UPDATE: DART board won’t take up domestic partner benefits until August

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

UPDATE: DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the domestic partner benefits plan won’t go before the board until late August. The plan will now go before the administrative committee on Aug. 27, which he said will give the board time to be briefed on the impact the U.S. Supreme Court rulings will have on DART. The committee was expected to discuss the plan Aug. 13, but Chairman Jerry Christian will be absent that meeting and requested it be pushed to the next meeting.

The committee won’t meet in July because there is only one board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. If the committee approves the plan, it will go before the committee-of-the-whole at its two meetings in September before the full board votes on the plan.

ORIGINAL POST: After almost a year since a former DART employee began petition agency officials to consider domestic partner benefits, the agency will take up the item for discussion again on Tuesday.

DART’s Board of Directors postponed a decision on offering the benefits in March until its July meeting to wait and see how the Supreme Court ruled in the two same-sex marriages cases last week. The agency’s administrative committee already approved a plan to offer opposite- and same-sex partners benefits, so the full board will consider the plan again at its committee-of-the-whole meeting Tuesday.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the plan will go before the board for initial consideration. It will have to be discussed a second time before a vote can be taken and the board can make a final decision.

“We’ll be coming back with the same material we had presented before and so it will be for the board to decide what next steps to take,” Lyons said.

LGBT advocates addressed the board at its six meetings since the decision to postpone, many who had sat through meetings when the issue had been discussed. Advocates reminded them that the issue was about family and fairness for employees.

—  Anna Waugh

Rep. Matt Krause says he’s not anti-gay despite Equality Texas ranking

State Rep. Matt Krause

State Rep. Matt Krause

Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause was recently named the worst legislator in the state House on LGBT issues by Equality Texas.

Krause called last Thursday night after the deadline for the story, but we were able to connect Friday and discuss the ranking, as well as his views on some LGBT issues. Until now Krause, who’s worked for the anti-gay Liberty Counsel, was perhaps best known in the community for his representation of Dakota Ary, a Fort Worth student accused of harassing a gay teacher.

Krause attributes the ranking to his amendment to SB 215 that started out as HB 360 and would have allowed student groups to determine who to allow into clubs based on sexual orientation, race and gender.

“Their rankings are up to them. They use the criteria of the votes of the issue they want to , so I can’t really disagree with them. I think if you talk to anybody, you wouldn’t find that I’m hateful toward the LGBT community, that I have any type of disregard for them,” Krause said. “It’s nothing that I do out of animosity. It’s just what I feel is constitutionally sound, but I think there’s a lot of people, maybe with Equality Texas, that think I don’t like them or appreciate them for who they are. That’s not true. But if they want to give me the worst legislator ranking, that’s their prerogative and completely up to them.”

HB 360 was rewritten and a substitute made it out of committee, but the bill didn’t make it onto the floor. The amendment was then created to allow universities to not follow “all-comers” policies. Krause said he should have monitored the bill’s original language more closely because the intent was not to discriminate but to not force groups from admitting people who would undermine the club’s purposes.

“When the draft came back and it said, you know, race, gender and sexual orientation, we should have known right then that’s not the language we wanted to use,” Krause said. “It was never my intent for a political group to be able to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or an athletic group being able to discriminate on the basis of race, something that had nothing to do with the actual club.”

—  Anna Waugh

San Antonio religious leaders threaten lawsuits to end city’s DP benefits

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Philip Sevilla

Two religious leaders are threatening lawsuits if the city doesn’t stop offering domestic partner benefits in light of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s advisory opinion saying they violate the state Constitution.

Pastor Gerald Ripley of Voices for Marriage and Philip Sevilla of Texas Leadership Coalition addressed the San Antonio City Council Wednesday, threatening lawsuits in order to stop the benefits from being offered if the city doesn’t end them by June 30, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

“Lawsuits will be filed if necessary,” Ripley said.

“We cannot allow this in San Antonio. We are not San Francisco,” Sevilla said.

City attorney Mike Bernard told the newspaper the city won’t change its policy until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two key marriage equality cases.

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has supported the benefits and said last month Abbott’s opinion to take away the benefits would hold Texas back.

Meanwhile, Fort Worth officials aren’t changing anything to the city’s DP benefits program because of Abbott’s opinion, according to an employee newsletter sent out yesterday.

—  Anna Waugh

LGBT advocates tell DART board to ‘jump on’ adding DP benefits

Damien Duckett

Damien Duckett

LGBT advocates are continuing to press DART’s Board of Directors to vote to add domestic partner benefits now instead of waiting until July to make a decision.

Transgender activist Pamela Curry addressed the board Tuesday night during public comments. She highlighted the issues customers, including herself, have had with bus drivers and other DART employees. She said the way to improve the quality of employees DART hires is offer competitive benefits.

“If you want to attract the best and brightest, you have to treat your operators, you have to attract the best and the brightest, and the way you do that is you make sure everyone gets the benefits for their family,” she said. “Just because their family doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it’s not a family.”

—  Anna Waugh

TX pastor tells flock how God wants them to vote in school board races

Washburn.Steve

Steve Washburn

Steve Washburn, senior pastor of Pflugerville’s First Baptist Church, has written a letter to congregants saying God wants them to vote against two school board candidates who supported offering domestic partner benefits to district employees:

In any election, there is only one question we need to answer: “For which candidates does GOD want me to vote?” As followers of Jesus, we vote for HIS priorities, not our priorities. That means we are always, first and foremost – “Christian Moral Values Voters.” We vote for the candidates who best represent and defend the Lord’s moral values as He reveals them in Scripture. …

Although there are a number of issues being discussed by all candidates, our primary concern revolves around the previous decision of the PISD School Board to extend health insurance benefits to “domestic partners.” This provision allows employees of PISD to include immoral sexual partners (heterosexual and homosexual) in their medical insurance benefit plan as though they were legal spouses. We are to vote for the candidates in Place #3 and Place #5 who will oppose this decision. If you are unclear where the various candidates stand on this issue, please call a friend who may be more familiar, or research your decision on-line.

The Texas Freedom Network, which counters the religious right’s influence in Texas schools, notes that Washburn’s letter was written a day after Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion saying DP benefits are illegal under the state’s marriage amendment. TFN has endorsed the two Pflugerville school board incumbents, Mario Acosta and Carol Fletcher, who voted in favor of DP benefits:

As we’ve already said, the Pflugerville election has become a referendum on equality. And the election is important not just for Pflugerville ISD. Its results could influence how other school districts and local governments approach the issue of benefits for employees and their families. The Texas Freedom Network has proudly endorsed Acosta and Fletcher for courageously choosing to treat all of the district’s employees with equality and dignity. Washburn’s letter, on the other hand, is yet another disturbing example of the religious right using faith as a political weapon to divide our communities.

—  John Wright

LGBT advocates to DART board: ‘You all should be ashamed’

Omar Narvaez addresses the DART Board of Directors  on April 24. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Omar Narvaez addresses the DART Board of Directors on April 24. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

A small crowd turned out Tuesday to protest DART’s delay in offering domestic partner benefits, but the two speakers were passionate enough to get the LGBT community’s outrage across.

DART’s Board of Directors began receiving information about benefits last July and finally decided to table discussion in March until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two marriage equality cases in July. LGBT advocates spoke at the board meeting earlier this month and vowed to be back until the board implements the benefits.

Omar Narvaez spoke on behalf of Lambda Legal, listing the agencies that already offer DP benefits and explaining how the agency has failed employees by postponing a vote for months before hiding behind a U.S. Supreme Court decision. He added that there was no legal risk in Texas because “too many other governmental agencies already get it and have for decades.”

“Marriage equality? What does that have to do with domestic partner benefits? They are employee benefits. Nothing more,” he said. “You are not defining relationship status by offering domestic partner benefits.

“You all should be ashamed that DFW Airport and Parkland get it and got it faster than you all are able to get it. It is time to bring this up, make it happen, we’re talking about paper clip money when it comes to the budget. When it comes to the employees of this organization, you are spitting in their faces.”

—  Anna Waugh

Only 1 El Paso mayoral candidate supports pro-LGBT Proposition 7

Steve Ortega

Steve Ortega

Only one of six candidates for El Paso mayor is strongly backing an initiative to include LGBT protections in the city’s nondiscrimination policy and maintain domestic partner benefits.

Councilman Steve Ortega said he strongly supports Proposition 7, which will be voted on May 11.

“To me, this is the civil rights issue of our time,” Ortega told the El Paso Times. “It’s non-negotiable for me. A community that doesn’t fight against discrimination tolerates it, and I never want El Paso to be in that category.”

The council approved DP benefits in 2009 but voters later voted to end them. Ortega was a proponent when the council added them again in 2011.

Proposition 7 would add sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. Its passage would allow the city to continue to offer health benefits to employees’ opposite- and same-sex partners. Reversing the benefits would require another voter-approved charter amendment.

Conservative businessman Robert Cormell told the Times that he would repeal domestic partner benefits if he is elected mayor.

“It’s a financial decision,” he said. “It’s not a gay issue. It’s an unmarried issue.”

The other candidates —Leo Gus Haddad, Oscar Leeser, Hector H. Lopez and Jaime O. Perez — wouldn’t commit to a stance on the nondiscrimination policy or DP benefits but said they support equality.

—  Anna Waugh

LGBT advocates rally in red at DART board meeting to demand DP benefits

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

About two dozen LGBT advocates attended DART’s board meeting Tuesday night, most wearing red to support equal benefits for the transit agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

Four people addressed the board during public comments to call members out on their inaction and delay on offering domestic partner health benefits after discussion began last July. The board voted two weeks ago to delay any action until this July after the U.S. Supreme Court decides two marriage equality cases.

Lesbian GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven spoke about her shock in the board’s comments at several committee meetings and board meetings when DP benefits were discussed.

“I sat quietly at almost every DART committee meeting and board meeting I attended around domestic partner benefits,” she said. “I’ve heard Bible verses and I’ve heard one of your members say this is not about doing the right thing.”

Kirven reminded the board that it is “cruel to define a family” instead of recognizing the diverse families that DART employees belong to.

“Using your power and ability to discriminate against a group of people is more about judgment and economic injustice than it is about budget cost and restraints,” Kirven said.

DART employee Epitacio Camacho spoke about his eight years working for DART, during which he learned to value diversity in his co-workers and those who use DART’s services.

He said he values his family and wishes his LGBT co-workers could add their families to their insurance like he had done with his family.

“They all work hard. They all wear the same uniform I do and they all want equality in the workplace,” he said.

—  Anna Waugh

Activists plan to ‘red out’ DART board meeting in support of DP benefits

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GetEQUAL TX is planning on showing up in full force at next Tuesday’s DART board meeting to address the board about its lack of action on domestic partner benefits.

Activists will wear red in honor of marriage equality and stand up when speakers address the board about domestic partner benefits during the open comments portion of the meeting.

The board voted last week to table action on a plan to offer DP benefits until July so the U.S. Supreme Court can decide two marriage equality cases.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he wants someone to speak about their delayed action at every board meeting until they take up the issue again in July.

DART’s board meets next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at 483 N. Field St.

For more on Tuesday’s “red out,” go here.

—  Anna Waugh

Austin ISD to offer domestic partner benefits next school year

AISDDespite a bill filed this spring that would cut school funding for districts that offer domestic partner benefits, Austin Independent School District will offer the benefits this fall.

The announcement this week comes several months after Pflugerville ISD approved the benefits in October and became the first district in Texas to offer them.

AISD spokeswoman Tiffany Young said the district has been working with its joint insurance company, employee groups and lawyers on the plan since September. The plan would provide health benefits to opposite- and same-sex domestic partners.

AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen told Austin’s Fox 7 that the district has wanted to offer the benefits for several years but finally made room in the budget.

“We just simply believe that it’s the right thing to do,” Carstarphen said. “Our family units in Austin are very diverse. They basically reflect the kind of diverse student body we have and therefore we know our families need diversity of choices within insurance plans in order to serve them well as employees.’

Young said it’s estimated that about 400 employees will add a domestic partner, with an estimated cost of $600,000 to the district.

Watch Fox 7’s report here.

 

—  Anna Waugh