Fort Worth Council declares today ‘Jon Nelson Day’ in honor of FFW president

JonNelsonDay

Jon Nelson, center left, shakes Councilman Joel Burns’ hand during the Jon Nelson Day proclamation presentation at Fort Worth City Council. (Via Facebook)

The Fort Worth City Council issued a proclamation Tuesday declaring it “Jon Nelson Day” in the city to honor the local LGBT leader.

Nelson, who worked on the city’s Diversity Task Force after the Rainbow Lounge raid and later helped start the city’s LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth, moved to Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood earlier this month.

Nelson has lived in Fort Worth for 38 years and has been involved in numerous city organizations and commissions for at least 30 of those years. He said city leaders wanted to recognize his contributions to the city over that period.

“I’m honored,” Nelson said about the proclamation. “It was a surprise to me that I got that but I was honored to get it.”

—  Anna Waugh

Army vet and FFW President Jon Nelson asks USAA to add LGBT protections

Fairness Fort Worth President Jon Nelson used this Veterans Day to impact change at United Services Automobile Association.

USAA is a Texas-based company that provides banking, investing and insurance serves to people and families of those who have served in the U.S. military.

Nelson is an Army veteran who served as a combat infantry officer in Vietnam. He is a policyholder with USAA, which doesn’t offer its employees or policyholders LGBT protections.

He wrote to CEO Gen. Josue Robles this week to encourage him as a gay veteran and policyholder to consider adding policies that covered everyone USAA employs and insures.

“When I was in the Army, I was taught to lead by example,” Nelson writes. “It’s time USAA did so by changing its policies and procedures to acknowledge, provide for and protect those LGBT policyholders and employees.  These changes that USAA, just like American Airlines and others, make will send a clear message.”

In related news, USAA received the worst possible score of zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index, which was released today.

Read Nelson’s full letter below.

—  Anna Waugh

FFW to FWISD: Walk the walk

Advocacy group says school officials need to implement training, enforcement processes

Anable.Tom

Tom Anable

 

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Representatives of Fairness Fort Worth are set to meet next Tuesday, Oct. 25, with Walter Dansby, interim superintendent of the Fort Worth

Independent School District, and FFW President Tom Anable said his organization is hoping to see the district’s plans for implementing training and enforcement processes related to its anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

In the past year, the Fort Worth school board has, since the first of this year, expanded the district’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression; protections based on sexual orientation were already included.

The board voted in January to include those protections in policies applying to faculty and staff members, and in June to policies applying to students.

LGBT advocates have routinely praised the district for those votes, noting that the changes make the FWISD policies among the most progressive and comprehensive in the state. This week, however, Anable said advocates have become frustrated with the district’s slow progress in implementing training regarding the policies and in enforcing them.

“They are talking the talk, now we want them to walk the walk,” Anable said.

He pointed to a series of recent incidences in Fort Worth schools as evidence that training and enforcement are lacking, including the mid-September furor that erupted over a Western Hills High School student’s alleged anti-gay comments in class.

Dakota Ary told the media that his German class teacher, Kristopher Franks, sent him to the principal after he made a comment to a friend during a classroom discussion, basically saying that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong.

Franks, however, said that Ary made the comment directly to him, that the comment was not pertinent to any classroom discussion and

Vasquez.Carlos

Carlos Vasquez

that it was part of a pattern of anti-gay comments and behavior aimed at him by Ary and three other students in the class.

Although Ary was initially suspended, school officials rescinded the punishment and cleared his record after Ary’s mother brought in Liberty Counsel’s Matt Krause to represent them and complained to school district officials.

Within days, school officials notified Franks that they were launching an investigation of him based on unrelated charges of inappropriate behavior that had just surfaced. Franks was suspended with pay for the duration of the investigation, but returned to the classroom three days later after the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Franks still ended up with a “letter of concern” in his file, the lowest form of discipline the district can take against a teacher, and was required to take a course in classroom management.

In an email to school board members dated Oct. 4, Franks also said that the Western Hills High School principal had, on his first day back in class, conducted an in-class evaluation — during the class that includes Dakota Ary — that Franks said was unwarranted and overly harsh. Franks said the principal refused to discipline a student who put on a pink shirt and “a pink lady’s hat” and pranced around the room to mock Franks, even though the principal was in the room when it happened.

Franks also said he learned from other students that the group of students who had been harassing him previously, during the time while he was suspended, were allowed by a substitute teacher to “dress in drag” and make fun of Franks.

Although Franks has since told colleagues the problem had been addressed and settled to his satisfaction, Anable said this week that the fact the harassment was allowed in the first place points to a lack of training and enforcement on the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

In a second recent incident, a secretary at Carter-Riverside High School recently sent a memo through the school’s email system in which she quoted biblical passages supposedly condemning homosexuality while questioning the wisdom of allowing a “gender-bending day” during the school’s homecoming week activities.

“I am concerned that it may cause more confusion with those who are struggling with their own sexuality, which is common for teens,” wrote Victoria Martinez, who works in the school’s internal finance office.

She continued, “As representatives of FWISD, I would hate to think we are partakers of encouraging a lifestyle, which is an abomination unto the LORD, and which may not be acceptable to many parents of our children. We should strive to keep our students’ focus on academics and not what they or others are doing in the bedroom.”

And, Anable said, there have been reports that same-sex couples at the district’s Diamon Hill-Jarvis High School have been disciplined for holding hands at school, while opposite-sex couples holding hands have not gotten in trouble.

Openly gay FWISD Board of Trustees member Carlos Vasquez said Wednesday that he was disappointed that Fairness Fort Worth had decided to go public with its criticisms since, “We have already solved most of the issues and concerns they are bringing up.”

Vasquez said that had “visited with Kris Franks” during the recent Tarrant County Gay Pride Picnic, and that while “there were some concerns on his first day back in the class, those were quickly resolved.”

And Vasquez said that district officials had responded quickly to Martinez’s email, removing it from the email system and reprimanding the secretary.

“As soon as this was brought to my attention, I spoke to Supt. Dansby, the superintendent took care of it immediately,” Vasquez said, adding that Dansby “took the appropriate measures” against Martinez but that he could not elaborate further because he cannot discuss personnel matters.

Vasquez also said that he had not heard of any complaints from Diamon Hill-Jarvis before a call Wednesday from Dallas Voice.

“That’s one of my schools. It’s in my [school board] district,” Vasquez said. “I have already called the principal there and she said she had not heard anything about that, either. She assured me that all the students are being treated fairly.”

Vasquez continued, “I am kind of surprised that [Fairness Fort Worth] felt the need to go to the press with this. Supt. Dansby is working with the LGBT community, he’s working with me on these issues. This is the most open this school district has ever been with the LGBT community.”

But Anable said Fairness Fort Worth is simply trying to let the school district know that the community is watching and expects the district to follow through on its commitments in terms of training and enforcement of the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

“We are not trying to be overly critical. But we do want them to know that we will keep the pressure on,” Anable said. “We have these policies in place, and we want to make sure they are enforced.”

Anable said his organization also wants to make sure that the LGBT community “has a place at the table” as the district continues its search for a permanent superintendent.

Dansby was appointed interim superintendent after former Supt. Melody Johnson resigned in June amid controversy, and the district continues a nation-wide search for a permanent replacement for Johnson.

Anable said the school board “creating a forum/focus group to assist the consultants they’ve hired to conduct the search for a new permanent superintendent, and we want to know if the district intends to include the LGBT community in that focus group,” Anable said. “We’ve made great progress in the schools here in Fort Worth. Now we don’t want to see them bring in someone who will ignore that progress and take the school district backwards on our issues.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

FFW, Fort Worth HRC win IAOHRA President’s Award

Anable, Tucker say honor is recognition of Fort Worth’s ongoing efforts to improve city’s position, policies on human rights issues

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

AUSTIN — The International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies this week presented its President’s Award jointly to Fairness Fort Worth and the city of Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission.

The award presentation occurred during the IAOHRA’s annual conference held the first part of this week in Austin.

“It was totally unexpected, at least from our standpoint,” said Tom Anable, Fairness Fort Worth president. “I had no idea that this was happening.

“They lured me down here [to Austin] by asking me to speak as part of a panel on Tuesday. When the panel was done and I was getting ready to leave, they asked me to stay for the dinner that night” when the award was presented.

Anable said that he believes the award will help the city of Fort Worth in terms of economic development and in being recognized as a city that cares about its citizens.
He added that he hopes it will encourage “other agencies in stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Anable also said he “couldn’t be more pleased” that the IAOHRA gave the award to the FFW and the city Human Relations Commission jointly.

“It shows that they recognize how well we work together to solve our problems in Fort Worth,” he said. “And this is a huge coup for the city. They have done a great job in addressing the problems.”

Human Relations Commission Chair Estrus Tucker said his agency is “deeply honored” to have received the IAOHRA President’s Award.

“This award is a testament to the invaluable role of organizational allies and friendships beyond identity politics in advancing civil and human rights,” Tucker said.

“Together, our efforts, in collaboration with others, demonstrate the importance of championing our common human well being, despite the socio-political identity labels that too often divide and confuse us.”

Anable and Tucker said FFW and the Human Relations Commission received the award in recognition of their efforts in the wake of the June, 2009 raid on the gay bar Rainbow Lounge by Fort Worth Police officers and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Within a week of the raid, Fairness Fort Worth was formed, initially to help organize efforts by FWPD and TABC investigators to interview witnesses to the raid.

By the beginning of 2010, FFW had incorporated and has gone on to become an umbrella organization of sorts that helps coordinate LGBT rights efforts and events among other organizations and governmental agencies.

The Human Relations Commission took an early leadership role in prompting FWPD and TABC to investigate the actions of those officers and agents involved in the role, and in prompting the city government to respond quickly and appropriately.

The City Council quickly established a Diversity Task Force — which included several members of Fairness Fort Worth and the Human Relations Commission — to examine areas in which the city could improve its relationship with the Fort Worth LGBT community. The council eventually approved all of the task force’s recommendations except one involving expanding health benefits for transgender employees.

That one item has been tabled pending ongoing investigation into possible costs. But the council did quickly approve changes to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression, and the council approved domestic partner benefits.

The council also agreed to expanding diversity training to cover more LGBT issues, and to have every city employee take the training.

“By Sept. 15 this year, we should be at the 50 percent mark in terms of the number of city employees who have been through the diversity training,” Anable said this week. “I think that shows the city’s continuing commitment to this issue.”

Tucker agreed, saying, “Our continued efforts and this award, in part, transform the pain and injustices of the Rainbow Lounge incident.”

Tucker, chair of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission for about 10 years, has also been an IOHRA member for about 10 years. He was elected to the board last year to serve the remainder of the unexpired term of Vanessa Ruiz Bolling, former executive director of Fort Worth’s Community Relations Department.

This week, Tucker was re-elected to a full term on the board.

IAOHRA is a private, non-profit corporation founded in 1949 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. With a membership of about 160 human rights agencies in the U.S. and Canada, the organization’sprimary focus is to promote civil and human rights around the world.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

More on the FW mayoral runoff forum

Fort Worth mayoral candidates Betsy Price and Jim Lane

I posted this notice yesterday about the Fort Worth mayoral runoff forum being sponsored by Fairness Fort Worth and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. Today I got an email from FFW President Tom Anable with a little more information on the event.

Both runoff candidates — Betsy Price and Jim Lane — have reconfirmed their participation in the forum, set for June 1 at the Four-Day Weekend theater, 312 Houston St., in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square. It begins with a meet-and-greet session from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed by the forum from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The forum begins with three-minute introductory speeches by each candidate, followed by questions from the moderators (me and Bud Kennedy with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). Only Kennedy and I will be able to ask questions during the forum, but suggested questions can be submitted in advance via email to FairnessFtWorth@aol.com.

—  admin