Dallas County adds sexual orientation — but not gender identity — to nondiscrimination policy

Clay Jenkins

The Dallas County Commissioners Court voted earlier today to add sexual orientation to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

However, the amendment adding “sexual orientation” to the policy does not include gender identity/expression, meaning it covers gay and lesbian employees but not transgender workers.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, and Commissioner Elba Garcia told Instant Tea they were under the impression that sexual orientation includes gender identity/expression, which it does not. Jenkins and Garcia, both Democrats who took office in January, spearheaded the proposal to add sexual orientation to the policy.

Jenkins and Garcia said there was no debate on or opposition to the amendment adding sexual orientation to the policy, which first appeared on the court’s briefing agenda a month ago. The policy covers the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

“Dr. Garcia and I talked about this before we were elected, and it was a campaign promise,” Jenkins said. “This is something we wanted to do as quickly as possible. We wanted to send a message by doing this as quickly as we did that it was long overdue.”

The city of Dallas’ employment nondiscrimination policy has included sexual orientation since 1995. However, a Republican majority on the Commissioners Court reportedly has prevented Dallas County from enacting similar protections. Jenkins and Garcia, along with Commissioner John Wiley Price, comprise a Democratic majority on the Commissioners Court for the first time in three decades.

Jenkins and Garcia said they also want to add domestic partner benefits for county employees, but first they must determine what the fiscal impact would be. The county is facing a $33 million budget shortfall this year.

Jenkins said he’s asked the county’s budget director to determine how much offering domestic partner benefits would cost, adding that he believes the county-owned Parkland hospital is at a “huge competitive disadvantage” without them.

“I think it’s very important that we send a message as an employer that we will be competitive with the rest of the marketplace,” he said.

Jenkins also said that while he thought it was covered by sexual orientation, he’d be willing to revisit the issue of adding gender identity/expression to the nondiscrimination policy.

“It was our intent in adding sexual orientation to broaden that to include all members of the GLBT community,” he said.

—  John Wright

Lawmakers to file DOMA repeal Wednesday

Federal District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts has ruled — in two separate cases, no less — that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and the Justice Department, under his administration, will no longer defend it in court.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said that the House of Representatives will defend DOMA in court since the Obama administration won’t.

And now, a group of five U.S. senators is set to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut will officially announce their DOMA repeal bill in a press conference at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday in the Senate Office Building.

Of course, with Republicans in charge of the House already having announced their plans to defend DOMA in court, and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s not likely that Obama will get to keep his campaign promise this year. Still, it’s nice to know DOMA repeal is still on the agenda.

—  admin

News flash: Jim Foster is gay!

County Judge Jim Foster auditioned for an endorsement from Stonewall Democrats’ of Dallas this year, but he didn’t receive it.

Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster left office over the weekend, “as quietly as he entered it,” according to The Dallas Morning News. But what really surprised us about The DMN’s compulsory farewell was that it didn’t once mention the fact that Foster is openly gay.

Which is kind of amazing, really, given that Foster was the first openly gay county judge in the state — and given that his limited political background before taking office had been largely in the LGBT community, with groups like Stonewall Democrats. Foster also owns a business that provides security for the major gay bars on Cedar Springs.

So, to some degree, this was an oversight by The DMN, but it was also probably a reflection of the fact that Foster hasn’t been very open about his sexual orientation during his four years in office. We’re told that as recently as this year, many people in county government didn’t even realize Foster is gay. He never sought an endorsement form the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and not even Stonewall Democrats backed him in this year’s Democratic Primary.

Of course, Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Foster was partly due to the fact that in four years, he didn’t do much on behalf of LGBT equality. Foster never formally proposed adding benefits for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian county employees. He never even formally proposed adding sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. Foster will tell you this was because he didn’t have the votes, but as an openly gay elected official who’d been endorsed by Stonewall in 2006, he could have at least tried.

