BREAKING: Dallas County Schools amends policies to protect LGBT employees, students

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Larry Duncan

Officials with Dallas County Schools have announced that DCS revised its policies today (Thursday, Aug. 29) to include protections for LGBT employees and students in its nondiscrimination policy.

The new rules apply to both DCS’ 3000 employees and to the 440,000-plus students it serves, officials said.

DCS is a pupil transportation provider that also provides student safety programs, technology solutions, online instructional services, psychology services and risk management solutions to schools throughout Texas.

Officials said the new policy takes “the broadest comprehensive approach” nu prohibiting “all discrimination, including harassment, on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, military status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, genetic information or on any other basis that is prohibited by applicable law and these policies.”

The policy also expressly prohibits retaliation against anyone who complains that they have suffered such discrimination.

DCS officials acknowledged that the policy is “not enforceable on employee health care and retirement benefits because DCS is bound by Texas law to the state Teachers Retirement System for both.”

DCS Board President Larry Duncan said, “We are committed to dealing with all our employees and students on a fair and equal basis. There are no excuses.”

DCS Trustee Omar Narvaez said that DCS had asked Lambda Legal to review its policies and procedures and make recommendations, and that all of Lambda Legal’s recommendations are included in the policy revisions.

“Today, we took a vital step forward in our continued commitment to creating an inclusive, safe and respectful workplace,” Narvaez said.

Duncan and Narvaez noted that DCS has had an anti-bullying policy on the same comprehensive basis since 2011.

 

—  Tammye Nash

Jenkins takes home Stonewall’s Pink Pump

County judge among officials, members honored at Democratic group’s annual Holiday Party

AND THE WINNER IS  |  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accepts the Pink Pump Award — which consists of a bedazzled pink high-heel shoe — during Stonewall Democrats’ Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 5 at Sue Ellen’s. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

AND THE WINNER IS | Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accepts the Pink Pump Award — which consists of a bedazzled pink high-heel shoe — during Stonewall Democrats’ Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 5 at Sue Ellen’s. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THE PARTY

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Nearly two years ago, in a controversial move, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas endorsed Larry Duncan for county judge over establishment-backed candidate Clay Jenkins and openly gay incumbent Jim Foster.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Stonewall Democrats presented Jenkins — who defeated Duncan and Foster in the 2010 primary before winning the general election — with the group’s coveted Pink Pump Award, which honors a straight ally who’s gone above and beyond on behalf of the LGBT community.

Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said regardless of the decision to endorse Duncan, Jenkins has been very open to working with the group. Stonewall’s board tapped Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, for the Pink Pump primarily due to his role in adding sexual orientation — and later gender identity and expression — to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy this year.

“That’s a huge deal,” Narvaez said. “We’re the only county in the entire state of Texas that has a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy for its employees. … So much has happened — a lot of stuff that never would have happened under our last county judge, who was a member of the [LGBT] community.”

Also this year, Parkland hospital’s Board of Managers — appointed by the Commissioners Court — added domestic partner benefits for the facility’s 9,400 employees. And, although the county didn’t add DP benefits for its own workers due to budget constraints, Jenkins has said he’ll push to do so next year.

“The good part is, at least it’s come up,” Narvaez said. “It’s something that we can work toward now.”

Jenkins beat out Dallas City Councilwoman Monica Alonzo and Stonewall member Gillian Parillo to take home the Pink Pump, which comes in the form of a bedazzled pink high-heeled shoe.

The county judge was on hand at Stonewall’s Holiday Party to accept the shoe, despite undergoing surgery earlier in the day to have screws removed from his leg.

Jenkins was walking with a cane and, unlike at least one past recipient, unable to try on the Pink Pump. As he took the stage in the Vixin Lounge at Sue Ellen’s, he held up a plastic biohazard bag containing the screws — the remnants of a nasty fall he took on the ice in February.

“There is a strength in our diversity and a common bond in our shared values here in Dallas County,” Jenkins said later. “Stonewall exemplifies that strength through promoting human rights, protecting public health, registering voters and fostering leaders. I’m honored to accept this year ‘Pink Pump’ and committed to building a stronger, more progressive Dallas County.”

Jenkins was one of several elected officials and Stonewall members honored during the party, which was moved from the Round-Up Saloon this year. Narvaez said the party saw its second-highest attendance ever — behind 2008 — and raised almost four times as much as in any previous year.

The increased fundraising was due to the sale of individual sponsorships, as well as proceeds from the auctioning of lunches with elected officials. Lunch with Jenkins’ counterpart on the Commissioners Court, longtime LGBT ally Dr. Elba Garcia, went for $400. Lunch with Judge Tena Callahan, who handed down a landmark ruling in a gay divorce case in 2008, went for $300. And lunch with lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez, up for re-election in 2012, brought two matching bids of $400 each.

Alonzo, who was elected to represent District 6 on the council this year, read a proclamation from the city recognizing Stonewall Democrats, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in October. Attendees at the Holiday Party also heard from Gilberto Hinojosa, a candidate to replace Boyd Richie, who’s retiring as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Hinojosa, already endorsed by the statewide chapter of Stonewall Democrats, predicted that in 2012, Texas will “move much closer to turning blue.” Thanks to new redistricting maps, Democrats could pick up anywhere from three to six congressional districts in Texas, and up to 15 seats in the state House, he said.

Demographically, Democratic groups account for 70 percent of voters in Texas, Hinojosa said.

“There are more of us than there are of them,” he told the group. “We’re not winning because we’re not getting our base out.”

Hinojosa also touched on the State Democratic Executive Committee’s recent decision not to put a nonbinding resolution in support of same-sex marriage on the 2012 primary ballot. Although he isn’t a voting member of the SDEC, Hinojosa said he spoke in support of placing the resolution on the ballot before the vote during last month’s meeting.

“It’s an issue the party needed to take a stand on,” he said. “We lost on that issue, but there will be time to bring it back again.”

……………………….

Stonewall Democrats 2011 Award Winners

Pink Pump: Clay Jenkins
Harryette Ehrhardt Distinguished Democrat: Lorraine Raggio
Buck Massey Member of the Year: Clinton Swingle
Ally of the Year: Cathedral of Hope
Christy Kinsler Board Member of the Year: Travis Gasper

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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

Local leaders turn focus on bullying

Rally set Friday in Dallas to promote legislation, promote awareness of bullying in schools, teen suicide

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

RALLYING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS  |  Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, right, speaks to a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Higher Education during the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature. Alonzo is among those who will speak at a rally Friday to promote awareness of the problems of bullying in schools and teen suicide.
RALLYING FOR SAFE SCHOOLS | Rep. Roberto Alonzo, a Dallas Democrat, right, speaks to a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Higher Education during the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature. Alonzo is among those who will speak at a rally Friday to promote awareness of the problems of bullying in schools and teen suicide.

Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance will hold a rally in Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff on Friday, Oct. 15 to draw attention to the problem of gay teen suicide and to opportunities in the next session of the legislature to end school bullying.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo is among the speakers. In the last session he coauthored a safe schools bill with Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. The legislation did not pass.

Larry Duncan, president of Dallas County Schools, is also scheduled to appear. Dallas County Schools is providing shuttle bus service from 8th & Corinth Station on the Red and Blue lines to Lake Cliff Park. The park is located at E. Colorado and Zang boulevards.

“The rally is important because we need a safe schools law that empowers teachers, administrators and staff to stop bullying when they see it,” said DGLA President Patti Fink. “No kid can focus on algebra when they’re fearing for their safety. Kids are losing their lives over this issue. It’s got to stop.”

Most states, including Texas, do have some form of anti-bullying laws.

Only five states — Hawaii, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana — remain without any student protection.

In 2005, the Texas legislature passed Chapter 37 of the Education code that requires school districts to adopt student codes of conduct that proscribe bullying and harassment.

The law does not specify groups that are often the targets and doesn’t enumerate what must happen when school staff observes bullying behavior.

Laws that are not specific have proven to be ineffective in preventing bullying of LGBT students, according to advocates.

The current Dallas Independent School District regulations list groups protected from harassment. Among those is the unclear “gender orientation,” sort of a combination and confusion of gender identity and sexual orientation, which are not listed.

Four representatives from the LGBT community attended a DISD board of trustees meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14. The board is considering a new anti-bullying policy. The proposed policy, as currently written, doesn’t specifically protect LGBT students.

Gregory Pynes, vice chair of the board for Resource Center Dallas, spoke during public comments and commended the trustees for wanting to strengthen their anti-bullying policy.

But he urged them to amend the proposed policy by listing protected categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Pynes invited trustees to work with Resource Center on the policy, which is expected to come up for a final vote later this month.

Others from the LGBT community who attended the DISD meeting were Chastity Kirven of Get Equal Now, David Plunkett of Hope for Peace and Justice and Pamela Curry of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

Earlier this year, Fort Worth ISD ran a district-wide poster campaign called “It’s Not Okay” to bully one’s fellow students or to allow others to be victimized. The district sponsored parent workshops throughout the district to combat bullying.

Sexual orientation is included in the Fort Worth school district’s bullying policy under its code of conduct. Gender identity is not.

Other large school districts in the area —  including Plano, Richardson and Arlington ISDs — do not specify groups that are covered by anti-bullying policies.

One of Tarrant County’s largest school districts, Birdville ISD, does not list covered groups. Earlier this year, Haltom City parents called police about bullying incidents at a BISD school and brought their complaints about bullying including assaults to CBS 11.

At this week’s city council meeting, Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns gave an emotional speech about having been bullied in school and considering suicide. He showed pictures of six teens who recently committed suicide after having been bullied and told their stories.

“This bullying and harassment in our schools must stop,” he said.

His 10-minute speech received a standing ovation from other council members and from citizens attending the meeting.

Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith said that stronger safe schools legislation will be the top priority of the upcoming legislative session. He said that electing legislators who will support an anti-bullying law is important. Several bills will be introduced in the House.

The law that Smith was most excited about is one being crafted by Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. Strama has introduced safe schools legislation each session since he was elected in 2004. Local representatives Alonzo and Raphael Anchia of Dallas, Paula Pierson of

Arlington and Lon Burnham of Fort Worth co-authored the bill in the last session.

Burnham’s legislative director in Austin reaffirmed Burnham’s commitment to the issue.

“He certainly supports and is concerned with the issue,” he said.

Smith said next session’s proposed law is different from previous versions. The exact language of the new bill is still being written.

However, Strama’s proposed legislation will specify what does and does not constitute bullying and what school personnel must do when they see bullying occur or when it is reported.

In defining the problem, schoolyard fights, for example, are not considered bullying.

Bullying refers to verbal or physical acts committed by a student to harass, intimidate or cause harm to another student. The more recent problem of cyber-bullying includes threats, harassment and intimidation on line as well as in texting or through other electronic means.

Locally, support for anti-bullying legislation appears strong although some representatives would not commit to supporting a particular bill until they saw final wording. Specifying gay, lesbian or transgender students has been the reason some withhold support of anti-bullying legislation in the past.

Rep. Eric Johnson represents part of Oak Lawn and campaigned on the issue of safe schools. His wife serves on the board of Resource Center Dallas.

“We must provide all Texas schoolchildren with an atmosphere in which they feel, and in fact are, safe while learning,” said Johnson.

“Our very future depends on it. I will support comprehensive legislation in the Texas House to address the issue of bullying directly so that all of our children have the opportunity to make the most of their education and their lives.”

Calls to other area legislative offices showed general consensus that schools need to be made safer for students.

Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown’s office said, “Of course. She’s against any bullying in schools.”

Harper-Brown’s district is in Irving. Her opponent is in the upcoming election is Loretta Haldenwang. Her campaign manager, Kirk McPike, also indicated support.

Multiple calls to other area Representatives’ local, Austin and campaign offices were not returned. Many of those legislators did support the Strama bill in the current session.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Runoff wrap-up: Jenkins wins easily, Villarreal stuns Cortes, Gonzalez tops Chavez in El Paso

Will Naomi Gonzalez, shown flashing the victory sign last night, become the only openly LGBT legislator in Texas.
Will Naomi Gonzalez, shown flashing the victory sign last night, become the only openly LGBT legislator in Texas? (El Paso Times)

Attorney Clay Jenkins handily defeated former City Councilman Larry Duncan in the race for the Democratic nomination for Dallas County judge last night. Duncan was endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, but Jenkins also had his share of LGBT backers. Jenkins will face Republican Wade Emmert in November as they vie to succeed openly gay incumbent Jim Foster.

The surprise of the night locally came in the Dallas County Precinct 5 constable race, where Beth Villarreal knocked off embattled incumbent Jaime Cortes. Precinct 5, which covers the city’s most heavily LGBT neighborhoods, once was represented by openly gay Constable Mike Dupree. Villarreal has a gay son and has enjoyed strong support in the LGBT community, partly due to allegations of gay-baiting against Cortes when he challenged Dupree in previous election cycles.

In El Paso, challenger Naomi Gonzalez defeated incumbent State Rep. Norma Chavez. Chavez, in an apparent act of desperation, publicly called Gonzalez a lesbian during the campaign and said she should come out. If Gonzalez does now come out, she would be the only openly LGBT legislator in Texas, one of 20 states that lack one. There is no Republican in the race.

And in Gainesville, Fla., openly gay City Commissioner Craig Lowe faces a recount before he can be declared mayor-elect, after he edged out his opponent by just 35 votes on Tuesday. Lowe, who endured vicious anti-gay attacks during the campaign, would become one of about 30 out mayors nationwide.

—  John Wright

Watch Instant Tea for election coverage

Vote 2010 Logo.colorWe’ll be live-blogging tonight’s primary election results right here on Instant Tea, so don’t forget to check back when polls close at 7 p.m. Here are some of the races we’ll be watching closely:

1. Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, who chairs the Commissioners Court, faces an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination. Foster is being challenged by Highland Park attorney Clay Jenkins and Dallas Schools President Larry Duncan. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held April 6. Foster is the first openly gay incumbent previously endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas to not receive the group’s backing in a bid for re-election. Stonewall, which endorsed Foster in 2006, is backing Duncan this year. Jenkins also has his share of LGBT supporters, including openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons.

2. Foster and Fitzsimmons are two of four openly LGBT candidates on the ballot in Dallas County. Fitzsimmons should easily fend off a challenge from perennial candidate Johnny Gomez. Meanwhile, former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem John Loza is one of four Democrats in the primary for County Criminal Court No. 5, where a runoff is also likely. Loza and Tony Parker are vying to become the first openly LGBT candidates elected to the judiciary in Dallas County. Parker, who’s running for the 116th Civil District Court seat, doesn’t have an opponent in the primary.

3. Former Houston Mayor Bill White is the heavy favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. White’s most formidable challenger is hair care products tycoon Farouk Shami. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas has endorsed White. In the GOP primary, the question is whether incumbent Gov. Rick Perry will avoid a runoff against either U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Tea Party activist Debra Medina.

4. Rob Schlein, the openly gay president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, is running for precinct chair in his Far North Dallas neighborhood against Homer Adams, the husband of Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Cathie Adams. Cathie Adams, former president of the Texas Eagle Forum, has been one of the leading anti-gay voices in North Texas over the last few decades.

5. State Rep. Terri Hodge, a longtime LGBT ally in the House, pleaded guilty to a felony charge in February in connection with the Dallas City Hall corruption case, and is no longer eligible to hold public office. However, Hodge’s name still appears on the ballot, and if she receives more votes than the other candidate in District 100, Eric Johnson, the Democratic nominee will be decided by precinct chairs in the district. Another embattled Democrat, Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes, faces three primary challengers amid an ongoing criminal investigation of his office.

—  John Wright

Stonewall Democrats endorsement committee votes to back Larry Duncan for county judge

Larry Duncan works the crowd during Saturday's endorsement screening at Resource Center Dallas.
Larry Duncan was one of three candidates for county judge who spoke Saturday during a Stonewall Democrats endorsement screening at Resource Center Dallas.

In a surprisingly lopsided vote, a Stonewall Democrats of Dallas endorsement committee recommended Saturday afternoon that the group throw its weight behind Larry Duncan in the March 2 primary for county judge.

Meeting for a third straight day at Resource Center Dallas, the committee voted 29-3-2 to recommend endorsing Duncan, a longtime straight ally of the LGBT community who currently serves as president of Dallas County Schools. Highland Park attorney Clay Jenkins received three votes, while incumbent Jim Foster, who’s openly gay and was endorsed by Stonewall in 2006, received only two.

All three Democratic candidates for county judge interviewed in front of the endorsement committee prior to Saturday’s vote, and the recommendation to endorse Duncan is expected to be ratified by Stonewall’s general membership Tuesday.

“The Stonewall Democrats are known for the rigorousness of their screening process and the effort they put into campaigns,” Duncan said after the vote. “I’m extremely honored by the resounding numerical support.”

The endorsement committee also made recommendations in dozens of other local, state and federal races, with 20 hours worth of scheduled candidate interviews continuing into the evening Saturday.

“More than 100 candidates requested our endorsement this year, which is not just a record, but an out-of-the-water record for this organization,” said Omar Narvaez, political director for Stonewall.

About 40-50 people crowded into RCD’s Rainbow Room at any given time during the three-day meeting.

Also Saturday, the committee recommended endorsing former Houston Mayor Bill White in the Democratic primary for governor. Openly gay Houston City Councilwoman Sue Lovell interviewed as a surrogate for White, who’s scheduled to be keynote speaker at Tuesday’s Stonewall meeting.

“Bill has an absolute commitment to our rights,” Lovell told the committee. “We could not have a better person at the top of our ticket.”

Other statewide candidates who received endorsement recommendations included Hank Gilbert, who’s running for agriculture commissioner and interviewed on Friday night. Ronnie Earle, who’s running for lieutenant governor, was scheduled to interview Saturday night.

In other races, the committee unanimously recommended endorsing incumbent State Rep. Terri Hodge, who faces a strong challenge from Eric Johnson in the District 100 primary. Narvaez said Johnson initially indicated he would compete for the endorsement but called to cancel his interview shortly before the meetings began.

The committee also voted to recommend endorsing incumbent State Reps. Allen Vaught and Carol Kent in Districts 107 and 102, respectively. In District 108, which includes much of Oak Lawn, Peter Schulte received the endorsement committee’s recommendation. Schulte, the plaintiff’s attorney in Dallas’ high-profile same-sex divorce case, is unopposed in the primary and will face Republican incumbent Dan Branch in November. Tena Callahan, the judge who issued a historic ruling in the same-sex divorce case in October, also received an endorsement recommendation Saturday, as well as a standing ovation from those in attendance.

Others getting a warm reception included former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia, who’s running for the District 4 seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Garcia beat out Rose Renfroe for the endorsement recommendation as they vie to challenge incumbent Republican Kenneth Mayfield in November.

Openly gay candidates who received endorsement recommendations were incumbent Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons and judicial candidate Tonya Parker. Another openly gay judicial candidate, John Loza, awaited a vote on the endorsement in his race Saturday night.

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for a full list of the committee’s endorsement recommendations.

About 50 people packed RCD's Rainbow Room at any given time during the three-day meeting.
Stonewall members voted by a show of hands in each race during the three-day meeting, as more than 100 candidates sought the group’s endorsement this year.

—  John Wright

Plenty of politics on tap tonight

It’s doubtful the Republican gubernatorial hopefuls will talk much about LGBT issues during tonight’s showdown in Denton, unless Rick Perry decides he wants to brag about how anti-gay he is. And while Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein is hosting a watch party for the debate at his home, there will also be some alternatives for those on the other side of the aisle.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas will kick off its 2010 endorsement screening process from 6 to 9 p.m. at Resource Center Dallas. With an unprecedented number of candidates seeking the group’s backing, the screenings will continue from 6-9 p.m. Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Political director Omar Narvaez said Stonewall isn’t releasing a schedule of when specific candidates will appear before the group.

Also tonight, Democratic candidates for county judge and district clerk will square off at a forum hosted by Preston Hollow Democrats, which is led by Stonewall member Roger Grape. Openly gay County Judge Jim Foster is facing challengers Larry Duncan and Clay Jenkins in the March 2 primary, while openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons faces challenger Johnny Gomez. The forum is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at PoPoLos, 5959 Royal Lane.

—  John Wright