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

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Larry Duncan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

—  Tammye Nash

Transgender news briefs

Trans woman murdered in Baltimore

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Mia Henderson

Baltimore City Police announced July 16 that they are investigating the murder of trans woman Mia Henderson, sister of NBA player Reggie Bullock. Henderson, 26, is at least the second trans woman killed in Baltimore in as many months. According to a press release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, her murder is “the latest in a string of Baltimore area homicides in the last two months in which transgender women have been killed.”

Baltimore police Investigators said officers serving a warrant just before 6 a.m. in the 3400 block of Piedmont Avenue found Henderson’s body in an alley. They said the victim had “suffered severe trauma.”

Police said it was too early to tell if the case is related to a similar one a month ago in which another transgender woman was killed. The body of 40-year-old Ricky Hall, known as Kandy, was found stabbed on June 4 in a field near Coldstream Park Elementary-Middle School in northeast Baltimore, according to reports by WBALTV News 11.

 

USDA adopts trans protections

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added gender identity protections to its federal nondiscrimination regulations regarding programs or activities conducted by the department. This makes USDA is the first federal agency to issue regulations banning gender identity discrimination in all activities conducted by any employee of the department, according to an NGLTF press release issued today.

“Fifteen years ago, the USDA paved the way on federal rights for LGBT people by becoming the first agency to add sexual orientation nondiscrimination protections. Yesterday, the USDA once again demonstrated their leadership and commitment to equality by extending nondiscrimination protections to transgender people in every program the department operates,” NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey said.

 

Report: Nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts trans people suffer discrimination

The Fenway Institute and Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition have released their Project VOICE report on transgender discrimination in public accommodations, which found that nearly two-thirds of trans residents of Massachusetts have experienced discrimination in a public accommodation setting in the last 12 years. Those experiencing discrimination were nearly twice as likely to report adverse physical and mental health outcomes, the report indicated.

The state’s Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act, passed in 2011 and implemented in 2012, does not cover public accommodations.

Other findings reported in the study include:

• Overall, 65 percent of respondents reported discrimination in one or more public accommodation settings in the past 12 months.

• The five most prevalent settings in which discrimination was experienced were transportation (36 percent), retail (28 percent), restaurants (26 percent), public gatherings (25 percent) and health care facilities/services (24 percent).

• Those reported incidences of discrimination had an 84 percent increased risk of adverse physical symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomach or pounding heart, in the last 30 days and 99 percent increased risk of emotional symptoms in the past 30 days.

• 28 percent of respondents reported they had not seen a doctor in the last year.

• 29 percent reported having to teach their health care provider about transgender health issues in the last year.

The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering passage of the Equal Access Bill, which would improve access to public accommodations for trans people there.

Download a copy of the complete report here.

 

European Court of Human Rights rules against trans woman in marriage case

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the country of Finland did not violate the human rights of a trans woman by requiring that her marriage be downgraded to a registered partnership in order for her to be legally recognized as a woman.

Before gender reassignment surgery, Ms. Hamalainen had married a woman, and Finnish authorities argued that legally recognizing her gender as female without ending her marriage would result in a same-sex marriage, which is not allowed under Finnish law.

Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe, said: “The Finnish authorities argued and the European Court agreed that Ms Hamalainen’s family did not suffer disproportionately by their marriage being downgraded to a registered partnership as a registered partnership is almost identical to marriage in terms of rights and protections. Nevertheless, the court missed an important opportunity to condemn humiliating and discriminatory practices across Europe requiring trans people to end their existing marriage to obtain legal gender recognition.”

Trans people must end existing marriages to partners of the same-gender as they are post-transition to obtain legal gender recognition in 32 of 49 European countries.

—  Tammye Nash

Anti-gay factions challenge Houston equal rights ordinance

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Mayor Annise Parker during the HERO debate

Opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance turned in 50,000 signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. Only 17, 269 are needed. The city secretary’s office has 30 days to validate the signatures.

The ordinance passed on May 28. The Houston city charter allows a recall election on an issue if 10 percent of voters in the last election sign a petition. A recall against a mayor or council member requires 25 percent of voters in that election to sign a petition.

Until HERO was passed, Houston was the only major city in the United States without an equal rights ordinance of any sort. In addition to protecting the LGBT community, the ordinance puts into place protections based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information or pregnancy. None of these categories were protected by the city before the ordinance was enacted.

The anti-HERO forces have claimed the law allows men to dress as women so they may enter women’s restroom and attack little girls. There is no mention of bathrooms in the ordinance.

The city plans to defend the ordinance.

“The Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or whom you choose to love. I am confident voters will soundly defeat any challenge to the ordinance.”

—  David Taffet

In a surprise move, Exxon shareholders vote down nondiscrimination for a 15th time

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New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli

For the first time in years, I missed the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting, so I didn’t get to learn about the latest in underwater drilling technology, how hydraulic fracturing is environmentally sound, what the company is doing about global climate change or how they hate gay people.

As a company, ExxonMobil has evolved since the 1999 merger between the two oil giants.

In the early years after the merger, anti-Exxon environmental and equality protesters were met with company-paid counter-protesters carrying signs like “wind energy kills birds.” A few years ago, the company decided to stop counter-protesting as the number of protesters dwindled.

Shareholders rarely saw any of the protesters, because the meeting is held in the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center with direct access to the lobby from the venue’s underground parking lot.

They’ve also evolved by beginning to offer partner benefits. In other countries where offering those benefits is required, it’s something they’d already been doing. And states like New York and California were considering lawsuits against the company for violating state laws. New York officials have said a company doing business in the state doesn’t have the right to decide which of its marriage licenses to recognize.

For the past several years, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has filed shareholder resolutions on behalf of the state’s pension funds that own about $1.5 billion worth of Exxon stock. The resolution implores the company to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its equal opportunity statement.

So why not just add a few simple words to the EEO policy that reflect the reality?

The only answer is stubbornness. Exxon thinks of itself as a sovereign nation whose gross national product is larger than most countries around the world. No elected official or shareholder controlling a mere $1.5 billion in company stock is going to tell Exxon what to do.

Because of Exxon’s stubbornness, Human Rights Campaign maintains the company’s negative-25 rating, which Exxon wears as a badge of pride as the only American company to earn such a distinction.

The last time I spoke to DiNapoli’s office, they were unsure whether they’d file the resolution with Exxon again. They were determining whether it was worth the time and money. The cost involved is incurred when the state sends a representative down to Dallas to speak on behalf of the resolution.

DiNapoli’s office did decide to file the resolution, and Exxon buried it, so it was unsearchable on its website.

His office has done a world of good for LGBT employees. More than 30 companies have changed policies, either because his office contacted a company as a concerned shareholder or by filing resolutions. Exxon remains the sticking point.

The resolution failed again Wednesday garnering just 19 percent of shareholder votes.

Here’s what I missed by not going to the meeting: a morning of complete paranoia.

Press check in is at the door of the Meyerson. One person walk would walk me from the curb on Flora Street to the desk. Another would walk me from the desk to the metal detector. Another — usually a police officer — would walk me downstairs to the press room. More police were roaming the lobby of the Meyerson than shareholders. I figured one officer per expected shareholder was hired.

Once downstairs, I would mingle with oil industry journalists who usually have just gotten off a plane from Dubai.

“Oh, I took DART,” I’d tell them. “And I’m just here to see if Exxon is going to continue discriminating against its gay employees.”

Most of the reporters remained friendly anyway.

If I got up to get coffee or danish — Exxon provides a magnificent spread for the press — a police officer would accompany me out of the room to the table. If I needed to go to the bathroom — five steps farther than the buffet — another officer would accompany me there.

Once the meeting started, we watched on large screens. (We were allowed on the main floor, but not with laptops and other equipment).

One year, once the meeting broke, I met with DiNapoli’s representative. We started talking in the lobby but each place we sat, people shadowing us moved with us to remain within ear range. When we moved, they followed. It was like a bad spy drama.

So we walked out of the Meyerson and sat on a bench in front of the Winspear to chat.

This year, I missed the Exxon meeting, but that’s OK. I already know more about deep water oil recovery than any member of the gay press really needs to know. I don’t think I really missed anything.

—  David Taffet

Houston pastor pleas for right to discriminate … against Jews

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Houston Councilwoman Ellen Cohen

Pastor Becky Riggle of Grace Community Church in Houston stood before Houston City Council this week to give her opinion on HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

Pastor Riggle thinks it’s OK to discriminate, as long as you’re doing it in the name of religion. Let’s be clear, when Pastor Riggle suggests a need for a religious exemption, she’s not just talking about discriminating against gays, lesbians and transgenders.

City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen asked the good pastor if it was OK to discriminate against her since she’s Jewish. Cohen had to ask several times and Pastor Riggle said yes, but that’s not the issue.

The good pastor didn’t explain why it wasn’t the issue since the ordinance protects people from discrimination based on a list of categories, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion among them.

Bigots like Riggle weren’t the majority of people who came to City Hall and the proceedings weren’t as contentious as those in San Antonio last year.

Equality Texas Field Organizer Daniel Williams was at Houston City Hall.

“Fortunately Pastor Riggle does not represent the vast majority of Houston clergy,” Williams said. “In public testimony supportive clergy have outnumbered those in opposition two to one and more than 70 faith leaders in Houston have signed a letter in support of the HERO.”

The vast majority of clergy understand that all forms of discrimination are wrong. They understand they could be the next target. Perfect example: Pastor Riggle thinks she has the right to discriminate against Councilwoman Cohen because the councilwoman is Jewish.

A vote on HERO is delayed two weeks and in the mean time, I think good Houstonians should demonstrate to the pastor just what discrimination looks like. The checker at the supermarket should tell her he’s not going to ring up her groceries. The dry cleaner should refuse to take her clothes. The waitress at her favorite restaurant should refuse her service. Each should explain they’re religion requires them to refuse service to bigots.

Here’s the video of the good pastor’s ugly comments:

—  David Taffet

Nondiscrimination ordinance passes in Mississippi city

map_of_bay_st.louis_ms“As an elected official, we should not and must not discriminate against anyone,” said Joey Boudin before voting for a nondiscrimination resolution that passed unanimously Tuesday.

Boudin is a city councilman. From New York? L.A.? No, he’s the Ward 5 Councilman from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

This is the sixth Mississippi city to pass a similar ordinance this year after Starkville, Hattiesburg, Greenville, Magnolia and Oxford, according to the Biloxi Gulfport Sun Herald.

Bay St. Louis resident Pat Robinson said, “It sends a very clear-cut message to everyone — particularly the gay youth — that everyone is valued in the Bay. We don’t discriminate against gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.”

The ordinance follows the recent signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bans the state from doing anything to limit the practice of religion. Apparently, in Mississippi, religious groups were being prevented from fully practicing their religious beliefs.

Like 150-year-old Beth Israel Congregation, the large Reform synagogue in Jackson that some of my relatives attend. Rabbi Valerie Cohen has been prevented from performing same-sex weddings. I’m sure the “restoration” of her “religious freedom” will allow her to freely practice her Judaism and perform same-sex weddings at her temple.

—  David Taffet

American Humanist Association represents Birdville student

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Isaiah Smith at a protest last year

An attorney for the American Humanist Association sent a complaint to Birdville ISD in Tarrant County about the suspension of a North Richland Hills student.

Isaiah Smith was suspended after he ripped pages out of his Bible. Smith said the incident began when he was taunted and told he couldn’t be gay and Christian.

The American Humanist Association called the suspension for ripping a Bible a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. The attorney demands any record of the suspension be removed from Smith’s record. The full letter is here.

Comments to a previous Dallas Voice post and emails after that item ran indicate how emotionally charged the issue is. Numerous posters commented on Smith’s behavior in school.

He “doesn’t stand for the pledge or the U.S. national anthem, which shows much disrespect to this country,” one wrote.

“Isaiah Smith is not a saint,” Ashley Wilmot wrote in an email and described disruptive behavior by Smith in class and in band.

Other commenters were blatantly ignorant of the topic or used the language of bullies playing victim.

“I have a question for you, when you get older and have a mate, how are you both going to learn the beauty that lies within the struggle of loving the opposite sex?” Birgit Sellers asked in a comment.

Smith is openly gay and made news last year when he petitioned the Keller City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance.

—  David Taffet

LGBT residents address Garland City Council on DART, nondiscrimination

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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.

—  David Taffet

AG Greg Abbott to challenge San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott told a San Antonio radio station he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the newly passed San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance. Abbott announced last month he is running for governor.

The ordinance adding veteran’s status, sexual orientation and gender identity to other protected categories passed Thursday.

It’s not clear how a lawsuit against the San Antonio ordinance will affect Dallas and Fort Worth. Both have ordinances banning discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Abbott claims Texas has a Supremacy Law that says cities can’t override the state.

The federal government also has a Supremacy Law that the state can’t override the federal government. But that doesn’t seem to phase the Texas National Guard, which is refusing to process applications for married same-sex members of the Guard.

And the commander of the National Guard has asked Abbott for a legal opinion: Is Texas Military Forces, which is over the guard, a state agency bound by state law or does the order from the military to recognize same-sex marriages apply to Texas?

Texas is the only state to completely defy the order. Mississippi is not taking applications at state offices but is taking them on National Guard bases. Louisiana followed Mississippi late last week.

The National Guard reports to both the governor and the president and receives money for training and maintaining its forces as well as equipment from the federal government.

—  David Taffet

Dallas United Way chapter gives Boy Scouts Circle Ten Council $350K

United-Way-logo1The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has once again allotted grant money to the Dallas-based Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Circle Ten received $200,000 for its life skills Learning for Life program and another $150,00 for its Trevor-Rees Jones ScoutReach program, which helps underprivileged youth be able to participate in Scouting. The council received $315,846 from United Way last year.

LGBT advocates have tried to discourage United Way chapters from donating to BSA councils that don’t have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination polices, including a Change.org petition targeting United Way Worldwide to cut funding to the BSA.

While Circle Ten doesn’t have a nondiscrimination policy, United Way officials have said the organization requires its grantees to follow all federal laws but it doesn’t require them to adopt its own internal polices.

But the council’s leadership wouldn’t take a stance on the resolution that passed May 23 to allow gay youth into the BSA, saying only that the council would follow the policy if it changed.

The Human Rights Campaign is continuing to discourage companies and organizations from donating to the BSA because it still bans gay adult leaders.

In the meantime, hopefully some of that grant money will help gay Scouts in the future.

—  Anna Waugh