Redistricting plan could hurt LGBT voters

Map approved by Dallas council would cost community an ally, put heavily gay neighborhood in homophobic councilwoman’s district

DRAWN OUT | Raymond Crawford, president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, refers to the area southwest of Kiest Boulevard and Hampton Road as a “gayborhood.” Under the redistricting plan, Kiestwood would be placed in the district represented by anti-gay Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Much has been made of the fact that a redistricting plan approved by the Dallas City Council last week could disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

But the redistricting plan, should it be signed off on by the U.S. Department of Justice, could also hurt the LGBT community.

Newly elected District 3 Councilman Scott Griggs said the map approved by the council would effectively cost the LGBT community an ally at the horseshoe because he’s been drawn into District 1, currently represented by Delia Jasso.

Meanwhile, under the plan, heavily LGBT areas of Oak Cliff currently represented by Griggs and Jasso have been drawn into districts that are home to Dwaine Caraway and Vonciel Hill.

“Delia and I have been pretty involved and very supportive of the GLBT community over the years,” said Griggs, who hasn’t indicated whether he’d run against Jasso in 2013 if the plan holds up. “You have two other council members who haven’t shown as much support.

“You are losing an ally,” Griggs added. “Is Dwaine [Caraway] or her [Hill] going to be as open or responsive as Delia and I have been?”

Jasso, who formed a citizens LGBT task force after taking office in 2009, couldn’t be reached for comment this week. But Jasso reportedly supports other Hispanic leaders who plan a lawsuit against the city if the redistricting plan is approved by the justice department.

Led by attorney Domingo Garcia, they allege the plan violates the Voting Rights Act. The plan guarantees that only two to four of the council’s 14 districts would be represented by Hispanics, who account for 42 percent of the city’s population.

Jasso believes she might have difficulty retaining her seat, because the new District 1 would include heavily Anglo areas with high voter turnout, including Kessler Park, Stevens Park and Winnetka Heights.

Openly gay former Councilman John Loza, who’s Hispanic and served on the city’s redistricting commission, agreed.

“I think that map is horrendous, and I’m really hoping that a lawsuit is brought forward based on that map, and I’d be happy to testify against it if and when it happens,” Loza said.

Loza lamented that the redistricting commission spent 95 hours working on the map it submitted to the council. But the council redrew the commission’s map based on what Loza called “a backroom deal,” and the panel’s work went “down the toilet.”

Loza said although his primary concern is Hispanic representation, he’s also bothered by the fact that two of the LGBT community’s strongest allies were placed in the same district.

“I don’t think it’s as unfortunate to the LGBT community as it is to the Latino community, but I think it does both communities a disservice,” he said.

Under the plan, Oak Cliff south of Illinois Avenue is split along Hampton Avenue, with the east side being placed in what would be Caraway’s district and the west side in Hill’s.

Hill is the lone current council member who’s refused to appear at gay Pride or sign a letter congratulating organizers of the event.

Asked in 2009 why she won’t ride in the parade, Hill voiced religious objections to homosexuality, saying she believes that “there are acts God does not bless.”

Raymond Crawford, who is gay and serves as president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, refers to the area southwest of Hampton Road and Kiest Boulevard as a “gayborhood.” Crawford counts 15 gay households on his street — Southwood Drive — alone.

Under the redistricting plan, the 400-plus-home Kiestwood neighborhood, currently represented by Griggs, would be placed in Hill’s district.

“The day she [Hill] comes to call to do some door-knocking or to get some votes, whether I’m the president or not, it’s going to be an interesting conversation with Councilmember Hill,” Crawford said this week. “She’ll be in trouble in 2013 based on her previous statements.”

Hill didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.

VIEW A MAP OF THE REDISTRICTING PLAN: CLICK HERE

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay Rawlings supporter Pam Gerber slams DGLA over group’s we-don’t-like-Mike warning

Pam Gerber

Pam Gerber is a member of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, and she says she has the utmost respect for the group’s leadership.

But Gerber also supports Mike Rawlings for mayor, and she called the warning DGLA issued about Rawlings over the weekend “absurd.”

In endorsing City Councilman Ron Natinsky for mayor, DGLA issued a warning about Rawlings that said his “passion for commerce and business interests supremely overwhelms his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.”

According to DGLA, the warning is rare for the group and was based on statements Rawlings made during his candidate interview, in response to a question about contracting requirements.

“It looks like a warning on a cigarette package saying cigarettes cause death — ‘Mike Rawlings does not believe in civil rights,’” Gerber said of the warning Monday.

“It’s such an overstatement. It’s a distortion, it’s misleading and it’s underinformed,” Gerber added. “I think it makes us look immature. I think it’s over-reactive and not thoughtful. I think it undermines our credibility. It undermines DGLA’s credibility.”

Gerber, who’s also a member of the LGBT task force set up by City Councilwoman Delia Jasso, said that as Dallas’ homeless czar, Rawlings devoted his time to people who are “far less fortunate” than DGLA members who issued the warning.

“When was the last time any of them went out and served a meal over at the Bridge?” Gerber said, referring to the city’s homeless shelter. “That’s who he [Rawlings] spends his time with. You want to talk about people who don’t have civil rights. … Although I hold DGLA, their leadership and their judgment in the highest esteem, I strongly disagree with this and find it irresponsible to say such a thing, because it’s not the truth about this man. He has a profound appreciation for the civil rights of people.”

To read our full story on DGLA’s endorsements, go here.

—  John Wright

Lone Star Ride training begins; 2 councilwomen receive scholarships to Velo-City conference

Lone Star Ride 2010
Lone Star Ride 2010

The Lone Star Ride held its first training ride of the year this weekend. A group of about a dozen cyclists met at the Oak Cliff Bike Shop in Bishop Arts and headed out on a 40-mile ride toward Lakewood and back.

LSR is held the last weekend in September and covers about 150 miles over two days. The ride raises money for Resource Center Dallas, AIDS Services of Dallas and the AIDS Outreach Center.

Meanwhile, the group Bike Friendly Oak Cliff announced that Dallas City Councilwomen Delia Jasso and Pauline Medrano received scholarships to attend this week’s Velo-City Conference in Seville, Spain. Only 10 city council members nationwide received full scholarships to attend.

Who knows, maybe Jasso and Medrano can be convinced to ride in this year’s Lone Star Ride.

And speaking of biking in Oak Cliff, getting a parking space in Bishop Arts on a Saturday morning is getting difficult. Oh, plenty of car parking. But the bike racks in front of Oddfellows — the new coffee shop that took Vitto’s old space — fill up fast.

 

—  David Taffet

Carnivale returns to Oak Cliff

CARNIVALE ON PARADE | Entries in the Oak Cliff Mardi Gras parade set for Sunday reflect an eclectic mix, with everything from the Oak Lawn Band to the Catholic School Dad’s Club participating.

Oak Cliff Mardi Gras celebration promises an eclectic mix of participants and sponsors, including many from LGBT community

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Oak Cliff celebrates Mardi Gras with a two-day event this weekend, beginning with the second annual “Dash for the Beads,” a 5K run, one-mile walk and costume contest.

As with many Oak Cliff events, the sponsor list and participants in the weekend include an interesting and diverse mix. Sponsors range from GayBingo, Hewitt Habgood Realty, Monica Greene’s new restaurant Bee and attorney Chad West to the Oak Cliff Lions Club and Oddfellows.

“It’s why I love it over here,” said Old Oak Cliff Conservation League President Michael Amonett. “It’s an interesting, eclectic mix.”

The walk begins in the Bishop Arts District on Saturday, March 5, at 8:30 a.m. and the “Dash for the Beads” run at 9 a.m. Runners will proceed west on Davis Street, turn north on Tyler Street then east on Colorado Boulevard, with a detour through scenic Kessler Lake Drive, and return to the starting point on Bishop Avenue.

After race participants return, race awards will be followed by costume awards. Judges for the contest include Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Councilwoman Delia Jasso.

Vendors will have booths in the Bishop Arts District throughout the morning. The Cliff Blues Band will provide live music. DJ Ish follows and Ballet Folklorico performs.

A masquerade ball begins at 8 p.m. at the newly restored Kessler Theater on Saturday night. Lil Malcolm and the House Rockers will headline the evening. Zydeco Blanco will open.

Weekend organizer Amy Cowan called OCarnivale at the Kessler a semiformal masquerade ball with people dressed in everything from jeans to black tie — with lots of masks.

The Mardi Gras celebration continues on Sunday with a crawfish boil at 3 p.m. in Bishop Arts. Tickets are $15 in advance and a limited number will be sold at the door for $20.

That will be followed at 4 p.m. with the Mardi Gras parade.

Parade entries reflect an interesting mix and include everything from the Oak Lawn Band to St. Cecilia Catholic School’s Dad’s Club. Cowan said they have 48 entries.

Following in New Orleans style, several Oak Cliff krewes have formed with names like Krewe of Winnetka Heights and Krewe du Cliff Temple. Cowan is part of the Kings Highway Krewe, which has a 24-foot float.

She said Krewe La Rive Gauche always has the best costumes and that Friends of Kidd Springs Park’s entry features a 10-foot Eiffel Tower.

Norma’s, a popular Oak Cliff diner since 1956, has a vintage fire truck in the parade. Valdez will march with a sheriff’s posse on horseback.

Cowan said most mayoral and council candidates will be participating.

The parade begins on Davis Street at Windomere Avenue. The route follows Davis Street to Madison Avenue where it returns to Bishop Arts on Seventh Street.

Among the parade sponsors is Hunky’s.

“We’re going to open at 10 a.m. on Saturday,” said Hunky’s owner Rick Barton, referring to the Bishop Arts location only. “We’ll be decorated and festive.”

Cowan said traffic and parking will be difficult.

“Take public transit or ride your bike,” Cowan said.

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

—  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

Neighborhood activist takes on incumbent

Scott Griggs

Scott Griggs says District 3 Councilman Dave Neumann doesn’t have the neighborhood’s interests as a top priority

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

In campaigns, gas drilling is usually a state vs. federal government concern. In Dallas, it could be a deciding factor in a single council district race since challenger Scott Griggs has raised the issue in his race for city council against District 3 incumbent Dave Neumann.

The massive Dallas City Council District 3 covers more than 50 square miles — an area larger than the city of San Francisco.

Potential drilling sites include Red Bird Airport and Mountain Creek, an area that is closer to Highway 360 in Arlington than it is to Downtown Dallas or even to Bishop Arts in Oak Cliff.

A controversial technique called “fracking” — slang for “hydraulic fracturing” — would be used to extract gas from underlying shale. Opponents have warned fracking could be responsible for recent earthquakes in North Texas and that chemicals used in the process may pollute the ground water.

Runoff from this area feeds Mountain Creek Lake, a source of drinking water for the southern sector.

At the Sept. 22, 2010 council meeting, Neumann called the Barnett Shale drilling proposals “a sweetheart deal” and “a great deal for the taxpayers of Dallas.”

Many in his district, including Griggs, disagree.

“He’s ignoring the effects on property values, quality of life, our air, our water, our health,” Griggs said. “I’ve been asking for a moratorium.”

Griggs said he would like more study to see what the effects would actually be.

Neumann has delayed a vote on the issue until October, allegedly to prevent drilling from becoming an issue in the May election.

Griggs describes District 3 as the donut that surrounds Delia Jasso’s compact District 1 donut hole.

Jasso represents much of north Oak Cliff. Neumann represents an area that includes the heavily LGBT-populated neighborhoods of Stevens Park in North Oak Cliff and the Keist Park neighborhoods further south.

Griggs has been active with the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group and the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce and served as Ed Oakley’s appointee to the Board of Adjustment.

He believes in development but criticizes the way Dallas often goes for big projects only. While new overpasses across the Trinity River would help Oak Cliff, Griggs said he worries about the cost of maintaining the faux suspension bridge being built.

In contrast to the way Dallas usually builds, Griggs said he prefers small projects and points to Jack’s Backyard as an example of how one person can help transform a neighborhood.

Kathy Jack, owner of Jack’s, said, “I couldn’t have gotten my business open without him.”

The city was preventing Jack from opening the restaurant without a paved parking lot.

Griggs explained that the area has flooding problems and no storm sewers. Paving the lot would have made flooding worse.

Jack finished the lot with gravel over a green product called Gravelpave that allows water to absorb into the ground.

“I went to the city of Dallas and they gave me 10 reasons why we couldn’t open,” Jack said. “He went to the city of Dallas with me and they approved my parking lot.”

“We always think that the biggest and sexiest development is best,” Griggs said. “But if you look at what happened with Bishop Arts, the city went in and invested $2.6 million.”

The city added parking, trees, wider sidewalks, crosswalks and enhanced pavement, he said, which made pedestrians feel welcome.

“Property values immediately adjacent to the improvements — 10 years ago the property was worth $1.7 million,” he said. “Now it’s worth $6.2 million. We’ve had 13 percent increase steady through two recessions.”

The city makes more money in Bishop Arts now on a Saturday night from taxes on alcohol sales than they did before with a year of property taxes, Griggs said.

He said that the success of the area is not being copied anywhere else in the city.

“Those are the types of revenue solutions we need to look at in these tough times,” he said. “Something Dallas has never looked at — small investments. We don’t do little. We’re all big and sexy.

“We think it’s an accident,” Griggs said of the success in Bishop Arts. “We think it’s quaint and it’s cute. It’s just an old streetcar neighborhood and we have those throughout the area.”

But, he said, the area’s success can be replicated.

Griggs mentioned that adding bike racks has brought additional traffic to Bishop Arts. He said he supports the plan to add bike lanes to streets and is a supporter of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, a neighborhood group that encourages bike riding.

He also supports the extension of the trolley line across the Houston Street Viaduct and across Davis Street. Grants for the extension were obtained despite Neumann’s refusal to sign onto the project, Griggs said.

He charges Neumann with blocking other development in the area by moving money out of designated funds into the general fund, including rebuilding the pergola at Kiest Park and cleaning up the Hensley Field Naval Air Station, also within the district.

Griggs is married but counts the LGBT community as part of the base of his support.

Joseph Hernandez ran against Neumann in 2007. He served on the Landmark Commission and has known Griggs through their work at the city for eight years.

“The gay community is very tight knit and engaged and we know who our supporters are,” Hernandez said. “I believe he’s an advocate for us and would be very inclusive.”

Susan Melnick, who lives in District 3, said, “He and his wife are very progressive and he thinks outside the box.”
She called him thoughtful.

“Scott’s not going to just jump on the bandwagon,” she said. “He’s going to do his homework. ”

Melnick said she believes Griggs would always be very inclusive of the LGBT community.

“He’s always had gay and straight friends,” she said. “He’s very low-key. No ego there. I just adore him.”

Former Dallas Independent School Board member Jose Plata lives in the District and said he hasn’t been pleased with the representation of the incumbent and so is backing Griggs.

“Scott has a strong mind about strong neighborhoods,” Plata said. “Scott understands issues and would be a good spokesperson for the gay community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Dallas City Council resolution condemns bullying, notes that LGBT students are often the victims

As Unfair Park first reported last week, the Dallas City Council on Wednesday will consider a resolution to condemn all bullying, harassment and intimidation at schools in the city. The two-page resolution, submitted by seven council members, notes that “children and youth with disabilities and children and youth who are lesbian, gay, or trans-gender, or who are perceived to be so, [are] at particularly high risk of being bullied by their peers … ”

The resolution was submitted by Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano, Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Steve Salazar and Tennell Atkins. If you’ll remember, Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, addressed the City Council and requested just such a resolution three weeks ago (you can watch video of Piazza’s remarks here). Since then, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees has opted to move forward with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. So at this point the City Council resolution is like icing on the cake. And just in case you really like icing, we’ve posted the full text below.

—  John Wright

DGLA hosts rally for safe schools in Oak Cliff

About 50 people gathered around a pavilion in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas on Friday evening for a safe schools rally organized by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

The crowd, which included several local TV news crews and about a dozen youth, listened as a series of speakers talked about what can be done to stop bullying, mentor children and quell the national gay teen suicide crisis.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay LULAC council, choked up as he recounted his own struggle to overcome bullying.

“We’re here for you,” Garcia said. “We care about you. You are our children. Don’t give up.”

Larry Duncan, president of Dallas County Schools, which provides transportation and other services for local school districts, told the crowd it was unfortunate Friday’s rally was even necessary.

“It isn’t about why we’re here, it’s about why the other people in our city and county aren’t here,” Duncan said. “The fact that we have to be here is a shame.”

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, vowed to push safe schools legislation that includes LGBT youth in next year’s legislative session.

Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso said she’ll encourage the Dallas Independent School District to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a proposed new anti-bullying policy the district is considering.

“Just know you are not alone,” Jasso said. “There are lots of us on the City Council, myself included, who are here to help you. We cannot afford to lose any more teens to suicide.”

As currently written, DISD’s proposed new anti-bullying policy doesn’t include specific protections for LGBT youth. But Lee Taft, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said DISD’s board of trustees agreed to delay discussion of the new policy this week in response to a request from his organization.

Taft, who lost his partner to suicide in the 1980s, said the community must focus on prevention instead of “post-vention.” He also said the media needs to strike a balance to avoid glamorizing suicide and fueling a copycat phenomenon.

“Let’s make sure that we don’t make martyrs and don’t empower bullies,” Taft said.

Patti Fink, president of DGLA, said the bullying children endure in school wouldn’t be tolerated in any other part of society, including the workplace or even people’s own neighborhoods.

“It’s a travesty that our children are experiencing brutality in our schools every day that prevents them from learning,” Fink said, issuing a call to action. “This is the time, this is the date, this is the energy we need to go forward.”

—  John Wright