Plano passes nondiscrimination ordinance, but with limits

PlanoWith Toyota moving U.S. headquarters to Plano, the Plano City Council this week addressed concerns expressed by the company earlier this year about the city and state’s lack of protections for its LGBT residents.

Last night (Monday, Dec. 8), the council expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity — but the ordinance comes with quite a few restrictions. Religious, political, governmental, educational and non-profit organizations are exempt, except those doing business with the city.

There’s a bathroom clause that allows businesses to segregate restrooms based on gender. That condition may be taken by some as a green light to discriminate against transgender employees and patrons of businesses, despite protection based on gender identity.

The governmental exemption doesn’t exempt Plano from discriminating, but it doesn’t require Collin County to provide the same protections in order to continue working with the city.

Liberty Institute was at the Plano City Council meeting to call the ordinance unconstitutional and threatening to sue the city if it passed.

Plano had a population of 270,000 in the last census, making it the ninth largest city in Texas and 70th largest city in the U.S.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: UN Human Rights Council Votes to Support LGBT Rights

hrc_vote_movilh-2The United Nations Human Rights Council has approved a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a boost to supporting LGBT rights around the world.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission praised the vote, calling it an important step forward toward progress for equality and human rights for LGBT individuals.

“The Human Rights Council has taken a fundamental step forward by reaffirming one of the United Nations’ key principles — that everyone is equal in dignity and rights,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of IGLHRC. “This resolution puts the UN on a trajectory to address the discrimination and violence LGBT persons suffer daily across the world.”

The resolution — led by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay — asks the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to gather and publish information on how best to overcome discrimination and violence.

The resolution passed by 21 votes in favor, including the United States, 16 against, and 7 abstentions.

—  James Russell

Forced to wear ‘gaytard’ name tag, Gay South Dakota teen files complaint

act14-tacojohns-500x280-v01A gay South Dakota teenager who was allegedly forced to wear by his boss to wear a name tag reading “Gaytard”  filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this week alleging discrimination by his former employer, according to the Sioux, Falls, S.D. Argus Leader.

Tyler Brandt, 16, of Yankston, S.D., resigned from his job at Taco John in June after the manager made wear him the name tag. Brandt told Keloland at first he wore the name tag because he feared for losing his job.

“I would always stay behind the till so they couldn’t see the name tag, I didn’t want them to see it, but even though they couldn’t see it, he would still call me by the name across the store and customers would notice,” the teen said.

Brandt is represented by American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. His complaint alleges that Taco John’s of Yankton and its parent company, Taco John’s International, violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“What happened to me was so incredibly humiliating. My hope is that this filing results in a policy to ensure that no other Taco John’s employee will ever experience this kind of harassment,” he said in a statement.

The Argus Leader reported that the store’s manager saw the story differently.

John Scott, the franchised store’s  manager, said over the summer that Brandt had asked for the name tag. ”He asked [a different] manager to make that name tag for him,” Scott said in June. “He [the manager] didn’t tell him he had to wear it. [Brandt] put it on himself and created the situation.”

Taco John International released a statement in June saying that the company “has a strict anti-discrimination policy and does not tolerate harassment.” However, Patricia Hays, The corporation’s counsel, said  the company would not investigate the incident because it happened at an independently-owned store.

“We think what happened to Tyler is deplorable, and this is a chance for Taco John’s International to make it right,” said Heather Smith, head of the ACLU of South Dakota.

—  James Russell

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