Gay couple complains about city’s handling of discrimination complaint against Morning News

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

A few weeks ago we reported that two Dallas council members are reviewing the city’s handling of complaints filed under an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

We’re still awaiting the results of that review, as well as the city’s response to an open records request filed by Dallas Voice for statistics related to complaints filed under the ordinance.

In the meantime, a gay couple who recently filed a complaint under the ordinance is complaining about the city’s handling of the matter. Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup filed a complaint against The Dallas Morning News, which refuses to publish same-sex marriage announcements in its Weddings section. The couple claims the DMN policy is a violation of the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.

In a letter to Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, the Walkups said it’s been more than 60 days since they filed their complaint, and they haven’t heard anything from the city. The Fair Housing Office is charged with investigating complaints under the ordinance. Below is a copy of the couple’s e-mail, which they forwarded to Dallas Voice as well as City Councilwomen Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano:

Hi Beverly,

It has been over 60 days since we formally filed a complaint against the DMN for discrimination based on our sexual orientation. As you recall, my husband and I had a legal wedding on 12/10/2010 and tried to submit our paid wedding announcement to the Dallas Morning News and we were denied equal access to this public accommodation. Our ad was refused and money refunded based on the Texas ban on SSM.

We reached out to you 30 days ago to seek a status on our case and you told us to “be patient” and we have been. After 60 days, we must say that the lack of any follow-up to our case has been an extreme disappointment. We are a customer of the City of Dallas and your department has not done anything to reach out to us to advise us of any updates about our case.

We expect better service from the people we pay to enforce our laws and there should be no excuse to the lack of follow-up on our discrimination complaint. Please advise when we can expect an update from your department.

Mark & Dante Walkup

—  John Wright

Hunt, Medrano say they’re investigating city’s handling of anti-LGBT discrimination complaints

Dallas City Councilwomen Pauline Medrano, left, and Angela Hunt

Council members respond to letter from Resource Center Dallas questioning why no cases have been prosecuted in 9 years

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Two Dallas council members said this week they’re investigating the city’s handling of complaints under a 2002 ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Councilwomen Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano announced their investigation in response to a Jan. 31 letter from Resource Center Dallas, questioning why the city hasn’t prosecuted any complaints in the nine years since the ordinance took effect.

Resource Center Dallas’ letter came in the wake of Dallas Voice reports about a discrimination complaint filed against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, an East Dallas gym that refuses to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

Hunt said she’s “deeply troubled” by the Tom Landry Fitness Center’s policy and has asked city officials to keep her posted on their investigation of the complaint.

“We’ve also requested that the city attorneys look into each of the 40 complaints that have been filed since 2002 and investigate why none has been prosecuted,” Hunt said. “They anticipate that their analysis should be finished within a couple of weeks and I will be taking a very close look at this.”

Medrano said she’s working with both the City Attorney’s Office and the Fair Housing Office, which is charged with investigating discrimination complaints before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for review — and possible prosecution.

“Each of their offices will make a list of the files, including the names of the complainants, the date of the complaint and what the discrimination involved — i.e. housing or employment, etc. — and how the complaint was resolved,” Medrano said. “The lists will be then be reconciled to make sure we have located and reviewed all the complaints. So I’m hoping to get that list, and when I do I definitely will share it.”

Councilwoman Delia Jasso, who also received a copy of the letter from Resource Center Dallas, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Dallas Voice filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act this week seeking statistics on the number of complaints that have been filed under the ordinance and their dispositions.

A 2008 investigation by the newspaper determined that at the time, there had been 33 complaints 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.

The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The definition of sexual orientation includes gender identity and expression. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, said this week that while her office was still working to compile statistics, she believes there have been roughly 50 complaints filed under the ordinance since 2002.

“We do everything we can when we get a complaint to make sure that the ordinance is enforced and that individual rights are protected as outlined in the ordinance,” Davis said. “It’s something that we take very, very seriously.”

Rafael McDonell, who drafted Resource Center Dallas’ letter to Hunt, Medrano and Jasso, said this week he was pleased to hear they are looking into the matter.

“It’s encouraging that they’re going back and putting these cases under a microscope,” he said. “Our concern is just based on statistics, there would be at least a couple of cases they would have moved on. The fact that they’re going to review all of them and make sure they didn’t miss something is a good thing.”

Other Texas cities with bans on discrimination against LGBT people, including Austin and Fort Worth, also have human rights commissions.

“I think the commission over in Fort Worth has been really strong in terms of how they have led on not just LGBT issues, but all human rights issues, and it would be great to have something like that here in Dallas,” McDonnell said. “Ultimately what I hope comes out of this process is a strong commitment to using the nondiscrimination policy to its best end. Policies are only as good as how they’re carried out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Tenant says request for repairs led to threat of eviction from Chevelle Apartments in Oak Lawn

REPAIRS IN THE WORKS? | Jack Gian, owner of the Chevelle Apartments in Oak Lawn, said this week that repairs on the complex’s roof should begin Friday, Feb. 11. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Owner of Chevelle Apartments says repairs have been delayed by winter weather, should begin on Friday

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Michael Howard claims that he has been threatened with eviction by managers at the Chevelle Apartments on Throckmorton because he asked management to repair a leaky roof in his apartment.

Jack Gian owns the property.

Howard said this week that he first let the management office know that the roof was leaking into his apartment on Nov. 3. On Feb. 6, he left a message on the 24-hour maintenance line.

Howard said he had not been in touch with the management about the problem since Thanksgiving, and he said he believes that removing some of the melting snow from the roof could have prevented at least part of the current problem.

Howard filed a complaint about the problem with the Fair Housing Office in December, and on Dec. 17, city code compliance officer Nilandra Roy put in place an order preventing Chevelle management from evicting Howard, refusing to renew his lease or terminating his lease.

Howard said that he would like to move but cannot do that by the time his current lease ends on March 1. Because he is currently battling lymphoma and complications from AIDS, he said he isn’t physically able of looking for an apartment or packing and loading a truck to move.

This week he sent his landlord a certified letter “requesting reasonable accommodations under the Disability Act of the Fair Housing Code.”

“I have been on disability since 2005 for AIDS/HIV and Lymphoma Cancer, for which documentation can be provided at a later date, if needed,” Howard wrote. “I do not have the necessary resources at this time to find a new place of residence. I am expecting to have the means to move at the end of my next renewed lease. But until that time, I am once again requesting reasonable accommodations under the Disability Act of the Fair Housing Code.” But he acknowledged that the comment he left on the 24-hour maintenance line — “I would then once again be contacting the Dallas City Code Officer OR take legal action if necessary in order for me to get my roof/ceiling repaired” — might have been taken as a threat.

He said it was after that message that the management threatened to evict him.

“Someone from G&G Properties called me at 10:01 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 7, and left a very rude, mean voicemail message,” Howard said. The message warned him to “stop calling and harassing the management here at Chevelle about my repairs, and that if it did not cease then they were warning me that they would proceed with issuing me an eviction notice.”

He said he felt as if he was the one being threatened and harassed.

Howard is not the only one who has complained about the roof leaks. At least two others have requested repairs.

Nor is this the first complaint against the property owner. In June 2010, tenants complained about the air conditioning being out for several days. That service was restored after WFAA Channel 8 television station ran a story.

Gian said repairs will begin Friday, Feb. 11.

“The roofing was ordered a week ago Friday,” Gian said, adding that weather had delayed repairs. He said has to get as much ice off the roof as possible before the crew can begin.

Repairs should continue through Tuesday, Gian said, if they are able to begin work this week. He said about 5,000 square feet of roofing will be replaced.

Chalisa Warren at the Dallas Fair Housing Office said that complaints based on any of the protected categories in the city ordinance go through their office. Those categories include disability and sexual orientation.

She said information is available on Fair Housing Office website. Complaints can be filed online or by phone, or a complaint form can be mailed or delivered in person to the office in City Hall.

The website is DallasFairHousing.com.

Complaints about repairs to multi-tenant properties go through the city Code Compliance office. To file a complaint, call 311. A service number will be issued and an inspector will be sent to the property.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Dallas Morning News bills gay couple $1,034 for wedding announcement it refused to publish

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

After filing a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their marriage announcement under “Weddings,” a local gay couple reports that they received a $1,034 bill in the mail for the unpublished ad.

Mark Reed-Walkup, who filed the discrimination complaint against The DMN after marrying his partner Dante Walkup in Washington, D.C., says he wrote the following to James Moroney III, publisher and CEO of the newspaper:

“Does the DMN always send out invoices to ‘customers’ who placed an ad online but it was never published due to the paper’s discriminatory policies? We just received an invoice today for our December ad that you banned from your paper because our wedding wasn’t ‘really’ a wedding in your eyes. Unbelievable.”

Reed-Walkup says Moroney responded as follows:

“Not a good practice. I’ll take up with sales. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”

Reed-Walkup also notes that more than 8,000 people have signed a petition launched by Change.org calling on The DMN to publish same-sex marriage announcements under Weddings. He’s hoping to get the petition up to 10,000 signatures.

As for the complaint filed against The DMN, the director of the Fair Housing Office told Instant Tea recently that the city was still in the process of reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates discrimination complaints filed under a 2002 ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup maintains that Wedding announcements are a public accommodation.

—  John Wright

More on the anti-gay Baylor Health Care System

OK, so if anything I should be working on my Super Bowl centerpiece story for next week’s Voice right now, but I felt compelled to provide an update on the situation involving the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center given the comment thread below.

Today I spoke with Beverly Davis, a very sweet woman who’s in charge of the city of Dallas’ Fair Housing Office, which investigates complaints under the sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance.

Davis explained that her office did not, as alleged, advise Steven Johnson to withdraw his complaint against the Fitness Center last year because the Fitness Center is considered exempt from the ordinance as a “private club.”

Davis, whom I trust, said the city never got a chance to determine whether the ordinance applies to the Fitness Center, because Johnson withdrew the complaint voluntarily and on his own before the investigation began. (I have my suspicions as to why Johnson chose to withdraw the complaint, but I won’t get into that here.)

So, no determination has been made about whether the ordinance applies to the Fitness Center. And again, there is no specific mention in the ordinance of an exemption for “private clubs.” Furthermore, the exemption for religious organizations should not apply because despite any affiliations the Fitness Center is not engaged in religious activities.

Alan Rodriguez, another gay man who was discriminated against by the Fitness Center, says he plans to file a complaint on Monday.

Which, I think, is a good thing.

After all, what’s the point of having the ordinance if you’re not going to attempt to use it? Filing a complaint will force the city to investigate, and it will undoubtedly force Baylor to get its attorneys involved. And at some point, they may start to wonder whether all this is really worth it to defend some backward-ass policy that probably loses money for the Fitness Center.

The city may offer mediation to Baylor and a chance to change the policy. If Baylor refuses, the City Attorney’s Office will decide whether there is cause to prosecute. If they choose not to prosecute, it becomes a City Council issue. These cases shouldn’t be decided by the City Attorney’s Office; they should be decided by judges and juries. Again, in the nine years since the ordinance was passed, there have been more than 40 complaints filed, and not one has ever been prosecuted by the city.

Granted, even if the city were to prosecute a case successfully, it’s only a maximum $500 fine per violation. But that’s not the point.

—  John Wright

Gay couple married via Skype files complaint against DMN for not publishing announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C. via Skype.

Reed- Walkup said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section. But the newspaper has refused due to a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy reportedly is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, constitute a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, said she didn’t receive the complaint until Monday.

“We just got it,” Davis said Monday afternoon. “I haven’t had time to make an assessment yet.”

The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

—  John Wright