UPDATE: City still reviewing complaint of anti-gay discrimination against Baylor-owned gym

The city of Dallas is in “the final stages” of reviewing an allegation of anti-gay discrimination against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, a city official told Instant Tea this week.

Gay Dallas resident Alan Rodriguez filed a complaint in January against the Fitness Center, after the popular East Dallas gym refused to offer a family membership to Rodriguez and his longtime partner.

Rodriguez’s complaint was filed under a Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. Rodriguez said he has declined an offer from the city’s Fair Housing Office, which handles discrimination complaints, to enter arbitration.

“I don’t know that there’s any room to compromise,” Rodriguez said. “There’s not middle ground to reach to.”

In a letter he penned to a Baylor executive before filing the complaint, Rodriguez accused the Fitness Center of “draconian and bigoted practices” that are “unthinkable in 2011.”

In response to Rodriguez’s email, the Baylor executive confirmed that the Fitness Center offers family memberships only “to a husband and wife pursuant to the Texas law definition of marriage.” Baylor’s attorneys reportedly are arguing that the Fitness Center is a private health club and not a public accommodation.

Jennifer Coleman, senior vice president of consumer affairs for the Baylor Health Care System, declined further comment this week.

Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, said she is unsure when officials will decide whether to prosecute Rodriguez’s complaint.

“All I can tell you is that it’s in the final stages of review,” Davis said. “I wish I could give you a definite date, but right now I don’t have a definite date.”

Rodriguez’s complaint is one of more than 50 that have been filed under the nondiscrimination ordinance since it took effect in 2002. However, none of the complaints has ever been prosecuted by the city. Each violation of the ordinance punishable by a fine of up to $500.

—  John Wright

Natinsky, Rawlings say they opposed Texas’ marriage amendment; Kunkle says he didn’t vote

Photo by Chance Browning/Dallas Voice

Two of the three major candidates for Dallas mayor said Monday that they opposed Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

During a forum at Cityplace sponsored by the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, City Councilman Ron Natinsky said he couldn’t remember whether he voted when the amendment was on the ballot in November 2005. But Natinsky added that if he did vote, he voted against the amendment.

“I can’t remember what I did last week,” Natinsky said, after seeking clarification about the date of the election. “I’m pretty sure that I voted. Assuming that I voted, I did not vote for that, but ’05 is eight years ago. I wouldn’t have voted for it, let’s put it that way, if I voted.”

In response to the same question, former Parks Board Chairman Mike Rawlings said he votes in every election.

“I was against the amendment if I understand the way it’s all on the ballot,” said Rawlings, who also sought clarification before adding, “I voted against it.”

Former Police Chief David Kunkle said he recalls being at a Democratic meeting on election night in November 2005 but was unsure why he didn’t vote on the amendment, which he pointed out passed by a wide margin.

“I don’t know why I didn’t vote,” Kunkle said. “I remember it was a very rainy night and a rainy day, but I don’t’ know about voting.”

—  John Wright

City of Dallas posts info on filing complaints of anti-gay discrimination on main page of website

Above are screen grabs from the main page of the city of Dallas’ website. Earlier we mentioned that City Councilwoman Angela Hunt had directed city staff to post information about filing discrimination complaints prominently on the site. So we went over to take a look, and sure enough, there it is. Hunt said she thinks some people either aren’t aware of the ordinance or don’t know how to file a complaint.

—  John Wright

MacLeod says past mistakes make him a better candidate

Candidate is challenging incumbent Pauline Medrano in Dallas’ District 2

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Bill MacLeod has run for a seat on the Dallas City Council before. In the last election, he pulled in about 23 percent of the vote against incumbent Councilwoman Pauline Medrano. MacLeod said that wasn’t bad for a candidate that had every one of his signs stolen.

And that was a big jump up from his first race. In 2003, he ran against John Loza and got just 4 percent of the vote.

MacLeod.Billy-use-this-one
Billy MacLeod

This time, MacLeod said, he’s learned enough about running a council race that he thinks he can win.

“I have a team together and a strategy,” he said.

“Pauline is adored by the community,” he said, referring to Medrano who represents part of Oak Lawn. “But where is her voice on issues that matter?”

MacLeod cited the recent Dallas Voice article that noted that of the more than 50 discrimination complaints the city received since the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance passed, none has been prosecuted.

Medrano, along with District 14 incumbent Angela Hunt, said they were looking into the matter.

MacLeod called that “reactive at best.”

Among the candidate’s top concerns is last summer’s tax increase.

“She [Medrano] was the swing vote on taxes,” he said, a charge opponents throw at Hunt as well.

He said his solution is to increase revenue to the city, not raise taxes. And he has several ideas that he said haven’t been looked at.

MacLeod mentioned the North Texas Tollway Authority, the deal AT&T got to locate in downtown Dallas and the low rate at which the city sold land to the Perots to build the arena as bad deals and possible revenue sources.

While some of this examples are done deals, MacLeod said new deals are always being made behind closed doors, and he wants to make sure those previous mistakes aren’t repeated.

MacLeod said that this election would be different: “This time we have people listening.”

In the last election, MacLeod accused Medrano’s people of targeting anyone who had one of his signs in their yard. He said her
campaign called 311 to complain about legally placed signs and had the city pick them up.

MacLeod said that changing demographics in the district should work in his favor. New apartments in the Design District and renovated and new housing in The Cedars south of downtown have added 2,500 new voters to the district, he said.

MacLeod believes this is the election to win. It would be Medrano’s fourth and final term if she wins.

“If we don’t replace the incumbent, they’re going to hand this over to one of their own,” he said.

MacLeod grew up in New York but graduated from W.T. White High School in Dallas and attended college in Texas.

He was a student at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches when, he said, he and his mother simply ran out of money. So he joined the Navy and served for four years. Upon discharge he returned to Texas and finished his degree.

Today, MacLeod is a consultant helping companies manage call centers.

He said his background wasn’t perfect.

“Bad behavior plagued me,” he said, acknowledging that he had a DWI and misdemeanor arrests and making no excuses for that.

“I’m not running despite my behavior,” he said. “I’m running because of it.”

MacLeod said that after his DWI, he worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. His other arrests led him to work with the homeless and with Dallas shelters.

MacLeod said he is passionate about helping the less fortunate.

“If I didn’t go through that myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help hundreds of kids that I got into treatment programs, kids that I got back with their families, kids that I introduced to Phoenix House,” he said. “I would never have been able to go under the bridges and talk to the homeless guys. Stay with them. Do street solutions. Put some of these guys to work. I would never have been able to reach out to the addicted population.”

In working on other campaigns, MacLeod said he hired homeless people to distribute fliers and put out yard signs.

MacLeod asked the LGBT community to take a good look at both candidates.

“Who is out there fighting for the Resource Center?” he said. “Who is out there fighting for Cathedral of Hope? Who is out there fighting for the LGBT community?”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

All families deserve equal access to housing

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan in the wake of last week’s announcement that HUD has proposed new rules ensuring that LGBT families will not face discrimination in access to housing.

SHAUN DONOVAN  |  Special Contributor

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Last month, we were reminded of Dr. King’s insight once again, as President Barack Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” into law.

It was a moment, the president noted, “more than two centuries in the making.”

The historic repeal of DADT is only one part of the Obama administration’s larger fight on behalf of the LGBT community. Whether it is giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights or  ensuring federal workers can afford long-term care for their partners, this administration is committed to fighting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I’m proud that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is part of that commitment, as we work to make inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of America’s housing policy.

Indeed, from conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination to instructing our staff to be vigilant about whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints can be pursued through the Fair Housing Act, we’ve worked to ensure our core housing programs are open to all.

That’s why we recently announced a new rule ensuring LGBT individuals and couples can benefit from HUD programs.

Our proposed regulations will make clear that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.

Unfortunately, while HUD programs are designed and administered to provide a decent home for every American, we’ve seen evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families are being arbitrarily excluded from some housing opportunities.

For instance, two years ago Michelle DeShane, a lesbian, wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender male, to her housing voucher.  The local housing authority denied her request because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”

The housing authority then referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority — because, as they were apparently told, the neighboring housing authority “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

That’s not right. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to federal housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And so, through this proposed rule, the Obama administration is ensuring that when it comes to housing assistance funded with taxpayer dollars, they won’t be.

Specifically, it adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of definitions applicable to HUD programs. It clarifies HUD regulations to ensure that all eligible families have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

And it prohibits inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity and makes clear that gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage.

Every American family should have the opportunity to make a home for themselves free from discrimination. That is why this rule is so important — and it’s why all of us at HUD are so proud to announce it.

Shaun Donovan is the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28.

—  John Wright