Fort Worth proud to be an Outie finalist

Last week we told you that Fort Worth’s response to the Rainbow Lounge raid has led the city to be named a finalist for the 2011 Significant Achievement Award from Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. Fort Worth is one of four finalists for the “Outie,” and the winner will be announced during Out & Equal’s annual Workplace Summit, set for October in Dallas. The city has posted a press release on its website in response to being named a finalist for the award. Here’s an excerpt:

“The City of Fort Worth is honored to be nominated for an Out & Equal Workplace Award in the Significant Achievement category,” said interim City Manager Tom Higgins. “By embracing the LGBT community through the creation of the Diversity Task Force, the City of Fort Worth recognizes and supports a community that has not always had a role in government processes. Through the Diversity Task Force, the City of Fort Worth is breaking down barriers that otherwise could prevent the City from reaching its full potential. Initiatives like this serve to heighten diversity awareness so that all community segments become part of their municipal government.”

Karen Marshall, the City’s human resources director, said: “The work of the Diversity Task Force has favorably impacted not only the LGBT community, but the entire community by fostering understanding, compassion and awareness in all segments of Fort Worth. Passion, energy and new partnerships have allowed the mission of the Diversity Task Force to advance. The program is a model for any municipality that recognizes the value of enhanced quality of life, which in turn advances equal opportunity and provides greater access to government and governmental services for multicultural populations.”

Unfrotunately, it looks like some anti-gay bigots have taken to the comments below the press release.

“It’s great the city can now openly support deviant sexual activity under the perverted pretense of diversification,” OhBlahDe writes. “Thank you Fort Worth for bending over backwards for a segment of the population that makes up less then 3% of the entire population.”

To which Sherrie responds:I am sorry to see a couple of negative comments, which in my opinion reflect the narrow-mindedness and ignorance of the very people who make it so we have to have ‘Task Forces.’”

—  John Wright

FW adds partner, pension benefits for LGBT workers

HR Commissioner Thomas says Community Relations Department cuts won’t impair enforcement of nondiscrimination ordinance

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — After months of a contentious budget process, the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 21 approved a $1.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2011, and with that vote also approved domestic partner benefits for city employees.

Beginning Oct. 4, LGBT city employees will be able to add their domestic partners to their insurance plan, with the employee paying all the costs of the added benefits. The insurance will go into effect Jan. 1.

The new budget also calls on the city to increase its contribution to the pension fund by 4 percent and to offer new hires the option of designating a survivor, which can include a domestic partner, to receive benefits.

The move to offer partner benefits came in under the radar, happening quietly and with none of the often rancorous debate that accompanied the vote last fall to add gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination policy, or even the decision to form the Diversity Task Force that recommended adding partner benefits.

The task force was formed last summer in the wake of the raid on the Rainbow Lounge, and was created to suggest ways that the city could better serve its LGBT employees and citizens.

In fact, it was the way the council set up the task force that allowed the partner benefits to be added without opposition, according to Thomas Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth.

The task force was created to study city policies and make recommendations on changes to City Manager Dale Fissler. All the recommendations Fissler concurred with, with the exception of any cost changes or policy changes, would be adopted without the need of a vote by the council.

Of the 20 recommendations made by the task force, all but three were adopted in January without a council vote.

One of those three — adding gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance — happened last fall during a marathon council meeting that included dozens of speakers on both sides of the issue.

The council chose to delay implementation the other two recommendations — partner benefits and adding insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery — pending further study to determine the cost to the city.

Anable said that once it was determined that adding partner benefits wouldn’t cost the city, partner benefits were “a done deal. The council didn’t even need to vote on it.”

A spokesman in Mayor Mike Moncrief’s office confirmed changes in the pension plan and the addition of partner benefits, but said details on the pension plan were still being hammered out.

He also confirmed that the addition of partner benefits did not require a council vote, but that the plan was presented to the council as an informational item during a pre-council meeting in August.

During the budget planning process, Fairness Fort Worth had expressed concern that proposed cuts in the city’s Community Relations Department would damage the department’s ability to investigate alleged violations of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

But on Lisa Thomas, an openly lesbian member of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, said this week the final changes will not impede investigations or enforcement of the ordinance.

