Working together to make history

There is work still to be done to get DART’s policy where it needs to be, but Tuesday’s vote was a big first step toward victory

Cece Cox andRafael McDonnell Guest Columnists

The North Texas LGBT community made history Tuesday night, June 22. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board of directors unanimously voted to expand its nondiscrimination protections to include gender identity.

Never before in our area has a governmental body unanimously voted to expand LGBT nondiscrimination protections. In fact, we believe that the nature of the vote was a first statewide.

This could not have happened without an impressive and inspiring collection of groups and people working with Resource Center Dallas, all working towards the same goal of inclusion. The list includes Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, LULAC 4871, GEAR, Equality March Texas, Lambda Legal, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Out&Equal DFW Council, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, HRC DFW Steering Committee, GET EQUAL NOW, and Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies.

Among the people who deserve special thanks for their help are Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas City Council, especially members Linda Koop, Dave Newman, Delia Jasso and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano.

Former council members Chris Luna and John Loza delivered impassioned remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, as did the Rev. Steve Sprinkle with Brite Divinity School and Rebecca Solomon with Bank of America.

At the heart of this story, though, there are two heroines. One is the unnamed transgender employee of the transit agency dubbed Ms. T-DART. The other is her friend, Pamela Curry. Without Ms. T-DART coming forward about her workplace treatment and DART’s intervention in her genetic marker change case, and without Pamela giving voice to the story, the nondiscrimination provisions may not have been expanded.

Admittedly, the language that the DART board adopted isn’t perfect. Work remains to be done. DART can only create an inclusive workplace if its culture matches its policies, which requires commitment, time and effort.

We will hold DART to the board’s intent, and continue to work with the agency as it drafts language for its policy manual reflecting the wishes of the board.

More than three months ago, Resource Center Dallas recognized the story of Ms. T-DART as an opportunity to offer resources to DART staff, who, in turn, worked with their board. From our experience providing cultural sensitivity training to corporations and public entities such as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, we know learning and understanding happens when solid relationships are built between communities and when those communities truly listen to one another.

More often that not, people and organizations act out of a lack of understanding rather than malice.

Even before this week’s board vote, DART staff took an important first step toward understanding inclusion when it worked with Resource Center Dallas to provide training to some of its staff.

We applaud DART for addressing what it means to have a workplace that values all employees, including those who happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay. Understanding its own diverse employees will aid DART in recruiting and retention, and in serving its diverse public in north Texas.

The efforts to change DART’s policies highlight two important additional issues for the LGBT community.

First, these debates would not have even happened if a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act was the law of the land. The bill is pending in Congress, but is in danger of becoming a casualty of election year politics. As a community, we need to force our lawmakers to act on our concerns.

Second, recent events point out the need for LGBT people to serve on boards, commissions and in government to effect change from the inside.

It was 15 years ago this week that DART first expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. It took two board votes, amid opposition from at least two groups.
This time, community engagement through calls, letters and e-mails to the DART board and Dallas City Council members led to a unanimous vote.

We all should be proud of our willingness to speak out for justice and to work together. While work remains so that DART’s policy fully reflects the board’s expressed intent for protections based on gender identity and expression, we remain hopeful that the impressive collaboration of GLBT community and DART leadership will accomplish just that.

Cece Cox is associate executive director of GLBT community services for Resource Center Dallas. E-mail her at ccox@rcdallas.org. Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at RCD. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice