Dallas County Community College District to schedule vote on transgender protections

Dr. Wright Lassiter

After calls and letters from individuals and encouragement from Resource Center Dallas, Dallas County Community College District has apparently decided to put an amendment to its nondiscrimination policy on the January agenda. But in an email, DCCCD President Wright Lassiter said as far as the board is concerned, nondiscrimination is already policy.

The DCCCD board is considering adding gender identity and expression to its official written policy. Sexual orientation is already included.

RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell sent Lassiter a letter that pointed out three places in the community college’s policies where wording would need to change to make all nondiscrimination wording parallel. Erin Roberts, a member of RCD’s transgender group GEAR, wrote to Lassiter that she has taken several courses at different DCCCD campuses.

While DCCCD legal counsel Robert J. Young originally said the college district would be covered under the city’s nondiscrimination policy that includes gender identity, Roberts pointed out the “government entity exemption” written into the ordinance.

“As a former white male who lived unknowingly in a world of white male privilege even though I came from very humble origins, my eyes have been opened to many different human right struggles directly because of my personal experience with discrimination on the basis that I am transgender,” Roberts wrote. “I am not less capable than before I came out. I am not less experienced. I do have much less opportunity to participate in the workforce. I am not hideous, outlandish, distracting, attention-seeking or disrespectful, but i am different. I am not able or willing to hide. The world will never get better for any of us that may be different in some way if we hide or accept that some how our differences not based on our performance, but based on perceptions of us should be allowed to justify preventing us from participating fully and contributing based on our abilities and talents to the work force and society at large.”

Lassiter replied to both Roberts and McDonnell that non-discrimination based on gender identity is the policy at the trustee level.

“I wanted you to know that I am encouraging openness and fairness in our policy language,” he wrote. “I have asked the board to take the time to give this full consideration and be in a position to make their position a matter of policy at the January board meeting. The messages that are being received are ‘heard.’ Throughout my tenure in the district I have endeavored to be as inclusive as possible — I hope this little message is helpful to you and others.”

In a message to McDonnell later in the week, Lassiter said he wouldn’t be able to get the matter on the December agenda but hoped to have it added to the January meeting.

—  David Taffet

DCCCD: No protections for gender identity

Community college district officials say trans people are already covered under sexual orientation; RCD encourages supporters to contact board members

Rafael_McDonnell

Rafael McDonnell

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas is calling on LGBT equality advocates and allies to contact Dallas County Community College District officials and ask them to schedule a vote during the DCCCD board’s Dec. 6 meeting on adding protections based on gender identity to the district’s nondiscrimination policies.

RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said the center decided to issue the call this week after district board members said they would not vote to add gender identity to the policy. DCCD’s legal counsel, Robert J. Young, notified McDonnell of the decision in a letter on Monday, Nov. 7.

McDonnell had been in contact with DCCCD board and staff since spring, encouraging them to add gender identity and expression to the community college district’s nondiscrimination policy. Sexual orientation is already included.

In his letter, Young wrote that the board does not believe it is necessary to change the district’s nondiscrimination policy because “gender identity” is included under “sexual orientation,” and because the city of Dallas ordinances include transgender protections.

“Since our current non-discrimination policy states that it protects ‘any other category protected by law,’ it is clear that ‘gender identity’ is already covered by virtue of the city of Dallas ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation (defined by the city to include gender identity),” he wrote.

DCCCD’s headquarters building is on South Lamar Street, in The Cedars section of Dallas. Two campuses — El Centro College and Mountain View College — and three branch campuses are also in the city.

But five of the seven DCCCD colleges and three branch campuses are in suburban cities not covered by any city of Dallas ordinance. Richland College, the school with the largest enrollment, is in Richardson.

According to DCCCD District Director of Media Relations Ann Hatch, if someone were to file a complaint, that complaint would be filed with the district in the city of Dallas. She said that the district complies with city of Dallas ordinances.

The city ordinance, however, specifically excludes any governmental body — which would include DCCCD — from the nondiscrimination policy.

Gender identity is included in the city definition of sexual orientation. When the ordinance was passed, then-Mayor Laura Miller had the definition expanded to include gender identity rather than delaying the vote with a discussion of transgender issues.

In 2002, when the ordinance passed, it was more common to include gender identity and expression in the definition of sexual orientation. Today, these categories are usually listed separately in policies seeking to prohibit all forms of discrimination.

In an email, Hatch said that Young realized his reference to the city ordinance was incorrect.

“However, the DCCCD Board of Trustees does not believe that it is necessary to change the district’s nondiscrimination policy, which does include sexual orientation,” Hatch wrote. “If someone at any of our colleges and locations should choose to file a complaint concerning gender identity, that person could reference sexual orientation, which is among the categories listed in our nondiscrimination policy.”

McDonnell provided the DCCCD board with written policies of other governmental bodies including the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, DFW International Airport and Dallas County. All include gender identity. Dallas County also includes gender expression.

Only the city of Dallas policy places gender identity into its definition of sexual orientation.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things, which was spelled out to them in our initial meetings during the summer and they are willfully choosing to ignore it,” said McDonnell.

He said that DCCCD’s inclusion of gender identity under sexual orientation was using wording that is 10 years old.

But from the letter, there is a clear message of no intention to discriminate.

In his letter to McDonnell, Young said the district is a “welcoming place for all its employees and a good place to work,” and cited anecdotal evidence to back up the claim. He said that a long-term employee transitioned while on the job and felt positive about the help and support she received.

But McDonnell insisted that isn’t enough.

“If they don’t discriminate, he needs to say it in a policy,” McDonnell said. “It’s not good enough to say it in a letter.”

When the district is taken as a whole, DCCCD is the largest college in Texas with 72,000 students and 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators. The school is spread across Dallas County on seven main campuses and six community branches.

Texas has 55 community colleges or community college districts. Only six of those include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies.

Pasedena-based San Jacinto College, with three campuses east of Houston, is the only two-year school in Texas to offer protection that specifies gender identity and expression.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas