Oklahoma bill would ban local nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBT people

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City

Last week, Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Reynolds failed to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell” — mostly because the state’s National Guard would have lost $300 million in federal funding. So after that defeat, Reynolds introduced new legislation this week that would eliminate nondiscrimination policies for municipal employees that include classes not protected by the state.

Such categories as marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and political affiliation are not protected by the state but are covered in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Del City, Miami, McAlester, Altus and Vinita. If passed, it would be legal to fire people for getting married, being straight or voting Republican. Of course, Reynolds’ intent is to discriminate against gays and lesbians … and if some Democrats lose their jobs in the process, that would just be a bonus for him.

The Equality Network Chair Laura Belmonte said, “Reynolds apparently thinks it is acceptable for the state government to run roughshod over local governments. Shouldn’t our cities, towns, and counties have the right to determine whom they wish to employ and to ensure the most productive, welcoming workplaces possible?”

“It is bad enough when short-sighted politicians and demagogues stand in the way of progress, but it is even more offensive when those same forces conspire to take away civil rights that have already been won,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

Nancy McDonald of PFLAG Tulsa and the organization’s former national president said: “It is extremely important that Oklahoma address the challenges of our state’s economy and have the ability to attract companies that will utilize our workforce, as well as bring new workers to Oklahoma. One of the factors that companies consider is whether or not our municipalities and counties have proactive and preemptive employment practices This must include nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. By doing so, a welcoming environment is created and all employees are empowered to contribute to the welfare of their company, their city, and their state. Let us move Oklahoma forward!”

—  David Taffet

LGBT group says 2 bills in Okla. would ‘turn back the clock on fifty years of civil rights progress’

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

Oklahoma’s LGBT advocacy organization, The Equality Network, expressed outrage Tuesday over passage of two bills by the state Legislature.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not prohibited by Oklahoma state law. But the two bills would impede the right to sue based on any type of discrimination, according to TEN.

SB763 creates an office of Civil Rights Enforcement. But this office assumes duties of the current independent Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, a state agency, and puts it under the attorney general.

SB837 was intended to modernize language in the state’s nondiscrimination statutes and, in its original form, added “genetic information” to the protected categories. But as the bill made its way through the Legislature, it changed. Under the amended bill, all complaints would have to be made within 180 days of the alleged incident of bias. If the complaint is over employment discrimination, a civil suit could be filed only after obtaining a Notice of a Right to Sue from the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission.

“It is our belief that the Oklahoma Legislature is politicizing and impeding the mechanisms that protect citizens’ civil rights.” TEN President Kathy L. Williams said in a press release. “Without access to the services of an independent and nonpartisan Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, many victims of bias will not have the financial means to pursue civil rights claims against discriminatory employers. In a session where the legislature has already moved to repeal affirmative action and capped noneconomic damage awards, it is clear that many legislators are attempting to shield corporations from any culpability for their actions, however harmful they may be to ordinary Oklahomans.  In our increasingly diverse society, these short-sighted actions will alienate – not attract – the world-class employers our representatives claim they wish to bring to our state.  We cannot turn back the clock on fifty years of civil rights progress and expect Oklahoma to be perceived as forward-thinking, welcoming place.”

Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, has not said if she will sign the bills. On its Twitter feed, TEN urged people to tell Fallin not to sign the bills. Fallin’s office can be reached at info@gov.ok.gov or 405-521-2342.

—  David Taffet

Courage Campaign calls on NBC Universal to end affiliate relationship with KETK in Tyler

Courage Campaign, the grassroots LGBT equality network based in California, has launched an online petition calling for NBC to ends its affiliate relationship with KETK in Tyler.

The petition comes in response to a report that aired on KETK on Wednesday morning (above), in which the station asked viewers whether the acceptance of homosexuality will be the downfall of America. From the Courage Campaign:

The video is shocking. But the lack of response from NBC Universal — KETK’s parent network — is even more shocking. That’s why we need you to watch the video now and then sign our petition to NBC Universal executives Jeff Zucker and Steve Burke asking them to end NBC’s affiliate relationship with KETK immediately

Sign the petition by going here.

—  John Wright

Just in time for Texas-OU weekend, Norman passes resolution marking LGBT history month

The other day we mentioned that Equality Texas and The Equality Network of Oklahoma are hosting a joint fundraiser/watch party at the Brick in Dallas during Saturday’s Texas-Oklahoma football game. But regardless of whether the Sooners prevail on the gridiron, it looks like the Equality Network will be celebrating a victory (and no, we’re not referring to Thursday night’s dramatic comeback win by Oklahoma State over Texas A&M). On Tuesday, the city council in Norman, which is home to OU, voted 7-1 to declare October as GLBT history month in the city. It may not sound like a very big deal, but in a state that’s home to politicians like Sally Kern, it’s progress. According to The Oklahoman, one councilmember said he received messages on his answering machine that “threatened [his] livelihood” if he supported the proposal. And about 100 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, with about half supporting the proposal and half opposing it. Here’s a report from The Equality Network:

