In a surprise move, Exxon shareholders vote down nondiscrimination for a 15th time

DiNapoli.Thomas

New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli

For the first time in years, I missed the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting, so I didn’t get to learn about the latest in underwater drilling technology, how hydraulic fracturing is environmentally sound, what the company is doing about global climate change or how they hate gay people.

As a company, ExxonMobil has evolved since the 1999 merger between the two oil giants.

In the early years after the merger, anti-Exxon environmental and equality protesters were met with company-paid counter-protesters carrying signs like “wind energy kills birds.” A few years ago, the company decided to stop counter-protesting as the number of protesters dwindled.

Shareholders rarely saw any of the protesters, because the meeting is held in the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center with direct access to the lobby from the venue’s underground parking lot.

They’ve also evolved by beginning to offer partner benefits. In other countries where offering those benefits is required, it’s something they’d already been doing. And states like New York and California were considering lawsuits against the company for violating state laws. New York officials have said a company doing business in the state doesn’t have the right to decide which of its marriage licenses to recognize.

For the past several years, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has filed shareholder resolutions on behalf of the state’s pension funds that own about $1.5 billion worth of Exxon stock. The resolution implores the company to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its equal opportunity statement.

So why not just add a few simple words to the EEO policy that reflect the reality?

The only answer is stubbornness. Exxon thinks of itself as a sovereign nation whose gross national product is larger than most countries around the world. No elected official or shareholder controlling a mere $1.5 billion in company stock is going to tell Exxon what to do.

Because of Exxon’s stubbornness, Human Rights Campaign maintains the company’s negative-25 rating, which Exxon wears as a badge of pride as the only American company to earn such a distinction.

The last time I spoke to DiNapoli’s office, they were unsure whether they’d file the resolution with Exxon again. They were determining whether it was worth the time and money. The cost involved is incurred when the state sends a representative down to Dallas to speak on behalf of the resolution.

DiNapoli’s office did decide to file the resolution, and Exxon buried it, so it was unsearchable on its website.

His office has done a world of good for LGBT employees. More than 30 companies have changed policies, either because his office contacted a company as a concerned shareholder or by filing resolutions. Exxon remains the sticking point.

The resolution failed again Wednesday garnering just 19 percent of shareholder votes.

Here’s what I missed by not going to the meeting: a morning of complete paranoia.

Press check in is at the door of the Meyerson. One person walk would walk me from the curb on Flora Street to the desk. Another would walk me from the desk to the metal detector. Another — usually a police officer — would walk me downstairs to the press room. More police were roaming the lobby of the Meyerson than shareholders. I figured one officer per expected shareholder was hired.

Once downstairs, I would mingle with oil industry journalists who usually have just gotten off a plane from Dubai.

“Oh, I took DART,” I’d tell them. “And I’m just here to see if Exxon is going to continue discriminating against its gay employees.”

Most of the reporters remained friendly anyway.

If I got up to get coffee or danish — Exxon provides a magnificent spread for the press — a police officer would accompany me out of the room to the table. If I needed to go to the bathroom — five steps farther than the buffet — another officer would accompany me there.

Once the meeting started, we watched on large screens. (We were allowed on the main floor, but not with laptops and other equipment).

One year, once the meeting broke, I met with DiNapoli’s representative. We started talking in the lobby but each place we sat, people shadowing us moved with us to remain within ear range. When we moved, they followed. It was like a bad spy drama.

So we walked out of the Meyerson and sat on a bench in front of the Winspear to chat.

This year, I missed the Exxon meeting, but that’s OK. I already know more about deep water oil recovery than any member of the gay press really needs to know. I don’t think I really missed anything.

—  David Taffet

Pearland councilman pushes through job protections for gay city workers

Scott Sherman

Scott Sherman

After seeing our post about Waco adding LGBT protections, openly gay Pearland City Councilman Scott Sherman sent us word that the Houston suburb has also changed its polices.

At Sherman’s request, the council discussed adding sexual orientation to the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy and same-sex partners to its bereavement leave policy on July 1. The changes passed unanimously a week later.

“Pearland is the third-largest city in the Houston region and we employ over 500 people,” Sherman said. “While I was not aware of a specific instance where someone was discriminated against in either the hiring process or during their employment with the city, it was important to me that we add sexual orientation to our Equal Employment Opportunity provisions because if we are going to be a progressive city and a regional leader we need to treat all employees and potential employees fairly. Moreover, it is just the right thing to do.

“I have also pushed for a revision to our bereavement policy because as I stated during the council workshop, the death of a longtime partner is equally as painful as the death of a legally recognized spouse,” Sherman said. “I want to commend my fellow council members who wholeheartedly supported my proposed revisions to our employment policies. The proposals were accepted without any opposition.  I am honored to be able to serve with a group of people who are willing to stand up for equality.”

To watch video of the council workshop, go here. The discussion starts at 2:08:35.

Sherman also sent a newspaper clipping from the Pearland Reporter News about the changes, below.

—  Dallasvoice

Tollway authority adds LGBT protections

North Texas Tollway Authority board members Jane Willard and David Denison listen as a Resource Center Dallas board member asks the NTTA board to approve an amendment that adds sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the EEO policy April 18. Denison, who opposed sending the amendment to the board at an April 5 committee meeting, abstained from the vote. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The North Texas Tollway Authority Board of Directors approved an amendment Wednesday morning to add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy.

One of the nine board members was absent, but the amendment was approved with seven members in favor and one abstention.

The administration committee approved sending the amendment to the full board with a 2-1 vote April 5. While two committee members were absent for the briefing and vote, committee member George “Tex” Quesada strongly supported the amendment and recommended the Board of Directors vote in favor of it. Committee Chairwoman Jane Willard also voted yes. Committee member David Denison called the amendment “ridiculous” before voting no. He abstained from the vote Wednesday after Willard and Quesada moved to adopt the amendment without further comments from board members.

Before the vote, Maeve O’Connor, a Resource Center Dallas board member, spoke about her experience a “woman born with a transsexual medical condition.” She encouraged the board to add the protections and explained the difference of sexual orientation and gender rolls, calling gender expression the “in between space of gender identity and gender role.”

“From personal experience, I can tell you that my path of transition has not always been an easy one,” she said. “A person must be able to express their gender identity in order to fit the ascribed gender role … and it makes it difficult for an employee that’s working in your workforce to move onto that next step and realize the identity that they’ve always know of themselves.”

O’Connor concluded by encouraging the NTTA to consider working with RCD to help employees understand gender identity and expression.

Rafael McDonnell, RCD’s communications and advocacy manager, said he was surprised but “exceptionally pleased” that seven of the board members voted in favor of the amendment. He said he was counting on five votes for approval with the two members from Dallas and Tarrant counties and support from Willard, a member from Collin County. NTTA’s board consists of nine members, two from Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties, as well as one member appointed by the governor.

After RCD and Fairness Fort Worth approached NTTA in December, McDonnell said he was impressed with the board’s proactive approach to quickly adopting LGBT protections without an incident of discrimination to spark the additions later. He said he would follow up with NTTA in the next few weeks to offer additional support and help in possible diversity training.

“We’ll be glad to work with them in any way,” he said.

NTTA is now the sixth agency in Dallas County to add or expand LGBT protections in recent years. The other agencies that have updated their policies are Dallas County, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas County Community College District, DFW International Airport and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Tarrant County College District, Fort Worth Independent School District and the city of Fort Worth have also added protections.

NTTA spokesman Michael Rey said the authority has 690 employees. While the LGBT protections will take effect immediately, he said the EEO policy and employee handbook would be officially changed in the upcoming weeks to reflect the changes.

—  Dallasvoice