UPDATE: City still reviewing complaint of anti-gay discrimination against Baylor-owned gym

The city of Dallas is in “the final stages” of reviewing an allegation of anti-gay discrimination against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, a city official told Instant Tea this week.

Gay Dallas resident Alan Rodriguez filed a complaint in January against the Fitness Center, after the popular East Dallas gym refused to offer a family membership to Rodriguez and his longtime partner.

Rodriguez’s complaint was filed under a Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. Rodriguez said he has declined an offer from the city’s Fair Housing Office, which handles discrimination complaints, to enter arbitration.

“I don’t know that there’s any room to compromise,” Rodriguez said. “There’s not middle ground to reach to.”

In a letter he penned to a Baylor executive before filing the complaint, Rodriguez accused the Fitness Center of “draconian and bigoted practices” that are “unthinkable in 2011.”

In response to Rodriguez’s email, the Baylor executive confirmed that the Fitness Center offers family memberships only “to a husband and wife pursuant to the Texas law definition of marriage.” Baylor’s attorneys reportedly are arguing that the Fitness Center is a private health club and not a public accommodation.

Jennifer Coleman, senior vice president of consumer affairs for the Baylor Health Care System, declined further comment this week.

Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, said she is unsure when officials will decide whether to prosecute Rodriguez’s complaint.

“All I can tell you is that it’s in the final stages of review,” Davis said. “I wish I could give you a definite date, but right now I don’t have a definite date.”

Rodriguez’s complaint is one of more than 50 that have been filed under the nondiscrimination ordinance since it took effect in 2002. However, none of the complaints has ever been prosecuted by the city. Each violation of the ordinance punishable by a fine of up to $500.

—  John Wright

City of Dallas posts info on filing complaints of anti-gay discrimination on main page of website

Above are screen grabs from the main page of the city of Dallas’ website. Earlier we mentioned that City Councilwoman Angela Hunt had directed city staff to post information about filing discrimination complaints prominently on the site. So we went over to take a look, and sure enough, there it is. Hunt said she thinks some people either aren’t aware of the ordinance or don’t know how to file a complaint.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Fox 4 on Dallas’ failure to enforce ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination

 

I’m on vacation this week but I couldn’t resist putting this up. Before I left on Friday for an undisclosed location, I got a call from Peter Daut at Fox 4. He wanted me to put him in touch with Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, the local gay couple that filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement. Peter had seen our post on Friday saying that despite 53 complaints file in nine years, the city has never prosecuted a single case under its ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. So I connected Peter with Mark, and above is the result. It’s a good story that brings needed attention to the issue, but I should note that there is a fact error: The report says the case isn’t going anywhere because sexual orientation isn’t a protected class. Not true. Sexual orientation is a protected class in the city of Dallas, and that’s the whole point. There’s an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and people have been filing complaints under it, but the City Attorney’s Office isn’t doing anything with them. Peter is right when he says the complaint isn’t going anywhere. But he’s wrong about the reason why. Also, he should have given us credit.

—  John Wright

Resource Center Dallas calls for investigation of city’s handling of gay discrimination complaints

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the city to investigate whether the intent of its ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination is being honored.

In a letter today to three city council members, Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell points to Dallas Voice reports saying that in the nine years since the ordinance was passed, more than 40 complaints have been filed, but none has ever been prosecuted.

McDonnell’s letter to Councilwomen Angela Hunt, Delia Jasso and Pauline Medrano was triggered by reports on this blog last week about anti-gay discrimination by the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has repeatedly refused to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

The city ordinance, passed in 2002, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Gender identity is included in the definition of sexual orientation under the ordinance. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

A Dallas Voice investigation in 2008 concluded that at the time, 33 complaints had been filed under the ordinance. In 22 of those cases, the City Attorney’s Office determined that there was no cause to prosecute.

Of the other 11 cases, three were successfully resolved through mediation; three people withdrew their complaints after signing statements indicating that defendants had taken actions necessary to address their concerns; five complaints were found to be nonjurisdictional, meaning the incidents occurred outside city limits or defendants were exempt from the ordinance; and in one case the party filing the complaint couldn’t be located.

Here’s the full text of McDonnell’s letter:

Dear Councilmembers Jasso, Medrano and Hunt,

As you three know, Dallas is one of a handful of cities in Texas that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy. Resource Center Dallas is proud to be in a city offering such protections. We assume that you, like us, are disturbed by last week’s stories on the Dallas Voice’s blog.

The Voice reported that a gay couple who recently moved to Dallas sought to join Baylor’s Tom Landry Center under the family membership program. The couple was advised that Baylor only offers family members to people who are married as defined by Texas law. There is no same-gender alternative, which, to us, is monetized discrimination.

The Voice’s blog also reported that since the ordinance became law in 2002, more than 40 complaints have been filed. Yet, shockingly, the City has not prosecuted one of those complaints. Is this correct? Are complaints being resolved through mediation, settlements, or are the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people filing these grievances walking away empty-handed?

We write to ask for your help. We would like for you to call for an investigation of whether or not the intention of the ordinance is being honored. As we know you will agree, enacting an ordinance is only the first step in addressing discriminatory practices. The critical second step is its enforcement. From the Voice’s reporting, it sounds like the ordinance we all worked so hard to put in place may not be as effective as we thought.

Sincerely,

Rafael McDonnell
Strategic Communications and Programs Manager, Resource Center Dallas

—  John Wright

Gay couple accuses Baylor-owned gym of ‘draconian and bigoted practices’

For the second time in less than a year, a popular East Dallas gym owned by Baylor Health Care System is under fire for blatantly discriminating against gay couples.

Last May, a gay couple filed a discrimination complaint against the Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has a stated policy of refusing to offer family memberships to same-sex couples. The couple’s complaint was filed under a city of Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

However, the couple later withdrew the complaint after they said city officials told them the Tom Landry Fitness Center may be exempt from the ordinance because it’s a private club.

Now, another gay couple plans to file its own discrimination complaint against the Fitness Center if the policy isn’t reversed. Alan Rodriguez, who recently moved to Dallas with his partner of 10 years, says he was told by the director of the Fitness Center that Baylor defines family as “one man and one woman.”

Rodriguez, who’s renovating a home on Gaston Avenue with his partner, said he chooses to live and work in Dallas largely because of the ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. He also said he goes to the Fitness Center for allergy shots and considers the gym a “neighborhood friend,” but was shocked to learn about the family membership policy.

“It is clear Baylor has taken the position to discriminate against gay people with respect to family gym membership. It is also clear Baylor has a regimented policy excluding domestic partners from the definition of ‘family,’” Rodriguez wrote Tuesday in a letter to a Baylor executive that was also sent to Instant Tea. “Therefore, I must conclude your organization also believes it lawful to discriminate against gay people regarding other medical services. Clearly, your organization considers this policy a legal form of discrimination. It remains unclear the extent to which this policy permeates all Baylor operations. Such draconian and bigoted practices are unthinkable in 2011.”

—  John Wright

Out lesbian abruptly removed from dean position at Texas A&M University-Commerce

Christine Evans

An open lesbian has been unexpectedly removed from her position as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Texas A&M University-Commerce, and the student newspaper reports that “questions have been raised” about whether sexual orientation was a factor.

Christine Evans was removed as dean and given a position as a professor in the agriculture department. Evans told The East Texan that her sexual orientation “probably” wasn’t the reason for her removal as dean. But she adds that even if it was, she would have no recourse. Neither the university policy, nor state or federal law, includes employment protections for gays and lesbians.

“I am openly lesbian, and have made no attempt to either trumpet or hide that orientation,” Evans said. “I’m quite certain that most people on campus and in Commerce who have interacted with me to any extent are aware of that. I can also add that I have had no direct experience of mistreatment or different treatment related to the issue. …

“My personal opinion is that my sexual orientation was probably not the reason for my dismissal,” she said. “Further, although it hasn’t been shared with me, I would be very disappointed if I were to learn that my career status had been so abruptly altered by something so insubstantial.”

The provost of the university, Larry Lemanski, says Evans’ removal was a “personnel matter” and that he wanted to move the college “in a new direction.”

While Evans isn’t publicly claiming anti-gay discrimination, she did take an apparent swipe at the administration.

“It will be refreshing to have a supervisor I respect and colleagues I can trust,” she said.

—  John Wright