In 9 years, 53 complaints of anti-gay discrimination in Dallas, but 0 prosecutions

A total of 53 complaints have been filed under a nine-year-old Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the city has never taken one of the complaints to court.

The city released statistics on the complaints to Dallas Voice this week in response to a request under the Texas Public information Act.

A city ordinance passed in 2002 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The definition of sexual orientation includes gender identity. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

The statistics from the city show that 49 of the 53 complaints have been closed, while four are pending.

In 32 of the 49 closed cases, or almost two-thirds, the City Attorney’s Office determined that there was no cause to prosecute. Here is a breakdown of the other dispositions:

• Five of the complaints were dismissed because they were non-jurisdictional, meaning they occurred outside the city or involved an entity that is exempt from the ordinance.

• Five of the cases were resolved by “conciliation,” or mediation.

• Four of the complaints were withdrawn, after the city says they were resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction.

• In three of the cases, the complainant was uncooperative.

Two city councilmembers, Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, have said they’re reviewing the city’s handling of complaints under the ordinance. Hunt and Medrano launched their investigation in response to a letter from Resource Center Dallas questioning why no complaint has ever been prosecuted.

RCD’s letter, in turn, was prompted by Dallas Voice reports about a discrimination complaint against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, which refuses to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

The complaint against the Fitness Center is still pending, as is one filed against the Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish same-sex wedding announcements.

—  John Wright

Dallas Morning News bills gay couple $1,034 for wedding announcement it refused to publish

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

After filing a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their marriage announcement under “Weddings,” a local gay couple reports that they received a $1,034 bill in the mail for the unpublished ad.

Mark Reed-Walkup, who filed the discrimination complaint against The DMN after marrying his partner Dante Walkup in Washington, D.C., says he wrote the following to James Moroney III, publisher and CEO of the newspaper:

“Does the DMN always send out invoices to ‘customers’ who placed an ad online but it was never published due to the paper’s discriminatory policies? We just received an invoice today for our December ad that you banned from your paper because our wedding wasn’t ‘really’ a wedding in your eyes. Unbelievable.”

Reed-Walkup says Moroney responded as follows:

“Not a good practice. I’ll take up with sales. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”

Reed-Walkup also notes that more than 8,000 people have signed a petition launched by Change.org calling on The DMN to publish same-sex marriage announcements under Weddings. He’s hoping to get the petition up to 10,000 signatures.

As for the complaint filed against The DMN, the director of the Fair Housing Office told Instant Tea recently that the city was still in the process of reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates discrimination complaints filed under a 2002 ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup maintains that Wedding announcements are a public accommodation.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Yet another teen bullying suicide; petition targets DMN same-sex wedding policy

Kameron Jacobsen

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Here we go again. This is unbelievable. A 14-year-old high school freshman in Orange County, N.Y., has taken his own life, reportedly in response to bullying on Facebook over his perceived sexual orientation. Watch video from Fox 5 below. Kameron Jacobsen died Tuesday, according to his obituary in The Times Herald-Record. “We hope as a community both collectively and individually we can find a way to finally put an end to this!” Kameron’s family writes in the obituary. Amen.

2. Dallas police have arrested one of several suspects in a series of “takeover-style” armed robberies, including one early Wednesday at the Villa Club near North Hall Street and McKinney Avenue in Uptown. The pistol-wielding suspects struck shortly after 2 a.m. and demanded that employees empty the safe. They took the employees’ wallets and cell phones and even shot at their victims’ while making their getaway in a Hummer H2. Police believe the same suspects are responsible for similar recent robberies at the Old Monk bar in Knox-Henderson and Humperdink’s in Northeast Dallas.

3. Change.org has launched a petition calling on The Dallas Morning News to allow same-sex wedding announcements. The petition stems from a case in which a gay Dallas couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The DMN for refusing to publish their announcement under Weddings. Citing Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, The DMN instead places such announcements under Commitments. As of this morning, the petition had accumulated 6,442 signatures since being launched Wednesday. Will the petition be enough to prompt The DMN to change the policy? Almost certainly not, but it can’t hurt. Sign by going here.

—  John Wright

Gay couple files complaint against Dallas Morning News for not printing wedding announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

Paper’s CEO says policy based on state’s ban on same-sex marriage

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday, Nov. 19. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C via teleconference.

Reed- Walkup, a board member for the national LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section.

But the newspaper has refused because of a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legally recognized by the state of Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a 2002 city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, are a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

James M. Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of the complaint because he had not seen a copy of it.

Moroney said The DMN’s policy was enacted several years ago as a way to allow same-sex couples to announce things like civil unions. As more states have legalized same-sex marriage, the newspaper has started to receive requests to publish the announcements as weddings.

“We’ve just so far said that we’re thinking about it,” Moroney said.  “Certainly if the state of Texas recognized the marriage of same-sex couples, we would put it in the paper. … This is the community and state we represent and live in, and we’re dealing with that.”

Moroney added that it’s not “a closed subject” and stressed that he believes the Morning News does a good job of reporting on LGBT issues.

“What troubles me a little bit is that some folks jump to this next level and say the newspaper is homophobic,” he said. “That really is an unfair accusation if they would only take the time to read the paper every day.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, confirmed this week that her office received the couple’s complaint and is reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

“We’re having to consult with our attorney’s office on whether or not we have jurisdiction in this particular case,” Davis said. “Whenever we get a complaint, we go the extra mile to examine it. I imagine it will probably be next week sometime before I have a decision.”

In addition to the question of whether wedding announcements are a public accommodation, Davis noted that the ordinance doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on “marital status.”

The city once dismissed a complaint against a landlord who refused to allow a lesbian couple to live together in his apartment complex. The city determined that the landlord had not violated the ordinance because the policy was based on “marital status” and not sexual orientation.

But Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said that because Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and marital status are effectively the same.

“That’s really an old dodge to try to avoid the real issue,” Upton said.

Upton said he believes wedding announcements are public accommodations, because they’re paid commercial advertisements offered as a service. He also said it’s ironic that someone’s wedding announcement wouldn’t be published based on marital status.

Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage in no way prohibits the newspaper from publishing the announcement, Upton said. And he questioned whether the Morning News investigates announcements of heterosexual marriages performed outside the state to confirm that they’re legally recognized in Texas.

“Just because the state of Texas doesn’t recognize it doesn’t mean they’re not married,” Upton said.

Gay Couple’s Complaint Against DMN

—  John Wright

Gay couple married via Skype files complaint against DMN for not publishing announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C. via Skype.

Reed- Walkup said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section. But the newspaper has refused due to a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy reportedly is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, constitute a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, said she didn’t receive the complaint until Monday.

“We just got it,” Davis said Monday afternoon. “I haven’t had time to make an assessment yet.”

The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

—  John Wright

DMN editor blames ban on same-sex wedding announcements on the business department

Bob Mong

On Thursday we mentioned the Dallas Morning News’ policy prohibiting same-sex wedding announcements. The DMN will publish same-sex marriages, but only in a section called “Commitments” and not in the section called “Weddings.” As one commenter put it, “Requiring that it be announced as a ‘commitment’ makes it sound like a psychiatric situation.” Instant Tea reader Elizabeth Parker says she was shocked to learn of this policy, and ever since then she’s been contacting people at The DMN trying to get an explanation. Here’s the response Parker says she received from DMN editor Bob Mong:

Dear Ms. Parker,

Thanks for writing.

I am very proud of our news coverage of gay and lesbian issues. I would put it up against any in the country. Just recently we published prominent stories on GuideSunday and in our Metro sections; one about gay/straight relationships at a Denton bistro, the other about a gay teacher helping gay high schoolers circumvent the public schools. Countless other subjects have been covered routinely by our writers, photographers and columnists in a completely unfettered manner over the years. I would be the first to say we’ve not always been as complete as we could have been, but for much of the post-1990 era of the paper, the coverage has matured and become more focused on this topic. For most readers of the paper, that should be clear – don’t you think.

The issue you refer to is not a news policy but rather an advertising policy. All “Celebration” topics – marriages, commitments, engagements, anniversaries – are handled through the advertising department. Several years ago the paper began publishing gay/lesbian unions under this advertising banner. While only a small number of people buy these ads, they are available. You correctly characterize the policy. I have indeed received some criticism lately from the national GLAAD organization about this policy, and while it is not a news issue, I have forwarded their concerns to the business folks at the paper, just as I have forwarded your letter. As with any policy, it is always subject to review.

I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

Sincerely,

Bob Mong, editor

—  John Wright