dozen cities and counties in the nation that offer DP benefits for DART so the agency could better understand the cost and implementation process. McDonnell said he is hopeful that the committee will respond well and will move forward to eventually pass on a plan to the full board to vote on.

The meeting is today at 1:30 p.m. in DART Conference Room C on the first floor, at 1401 Pacific Ave.

—  Dallasvoice

DART tables DP benefits until October

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit administrative committee was slated to hear an employee presentation on offering domestic partner benefits on Sept. 11, but will now discuss the issue in October.

After members of the LGBT community addressed the DART Board of Directors Aug. 14, it was revealed that the committee had requested a presentation on offering the benefits.

Spokesman Morgan Lyons told Dallas Voice this week that the committee requested more information about the benefits, such as projected cost, and will not discuss the issue until its next meeting on Oct. 9.

DART’s Board of Directors will approve the budget on Sept. 25, but Lyons said not including DP benefits in the budget, which would need to be voted on by the administrative committee and the board, does not mean that the cost could not be added later if a vote approves adding the benefits.

The issue of the benefits came up earlier this summer when former DART police officer Andrew Moss started a Change.org petition to persuade DART to provide the benefits. He is unable to work because of health reasons and his COBRA will expire in December, but his partner still works at DART and could add Moss to his plan. The petition has garnered more than 1,170 signatures.

Equality Texas is also advocating for the change. Go here to submit your opinion through their online form.

—  Dallasvoice

DART committee to discuss DP benefits

Mark “Major” Jiminez addresses the DART Board of Directors about the importance of offering domestic partner benefits Tuesday, Aug. 14. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

A Dallas Area Rapid Transit committee is scheduled to discuss offering domestic partner benefits at its September meeting.

DART Executive Director Gary Thomas told Instant Tea on Tuesday that board member Claude Williams has requested a presentation by staff on DP benefits at the administrative committee’s next meeting. Williams, who couldn’t immediately be reached, serves as vice chair of the administrative committee.

Several members of the LGBT community addressed the DART board Tuesday night to explain the importance of offering DP benefits.

Omar Narvaez, who works for Lambda Legal, told the DART board he lost his job a few years ago after working for a company for 14 years. He said he was lucky that his partner’s company offered DP benefits.

When he went to work for Lambda Legal a year later, Narvaez said his partner then lost his job, so Narvaez was able to put his partner on his insurance plan.

“We need to add these benefits because happy employees and employees that feel safe are employees that love working here,” Narvaez said.

Mark “Major” Jiminez spoke about how he admired DART as an agency but doesn’t support the agency’s discriminatory policies. Jiminez and his partner Beau Chandler will marry in September and have been arrested trying to obtain a marriage license in Dallas County.

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell then spoke and referenced DART’s equal employment opportunity policy, which he also distributed to board members. McDonnell said the policy is contradictory because it says the transit agency doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation, including in the area of benefits.

McDonnell said the efforts of former DART employee Andrew Moss, who could not attend Tuesday’s meeting, have been heard loud and clear with the issue now being addressed by the administrative committee. Moss’ Change.org petition calling for DART to add DP benefits has garnered 1,159 signatures.

“I think it certainly shows that our petitions, our calls and letters were heard,” McDonnell said, adding that he is optimistic about the DP benefits issue moving forward. “I feel pretty good about it getting through the administrative committee. I still think we have some work to do with educating board members, though.”

Dallas attorney Scott Carlson was appointed DART’s new general counsel by the board on Tuesday. Carlson is a former board member who voted against adding transgender nondiscrimination protections in 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

RCD discusses DP benefits with DART

Andrew Moss

After Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials refused to meet with a former police officer about offering domestic partner benefits, Resource Center Dallas met with DART officials this week.

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell, CEO Cece Cox and board member Gary Fraundorfer, who is vice president of human resources at AT&T, met with DART Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver this week to discuss LGBT issues after RCD sent a letter requesting a meeting.

