WATCH: Marathon of LGBT speakers call on Commissioners Court to add trans protections

Here’s video of the first six LGBT advocates who spoke at Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, with video of the remaining six to come later. As we noted earlier, the unprecedented marathon of speakers exceeded the maximum 30 minutes for public comment on the issue — a proposal to add transgender protections to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. It was the fourth straight week in which LGBT advocates addressed the Commissioners Court, and the community’s advocacy led to the court ultimately approving trans protections in a 3-2 party-line vote. The speakers in Part I (above) are Rebecca Solomon, Jesse Garcia and Louise Young; and the speakers in Part II (below) are Cd Kirven, Jeffrey Barnett and Mark Reed. As the old saying goes,  “This is what Democracy looks like!”

—  John Wright

El Paso may put DP benefits back on ballot

After a ballot measure passed in November to rescind domestic partner benefits for El Paso employees, the City Council is considering another ballot measure to restore them. The November ballot measure sponsored by religious groups aimed to take away benefits for the partners of gay and lesbian employees. However, because it was so vaguely worded, the ballot measure also threatened benefits for the partners of retired city workers, and it’s now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

The El Paso Times reports on the latest development:

The El Paso City Council on Tuesday introduced a proposed ordinance for a May ballot initiative that would restore health benefits to gay and unmarried partners of city employees.

The public rescinded those benefits in the Nov. 2 election, but they remain in effect while the courts hear a lawsuit in the matter.

The council did not discuss the proposed ordinance or take public comment on it. A public hearing will be held in coming weeks. If the City Council does not vote to put the matter on the ballot, supporters still can do so by gathering enough signatures on a petition.

—  John Wright

Gay Oklahoma teen commits suicide following ‘toxic’ city debate over GLBT history month

Zach Harrington

A 19-year-old gay man from Oklahoma has taken his own life, and his parents say a hate-filled recent City Council meeting he attended may have driven him over the edge.

Zach Harrington was a talented musician who’d endured years of struggles due to his sexual orientation in high school in conservative Norman, Okla.

On Sept. 28, Harrington attended a three-hour public hearing on a proposal to declare October gay history month in the city. Although the council ultimately approved the proposal, Harrington’s parents described the meeting as potentially “toxic” for their son, a private person who internalized his feelings.

From The Norman Transcript:

Nikki Harrington, Zach’s older sister, said her brother likely took all of the negative things said about members of the GLBT community straight to heart.

“When he was sitting there, I’m sure he was internalizing everything and analyzing everything … that’s the kind of person he was,” she said. “I’m sure he took it personally. Everything that was said.”

Harrington’s father, Van, said he wasn’t sure why his son went to the meeting, especially after his experiences in Norman once he revealed that he was gay as a teenager. He said he feels his son may have glimpsed a hard reality at the Sept. 28 council meeting, a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.

“I don’t think it was a place where he would hear something to make him feel more accepted by the community,” he said. “For somebody like Zach, it (the meeting) was probably very hard to sit through.”

Zach Harrington committed suicide at his family’s home in Norman seven days after the meeting, yet another apparent victim of anti-gay hate. His parents say they hope the story of his death will make people think twice before they say certain things about their friends and neighbors in public. We’re hoping it will also prompt them to reflect upon the hatred in their hearts.

—  John Wright

DART board approves trans protections

Advocates pledge to keep working with board to improve wording in non-discrimination policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

DART board a standing
STANDING UP FOR EQUALITY | Spectators give the DART board a standing ovation on Tuesday, June 22, after the board voted unanimously to adopt a policy change extending nondiscrimination protections to its transgender workers. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

After removing a one-word amendment that would have gutted the proposal, Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday, June 22, to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

The vote came after about 10 LGBT leaders addressed the DART board, with dozens more looking on from the audience in the local community’s largest turnout for a public meeting since Fort Worth City Council meetings held in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid last year.

LGBT speakers demanded that the DART board approve the new policy after removing the amendment, which consisted of the word “except” and was added a week earlier in an apparent attempt by some DART officials to dilute the proposed trans protections.

“A word is standing between us, and the word is ‘except,’” Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore told the DART board, adding that everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity. “All of these things also include you. Why not include us?”

Following the 30-minute public comment period, DART board member William Tsao of Dallas made a motion to approve the policy, minus the one-word amendment. “It is the intention of the DART board to make clear that its policy unequivocally prohibits any discrimination against persons based on their gender identity or gender expression,” Tsao said in making his motion, which was seconded by board member Faye Wilkins of Dallas.

The board’s unanimous vote in favor of Tsao’s motion drew a standing ovation from the audience. Two DART board members who voted against trans protections last week, Scott Carlson of Dallas and Mark Enoch of Rowlett, were absent from this week’s meeting.

DART board member Claude Williams of Dallas, an LGBT ally who’s accused the agency’s attorneys of duping the board into the amendment, said later he was “thrilled and overjoyed” with this week’s corrective vote. “It’s been a humungous effort,” Williams said.

Board member Loretta Ellerbe of Plano said she supported the addition of trans protections all along. “It was the right thing to do,” she said after the meeting.

Ray Noah, who proposed the one-word amendment last week, denied that he intended to gut the trans protections, saying he just thought the language of the policy was confusing.

“I didn’t think it was clear enough,” he said.

Noah acknowledged he told The Dallas Morning News he believes DART should retain the right to discriminate in some cases. Noah also denied opposing the addition of sexual orientation to DART’s nondiscrimination policy in 1995, despite clear evidence that he vocally did so.

Tuesday’s vote capped a months-long process that began in February when Dallas Voice reported on alleged discrimination by DART against a transgender bus driver. The proposal to add trans protections, spearheaded by officials at Resource Center Dallas, cleared one DART committee unanimously in April.

In late May, the DART board’s Committee of the Whole tabled the proposal to seek more information about the definition of gender identity, which they later said the agency’s attorneys were unable to provide.

Finally, following a 30-minute closed-door session on June 15, the board hastily amended the proposal to say 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 state or federal protections for LGBT workers, legal experts said this amendment would have effectively gutted the trans protections — and rescinded the sexual orientation protections from 15 years ago.

Even after Tuesday’s removal of the word “except,” some said they still had concerns about the final language. Resource Center officials said they intend to work with DART on rewording the policy, in addition to discussing its implementation in the form of diversity training.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said the language of the policy is not ideal but that the removal of the word “except” remedied his main concern.

“It now basically says unless federal or state law prohibits them from doing so —which they do not — their policy is not to discriminate because of any of the enumerated characteristics or identity traits,” Upton said. “Could you improve it? Yes, but it is still a win that was worth fighting for.” To watch video, go to http://tinyurl.com/2e384vm This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice