Resource Center Dallas calls for NBA to join NFL in banning anti-gay discrimination

The other day we mentioned that the National Football League recently banned anti-gay discrimination as part of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Now, Resource Center Dallas is calling on the National Basketball Association to follow suit.

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell provided Instant Tea with a copy of the letter he sent today to NBA Commissioner David Stern and Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Players Association, calling for the league to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. The NBA is set to resume meetings Friday in an attempt to come up with a new collective bargaining agreement and salvage the upcoming season.

McDonnell says Major League Soccer added sexual orientation protections in 2004, while the National Hockey League did so in 2005.

“I am proud of the steps that the NBA has taken to embrace the LGBT community. Several teams have held LGBT fan nights,” McDonnell’s letter states. “The ‘Wordplay/Think B4 You Speak.com’ PSA that ran during last spring’s NBA playoffs show the league and the players association understand how words can be used to dehumanize LGBT people. Furthermore, recent penalties assessed against players show the league is serious about cracking down on disrespectful language.

“By adding the sexual orientation nondiscrimination language, the NBA not only joins the NFL, NHL and MLS. It joins nine of the Fortune 10 companies and 89% of the Fortune 500. It also sends a strong signal to the league’s LGBT fans that they are supported and affirmed, since professional sports have been described as one of the last bastions of homophobia.”

Read the full letter below.

—  John Wright

DISD adds trans protections

Rafael McDonnell

Board votes to include gender identity and expression in harassment, retaliation and discrimination policies

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dallas Independent School District added protections for students based on gender identity and expression during its regular board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 25.

The six items expanding protection were initially part of the consent agenda. The items were pulled from the consent before the meeting for a separate vote and then all but two later returned to the consent agenda and passed unanimously.

Only one speaker addressed the issue in the comment period before the vote.

After talking about having been bullied in school, Omar Jimenez told the board, “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”

The vote was delayed several hours by a discussion on redistricting of board trustee districts.

Two items initially on the consent agenda were held because they related to teacher contracts, with no controversy involving the gender identity protections that were included.

The discussion and vote on those items came after press time and will be reported on line.

The new policies relate to discrimination, retaliation and harassment by faculty and staff against students and against other faculty and staff.

Two weeks ago, the board discussed the entries on this week’s consent agenda. Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas, attended the meeting and said they were reviewed with little discussion and no dissent.

Last fall, board members discussed gender identity and expression during the debate on the comprehensive new anti-bullying policy.

“We did a good job of educating them on the topic then,” McDonnell said.

He said these changes brought the harassment, retaliation and discrimination policies in line with the policies passed to combat bullying.

“They wanted to make the language match the anti-bullying policy,” McDonnell said.

The only questions asked were about a provision on genetic information required by the federal government.

Federal law requires genetic privacy. The law was passed to protect people from insurance companies requiring disclosure of genetic testing to find predisposition to certain diseases.

But it also protects a transgender person from having an employer release genetic information about his or her birth gender that might differ from presentation.

DISD became the third school district in Texas to include gender identity and expression in its harassment policies after Houston and Fort Worth ISDs. McDonnell said other districts were waiting to hear what changes in policy the legislature would require in the session that ended in May.

He suggested those districts look at the DISD policy, which he called the most comprehensive in protecting students, faculty and staff.

“Now the focus is how the policy is being used,” McDonnell said. “Are the students protected?”

McDonnell also said that he participated in a training session with DISD security officers. The session was lively with a lot of questions, he said, which he believes means they are serious about stopping bullying and harassment in Dallas schools.

When Dallas schools opened this week, all students were given a code of conduct that contains the new anti-bullying policy. Each student had to return a signed form that they read and understood the policy.

The anti-bullying bill that was passed by the Legislature in the spring goes into effect on Sept. 1. In Dallas, the policies are already in place.

—  John Wright

DISD to quietly add trans protections Thursday

The latest DISD policy changes haven’t generated the media hype that an anti-bullying policy did last fall, when news crews surrounded Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell outside a board meeting.

A few weeks ago we reported that the Dallas school board is considering a series of policy changes designed to protect transgender students and employees against discrimination and harassment.

Well, it looks like the changes — in the form of amendments to six separate DISD policies — are on now the board’s Consent Agenda for its regular meeting this Thursday, meaning there’s no opposition and they’re expected to be approved without discussion.

The DISD board went over the changes during a briefing session two weeks ago.

“There was actually very little discussion of it at all,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who attended the briefing session. “There was more time talking about the addition of ‘genetic information,’ which is a federal requirement, than there was about adding gender identity or gender expression.

“I think in this case it shows the trustees remember the discussion we had last fall when the bullying policy was passed,” McDonnell said. “They were already familiar with the concept of gender identity and expression.”

McDonnell said DISD will become the third district in the state to ban discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and expression.

“I think this is an incredibly positive step for DISD,” he said. “We’d love to see other districts follow in the footsteps of Fort Worth ISD, Houston ISD and DISD.”

Thursday’s meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at DISD headquarters, 3700 Ross Ave.

—  John Wright

EXCLUSIVE: Dallas school board to consider protections for transgender students, employees

Andy Moreno, a transgender girl, was denied an opportunity to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School last year.

The Dallas school board is set to consider a series of policy changes designed to protect transgender students and employees against discrimination and harassment — and to protect LGBT students against potential bullying by teachers.

Among other things, the proposed changes could prevent another controversy like the one that arose last year — when a transgender girl was denied an opportunity to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School.

DISD’s board of trustees is scheduled to go over the proposed changes during its briefing session this Thursday, which means they could come up for a final vote next month, according to district spokesman Jon Dahlander.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said representatives from his organization have worked with DISD officials over the last several months to craft the proposed policy changes, which grew out of the board’s approval last year of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy.

Many of the new changes would essentially transfer language from the anti-bullying policy into existing policies related to harassment and discrimination, some of which previously included sexual orientation but not gender identity and expression.

“The original policies did not protect the entire community,” McDonnell said. “We’ve been fortunate here at the Center to advocate for more inclusive policies, first with DART and earlier this year with Dallas County, and now with DISD. All of the community should be protected.”

—  John Wright

A beautiful day for a (gay) wedding

Rafael_McDonnellRAFAEL McDONNELL | Contributing Columnist

Friday, July 15, was a beautiful day to get married in Provincetown, Mass. The sun shone in a nearly cloudless sky, and a light breeze blew in from the water.

I hadn’t planned to attend a wedding that day, in the waning moments of a Provincetown vacation. In fact, if the original plans had held up, I would have been in Canada. But the chance to spend time with friends and fellow bears at P-town Bears Week proved too strong a pull.

Just before noon, I’d walked out onto a granite jetty in far west Provincetown. In front of me was Pilgrim’s First Landing Park, where a crowd of bears gathered. In their midst, two men wore matching red shirts, khaki shorts and flip-flops. Later, I would learn that they were Daniel Boone and David Moore of High Point, N.C.

As a bell rang in the distance, the Rev. Vernon Porter arrived to conduct the ceremony, blending secular and religious traditions.

Several of Daniel and David’s friends were crying, and to my surprise I found myself softly tearing up as well.

Why?

I’ve been to many weddings in Texas involving my gay and lesbian friends. I’ve even been a member of the wedding party several times. Two men or two women pledging their love, commitment and honor is old, old news.

It had to be something different, something deeper. And then, I realized it. This was the first wedding I’d attended involving the LGBT community where the union was sanctioned by the government.

This must be what respect feels like, and that’s why I cried.

I cried for those no longer with us, who could have never hoped or dreamed to marry and have it count in the eyes of the law, for those afraid to step out into the light of true acceptance, and for those LGBT community members whose marriages have been challenged, negated or disrespected by those who purport to govern.

I also cried because I’ve never seriously considered the idea of me ever getting married. I’ve dated and been in relationships with several wonderful men. But here were two fellow bears, who met six years earlier at a bear-sponsored group dinner in North Carolina, having the wedding of their dreams in one of the gayest places on Earth.

If it could happen for them, it could happen for me — someday.

The wedding ceremony ended traditionally, with an exchange of rings and a passionate kiss. Here’s what Daniel said about those rings, made from an anniversary ring owned by David’s mother: “When she passed away, she had seven of the diamond stones to go to me, seven to go to David and (the final seven stones) go to his brother. She told David and I to take the stones and make our wedding rings with it. That way, she will always be there with us.”

A small crowd gathered to witness the wedding, and burst into spontaneous applause as the ceremony ended. Somebody in the crowd shouted “Mazel tov!” Two lesbians, who had been riding along the edge of the sand dunes, stopped to watch and spontaneously pulled out their camera to take pictures. I did, also.

And then it happened. I became part of the wedding party. One of the attendees asked if I would take a group picture. I said, sure. Then a second person asked, and a third, and a fourth. Before I knew it, I added “wedding photographer” to my resume.

All too soon, the parties dispersed, and I prepared to leave Cape Cod.

Yet, all weekend, weddings remained on my mind. I’d heard several bears from New York discussing the merits of marrying at Niagara Falls versus the top of the Empire State Building, once weddings start this weekend in New York. When I returned to Texas on Monday, I read Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup’s wedding announcement in the Dallas Morning News.

Both are significant steps toward making our marriages the norm, instead of a novelty.

Someday, in the near future, it won’t be unusual to mark an LGBT wedding. But I will always remember where I was, who and what I saw, and how I felt the first time I witnessed our community’s love sanctified, recognized and deemed legal in the eyes of the state.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas. He is also an active member of the bear community in North Texas.

—  John Wright

Rural AIDS agency to shut down

ARRT served people with HIV in 29 counties west of Fort Worth

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

WEATHERFORD — AIDS Resources of Rural Texas will close on Sept. 1.

The agency serves clients in 29 counties with clinics in Weatherford and Abilene. In addition to providing primary medical care, its programs include case management, HIV testing, a food pantry, transportation, prevention education and housing, utility and emergency financial assistance.

The closure is blamed on a cut in federal funding.

The closest AIDS service organizations will be in Fort Worth, but ARRT board members said that some clients have no transportation and many are indigent. And while Weatherford is just 30 miles west of Fort Worth in Parker County, Abilene is about 150 miles from Cowtown. AIDS services are also available in Midland, which is 150 miles west of Abilene.

Kristen Bradbury, who works at the Weatherford office, said, “We are very worried about our clients.”

She said that the Weatherford clients were better off than those served by the Abilene office.

Board members are not speaking publicly about the closing and will issue a statement next week.

About 150 people will be left without care in Abilene and 130 in Weatherford. Clients received a letter encouraging them to seek medical care elsewhere, but no suggestions were made.

Some infectious disease specialists can be found in the area, but most have little experience with HIV and some refuse to treat it.

ARRT began in the 1980s as an AIDS support group and incorporated as a nonprofit to provide services in 1993.

Rafael McDonnell, spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said he doesn’t expect an influx of clients to Dallas HIV organizations. Distance is one reason, but also many grants that are awarded to AIDS agencies are geographically limited.

Fort Worth agencies and John Peter Smith Hospital may feel more of an impact.

AIDS Outreach Center in Fort Worth provides many of the same services as ARRT. Some clients who can get to Fort Worth will probably access that agency’s services.

David Mack Henderson is on the North Central Texas HIV Planning Council, which covers Tarrant County as well as the 29 counties serviced by ARRT.

He said that negotiations are under way with other service providers to make sure some services continue seamlessly.

“They provided an amazing product for the consumers who needed it,” Henderson said.

He said he’s grateful for the 60 days notice to prepare for the agency’s closing rather than finding that they had simply locked the doors.

Bryan King of North Texas Infectious Disease Consultants at Baylor had another suggestion for some clients of ARRT — looking for a drug study.

Clients are classified as either naïve or experienced. Naïve clients are those who have never been on medications before. In those studies, all drug costs, labs and doctors fees are covered. Experienced clients are those who have taken medication before. In those cases, only the trial drug would be covered.

However, he said patients are paid for their visits and often gas is covered.

“I have one who comes from Shreveport and he gets $100 for gas,” King said.

He suggested looking for trials at ClinicalTrials.gov. Under search, type “HIV AND Dallas.”

Some of the clients of ARRT have insurance and will find local doctors to treat them. If the regional HIV planning council can find other agencies and federally qualified health centers to pick up the services provided by ARRT, low-income clients without insurance may find care without traveling up to 150 miles.

ARRT was named a 2012 Black Tie Dinner recipient. Nan Arnold, co-chair of this year’s Black Tie Dinner, said this was the first time that she could remember losing a beneficiary because it closed before the event.

—  John Wright

A long road still lies ahead in the fight for equality

Pride Month celebrates our accomplishments, but an East Texas funeral service reminds us that we have a long way to go

Rafael_McDonnellRAFAEL McDONNELL | Special Contributor

This is national Gay Pride Month. In the 40-plus years since 1969 and the Stonewall Rebellion, there have been significant changes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and it’s important to celebrate our accomplishments.

Take a look at what has happened in the last year:

The federal government took the first steps toward repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bans open military service by gays and lesbians. Federal officials also unveiled new guidelines on how hospitals should deal with LGBT patients and their families.

Closer to home, DFW International Airport and Dallas County added policies to protect their LGBT employees from employment discrimination, and Dallas ISD adopted a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that protects all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

I’m happy to say Resource Center Dallas played key roles in these local accomplishments.

In addition, public attitudes are changing. A Gallup poll released last month shows more than half the people surveyed now find gay and lesbian relationships, in the words of the survey, “morally acceptable.” The poll also showed half the people surveyed support marriage equality; up from 26 percent in 1996.

Much of this growth is attributed to people under the age of 35, and a change of attitude among men.

With all of these positive developments, we could become complacent. We could think the heavy work is done. At times, I’ve allowed myself to fall into this self-congratulatory trap.

Then I hear a story, as I did over Memorial Day weekend, which jars me back to the reality that our lives are precarious. It reminded me that there are far too many hearts and souls whose attitudes toward us have not changed.

At a funeral for a gay acquaintance of mine in East Texas, the minister delivered an anti-gay message from the pulpit, as did a relative of the deceased. In fact, the relative said he did not accept his brother’s sexual orientation in life, and wouldn’t in death.

Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine what the LGBT friends of the deceased must have felt, hearing those words in that setting?

This happened in 2011, a short drive from Dallas/Fort Worth. It stunned me, and reminded me of several recent events that together show the path for full inclusion remains bumpy.

When a state representative tries to eliminate funding for LGBT resource centers on Texas public college campuses, we have a long way to go. When a state senator attempts to restrict the rights of transgender Texans to marry, we have a long way to go.

When criminals target people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, we have a long way to go. When LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs because of who they are or who they love, we have a long way to go.

When there are laws labeling our relationships and partnerships as less than legal and equal, we have a long way to go. When LGBT seniors face discrimination in long-term care facilities, we have a long way to go.

When we are treated unequally under federal programs like Social Security and Medicaid, we have a long way to go.

This is not meant to be a bucket of cold water on a festive, celebratory time. We’ve shown over and over again in the years since Stonewall that we have created communities, forged alliances and literally moved mountains to affect positive change for the LGBT community. We’ve rallied over the people we’ve lost and the temporary setbacks dropped in our path by lawmakers.

Rather, I think we should use Pride Month as an opportunity to look forward as well as back. Our pride in being who we are, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, isn’t limited to 30 days every year, or a parade in the early fall. It’s pride in how we live our lives and how we work to fulfill the promise of equality for those who come after us.

Remember, this promise of equality is — for us — only a theoretical promise. To achieve equality, much more needs to be done, and each one of us must play a part.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas and a former broadcast journalist. Email him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

—  John Wright

WATCH: ‘It Gets Better’ — even in Texas

Looks like some local folks are among those who’ve put together videos for writer Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project on YouTube. The project, launched in response to the recent rash of suicides by gay teens, is aimed at LGBT youth and features adults explaining that no matter how bad things may seem, they really do get better. Those who’ve recorded messages for the project include Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell and Bret Camp, and the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. Do you know of other local folks who’ve recorded these? If so, feel free to put the link in the comments.

—  John Wright

Resource Center Dallas to formally dedicate Westboro Baptist Church’s gift to the gays

Here’s the press release that just came across from RCD’s Rafael McDonnell:

Dallas — Resource Center Dallas will hold a formal dedication August 6 (Friday) at 10 a.m. for an ice machine it bought as a result of its “Hell Freezes Over” counter-protest of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano is expected to attend.

WBC protested the Center and Congregation Beth El Binah, a mainstream Reform Jewish congregation which meets at the center, on July 9. The “Hell Freezes Over” fundraising counter-protest was launched July 1 and ran through July 19. Donors were asked to give 50 cents or a dollar a minute for the 30 minutes of the scheduled protest. The fundraiser raised nearly $11,000 and drew contributions from Texas and seven other states. It was the most successful counter-protesting fundraiser in Texas against WBC, and one of the most successful ever nationwide.

A plaque will also be unveiled in honor of the people who donated to “Hell Freezes Over” and to Westboro Baptist for serving as the donors’ inspiration.

—  John Wright

Talkin’ Prop 8 with Rick Vanderslice

Rick Vanderslice, left, speaks during last night’s Prop 8 rally at the Legacy of Love Monument.

Rick Vanderslice, whom I ran into Wednesday evening at the Prop 8 rally, sends along word that his radio show Thursday afternoon will feature a roundtable discussion about the ruling, what it means and what’s next for the LGBT equality movement. “The Rick Vanderslice Show” streams live from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at RationalBroadcasting.com. Panelists will include Blake Wilkinson, Rafael McDonnell, Michael Robinson, Israel Luna, Jack E. Jett and John Nelson. Vanderslice was kind enough to invite me to join them, but alas, it’s production day here at DV, so I’ll have to make my debut on the show another time. The call-in number is 214-631-1360.

—  John Wright