McDonnell said the meeting went well and Oliver encouraged them to speak to board members and offered his personal support.

“He outlined and stated his support for LGBT issues,” he said.

McDonnell said it will take some “serious educating” of DART board members before they’ll vote to add DP benefits.

He said the discussion also touched on trans health services and other LGBT issues, but those would also require the board’s approval.

Former employee Andrew Moss created a Change.org petition a few weeks ago to get DART to add DP benefits after health issues prevented him from working. His husband still works for DART.

Although DART refused to meet with Moss, he said he helped RCD meet with Oliver because the organization had tried to schedule meetings with no success.

McDonnell said the “petition has certainly put DP benefits on their radar.” He told Moss about how the meeting went, and Moss said he thinks board members won’t need too much education if the problem and inequality was explained to them.

“I really, honestly believe if you have the support of executive management, I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen,” he said.

Overall, he said he’s glad DART agreed to meet with someone about the issue and believes DART will soon offer the benefits.

“I feel very optimistic,” Moss said. “I think it’s going to turn out like it should.”

—  Dallasvoice

DART refuses to meet with former employee about adding DP benefits

Former Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officer Andrew Moss was supposed to meet with a DART official this week, but no meeting took place and won’t anytime soon.

Moss no longer works at DART and has stopped working for health reasons. His partner still works there so he could add Moss to his health insurance if DART offered DP benefits. He started a Change.org petition encouraging the agency to add the benefits, which has garnered 1,044 signatures.

DART contacted Moss two weeks ago after Instant Tea brought the petition to their attention, he said. Planning began for a meeting with him and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver.

The following week, Resource Center Dallas sent a letter to DART officials to encourage them to offer DP benefits. Moss was told he could meet with Jesse Oliver Monday or Tuesday of this week.

He received a letter from Betty Bird, DART’s director of compensation and benefits stating there were no plans to change the healthcare coverage for employees. The letter states eligible dependents are unmarried children under 26 and spouses recognized under Texas law.

Moss said he called Bird Monday and was informed that Oliver had asked her to send him the letter because he had no intention of meeting with Moss to discuss the matter. That news was a surprise to Moss after DART had reached out to him for a meeting.

“I was so surprised because they told me that I would meet with him,” Moss said, adding that Oliver likely backed out of a meeting once he found out it was LGBT-related. “I think the opinion changed, that he was open at one point to a conversation until he realized it was about LGBT issues and domestic partner benefits.”

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the agency didn’t reach out to Moss, but he did request a meeting several times. He said Moss is not an employee any longer and a letter explaining the policy was sent to him, so “there was just no reason to meet with him.”

However, DART officials will meet with the Resource Center Dallas representatives and are working to schedule a time. Lyons said officials have met with RCD in the past and have granted a request for a meeting after they received a letter from the center last week.

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell said employees have not yet been contacted to set up a meeting with DART.

Moss said he’ll appeal to the Board of Directors to get the issue discussed and possibly voted on. In the meantime, he said he’ll work to gain more support from the LGBT community for the cause.

“DART has the opportunity and the power to do the right thing and be on the right side of civil rights,” he said. “There’s nothing stopping them from doing what’s right.”

View the letter below.

—  Dallasvoice

DART chair gets request for partner benefits at Orange Line opening parade

Fence is between the tracks rather than outside the tracks, yet using DART’s wide new sidewalk in Irving is illegal

Rafael McDonnell, Resource Center Dallas’ communications and advocacy manager, approached DART board chair John Carter Danish to talk about adding domestic partner benefits including insurance coverage after the Orange Line opening parade on July 28.

“DART should revisit the issue,” McDonnell said.

A former employee petitioned DART recently for partner benefits. He retired for health reasons and his husband is still a DART employee.

He said Danish’s reaction was to thank him for bringing the issue to his attention. Although he was noncommittal, Danish was an early backer of adding nondiscrimination protections for the transgender community saying, “It was the right thing to do.”

As chair of the DART board, Danish can add items to the agenda. McDonnell recommends contacting all board members about support for adding benefits, but to contact Danish separately, urging him to add the item to the agenda for the Aug. 14 meeting. The address is DART Office of Board Support, P.O. Box 660163, Dallas, Texas 75266-7200.

McDonnell said that members of the community should attend the DART meeting whether or not the issue appears on the agenda and they may speak during the open comment period. The Aug 14 meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at DART headquarters, 1401 Akard St.

While we’re sort of on the subject of the Orange Line, here are two comments:

First, if DART plans another parade in December when the Beltline Road station opens, hire Irving resident David Berryman to plan a better parade. While he couldn’t have done anything about the heat, the parade wouldn’t have been so, well, crappy. Berryman coordinates the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

Second, the Orange Line through Las Colinas is an accident waiting to happen. The crossings are all without railroad arms and at many crossings also without traffic lights. Or even signs that you’re driving across active railroad tracks.

That’s not all — the tracks are set in the middle of a new, beautifully bricked sidewalk. DART is calling it their private right-of-way. They are claiming there are signs warning pedestrians to keep off. And they are serious. Using this sidewalk, I mean DART right-of-way, could earn a jogger a $500 fine. And I walked the length of the sidewalk, I mean DART right-of-way, and saw NO signs warning pedestrians to keep off.

If DART really wanted people to stay off the tracks, were interested in safety and wasn’t just planning to add to their operating budget by issuing tickets, DART would have placed the fence that runs BETWEEN the tracks OUTSIDE the tracks to just keep people off their property.

So walk in the middle of the street (because there are no sidewalks here) and avoid the wrath of DART.

—  David Taffet

RCD presses DART to add DP benefits

Andrew Moss

Resource Center Dallas CEO and Executive Director Cece Cox sent Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials a letter Monday urging the agency to offer its 3,500 employees domestic partner benefits.

Cox’s letter, addressed to DART Board Chair John Carter and Diversity Committee Chair Claude Williams, comes in response to a Change.org petition created by a former employee. The letter states that adding DP benefits is about “fairness and equitable treatment for all employees” and lists how other companies and cities have offered DP benefits at a lower-than-expected cost.

It goes on to request that DART review its “nondiscrimination policy, add gender expression as was the intent of the board when it voted on it in June 2010, and eliminate cumbersome, confusing language that obfuscates the intent of a policy to protect all employees fr0m discrimination.”

DART’s board approved adding trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy in 2010 amid controversy, but advocates have called the language less than ideal.

Former DART police officer Andrew Moss, who started the petition, said DART reached out to him to schedule a meeting with Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver for early next week. His petition has garnered 920 signatures.

Moss said he plans to explain how DP benefits would add value to the company, as well as change a negative view of DART in the gay community.

“DART hasn’t had a positive image in the LGBT community and hopefully a move like this will improve the image,” he said.

Moss said DART’s quick reaction in setting up a meeting means the agency views the issues as “something that’s pressing.”

While he hopes the meeting ultimately helps change DART’s stance on DP benefits, he’s not sure what to expect.

“A lot of it really just depends on what he (Oliver) expects from the meeting,” Moss said. “If I go in there and his mind’s made up, it’s fruitless.”

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell told Instant Tea that the center reached out to Oliver after he was hired this spring to meet with him about diversity issues, but he never received a response. He said the letter is another request for a meeting and offered his support of Moss.

“Resource Center Dallas supports Andrew Moss’ efforts encouraging DART to establish domestic partner benefits for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees,” McDonnell said. “This was an issue the Center initially brought up in 2010, when we worked with DART to establish transgender nondiscrimination protections for the agency’s employees.”

Read RCD’s letter below.

—  Dallasvoice

Former employee petitions DART to offer domestic partner benefits

Andrew Moss

A former Dallas Area Rapid Transit employee is petitioning the company to add domestic partner benefits after health issues have forced him to stop working.

Andrew Moss worked as a DART police officer for five years until 2008. He then worked for the city of Fort Worth until his health prevented him from working. He’s now on COBRA but that will expire in December, he said.

Moss legally married his husband in California in 2008, but Texas doesn’t recognize the marriage. He said his husband still works as a police officer for DART and could add Moss to his health insurance plan as early as January if DART offered DP benefits.

“My husband goes to work and risks his life for DART and should get the same benefits that his counterparts of a different sexual orientation get,” Moss said.

Moss has started a Change.org petition called “Urge Dallas Area Rapid Transit DART to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits” to persuade DART President Gary Thomas and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver to add the benefits.

As of Thursday afternoon, 36 people had signed it.

“In my discussion with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, I was advised by their Human Resources Managers that DART ‘Prefers not to get into the choices of their employees,’” Moss mentions in the petition letter. “I wasn’t aware my husband and I and countless others woke up one day and decided to be LGBT. DART appears to be less than willing to even attempt to assist their LGBT population in obtaining benefits or other effective workplace protections.”

—  Dallasvoice

Gay photographer held up at gunpoint near DART’s Uptown Station, refuses to give up camera

Gay photographer Stephen Masker says he was taking photos of DARTs Uptown Station (near CityPlace) on Monday when three or four men approached in a van and demanded his camera at gunpoint. Masker refused to hand over the camera, and the men eventually fled, according to WFAA:

“I said, ‘What? Like, what are you talking about?’” Masker recalled. “He repeated himself and said, ‘Give me your camera.’ I said, ‘I’m not giving you my camera.’”

Masker said the men tried again, and once more he resisted before the men took off in a tan or gold mini-van.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” Masker said. “It was unreal.”

Highland Park police say a few minutes before, suspects matching the same description held up another man in an alley near Hillcrest and Princeton, taking his phone.

Masker said if he had to do it all again, he would not do it the same way.

“I would’ve given them the camera if it was a do-over,” he said. “If it ever happens again, I’ll give away whatever’s on me.”

Watch WFAA’s report below:

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

CCGLA surveys candidates, sets meet-and-greet events

As municipal elections approach, the Collin County Gay & Lesbian Alliance has sent an online survey to city council, school board and mayoral candidates in Allen, Frisco, Plano and McKinney, and “meet-and-greet” sessions for candidates are planned in Frisco, Plano and McKinney in April.

The organization will also create and distribute a voters’ guide.

The Plano “meet-and-greet” will be held on Friday, April 8, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at a private residence. For more information, go online to CCGLA.org.

Results of CCGLA’s candidate surveys will be posted on the CCGLA website prior to each event. The events are informal, non-partisan, and all candidates are invited.

Oak Cliff Earth Day to feature vendors, info booths and more

Oak Cliff Earth Day, which has become the largest all-volunteer-run Earth Day since it started five years ago, will be held on Sunday, April 17, from noon to 5 p.m. at Lake Cliff Park, located at the intersection of Colorado Street and Zang Boulevard in Oak Cliff.

There is no charge to attend the event, which will include art, food, plants and other environmentally-friendly products available for purchase.

There will also be educational booths on topics such as how to save energy and clean up the environment, along with locally-grown honey, animals to adopt and native plants for gardens.

Parking at the park is limited, however, free parking is available at Methodist Hospital, in Lot 10 only, located at 1400 S. Beckley Ave. across from the hospital entrance on Beckley Ave. Methodist Hospital is providing a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the event.

Participants are also encouraged to take DART to the event or walk or ride a bicycle. There are a number of bike racks, funded by Oak Cliff Earth Day, at the park.

Mayoral candidates to speak Sunday on animal issues in Dallas

Dallas’ mayoral candidates will participate in a forum on animal issues in the city of Dallas on Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. at the Central Dallas Library, 1515 Young St., in downtown Dallas. The Metroplex Animal Coalition is sponsoring the forum, with is free and open to the public. Journalist Larry Powell with Urban Animal magazine will moderate.

The mayoral candidates are former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Councilman Ron Natinsky, real estate consultant Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and Dallas homeless czar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright