DCCCD adds trans protections

Only 1 community college district trustee votes against change

DCCCD-Main-Photo

CELEBRATION | GetEQUAL activist C.D. Kirven, left, hugs Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center Dallas, as trans rights activist Pam Curry, right, looks on after the Dallas County Community College District board voted Tuesday, Jan. 3, to add protections for transgender employees and students to its nondiscrimination policies. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Dallas County Community College District board of trustees voted Tuesday, Jan. 3 to add gender identity to the district’s non-discrimination policies. The vote came less than three months after the trustees initially declined to add the specific protections, saying the policies were unnecessary.

The trustees approved three measures this week. The first protects transgender employees from discrimination and harassment, while two additional policies cover students — in the student code of conduct and in the district’s nondiscrimination statement.

The policy change was first proposed last spring when Resource Center Dallas Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell contacted DCCCD Trustee Diana Flores, who has supported the policy change from the beginning.

“It wasn’t difficult at all,” Flores said after the board meeting about convincing her fellow
trustees to support the addition. “The LGBT community did a good job of informing the board. Congratulations to the community.”

Only five speakers addressed the board on Tuesday, although another five had signed up to speak.

Dallas County Community College graduate Brad Shankle offered a unique perspective in his remarks. “I struggled with gender dysphoria, although I found a way to deal with it,” he said, adding that having the policy in place while he was a student would have made campus life easier for him.

McDonnell gave the board facts and statistics: In a little more than a year, Dallas Independent School District, DFW Airport, Dallas County and Dallas Area Rapid Transit have all added nondiscrimination protections based on gender identity and expression. Around the country, 410 colleges and universities have protections based on gender identity and expression. And more than half of Fortune 500 companies have these protections in place, McDonnell said, specifically mentioning AT&T.

Earlier in the meeting, Wesley Jameson — who works for AT&T — was sworn in as the newest DCCCD trustee.

When McDonnell asked everyone in the audience who had attended to support the changes to stand, about 20 people responded.

RCD board member and DCCCD student Maeve O’Connor told the board her story. And GetEQUAL North Texas Regional Coordinator Daniel Cates, a student at El Centro College, told the board, “No matter who you are, you deserve a safe place to work and go to school.” He said that a “yes” vote would protect everyone and set an example for other colleges in the state.

DCCCD-story-second-photo

Maeve O’Connor

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez told trustees that a transgender person is twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population and one in four has been fired simply because of gender identity.

Board Chair Jerry Prater then cut off public comments, telling those attending, “We have gotten your message, loud and clear.”

Five trustees were present to vote. Four voted in favor and only Trustee Bill Metzger voted no.

While the board was receptive to the message delivered at the January meeting, passing the policy took more than half a year from the time it was first proposed. And at one point during the fall, it looked like the protections would not even be considered.

When the board was briefed on the policy in October, some members said they thought amending the nondiscrimination statement was unnecessary because it was covered by sexual orientation, and because the city of Dallas prohibits discrimination. Although only two of the system’s colleges are located within the city of Dallas, the school’s attorney argued that the entire system was covered by the ordinance because the district’s headquarters is located in Dallas.

Confusion about the definition of sexual orientation stemmed from the wording in the 2002 Dallas ordinance. The city regulation only lists sexual orientation but the definition of the term within the ordinance includes gender identity.

But the city ordinance specifically exempts other governmental bodies. DCCCD is its own taxing authority and is, therefore, exempt from city regulations.
DCCCD is also not covered by Dallas County laws.

The county Commissioners Court amended its employment policy to include gender identity and expression in 2011. But DCCCD employees work for the community college district, not the county. And that employment policy would not cover students.

When the policy was proposed last spring, San Jacinto College, based in Pasadena east of Houston, was the only community college in Texas with gender identity protections.

In December Houston Community College added trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy.

With more than 81,000 credit students and 25,000 continuing education students enrolled in the fall 2011 semester, DCCCD is the largest community college district and the largest school in Texas. The district includes seven colleges on 13 campuses and employs 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators.
Statewide, there are 55 community colleges or community college districts. Just six of those districts have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

In addition to the three with trans protections, those that only list sexual orientation are Tarrant County College with five campuses, Austin Community College with eight campuses in Travis County and Lone Star College System based in The Woodlands north of Houston with 14 campuses in Harris and Montgomery counties.

With passage of protection by DCCCD, more than 39,000 public sector employees in Dallas County are covered by the expanded policies.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

In LEAGUE with equality

As the employee resource group prepares to turn 25, it celebrates equality gained at AT&T and focuses on anti-bullying efforts

Bates-McLemore.Theresa
Theresa Bates-McLemore

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

As Dallas prepares for the arrival of the national Out & Equal Workplace Advocates convention in October, LEAGUE, the LGBT employee resource group at AT&T, is making plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The AT&T group was the original LGBT employee resource group, begun after the first March on Washington in 1987, and is a model that has been recreated since then across corporate America.

LEAGUE held its national convention at the Melrose Hotel in Oak Lawn on Sept. 9, and openly gay Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns spoke at the Saturday night awards program about his “It Gets Better” experience (see story, Page 27). The group is beginning to prepare its own “It Gets Better” materials on behalf of AT&T, and in Burns’ honor, the group made a donation to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Several awards were given to Dallas LEAGUE members during the convention last weekend.

National Executive of the Year went to Gary Fraundorfer, vice president of human resources, who was honored for re-evaluating all company HR policies to make sure AT&T’s policies treat LGBT employees equally.
Fraundorfer recently joined the Resource Center Dallas board of directors.
“Awards from employees mean the most because they’ll hold you the most accountable,” he said.

But Fraundorfer wanted LEAGUE members to know just how committed to equality the company is.

“We mean it when we say we want things to be equivalent for spouses and partners,” he said. “The goal is complete parity.”

Among AT&T’s 11 latest initiatives to ensure parity is the addition of gender reassignment surgery to the company insurance plan for the company’s transgender employees.

John Cramer, LEAGUE’s national public affairs director, was among the recipients of a “LEAGUE Cares about Bullying” award. He said that the company has rallied around the group’s anti-bullying efforts.

LEAGUE President Theresa Bates-McLemore said she’s heard from employees across the company thanking her for the group’s anti-bullying efforts.

“I’ve heard heartfelt stories from straight people who said, ‘We didn’t know how to do this,’” Bates-McLemore said.

Cramer said that bullying is not just a gay issue and the LEAGUE campaign is helping employees across the company and others outside of AT&T as well.

The new chapter of the year award went to Puerto Rico.

“They took the League Cares About Bullying initiative to a new level,” Bates-McLemore said.

That chapter created an “It Gets Better” public service campaign with Telemundo.

LEAGUE has 45 chapters across the country with about 750 members. Nationally, the group provides scholarships to at-risk LGBT youth and contributes to the “It Gets Better” campaign and has awarded about $150,000.

Locally, LEAGUE supports the community in Dallas with Black Tie Dinner tables. Team AT&T will participate in the Lone Star Ride. And earlier this year the group made a $5,000 contribution to Resource Center Dallas to support its communications technology needs.

And the group supports its members.

For LEAGUE member Mark Carden from Atlanta, the group has had a much more personal impact. He was already working at AT&T when he came out.

“LEAGUE made me feel more secure about myself and the workplace,” he said. “It helped me grow personally and professionally.”

Look for Cramer, Bates-McLemore and other Dallas LEAGUE members in the parade and at the festival in the park. They’ll ride in an AT&T eco-friendly vehicle down Cedar Springs and give out T-shirts and beads.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: FW officials briefed on LGBT progress; GLAAD rips Houston’s Fox affiliate

Jon Nelson

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Fort Worth officials received a briefing Tuesday on progress the city has made in addressing the concerns of the LGBT community in the nearly two years since the Rainbow Lounge raid. According to the Star-Telegram, the city has implemented 19 of 20 recommendations made by an LGBT task force formed after the raid. The only recommendation left outstanding is that the city provide health insurance to cover the cost of sex reassignment surgery for transgender employees. Other ongoing concerns include some apparent resistance to diversity training among police and firefighters, as well as the question of whether the city should subsidize domestic partner benefits. But overall, everyone seems pleased with the progress. “I think there is no city, because I’ve looked, in the United States which has done more in less time on these issues than the city of Fort Worth,” said Jon Nelson, a member of the task force and a leader of Fairness Fort Worth.

2. A Texas House committee is expected to take up a bill this morning that would allow same-sex parents to put both their names on the birth certificate of an adopted child. HB 415, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would resolve an issue in Texas that’s been the subject of a high-profile lawsuit in Louisiana, where a federal appeals court recently ruled against a same-sex couple in a case that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the full House could give final approval today to an anti-bullying bill that’s become Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s legislative session. HB 1942, by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, would then go to the Senate for consideration.

3. GLAAD is calling on Houston’s Fox affiliate (KRIV-26) to apologize for a segment that aired last week called, “Is TV too gay?” which criticized Glee‘s portrayal of gay teens. The segment aired the same night as a Glee‘s “Born This Way” episode and featured Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, which has been certified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Watch the full segment below. To sign GLAAD’s petition, go here.

 

—  John Wright

Commissioners to vote on trans protections Tuesday; LGBT community urged to attend

Clay Jenkins

In an unexpected but welcome development for LGBT advocates, the Dallas County Commissioners Court is slated to vote next week on whether to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

Item 23 on the Commissioners Court’s formal agenda for its regular meeting Tuesday is a Court Order that would add “transgender, gender identity and gender expression” to the nondiscrimination policy.

In March, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to add sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy, but left out transgender protections for the county’s 7,000 workers. Since then, LGBT advocates have called on commissioners to go back and make the policy fully inclusive — speaking at the court’s meetings and flooding them with emails and letters.

In response, County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s Office about the impact of adding transgender protections to the policy. Jenkins said Friday afternoon he’s “confident” the amendment will pass on Tuesday.

“I got a verbal back from the DA today that they could sign off that this was not going to be unduly burdensome on the taxpayers or anything, so we’re taking a swing at it,” Jenkins said. “I feel good that it’s the right thing to do and that the majority of the court will support it. “

Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the addition of sexual orientation to the policy, both support adding transgender protections. However, they’ve been struggling to find the third vote needed to get the amendment passed.

—  John Wright

DA says commissioners don’t have to operate ‘in a fish bowl’ — even if what they say sounds fishy

County Judge Clay Jenkins says he was not aware that sexual orientation didn’t include transgender people.

A while back we filed a request, under the Texas Public Information Act, seeking any and all records related to the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s decision to add sexual orientation — but not gender identity/expression — to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the amendment, have said they thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, based on advice they received from the county’s Human Resources department. But frankly we’re a little skeptical of this claim. Since Jenkins and Garcia told us this, one critical fact has emerged: They are one vote short of the majority needed to add gender identity/expression to the policy, which leads us to wonder whether that’s why it was left out in the first place.

After all, gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons has said he shared his department’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes transgender employees, with Jenkins prior to the court’s vote to add sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the countywide policy. And during Jenkins’ campaign last year, he told us how as a civil rights attorney in private practice, he once represented a transgender person who won a lawsuit against a popular restaurant chain. As the plaintiff’s attorney in that case, wouldn’t Jenkins have become familiar with the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity/expression? And as for Garcia, she was on the Dallas City Council in 2002 when the council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes “gender identity” — albeit under the definition of sexual orientation.

To be sure, this can be a confusing distinction, especially to those who aren’t members of the LGBT community, and even to many who are. So if Jenkins and Garcia truly thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, it would be forgivable. What would be less forgivable, in that case, is their failure to consult with stakeholders, and namely people in the LGBT community, prior to voting on the sexual orientation-only amendment.

In light of all this, we filed our records request, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting answers anytime soon, if ever. In a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office dated today, Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Michele Tapia maintains that the county shouldn’t be required to release the records we requested. Tapia argues that the county can legally withhold the records because they “constitute inter- or intra-agency communications that consist of advice, recommendations, and opinions reflecting the policymaking processes of a governmental body” that “would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency.” To download a copy of Tapia’s letter, click here.

“The disclosure of these documents would chill and discourage candid discussion on improvements from staff at all levels. Further, disclosure would serve to dampen open discussion and actions to improve processes and necessary corrective actions or improvement measures,” Tapia writes. “It would be impossible to have any frank discussion of legal or policy matters in writing if all such writings were to be subjected to public scrutiny. … It has been argued, and with merit, that the efficiency of a government agency would be greatly hampered if, with respect to legal and policy matters, all government agencies were forced to operate in a fish bowl.”

Abbott’s office now has 45 days to render a decision on the county’s request about whether it can withhold the records. Of course, in the meantime, this whole thing would probably just go away if the Commissioners Court simply went back and added “gender identity/expression” to the policy.

—  John Wright

Commissioner John Wiley Price undecided on protecting transgender county workers

John Wiley Price

Commissioner John Wiley Price says he remains undecided about adding gender identity to Dallas County’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Price, a member of the court’s Democratic majority, represents the possible third and deciding vote in favor of transgender protections for the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, two newly elected Democrats who spearheaded the addition of sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy last month, have said they mistakenly believed that transgender employees were covered under sexual orientation. Upon learning that they are not, Jenkins requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s Office about the impact of adding gender identity to the policy.

But even if the DA’s office concludes that there would be no negative impact, Jenkins and Garcia need at least one more vote to get the transgender protections passed, and Price is viewed as the most likely source.

“I still don’t know,” Price said when asked if he’d vote for the addition of gender identity to the policy after Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Commissioners Court.

Price added that Maeve O’Connor, a transgender woman who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, had done more to possibly sway him in favor of the change than anything else. Watch video of O’Connor’s comments above.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Maryland Senate kills gender identity bill; anti-gay hate crime at UNC

Quinn Matney was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime at the University of North Carolina.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. For a third straight week, LGBT advocates plan to speak during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s meeting today and call on commissioners to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. Last month, commissioners voted to add sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy. The Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St.

2. The Maryland Senate on Monday voted to kill a measure that would have protected transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and credit — but not public accommodations. The vote marks the second major disappointment this year for LGBT advocates in Maryland, where the House thwarted a marriage equality bill last month.

3. A University of North Carolina freshman says he was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime on the school’s campus last week. The UNC administration, which failed to notify students until a week after the attack occurred, now says it plans to report the incident as an anti-gay hate crime to the federal government.

—  John Wright

Trans activists speak at Commissioners Court

NOT THE SAME | Transgender activist Kelli Ann Busey addresses the Dallas County Commissioners Court, asking that specific protections for trans employees be added to the county’s policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LGBT advocates urge Commissioners Court to add protections for transgender Dallas County employees to nondiscrimination ordinance

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Three members of the LGBT community spoke Tuesday morning, April 5, during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s regular meeting, calling on the court to add protections for transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

Transgender activist Kelli Ann Busey commended the court for adding sexual orientation to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 employees a few weeks ago. But she said the court did not go far enough with that effort.

“Transgender people are not the same as gay people,” Busey said. “We need to be protected differently.”

Busey said many transgender people are homeless after transitioning, often because of discrimination against them in the workplace.

“Without workplace protections, we cannot live up to our potential,” she said.

Dave Guy-Gainer spoke on behalf of Equality Texas. He told the commissioners about a poll conducted by Glengariff Group that sampled registered voters in Texas on 12 rights as they pertain to the LGBT community.

“According to the poll, 70 percent of all Texas voters support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens,” he said.

Gainer said that over the past three election cycles, Dallas County has voted for progressive government. He called Dallas County a leader for other jurisdictions across the area as well as nationally.

Pam Curry, who is transgender, told the court she is a former part-time Dallas County employee.

“I was bothered when the non-discrimination policy was passed and I was not included,” Curry said, going on to explain the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I urge the court to move quickly to correct the oversight,” she said.

Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas, spoke at the Commissioners Court meeting the previous week and by the court’s rules is barred from speaking again for a month. But McDonnell promised to keep the issue before the court by lining up speakers for each weekly meeting.

McDonnell also forwarded to Dallas Voice a copy of an email he received from County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“I believe in equality for all,” Jenkins wrote to McDonnell. “The new non-discrimination language was formulated by the county’s human resources department at my request and was intended to prohibit discrimination against anyone. Our HR director informs me that her interpretation of sexual orientation includes gender identity and gender expression.  Therefore, under our current policy, discrimination will not be tolerated.

“Many people share your concern that the policy needs to be changed to specifically state that gender identity and expression are included. I have requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s office about adding identity language to the county code and its overall impact; the first step in a proposed change,” Jenkins wrote.

“The vote that passed last month is a positive step, which I consider a victory, and I am asking for your faith and patience as the process moves forward,” Jenkins added.

On Monday, April 4, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Commissioners Court to add transgender protections, according to President Omar Narvaez.

The resolution pointed out that “comprehensive nondiscrimination policies, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, decrease costs for employers, decrease regrettable loss, raise productivity, and increase recruiting efficiency,” and “will serve to further the goals of economic development, marketplace competition, and improved quality of life.”

Staff writer John Wright contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Out & Equal to Dallas County: You mind adding transgender protections before our convention?

Selise Berry

Fresh to the Inbox tonight is a copy of a letter from Selise Berry, founding executive director of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, to members of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

Berry, a former Dallas resident, writes to thank the commissioners for adding sexual orientation to the county’s nondiscrimination policy a few weeks back — and to strongly encourage them to add gender identity.

Out and Equal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving full equality in the the workplace, will bring more than 2,500 business leaders to Dallas in October for its annual Summit, one of the largest LGBT conventions in the world.

“We selected Dallas for our conference in part because of its combination of a strong LGBT community and its positive corporate environment,” Berry writes. “The Summit brings together executives, human resources and diversity professionals, and openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from the nation’s largest corporations to strategize, network and engage new ways to bring full equality to the workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. When they arrive, we hope they’ll see Dallas County as a model for fairness, with fully inclusive protections that include both gender identity and sexual orientation.”

To read Berry’s full letter, go here.

—  John Wright

LGBT advocates call on Commissioners Court to protect transgender Dallas County employees

Pam Curry, left, and Kelli Ann Busey

Three members of the LGBT community spoke today during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s regular meeting, calling on the court to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

Kelli Ann Busey, who is transgender, commended the court for adding sexual orientation to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 employees a few weeks ago.

“But transgender people are not the same as gay people,” Busey said. “We need to be protected differently.”

Busey said many transgender people are homeless after transitioning.

“Without workplace protections, we cannot live up to our potential,” she said.

Dave Guy-Gainer spoke on behalf of Equality Texas. He told the commissioners about a poll conducted by Glengariff Group that sampled registered voters in Texas on 12 rights as they pertain to the LGBT community.

“According to the poll, 70 percent of all Texas voters support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens,” he said.

Gainer said that over the past three election cycles, Dallas County has voted for progressive government. He called Dallas County a leader for other jurisdictions across the area as well as nationally.

Pam Curry, who is transgender, told the court she is a former part-time Dallas County employee.

“I was bothered when the non-discrimination policy was passed and I was not included,” Curry told the Commissioners Court.

Curry explained to the court the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I urge the court to move quickly to correct the oversight,” she said.

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas spoke at the Commissioners Court meeting last week. He is barred from speaking again for a month but promised to keep the issue before the court by lining up speakers for each meeting.

McDonnell also forwarded to Dallas Voice a copy of an email he received from County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“I believe in equality for all,” Jenkins wrote to McDonnell. “The new non-discrimination language was formulated by the county’s Human Resources department at my request and was intended to prohibit discrimination against anyone. Our HR director informs me that her interpretation of sexual orientation includes gender identity and gender expression.  Therefore, under our current policy, discrimination will not be tolerated.

“Many people share your concern that the policy needs to be changed to specifically state that gender identity and expression are included. I have requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s office about adding identity language to the County Code and its overall impact; the first step in a proposed change,” Jenkins wrote.

“The vote that passed last month is a positive step, which I consider a victory, and I am asking for your faith and patience as the process moves forward.”

On Monday, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Commissioners Court to add transgender protections, according to President Omar Narvaez. A copy of the resolution is after the jump.

For more information about contacting commissioners directly, go here.

—  David Taffet