Norman City Council Makes Historic Vote

September 30, 2010 – Norman, Oklahoma – On Tuesday evening, after four hours of impassioned debate, the Norman City Council voted 7 to 1 to declare October LGBT history month.  The vote makes Norman the first municipality in the state to issue an offical proclamation honoring the historic contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The vigorous discussion included citizens with wildly divergent opinions on LGBT equality.  When faced with the final vote, many councilors attested to the galvanizing effect that being bombarded by sometimes vitriolic anti-gay sentiment had upon them.  Doug Cubberley, the councilor representing Ward 7, expressed concern that while his district was evenly split on whether or not to support the declaration, he felt morally compelled to support it.  His colleague from Ward 6, James Griffith, asserted that while he had been intitially inclined to oppose the resolution, constituent feedback changed his mind.  Griffith admitted that he had not known that an Oklahoma citizen can still be legally fired from his or her job or evicted from a rented property solely on the basis of sexual orientation.  Mayor Cindy Rosenthal added her strong support for the LGBT History Month proclamation.  Councilor Dan Quinn, representing Ward 8, cast the lone dissenting vote.

“We are very inspired by tonight’s overwhelming recognition of the invaluable and vibrant role of LGBT people in our nation’s history.  With this vote, the Norman City Council honors that rich legacy and makes a powerful statement about inclusivity and fairness in our state.”  asserted Kathy L. Williams, Ph.D., president of The Equality Network.

A full text of the LGBT History Month proclamation can be found here.

—  John Wright

Watch the Texas-OU game and help out a worthy cause: Equality Watch at The Brick on Saturday

Any football fans out there? Any Texas Longhorn fans? What about some Boomer Sooners? If so, then here’s something you may want to check out:

Equality Texas and The Equality Network out of Oklahoma are coming together on Saturday, Oct. 2, to host “Equality Watch,” featuring the annual Texas/OU game on TV, to raise money for the two LGBT equality organizations. It is sponsored by Bud Light and Belvedere Vodka.

The party is being held at The Brick/Joe’s. Admission is $25 at the door, and that gets you access to a complimentary buffet and drink specials. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m., but the party runs from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. So be prepared to get there early and stay late.

—  admin

Working together to make history

There is work still to be done to get DART’s policy where it needs to be, but Tuesday’s vote was a big first step toward victory

Cece Cox andRafael McDonnell Guest Columnists

The North Texas LGBT community made history Tuesday night, June 22. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board of directors unanimously voted to expand its nondiscrimination protections to include gender identity.

Never before in our area has a governmental body unanimously voted to expand LGBT nondiscrimination protections. In fact, we believe that the nature of the vote was a first statewide.

This could not have happened without an impressive and inspiring collection of groups and people working with Resource Center Dallas, all working towards the same goal of inclusion. The list includes Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, LULAC 4871, GEAR, Equality March Texas, Lambda Legal, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Out&Equal DFW Council, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, HRC DFW Steering Committee, GET EQUAL NOW, and Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies.

Among the people who deserve special thanks for their help are Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas City Council, especially members Linda Koop, Dave Newman, Delia Jasso and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano.

Former council members Chris Luna and John Loza delivered impassioned remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, as did the Rev. Steve Sprinkle with Brite Divinity School and Rebecca Solomon with Bank of America.

At the heart of this story, though, there are two heroines. One is the unnamed transgender employee of the transit agency dubbed Ms. T-DART. The other is her friend, Pamela Curry. Without Ms. T-DART coming forward about her workplace treatment and DART’s intervention in her genetic marker change case, and without Pamela giving voice to the story, the nondiscrimination provisions may not have been expanded.

Admittedly, the language that the DART board adopted isn’t perfect. Work remains to be done. DART can only create an inclusive workplace if its culture matches its policies, which requires commitment, time and effort.

We will hold DART to the board’s intent, and continue to work with the agency as it drafts language for its policy manual reflecting the wishes of the board.

More than three months ago, Resource Center Dallas recognized the story of Ms. T-DART as an opportunity to offer resources to DART staff, who, in turn, worked with their board. From our experience providing cultural sensitivity training to corporations and public entities such as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, we know learning and understanding happens when solid relationships are built between communities and when those communities truly listen to one another.

More often that not, people and organizations act out of a lack of understanding rather than malice.

Even before this week’s board vote, DART staff took an important first step toward understanding inclusion when it worked with Resource Center Dallas to provide training to some of its staff.

We applaud DART for addressing what it means to have a workplace that values all employees, including those who happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay. Understanding its own diverse employees will aid DART in recruiting and retention, and in serving its diverse public in north Texas.

The efforts to change DART’s policies highlight two important additional issues for the LGBT community.

First, these debates would not have even happened if a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act was the law of the land. The bill is pending in Congress, but is in danger of becoming a casualty of election year politics. As a community, we need to force our lawmakers to act on our concerns.

Second, recent events point out the need for LGBT people to serve on boards, commissions and in government to effect change from the inside.

It was 15 years ago this week that DART first expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. It took two board votes, amid opposition from at least two groups.
This time, community engagement through calls, letters and e-mails to the DART board and Dallas City Council members led to a unanimous vote.

We all should be proud of our willingness to speak out for justice and to work together. While work remains so that DART’s policy fully reflects the board’s expressed intent for protections based on gender identity and expression, we remain hopeful that the impressive collaboration of GLBT community and DART leadership will accomplish just that.

Cece Cox is associate executive director of GLBT community services for Resource Center Dallas. E-mail her at ccox@rcdallas.org. Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at RCD. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice