ELECTION: Advocates urge LGBTs to vote in FW runoff

Burns: Future mayor’s support could make the difference in maintaining recent progress in Cowtown

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH  —  Spurred on by the national spotlight focused on the city in the wake of the June 28, 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge and the harsh criticism that followed, Fort Worth has in the last two years made huge strides forward in protecting its LGBT citizens and treating them fairly.

LGBT advocates and city officials alike praised that progress, boasting about how far the city has come in such a short time: The city now offers its gay and lesbian employees benefits for their same-sex partners; the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance now includes protections for transgender people, and all city employees are required to attend diversity training classes that specifically address LGBT issues.

Joel Burns

But those changes haven’t come without protest from some of the city’s more socially conservative quarters. And this year’s municipal elections provided those conservatives with a chance to use the power of their votes to turn back the clock. It seems, though, they missed their chance.

The May 14 general election saw all but two of the City Council incumbents — a majority of whom supported the changes — returned to their offices. The two not re-elected — Mayor Mike Moncrief and District 7 Councilman Carter Burdette — did not run for re-election. Both those races will be decided in the Saturday, June 18, runoff election.

The race to replace Burdette, who voted against the amendment to the nondiscrimination ordinance, comes down to Dennis Shingleton and Jon

Perry, neither of whom has made any significant outreach to the LGBT community in this race.

But the runoff battle between Betsy Price and Jim Lane to replace Moncrief as mayor has been a different story. Both candidates have expressed support for equality and fair treatment, and — for the first time ever — Fort Worth’s mayoral candidates participated in a forum specifically on LGBT issues, held June 1 and sponsored by LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce.

At that forum, but Lane and Price said they believed the protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender express ion in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance should be maintained, although Price reportedly said of the ordinance at another forum in April that she didn’t “like the idea that the city is in this business at all.”

Both candidates said they support maintaining the Fort Worth Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer position and continuing diversity education training now mandated for all city employees. Both also said they would support continuing efforts to promote Fort Worth as a tourist and convention destination within the LGBT community.

Price and Lane both said, however, that when it comes to the one remaining item on the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force’s “to-do” list — expanding health benefits for transgender city employees — they need to study the issue further before making a decision on where they stand.

Fort Worth, like other cities in the Metroplex, has a “weak mayor” form of government, one where the city manager is the one with the power to hire and fire department heads, prepare the annual budget and oversee the day-to-day operations of the city.

Yes, the City Council is the entity that hires — and fires — the city manager. And yes, the council has final say on the budget. But, as Fort Worth’s gay Councilman Joel Burns pointed out, each council member including the mayor is just one of nine votes in deciding these and other questions.

So why does it matter so much whether the new mayor of Fort Worth supports equality and fair treatment for the city’s LGBT residents? Because of what the mayor represents.

Lisa Thomas

“Yes, the mayor has one vote, the same as any other council member. But that one vote is an influential vote,” said Burns, who represents Fort Worth’s District 9 and was re-elected last month, without opposition, to a second full term.

“The mayor is in a position to take a leadership role, to use that office as a bully pulpit and set an example for other people on the council,” Burns continued. “The mayor can have a real influence on the way other council members vote on an issue.

“Look back at 2009 when we voted [to amend the nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for transgenders]. Mayor Moncrief voted with us on that issue and we won. But we might not have won without the influence his vote may have had on some other councilmembers,” Burns said.

“Plus, the mayor plays a very important role as the city’s main ambassador,” and the LGBT community benefits from having a mayor who promotes Fort Worth as a city that welcomes everyone, including LGBT visitors, and that treats its own LGBT citizens fairly, Burns said.

Burns said this week he doesn’t expect to see many LGBT issues coming before the council in the near future; of the 20 initiatives and changes proposed by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force in the months after the Rainbow Lounge raid, 19 have already been approved and implemented.

The one proposal not yet approved involves health care benefits for trans employees. City staff have been studying the potential costs of expanding those benefits and results of that research is likely to be presented when the council considers the budget later this year.

While the city has made tremendous progress, Burns said, LGBT residents need to stay involved and informed, and they need to get out and vote in the runoff on Saturday.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said, “but now we need to make sure we don’t take any steps backward.”

Lisa Thomas, an openly gay member of Fort Worth’s Human Rights Commission and president of Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, echoed Burns’ sentiments.

“I believe it is imperative that we elect a mayor in Fort Worth that supports the rights of all citizens and visitors,” Thomas said in an email this week to Dallas Voice.

“The LGBT community has come so far in the past two years. … But there is more to be done, and we need a mayor that understands our issues and will strive with us to address the remaining recommendations [of the Diversity Task Force] and continue to improve the working relationships that have been developed,” Thomas said.

—  John Wright

Tarrant County Stonewall revving up for 2012

Lisa Thomas

Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats is holding a fundraising party tonight in preparation for the 2012 election cycle, according to TCSD President Lisa Thomas.

The event will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Blue Mesa Grill, 1600 S. University Drive.

Thomas noted that TCSD have not endorsed any candidate in the Fort Worth mayoral election runoff between Betsy Price and Jim Lane because the race is non-partisan. But she did say that Lane, a former City Council member who is a Democrat, has been invited to the fundraising event tonight.

TCSD holds regular  meetings at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at Tommy’s Hamburgers, 5228 Camp Bowie Blvd.

—  admin

AUDIO: Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Ramos on gay Democrats

Dan Ramos on Stonewall Democrats, homosexuality by gharman

Daniel Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, has been doing a great job keeping us posted on the Dan Ramos situation. If you’ll remember, Ramos is the chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party who recently compared gay Democrats to “termites” and the “fuckin’ Nazi Party.” Just today, the San Antonio Current posted some audio from the interview in which Ramos’ originally made his anti-gay comments — in response to Ramos’ allegations that the newspaper misrepresented what he said. Also, after the jump are several statements condemning Ramos forwarded by Graney over the last few days, including from state representatives, a Congressman, the San Antonio mayor and the Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats.

—  John Wright

Questions arise over FW trans ordinance

Double negative included in addition to protections adopted last year could bar trans from using gender-specific restrooms

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Lisa Thomas
Lisa Thomas

FORT WORTH — A double negative in one sentence of an addition to the nondiscrimination protections in the Fort Worth ordinance would enshrine one form of bias against transgenders.

Proposed Section 17-48 (b) says “It shall not be unlawful for any person or any employee or agent thereof to deny any person entry into any restroom, shower room, bathhouse or similar facility which has been designated for use by persons of the opposite sex.”

Fort Worth assistant attorney Gerald Pruitt confirmed that, as written, the clause allows anyone to deny a transgender person presenting as one sex entry into a restroom if that person has not completed transition.

The concern among members of the transgender community stems from an incident in which a transgender woman was arrested in Houston for using a women’s restroom in a public library.

Earlier this year, Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order that prohibited that form of discrimination, allowing transgenders to use whichever restroom they feel is appropriate in any city facility. The library would have been included in Parker’s order.

The November arrest contradicted the order but the action was against earlier laws already on the books.

“We have a number of transgender employees in Fort Worth,” Pruitt said. “I have no knowledge of any action like this ever being taken.”

He said that a situation arose about five years ago when someone began transitioning on the job. Someone who had been male was suddenly presenting as female and began using the woman’s room, he said.

“I think that’s where most of the angst is,” he said, explaining that someone everyone knew as a man began using the women’s restroom.

Pruitt said that the solution that satisfied everyone was that a bathroom convenient to the trans woman’s office was designated as her private restroom.

But he denied that this particular clause was in reaction to the Houston case, which he said he had not heard about before. And he said that as far as he knew, the wording was correct.

Tom Anable at Fairness Fort Worth was concerned about that one clause. He wondered why, if something was described as “not unlawful,” it would have been listed under the heading “unlawful acts.”

“I have sent it to staff at [the Human Rights Campaign] to ask for input on this,” Anable said.

Lisa Thomas, appointed to Fort Worth’s Human Rights Commission by Councilmember Joel Burns, said she had been “made aware of this discrepancy.”

“I’ve asked the chair and administrator of the commission to investigate what is the intent of these words, knowing it is not the intent to bar admission to restrooms,” Thomas said.

She said that in all discussions in the city, the intent has been not to discriminate.

“But we have to make sure we are all in alignment and right now it doesn’t seem like we are,” she said.

Tom Anable
Tom Anable

Section 17-48 (a) (1) adds language that bars discrimination against transgender persons. “Sexual orientation, transgender, gender identity or gender expression” are added to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age as protected categories.

No “person, employee or agent” may deny anyone “advantages, facilities or services” that Section states. So section (a) (1) contradicts Section (b) since the second section does deny admission to facilities.

Section 17-48 (a) (2) makes it illegal to deny anyone admission or expel someone from a place of public accommodation “for alleged non-compliance with a dress code.”

Exemptions to the ordinance include any facility whose services are restricted to members and their guests, religious organizations, private day cares, kindergartens or nursery schools.

But that exemption applies equally to ability to discriminate based on race or religion as sexual orientation or gender identity.

Again, section (a) (2) contradicts Section (b) because admission is denied.

Violating any provision of the code is a misdemeanor. So presumably, any person discriminating against a transgender person by refusing to allow them to use a specific restroom would be charged with a misdemeanor.

The word “not” may have been placed in the sentence by mistake. If so, these additions have not been adopted yet and may be changed before the city council votes on them.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens