What’s Brewing: LGBT advocates to address commissioners; hearings on 4 pro-equality bills

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Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Several members of the LGBT communiity are expected to call on the Dallas County Commissioners Court to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy during public comments at the court’s regular meeting this morning. The Commissioners Court added sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy two weeks ago. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St. Watch for coverage later today on Instant Tea.

2. Four pro-equality bills are scheduled for hearings in Texas House committees today. HB 604 and HB 2156 are identical measures to repeal the state’s “homosexual conduct” law. HB 2227 would add gender identity and expression to Texas’ hate crimes law, and HB 1909 would remove discriminatory provisions from the state’s age of consent (Romeo and Juliet) laws. Representatives from Equality Texas will testify in favor of all four bills. For more, visit Equality Texas’ Legislative Information Center. You can also watch the proceedings live on the Legislature’s website.

3. Local activist Mark Reed-Walkup, who filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish his same-sex wedding announcement, provided this update about the case on Facebook on Monday: “We received a registered letter today from the Fair Housing Office of the City of Dallas. Our discrimination case against the Dallas Morning News is now officially under review which means they believe our complaint has merit and they will be setting up interviews with us soon.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: Fox 4 on Dallas’ failure to enforce ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination

 

I’m on vacation this week but I couldn’t resist putting this up. Before I left on Friday for an undisclosed location, I got a call from Peter Daut at Fox 4. He wanted me to put him in touch with Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, the local gay couple that filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement. Peter had seen our post on Friday saying that despite 53 complaints file in nine years, the city has never prosecuted a single case under its ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. So I connected Peter with Mark, and above is the result. It’s a good story that brings needed attention to the issue, but I should note that there is a fact error: The report says the case isn’t going anywhere because sexual orientation isn’t a protected class. Not true. Sexual orientation is a protected class in the city of Dallas, and that’s the whole point. There’s an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and people have been filing complaints under it, but the City Attorney’s Office isn’t doing anything with them. Peter is right when he says the complaint isn’t going anywhere. But he’s wrong about the reason why. Also, he should have given us credit.

—  John Wright

Hunt, Medrano say they’re investigating city’s handling of anti-LGBT discrimination complaints

Dallas City Councilwomen Pauline Medrano, left, and Angela Hunt

Council members respond to letter from Resource Center Dallas questioning why no cases have been prosecuted in 9 years

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Two Dallas council members said this week they’re investigating the city’s handling of complaints under a 2002 ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Councilwomen Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano announced their investigation in response to a Jan. 31 letter from Resource Center Dallas, questioning why the city hasn’t prosecuted any complaints in the nine years since the ordinance took effect.

Resource Center Dallas’ letter came in the wake of Dallas Voice reports about a discrimination complaint filed against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, an East Dallas gym that refuses to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

Hunt said she’s “deeply troubled” by the Tom Landry Fitness Center’s policy and has asked city officials to keep her posted on their investigation of the complaint.

“We’ve also requested that the city attorneys look into each of the 40 complaints that have been filed since 2002 and investigate why none has been prosecuted,” Hunt said. “They anticipate that their analysis should be finished within a couple of weeks and I will be taking a very close look at this.”

Medrano said she’s working with both the City Attorney’s Office and the Fair Housing Office, which is charged with investigating discrimination complaints before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for review — and possible prosecution.

“Each of their offices will make a list of the files, including the names of the complainants, the date of the complaint and what the discrimination involved — i.e. housing or employment, etc. — and how the complaint was resolved,” Medrano said. “The lists will be then be reconciled to make sure we have located and reviewed all the complaints. So I’m hoping to get that list, and when I do I definitely will share it.”

Councilwoman Delia Jasso, who also received a copy of the letter from Resource Center Dallas, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Dallas Voice filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act this week seeking statistics on the number of complaints that have been filed under the ordinance and their dispositions.

A 2008 investigation by the newspaper determined that at the time, there had been 33 complaints filed under the ordinance. In 22 of those cases, the City Attorney’s Office determined that there was no cause to prosecute. Of the other 11 cases, three were successfully resolved through mediation; three people withdrew their complaints after signing statements indicating that defendants had taken actions necessary to address their concerns; five complaints were found to be nonjurisdictional, meaning the incidents occurred outside city limits or defendants were exempt from the ordinance; and in one case the party filing the complaint couldn’t be located.

The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The definition of sexual orientation includes gender identity and expression. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, said this week that while her office was still working to compile statistics, she believes there have been roughly 50 complaints filed under the ordinance since 2002.

“We do everything we can when we get a complaint to make sure that the ordinance is enforced and that individual rights are protected as outlined in the ordinance,” Davis said. “It’s something that we take very, very seriously.”

Rafael McDonell, who drafted Resource Center Dallas’ letter to Hunt, Medrano and Jasso, said this week he was pleased to hear they are looking into the matter.

“It’s encouraging that they’re going back and putting these cases under a microscope,” he said. “Our concern is just based on statistics, there would be at least a couple of cases they would have moved on. The fact that they’re going to review all of them and make sure they didn’t miss something is a good thing.”

Other Texas cities with bans on discrimination against LGBT people, including Austin and Fort Worth, also have human rights commissions.

“I think the commission over in Fort Worth has been really strong in terms of how they have led on not just LGBT issues, but all human rights issues, and it would be great to have something like that here in Dallas,” McDonnell said. “Ultimately what I hope comes out of this process is a strong commitment to using the nondiscrimination policy to its best end. Policies are only as good as how they’re carried out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Dallas Morning News bills gay couple $1,034 for wedding announcement it refused to publish

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

After filing a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their marriage announcement under “Weddings,” a local gay couple reports that they received a $1,034 bill in the mail for the unpublished ad.

Mark Reed-Walkup, who filed the discrimination complaint against The DMN after marrying his partner Dante Walkup in Washington, D.C., says he wrote the following to James Moroney III, publisher and CEO of the newspaper:

“Does the DMN always send out invoices to ‘customers’ who placed an ad online but it was never published due to the paper’s discriminatory policies? We just received an invoice today for our December ad that you banned from your paper because our wedding wasn’t ‘really’ a wedding in your eyes. Unbelievable.”

Reed-Walkup says Moroney responded as follows:

“Not a good practice. I’ll take up with sales. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”

Reed-Walkup also notes that more than 8,000 people have signed a petition launched by Change.org calling on The DMN to publish same-sex marriage announcements under Weddings. He’s hoping to get the petition up to 10,000 signatures.

As for the complaint filed against The DMN, the director of the Fair Housing Office told Instant Tea recently that the city was still in the process of reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates discrimination complaints filed under a 2002 ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup maintains that Wedding announcements are a public accommodation.

—  John Wright

OUTRAGE: Baylor Health Care System confirms that it doesn’t consider your family a family

Jennifer Coleman

Jennifer Coleman, senior vice president of consumer affairs for the Baylor Health Care System, has yet to respond to our request for comment from Wednesday about the Tom Landry Fitness Center’s policy of blatantly discriminating against same-sex couples.

However, Coleman did respond to a letter from Alan Rodriguez, the gay East Dallas resident who’s planning to file a discrimination complaint against the Baylor-owned Fitness Center for refusing to sell a family membership to him and his partner of 10 years.

“Thank you for your e-mail and phone call,” Coleman wrote in an e-mail to Rodriguez, which he provided to Instant Tea. “The Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center offers, and will continue to offer, a family discount to a husband and wife pursuant to the Texas law definition of marriage. The fitness center is a private membership health club that is open to all applicants who meet membership criteria that are non-discriminatory. The fitness center has and welcomes a diverse membership.”

We’ve heard several people in the LGBT community comment that if the Fitness Center wants to discriminate against same-sex couples, people should simply take their money and memberships elsewhere.

And while this is certainly true, there are a few other problems: One, the Baylor Health Care System operates a dozen medical facilities in North Texas alone, which is downright scary in light of this policy; and two, the city of Dallas has an ordinance that prohibits this type of discrimination — in the same way that state and federal law prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of things like race.

Unfortunately, the city doesn’t seem to want to enforce the ordinance. As we’ve said repeatedly, more than 40 c0mplaints have been filed since the ordinance passed in 2002, but not one has every been prosecuted by the city.

Steven Johnson, a gay man who filed a discrimination complaint against the Tom Landry Fitness Center last year, says he withdrew it after city officials advised him that the gym is exempt from the ordinance because it’s a private club.

But that’s a bunch of bullshit. The ordinance provides no exception for private clubs.

We’ve been playing phone tag with Beverly Davis of the city’s Fair Housing Office, which is charged with investigating complaints under the ordinance, to find out whether it’s true that officials advised Johnson to withdraw his complaint.

We’ll let you know when we get in touch with Davis and/or Coleman.

In case you’re wondering, Coleman can be reached by e-mail at jennifco@BaylorHealth.edu.

—  John Wright

Gay couple accuses Baylor-owned gym of ‘draconian and bigoted practices’

For the second time in less than a year, a popular East Dallas gym owned by Baylor Health Care System is under fire for blatantly discriminating against gay couples.

Last May, a gay couple filed a discrimination complaint against the Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has a stated policy of refusing to offer family memberships to same-sex couples. The couple’s complaint was filed under a city of Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

However, the couple later withdrew the complaint after they said city officials told them the Tom Landry Fitness Center may be exempt from the ordinance because it’s a private club.

Now, another gay couple plans to file its own discrimination complaint against the Fitness Center if the policy isn’t reversed. Alan Rodriguez, who recently moved to Dallas with his partner of 10 years, says he was told by the director of the Fitness Center that Baylor defines family as “one man and one woman.”

Rodriguez, who’s renovating a home on Gaston Avenue with his partner, said he chooses to live and work in Dallas largely because of the ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. He also said he goes to the Fitness Center for allergy shots and considers the gym a “neighborhood friend,” but was shocked to learn about the family membership policy.

“It is clear Baylor has taken the position to discriminate against gay people with respect to family gym membership. It is also clear Baylor has a regimented policy excluding domestic partners from the definition of ‘family,’” Rodriguez wrote Tuesday in a letter to a Baylor executive that was also sent to Instant Tea. “Therefore, I must conclude your organization also believes it lawful to discriminate against gay people regarding other medical services. Clearly, your organization considers this policy a legal form of discrimination. It remains unclear the extent to which this policy permeates all Baylor operations. Such draconian and bigoted practices are unthinkable in 2011.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Yet another teen bullying suicide; petition targets DMN same-sex wedding policy

Kameron Jacobsen

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Here we go again. This is unbelievable. A 14-year-old high school freshman in Orange County, N.Y., has taken his own life, reportedly in response to bullying on Facebook over his perceived sexual orientation. Watch video from Fox 5 below. Kameron Jacobsen died Tuesday, according to his obituary in The Times Herald-Record. “We hope as a community both collectively and individually we can find a way to finally put an end to this!” Kameron’s family writes in the obituary. Amen.

2. Dallas police have arrested one of several suspects in a series of “takeover-style” armed robberies, including one early Wednesday at the Villa Club near North Hall Street and McKinney Avenue in Uptown. The pistol-wielding suspects struck shortly after 2 a.m. and demanded that employees empty the safe. They took the employees’ wallets and cell phones and even shot at their victims’ while making their getaway in a Hummer H2. Police believe the same suspects are responsible for similar recent robberies at the Old Monk bar in Knox-Henderson and Humperdink’s in Northeast Dallas.

3. Change.org has launched a petition calling on The Dallas Morning News to allow same-sex wedding announcements. The petition stems from a case in which a gay Dallas couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The DMN for refusing to publish their announcement under Weddings. Citing Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, The DMN instead places such announcements under Commitments. As of this morning, the petition had accumulated 6,442 signatures since being launched Wednesday. Will the petition be enough to prompt The DMN to change the policy? Almost certainly not, but it can’t hurt. Sign by going here.

—  John Wright

It’s finally official

Reed, Walkup travel to D.C. for 2nd wedding after officials invalidate October Skype ceremony

John Wright  |  wright@dallasvoice.com

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NEWLYWEDS AGAIN | Mark Reed-Walkup, right, and his husband, Dante Walkup, were married a second time in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. (Photo courtesy Mark Reed-Walkup)

A gay Dallas couple who made headlines last year with a Skype wedding — only to have it later declared invalid — have since remarried and refiled a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup said Thursday, Jan. 6, that he and his partner, Dante Walkup, traveled to Washington, D.C., and were married in a ceremony inside the Jefferson Memorial on Dec. 10. (Watch video from the ceremony at DallasVoice.com).

The couple had been married Oct. 10 at the W Dallas hotel, in a ceremony officiated via Skype from the nation’s capital, where same-sex marriage is legal. However, after their “e-marriage” made international news, D.C. court officials notified the couple that the marriage was invalid because they hadn’t been physically present in the district for the ceremony.

“We’re officially, legally married in D.C. and recognized in five states and several countries,” Reed-Walkup said Thursday, adding the couple chose not to challenge D.C. officials’ decision to declare the Skype marriage invalid.

“We had sought legal counsel, and they felt like we didn’t have a real strong case because the intent of the law was physical presence,” Reed-Walkup said. “Unless we felt like we had a strong case, we weren’t going to waste any time or resources on it.

“We think one of the objects of the Skype wedding was to help educate and hopefully change minds and hearts across the country, as they saw the effort that two men would go through to try to have a legal wedding in their hometown in front of friends and family,”

Reed-Walkup said. “In our hearts and minds, we believe that we were legally married during our [Oct. 10] ceremony, and it was a beautiful wedding. Having to go back and have the vows on D.C. soil was pretty much taking care of a technicality.”

After the Skype wedding, the couple also filed a discrimination complaint with the city of Dallas against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement, but they withdrew the complaint after the marriage was declared invalid.

They’ve since re-filed the discrimination complaint and are waiting to hear back from the city.

A representative from the city’s Fair Housing Office, which handles discrimination complaints, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

A Dallas ordinance passed in 2002 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The couple maintains that wedding announcements are a public accommodation.

The Dallas Morning News publishes same-sex announcements under “Commitments” instead of “Weddings.”

James M. Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, has said the newspaper’s policy is based on Texas law banning same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Gay Dallas couple re-marries at Jefferson Memorial after Skype wedding declared invalid

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup.

A gay Dallas couple who made headlines last year with a Skype wedding — only to have it later declared invalid — have since re-married and re-filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup said today that he and his partner, Dante Walkup, traveled to Washington, D.C., and were married in a ceremony inside the Jefferson Memorial on Dec. 10. (Watch video from the ceremony below).

The couple had been married Oct. 10 at the W-Dallas hotel, in a ceremony officiated via Skype from the nation’s capital, where same-sex marriage is legal. However, after their “e-marriage” went viral, D.C. court officials notified the couple that the marriage was invalid because they hadn’t been physically present in the district for the ceremony.

“We’re officially, legally married in D.C. and recognized in five states and several countries,” Reed-Walkup said today, adding the couple chose not to challenge D.C. officials’ decision to declare the Skype wedding invalid.

“We had sought legal counsel, and they felt like we didn’t have a real strong case because the intent of the law was physical presence,” Reed-Walkup said. “Unless we felt like we had a strong case, we weren’t going to waste any time or resources on it. We think one of the objects of the Skype wedding was to help educate and hopefully change minds and hearts across the country, as they saw the effort that two men would go through to try to have a legal wedding in their hometown in front of friends and family. In our hearts and minds, we believe that we were legally married during our [Oct. 10] ceremony, and it was a beautiful wedding. Having to go back and have the vows on D.C. soil was pretty much taking care of a technicality.”

After the Skype wedding, the couple also filed a discrimination complaint with the city of Dallas against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement, but they withdrew the complaint after the marriage was declared invalid. They’ve since re-filed the discrimination complaint and are waiting to hear back from the city, Reed-Walkup said.

A representative from the city’s Fair Housing Office, which handles discrimination complaints, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

A 2002 Dallas ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The couple maintains that wedding announcements are a public accommodation.

The Dallas Morning News publishes same-sex announcements under “Commitments” but not “Weddings.”

James M. Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, has said the newspaper’s policy is based on Texas law banning both same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

—  John Wright

Gay couple files complaint against Dallas Morning News for not printing wedding announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

Paper’s CEO says policy based on state’s ban on same-sex marriage

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday, Nov. 19. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C via teleconference.

Reed- Walkup, a board member for the national LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section.

But the newspaper has refused because of a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legally recognized by the state of Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a 2002 city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, are a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

James M. Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of the complaint because he had not seen a copy of it.

Moroney said The DMN’s policy was enacted several years ago as a way to allow same-sex couples to announce things like civil unions. As more states have legalized same-sex marriage, the newspaper has started to receive requests to publish the announcements as weddings.

“We’ve just so far said that we’re thinking about it,” Moroney said.  “Certainly if the state of Texas recognized the marriage of same-sex couples, we would put it in the paper. … This is the community and state we represent and live in, and we’re dealing with that.”

Moroney added that it’s not “a closed subject” and stressed that he believes the Morning News does a good job of reporting on LGBT issues.

“What troubles me a little bit is that some folks jump to this next level and say the newspaper is homophobic,” he said. “That really is an unfair accusation if they would only take the time to read the paper every day.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, confirmed this week that her office received the couple’s complaint and is reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

“We’re having to consult with our attorney’s office on whether or not we have jurisdiction in this particular case,” Davis said. “Whenever we get a complaint, we go the extra mile to examine it. I imagine it will probably be next week sometime before I have a decision.”

In addition to the question of whether wedding announcements are a public accommodation, Davis noted that the ordinance doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on “marital status.”

The city once dismissed a complaint against a landlord who refused to allow a lesbian couple to live together in his apartment complex. The city determined that the landlord had not violated the ordinance because the policy was based on “marital status” and not sexual orientation.

But Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said that because Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and marital status are effectively the same.

“That’s really an old dodge to try to avoid the real issue,” Upton said.

Upton said he believes wedding announcements are public accommodations, because they’re paid commercial advertisements offered as a service. He also said it’s ironic that someone’s wedding announcement wouldn’t be published based on marital status.

Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage in no way prohibits the newspaper from publishing the announcement, Upton said. And he questioned whether the Morning News investigates announcements of heterosexual marriages performed outside the state to confirm that they’re legally recognized in Texas.

“Just because the state of Texas doesn’t recognize it doesn’t mean they’re not married,” Upton said.

Gay Couple’s Complaint Against DMN

—  John Wright