Longtime activist says he is excited, scared by the opportunities he has as head of center’s LGBT programs
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Resource Center Dallas has hired Lee Taft as associate executive director of GLBT programs and strategic partnerships.
William Waybourn, one of the founders of Resource Center Dallas, called the hiring of Taft genius.
“Talk about a power couple at the right time for the right organization — [Executive Director] Cece [Cox] and Lee are it,” Waybourn said.
Taft was hired to replace Cox who became executive director of the organization after former director Mike McKay left last spring.
“This place has a regional and community history,” Taft said. “But it also is deeply personal. I worked with John [Thomas]. I worked with Bill [Nelson] and Terry [Tebedo].”
Thomas was the first executive director of Resource Center Dallas. Nelson and Tebedo were founding board members and created the food pantry at their store, Crossroads Market. The Nelson-Tebedo clinic on Cedar Springs Road is named for them.
Taft was an attorney for 20 years. As a board member of the Texas Human Rights Foundation, he was involved in the Don Baker case.
Baker, a Dallas school teacher, challenged the Texas sodomy law. In that 1982 lawsuit, Judge Jerry Buchmeyer declared the Texas statute unconstitutional.
“For me, it was a time when I could have been fired on the spot from my law firm,” Taft said about his own involvement in the case. “Jerry wrote a phenomenal decision.”
An en banc hearing by the full court later reversed the ruling.
Taft left Dallas to attend Harvard Divinity School in 1996. In 1999, he became the school’s dean.
But through his affiliation with THRF, Taft had worked with Lambda Legal since its founding. In 2001, Lambda Legal opened its South Central region and tapped Taft to open the Dallas office.
He became the regional spokesperson for the Lawrence v. Texas case that originated in his Dallas office was the case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Texas sodomy law. It has been cited in every case that has advanced LGBT rights since.
Taft called the wording of Lawrence an apology for Hardwick and an exoneration for Baker.
Taft left Lambda Legal later that year to found his own consulting practice as an ethicist.
Among the many clients he helped was the city of Dallas that hired him to steer it through the fake drug scandal in which police planted fake drugs and charged dozens of people on narcotics violations.
“Madeleine Johnson hired me in guiding the response,” Taft said, and based on his recommendations, “The city council passed a five-point resolution.” Johnson was Dallas city attorney at the time.
Among Taft’s recommendations were expressions of remorse, directions to settle the case and changes of policies and procedures. He said the settlement was financially efficient, avoided a racial fracture in the city and has been cited as a model of how a city should respond.
Including expressions of remorse rather than just issuing an apology is something that Taft said was confirmed for him during a discussion he had in Dallas with Bishop Desmond Tutu.
He said reconciliation in South Africa was failing because all that was required was an admission of deeds without an expression of regret.
He said he would bring that lesson to some of his work at the Resource Center, specifically citing the center’s domestic violence program.
Taft said he doesn’t believe an apology is all that’s necessary from batterers: There also needs to be an expression of remorse.
Cox said she was excited about the rich background Taft brings to his new position.
“He has an understanding of this organization and how we fit into the overall GLBT movement and HIV communities we serve,” she said.
She said she planned to keep him quite busy.
“I expect him to be able to do a number of things — position our programs to be more sustainable and relevant in the future; integrate our health and GLBT programs to promote wellness.”
Although Taft wasn’t looking for a job when he applied this summer, he said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“When Mike McKay became director and described Cece’s position, I thought it was the coolest position in the community,” he said.
Taft said his new job will allow him to be innovative and creative and do something important.
Taft calls his resume eclectic. His list of community activities is as long and varied as his professional career. In addition to THRF, he was a founding board member of AIDS Interfaith Network. He worked with Gay Line, a help line that was later folded into Oak Lawn Community Services. Today, Resource Center Dallas receives many of those types of calls.
Earlier this week, Taft was in California speaking on ethics at Pepperdine University School of Law. After he assumes his new role at the Resource Center, he plans to continue doing some speaking, which he hopes will help develop strategic partnerships for the agency.
Cox added “strategic partnerships” to the job title and said she considers developing new relationships for the agency to be a major goal for Taft.
He said his new position would give him an opportunity to grow.
“There’s something about this,” he said. “It’s on-the-ground community activism that excites me and scares me.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.