COVER STORY: Odd man OUT

PIONEERING PAIR | Carlos Vasquez became only the second openly gay elected official in Tarrant County history when he joined the Fort Worth school board in 2008. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns was the first. (Andrea Grimes/Dallas Voice)

Carlos Vasquez, Texas’ only openly gay school board member, takes on the establishment in Fort Worth

ANDREA GRIMES | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

“In Fort Worth, we have a very strong downtown.”

When Fort Worth ISD trustee Carlos Vasquez says this, he’s not talking about the manicured sidewalks of Commerce Street or plentiful parking for night-lifers. He’s talking about a political establishment that doesn’t take kindly to challenges. Elected in 2008 to the district’s board of trustees, Vasquez has been a voice of dissent in a city that has notoriously favored those who fall in line, no questions asked.

“I have been a very strong supporter of students and employees, and not the establishment,” Vasquez told Dallas Voice over coffee last month. His record — and many, many critical editorials and opinion pieces from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — certainly paints a picture of a trustee who feels little obligation to the status quo.

Vasquez unseated an incumbent to win North Fort Worth’s District 1 with 64 percent of the vote. He loudly, and sometimes passionately, criticized former Superintendent Melody Johnson, who resigned under pressure in May. He has questioned the safety of gas drilling close to schools. He has advocated bringing in a new legal firm to take over the district’s delinquent tax collections.

Vasquez also happens to be the only openly gay school board member in the state. It’s a significant distinction, but he’s gone largely unrecognized by the LGBT community in Texas — perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

But even in a very red city in a very red county, Vasquez says his sexuality has been the least of his problems. Instead, he’s been criticized by the Star-Telegram for accusing school board President Ray Dickerson of bowing to big business in gas drilling matters, and of resorting to “antics” with regard to hiring that new legal firm.

He even says he once got a call from former Mayor Mike Moncrief telling him to “cool it” with the criticism. But Vasquez believes that the “Fort Worth way is not always the right way, and the Fort Worth way many, many times excludes people.”

One of Vasquez’s colleagues in the Tejano Democrats of North Texas, community activist Jodi Perry, calls Vasquez the “padrino,” or “godfather,” of education in Fort Worth.

Whether it’s keeping gas drilling away from schools or advocating for anti-bullying measures, Perry says Vasquez has never been a “one-issue person.” Constituents “don’t see him as a gay trustee,” she says, but as “Carlos, the champion for children.”

Inclusion is one of Vasquez’s passions, and as a 16-year veteran of the school district, where he’s worked as both a teacher and a principal, he’s made LGBT equality a staple of his tenure so far. Somehow, he has found time in between all his so-called “antics,” to help found an LGBT employees’ organization as well as help institute anti-bullying policies that include prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, first for employees and, as of the last week in June, for students.

Elected just a few months after Councilman Burns, who made national news with his “It Gets Better” speech, Vasquez became the second openly gay public elected official to serve in Tarrant County. Burns, elected in December 2007, and Vasquez, elected in May 2008, have not yet worked closely together despite their shared interest in LGBT advocacy.

Vasquez says he’s “surprised that we’ve gotten away with having as many gay rights as we have for students, teachers, employees,” because of the conservative, Republican base in Fort Worth. But he believes that community building comes from inclusion. That’s a philosophy he’s been building on since childhood.

Growing up in a socioeconomically blighted area of Brownsville in South Texas, Vasquez found a way to bridge the gap between being a popular guy and a friend to kids on the margins. A student council member, yearbook editor and senior class favorite, Vasquez admits to growing up in a “pretty rough” neighborhood. Even so, he says, he’s lived both “a good life and a hard life” that helps him identify with many different groups of people. In fact, his intersectional identity as a Latino man, a gay man and a lifelong educator helps him “go from 99-cent tacos to fifty-dollar steaks and still be the same kind of guy.”

Still, he says, his critics have often asked him to pick one identity over the others — something he’s not willing to do. “I have many different identities,” says Vasquez, and while others may see those as being in conflict with each other, he believes they give him perspective.

Most recently, some members of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Fort Worth have criticized Vasquez’s support of interim Superintendent Walter Dansby, who is black. Vasquez believes Dansby’s 37 years with the district, despite the fact that he’s yet to take his superintendent certification test, means he’s the best man for the job, regardless of race. He was most recently the deputy superintendent. LULAC supporters have said they prefer Sylvia Reyna, the school district’s chief of administration, who is certified as a superintendent but who has only been with the district a year.

“We have to move beyond race,” says Vasquez, and “beyond diversity.” Most importantly, he believes, Fort Worth ISD needs “somebody who has ownership of our district.” He believes Dansby has that, and if it makes him unpopular with some in the Latino community, he says he doesn’t mind, because he’s being honest.

In keeping with his reputation for speaking his mind, Vasquez says that in-fighting in minority communities holds everyone back. In fact, he says, “I think I’ve had more bullying behavior in our own [LGBT] community than I’ve had outside.” He remembers a time when he first came to North Texas 20 years ago when he’d head to a gay bar and find that “everyone was white and pretty and skinny.”

Today, he says, “I see a lot of different faces.” He says that comes from “better communication.” To that end, says Vasquez, he’s willing to take the lead. “If you’re not going to say ‘hi’ to me, I’ll say ‘hi’ to you.”

If his go-getter attitude ruffles some feathers, Vasquez doesn’t mind.

“I feel pretty good, even though the Star-Telegram and downtown establishment aren’t happy, the community at large is.” Vasquez says he gets a lot of “praise” and “kudos” from his constituents, and “ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.”

—  John Wright

West goes rappelling for dollars, raises ‘about $10,000′ for Celebration Community Church

The Rev. Carol West swings near an arch of the 26-story-tall XTO Building in downtown Fort Worth after rappelling down from the roof of the historic edifice. At this point, she had only about four stories left to go to reach the sidewalk.

“My knees are knocking!”

Those were the Rev. Carol West‘s first words to me this morning after she rappelled down the side of the 26-story XTO Building in downtown Fort Worth.

But the adventure was worth it. Celebration Community Church‘s senior pastor told me she wasn’t sure of the exact total she raised for the church with her trip from the roof of the 1920s-era building to the Main Street sidewalk via rope, but that it was “about $10,00o.”

West’s daredevil adventure was part of a day-long fundraising event presented by Downtown Fort Worth Inc., and produced by Over The Edge USA, a nonprofit that does rappelling events like this one all over the country. Participants paid $1,000 to rappel down the building, and then raised funds for their chosen organizations by getting people to sponsor them in the event. At least I think that’s how it worked. I haven’t found exact details anywhere and I didn’t have a chance to ask West.

West was one of several local dignitaries and celebrities who participated in the event. Mayor Mike Moncrief took the leap, too, as did the TCU Horned Frog mascot. West told me this morning that she did it because “the church’s board thought it was a good idea.” By the look on her face, I’m not sure she was thinking it was a good idea at all!

(Just as a side note, while I was waiting for Carol to take her turn rappelling down the building, I sent a text to gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, asking him why he wasn’t down there jumping off that building with Carol. He told me he was in New York where he spent last night at an LGBT fundraiser where he got to introduce President Obama. I guess that’s a pretty good excuse!)

Anyway, you can see more photos after the jump. And next time you see Carol West, be sure to give her a big high five — 26 stories is WAY high, and I am not sure I would have had the guts to step out over that edge.

—  admin

Moncrief endorses Price in FW

Betsy Price

Current Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief chose not to run for re-election this year after four terms, and he has kept very quiet throughout the 2011 campaign about who he believes should replace him as mayor of Cowtown — until today.

According to this report on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s PoliTex blog, Moncrief broke his silence to publicly endorse former Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Betsy Price for mayor.

Moncrief, who said his wife Rosie is also backing Price, released a short statement that said, “Her [Price's] love of Fort Worth and her ideas about our community’s quality of life are both appealing and visionary. We wish her the best in this election.”

Price was the frontrunner in the May 14 general election, pulling in 43 percent of the vote out of five candidates. Runner-up Jim Lane, who spent 12 years on the Fort Worth City Council, won 26 percent to make it to the runoff against Price.

Both candidates have reached out to Fort Worth’s LGBT community, including participating in a June 1 forum on LGBT issues that was presented by the LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. For complete coverage of that forum, go here.

And on an interesting side note, if you do click through to the Star-telegram’s post on Moncrief’s endorsement, take a minute to look at the small photos of each of the candidates included in the post. Yep, that’s the GLBT Chamber’s logo you see on the screen behind them! The photos were taken during the LGBT forum.

—  admin

FW mayoral candidates denounce discrimination

Jim Lane and Betsy Price

 

Price, Lane face off in runoff to replace Moncrief, will attend LGBT forum Wednesday

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — After nearly two years of unprecedented progress on LGBT issues within the Fort Worth city government, Cowtown’s LGBT residents are now facing the prospect of not having Mike Moncrief in the mayor’s seat at City Hall.

Although Moncrief probably can’t be described as the LGBT community’s biggest cheerleader, in the 22 months since the raid on the Rainbow Lounge, he has at least been a steadfast voice for equal treatment and has supported a number of changes proposed by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.

Those changes included amending the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to add protections based on gender identity and gender expression, despite often strident opposition from some of Fort Worth’s most conservative residents.

But with Moncrief choosing not to run for re-election this year, LGBT residents now find themselves faced with a choice between former tax-assessor/collector Betsy Price and attorney and former City Council member Jim Lane.

City elections are nonpartisan, but it is no secret that Price is Republican and Lane is a Democrat.

Price came in way ahead in the May 14 general election, pulling down 43 percent of the vote. Lane claimed his spot in the runoff with 26 percent.

Price comes into the race with endorsements from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fort Worth Business Press and, generally, speaking has the backing of the city’s business community. Lane, on the other hand, is backed by the city’s firefighter and police officers associations, as well as the Retired Firefighters Association, the African American Firefighters association, former fire chief Larry McMillen, former police chief Ralph Mendoza and District Attorney Joe Shannon.

This week, Lane announced that he has also been endorsed by two of the other three candidates from the general election: Cathy Hirt, who was third in the general election with 21 percent and Nicholas Zebrun, who won less than 1 percent of the vote.

The fifth general election candidate, former state Rep. Dan Barrett, has not backed either candidate in the runoff. He garnered 8 percent of the general election vote.

Turnout in Fort Worth’s general election barely topped 10 percent of the city’s 326,623 registered voters. And both Price and Lane said that getting their supporters back to the polls on June 18 for the runoff will be the key to victory.

“We obviously had, far and away, the most voters on Election Day,” Price said. “What we have to do now is reach and touch our voters again and get them back to the polls for the runoff. We’re going to send out mailers, call people, knock doors, do meet-and-greet events. I’m going to get out there and shake hands and get to know people.”

Price said she would also be sticking to her same message that put her in the lead in May.

“Our message is about bringing good business sense to City Hall, about cutting taxes and building a stronger economy. We have to have an open, friendly, diverse and receptive city to do that well,” Price said.

Lane said this week he knows he has some ground to make up, based on the numbers from the general election. But he said he believes Hirt’s endorsement this week gives him a head start.

“I think that is a really wonderful endorsement to have. She is extremely bright and well thought of, and she got 21 percent of the vote on May 14,” Lane said. “Nicholas Zebrun has endorsed me, and that helps too. And I am going to try and meet with Dan Barrett to ask for his endorsement too.

“We’ve seen a lot of motivation from our voters, and Cathy Hirt has a very avid support group,” Lane added. “I think they will all be enthusiastic about coming back out to vote.”

Some political watchers in Fort Worth have suggested that the runoff  between Dennis Shingleton and Jon Perry for the District 7 City Council seat could help swing turnout in Price’s favor, since that district is located in the city’s more conservative northwest area. But Lane noted this week that he is from that area of the city, and that he has significant support there, too.

Lane also questioned Price’s pledge to “bring good business sense to City Hall,” saying that his 12 years on the Council give him insights into how city government operates that Price doesn’t have.

“The way our government is set up, you have to build coalitions to get things done. You have to talk to each council member about the issues in their district, work with them to determine what will be the best policy for the city manager to implement. These are all going to be seasoned council members — except in District 7 — and the mayor is going to be the one who’s the new kid on the block,” Lane said. “I’m the one who has the experience to do those things.”

With turnout being such a key issue in who wins, Fort Worth’s LGBT community has the opportunity to have significant impact on the outcome. Both Price and Lane know that, and both have voiced their support on issues of equality.

Both have also committed to participate in a forum on Wednesday, June 1, sponsored by Fairness Fort Worth and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce.

Since Tarrant County officials have never dealt directly with LGBT issues, Price’s stance there is something of an unknown. However, her replies published in a “voters guide” issued by right-wing minister Richard Clough’s Texans for Faith and Family, gave many in the community pause.

According to Clough’s voters guide, Price agreed that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, and “strongly agreed” that the city should not spend money to advertise in LGBT publications.

Price did not respond in the voters guide to a question on whether the city’s ordinance protecting transgenders from discrimination is necessary.

But Price said Clough’s voters guide misrepresented her reply on the issue of spending money in LGBT publications: “That whole thing with the Faith and Family brochure — they didn’t print the explanations with the answers,” Price said. “What I said was that the city doesn’t need to be advertising anywhere right now. It’s just too expensive. But if we are advertising in one [minority] publication, we should be advertising with ya’ll [the LGBT press], too. If we are advertising for job candidates, then we need to be advertising everywhere that there will be good candidates.”

When asked about the transgender anti-discrimination ordinance, Price — who was calling from her cell while traveling between locations — apparently misunderstood the question and instead spoke to the issue of trans health benefits.

“The question was about paying for [gender reassignment] surgery, I believe, and that’s a cost issue. At this point I would have to spend more time studying it before I could say one way or another,” Price said. “I don’t think the city’s insurance pays for fertility surgery either.”

The bottom line, Price said, is that “We should never discriminate, not against anyone. We’re all God’s kids. I know that’s rhetoric, but that’s the way it is. That’s what I believe. Treat everyone fairly.”

On the question of health benefits for trans employees, Lane said that he, too, needed to study the issue further before taking a stand, noting that he has asked Fairness Fort Worth Tom Anable help him understand “what sexual reassignment is.”

Both Lane and Price, when asked about other special health needs short of reassignment surgery that transgender face, said they were not aware of such issues and would have to study the questions further before answering.

Lane, however, compared the issue to his wife’s recent bout with breast cancer.

“If it’s an issue for someone, it should be covered,” Lane said. “We [the city of Fort Worth] are self insured, and we should be covering our employees’ health needs.”

Lane also noted that he has a proven public record on LGBT issues that voters can rely on. He was on the City Council in 2001 when sexual orientation was added to Fort Worth’s nondiscrimination ordinance, a move he supported.

“We did all that before,” Lane said, “and those 19 proposals the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force came up with, if I had been on the council then [in 2009] I would have supported every one of them. These [LGBTs] are citizens just like anybody else, as far as I am concerned. It’s a pretty practical issue. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter how you look at it, we shouldn’t discriminate against anybody. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally.”

—  John Wright

FW Mayor Mike Moncrief presents ‘Believing in Youth Award’ to gay Councilman Joel Burns

Joel Burns, right, and husband JD Angle

Last night, I posted a brief blog about Joel Burns being recognized for his anti-bullying efforts by Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, but I didn’t have many details. Now, here are some details for you.

Moncrief presented Burns with the 8th annual “Believing in Youth Award” Thursday night during the Believing in Youth Award Dinner, an event that benefited Santa Fe Youth Services. According to a press release from Moncrief’s office, the award “honors those who take personal responsibility for being a role model and building resiliency in our young people through formal and informal, intentional and unintentional efforts.”

Santa Fe Youth Services is a nonprofit agency that has provided services to youth and families in Tarrant County for more than 10 years.

Burns was chosen as the recipient in recognition of his efforts to combat bullying that gained national attention last October when he delivered an impromptu “It Gets Better” message to LGBT youth during a City Council meeting. Burns, in an emotional address that left many in the council chambers in tears, spoke of his own experience as a gay teen bullied by classmates and how he even contemplated suicide at one point, and how his life has gotten exponentially better in the years since.

A video of his speech went viral on YouTube and within days, the gay Fort Worth council member had been invited to speak on numerous TV shows, including The Today Show and Ellen. In December he went to Austin for a press conference announcing the introduction of anti-bullying bills in the Texas Legislature, and he returned to Austin in March for LGBT Lobby Day to call once again for the legislation to be passed.

Also in March, Burns was invited to attend an anti-bullying summit presented by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Last month, Burns received a GLAAD Media Award for his efforts.

—  admin

Fort Worth elections round-up

UNOPPOSED | Openly gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, right, pictured here with his partner J.D. Angle, is unopposed in this bid for a second full term on the council. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Conservative’s ‘voter guide’ offers some warnings for LGBT voters and their allies

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Fort Worth residents will head to the ballot box Saturday, May 14, to cast their ballots in elections that will decide who will replace Mike Moncrief as mayor and who will make up the City Council.

Those choices could have a significant impact on how the relationship between the city government and Cowtown’s LGBT community continues to develop in the years ahead.

District 9 Councilman Joel Burns — Fort Worth’s first and so far only openly gay councilmember — is running unopposed for his second full term on the council. And District 8 Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, considered the LGBT’s strongest non-gay ally on the council, is also unopposed in her re-election bid.

Also unopposed in District 3 incumbent W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, who voted in favor of adding protections for transgenders to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

But other two other councilmembers who, over the last 18 months since the Rainbow Lounge raid, have voted in support of LGBT-positive efforts including an amendment adding protections based on gender identity and gender expression to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, face challengers this time around.

And in District 7, incumbent Carter Burdette — who voted against the trans protections — is not running for re-election, leaving a field of five candidates to fight for his seat. Those challengers include Jack Ernest, who called the transgender protection ordinance “damnable” at a candidate forum last month.

While no LGBT political organization in Tarrant County has issued endorsements in the council elections, conservative Christian activist the Rev. Richard Clough has issued a “voter guide” that polls the candidates on their views on 10 “precepts,” a list that includes questions on same-sex marriage and the trans protection ordinance.

The guide could serve as a warning as much for LGBT voters and their allies as for the right-wing conservatives Clough was apparently targeting.
Clough, an evangelist with Kenneth Copeland Ministries, issued the voters’ guide earlier this month under the name Texans for Faith and Family. Only nine of the total 22 candidates running for either mayor or City Council replied.

Candidates were asked to say whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed with Clough’s “20 precepts,” statements that ran the gamut from legalizing casino gambling to support for Israel. Only four of the 10 specifically addressed issues actually pertinent to city governance.

The three precepts related to LGBT issues were “Marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman;” “City tax dollars should not be used to advertise with the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender) community” and “The city’s Transgender Ordinance is not a needed law.”

Of the five candidates running for mayor of Fort Worth, only two — Betsy Price (whose first name was misspelled “Besty” on Clough’s printed guide) and dark horse Nicholas Zebrun — replied to Clough.

Zebrun disagreed with all Clough’s precepts concerning defining marriage and spending money to promote the city to LGBT tourists and conventions, and he “strongly disagreed” that the trans protection ordinance is not needed.

Price, however, agreed that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, and “strongly agreed” that tax dollars should not be used to promote Fort Worth as a destination for LGBT tourists.

Price did not respond to the precept regarding the trans protection ordinance.

District 2 incumbent Sal Espino, who has supported LGBT-positive initiatives, did not reply to Clough’s precepts, while his challenger, Paul Rudisill indicated strong agreement across the board with all 10 precepts.

Another incumbent who supported LGBT-positive initiatives on the council is Frank Moss who is facing two challengers in his District 5 re-election bid.

Neither Moss nor challenger Charles Hibbler responded to Clough’s precepts, but the third candidate, Rickie Clark, indicated strong agreement for nine of the 10. She didn’t respond to the precept at “Sharia law should not be allowed to be practiced in the United States.”

In District 6, incumbent Jungus Jordan replied with “strong agreement” to all 10 precepts. His opponent, Tolli Thomas, did not respond to Clough’s voter guide.

Dennis Shingleton was the only District 7 candidate who did not respond to the voters guide. Ernest “strongly agreed” with all 10 precepts, while John

Perry agreed with the three anti-gay precepts and either agreed or “strongly agreed” with the remaining seven.

District 7 candidate Lee Henderson did not respond to the precept on defining marriage, and disagreed with the precepts on LGBT advertising and the transgender protection ordinance. The fourth candidate, Jonathan Horton, did not respond to the precepts on LGBT advertising or defining marriage, but did agree that the transgender protections ordinance is unnecessary.

District 4 incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Scarth faces challenger Lupe Arriola in his re-election bid. Neither candidate responded to Clough’s voter guide precepts.

—  John Wright

Doing things the Fort Worth way

THE DIFFERENCE 18 MONTHS CAN MAKE | Fairness Fort Worth President Tom Anable says that with the initial issues of the Rainbow Lounge raid addressed, FFW can move forward toward its goal of being an LGBT clearinghouse that works to match those with needs with those who have the resources to meet those needs. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Formed to meet the immediate needs of Tarrant County’s LGBT community in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid, Fairness Fort Worth is evolving into a cornerstone in building a stronger community

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Even though Fort Worth in 2001 became one of the first Texas cities to include sexual orientation in its citywide nondiscrimination ordinance, the city known as “Cowtown” and the place “where the West begins” was never known for having an especially active LGBT community.

There were gay bars here, sure, and plenty of LGBT citizens in Cowtown. But there was no recognizable “gayborhood,” no active LGBT organizations. Fort Worth’s LGBT churches got lost in the shadow of Cathedral of Hope, “the largest LGBT congregation in the world” located just east in Dallas. And the city’s annual gay Pride parade, while older than Dallas’, had in recent years dwindled away to nearly nothing.

But then came June 29, 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York and the night that Fort Worth police and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided a newly-opened gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge.

In the tumultuous days and weeks after the raid made headlines across the country, Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief insisted the city would handle the uproar in “the Fort Worth way.”

Some angry activists, many of them younger and more radical folks who didn’t actually live in Fort Worth, responded with jeers. To them, “the Fort Worth way” was just code for ignoring the problem and looking for some way to sweep it all under the rug.

But a group of stalwart Fort Worth LGBTs took a different tack. They decided to take Moncrief and other city leaders at their word and opted for a more low-key, although no less insistent, approach.

Moncrief said “the Fort Worth way” was to talk things out and work together to find ways to solve problems, and these Fort Worth LGBT leaders stepped up and said, “OK. Let’s talk. But you’d better be ready to do more than just talk. We want solutions.”

And that was the birth of a new day in Fort Worth.

Fairness Fort Worth is formed

ANNOUNCING A NEW DAY | On July 8, 2009, Fort Worth attorney Jon Nelson announced at a press conference the formation of Fairness Fort Worth, a new organization that would initially focus on helping coordinate between law enforcement agencies to gather the testimony of witnesses to the Rainbow Lounge raid. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Less than two weeks after the raid, a group of LGBT business, civic and religious leaders held a press conference to announce the formation of a new organization called Fairness Fort Worth. Attorney Jon Nelson explained that the group’s initial priority was to help locate witnesses to the Rainbow Lounge raid, providing those individuals with legal advice while also coordinating with TABC and Fort Worth police to get their testimony recorded as part of the several investigations into what actually happened that night.

But even then, FFW founders knew they wanted to do more.

“Even though our city strives to be open, equal and caring, we have much more work to do,” Nelson said at the time.

Over the next several months, FFW continued to coordinate the LGBT community’s response to the raid. The organization marshaled hundreds of citizens to turn out in support of a new ordinance protecting transgenders from discrimination, offering measured, reasonable responses to the bigoted rants of those who opposed the change.

FFW members volunteered for the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force that created a list of policy changes and new initiatives to make Cowtown a more LGBT-friendly place to live and work. And they met frequently with Police Chief Jeff Halstead and other city officials, making sure that those officials followed through on promises they made.

On Sept. 15 that year, FFW incorporated. The organization’s first board meeting followed in January 2010. Lee Zolinger was elected as the first FFW president, but he soon realized that his job was keeping him from being as active in FFW as he wanted.

That’s when Thomas Anable stepped up and offered to run for the office, and in June that year, he was elected as FFW’s new leader.

Anable, a CPA, was new to the world of LGBT activism. He readily admits now that he had always relied on his status in the business world and his ability to “pass,” and had never felt the need to be active in the LGBT community.

But Anable was the accountant for Rainbow Lounge, and he was in the bar the night of the raid. What he saw then made him realize that no one is immune to anti-LGBT bigotry. And he was determined that FFW and its opportunity to be a force for change would not fade away.

A new focus

Under Anable’s leadership, FFW members decided to focus on two specific areas where they felt they could help enact that change: bullying in schools and LGBT issues within Fort Worth’s hospitals.

Anable said that the hospitals in the area had never participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual report on policies regarding LGBT issues “because they knew they wouldn’t meet the criteria to get good scores. So we decided to take a new approach. We decided we would encourage them to take the HRC survey, but instead of submitting it, they could use that as a guideline on how to improve.”

Anable said shortly afterward, the federal Health and Human Services department came out with new guidelines on how hospitals should deal with LGBT people and access to health care services. And with approval from the FFW board, Anable talked with Resource Center Dallas’ executive director and associate director of community programs, Cece Cox and Lee Taft, about working together to approach the hospitals.

According to FFW treasurer David Mack Henderson, that partnership is in full swing now as the two organizations develop a strategy in approaching the hospitals on those issues.

On the issue of bullying in the schools, FFW has worked behind the scenes to provide the Fort Worth Independent School District with the information and resources it needed to enact comprehensive anti-bullying policies.

The district has already adopted such a policy for faculty and administrators, and Nelson said this week he is “fully confident you will see a comprehensive anti-bullying policy [pertaining to students] in place by the beginning of the next school year, as well as a mindset that will exist on cooperation and treating people fairly with respect, and not just in the LGBT community.”

Plus, Anable noted, FFW was instrumental in helping secure the assistance of the Human Rights Campaign, which created a new staff position for someone to work with school districts to implement anti-bullying policies and programs. The first person hired, Rhonda Thomasson, is already working with schools in Dallas and Fort Worth, Anable said.

The Tarrant County College system also recently adopted anti-bullying policies specifically including protections based on sexual orientation. And Anable has spoken to the system’s board members on including protections based on gender and gender identity, as well.

Collaboration

A YEAR LATER | Fairness Fort Worth board members Carol West, left, and David Mack Henderson, right, talk with Police Chief Jeff Halstead at a 2010 Gay Pride Month event at Rainbow Lounge marking a year since the raid and celebrating improvements in the relationship between the city’s police force and the LGBT community. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Anable said that as FFW president, another of his priorities was to make sure FFW worked with other LGBT organizations in North Texas and at the state and national levels. With that in mind, he said, he asked all FFW board members to get involved with those organizations as volunteers and board members.

The reason, Anable said, is that FFW can be most beneficial by acting as a kind of “clearinghouse” for LGBT issues in Tarrant County, helping to identify needs and then matching those needs to the resources that already exist.

“We want to be a coordinator,” Anable said. “We won’t really do programs ourselves. We will identify the needs that are out there, and then match them with the providers who have the resources already to meet those needs.”

So far, the strategy seems to be working. In just 20 months, Anable said, FFW has played a role in making changes that in other cities have taken years to accomplish.

Carol West agreed.

“This organization has had a tremendously positive impact,” West said. “In those early days after the raid, things could have gone either way. I think it was absolutely necessary to have Fairness Fort Worth there doing what we did, and doing it in a very positive way.

“Now, more and more people are getting involved and becoming aware,” she said, adding that diversity training for all city employees is a “direct result of the work of Fairness Fort Worth. … We’ve got a lot of good things happening here.”

West, who is herself on Chief Halstead’s citizens advisory board, said those good things include a focus on improving services for LGBT youth in Tarrant County, developing an LGBT archive for the county that will be housed at Celebration Community Church, and establishing an LGBT hotline that will also be housed at the church.

“Fairness Fort Worth has become a really tremendous organization that really is the face of LGBT politics in Fort Worth, the face of justice in Fort Worth. I think we have really made a difference for the better,” West said.

Nelson said that impact dates back to the first city council meeting after the Rainbow Lounge raid.

“I think it really had quite a sobering effect on the city council and the mayor and the city manager to sit there at that table and look out into the crowd and see hundreds of people there wearing our yellow Fairness Fort Worth buttons,” Nelson said.

“Even then, in its infancy, Fairness Fort Worth was able to do something few had been able to do before: marshal enough people to come to City Hall and really have an impact. When those elected officials saw more than 450 people wearing those yellow buttons that said Fairness Fort Worth, something was different, and they knew it. That perception could easily have dissipated, but because of Fairness Fort Worth, we didn’t let that happen,” Nelson said.

With FFW, Nelson said, LGBT people in Tarrant County now know “they have somewhere to turn if they have questions or concerns.

“They know we aren’t just focused on one issue. We are broad based and we can be that clearinghouse they need.
“And those in the straight community know we exist and that we have the ability to take their concerns out into our community. That has never existed before,” he said.

The existence of FFW, Nelson said, gives the LGBT community and the individuals within that community a tangible presence to the community at large, “both the perception and the reality of an organization and a community that can make a difference. That has never existed before in Fort Worth,” Nelson said.

The Fort Worth way

Some in Fort Worth reacted angrily to activists who converged on Fort Worth after the Rainbow Lounge raid, taking to the streets with chants and placards and bullhorns, and standing up in council meetings to make demands until the mayor had them removed.

But both Nelson and Anable were quick to point out those protesters played a necessary role in the progress that’s been made in Fort Worth.

“I don’t think any right we have today was garnered without protests like that,” Nelson said. “But protests alone get nothing done. At some point you have to sit down with both sides and discuss things. Both sides have to be able to understand each other and trust each other. You can’t do that with placards and bullhorns. And that’s what Fairness Fort Worth has brought to the table.”

That, Anable said, “is what we mean when we say ‘the Fort Worth way.’ It means, let’s sit down and talk about it. Let’s be reasonable and act like adults and have a real conversation that can come up with real solutions. That’s what happened here.”

Anable, who said that before the Rainbow Lounge raid never felt the need to be involved in LGBT political issues or to even make a point about being openly gay, decided at the beginning of this year that he has a new calling in his life.

So he sold his CPA practice to his business partner and now plans to devote himself fulltime to LGBT activism.

He said, “It’s been a really strange 20 months. If you had told me a year and a half ago that I would be where I am today, I never would have believed you. My whole life has changed.

“In one night, my life changed. This city changed. And it’s still changing. And Fairness Fort Worth is going to help make it happen.”

————————————————————————–

Fairness Fort Worth Timeline

• June 28, 2009: Rainbow Lounge Raid (TABC report says 1:28am).
• June 28, 2009: Protest Rally on Tarrant County Courthouse steps.
• June 28, 2009: Press release from FWPD (mentioning 3 sexual advances).
• July 1, 2009: Candlelight vigil for Chad Gibson.
• July 2, 2009: Chief Halstead announces suspension of joint operations with TABC.
• July 2, 2009: First gathering at Celebration Community Church to form Fairness Fort Worth.
• July 8, 2009: Press conference announcing FFW.
• July 8, 2009: FFW begins coordinating Rainbow Lounge witness interviews.
• July 14, 2009: Officer Sara Straten appointed as interim liaison to the LGBT community.
• July 14, 2009: City Council meeting, more than 450 LGBT citizens and allies attend.
• July 21, 2009: City Council votes on resolution calling for independent federal investigation.
• July 21, 2009: Council votes to establish the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.
• July 23, 2009: First meeting of City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.
• July 28, 2009: The FW Human Relations Commission votes for resolution trans protections.
• Aug. 6, 2009: Press release of Phase 1 of TABC report.
• Aug. 6, 2009: FWST reports that U.S. Attorney won’t investigate Rainbow Lounge raid.
• Aug. 17, 2009: FFW leaders meet privately with Halstead to hammer out differences.
• Aug. 18. 2009: Halstead tells city council that investigation will require more time.
• Aug 28, 2009: TABC announces it has fired three agents involved in Rainbow Lounge raid.
• Oct 11, 2009: Chief Halstead attends the Tarrant County Gay Pride Picnic.
• Nov 3, 2009: Crime Control Prevention District measure passes with support of FFW.
• Nov 5, 2009: FWPD holds press conference releasing report on investigation into raid.
• Nov 5, 2009: TABC releases excessive force findings.
• Nov 10, 2009: Diversity Task Force recommendations presented at City Council meeting.
• April/May, 2010: Volunteers train to teach GLBT Diversity Training Class to city employees.
• May, 2010: GLBT Diversity Classes commence with Mayor Moncrief in the first class.
• June 28, 2010: BBQ Anniversary with police and city officials invited to Rainbow Lounge.
• April 27, 2011: Final Diversity Task Force Meeting. More than 1,200 city employees trained to date.
• May 3, 2011 : Assistant city manager and FFW members address council on progress to date.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Fort Worth mayoral candidates discuss the issues — but not LGBT ones


WFAA Channel 8  over the weekend hosted a debate — well, they call it a debate but it is, to me, more of a question-and-answer session — with the five candidates campaigning to succeed eight-year Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, who is not running for re-election.

The debate, moderated by Channel 8′s Brad Watson and Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy, is a little over 20 minutes long and features the candidates answering questions on topics like the city’s budget, urban oil drilling and the city’s pension and benefits plans. Despite the fact that LGBT issues have played a very prominent part in Fort Worth city politics over the last 18 months, neither Watson nor Kennedy asked the candidates any LGBT-related issues.

Still, if you live in Fort Worth, then you most likely care what the candidates have to say on the issues they did discuss. So I am posting the video here. (I live in Fort Worth, by the way, and I do care about the issues.)

The candidates are former city council members Cathy Hirt and Jim Lane, former state Rep. Dan Barrett, current Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Betsy Price and filmmaker Nicholas Zebrun.

—  admin

Burns, Hicks unopposed in FW council bids

Joel Burns

5 candidates vying to replace Moncrief as mayor; Zimmerman is only other incumbent unopposed

TAMMYE NASH   | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — With the filing deadline passed for the Fort Worth City Council elections in May, the city’s LGBT community is assured of having its two strongest allies — openly gay District 9 Councilmember Joel Burns and District 8 Councilmember Kathleen Hicks — back in their seats in the council chambers since neither drew any challengers in their re-election bids.

It will be Burns’ second full term on the council after being elected in a December 2007 runoff to replace Wendy Davis when she stepped down to run for the Texas Senate.
Hicks is going into her fourth term representing District 8.

The only other uncontested seat on the council is in District 3 where W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, one of six councilmembers who voted in favor of adding transgender protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance in October 2009, is running unopposed for his second council term.

But at least two candidates are running for each of the six other seats at the council table, including mayor where five candidates are vying to replace Mike Moncrief, who decided to retire after serving four terms.

Mayoral candidates include two former city council members Cathy Hirt and Jim Lane, Tarrant County Tax Assessor/Collector Betsy Price, former state Rep. Dan Barrett and experimental filmmaker Nicholas Zebrun.

Fort Worth attorney Jon Nelson, one of the founders of the LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth, said this week said that while “it’s really still too soon to tell, I have heard that people supposedly knowledgeable in the area of Fort Worth politics” predict that the race to replace Moncrief will come down to Hirt and Lane.

Nelson said he is supporting Hirt, because he believes she is a “very intelligent … nuts-and-bolts kind of person who will get things done” and because “her stance on equality is very solid.”

But Nelson said that he believes Lane and Barrett “would have supported what the mayor and City Council did” in the wake of the June 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by adding trans protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance and establishing a diversity task force to address LGBT issues.

Nelson acknowledged that he knows little about Price and said he has “never heard of Zebrun.”

Council races

In District 2, incumbent Sal Espino, an attorney is running for his fourth term on the council against Paul L. Rudisill, who is in the healthcare industry.

Espino provided a positive vote on LGBT issues in the months since the Rainbow Lounge raid, including voting for adding transgender protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

Rudisill, on his campaign website, describes himself as a conservative who will work to “steer City Hall in the direction you, the taxpayer, desire, not the way liberals have in the past.”

In District 4, incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Scarth is running for his fourth term. Scarth was one of the three councilmembers to vote against adding trans protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance.

Scarth, executive director of Hope Media, is being challenged by businesswoman Lupe Arriola, who with her husband owns a string of fast-food restaurants. On her website, Arriola promises she will “not rubber stamp the wants of the special interests groups.”

Real estate broker Frank Moss in District 5 is the only incumbent running for re-election to draw more than one challenger. Moss, running for his third term, voted favorably on LGBT issues, including the transgender nondiscrimination measure. He is being challenged by designer Charles Hibbler and school administrator Rickie Clark.

Dallas Voice was unable to locate campaign websites for either Hibbler or Clark. However, webs searches indicate both have previously run unsuccessful campaigns for public office.

In District 6, incumbent Jungus Jordan, who voted against adding transgender protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance, is running for his fourth term. Jordan, a retired economist, is being challenged by civic advocate Tollie Thomas, who has no campaign website available.

District 7 incumbent Carter Burdette, the third councilmember to vote against trans protections, is not running for re-election. Five candidates are vying to replace him on the council.

Burdette is backing Dennis Shingleton, senior associate dean of finance and administration at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Also running in District 7 are bank officer Jonathan Horton, Jack Ernest who works in business management, Merchant Services Inc. CEO Jon Perry and consultant Lee Henderson.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Burns, Hicks unopposed in FW council races

Fort Worth City Councilmembers Joel Burns and Kathleen Hicks are unopposed in their 2011 re-election bids.

Yesterday (Monday, March 14) was the filing deadline for area municipal elections, and it’s official: Fort Worth’s first and only openly gay City Council member, Joel Burns, is unopposed in his second re-election bid since first winning the District 9 seat on the council in 2007 when he ran to replace Wendy Davis. Davis resigned to run for — and win — the District 10 seat in the Texas Senate.

In addition, the deadline passed without anyone filing to challenge Fort Worth’s District 8 incumbent, Kathleen Hicks, either. Hicks, who represents the district in which the Rainbow Lounge is located, has been a steadfast ally of the LGBT community, especially in the months since the June 29, 2009 raid on Rainbow Lounge.

W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, the District 3 incumbent, also has no opponent. Zimmerman, along with Burns, Hicks, District 2 incumbent Sal Espino, District 5 incumbent Frank Moss and Mayor Mike Moncrief voted in October 2009 to add protections based on gender expression and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Espino has one opponent, Paul L. Rudisill, in the May 14 election, and Moss has two opponents: Charles Hibbler and Rickie Clark.

Moncrief is not seeking re-election, and a crowded field of five candidates have filed to replace him. They are Jim Lane, Betsy Price, Cathy Hirt, Dan Barrett and Nicholas Zebrun.

The three councilmembers who voted against the transgender protections all face opponents in this election. Mayor Pro-Tem Danny Scarth is being challenged by Lupe Arriola in District 2. And in District 6, incumbent Jungus Jordan is being challenged by Tolli Thomas. District 7 incumbent Carter Burdette is not running for re-election, and five candidates are running to replace him. They are Dennis Shingleton, Jonathan Horton, Jack Ernest, Jon Perry and Lee Henderson.

For more information on candidates in the Fort Worth city elections, check out the Fort Worth City Secretary’s Elections Page.

And look for an in-depth story on the mayor’s race in an upcoming issue of Dallas Voice.

—  admin