LGBT residents address Garland City Council on DART, nondiscrimination

Athas

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.

—  Dallasvoice

SMU adds transgender protections

SMUSouthern Methodist University has issued a new statement of nondiscrimination. The previous policy covered sexual orientation but not  gender identity and expression. The new policy reads:

SMU will not discriminate in any employment practice, education program, or educational activity on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status. SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity includes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

The policy reportedly went into effect on Jan. 1 after being approved in December. SMU is believed to be the first four-year university in North Texas with a fully inclusive policy. For the first time in several years, SMU was not included in the Princeton Review’s 2012 list of most homophobic campuses.

Dallas County Community College added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy last year.

Representatives from SMU couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the change.

—  David Taffet

Resource Center sends letter to Dallas company about adding LGBT policies

Cece Cox

Resource Center Dallas’ CEO Cece Cox sent a letter Friday to Holly Frontier Corp. requesting a meeting with them about adding LGBT protections.

The oil and gas company, based in Downtown Dallas, is one of 17 Fortune 500 companies that the Equality Forum recently listed as not having any LGBT-inclusive policies.

Holly Frontier, along with ExxonMobil and Energy Transfer Supply, are based in the Dallas area.

In the letter sent to Holly Frontier’s Human Resources Director Joe Aken, Cox mentions that the company received a score of zero on the Human Rights Campaign 2012 Corporate Equality Index and that it is one of the 17 Fortune 500 companies without any LGBT-inclusive policies.

Therefore RCD leaders want to meet with the company to discuss adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to its nondiscrimination policy and offering comprehensive transgender healthcare coverage. RCD also wants the company to participate in LGBT sensitivity training for employees, engage in recruiting LGBT employees and become involved in the LGBT community.

With 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies including sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies and 50 percent including gender identity, adding LGBT protections to the company’s nondiscrimination policy “simply makes good business sense,” Cox writes in the letter, adding that the revisions would “provide clarity and consistent protections for employees while minimizing risk to shareholders.”

RCD sent a letter to ExxonMobil back in May before a shareholders meeting to vote on adding LGBT protections to its nondiscrimination policy, which later failed. RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said he could not comment on whether ExxonMobil responded to the request for a meeting.

In the coming months, McDonnell said RCD plans to send a letter requesting a meeting with Energy Transfer Supply to work with them on LGBT protections and policies as well.

See RCD’s letter below.

—  Dallasvoice

BREAKING: ExxonMobil shareholders again reject LGBT employment protections (with photos)

ExxonMobil shareholders have again voted down a proposal to add gay and transgender employees to the Irving-based corporation’s nondiscrimination policy.

Meeting at the Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas Arts District, the ExxonMobil shareholders voted 80 percent to 20 percent Wednesday morning against a resolution asking the corporation to amend “its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to substantially implement the policy.”

The proposal has been introduced each year since Mobil and Exxon merged in 1999. The highest level of support came in 2008 at nearly 40 percent.

“It’s disappointing, but this isn’t the end of the issue for us,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who has lobbied the company on the issue. “We’re going to continue to reach out and engage them. … I think the White House needs to go back and revisit this executive order.”

The proposed executive order would require contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies if they do business with the federal government, which Exxon does. However, President Barack Obama’s administration indicated earlier this year that he doesn’t plan to sign the proposed order anytime soon.

Mobil was one of the first companies in the world to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy and offer benefits to the same-sex partners of gay employees. But ExxonMobil rescinded those policies after the merger.

Outside the meeting, dozens of protesters lined Flora Street in front of the Meyerson on Wednesday. About 50 people with organizations including Code Pink, United Steel Workers and Occupy Dallas joined GetEQUAL protesters to shout for equality and ending discrimination, while a handful of protesters parodied the CEOs that make the choices and profit from ExxonMobil.

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, who helped organized the protest, said he wouldn’t be surprised by the vote regardless of the result.

“The people that are against it seem very against it. The people who are for it really done a good job of pushing it this year,” he said. “We’ve got a better shot than in the past.”

As for Exxon not voting in favor of adding the protections in the past, Cates said the company had not learned to change and be more inclusive, which would ultimately hurt business.

“They clinging to antiquated business practices,” he said. “It’s a matter of really learning that this is good for business.”

This year, the resolution was initiated by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who wants the company to not only amend the nondiscrimination policy, but also to begin offering health benefits to the spouses of employees married in the Empire State.

