Dallas celebrates Pride at City Hall

Pride City Hall

The city’s LGBT Task Force celebrated Pride at City Hall today and gave three Spirit of Equality awards.

Councilman Jerry Allen was given the Leadership Award. Allen guided the city council’s recent equality resolution through committee.

Councilmen Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston won the Ally Award. Both have worked closely with the LGBT community during their terms in office.

The Rev. Jim Mitulski accepted the Community Award for Cathedral of Hope. Task Force member Cd Kirven said the church stepped up when support was needed to help pass the resolution.

The resolution instructs city offices to make sure policies are equal and inclusive of everyone including the LGBT community.

—  David Taffet

Hundreds of DA staffers go through diversity training

DA Craig Watkins’ policies could ensure violence against LGBT people won’t go unpunished

CoverStory

NOH8 | The Dallas County District Attorney’s office welcomed Roberta Clark of the Anti-Defamation League to the office for a training on “Why Diversity Matters.” Nearly 300 prosecutors and investigators attended the training. (Tracy Nanthavongsa/Dallas District Attorney’s Office of Communications)

 

STEVE RAMOS  |  Senior Editor

They were the words no mother wants to hear. Maria Ramos, tough ranch woman that she was, must have weakened when the Arkansas official told her that her son was injured and probably wouldn’t live through the day. It was 1985. People weren’t awakened by genial cell phone tones in those days. Instead, a 10-pound phone ringing in the early morning hours roused people like a cattle prod to the brain. The news that your son is near death would only rev that shock to a mind-splintering level.

Minutes after she hung up the phone, Maria’s bags were packed, and she was herding other family members into action. Bad news travels through Mexican neighborhoods faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, and the community circled the wagons around her. Within the hour, family friends were dropping off money to help with the trip. A couple of dollars from one, five bucks from another. Tears from all of them.

Maria and her six other children pointed their cars toward the barely rising sun. Normally, sunrises are glorious in the Texas Panhandle, but the streaks of magentas and oranges would have been lost to the family on that morning. Instead, the sun’s movement westward was only a reminder that time was running out. Doubtlessly, Maria would have prayed 10 rosaries during that tortuous drive — one for each of the hours that separated her from her dying son.

I don’t know who told Grandma what happened to my uncle, or if she knew the details before she left home or was told at the hospital. It doesn’t matter. He was brain dead, the result of a brutal gay bashing. Eyewitnesses reported that a man attacked my uncle from behind, knocked him to the ground and then kicked him in the head repeatedly.

Because. He. Was. Gay.

After the attack, my uncle was able to get up, the witnesses said, but he later collapsed. It was the last time he would walk. We soon learned the assailant had prior convictions of assault in Arkansas and Louisiana and was on probation for assault at the time of the attack. One would think it was an open-and-shut case. But not in Arkansas. And certainly not in 1985.

The district attorney should have just stayed home on the day of the trial. A first-year law student could have swatted away his feeble prosecution like a child slapping a geriatric gnat. He just didn’t care. He allowed the defense to mock the gay eyewitnesses, turning the trial into a finger-pointing at them, that they and my uncle were somehow responsible for the attack — just for being gay. They were ridiculed and humiliated, forced to divulge to their neighbors the personal details of their gay lives. They were on trial. The gay community was on trial. The only one not on trial was the defendant.

It turns out the jury didn’t care, either. Despite the eyewitness testimony that detailed the attack on my uncle, and despite the assailant’s criminal record, a dozen jurors found him not guilty. Imagine a mother being told by 12 people that her son’s life has no value to them. Indeed, as one of my aunts was later walking down the courthouse steps, she overheard someone say, “It’s just one less faggot walking the streets as far as I’m concerned.” My grandmother never recovered.

Sadly, my uncle’s story isn’t a unique one in the LGBT community. Laramie, Tyler, Paris, Dallas, Houston — this list goes on. Dallas Voice reporter David Taffet is working on a story about the Texas Obituary Project that has documented, so far, about 140 violent deaths in the community over the last several decades. How many law enforcement agencies and district attorneys buried LGBT hate crimes during those years or just determined not to prosecute them? How many mothers were told their sons’ and daughters’ lives were of no value to the legal system because they were LGBT? Too many.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins agrees. Watkins announced in February the creation of the Dallas County District Attorney’s LGBT Task Force, and in March nearly 300 of his prosecutors and investigators took part in sensitivity training, titled “Why Diversity Matters,” that will help them better understand the county’s diverse communities.

“The diversity training will benefit our office and the residents of Dallas County as a whole,” Watkins said. “We are better prosecutors, better investigators, when we understand the communities that we serve. Not only will it provide us a better understanding of the people we must prosecute, but equally with the victims and witnesses of crimes.”

Watkins said he’s aware that many LGBT people are reluctant to report crimes committed against them. Their experiences with law enforcement officials haven’t always been good, and as one trans woman recently reported, police officers in Paris told her “Being the way you are, you should expect that” treatment, after she reported to them she was receiving death threats in the East Texas city.

Watkins certainly sees a lot of hate. It’s even been directed at him, Dallas County’s first African-American DA, and as he steers his office toward an understanding of diversity, he’s liable to see more.

“My role is very controversial,” he said, “but I’m going to live up to the principles I believe in. I’ve seen people use their power to hold people back from living the American dream. It’s impossible to change this office overnight, but I am going to set the standard of behavior of what the justice system should be.”

Watkins’ creation of the LGBT Task Force and putting his staff through diversity training could stop the rise in anti-LGBT hate crimes. The FBI and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report an increase in those crimes, and the breakdown is horrifying.  Transgender people and gender non-conforming people continue to experience higher rates of homicide. LGBTQH (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) people of color represented 53 percent of total reported survivors and victims of all hate crimes, but 73.1 percent of homicide victims.

Watkins said he’s an advocate for change and the Task Force and training will have a ripple effect in his office and in the county. He also believes it will reach the community.

“We’re already seeing it,” he said. “Many LGBT people don’t believe in law enforcement because it hasn’t worked for them. They’ve been marginalized.”

My grandmother, gone for 19 years now, would have loved to hear those words from a district attorney. The Task Force — comprised of four attorneys, an investigator, a case worker, a victim advocate and a spokesperson — will now help ensure no one in the community is excluded from the judicial process. And when LGBT people are on the defendant’s side, they are being told they can expect to face a more understanding prosecutor.

No members of the LGBT community are on the Task Force, but James Tate, LGBT spokesman, said, “We are exploring a future date and time to conduct a town hall meeting. In essence, this would allow us to introduce ourselves to the community and let them know we are here to help.”

Three of the Task Force members identify with the LGBT community, but no members of the community are on it because there will be cases that potentially come before the Task Force that can be viwed only by the district attorney’s office.

As Watkins finishes the last year of his second term, he reflects on how the job has changed him. He earned five times the amount of money in private law practice than he does as the district attorney.

“But I was unhappy,” he said. “I’m happy now. I’m very religious, and I read the Bible. We are all children of God, whether you’re LGBT or a member of any other community. In my office, we need to protect everyone.”

That sentiment did trickle down to the prosecutors in Watkins’ office.

“In some way, almost all of us are minorities,” said Brian Higginbotham, an assistant district attorney in the appellate division. “It may be gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability or many other things. As prosecutors, we see all kinds of people at their worst and at their best.”

In our fight for marriage equality, Watkins said, “the Constitution says you have the right to marry.” And he encourages LGBT people to marry “even if it means you’re hauled off in handcuffs.”

“Live your life the way you want to,” he advised.

Twenty-nine years ago, my grandmother saw prosecutors at their worst, but I’m hopeful that I’m now seeing one at his best. The community will hold Watkins’ to the message drawn on his cheek for the NOH8 picture. It’s a powerful symbol for a powerful office, and it’s high time for the changes promised to us.

If members of the community have a concern they want to discuss with the Task Force, they can send an email to lgbt@dallasda.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2014.

—  Steve Ramos

Dallas County DA Watkins announces LGBT Task Force

Prosecutors will go through sensitivity training to ensure better communication with the LGBT community

Craig-Watkins

EQUALITY | Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins announced Friday he established an LGBT Task Force that will help his office better communicate with the community. (Steve Ramos/Dallas Voice)

Steve Ramos  |  Senior Editor

In a move that demonstrates the growing LGBT influence in public policy, the Dallas County District Attorney’s office has created a task force that will address how that office interacts with the community.

“Several months back, I took the opportunity to meet with leaders in the LGBT community and discovered there was a communication gap between many law enforcement agencies and the LGBT community,” Dallas County DA Craig Watkins said. “I was disappointed to hear that many victims of domestic violence or hate crimes were afraid to speak out because they feared lack of a law enforcement response.”

The task force, comprised of attorneys, an investigator, a senior caseworker and a spokesperson was established to ensure there is communication between the DA and the community, Watkins said. He added that it goes into effect Friday.

Cece Cox, Resource Center CEO, said there have been times when the community has faced discrimination and bias from law enforcement and legal institutions dealing with hate crimes and family violence. But she is hopeful that the task force will help eliminate that problem.

“The task force, along with the liaison positions that currently exist at Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, is a positive step toward ensuring that LGBT persons will be treated with dignity and respect,” she said, “and that hate crimes against them will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”

Watkins’ office isn’t without an LGBT presence. His community relations consultant, James Tate, is out, and he contributed to the dialogue that created the task force.

“I had an ongoing discussion with the DA, telling him how important it is for us (LGBT) to be heard and that there are people who are apprehensive about reporting crimes,” Tate said. “With the creation of the task force and other initiatives the office is planning, it makes me feel incredibly proud to work with such a progressive and maverick leader.”

The task force’s operations will begin with an initial sensitivity training for all prosecutors in the DA’s office, with additional future training for new prosecutors. Ellyce Lindberg, chief of intake and grand jury, will conduct the training.

“Mr. Watkins’ new initiative is just one more of his innovative steps toward protecting and respecting victims of crime,” Lindberg said. “It comes at an ideal time in his administration due to his new electronic case management system, which is soon to be implemented.”

Lindberg added that there never has been a systematic way to track the kind of cases inherent to the LGBT community, but with the ability to electronically manage cases, those that have been designated as part of the task force initiative will be better monitored.

As of press time, the DA’s office didn’t have the statistics available that would indicate how critical the lack of communication has been, but Watkins affirmed he’s prepared to correct it.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, ‘A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ and this Task Force will assist in ensuring that members of our community receive protection from criminal harms, regardless of their orientation or identity/expression,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.

 

—  Steve Ramos

Mayor Rawlings appoints Adam Medrano to chair LGBT Task Force

Adam Medrano

Adam Medrano

Dallas City Councilman Adam Medrano will chair the city’s LGBT Task Force, according to committee appointments announced by Mayor Mike Rawlings on Monday.

Former Councilwoman Delia Jasso chaired the Task Force since its creation in 2009. Its members then started looking for a replacement after Jasso lost her District 1 seat to Scott Griggs after redistricting placed them in the same district.

Last month, Task Force members discussed the application and interview process for selecting a new chair. At the time, Task Force members said they were not bothered by the possibility that Medrano is closeted. Medrano has declined to answer questions about his sexual orientation — despite widespread rumors that he’s gay as well as an arrest in 2000 in connection with homosexual sex in a public bathroom.

Medrano, who represents a heavily LGBT district that includes much of Oak Lawn, did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Task Force member Pam Gerber said the group in the process of distributing applications for a new chair when the mayor’s office contacted them about making it a priority of Rawlings’.

“They reached out to us,” she said.

Gerber said the group was assured it would continue to operate autonomously as it has in the past four years and people who work for the city, such as police and fire LGBT liaisons, would still be able to attend meetings.

“We’re really excited about the direction it’s taken and we’re really thrilled to have Adam as our chair and liaison,” Gerber said.

—  Anna Waugh

LGBT Task Force skeptical of open meetings, unlikely to be led by Griggs

Pam Gerber, left, goes over the city’s HRC Municipal Equality Index score with members during the LGBT Task Force meeting in May. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Pam Gerber, left, goes over the city’s HRC Municipal Equality Index score with members during the LGBT Task Force meeting in May. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Members of former Councilwoman Delia Jasso’s LGBT Task Force hope to find her replacement by August.

Jasso has chaired the Task Force since its creation in 2009. Its members have helped implement sensitivity training at for Dallas police and firefighters and began having city Pride events last June. Jasso lost her District 1 seat to Councilman Scott Griggs in May after redistricting placed them in the same district.

Several members met Tuesday night to discuss the process for selecting a sponsor and maybe a co-sponsor. The Task Force will email all council members a questionnaire about what they feel is the force’s role and what they envision as their role working with the group.

Those interested will then undergo private interviews before a new sponsor is selected. Council members return from summer break Aug. 7, so the Task Force anticipates selecting a new sponsor by mid- to late August. City staff won’t participate in finding Jasso’s replacement because it’s a conflict of interest. Several city employees, including the fire and police LGBT liaisons, often attend the meetings.

There was uncertainty about having one sponsor or co-sponsors, so members agreed to be open to the idea and see how the questionnaires and interviews go. When asked if Dallas Voice could attend the interviews, members said it would be better to have them be private so council members could be honest and frank. Discussion then arose about how the Voice began attending Task Force meetings. Jasso was asked if the Voice could attend last year and she agreed to open the meetings up to the press since this February.

Members then seemed uncomfortable that the Voice was present as press and not as a member of the group. They said when the group began that they didn’t want media present because Jasso and City Manager Mary Suhm would help change things in City Hall quietly and attention to that would have received negative attention from City Council. Members said it would fall to new leadership whether the paper would be invited to future meetings.

Members discussed the three council members who have expressed interest in taking over the Task Force: Griggs, Philip Kingston and Adam Medrano.

—  Anna Waugh

Dallas kicks off Pride Month at City Hall

Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, left, holds the Pride proclamation with LGBT Task Force members Pam Gerber and Omar Narvaez. (David Taffet/DallasVoice)

Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, left, holds the Pride proclamation with LGBT Task Force members Pam Gerber and Omar Narvaez. (David Taffet/DallasVoice)

Dallas officials and LGBT leaders gathered in the Flag Room at City Hall on Wednesday to declare June LGBT Pride Month in the city and celebrate the first of many related events this month.

Pam Gerber, member of Councilwoman Delia Jasso’s LGBT Task Force, spoke briefly about the history of Dallas city Pride events. Two years ago was the first time the city held a reception marking Pride Month, followed by last year’s series of events. More events are planned this month to continue to educate and celebrate the city’s LGBT community.

“Thanks to the leadership of the Task Force and Delia Jasso, we now have a very high profile June Pride month,” Gerber said. “It certainly has become a big thing that we’re very, very proud of.”

Jasso was not among the roughly 40 people who attended, but several council members did, including Mayor ProTem Pauline Medrano, Angela Hunt, Ann Margolin, Scott Griggs, Monica Alonzo, Sheffie Kadane, Linda Koop and Councilman-elect Adam Medrano. Gay former Councilman John Loza and District 14 candidate Philip Kingston were also in attendance. Mayor Mike Rawlings was out of town and did not record a video message like last year.

—  Anna Waugh

Dallas city officials, LGBT Task Force members kick off Pride Month events at City Hall

Councilwoman Delia Jasso addresses an audience of about 80 people during an LGBT Pride Month kick-off Wednesday in the Flag Room at City Hall.

The Dallas City Council and the city of Dallas officially proclaimed June Dallas’ LGBT Pride Month at a Pride kick-off event Wednesday.

About 80 people gathered in the Flag Room on the sixth floor of City Hall to hear council members speak about the LGBT community and the pride the city shares with them in the month of June.

Last year marked the first time Dallas held a reception recognizing LGBT Pride month, holding a one-day gathering for officials and community members to celebrate the city’s diversity.

This year a series of events will offer something every Wednesday in June, highlighting the importance of different accomplishments of the city’s LGBT community.

Councilwoman Delia Jasso spoke at the kick-off first and addressed the success of her LGBT Task Force, which she said has accomplished a lot in the three years since it formed. She said it has helped the Dallas police install a full-time LGBT liaison officer, worked on implementing LGBT sensitivity training for Dallas Fire-Rescue, and reviewed the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance complaints with a goal of helping improve the process.

“Perhaps the most significant accomplishment for the city is the embracing of the LGBT community.” Jasso said. “Not only do we embrace the LGBT community but we also celebrate and most especially this month.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings could not attend the kick-off because he was at a funeral, but he prepared a video message for the audience to view.

“Dallas is a city that really celebrates its diversity,” Rawlings said in the video. “I think it’s what makes us strong, it’s what makes us growing, it’s interesting. It’s a lot more fun. I think one of the strongest — strongest — communities we that have in all the diversity, a rainbow if you will, is the LGBT community.

“Thank you. I want to say, personally, thank you, for the coaching, the dialogue and the support that you’ve given me as my time as mayor,” Rawlings said. “I think we agree on so much. Sometimes we haven’t agreed. But you’ve stayed steadfast, talked about the issues that are important to you and treated me with a real honor and respect. Your style, your character, it’s truly something to be proud of. I love the way you advocate for your issues. I’m proud just to have you in Dallas.”

Rawlings also said he was proud to have the Pride flag in the Flag Room among the flags of the world for the entire month of June. A Pride flag also hangs in over a railing in the first-floor atrium of City Hall.

Council members who attended Wednesday’s kickoff were Jasso, Angela Hunt, Jerry Allen, Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, Scott Griggs, Linda Koop, Monica Alonzo, Carolyn Davis. Other prominent city officials in attendance included City Manager Mary Suhm and Fire-Rescue Chief Louie Bright.

Hunt and Medrano also spoke briefly, along with task force members Omar Narvaez, Cd Kirven, Bright and Carter Brown, founder of Black TransMen, Inc.

Task force members read the proclamation that declared June LGBT Pride month in Dallas before the close of the event. (Watch the reading below.)

The Turtle Creek Chorale provided musical entertainment, singing “God Bless America” at the beginning of the kick-off and closed the gathering with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Look for an in-depth story about the Pride events in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

More photos and video below.

—  Anna Waugh

Mayor Rawlings joins 5 other council members at 1st-ever LGBT Pride Month Reception

Mayor Mike Rawlings speaks during Monday’s LGBT Pride Month Reception at City Hall.

About 50 people attended Dallas’ first-ever official LGBT Pride Month Reception at City Hall on Monday afternoon.

Mayor Mike Rawlings was among six council members who appeared at the event, organized by Councilwoman Delia Jasso and her LGBT task force.

Standing before a Pride flag draped from the wall of the Flag Room on the sixth floor, Rawlings spoke briefly at the start of the reception and drew cheers when he pledged to have “open doors” to the community.

“I met many of you during the campaign,” Rawlings said. “Some of you were supporting me, others were not. But I’ll tell you this: I knew that this was a fabulous community that I wanted to partner with when I became mayor. Thank you for what you have done for this city.”

Prior to the reception, Rawlings told Instant Tea he has no hard feelings about the fact that both Stonewall Democrats and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance endorsed his opponents in the election — with DGLA even issuing a rare warning against him.

“Not at all,” Rawlings said. “We must all have a spirit of understanding. I don’t have anything like that [hard feelings].”

Rawlings didn’t specifically mention the LGBT community during his inauguration address at the Meyerson Symphony Center earlier in the day. But at the Pride reception, he told attendees that the community fits with the major themes he outlined in the speech: becoming a city of diversity, opportunity and excellence.

“As far as I’m concerned, you are right on with my plan, and I want to be right on with yours, and so we will continue to talk, and I am just pleased that we are here to honor gay and lesbian Pride Month in the city of Dallas,” Rawlings said.

—  John Wright