FFW, Fort Worth HRC win IAOHRA President’s Award

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

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—  Michael Stephens

Letters • 09.10.10

True diversity is more than labels

Late last year I received a rather unhappy e-mail from a couple that had visited our community one Sunday. “Dear Rev. Weldes,” it began, “We had heard that the Center for Spiritual Living was an open and affirming congregation, so we came to check it out.”

The e-mail went on to point out that this couple had seen no evidence, much to their disappointment, that we were an open and affirming community. So they informed me they were going to another church where they felt accepted.

I have to say I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. You see half our staff is gay, and at least 30 percent of our community is, as well. But they were obviously looking for outward signs that we were a “gay-friendly church.”

A couple of years ago, a lovely African-American couple came to a community retreat, one eagerly and one not so eagerly. “Why would I want to spend the weekend with so many white people?” she openly admitted to the group at the end of the weekend.

Needless to say, she had a transforming experience. Two years later, she came to me one Sunday morning, and said, “Now this is what an integrated church looks like,” as our growing African-American population was happily sitting in and amongst everybody else that day.

The goal, I believe, is to be a truly inclusive community. This goes way beyond tolerance or even acceptance, but is actually about acknowledging and celebrating each person’s individual uniqueness, and to treasure our diversity.

This means that every person is an integral part of the whole community, not just a sub-set. At the Center for Spiritual Living, we welcome and embrace and accept people, whatever their path or lifestyle.

Perhaps what our visitors didn’t recognize is that a truly inclusive and diverse community has no need to draw attention to the labels that are given to people: gay, African-American, or what have you. No one is simply the label someone has given them or the one they adopt for themselves. Rather, each one of us is uniquely and exactly and precisely who we are, in our totality.

How many gay people do you know that only hang around other gay people? How many blacks only have black friends? How many Christians only interact with other Christians?

Someone once told me that the Sunday morning hour is the still the most segregated hour in America. This narrowing of our perspective effectively shuts us off from our brothers and sisters. It keeps us from ever having to learn to get along with those different from us.

And it effectively allows each of us to keep holding on to our own prejudices.

Even if we believe that “birds of a feather flock together,” aren’t we all just a little bit different anyway? One hates spiders; one loves to rock climb; one seeks to be financially wealthy, and one seeks to save the whales — and none of these differences are mutually exclusive.

Each of us has our own past, our own traumas, our own story, and our own path to healing and wholeness.

In a community that truly celebrates individual diversity, you won’t see groups based around labels, but rather an overarching, profound respect for the inherent dignity, value and worth of each and every person, and isn’t that what we are all looking for?

The Rev. Petra Weldes is senior minister at the Center for Spiritual Living. Contact her through e-mail at therock@csldallas.org or by phone at 972-866-9988. For more information about the church, go online to CSLDallas.org.

Rev. Petra Weldes, senior minister
Center for Spiritual Living Dallas

Don’t condemn Mehlman

Since Ken Mehlman’s coming out, we have seen numerous opinions from those who are outraged at his silence and his active role in some of the anti-gay rhetoric from six years ago. They decry his hypocrisy, espouse his cowardice and are incredulous that he now wishes to speak up and become an ally.

To those who hold these opinions and to all the gay community, I challenge those who have never remained silent to speak the first criticism.

At one time or another; even currently in our day-to-day lives, we have all remained silent when confronted by or exposed to intolerance, anti-gay rhetoric or insensitivity. It may have been something said or done by a family member, a stranger or co-worker, and we did or said nothing to correct them or raise their consciousness.

At times, we even “straight-wash” or coach our own language so we do not create an uncomfortable conflict or conversation; telling ourselves, it’d be too much trouble. Make no mistake; this passive action and activity is just as damaging, dangerous and destructive as the active acceptance that Ken Mehlman engaged in. We all become guilty of promoting the “rhetoric” when we do nothing to contradict it. At times, when there is real physical danger involved, keeping silent is necessary. But all to often in situations where this danger does not exist, we pass on correcting and confronting intolerance.

And when we do, we give a pass to the offending persons. We give a pass to let them think that their words, opinions, jokes, etc. are OK. After all, no one is saying otherwise, so you must agree.
Remember, silence equals consent.

Should we not be upset over Ken Mehlman’s damaging involvement in being part of a policy that has set us back years in our quest for equality? No. We do have cause be upset, angry and hurt over it.

But we should also look at those three fingers that point back at ourselves when we point the fingers at others who don’t speak up. We should make an effort in our own lives to speak up more than we do; strive to speak up every time we encounter someone or something that impedes us from true equality.

We should also realize that we cannot change what has been. We have no time machine to go back and fix it and make it right. We can only change what lies ahead of us. No matter how upset we may be with Ken Mehlman, that will never get us closer to the equality we seek.

The only thing that can get us closer is accepting every ally we can, no matter how late or by what means they arrive at the game. You can’t deny that we need to make more allies than we do enemies.

Patrick Hunter
Alexandria, Va.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Beyond Butch


Keynote speaker Jessica Pettitt

By Renee Baker, GenderPower.com

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in life, it is that I don’t have to take many steps forward before I stick another foot in my mouth.

This time, it happened just after I attended the Butch Voices Conference June 5 at Resource Center Dallas.

I was posting a note to my Facebook friends about the conference, and since I don’t identify as a butch, I made a “pre-emptive” statement saying, “And NO, I am not a butch!”

A friend called me to the carpet, “You said that as though it’s a bad thing to be butch.” I had to launch “Butch Appreciation Week” as my FB status to save myself!

Truly, I just didn’t want to be identified as butch, because I identify more as feminine. And truly, I do appreciate butches and we should start an appreciation week.

But being a transgender woman, I never felt an identity such as butch or femme applied to me. It is even a stretch for me to say I am a lesbian, though I’m in a relationship with another gal.

All these labels are still perplexing and complex. It takes about two seconds for the arguing to begin on what they all mean, what the implications are and who takes rightful ownership.

But a beautiful thing happened — there was none of this ego/identity arguing at the BV Conference. As Alpha Thomas said, it was all about honoring and respecting one another. Everyone had a chance to speak.

A major mission point of the BV Conference was and is to explore identities and embrace an entire spectrum of those who identify as Masculine of Center (a term coined by B. Cole of the Brown BOI Project).

It was not about “you have to be and do this,” in order “to qualify that you are this.”

Or as the conference organizers put it, “The point is, we don’t decide who is Butch, Stud or Aggressive. You get to decide for yourself.”

Thomas, an elder in the community, was happy to hear keynote speaker Jessica Pettitt urging everyone to relax about what a butch identity is. She had been waiting to hear this message for years.

She said, “God, am I hearing this? … I can’t believe this.”

Thomas said, “All these lines and labels separate us, they cause us to not work together, and it is time for the division to stop.”

She says we are an oppressed LGBT people and are oppressing each other with all these labels.

BV was a multi-cultural, age-diverse, mom and daughter, butch and butch-ally attended conference. And Thomas said, “The diversity made me feel so good.”

About 50 people were in attendance — including two men.

Wan-Lin Tsou felt the relaxed “define yourself” atmosphere to be very welcoming as well. She said the conference and keynote speaker really helped her to be proud of being a soft-butch that is attracted to other butches.

She said she had an “aha moment” when she realized she did “not need to feel weird or less-than just because I don’t necessarily match others’ … definition of being a part of the butch/femme dichotomy.”

Tsou also added, “It was also really enlightening to really look at labels as so limiting to not only myself but how I relate to others. Who is to say I can’t fall for a femme, too? And just because she ‘looks’ femme doesn’t mean that the way she carries herself isn’t butcher than me!”

For more about the Butch Voice National and Regional Conferences, go online to ButchVoices.com.

—  Dallasvoice