Council passes comprehensive resolution, ending more than a year’s work and beginning the process for full city equality
HAPPY ENDING | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Resource Center CEO Cece Cox chat after the equality resolution passed Wednesday with a vote of 13-2. Allies and LGBT community members filled the room during the discussion and vote. (Photos by Steve Ramos/Dallas Voice)
With Wednesday’s passage of a comprehensive equality resolution, 13 councilmembers assured the local LGBT community they support equality in city employment, living and tourism.
The resolution is a “comprehensive statement of support” that directs the city manager and staff to identify inequities in those areas and work to resolve them administratively and also through council approval.
Changes that require council approval will be brought to the Finance, Budget and Audit Committee first. Councilman Jerry Allen, committee chair, had openly gay city employees Theresa O’Donnell and John Rogers make three presentations on LGBT issues before the committee passed the resolution in February.
The measure easily passed the council 13-2 with Sheffie Kadane and anti-gay Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill voting against it.
Mayor Mike Rawlings came out in favor of the resolution Tuesday. His support was questioned after he delayed the vote a week by requiring the measure be discussed in executive session for legal concerns last week.
ACTIVISTS | Nell Gaither, left, Cd Kirven and David Mack Henderson chat after the city council vote.
“I am proud to have voted in favor of this,” Rawlings said after the resolution passed. “It’s very humbling to be mayor of this city. We have so many great communities. …There’s not a better community in the city of Dallas than the LGBT community.”
Rawlings angered the LGBT community in June after he blocked the previous resolution that addressed marriage equality and workplace protections from being added to the agenda. He had the city attorney declare him present so former Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano couldn’t place the item back on the agenda as acting mayor after former Councilwoman Delia Jasso pulled her support from a memo requiring the item to be voted on. While he told supporters and Dallas Voice he supported those issues personally, he called the resolution a “misuse” of the council’s time.
He said this week he’s completely behind the current resolution and analyzing what the city leadership can fix moving forward. He even wore a red and blue striped tie Wednesday, which he said doubled as his support for Southern Methodist University and the LGBT community.
“I believe in the resolution, and I think it’s a good structure to come back to so we are prepared to make those decisions,” Rawlings told Dallas Voice. “We’ve done a lot of the hard work now. God’s in the details on this stuff. We need to look at each one of them, examine them and have those discussions, but I’m enthusiastic about it.”
As for the tension with the community after last year’s resolution failed, Rawlings said he’s ready to look past it.
“I never had an issue with the LGBT community,” he said. “I’m very proud of them. I love them. Now they may not like me, but I’m always a believer in turn the other cheek and be positive, love people and the rest will take care of itself.”
But LGBT activists and advocates have struggled to support Rawlings since his time in office began in 2011 when he failed to sign a pledge for Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. Followed by the resolution’s failure, advocates wondered if he would back any equality measures. GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven said his support and his words about the LGBT community this week show a shift in his attitude towards the community.
“I’ve very proud of the mayor for getting behind this and championing our community,” Kirven said. “I’m just very proud of the progress he’s made.”
The resolution is the council’s most significant show of support for the LGBT community in a decade after the council approved domestic partner benefits in 2004. Two years before, the council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2002, barring discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Before that, the council approved a nondiscrimination policy for city employees to cover sexual orientation in 1994, which was later amended to include gender identity.
Councilman Scott Griggs, the author of the previous resolution, thanked the LGBT community for coming together and working with city staff, councilmembers and the city’s LGBT Task Force to bring the new measure forward.
“I can’t speak enough about your patience and your perseverance,” Griggs told the audience Wednesday. “It’s a real testament to the whole community. This is a wonderful landmark day for the city of Dallas.”
City Manager A.C. Gonzalez said he’s already begun discussions with city staff about employee pensions and other items.
However, he said anything with a financial impact would be brought to committee. He expected a report to be presented next quarter with a list of items and a timetable for implementation.
“That process has already begun, but I can’t give you an answer as to which one will be first,” Gonzalez said.
Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center, said she glad to hear the city manager’s office has already begun discussing possible changes, and she’s already spoken with Gonzalez. Cox said the center’s staff would prioritize changes into what can be done quickly and what can be done ,that has the most impact.
“I think it’s a start,” she said. “The resolution sets forth a whole lot of things that now need to be done.”
Some items the city’s LGBT Task Force plan to resolve fairly quickly are adding comprehensive transgender healthcare for city employees, making the pension plans equal for same-sex spouses and updating policies to improve the city’s score on the Hunan Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
Cox was among the more than 30 LGBT advocates wearing red in the audience Wednesday and clapped when the resolution passed. She said the work and input from many LGBT organizations to help the resolution succeed shows how significant its passage means.
“A lot of work went into this, so what was accomplished today was very significant,” Cox said.. “It makes me proud looking over 20-plus years of ordinances and resolutions and discussions. It’s significant.”
In 2011, Brown began a recall petition against Mayor John Cook and two city council members who voted to reinstate domestic partner benefits. The benefits were approved in 2009 and repealed in an election in 2010 before being reinstated in 2011. The recall election cost five times what the benefits cost the city.
A lower court threw out the recall and the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Garland Mayor Douglas Athas, left, Lerone Landis, Patti Fink and Rafael McDonnell
Following the walkout by Garland DART board representative Michael Cheney on Sept. 24 before a vote on healthcare benefits for same-sex partners at the transit agency, LGBT Garland residents and other area activists attended a Garland City Council meeting Wednesday night.
Two Garland residents and Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink addressed the council. After the meeting concluded, Mayor Douglas Athas and two councilmen spoke to the group in the council chambers.
Lerone Landis told the council he lives in Garland with his husband and their 4-year-old daughter. He said he was a daily DART rider and was disappointed to learn that it was Garland’s representative who prevented the healthcare equalization plan to pass.
To show its commitment to diversity, he urged the Garland City Council to pass a nondiscrimination policy for its own employees and for city residents.
Carmarion Anderson said she was embarrassed to be a Garland resident after Cheney’s stunt at the DART meeting.
“We live here and pay our taxes here,” she said.
She said she expected equal treatment for herself and for DART’s LGBT employees.
Fink called Cheney’s action at the DART meeting “shameful.” She encouraged the council to pass an ordinance that would cover city employees.
“Be on the cutting edge and bring new business to the city,” Fink said.
The practice at the council is to not address speakers directly as they make their allotted three-minute presentations. However, the three statements were made at the end of the meeting and the mayor came to introduce himself and talk to the group afterward.
Resource Center spokesman Rafael McDonnell, who was also at the meeting, spoke to the mayor earlier in the day about the issues.
He said he believed the opposition to the DART healthcare plan among Garland officials is not rooted in homophobia but in the city’s fiscal conservatism. Athas agreed it was unfair for DART to be covering unmarried heterosexual partners and not same-sex partners.
“The council was certainly aware of Mr. Cheney’s actions,” McDonnell said.
Athas told Dallas Voice last week that he spoke to Cheney and was opposed to the DART plan. Athas’ opposition to the plus-one plan is that it’s open to abuse because the plan could cover nieces, nephews or anyone else and the agency had no way to monitor it.
But Athas said Wednesday night that the city would consider the idea of a nondiscrimination ordinance.
“We have a lot of lesbian and gay employees,” he said. “We would never allow that sort of discrimination.”
He said he had never heard a request from any of the city’s lesbian and gay community for a nondiscrimination ordinance. But he called the ordinance “nothing to rush into because no one’s come forward” with a complaint.
Fink told the mayor that most Fortune 500 companies have a nondiscrimination policy and look to relocate in cities that have similar policies. She said that the city may not have received any complaints, but many people looking for work may have skipped applying in Garland because they have no protections.
McDonnell said he received an email from Athas Thursday morning, telling him the next step is to have Human Resources look over Garland’s nondiscrimination policies.
The mayor called the city extremely fiscally conservative. McDonnell said an ordinance is a good way for a city to avoid a discrimination lawsuit.
Unlike other states that do not have marriage equality, New Mexico state law does not specify that marriage is between a man and a woman. The state has no anti-gay marriage amendment.
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he is not sure if state law allows same-sex marriages and asked county clerks to wait until the courts decide the issue. He said he would not interfere with Ellins’ decision but the marriages might be declared invalid once the case gets to the state Supreme Court.
Former governor Bill Richardson tried to pass a marriage equality law before leaving office but came up short by a few votes.
After Dona Ana County, many expected liberal Santa Fe to be the next county to begin issuing marriage certificates.
Las Cruces is about 30 miles north of El Paso on Interstate 10 and is the state’s second largest city.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, wants the issue to go to a popular vote.
Below is a report from KRWG News, the public broadcasting station in El Paso and Las Cruces.
Dallas County Commissioners Court will vote on a resolution declaring June LGBT Pride month in the county on Tuesday.
While Dallas City Council has issued a similar proclamation for three years, this is the first time the county has done so.
Activist Omar Narvaez said the county has been progressive in the past with adding LGBT employment protections and domestic partner benefits, so he and Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center Dallas met with commissioners to make it happen.
“They probably have never done it because no one has ever asked,” Narvaez said.
“There always seems to be drama at Commissioners Court and now the drama seems to have moved over to [City Hall],” he said, alluding to Wednesday’s council meeting.
The city of Dallas’ Pride events began last week with a kick-off reception. Events include events at area libraries and a family day at Dallas Zoo. Discount tickets for the zoo can be purchased at Resource Center. Another event has also been added. DFW Pride Movement is hosting a celebration with music and margaritas this Saturday at Lolita’s Restaurant, 4218 Lemmon Ave.
And GetEUQUAL TX is planning an evening rally on the day the U.S. Supreme Court announces the ruling in the two key marriage equality cases, which are expected on a Monday or Thursday before the end of the month. The rally will begin at 7 p.m. at the legacy of Love monument in Oak Lawn.
The five held sit-ins in state Senate offices to protest Senate bill SB 237 not being moved to the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation is a statewide LGBT employment nondiscrimination law.
“We have three weeks to push hard,” Kirven said.
GetEQUAL TX had threatened action if the bill was not moved to the Senate floor by May 1. Kirven said additional actions are planned.
While they were being arrested, Kirven said she was talking to officers about the lack of workplace protection for LGBT people.
“No wonder you’re doing this,” she said her arresting officer told her.
Kirven said a vote from just one of four Republican Senators targeted is needed to move the bill to the floor.
A preliminary hearing for the arrested activists is set for May 15, but defense attorney Dax Garvin left the country this morning for several weeks. His associate Makenna Hatter said the first hearing is always reset in Travis County so the case will probably be rescheduled for the end of the month.
Kirven said GetEQUAL plans polling place demonstrations on May 11 when municipal elections are held throughout the state to let the public know about the lack of workplace protections. She said other actions are planned in and around the Capitol through the session until the bill moves to the floor of both houses for a vote.
Class-B misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 180 days. The court may also impose a maximum of two years of probation or three years of community supervision with an extension.
Kirven said she’s not sure if the charges against the group will stick. The Texas Capitol is considered public park land.
“You can’t criminally trespass on public land,” she said.
The Census Bureau released a massive new report with new statistics about same-sex couples and heterosexual marriage and divorce. The report includes hundreds of charts of raw data with no analysis. Here’s some analysis:
The bureau reports 6,502,121 “unmarried-partner households.” Of those, 280,410 are “male householder, male partner” and 300,890 are “female householder, female partner.”
That terminology is confusing because those numbers include all those same-sex households of people who actually live in places like Massachusetts and are legally married. But the census bureau was prevented from actually asking that question directly and is projecting the numbers from the way people answered.
Analysis: The census severely under-counted same-sex households. And total number of gays and lesbians? They didn’t even try.
More analysis: The divorce figures disprove that allowing same-sex couples to marry will destroy marriage. Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate at 2.2 per 1,000 population. Second is Iowa with 2.4.
The Texas divorce rate declined from 5.5 per 1,000 population in 1990 to 4.0 in 2000 to 3.3 in 2009. That compares to a national figure of 3.4.
The states with the highest divorce rates were Nevada 6.7, which was a decline from 11.4 in 1990, Arkansas at 5.7 and West Virginia and Wyoming at 5.2.
The decline in the Texas divorce rate, however, may be linked to the decline in marriage in Texas. Despite having about 10 million more people living in the state since the 1980s, the number of total annual marriages in 2009 only rose by about 1,000.
Analysis: Lots more gays and lesbians have come out over the past 20 years. Don’t know why the straight people who are left are less likely to marry. Marriage equality opponents may pick up on the stat to “prove” that marriage equality is destroying “traditional” marriage.
One marriage statistic is confusing and unexplained —”People who got married, and divorced in the past 12 months by state, 2009.”
In Massachusetts, 41,000 men married and 40,000 women married, while 20,000 men divorced and 20,000 women divorced. The difference in the marriage stat can be accounted for with same-sex marriages. The divorce stat indicates that it’s straight people getting divorced, not gays and lesbians.
However, in Texas that year, 202,000 men married and 195,000 women married.
Analysis: That number either includes 7,000 same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries that have marriage equality, which the census bureau claimed they weren’t counting in marriage stats, or 7,000 Texas women didn’t know they got married or 7,000 men think they did.
The above chart (click to enlarge) shows why HRC selected the 11 states it will visit on the bus tour.
The Human Rights Campaign on Monday announced a bus tour later this year to 11 states in the South and Midwest that lack both employment protections and relationship recognition for LGBT people. The tour, “On the Road to Equality,” will visit Texas from Sept. 9-11, stopping in Austin and College Station but not North Texas. In announcing the bus tour, HRC released new poll results showing that while Americans widely back LGBT equality, support lags in the South and Midwest. For example, 51 percent of Americans support marriage equality, compared to 43 percent in the South and Midwest; 71 percent of Americans support domestic partnerships, compared to 61 percent in the South; and 79 percent of Americans support LGBT employment protections, compared to 73 percent in the South. HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said the poll’s sample size wasn’t large enough to yield reliable results for individual states. (A poll commissioned by Equality Texas last year put support for marriage equality at 43 percent and civil unions at 63 percent.) HRC’s full press release, as well as links to the poll results, can be found here.
GENEVA— The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by some African and Muslim countries.
The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing “grave concern” about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.
But activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and they credited the Obama administration’s push for gay rights at home and abroad.
“This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.
Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.
Backers included the U.S., the European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn’t vote and Libya was suspended from the rights body earlier.
The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
More important, activists said, it also established a formal U.N. process to document human rights abuses against gays, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in 76 countries worldwide, while harassment and discrimination are common in many more.
“Today’s resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long,” said John Fisher of the gay rights advocacy group ARC International.
The White House in a statement strongly backed the declaration.
“This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights — and entitled to the same protections — as all human beings.”
The resolution calls for a panel discussion next spring with “constructive, informed and transparent dialogue on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against” gays, lesbians and transgender people.
The prospect of having their laws scrutinized in this way went too far for many of the council’s 47-member states.
“We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation,” said Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Nigeria claimed the proposal went against the wishes of most Africans. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania called the resolution “an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.”
Boris Dittrich of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch said it was important for the U.S. and Western Europe to persuade South Africa to take the lead on the resolution so that other non-Western countries would be less able to claim the West was imposing its values.
At the same time, he noted that the U.N. has no enforcement mechanism to back up the resolution. “It’s up to civil society to name and shame those governments that continue abuses,” Dittrich said.
The Obama administration has been pushing for gay rights both domestically and internationally.
In March, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. In addition, Congress recently repealed the ban on gays openly serving in the military, and the Obama administration said it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the U.S. law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The vote in Geneva came at a momentous time for the gay rights debate in the U.S. Activists across the political spectrum were on edge Friday as New York legislators considered a bill that would make the state the sixth — and by far the biggest — to allow same-sex marriage.
Asked what good the U.N. resolution would do for gays and lesbians in countries that opposed the resolution, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer said it was a signal “that there are many people in the international community who stand with them and who support them, and that change will come.”
“It’s a historic method of tyranny to make you feel that you are alone,” he said. “One of the things that this resolution does for people everywhere, particularly LGBT people everywhere, is remind them that they are not alone.”