EQTX pushes for Dallas County commissioners to approve DP benefits

Equality Texas is calling on Dallas County citizens and employees to tell members of the Commissioners Court to approve offering domestic partner benefits to county employees.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group created an action letter that people can sign online and send to commissioners.

Equality Texas Interim Executive Director Chuck Smith said offering DP benefits has become a standard practice.

“It’s what people in the real world, real businesses in the real world, do in order to attract and retain good employees to where it’s not a big step,” he said. “It’s not going out on a limb for municipalities and counties to start doing this.”

Dallas County would become the third county to approve the benefits after Travis and El Paso counties.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia are working on a plan to offer the benefits despite the lack of support from a regional government partner agency. A Commissioners Court vote is expected in the next few months.

—  Dallasvoice

DART tables DP benefits until October

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit administrative committee was slated to hear an employee presentation on offering domestic partner benefits on Sept. 11, but will now discuss the issue in October.

After members of the LGBT community addressed the DART Board of Directors Aug. 14, it was revealed that the committee had requested a presentation on offering the benefits.

Spokesman Morgan Lyons told Dallas Voice this week that the committee requested more information about the benefits, such as projected cost, and will not discuss the issue until its next meeting on Oct. 9.

DART’s Board of Directors will approve the budget on Sept. 25, but Lyons said not including DP benefits in the budget, which would need to be voted on by the administrative committee and the board, does not mean that the cost could not be added later if a vote approves adding the benefits.

The issue of the benefits came up earlier this summer when former DART police officer Andrew Moss started a Change.org petition to persuade DART to provide the benefits. He is unable to work because of health reasons and his COBRA will expire in December, but his partner still works at DART and could add Moss to his plan. The petition has garnered more than 1,170 signatures.

Equality Texas is also advocating for the change. Go here to submit your opinion through their online form.

—  Dallasvoice

DART committee to discuss DP benefits

Mark “Major” Jiminez addresses the DART Board of Directors about the importance of offering domestic partner benefits Tuesday, Aug. 14. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

A Dallas Area Rapid Transit committee is scheduled to discuss offering domestic partner benefits at its September meeting.

DART Executive Director Gary Thomas told Instant Tea on Tuesday that board member Claude Williams has requested a presentation by staff on DP benefits at the administrative committee’s next meeting. Williams, who couldn’t immediately be reached, serves as vice chair of the administrative committee.

Several members of the LGBT community addressed the DART board Tuesday night to explain the importance of offering DP benefits.

Omar Narvaez, who works for Lambda Legal, told the DART board he lost his job a few years ago after working for a company for 14 years. He said he was lucky that his partner’s company offered DP benefits.

When he went to work for Lambda Legal a year later, Narvaez said his partner then lost his job, so Narvaez was able to put his partner on his insurance plan.

“We need to add these benefits because happy employees and employees that feel safe are employees that love working here,” Narvaez said.

Mark “Major” Jiminez spoke about how he admired DART as an agency but doesn’t support the agency’s discriminatory policies. Jiminez and his partner Beau Chandler will marry in September and have been arrested trying to obtain a marriage license in Dallas County.

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell then spoke and referenced DART’s equal employment opportunity policy, which he also distributed to board members. McDonnell said the policy is contradictory because it says the transit agency doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation, including in the area of benefits.

McDonnell said the efforts of former DART employee Andrew Moss, who could not attend Tuesday’s meeting, have been heard loud and clear with the issue now being addressed by the administrative committee. Moss’ Change.org petition calling for DART to add DP benefits has garnered 1,159 signatures.

“I think it certainly shows that our petitions, our calls and letters were heard,” McDonnell said, adding that he is optimistic about the DP benefits issue moving forward. “I feel pretty good about it getting through the administrative committee. I still think we have some work to do with educating board members, though.”

Dallas attorney Scott Carlson was appointed DART’s new general counsel by the board on Tuesday. Carlson is a former board member who voted against adding transgender nondiscrimination protections in 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

El Paso County becomes 2nd in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits

Tom Brown

El Paso County became only the second county in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits after the Commissioners Court approved offering the benefits to gay and unmarried couples Monday.

Commissioners approved DP benefits 3-1 during a vote in the morning meeting, ABC-7 reports.

Estimated annual cost for the benefits is $23,905. Domestic partners can be of the same or opposite sex but must be at least 18 years old and have lived together for at least one year.

The El Paso City Council passed DP benefits in 2009 and again in 2011 after a repeal effort by pastor Tom Brown overturned the decision.

Domestic partner benefits for El Paso County employees were first proposed in 2009 but the vote was postponed and later deleted as an agenda item. In 2011, the motion failed to pass.

Travis County currently offers DP benefits. Cities in Texas that offer DP benefits are Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. Dallas County Judge  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins recently told Dallas Voice he hopes to add DP benefits this year.

Those who wish to enroll for the benefits in El Paso County must also submit three of the following documents: common ownership of a motor vehicle, driver’s licenses listing a common address, proof of joint bank accounts or credit accounts, designation as property power of attorney or health care power of attorney, designation as the primary beneficiary for life insurance, retirement benefits or primary beneficiary designation under a partner’s will.

—  Dallasvoice

DART refuses to meet with former employee about adding DP benefits

Former Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officer Andrew Moss was supposed to meet with a DART official this week, but no meeting took place and won’t anytime soon.

Moss no longer works at DART and has stopped working for health reasons. His partner still works there so he could add Moss to his health insurance if DART offered DP benefits. He started a Change.org petition encouraging the agency to add the benefits, which has garnered 1,044 signatures.

DART contacted Moss two weeks ago after Instant Tea brought the petition to their attention, he said. Planning began for a meeting with him and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver.

The following week, Resource Center Dallas sent a letter to DART officials to encourage them to offer DP benefits. Moss was told he could meet with Jesse Oliver Monday or Tuesday of this week.

He received a letter from Betty Bird, DART’s director of compensation and benefits stating there were no plans to change the healthcare coverage for employees. The letter states eligible dependents are unmarried children under 26 and spouses recognized under Texas law.

Moss said he called Bird Monday and was informed that Oliver had asked her to send him the letter because he had no intention of meeting with Moss to discuss the matter. That news was a surprise to Moss after DART had reached out to him for a meeting.

“I was so surprised because they told me that I would meet with him,” Moss said, adding that Oliver likely backed out of a meeting once he found out it was LGBT-related. “I think the opinion changed, that he was open at one point to a conversation until he realized it was about LGBT issues and domestic partner benefits.”

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the agency didn’t reach out to Moss, but he did request a meeting several times. He said Moss is not an employee any longer and a letter explaining the policy was sent to him, so “there was just no reason to meet with him.”

However, DART officials will meet with the Resource Center Dallas representatives and are working to schedule a time. Lyons said officials have met with RCD in the past and have granted a request for a meeting after they received a letter from the center last week.

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell said employees have not yet been contacted to set up a meeting with DART.

Moss said he’ll appeal to the Board of Directors to get the issue discussed and possibly voted on. In the meantime, he said he’ll work to gain more support from the LGBT community for the cause.

“DART has the opportunity and the power to do the right thing and be on the right side of civil rights,” he said. “There’s nothing stopping them from doing what’s right.”

View the letter below.

—  Dallasvoice

RCD presses DART to add DP benefits

Andrew Moss

Resource Center Dallas CEO and Executive Director Cece Cox sent Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials a letter Monday urging the agency to offer its 3,500 employees domestic partner benefits.

Cox’s letter, addressed to DART Board Chair John Carter and Diversity Committee Chair Claude Williams, comes in response to a Change.org petition created by a former employee. The letter states that adding DP benefits is about “fairness and equitable treatment for all employees” and lists how other companies and cities have offered DP benefits at a lower-than-expected cost.

It goes on to request that DART review its “nondiscrimination policy, add gender expression as was the intent of the board when it voted on it in June 2010, and eliminate cumbersome, confusing language that obfuscates the intent of a policy to protect all employees fr0m discrimination.”

DART’s board approved adding trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy in 2010 amid controversy, but advocates have called the language less than ideal.

Former DART police officer Andrew Moss, who started the petition, said DART reached out to him to schedule a meeting with Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver for early next week. His petition has garnered 920 signatures.

Moss said he plans to explain how DP benefits would add value to the company, as well as change a negative view of DART in the gay community.

“DART hasn’t had a positive image in the LGBT community and hopefully a move like this will improve the image,” he said.

Moss said DART’s quick reaction in setting up a meeting means the agency views the issues as “something that’s pressing.”

While he hopes the meeting ultimately helps change DART’s stance on DP benefits, he’s not sure what to expect.

“A lot of it really just depends on what he (Oliver) expects from the meeting,” Moss said. “If I go in there and his mind’s made up, it’s fruitless.”

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell told Instant Tea that the center reached out to Oliver after he was hired this spring to meet with him about diversity issues, but he never received a response. He said the letter is another request for a meeting and offered his support of Moss.

“Resource Center Dallas supports Andrew Moss’ efforts encouraging DART to establish domestic partner benefits for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees,” McDonnell said. “This was an issue the Center initially brought up in 2010, when we worked with DART to establish transgender nondiscrimination protections for the agency’s employees.”

Read RCD’s letter below.

—  Dallasvoice

Former employee petitions DART to offer domestic partner benefits

Andrew Moss

A former Dallas Area Rapid Transit employee is petitioning the company to add domestic partner benefits after health issues have forced him to stop working.

Andrew Moss worked as a DART police officer for five years until 2008. He then worked for the city of Fort Worth until his health prevented him from working. He’s now on COBRA but that will expire in December, he said.

Moss legally married his husband in California in 2008, but Texas doesn’t recognize the marriage. He said his husband still works as a police officer for DART and could add Moss to his health insurance plan as early as January if DART offered DP benefits.

“My husband goes to work and risks his life for DART and should get the same benefits that his counterparts of a different sexual orientation get,” Moss said.

Moss has started a Change.org petition called “Urge Dallas Area Rapid Transit DART to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits” to persuade DART President Gary Thomas and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver to add the benefits.

As of Thursday afternoon, 36 people had signed it.

“In my discussion with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, I was advised by their Human Resources Managers that DART ‘Prefers not to get into the choices of their employees,’” Moss mentions in the petition letter. “I wasn’t aware my husband and I and countless others woke up one day and decided to be LGBT. DART appears to be less than willing to even attempt to assist their LGBT population in obtaining benefits or other effective workplace protections.”

—  Dallasvoice

VICTORY: Appeals court blocks recall of El Paso officials who voted in favor of DP benefits

Friday's ruling was a major setback for anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown, who may also face criminal charges.

In a victory for supporters of LGBT equality, a Texas appeals court has rejected an effort to recall El Paso Mayor John Cook and two other council members over their support of domestic partner benefits for unmarried city employees.

Texas’ 8th Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on Friday that recall organizers, led by anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown, broke the law in gathering petition signatures for the recall election, which had been scheduled for this spring.

After the El Paso City Council first approved DP benefits for gay and straight city workers in 2009, Brown spearheaded a ballot measure that overturned them in 2010. Last year, after the City Council voted to restore DP benefits, Brown’s group launched its recall effort, which was challenged in court by Cook. A county judge initially ruled against Cook, but the appeals court overturned that decision.

The El Paso chapter of PFLAG issued a statement Friday saying: “It is with jubilation that the recall election, supported by Christian bigots, has finally reached the finish line. The judges clearly saw that this attempt was purely done out of hatred, disguised as the word of God.”

Brown and others may also face criminal charges based on the appeals court’s ruling, which found that his Word of Life Church violated a statute prohibiting corporate political contributions to recall elections. The court also found that Brown’s group, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, illegally raised money in support of the recall when it wasn’t registered as a political action committee.

Brown said recall organizers will appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, but an attorney for Mayor Cook believes it’s highly unlikely the high court would take the case. Cook, who cast the deciding vote in favor of restoring DP benefits last year, reportedly has spent $225,000 on his lawsuit seeking to block the recall. The mayor said he now plans to seek monetary damages against Brown’s group.

—  John Wright

Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Jenkins takes home Stonewall’s Pink Pump

County judge among officials, members honored at Democratic group’s annual Holiday Party

AND THE WINNER IS  |  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accepts the Pink Pump Award — which consists of a bedazzled pink high-heel shoe — during Stonewall Democrats’ Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 5 at Sue Ellen’s. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

AND THE WINNER IS | Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accepts the Pink Pump Award — which consists of a bedazzled pink high-heel shoe — during Stonewall Democrats’ Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 5 at Sue Ellen’s. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THE PARTY

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Nearly two years ago, in a controversial move, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas endorsed Larry Duncan for county judge over establishment-backed candidate Clay Jenkins and openly gay incumbent Jim Foster.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Stonewall Democrats presented Jenkins — who defeated Duncan and Foster in the 2010 primary before winning the general election — with the group’s coveted Pink Pump Award, which honors a straight ally who’s gone above and beyond on behalf of the LGBT community.

Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said regardless of the decision to endorse Duncan, Jenkins has been very open to working with the group. Stonewall’s board tapped Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, for the Pink Pump primarily due to his role in adding sexual orientation — and later gender identity and expression — to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy this year.

“That’s a huge deal,” Narvaez said. “We’re the only county in the entire state of Texas that has a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy for its employees. … So much has happened — a lot of stuff that never would have happened under our last county judge, who was a member of the [LGBT] community.”

Also this year, Parkland hospital’s Board of Managers — appointed by the Commissioners Court — added domestic partner benefits for the facility’s 9,400 employees. And, although the county didn’t add DP benefits for its own workers due to budget constraints, Jenkins has said he’ll push to do so next year.

“The good part is, at least it’s come up,” Narvaez said. “It’s something that we can work toward now.”

Jenkins beat out Dallas City Councilwoman Monica Alonzo and Stonewall member Gillian Parillo to take home the Pink Pump, which comes in the form of a bedazzled pink high-heeled shoe.

The county judge was on hand at Stonewall’s Holiday Party to accept the shoe, despite undergoing surgery earlier in the day to have screws removed from his leg.

Jenkins was walking with a cane and, unlike at least one past recipient, unable to try on the Pink Pump. As he took the stage in the Vixin Lounge at Sue Ellen’s, he held up a plastic biohazard bag containing the screws — the remnants of a nasty fall he took on the ice in February.

“There is a strength in our diversity and a common bond in our shared values here in Dallas County,” Jenkins said later. “Stonewall exemplifies that strength through promoting human rights, protecting public health, registering voters and fostering leaders. I’m honored to accept this year ‘Pink Pump’ and committed to building a stronger, more progressive Dallas County.”

Jenkins was one of several elected officials and Stonewall members honored during the party, which was moved from the Round-Up Saloon this year. Narvaez said the party saw its second-highest attendance ever — behind 2008 — and raised almost four times as much as in any previous year.

The increased fundraising was due to the sale of individual sponsorships, as well as proceeds from the auctioning of lunches with elected officials. Lunch with Jenkins’ counterpart on the Commissioners Court, longtime LGBT ally Dr. Elba Garcia, went for $400. Lunch with Judge Tena Callahan, who handed down a landmark ruling in a gay divorce case in 2008, went for $300. And lunch with lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez, up for re-election in 2012, brought two matching bids of $400 each.

Alonzo, who was elected to represent District 6 on the council this year, read a proclamation from the city recognizing Stonewall Democrats, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in October. Attendees at the Holiday Party also heard from Gilberto Hinojosa, a candidate to replace Boyd Richie, who’s retiring as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Hinojosa, already endorsed by the statewide chapter of Stonewall Democrats, predicted that in 2012, Texas will “move much closer to turning blue.” Thanks to new redistricting maps, Democrats could pick up anywhere from three to six congressional districts in Texas, and up to 15 seats in the state House, he said.

Demographically, Democratic groups account for 70 percent of voters in Texas, Hinojosa said.

“There are more of us than there are of them,” he told the group. “We’re not winning because we’re not getting our base out.”

Hinojosa also touched on the State Democratic Executive Committee’s recent decision not to put a nonbinding resolution in support of same-sex marriage on the 2012 primary ballot. Although he isn’t a voting member of the SDEC, Hinojosa said he spoke in support of placing the resolution on the ballot before the vote during last month’s meeting.

“It’s an issue the party needed to take a stand on,” he said. “We lost on that issue, but there will be time to bring it back again.”

……………………….

Stonewall Democrats 2011 Award Winners

Pink Pump: Clay Jenkins
Harryette Ehrhardt Distinguished Democrat: Lorraine Raggio
Buck Massey Member of the Year: Clinton Swingle
Ally of the Year: Cathedral of Hope
Christy Kinsler Board Member of the Year: Travis Gasper

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens