What’s Brewing: LGBT advocates to address commissioners; hearings on 4 pro-equality bills

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Several members of the LGBT communiity are expected to call on the Dallas County Commissioners Court to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy during public comments at the court’s regular meeting this morning. The Commissioners Court added sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy two weeks ago. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St. Watch for coverage later today on Instant Tea.

2. Four pro-equality bills are scheduled for hearings in Texas House committees today. HB 604 and HB 2156 are identical measures to repeal the state’s “homosexual conduct” law. HB 2227 would add gender identity and expression to Texas’ hate crimes law, and HB 1909 would remove discriminatory provisions from the state’s age of consent (Romeo and Juliet) laws. Representatives from Equality Texas will testify in favor of all four bills. For more, visit Equality Texas’ Legislative Information Center. You can also watch the proceedings live on the Legislature’s website.

3. Local activist Mark Reed-Walkup, who filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish his same-sex wedding announcement, provided this update about the case on Facebook on Monday: “We received a registered letter today from the Fair Housing Office of the City of Dallas. Our discrimination case against the Dallas Morning News is now officially under review which means they believe our complaint has merit and they will be setting up interviews with us soon.”

—  John Wright

Pink Noise: The Dallas Voice Podcast

 

In this week’s episode we talked about the closure of The Bronx Cafe; new bars in Dallas and Fort Worth including Last Call, Club Reflection and Klub Wet; the anti-gay amendment passed by the Texas House last night; Dallas County’s nondiscrimination policy; and shows in Dallas this week including Dan Savage and Bill Maher.

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—  John Wright

Contact all five Dallas County commissioners and ask them to add transgender protections

County Judge Clay Jenkins says he was not aware that sexual orientation didn’t include transgender people.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed today that he’s requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s Office about adding transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Jenkins’ request for information from county attorneys follows the Commissioners Court’s vote last week to add sexual orientation, but not gender identity, to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 employees.

Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, two newly elected Democrats who spearheaded the proposal to add sexual orientation to the policy, said they thought sexual orientation covered transgender employees, which experts say it does not.

Since then, Jenkins said he’s received about a dozen e-mails from people in the LGBT community — which he called a lot — asking him to revisit the issue.

“The reason that it’s not in there is not because we don’t support it,” Jenkins said of transgender protections. “I don’t want people to misinterpret that I wasn’t for one type of discrimination but somehow was for another type of discrimination. Nothing could be further from the truth than that.”

Jenkins said he’s asked the civil division of the DA’s office to assess the impact on county code of adding gender identity to the policy.

“It’s going to depend on getting three votes … and the first step is to look at what impact it would have,” Jenkins told Instant Tea. “I care about making sure that we have a welcome and open workplace for all, and discrimination against no one. I’m against any type of discrimination in the workplace. I’m for treating all people equally.”

Rafael McDonnell, of Resource Center Dallas, spoke during public comments of the Commissioners Court’s regular meeting Tuesday. McDonnell said he thanked commissioners for adding sexual orientation to the policy — which they did on a 4-0 vote with Commissioner Maurine Dickey absent — and asked them to go back and add gender identity.

McDonnell said Commissioners Court rules prohibit him from speaking again during public comments for a month, so he encouraged others in the community to sign up to speak in coming weeks. To sign up, call the clerk’s office at 214-653-7886. The Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays in the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St. in Dallas.

McDonnell and others also encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact all five commissioners to thank them for adding sexual orientation and ask them to add gender identity. Here is their contact info, with confirmed email addresses:

County Judge Clay Jenkins – 214-653-7949
Email: Clay.Jenkins@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 1 Maurine Dickey – 214-653-7552
Email: Maurine.Dickey@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 2 Mike Cantrell – 214-653-6100
Email: MCantrell@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 3 John Wiley Price – 214-653-6671
Email: John.Price@DallasCounty.org

Dist. 4 Dr. Elba Garcia – 214-653-6670
Email: Elba.GarciaDDS@DallasCounty.org

—  John Wright

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell explains gender identity to the Dallas County Commisisoners Court

Due to some scheduled meetings here at the Brewery, it’s not looking like Instant Tea will make it down to Commissioners Court this morning, where Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell plans to address the court during public comments about the exclusion of gender identity/expression from Dallas County’s new nondiscrimination policy.

In lieu of being there, we thought we’d go ahead and post McDonnell’s prepared remarks, which he was kind enough to send over last night. We’ll also be following up on this topic later. But for now, McDonnell’s remarks are after the jump:

—  John Wright

Resource Center representative to address Commissioners Court on nondiscrimination

Rafael_McDonnell
Rafael McDonnell

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas says he’s headed down to Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning to speak about the county’s new nondiscrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression.

“The goal is to praise them for adding sexual orientation and encourage them to add gender identity,” McDonnell said. “It’s supportive, but at the same time, there’s a key element that’s missing, and we would encourage them to add it. I’m going to provide them some definitions and explain to them why it’s important.”

Anyone wishing to join McDonnell in speaking at Commissioners Court must sign up by 4 p.m. today by calling the clerk’s office at 214-653-7886. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the County Administration Buliding, 411 Elm St. Public comments are at the end of the meeting.

 

 

—  John Wright

FEEDBACK: Be above petty squabbles; Open letter to Elba Garcia; Know the facts on PrEP

Be above petty squabbles

I have followed with much interest the recent joint endorsements of municipal candidates by the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats. A spirited debate is always healthy, and it is good to see this happening, especially with the race for City Council District 14 which features the Stonewall-endorsed candidate, James Nowlin, and current City Councilmember Angela Hunt. However, I have been disheartened by the direction that some voices in the debate have taken. As members of the LGBT community, we should be inherently sensitive to the inappropriateness of comments that personally judge an individual and call into question their motives for running for office, or the legitimacy of emotion shown in public. We are above this!

James Nowlin is a member of this community and has served this community since first moving to Dallas. Now is the time to get behind candidates that are a part of our community, such as Mr. Nowlin and Cassie Pierce (City Council District 7 candidate), not because they are simply LGBT individuals, but because they are both qualified for the job and represent the much needed change we need on City Council in having representatives that can build consensus and take issues that impact not only us, but their entire constituency, through to the finish line. I encourage all in this community to contact the campaigns of those that support us and see how they can get involved.

Jared A. Pearce,
president, Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats

 

Open letter to Elba Garcia

On behalf of Resource Center Dallas, we wish to thank you and the court for voting to expand the county’s nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation.

This effort is long overdue and demonstrates a commitment to fairness and equality. We believe the policy should also specifically enumerate protections for gender identity and gender expression. I’d like to discuss this issue with you at your earliest convenience.

I read the post on [the March 22] vote on the Dallas Voice’s website. Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are three separate characteristics. As subject-matter experts who offer diversity training as part of our mission, these are the definitions the center uses:

• Sexual orientation: A person’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional and spiritual attraction to another person.

• Gender identity: A person’s internal and personal sense of being a man or a woman. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same; transgender people may be heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

• Gender expression: External manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine,” “feminine” or gender-variant behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity.

The center and others in the LGBT community assert that a policy would need to specifically enumerate all three characteristics for maximum effectiveness and protections. It simply makes business sense. As you know, both the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth already offer these protections for their LGBT employees, as does DFW International Airport. Also, a better understanding of the LGBT community will aid Dallas County in employment recruiting and retention, and in serving your diverse public.

You may have seen some of the stories in the Dallas Morning News last summer about the center’s work with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) as it added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policies. This is part of our ongoing work with businesses, universities and governmental agencies including Dallas ISD, DFW International Airport and TABC as they strive to make their workplaces more inclusive.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager, Resource Center Dallas


Know the facts on PrEP

A robust public debate is underway about the potential use of anti-HIV drugs to prevent HIV infection (also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP). Our study, called iPrEx, provided the first conclusive evidence that the daily use of PrEP with the FDA-approved HIV treatment Truvada® can significantly reduce HIV infection risk in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women, when delivered as part of a comprehensive package of prevention services, including condoms.

The protection provided by PrEP and condoms together could have a substantial impact in reducing new HIV infections among MSM worldwide.
Recently, a private healthcare provider has begun a paid advertising campaign urging the FDA not to even consider approving the use of PrEP — charging, among other things, that MSM will stop using condoms if PrEP is permitted. The pros and cons of PrEP use should be vigorously debated — but that debate should be based on facts, rather than the assumption that MSM will not act to protect themselves and others from infection.

Here are the facts about the iPrEX study:

• A diverse group of 2,499 HIV-negative MSM and transgender women on four continents with a range of sexual practices participated in iPrEx. All participants received a comprehensive package of HIV prevention services. Half also received Truvada, while the other half received a placebo (blank pill). Neither the study participants nor the investigators knew which pill they received during the study.

• The group that received PrEP with Truvada in addition to condoms had 44 percent fewer HIV infections. This protective effect was seen across different groups in the study, including those of different age, ethnicity and education level.

• Men in both study groups reduced their risk behaviors and increased their condom use — demonstrating that MSM can use PrEP and condoms together. PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections and should never be considered as a substitute for condom use or other safer sex precautions.

• Ensuring daily pill use will be critical to the success of PrEP. While many iPrEx study participants used the pill consistently, about 50 percent did not — which impacted the effectiveness of PrEP in the study. Among those who took the medication consistently, the level of protection PrEP provided reached 72 percent to 95 percent. A second phase of the iPrEx study will begin soon, in which all participants who want PrEP will receive it. We are hoping to learn whether knowing that PrEP works will help participants achieve higher rates of pill use and protection in this phase of the study.

• Truvada is widely used for HIV treatment because it is generally well tolerated. Rates of side effects were very low in the iPrEx study. A small amount of bone loss was seen among those receiving PrEP, a finding commonly seen in HIV-positive individuals starting anti-HIV treatment; these changes had no apparent negative health impact.

Studies to date also show no evidence of HIV drug resistance associated with PrEP use. HIV testing and medical evaluation before starting PrEP and while using PrEP are important to prevent resistance.

• A daily PrEP dosing regimen was used in the iPrEx study. It is not known whether PrEP can be taken less frequently to prevent HIV infections. Additional studies are underway or being planned to look at whether different dosing regimens (e.g., taking PrEP before and after sex, or on a regular schedule several times a week) would be safe and effective.

• The iPrEx study was paid for by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and was not organized or run by any drug company. iPrEx requested and received a donation of study drug from Gilead Sciences, but Gilead had no other input into the study.

Much more work lies ahead to determine whether PrEP can help stop HIV infections in other populations, such as heterosexuals and injection drug users, to better understand possible side effects of PrEP, to support consistent pill use among people who want to use it, and to ensure that PrEP is seen as one element of an HIV prevention strategy that includes regular condom use.

It will also be critical to address issues of cost, and to determine how to ensure that PrEP will be available to MSM in the United States and around the world who need it most.

Additional studies are also underway to test whether other anti-HIV medicines (including pills, gels, and other formulations) are safe and effective for HIV prevention.

We believe that MSM and all communities working to protect themselves and reduce the impact of the HIV epidemic have the right to full information about PrEP, and can make informed, intelligent decisions about whether or not to utilize PrEP as one component of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy.

The iPrEx study investigators are committed to providing complete information about the study findings tohelp ensure that those decisions are made based on the facts about PrEP. We thank the volunteers who participated in this important study, including volunteers in San Francisco, and the more than 20,000 participants in PrEP trials worldwide for their commitment to advancing HIV prevention.

More information about iPrEx and PrEP is available at iPrexNews.com.

Robert Grant, MD, MPH, iPrEx Protocol Chair
Albert Liu, MD, MPH, iPrEx Medical Officer and San Francisco Site Researcher
Susan Buchbinder, MD, iPrEx San Francisco Site Researcher
Kenneth Mayer, MD, iPrEx Boston Site Researcher
Pedro Goicochea, MSc, MA, iPrEx Investigator
Jeff McConnell, MA, iPrEx Investigator

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Fitzsimmons says commissioners should consult with DA’s office about nondiscrimination policy

Gary Fitzsimmons

Late yesterday we spoke to openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons about the Commissioners Court’s approval of an amendment to Dallas County’s employment nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. Fitzsimmons said he was never asked to review the proposed amendment and was not aware that the Commissioners Court would be voting on it Tuesday. (Coincidentally, Fitzsimmons added transgender employees to the nondiscrimination policy for his department three years ago after Dallas Voice pointed out that it was missing. Fitzsimmons had added sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the policy after taking office in 2007.)

In response to a request under Texas open records law, Fitzsimmons provided an e-mail exchange between himself and County Judge Clay Jenkins from Tuesday afternoon. Jenkins had forwarded to Fitzsimmons an e-mail he received from Stonewall Democrats President Omar Narvaez, in which Narvaez warned of backlash from the LGBT community because transgender employees aren’t covered by the amendment.

Fitzsimmons responded to Jenkins by providing a copy of the nondiscrimination policy for his department, and by suggesting that the county judge ask the District Attorney’s Office to review the issue. We’ve posted the e-mail exchange between Fitzsimmons and Jenkins after the jump.

And again, our question is, why in hell didn’t this discussion take place three months ago?

—  John Wright

Contact Clay Jenkins and Elba Garcia and ask them to add transgender protections

Above is a screen grab of the transgender-less amendment to Dallas County’s employment nondiscrimination policy that was approved by the  Commissioners Court earlier today. The sexual orientation-only amendment can also be found on page 113 of the Commissioners Court Briefing Agenda for today. As we reported earlier, County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the amendment, said they thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, and apparently they didn’t consult with anyone from the LGBT community about the amendment. This includes lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez and gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who both have nondiscrimination policies for their county departments that protect transgender employees. Moreover, no one from the LGBT community contacted Jenkins or Garcia in the last three months to ensure that this amendment was drafted properly and on track for approval. We all share the blame for this, including this newspaper. Now, the Commissioners Court will have to be asked to go back and amend the policy again, which will take months and possibly draw opposition from the religious right — with its bogus claims about restroom abuse. This is extremely unfortunate, but that’s the row the LGBT community must now hoe. An entire segment of the community has been left out of this policy — a segment that is in fact more likely than gays, lesbians or bisexuals to suffer employment discrimination. After the jump is a letter from Resource Center Dallas sent to both Jenkins and Garcia responding to the new policy. If you’d like to contact Jenkins and Garcia to thank them for adding sexual orientation to the policy and ask them to also add gender identity/expression, here is their info:

Clay Jenkins
411 Elm Street, 2nd Floor • Dallas, Texas 75202 • 214.653.7949
clay.jenkins@dallascounty.org

Dr. Elba Garcia
411 Elm Street, 2nd Floor • Dallas, Texas 75202 • 214.653-6670
elba.garciadds@dallascounty.org

—  John Wright

Spokesman says DISD too busy with budget cuts to discuss trangender homecoming issue

A rally in support of Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School in October. Since then we haven’t heard much from DISD, or the LGBT community, about trying to come up with a policy that would avoid such controversies in the future.

Here’s the reply we received late Monday from DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, after we inquired about whether district officials have discussed a possible policy change related to gender and homecoming elections in response to last year’s controversy at North Dallas High School:

“I don’t know if there have been additional discussions regarding that particular issue. Most of our time right now is devoted to paying attention to what is taking place in Austin and planning for next year’s budget accordingly. A $253 million budget deficit would wipe out a lot of things in our school district. If I hear of something, I’ll let you know.”

We certainly sympathize with Dahlander and other DISD officials as they try to deal with the impending budget crisis, but we also hope his statement indicates that the district is open to taking up the transgender homecoming issue as soon as possible. After all, it’s been almost five months since transgender girl Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at NDHS. The district should be commended for, in the meantime, passing a fully inclusive anti-bullying policy that is the first of its kind in the state. But this doesn’t mean the district’s work — or the LGBT community’s work — is done. For one thing, we need to ensure that the anti-bullying policy is properly implemented and enforced. And for another, while the anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression, the district’s employment nondiscrimination policy does not. In other words, it’s now against DISD policy for a student to bully another student for being transgender, but it’s not against DISD policy for the district to fire a teacher for being transgender. And, apparently, it isn’t against DISD policy for an administrator to discriminate against a student for being transgender, as in the case of Andy Moreno. On Tuesday night I sat in a Stonewall Democrats meeting and listened to a gay student talk about the resistance he’s faced from administrators in trying to establish a GSA at Woodrow Wilson High School. So while the budget situation is critical, let’s also remember that for some LGBTQA youth, the issues we’re raising could be a matter of life and death.

—  John Wright

News flash: Jim Foster is gay!

County Judge Jim Foster auditioned for an endorsement from Stonewall Democrats’ of Dallas this year, but he didn’t receive it.

Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster left office over the weekend, “as quietly as he entered it,” according to The Dallas Morning News. But what really surprised us about The DMN’s compulsory farewell was that it didn’t once mention the fact that Foster is openly gay.

Which is kind of amazing, really, given that Foster was the first openly gay county judge in the state — and given that his limited political background before taking office had been largely in the LGBT community, with groups like Stonewall Democrats. Foster also owns a business that provides security for the major gay bars on Cedar Springs.

So, to some degree, this was an oversight by The DMN, but it was also probably a reflection of the fact that Foster hasn’t been very open about his sexual orientation during his four years in office. We’re told that as recently as this year, many people in county government didn’t even realize Foster is gay. He never sought an endorsement form the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and not even Stonewall Democrats backed him in this year’s Democratic Primary.

Of course, Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Foster was partly due to the fact that in four years, he didn’t do much on behalf of LGBT equality. Foster never formally proposed adding benefits for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian county employees. He never even formally proposed adding sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. Foster will tell you this was because he didn’t have the votes, but as an openly gay elected official who’d been endorsed by Stonewall in 2006, he could have at least tried.

Also this weekend, the two new members of the Commissioners Court, Clay Jenkins and Dr. Elba Garcia, were sworn in. With a Democratic majority for the first time in decades, we’d say it’s high time for the Commissioners Court to do what Foster failed to and bring the county into the 21st century on gay rights.

—  John Wright