Thomas said commission members and commission chair Estrus Tucker, Community Relations Department Director Vanessa Boling, Fissler and Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa had “worked hard to ensure that the necessary budget cuts do not harm the ability of the Human Relations Commission to carry out its mission.”

In the final budget, the Community Relations Department has been eliminated, along with Boling’s post. Staff was reduced from almost 80 to almost 40, with some of those 40 employees whose positions were cut being absorbed into other departments, Thomas said.

“The remaining staff of 13 will support the Human Relations Commission and carry out the investigations and enforce federal regulations under Fair Housing and Equal Employment in addition to the recently-expanded city of Fort Worth nondiscrimination ordinance,” Thomas said.

The remaining staff includes an administrator, support staff, two communications offiers and an investigatory staff.

“I believe that the organization as it is proposed in the budget can work and will be considered substantially equivalent to the requirements as laid out in the federal regulations, allowing the commission and its work to continue,” Thomas said.

“In this way, we can continue to protect all the people who live, work and visit in Fort Worth.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Anti-gay protesters pack Fort Worth City Council chamber

Opponents of city’s diversity initiatives speaking during council meeting, even though issue wasn’t on the agenda

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — A crowd of about 200 people opposing recent diversity initiatives implemented by the city of Fort Worth packed Cowtown’s City Council chambers on Tuesday, July 13, even though nothing related to the initiatives was on the council’s agenda.

Five individuals representing the opponents spoke during the portion of the meeting allotted for citizen comments, while four representatives from Fairness Fort Worth spoke in support of the city’s efforts to improve relations with its LGBT community.

The diversity initiatives grew out of recommendations forwarded to the council by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force and approved by City Manager Dale Fisler late last year. The task force — comprising 16 city employees and 16 LGBT community representatives, all appointed by Fisler — was formed last summer in the wake of the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by officers with the Fort Worth Police Department and agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The recommendations suggested by the task force included improved diversity training for all city employees, domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian city employees, coverage of gender reassignment surgery for transgender employees in transition, promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism, and lobbying for passage of state and federal laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment.

The task force also recommended that the council amend the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Most of the recommendations involved procedural changes that could be implemented by the city manager without a vote by the council.

The council did vote, 6-3, on Nov. 11 last year to add specific gender identity protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance.

The vote came after a marathon hearing during which numerous people spoke in favor of and against the amendment.

However city staff are still studying the feasibility of offering domestic partner benefits and adding coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

A spokesman in the office of Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said this week that the resurgence of opposition may have been tied to the one-year anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge raid. This week’s meeting was the council’s first since the June 28 anniversary date.

But Thomas Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said his organization believes Diversity Task Force opponents had intended to speak during time set aside for public comments on the proposed budget for the city’s Crime Control and Prevention District budget. That budget includes funds to pay for diversity training for police officers and for officer recruitment efforts within the LGBT community, he said.

However, the council voted to delay the public hearing on that budget for two weeks.

“They were there because they felt like they got shut out of the process [of the Diversity Task Force] last year,” Anable, who was a member of the task force, said on Wednesday, after the council meeting. “Every meeting that the task force had was open to the public, and nobody showed up.”

Anable said he believes the move to bring the opponents to the Tuesday night council meeting this week was led by Richard Clough, a failed candidate for Tarrant County judge who is an associate minister with Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

“They said last November when the task force’s report was presented to the council, and when the council voted on the transgender ordinance, they said then that they had been left out and that they would be back,” Anable said. “I think, with the CCPD budget on the agenda this week, they saw an opportunity to try and make a sneak attack.”

Anable said Fairness Fort Worth learned on Monday of e-mails that had been circulated over the weekend among conservative and evangelical Christian churches, calling on evangelical Christians to pack the council chambers at Tuesday’s meeting.

But instead of sending out a calling for the LGBT community and its allies to attend also, Anable said his organization chose to organize a small, but visible, contingent to attend as a show of support for the city’s initiatives, with specific community leaders signing up to speak.

“We didn’t want a big catfight,” Anable said.

“We just wanted to have people there to show support, with just a few speaking. We wanted to give a calm and dignified response.”

Anable said after the meeting he feels confident that the city council will not reverse the progress it has made so far on diversity issues — a confidence that was reinforced by Mayor Mike Moncrief’s statements both before and after the citizen comment session.

Moncrief opened the comment session with an admonition to both sides to “be respectful” and with a pledge that the city would not go backward.

“I am very pleased with the progress we have had to date,” the mayor said. It has certainly reflected the diversity of our city. And it reflects this city’s belief that no one should be discriminated against, no matter who they are. And that is not going to change.

That is important for all of us, whether its an ordinance or not, that should be an ordinance in life. No one should be discriminated against.”

The five men who spoke against the Diversity Task Force and the city’s diversity initiatives all criticized city officials for “promoting a homosexual agenda” against the wishes of what they said is a majority of the city’s residents.

Clough, who stood at the podium flanked by supporters wearing paper badges printed with the word “Truth,” began by accusing Mayor Mike Moncrief and the council of “intentionally hiding the implementation of a homosexual agenda.”

The accusation prompted an angry rebuttal for the mayor, who threatened to have Clough removed from the council chambers if he continued with “personal attacks.”

The two men argued briefly, with Clough continuing to speak over the mayor’s admonishments and with Moncrief at one point turning off the microphone at the podium where Clough stood.

“We have a way of doing business here, and that is not to come in here and personally attack anybody. We don’t attack you, nor does anyone on our staff. We don’t expect you to come in here and attack us,” Moncrief said. “If you want to talk about the diversity task force, that is all well and good. But don’t expect to come in here and get away with personal attacks.”

When Moncrief allowed Clough to continue, the minister accused the mayor of refusing to meet with him, although some council members had met with him. Clough said that “every voice was not heard” on the Diversity Task Force’s recommendations, adding that the council was going against the wishes of the majority of the city’s citizens who had, he said, voted against same-sex marriage in 2004 by a 77 percent majority.

He criticized the city for spending money to send lobbyists to Washington, D.C., to promote passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and for promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism.

“Who are you promoting it to? Queer liberation [possibly a reference to the now-defunct direct action group Queer LiberAction]? To NAMBLA — the North American Man-Boy Love Association? Or are you just promoting it to the gay chambers?” Clough said.

Clough also criticized the addition of gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, suggesting that council members “ask the ladies do they want a man who suffers from gender identity disorder coming in on them in the bathroom. … If they gays want to promote something, let them spend their own money to promote it.”

Clough said the city “has no business promoting the homosexual lifestyle, just like it has no business promoting the heterosexual lifestyle.”

He said that while the city should “stand against hatred or discrimination or abuse of any kind,” the media and the LGBT community have “distorted the facts” surrounding the Rainbow Lounge raid and are using that to “promote the homosexual agenda.”

“Homosexuality can be divisive. That’s not my intent,” Clough said. “My intent is to have all voices heard and find a solution that is best for all.”

Robert Hayes said the city’s leadership “should serve the people of the city, serve the masses, and not cater to the wishes of the few.” He said that the raid at the Rainbow Lounge was a situation that should have been investigated by police department officials, and “not a situation to make sweeping changes in the city.”

“Do we set up a task force if we find the city has an unusually large number of employees coming down with the flu? Do we set one up to discuss who can live in what area of town? Then my question is, why did we set up a task force for diversity when it appears we only had a question of the use of force and the appropriate degree of force that was used?” Hayes said.

The Rev. Perfeto Esquibel, pastor of Christian Worship Center of Fort Worth, complained that the task force “seems to be made up of only one certain interest group rather than a combination of people with different opinions about gay civil rights.”

Esquibel also said it is “a slap in the face” to racial and ethnic minorities to call LGBT people a minority. He said the task force and the city’s diversity initiatives are part of a “gay rights agenda” being pushed by a “minute” number of people, and that most Fort Worth residents are Christians who believe that “the Bible is the word of God, and it’s what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based on.”

John Carlson, a Fort Worth businessman and husband of Texas Eagle Forum President Pat Carlson, told the council he believed it was irresponsible to spend city dollars on diversity initiatives when the city is facing a budget shortfall.

“This diversity will expand benefits and increase spending. Taxpayers do not want increased spending or taxes,” Carlson said.

He said that as a businessman who provides insurance to his employees, he knows that health insurance costs increase every year. Providing coverage to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees would increase the city’s costs, he said, because gays and lesbians engage in ‘undeniably risky behavior. … If that lifestyle were a pack of cigarettes, it would require a surgeon general’s warning.”

Carlson said, “If you insure domestic partners, what if they have more than one partner? … Why not insure boyfriends or girlfriends? … Where does this coverage end? It just goes on.”

Scott Graham, who described himself as a businessman and former police officer, said he had conducted his own investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid.

He repeated allegations that patrons in the bar that night sexually harassed and groped officers (those allegations were found to be either false or grossly exaggerated during official investigations), and accused witnesses and LGBT community leaders of “gross misrepresentations” of the raid and of “mak[ing] things up as they went along.”

Graham said, “Government was created by God to protect His definition of family,” and then asked for — and received — permission to “pray and speak a blessing over our city.”

The Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, was the first of four speakers to speak in support of the Diversity Task Force and its recommendations. Noting that she is a member of Fairness Fort Worth and one of the people who leads the city’s new diversity training, West said that the training makes clear that it’s purpose is not to address religious issues or question anyone’s religious beliefs.

The training, she said, is designed to give “a perspective of the GLBT community. … Is there a homosexual agenda? I have heard a lot of talk about it, and you [task force opponents] talk a lot more about it than we [LGBT people] ever do.

“We teach that everyone is your customer. We say treat everyone with respect. Treat people with dignity. We teach about not demeaning people, not making people unwanted,” West said. “If that is a homosexual agenda, then it needs to be spread around.”

Steve Dutton, a task force member, and Lisa Thomas, a member of the task force, the city’s Human Rights Commission and Fairness Fort Worth, also spoke during the council meeting. But said the diveristy initiatives are a question of equal treatment, not religious beliefs.

To close the public comment session, Moncrief said he believes there is “respect in this city. There is room for all of us.

“We are trying to work through something very difficult. We weren’t pleased to be in the national spotlight for what happened or didn’t happen. But it was and is up to us to find out what happened. Obviously, somebody did something. TABC certainly felt somebody did something they shouldn’t have, because they fired the two agents that were involved.”

He added, “Don’t feel like we were not listening, because we were. We are. I hope you all feel like you have been heard tonight. … What’s in the Bible or what isn’t in the Bible, that’s not our job. Our job is to maintain the quality of life in our city, and that’s what this [diversity] training is all about.”

……..

To watch complete video of the Fort Worth City Council meeting, go online to FortWorthGov.org.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Christian’ group plans to attend Fort Worth council meeting tonight to protest city’s ‘homosexual/transgender agenda’

Earlier today, I got an e-mail from Pastor Curtis Smith with Trinity Metropolitan Community Church in Arlington, saying that a group calling itself “Believers Stand United” had been circulating an e-mail urging all the God-fearing Christians in the Metroplex to head over to Cowtown tonight for the Fort Worth City Council meeting to speak out against an impending “major move by the city to promote and implement a homosexual/transgender agenda in the city.”

The e-mail talked about the 20 recommendations made by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid last June, and warned that the city manager “has started implementation of these without public discussion.”

(Just for the record, most of the items on the list required no action by the City Council. The only one that did that has been implemented was the amendment of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for transgender people, and that happened after a marathon council session last year during which PLENTY of people had the chance to speak against it.)

The-email said: “All of these recommendations would be funded by your dollars as a taxpayer in Fort Worth and would give this group of citizens’ special status and privileges.” Hmm. We haven’t heard that “special privileges” argument before, have we?

The e-mail continued:

“Several churches and ministries are planning to attend the Fort Worth City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 13. The purpose of this meeting is two fold. First, to have the Christian community’s voice heard with regards to the cities plans to promote the homosexual lifestyle with taxpayer dollars. Second, to show support for our Police Department and to those officers who serve the city.

“We would like your involvement and participation in this meeting. Invite and bring as many people as you can to the city council meeting. Several pastors and ministers form the community as well from our ministry will be addressing the city council. The city council meeting starts at 7pm, but I would encourage you to get there early to ensure a seat. Click Here for directions to City Hall.

“There is a move in this country to redefine marriage. We as believers need to stand up in love and have our voices heard on this issue. Numbers matter; even if you do not live in Fort Worth your presence at this meeting will have a profound affect. Again, the meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July13 at 7pm in City Hall – 1000 Throckmorton St, Fort Worth 76102. Thank you for taking action. God loves everyone, and so do we.”

(Don’t you just love that last part: “God loves everyone, and so do we”? Oh yeah, these folks are just oozing love for the homosexuals and transgenders, aren’t they?)

Well, Pastor Smith was encouraging the LGBT community and our supporters to turn out for the meeting, too, to try and counteract all that love. And the folks over at Fairness Fort Worth — who said the group planning to attend the meeting are an offshoot of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries, led by Kenneth’s son John — are also stepping up to the plate to make sure the anti-gay agenda doesn’t get a free pass.

Here’s the statement from Fairness Fort Worth:

“To our GLBT Community and Supporters,

“Over the last 48 hours you may have heard that an off-shoot of Kenneth Copeland Ministries plans to attend tonight’s Fort Worth City Council meeting to protest issues important to us. Many have asked if we should create a large turnout as we did this time last year. Fairness Fort Worth recommends that we save that for a more productive day.

“Here’s why. Citizen presentations occur at the tail-end of the meeting. While last year the mayor moved these up due to an urgent issue — this time around there isn’t anything so pressing. In fact, this promises to be one of the longest Council meetings of the year. You’re certainly welcome to attend, but know this meeting may easily go until 1 a.m. Nothing on the agenda tonight specifically addresses GLBT issues. However, we have contingency plans in place to address adversarial remarks should it be necessary on any agenda item.

“Fairness Fort Worth continues to work through and be a significant stakeholder in our city process. Council members have come to respect our participation. This evening they will see the faces of our GLBT and supportive straight leadership in the gallery reinforcing the amazing initiatives they have taken over the last year.

“Tonight, watch the news; tomorrow, check your paper. Have water-cooler discussions with your colleagues and heart-to-heart conversations with your family and friends. Others may manufacture problems. We’re creating solutions.”

I also talked to Jason Lamers in Mayor Mike Moncrief’s office. He told me that there was nothing on the agenda specifically related to the LGBT community, and that he had not heard anything about the “Believers Stand United” group coming to the council meeting tonight. And, like Fairness Fort Worth, he warned that the meeting is likely to last late into the evening — at least till midnight — and that the public comment part of the meeting won’t happen until the end. He also pointed out that you can watch the council meeting live online at the Fort Worth city website.

So there you have it. The so-called Christians are planning to take their hate to the Fort Worth City Council again tonight. Fairness Fort Worth has pledged to have people there ready to answer the hatefulness if and when the need arises. But it couldn’t hurt to have a few more friendly LGBT faces in the crowd to back them up.

Watch for coverage of the meeting here on the blog tomorrow and in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  admin

Fort Worth Diversity Task Force recommendations released

FORT WORTH – The City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, convened this summer in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid to help find ways the city of Fort Worth could improve relations with the LGBT community, this afternoon presented a list of 20 recommendations to the City Council.

Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa, who chaired the task force, presented the list of recommendations during the pre=council meeting this afternoon, noting that 18 of the 20 came with the “unconditional concurrence” of City Manager Dale Fisseler. The remaining two garnered Fisseler’s “conditional concurrence,” pending further study of the financial implications.

Those two recommendations needing further study were offering domestic partner benefits to the city’s LGBT employees and amending the city’s benefits policies to include coverage of all or part of the cost of transitioning for the city’s transgender employees.

The task force and the city manager also recommended that the council amend the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity. Costa said the city manager’s office would ask that consideration of that change be included in the council’s agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Another recommendation that earned “unconditional concurrence” from Fisseler was that the city implement expanded diversity training for all employees, with specialized training for members of the police and fire department, and encouraging even elected and appointed city officials to participate in the training.

Mayor Mike Moncrief later said that he believes that council members should “set an example” by going through the training, a remark that earned him praise from openly gay City Councilmember Joel Burns and from Jon Nelson, a gay attorney who was on the task force.

After the presentation, Nelson said that “the vast majority” of the recommendations can be implemented through the city manager’s office without requiring action by the council and that implementation on several recommendations had already begun.

For a full report, see the Friday, Nov. 6 issue of Dallas Voice.

—  admin