Tollway authority adds LGBT protections

North Texas Tollway Authority board members Jane Willard and David Denison listen as a Resource Center Dallas board member asks the NTTA board to approve an amendment that adds sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the EEO policy April 18. Denison, who opposed sending the amendment to the board at an April 5 committee meeting, abstained from the vote. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The North Texas Tollway Authority Board of Directors approved an amendment Wednesday morning to add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy.

One of the nine board members was absent, but the amendment was approved with seven members in favor and one abstention.

The administration committee approved sending the amendment to the full board with a 2-1 vote April 5. While two committee members were absent for the briefing and vote, committee member George “Tex” Quesada strongly supported the amendment and recommended the Board of Directors vote in favor of it. Committee Chairwoman Jane Willard also voted yes. Committee member David Denison called the amendment “ridiculous” before voting no. He abstained from the vote Wednesday after Willard and Quesada moved to adopt the amendment without further comments from board members.

Before the vote, Maeve O’Connor, a Resource Center Dallas board member, spoke about her experience a “woman born with a transsexual medical condition.” She encouraged the board to add the protections and explained the difference of sexual orientation and gender rolls, calling gender expression the “in between space of gender identity and gender role.”

“From personal experience, I can tell you that my path of transition has not always been an easy one,” she said. “A person must be able to express their gender identity in order to fit the ascribed gender role … and it makes it difficult for an employee that’s working in your workforce to move onto that next step and realize the identity that they’ve always know of themselves.”

O’Connor concluded by encouraging the NTTA to consider working with RCD to help employees understand gender identity and expression.

Rafael McDonnell, RCD’s communications and advocacy manager, said he was surprised but “exceptionally pleased” that seven of the board members voted in favor of the amendment. He said he was counting on five votes for approval with the two members from Dallas and Tarrant counties and support from Willard, a member from Collin County. NTTA’s board consists of nine members, two from Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties, as well as one member appointed by the governor.

After RCD and Fairness Fort Worth approached NTTA in December, McDonnell said he was impressed with the board’s proactive approach to quickly adopting LGBT protections without an incident of discrimination to spark the additions later. He said he would follow up with NTTA in the next few weeks to offer additional support and help in possible diversity training.

“We’ll be glad to work with them in any way,” he said.

NTTA is now the sixth agency in Dallas County to add or expand LGBT protections in recent years. The other agencies that have updated their policies are Dallas County, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas County Community College District, DFW International Airport and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Tarrant County College District, Fort Worth Independent School District and the city of Fort Worth have also added protections.

NTTA spokesman Michael Rey said the authority has 690 employees. While the LGBT protections will take effect immediately, he said the EEO policy and employee handbook would be officially changed in the upcoming weeks to reflect the changes.

—  Dallasvoice