Transgender ban remains in place in U.S. military

WILL IT HAPPEN? | Trans veteran Maeve O’Connor of Dallas, left, thinks that lifting the ban on open military service by transgender people will be tricky, but it is doable. But Mickie Garrison, left, another local trans veteran, says she doesn’t believe it will happen “for another 50 to 100 years.”

Seeing the ban on open lesbians and gays in the military lifted is a bittersweet victory of transgenders, who still can’t serve openly

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

As lesbian and gay servicemembers and military veterans are celebrating the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — despite delays in implementing the repeal — transgender servicemembers and veterans once again find themselves left behind in the battle for equality.

Because repealing DADT did not end the ban on service by trans people.

“The military still puts trans people in the same medical category as pedophilia. They consider it [transgenderism] to be a medical disorder,” said Monica Helms, president and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association.

“Trans people still have to be deep in the closet. They can’t talk to anyone about their lives, or they risk being discharged and getting something other than an honorable discharge,” Helms added. “Because the kind of discharge you get can make a huge difference in what kind of benefits you can get.”

Helms said that there is one way in which DADT repeal will affect trans servicemembers: Now the military will have to find a different reason for discharging trans people.

“A lot of times, trans people were discharged under DADT because the military isn’t smart enough to know the difference between gender identity/gender expression and sexual orientation. They think if a man wears a dress, he must be gay.”

MAKE IT WORK | Monica Helms, president and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association, says lifting the ban on open military service by transgender people shouldn’t be that difficult. After all, eight of the U.S.’s allies have already done it, including Canada. (Photo courtesy TAVA)

Other trans servicemembers were discharged for “medical reasons,” others were discharged as “undesirables,” Helms said. “I guess they will go back to doing those things when they can’t use DADT anymore.”

Even those people who transition after leaving the military still face discrimination from the Veterans Administration, Helm said.

Helms, who served as a submariner in the Navy for eight years in the 1970s, said conservative estimates put the number of transgender veterans at roughly 300,000 people.

“We figure trans people are about 1 percent of the population. That’s counting everyone under the transgender umbrella, and it’s a rough estimate,” Helms said. “And the percentage of trans people in the military veteran population is about the same.”

So, with about 26 million veterans and another 1.5 million active-duty servicemembers, more or less, do the math and you come up with about 280,000 transgender veterans. Helms said TAVA rounds that up to about 300,000, based on statistics from the VA and personal experience.

“If we are at an event for trans people, when we ask the veterans to stand up, there are a whole lot of people that stand up, so we figure that rounding up the numbers is accurate,” she said.

When a trans veteran tries to access the benefits they earned with their service, particularly medical benefits, the results are mixed, Helms said.

“Some places, they are treated fairly well; some places they are treated very badly,” she said. “The benefits don’t cover any of the [transitional] surgeries at all. But we have heard stories of trans vets being turned down for even the most basic medical services that they are entitled to.

“The doctors misgender them on purpose, they refuse to change names in the database, they call them names,” Helms continued. “Doctors, nurses, other patients — we have heard stories about trans veterans being mistreated by all of them.”

Helms said she has never encountered such problems because she has never had to use any of the VA’s medical services.

“I used the education benefits, and I got a VA loan to buy my house. But I always had decent jobs and had private insurance through my employers, so I’ve never had to use the medical benefits. So my trans status was never an issue,” she said.

Maeve O’Connor, a trans veteran from Dallas, spent 4 ½ years on active duty in the Navy, and another 4 ½ years in the Navy Reserves. Like Helms, O’Connor didn’t begin to transition until after she had left the military, and like Helms, she has never had to access VA medical benefits.

But O’Connor recently reached the point of having her name and gender markers officially changed on legal documents, like her birth certificate, and she said she is unsure what will happen when she contacts the VA to have her name and gender markers corrected on her military records.

“Now that it’s official, I do need to go in and get those records changed. I don’t know what will happen when I do. I’ve not had any experience with the VA as a transgender person, so I don’t know how difficult it will be to deal with them,” O’Connor said.

For Micki Garrison, another local transgender veteran, the specter of wrangling with a hostile VA bureaucracy made it not worth the effort of even trying to access VA benefits.

Garrison said she had graduated high school and finished a semester of college when the expense of a college education became too big a burden. So she joined the Army and finished a three-year enlistment so she could get the educational benefits offered to veterans.

But like Helms and O’Connor, that military service happened long before she began her transition, although she — also like Helms and O’Connor — was already beginning to struggle with her gender identity when she enlisted.

“I just ran out of patience with the bureaucracy. I just can’t deal with it anymore. I have other battles to fight, so I will leave that battle for other people to fight,” Garrison said. “If it was just, ‘Yeah, you are trans, but you are also a veteran, so we will help you out,’ that would be one thing. But all that frustration with the bureaucracy makes it just not worth it to bother.”

Besides, Garrison said, “many of the benefits they offer didn’t turn out to that big of a benefit anyway.”

Ending the trans ban

Garrison said that while she and other transgender veterans she knows are happy on behalf of lesbian and gay veterans and servicemembers to see DADT repealed, for transgenders, it was a bittersweet victory at best.

“We are really happy for the gay and lesbian servicemembers, sure. But at the same time, it’s like getting up on Christmas morning and seeing presents under the tree for everybody but you,” Garrison said. “I don’t want to sound like sour grapes. But while other people now get the chance to live their lives openly and with dignity and respect, trans people are left empty-handed again.”

But as much as she would like to see the ban on transgenders in the military ended, Garrison isn’t at all optimistic about that actually happening.

“I’d say we are at least 50 to 100 years away from that,” she said. “Opponents would be so very adamantly against it, I don’t think there’s even a snowball’s chance in hell that it’s even a battle worth fighting right now.

“That’s very, very sad. But it’s hard for me to come to a place where I could even believe that kind of change is possible. I mean, we are still trying to get procedures in place where we can get a driver’s license or fly on a plane without hassles.”

Garrison noted that most people enlisting in the military are young — just out of high school, or college-aged. Trans people at that age are many times just beginning to fight their own internal battles over their gender identity, she said.

“How could I have been openly trans at that point in my life? I wasn’t able to deal with it [my gender identity], how can I expect the military to deal with it?” Garrison said.

She pointed out that there are different stages to transitioning, and said those stages would cause ongoing problems in the strict military environment. Things like housing and combat status could prove uncomfortable, at least, for both the trans servicemember and their fellow soldiers.

“We bring a lot of hard questions to the table, especially during that time of transition — and that can be a long time,” Garrison said. “It’s very sad, I think. As much as I wish there would be inclusion, but the complexity level of transitioning is such a personal thing. A lot of people have to pull out of mainstream life to get that worked out and then re-integrate. I think until we have an ‘in-between’ state in our culture, until it’s not just either-or genders, I don’t think there will be good answers to the military situation.”

O’Connor acknowledged that the situation is “tricky.” But, she added, “It’s not un-overcomable.”

She said, “I think if you can do the job and live up to the goals and ideas of the military, then it shouldn’t be an issue. But it is definitely a complicated situation. There’s a lot involved. When you are a transsexual, you are transitioning in some way, and if you are transitioning, say, from male to female going into the military, then the military has to be willing to treat you like any other woman in the military.”

But, O’Connor added, transgender people joining the military would have to be willing to make some concessions, too.

“Yes, everyone should be able to serve. But the military is all about discipline, and everything is very cut and dried. And transgender people joining the military have to be willing to accept that discipline, just as a matter of security,” O’Connor said. “When you join the military, you join knowing that you are giving up some of your constitutional freedoms to a certain extent. The Code of Military Justice is stricter than civilian law, and the reason for that is safety. You have to follow that chain of command.”

But for Helms, the issue simply isn’t that complicated at all.

“We are not inventing the wheel here,” Helms said. “Eight of our ally countries already allow trans people to serve openly to different degrees, including our ally to the north, Canada, which has let trans people serve openly since 1998.

“I know a trans woman in Canada who has served for 28 years. She transitioned in the military, and they paid for everything. It’s just not a big deal there,” Helms continued. “The U.K., Israel, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Spain — there are different levels of service and different policies dealing with it in different places, but come on. They all let trans people serve openly in the military.

“But our country is backward,” Helms said. “In our country, they think everything is a problem. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Just let the people who want to serve, serve openly and with integrity. That’s all it takes.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Villarreal files Texas ENDA bill

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Texas state Rep. Mike Villarreal, a Democrat from San Antonio, today announced that he has filed HB 665, which would prevent employment discrimination in Texas based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

According to a statement e-mailed by Villarreal’s office, HB 665 would “end a discriminatory atmosphere that drives away well-educated professionals that would otherwise benefit the Texas economy.” Villarreal said: “Many other states and several large Texas cities have protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s time for Texas to join in stopping unfair employment practices that hurt our economy and hard-working Texans.”

According to the press release, Villarreal has filed similar legislation in both of the last two sessions of the Texas Legislature.

HB 665 was filed on Jan. 14.

—  admin

FWISD adds LGBTs to policy

Tom Anable
Tom Anable

Change includes bullying in anti-harassment rules, specifically lists gender identity, expression in protected classes

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

The board of the Fort Worth Independent School District this week quietly approved a new anti-bullying policy for employees that specifically includes prohibitions based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The policy passed as part of the consent agenda after a second reading during the Tuesday night, Jan. 18 school board meeting. Clint Bond, external communications coordinator for the district, said Wednesday, Jan. 19, that a similar policy applying to students will likely be approved in the near future.

“The student policy hasn’t been changed yet, but it is certainly under discussion,” Bond said. “I think that will go forward and probably will include an update in the near future.”

The student policy already includes “sexual orientation” in the enumerated list of protected classes, but not “gender identity or expression.”

School district officials have said in the past that when they amended the policy to include sexual orientation, they believed that phrase also included gender identity.

The new Employee Welfare Freedom From Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation policy, in essence, amends the previous policy to include specific prohibitions against bullying and to specifically include “gender identity or expression” and “military/veteran status” among the protected classes, Bond said.

It also switches responsibility for administering the policy from the Human Resources department to the new Employee Health and Wellness Department, he said.

Under the policy, the school district is required to “provide training and counseling as needed promote awareness of this policy and the elimination of bullying, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression, or military/veteran status throughout the district.”

In addition to bullying, the policy prohibits discrimination including harassment, and briefly defines the terms discrimination, harassment and bullying, although it does not include the term “cyberbullying.” Bond said other policies define bullying to include cyberbullying.

The new policy also describes the process for reporting and investigation any such incidents.

Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said this week the new policy “looks to be thorough” and is “a very positive step forward for the employees of the Fort Worth ISD.”

He noted that the new policy has the support of the local teachers union and stressed that the amendments to the policy were pushed by FWISD administrators, not community advocates.

“This has been an administration-led effort, which is an even more positive sign that they are really looking at their policies across the board,” Anable said. “They pretty much initiated this on their own. And I think it is really nice that they took the initiative in this without a lot of outside pushing.”

Anable acknowledged that the decision to add “gender identity and expression” to the FWISD policy was likely a response to a vote by Dallas Independent School District trustees in November to enact a specifically LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy.

But he also stressed that Fort Worth was already moving in the right direction before the DISD vote, and that community advocates have not had to push as hard for the changes, as Dallas activists did.

“Yes, this is pretty much a response to what the Dallas school district did, but Fort Worth had already added ‘sexual orientation’ to their policies back in March. When they saw what Dallas did, they went back and checked their policies. And when they realized some of the language was missing, they immediately started the dialog to make the changes they needed to make,” Anable said.

“We have had some nice conversations with people in the administration, but it hasn’t taken us the kind of effort it took in Dallas to get this done,” he said.

Anable said he was pleased to see that the policy change “went through on the consent agenda and there wasn’t a big uproar about it.” But he warned that might not be the case when the board discusses changing the policy relating to students.

“This has been very low-key, without a lot of fuss. But when [anti-gay activists] hear about this, they will probably be watching for the student policy to come up for a vote,” he said.

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

—  John Wright

‘The Closer’ cast, Kevin Bacon supporting GLSEN’S ‘Safe Space Kit’ program

I have long been a big fan of The Closer, Kyra Sedgwick‘s show on the TNT network. Now I have even more reason to like the show, Sedgwick and the rest of the cast — and her husband, Kevin Bacon.

The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network — aka GLSEN — has started its Safe Space Campaign, through which individuals can donate $20 and get one of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kits placed in the high school of their choice. The kit, according to GLSEN, “provides educators with tools and resources to address anti-LGBT bullying and create a safe and affirming space for LGBT youth.”

GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey shows that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT youth experienced harassment in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and nearly two-thirds because of their gender expression. The survey also found that having supportive educators drastically improves the school experiences of LGBT youth.

Considering that schools can be such a breeding ground for and hot bed of bullying, I think anything that can help stop the bullying there is a good thing — especially for schools in areas where there aren’t organizations like Resource Center Dallas and Fairness Fort Worth helping get anti-bullying policies and programs in place.

Jonathan Del Arco is the gay actor who plays the gay coroner, Dr. Morales, on The Closer. Del Arco is the one who got Sedgwick and his other castmates to get on board the Safe Space train, and they did it by recording public service announcements encouraging people to support the campaign and donate to it. TNT has posted the PSA on its website.

Then Sedgwick and Bacon went a step further by joining together to film a second PSA about the Safe Space Campaign.

The Closer isn’t the only show to join the Safe Space Campaign, and its stars aren’t the only celebrities involved. You can watch more PSAs here. And even more important, you can donate here to send a Safe Space Kit to the high school of your choice. I’m sending one to my alma mater; I can’t think of a better gift this holiday than to help make LGBT students safer in their schools.

—  admin

FWISD to update bullying policy

Director of counseling says officials did not realize sexual orientation didn’t include gender identity, expression, and applauds new bullying awareness campaign

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Report nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — When the Dallas Independent School District was lauded recently for becoming the first school district in the state to approve an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy, officials in the Fort Worth Independent School District reacted with consternation.
The Fort Worth District, officials said, had passed such a policy months before, in March.

But the problem, Kathryn Everest, director of guidance and counseling for the Fort Worth district, said this week, was that “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

And what school officials didn’t know was that the term “sexual orientation” does not include issues of gender identity and gender expression, Everest said.

“Our policy protects all students,” Everest said, adding that she initially believed simply saying “all students” would be adequate. But she said she understands the need for more specific wording after discussion with those in the community advocating for changes in the policy.

Everest said that she met Monday afternoon, Nov. 22, with gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Jon Nelson of Fairness Fort Worth. Both men, she said, have pledged to help the district fine-tune the wording of its policies.

“We want to make it plain that everyone is included. Now that we have found out what we didn’t know — that sexual orientation doesn’t include gender identity and gender expression — we will make those changes. We’re not fighting it, and we’re not intimidated by it. We just didn’t know,” Everest said.

She added that the policy in question relates specifically to students. The district also has a mirror policy protecting faculty and staff members, and it, too, will be updated, Everest said.

“We want our policies to align with the city of Fort Worth’s policy,” she said. The Fort Worth City Council voted last year to amend its nondiscrimination ordinance, which already included protections based on sexual orientation, to include specific protections based on gender identity and gender expression.

Another point of confusion centered on the wording of Fort Worth’s anti-bullying policy itself. The policy defines bullying, gives examples and outlines the procedure for reporting incidences of bullying and for investigating those reports. But it does not enumerate specific groups protected under the policy, as the Dallas ISD policy does.

Everest explained this week that the Fort Worth ISD’s “Freedom from Bullying” policy is an extension of the district’s “Freedom from Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Policy, which reads:

“The District prohibits discrimination including harassment, against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or on any other basis prohibited by law, that adversely affects the student.”

Everest said FWISD officials now recognize that, technicalities aside, the bullying policy should also include that wording — with the addition of gender identity and gender expression — so that it is clear.

Although gender identity and gender expression were not among the protected categories listed, evidence of the district’s intention to provide protections based on those categories exists in the discrimination policy, under the category of examples:

“Examples of prohibited harassment  may include offensive or derogatory language directed at another person’s religious beliefs or practices, accent, skin color, gender identity or need for accommodation … .”

‘It’s not okay’

While the Fort Worth school district may be lagging behind the Dallas ISD in perfecting the wording of its nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies, Fort Worth is several steps ahead of Dallas when it comes to it’s anti-bullying campaign, Everest said.

The district implemented the “It’s not okay” campaign at the beginning of the current school year, focusing each month on a different aspect of harassment. Topics are “bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, teen dating violence, suicidal thinking, sexual harassment, use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and gangs.

The campaign includes efforts to explain each topic and to promote the district’s procedures for reporting and investigating offenses. A primary component, Everest said, is the “Friends 4 Life” hotline that anyone can call to report specific incidents or concerns. Students discovered to be targets of bullying or harassment are paired with counselors who work with them and help them find other resources if necessary, Everest said.

She said students had input in designing the campaign, helping choose the topics and suggesting ways to address each one. The district also has designed posters on each topic to be displayed in schools, as well as billboards that are going up each month around the city.

“By the end of the school year, we will have billboards across the city addressing each one of these topics,” Everest said. “There is a kind of entrenched generational acceptance of certain kinds of harassment and bullying — the idea that it’s just what kids do, and you need to get over it and move on. That’s what we have to change. We have to say to the whole world that it’s not OK.

“And this [campaign] is not just a flash in the pan, not just a one-time thing,” Everest continued. Our goal is to make it an ongoing program, something that is deep and broad and addresses all the angles. That’s how you change the social norms. That’s how you stop the bullying.”

She added, “This is all a learning process for us. We are making corrections and improvements as we go along. We thought we were covering everything, and now that we know we didn’t, we will make the changes we need to make.

“Our goal is to make our entire educational community as safe as possible — our students, our faculty and our staff. And we will do what we need to do to make that happen.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Resource Center calls on DISD to add LGBT protections to proposed new anti-bullying policy

IMPORTANT UPDATE: RCD’s Rafael McDonnell reports that those wishing to speak at Thursday’s DISD meeting must sign up by 5 p.m. Wednesday by calling board services at 972-925-3720.

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the Dallas Independent School District to add protections for LGBT students to a proposed new anti-bullying policy. As we reported yesterday, the new anti-bullying policy is slated to be discussed Thursday by DISD’s board of trustees. A final vote is expected at the end of the month, but as currently written, the policy doesn’t include specific prohibitions against bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. Which seems odd given the fact that we are in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicides related to anti-gay bullying and harassment, including at least one in Texas. Resource Center is encouraging people to contact the nine members of DISD’s Board of Trustees and demand that they amend the policy to include LGBT students. RCD has also sent its own letter to each of the nine trustees, which we’ve posted below. From RCD’s press release:

“We are pleased that DISD is revisiting its approach to bullying. Unfortunately, the proposed policy does not define which students are to be protected by it. As a result, it does not provide specific protections for LGBT students. It is vital for this board to specifically articulate who this policy is designed to protect, rather than simply stating a broad definition of bullying. Absent any specific protections, it could be inferred that it would be okay to bully students based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Given the rash of LGBT bullying-related suicides in recent weeks—including one in the greater Houston area—specifically articulated protections are not formalities; they are essential.

“Resource Center Dallas encourages the North Texas LGBT community to contact the nine members of the DISD board. Encourage them to modify the proposed anti-bullying policy to specifically include LGBT students. Board members still have time to improve the protections for the youngest members of our community. Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail, can be found at http://www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm. Additionally, if you are able to attend the DISD board meeting Thursday, October 14 at 11:30 a.m. at 3700 Ross Avenue in Dallas, please do so. A representative of the Center will address the board on these issues.”

—  John Wright

DART board approves trans protections

Advocates pledge to keep working with board to improve wording in non-discrimination policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

DART board a standing
STANDING UP FOR EQUALITY | Spectators give the DART board a standing ovation on Tuesday, June 22, after the board voted unanimously to adopt a policy change extending nondiscrimination protections to its transgender workers. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

After removing a one-word amendment that would have gutted the proposal, Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday, June 22, to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

The vote came after about 10 LGBT leaders addressed the DART board, with dozens more looking on from the audience in the local community’s largest turnout for a public meeting since Fort Worth City Council meetings held in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid last year.

LGBT speakers demanded that the DART board approve the new policy after removing the amendment, which consisted of the word “except” and was added a week earlier in an apparent attempt by some DART officials to dilute the proposed trans protections.

“A word is standing between us, and the word is ‘except,’” Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore told the DART board, adding that everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity. “All of these things also include you. Why not include us?”

Following the 30-minute public comment period, DART board member William Tsao of Dallas made a motion to approve the policy, minus the one-word amendment. “It is the intention of the DART board to make clear that its policy unequivocally prohibits any discrimination against persons based on their gender identity or gender expression,” Tsao said in making his motion, which was seconded by board member Faye Wilkins of Dallas.

The board’s unanimous vote in favor of Tsao’s motion drew a standing ovation from the audience. Two DART board members who voted against trans protections last week, Scott Carlson of Dallas and Mark Enoch of Rowlett, were absent from this week’s meeting.

DART board member Claude Williams of Dallas, an LGBT ally who’s accused the agency’s attorneys of duping the board into the amendment, said later he was “thrilled and overjoyed” with this week’s corrective vote. “It’s been a humungous effort,” Williams said.

Board member Loretta Ellerbe of Plano said she supported the addition of trans protections all along. “It was the right thing to do,” she said after the meeting.

Ray Noah, who proposed the one-word amendment last week, denied that he intended to gut the trans protections, saying he just thought the language of the policy was confusing.

“I didn’t think it was clear enough,” he said.

Noah acknowledged he told The Dallas Morning News he believes DART should retain the right to discriminate in some cases. Noah also denied opposing the addition of sexual orientation to DART’s nondiscrimination policy in 1995, despite clear evidence that he vocally did so.

Tuesday’s vote capped a months-long process that began in February when Dallas Voice reported on alleged discrimination by DART against a transgender bus driver. The proposal to add trans protections, spearheaded by officials at Resource Center Dallas, cleared one DART committee unanimously in April.

In late May, the DART board’s Committee of the Whole tabled the proposal to seek more information about the definition of gender identity, which they later said the agency’s attorneys were unable to provide.

Finally, following a 30-minute closed-door session on June 15, the board hastily amended the proposal to say the agency wouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no state or federal protections for LGBT workers, legal experts said this amendment would have effectively gutted the trans protections — and rescinded the sexual orientation protections from 15 years ago.

Even after Tuesday’s removal of the word “except,” some said they still had concerns about the final language. Resource Center officials said they intend to work with DART on rewording the policy, in addition to discussing its implementation in the form of diversity training.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said the language of the policy is not ideal but that the removal of the word “except” remedied his main concern.

“It now basically says unless federal or state law prohibits them from doing so —which they do not — their policy is not to discriminate because of any of the enumerated characteristics or identity traits,” Upton said. “Could you improve it? Yes, but it is still a win that was worth fighting for.” To watch video, go to http://tinyurl.com/2e384vm This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

DART committee to vote on trans protections

dartlogo.JPGA Dallas Area Rapid Transit committee is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to add gender identity to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

The proposed policy change came about as a result of DART’s alleged discrimination against a transgender bus driver.

Last year, DART attorneys sought to intervene in family court to oppose the employee’s petition for a gender-marker change.

The employee, who’s been with the agency for 25 years, began transitioning in 2003 and had sexual reassignment surgery about three years ago. The employee alleges that DART supervisors have at various times told she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear a dress and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at the bus yard.

Dallas Voice articles about the alleged discrimination prompted an outrcy from the LGBT community, with activists speaking at several DART board meetings earlier this year.

If the policy change is approved by the Economic Opportunity and Diversity Committeee, it will proceed to the full board, which could take a final vote in June. Tuesday’s committee meeting will be at 3:30 p.m. in DART Conference Room C, on the first floor of the agency’s headquarters at 1401 Pacific Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

Clueless

DART logo

OH! MY! GOD!

Members of the LGBT community left a DART committee meeting with their mouths open. Stunned.

Tisha McDaniel said it best.

“Huh?” she said outside the committee room.

First, the good news. On May 11, the DART board will be presented with proposed wording for an update on their employment non-discrimination policy. From comments from committee members, it seems they have no intention of tolerating any form of discrimination and are open to including gender identity as part of their policy. There was even concern that the term “gender identity” would include everyone.

Here’s the BIG BUT:

A question from several board members indicated they had no clue as to why the issue had even come up. One mentioned that community members had been pushing for it. But they seemed to be completely clueless that DART management had intervened in a family court case in which an employee of theirs was changing gender marker.

Have there been any cases where we discriminated, one board member wanted to know. The answer from other board members was a resounding “No.”

The board member who mentioned that the issue had come up seemed to have never heard of the gender marker case.

After the meeting, Dennis Coleman of Lambda Legal suggested emailing previous Dallas Voice articles to every board member to make sure they understood why the issue had come up. Others who attended wondered if it was willful ignorance or if they did not actually know what a transgender person was. They wondered if board members did not understand the concept of changing one’s sex on a birth certificate, how that related to transgender issues. Or if they didn’t understand how interfering in a personal case of one employee while not interfering in non-work related issues of any of their other employees constitutes discrimination.

Here is a clip from the meeting. (The room was dim but the sound’s fine):

Some interesting quotes:

“I guess I don’t understand what the protest was about.”

“Why are these people saying DART’s policy is not addressing their concerns?”

—  David Taffet

Houston mayor issues sweeping non-discrimination order

Parker’s directives include protection for transgender community

Mayor Annise Parker
Mayor Annise Parker

HOUSTON — Lesbian Mayor Annise Parker has issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees that is possibly the most comprehensive in the nation.

Parker’s order replaces one signed by her predecessor, Bill White, the Democratic nominee for Texas governor. White’s order covered sexual orientation and was similar to protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual employees in Dallas.

“I felt it important that our written policy reflect what has long been the practice of the city, which is we do not discriminate,” Parker told Dallas Voice.

Parker’s order, which includes gender identity/expression, was signed on March 25 and took effect immediately.

“The purpose of this Executive Order is to prohibit discrimination and/or retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity at every level of municipal government, including hiring, contracting and/or access to City facilities and programs/activities,” the order states.

The goal is to provide a work environment free of discrimination and harassment based on either sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the order. It covers anyone doing business with the city including Houston’s contractors and vendors as well as employees.

Both gender identity and gender expression are addressed.

“Gender identity,” the order explains, “May not correspond to the individual’s body or gender assigned at birth.”

—  David Taffet