The comptroller controls the state’s pension funds. As of May 18, New York’s pension fund held more than 16 million shares of ExxonMobil worth more than $1 billion.

ExxonMobil has called the measure unnecessary. It says the company is a “meritocracy” for its 82,000 workers worldwide, and that it already prohibits all forms of discrimination.

This is also the first year ExxonMobil appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission to have the shareholder resolution thrown out. The company based its claim on a nondiscrimination statement in its Corporate Careers publication.

The SEC refused to allow ExxonMobil to throw out the resolution, saying the publication doesn’t have the weight of a corporate nondiscrimination policy.

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil maintains the lowest possible rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, with a minus-25.

In response to Wednesday’s vote, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement noting that as of 2012, 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their EEO policy and 50 percent include gender identity.

“The shareholder resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to ExxonMobil’s EEO policy was a non-binding referendum and the company still has the chance to do the right thing,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “As perhaps the largest corporation in the country, ExxonMobil has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen; sadly they have fallen far short. The company has resisted offering basic employment protections for their LGBT workers for years and it’s time they treat all of their employees like the valuable assets they are.”

—  John Wright

Keller youth petitions his city to add LGBT protections

GSA president collected more than 2,000 signatures before making a presentation at City Hall

Keller High School student Isaiah Smith, right, collected signatures to urge his City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance. The mayor said the council has not decided whether to take action.

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

KELLER— Isaiah Smith, 16, made a presentation to the Keller City Council on April 17 after collecting the signatures from about 1,200 adult residents and  800 youth. He’s petitioning to his city to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in restaurants in the city.

“A person can be denied service at a restaurant,” he explained. “I view this as an injustice. All people should be treated equally.”

Smith was inspired by an episode of the ABC show What Would You Do? that was filmed at Norma’s Cafe in North Dallas. Actors played a waitress and a lesbian couple couple with kids,  and mostly patrons defended the lesbian couple.

Smith said that under state law, he needed to submit his petition to the city within 180 days of collecting the first signature.

He said he was the first signer on Oct. 22, making his deadline April 19.

Bernardo Vallarino from GLSEN Greater Dallas, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said: “He was very eloquent. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Vallarino postponed another meeting to attend and was delighted that he got to hear Smith speak.

“He was as good as any lawyer who addresses a city council,” Vallarino said, adding that Smith was a cut above most citizens who speak before council.

Vallarino said one of Smith’s best points that seemed to catch the attention of council members was that nondiscrimination affects everyone. Smith explained that no one should be singled out because of sexual orientation, whether gay or straight.

Assistant City Manager Steve Polacek said later of Smith: “We certainly appreciate his energy and respect his passion. He’s working for something he loves.”

Mayor Pat McGrail allowed Smith seven minutes to speak, more than the usual three minutes. After Smith finished, a counselor from the Keller school system addressed the council and told them that she is a lesbian and would benefit from having a nondiscrimination ordinance on the books.

Later in the week, Mayor McGrail said, “We certainly applaud Mr. Smith’s passion and commitment to his cause; however, council has not discussed nor decided on any action at this time.”

Soon after he began collecting the signatures, Smith was featured on the Channel 33 news. He said that after that, one woman recognized him and asked him if she could sign. Most of the signatures he gathered by going door to door and discussing discrimination with people in Keller.

Smith, who said he would like to enter politics, said he’s learned quite a bit about the law.

“I had some officers tell me I needed a solicitation permit,” he said. But an attorney confirmed to him that the type of canvassing he’s doing doesn’t require a permit.

“I spoke to the city secretary,” he said. He called her to ask about the procedure to submit a petition and have the signatures verified.

“She was shocked and said she never had a petition like that before,” he said.

He had copies of Dallas and Fort Worth nondiscrimination ordinances that are much broader, covering employment, housing and public accommodations.

“If you work in government, you need to make sure there’s no discrimination,” he said.

While he gets little support from his family, he said he gets lots of support at Keller High School.

“Middle school was hell on wheels,” he said. “But my school is very accepting.”

Keller High School had a controversy with its GSA when it first formed. A Facebook page appeared in October 2011 called “Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.” As a result of the controversy, the GSA had to move from a small classroom to a large lecture hall to accommodate the number of additional students who began participating.

Now the group has settled in, and Smith said they have movie nights and a number of regular activities.

“They tried to start a ‘straight alliance,’ but no teacher would sponsor,” Smith said. “My school won’t allow a bigoted organization to be part of the school.”

And if they did, they’d have to contend with Smith.

After the jump, the text of Smith’s council presentation:

—  David Taffet

Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Non-discrimination measure headed toward Houston voters

Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman

A coalition of organizations led by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus has announced plans to place a city-wide nondiscrimination charter amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would make it a misdemeanor to deny employment, housing or public accommodation to a person because of their “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.” The amendment would also allow the city of Houston in institute a “plus-one” health insurance system, allowing city employees to add an additional person to their city-provided healthcare coverage.

Currently in Houston (and in much of Texas) it is perfectly legal to discriminate against a person for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

In order to place the charter amendment on the ballot the group will need to collect 20,000 signatures from Houston citizens. Noel Freeman, president of the Caucus, says that the group has not  finalized the language of the proposed charter amendment adding they hope to begin collecting signatures within a few weeks.

Houston voters have rejected similar protections in the past, twice in 1985 and again in 2001 when a charter amendment banning domestic partner benefits passed. If recent polling data is to believed, however, the civic attitude may be changing. A 2010 poll conducted by the Glengariff group for Equality Texas, a statewide LGBT lobbying organization, indicates an overwhelming percentage of Houstonians support laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Respondents also indicated they supported extending domestic partner benefits to state employees. Here’s the data:

Would you support or oppose a law making it illegal to fire someone or deny housing in Texas to any person solely because he or she is gay or lesbian?

Houston: Strongly Support 68.4% Somewhat Support10.1% Somewhat Oppose 3.6% Strongly Oppose 14.6% Don’t Know 2.4%

Would you support or oppose a law making it illegal to fire or deny housing in Texas to any person solely because they are transgender?

Houston: Strongly Support 62.8% Somewhat Support 10.9% Somewhat Oppose 6.1% Strongly Oppose 15.8% Don’t Know 3.6%

Would you support or oppose extending domestic partnership benefits for things like health benefits to gay and lesbian employees that work for the government and public universities so that they match the same benefits offered to heterosexual employees?

Houston: Strongly Support 50.6% Somewhat Support 15.4% Somewhat Oppose 5.3% Strongly Oppose 21.9% Don’t Know 6.1%

Clearly Houston isn’t as homophobic of a city as some would suppose (we have elected lesbians to citywide office eleven times after all), and the public support for such a measure is obviously there. The question then is if the organizers behind the charter amendment can get enough people to the polls in November to pass it.

—  admin

U.S. Supreme Court: Religious groups exempt from employment discrimination laws

U.S. Supreme Court Building

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Jan. 11, issued a ruling exempting religious groups from nondiscrimination in hiring laws when it comes to ministers and those who teach religious subjects, according to this report in The New York Times.

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

The ruling came in the case Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which former teacher Cheryl Perich claimed she was fired from her job at a Lutheran School in Redford, Mich., because she pursued a discrimination complaint based on a disability (Perich suffers from narcolepsy).

School officials said Perich — who was called a teacher that had completed religious training and who taught mostly secular classes but did also teach a religion class and attend chapel with her class — was fired because she violated church doctrine by pursuing litigation rather than trying to resolve the dispute within the church.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he fears the court’s decision this week will make it harder to combat the “social evil” of “blatant discrimination,” and suggested the ruling could prevent pastors who are sexually harassed from filing suit against their harassers.

But Bishop William E. Lori, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops‘ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, told the Times the ruling was “a great day for the First Amendment.” The Catholic Church has in some cases shut down programs to avoid having to abide by state and federal nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT people, including the decision in December by bishops in Illinois to close most of their church’s adoption and foster care services rather than allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children, as per new state requirements for agencies that receive state funds. Catholic Church officials in Washington, D.C., and Massachussets had made similar decisions previously.

Although this particular case had nothing at all to do with issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, it’s not hard to imagine how easily it can be used against the LGBT community. As Florida Courier columnist Charles W. Cherry II writes: “Can predominately white churches and religious schools now fire black ‘ministers’ (who are also teachers) because of their race and be legally protected from a race discrimination lawsuit? Sounds like it to me — and the court ruled unanimously. Could this case be interpreted to mean that black churches can now legally fire effeminate (or openly gay) ‘ministers’ of music without worrying about a lawsuit in places where sexual orientation is legally protected?”

—  admin