Ever since Democrats took over the Dallas County courthouse in 2006, judges here have been routinely granting gender-marker changes — court orders that allow transgender people to obtain driver’s licenses and other forms of ID that match their appearance.
Needless to say, this has been a critical development for the transgender community, but as it turns out, even with Democrats in power, gender-marker changes don’t always go smoothly.
In one controversial case uncovered by Dallas Voice in February, an employer tried to intervene in family court to challenge an employee’s gender-marker change, prompting a Democratic judge who was considered a strong LGBT ally to overturn her decision to grant it.
The employer was Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the judge was Lynn Cherry, and this newspaper’s report about the case prompted an outcry from LGBT advocates.
After all, if DART was willing to intervene in family court to challenge an employee’s gender-marker change, would the agency do the same if it didn’t agree with a divorce settlement or a child custody arrangement?
DART offered no good explanation as to why it had sought to intervene in the case, leaving the LGBT community to believe the decision was fueled by bigotry and transphobia. And LGBT advocates demanded that the agency redeem itself by adding gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy.
The employee in the case, a longtime DART bus driver who asked not to be identified, said the agency’s decision to challenge her gender-marker change was the culmination of years of discrimination and harassment on the part of the agency.
DART had added sexual orientation but not gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 1995.
After meetings between representatives from DART and Resource Center Dallas, the proposal to add gender identity appeared to be on a fast track for approval when it unanimously cleared a committee in April.
But suddenly in May, despite the fact that the amendment had been under review for months, the agency’s Board of Directors voted to table it so they could seek more information about the definition of gender identity.
Then, following a 30-minute, possibly illegal closed-door session in mid-June, the board hastily approved new language that effectively gutted the proposal.
The new language said the agency wouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”
Because there are no federal or state protections for LGBT workers, legal experts said the new language would’ve not only undermined the trans protections, but also rescinded DART’s sexual orientation protections from 15 years ago.
The LGBT community was outraged anew and even more galvanized than ever over the issue.
Claude Williams, an LGBT ally on the DART board, accused the agency’s attorneys of “duping” board members into supporting the new language. Incidentally, it was these same attorneys who’d sought to challenge the employee’s gender marker change.
Finally, on June 22, Williams and other allies on the DART board put forth a motion to remove the language that would’ve gutted the proposal, and to approve it as previously written — with both gay and transgender protections in tact.
Faced with immense pressure from the LGBT community, the board unanimously approved the motion — and received a standing ovation from what was the largest LGBT audience to attend a government meeting in North Texas since Fort Worth City Council meetings in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid.
— John Wright
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.