Also this weekend, the two new members of the Commissioners Court, Clay Jenkins and Dr. Elba Garcia, were sworn in. With a Democratic majority for the first time in decades, we’d say it’s high time for the Commissioners Court to do what Foster failed to and bring the county into the 21st century on gay rights.

—  John Wright

Shaking off those nasty midterm blues

It’s tempting to echo the ‘throw them out’ refrain, but compare the candidates and the political parties carefully, then go out and make your voice heard by voting

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White

I suspect a lot of people right now are experiencing the same kind of feelings my grandfather used to have around election time: One of his favorite phrases was, “Throw the bastards out.”

Though it may make for a colorful epithet, it was not the way he voted. He once told me that if his hand ever touched the lever on the voting machine marked “Republican,” it would burn his fingers.

Though he was a feisty and almost illiterate blacksmith from Tennessee, he followed politics and he was a Roosevelt Democrat through-and-through.

That brings me back to the here and now and the current election, when a lot of new voters are frustrated by what they perceive as the lack of change since the last election.

I will admit I, too, am frustrated. I want things to change faster and to do that I agree that we need to throw a few folks out.

But I am selective in my tossing. I know that midterms are every bit as important as the years when the presidency is in play, and though they are not nearly as sexy, they deserve our attention.

I get a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances this time of year as well, and because of that I prepared a short list of “talking points,” just to remind myself — and them — what is at stake.

• “How come things haven’t changed?”

They have, and they can continue to change if we concentrate on keeping and increasing the Democratic majority in Congress.

For example, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed during the last congressional session and signed into law by President Obama. Most importantly, the bill included crimes motivated by the victims “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

That is a big step. Additionally, the president signed a bill giving benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees.

• “Why should I bother to vote for local offices like judges?”

National politics is sexy, but the real actions that affect your life happen at the local level.

For example District Judge Ernest White presided over the gay-bashing trial of Bobby Singleton. He was one of two men who beat and disfigured Jimmie Dean in 2008 here in Oak Lawn.

Singleton was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Though the jury handed down the sentence, the judge has an influence over the trial.

Wouldn’t you want a sympathetic judge on the bench if you were the victim?

• “Are there any LGBT people running for local office?”

You betcha! Gary Fitsimmons, Dallas County district clerk, is seeking re-election. Not only has he been an outstanding public official for all of the county, his office was first in the county to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policies. Fitzsimmons recently added gender identity to the policy as well.

• “Why is Bill White a better choice than Rick Perry?”

Here is a quote from Gov. Perry: “Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

He was addressing a group about jobs creation, but his subtext is clear: “If LGBT people don’t like it here, leave.”

Additionally, who walked with us down Cedar Springs for the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, Bill White or Rick Perry? Bill White.

• “What about ENDA, DOMA and DADT?”

It’s been only two years since the landslide victory for Democratic lawmakers; it took eight years of the disastrous Bush administration policies and six years with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress to get us where we are today.

Yes, I am impatient as well, but we need to keep Democratic control over the Congress and elect even more progressive candidates to move the vital issues forward.

• “Both parties are the same; it’s all politics anyway.”

Take a look at the state party platforms and say that again.

The Republican platform is filled with vehement language demonizing LGBT Texans, like this plum: “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. … Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual couples.”
It is tempting to use my grandfather’s line, and just throw up my hands and say, “Throw all the bastards out.”

But once I get over my immediate frustration and look at the reality of where we are and where we have come from, I know things are getting better for LGBT folk in this country and this state.

If we fail to show up at the polls and support our allies, we will only hurt ourselves. It wouldn’t take much to turn back the clock, and rest assured the candidates who stand against us want to do just that.

Another bit of wisdom I gleaned from my grandfather was this: “If you are feeling down in the mouth, it’s probably because you’ve been standing around with it open. Now shut your trap and get off your rump and go out and do something!”

The best cure for the midterm blues is doing something — like voting!

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas