Mayor Rawlings still won’t commit to supporting measures calling for marriage equality, statewide ban on anti-LGBT job discrimination

COUNTING VOTES  | Seven members of the Dallas City Council (designated by green check marks) have said they support resolutions backing marriage equality and a ban on anti-LGBT job discrimination. Seven members (with blue question marks) either said they’re undecided or did not respond. One member, Vonciel Hill, is expected to vote against the measure based on previous statements. (Graphic by Michael Stephens/Dallas Voice)

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Enough Dallas City Council members are willing to sign two pro-LGBT resolutions to bring them before the full council, according to interviews conducted over the last week by Dallas Voice.

It remained unclear, however, whether the resolutions authored by Councilman Scott Griggs have the eight votes needed to pass the 15-member council.

Mayor Mike Rawlings continued to be unwilling to commit to supporting the resolutions, which would state the council’s support for marriage equality and a statewide ban on anti-LGBT job discrimination.

The resolutions received support from council members who’ve been strong LGBT allies — Scott Griggs, Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano, Delia Jasso and Monica Alonzo. But they also received support from two unexpected sources, Jerry Allen and Dwaine Caraway.

“I’m probably the most open person, whether people believe it or not,” Caraway said. “I’m open to anything that’s anti-discrimination.”

Caraway and Allen, like others who expressed support for the concept of the resolutions, said they’d want to see the final language before casting a vote in favor of them.

“Need to see the two resolutions before going 100 percent but overall I am supportive,” Allen said in an email.

Griggs said he’s confident the resolutions can go through the council’s legislative committee. However, other council members suggested Griggs would have to get the five signatures needed to bypass the committee and bring the resolutions before the full council.

Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill, the only council member who’s been outspoken in her opposition to LGBT equality, chairs the legislative committee. If the committee doesn’t approve them, the resolutions could also be brought before the council if they receive at least five signatures or if the mayor or city manager place them on the agenda.

Hill didn’t return calls or emails seeking a comment on the resolutions. Other council members who did not respond were Sheffie Kadane, Sandy Greyson, Carolyn Davis, Tennell Atkins and Linda Koop. Ann Margolin declined to comment until she had read the resolutions.

Griggs said the resolutions are still in the early drafting stages but there’s been positive interest since Dallas Voice first reported on them last week.

He said he wants to meet with council members over the break to discuss the resolutions and gain their support.

Rawlings told Dallas Voice this week that he and Griggs will meet to discuss the matter in January and that he was still in “learning mode” about the resolutions. He said he told Griggs he would wait to give an opinion on them until after they’d met.

Rawlings said he is a proponent of marriage equality and nondiscrimination in employment, adding that he likes to focus more on substantive actions than symbolic ones. It’s the same argument he made when he refused to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage earlier this year.

“I want to focus on substantive actions for the LGBT community,” Rawlings said. “I do not have a lot of energy for things that might make you feel good but don’t make substantive change.”

Griggs announced his plans for the resolutions after Dallas received a score of 76 on the Human Rights Campaign new Municipal Equality Index, which rated 137 cities on their gay-friendliness. Fort Worth scored an 89. Rawlings and Jasso have vowed to raise the score by 10 percent next year.

Jasso, who created an LGBT Task Force in 2009, could face Griggs in next year’s election after they were both placed in the same North Oak Cliff district during redistricting. A lawsuit challenging the change is still pending.

Some say Griggs’ resolutions are designed to compete for the LGBT votes against Jasso next year. On Monday, Jasso sent Dallas Voice a copy of a letter she wrote to North Texas’ state legislative delegation, calling for them to address anti-LGBT employment discrimination and marriage equality in the upcoming session. But Jasso denied that the letter was in response to Griggs’

Jasso said her focus has been on local issues since she created the Task Force. Task Force members have reviewed nondiscrimination complaints filed under the city’s ordinance that prohibits anti-gay discrimination, and are working on sensitivity training for police and firefighters.

Griggs said he’s reached out to many LGBT groups including Equality Texas to help with the wording of the resolutions.

He came up with the idea for the resolutions while thinking about how to strengthen Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance by backing it up with state law and looking to see what else could be done.

“It will affirm our support, and support, I think, will dovetail well with the efforts going on by larger state and national groups in Austin,” Griggs said.

Jasso wouldn’t discuss the lawsuit or whether she thought Griggs planned the resolutions to gain LGBT support, but said she would support them.

She added that she’s not sure they will pass if the mayor doesn’t support them.

“It’s hard to tell how far the resolutions will go if there was not a push from the mayor on the (marriage) petition,” Jasso said. “I certainly would be open and amenable to anything having to do with advancing the issues of the LGBT community.”

Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano said she thinks the resolutions have enough votes to pass, noting that typically 11 or 12 council members attend gay Pride. So even if one or two of those aren’t willing to support marriage, it could still pass.

Asked whether the mayor would support it, Medrano said, “I would hope he would.”

“There’s 15 of us, so I think we need to work really hard to get eight of us on board,” she said.

Mentioning that the city’s LGBT population is among the largest in the country, Medrano said the resolutions are a great idea.

“The GLBT community is a vital part of the fabric of our city,” she said, noting the many LGBT board and commission members. “It’s always good to bring it to the forefront. I think it’s a great idea, and I will wholeheartedly support it. It’s the 21st century.”

Lesbian GetEQUAL Texas activist Cd Kirven said Rawlings’ refusal to come out in support of the resolutions is a disappointment because he’s supported LGBT issues privately but not publicly, reminding her of his refusal to sign the marriage pledge despite voicing support for marriage equality.

She said her promise to him remains that she will find someone to run against him who supports LGBT equality in 2015.

“I don’t even see any progress or evolution on the mayor’s part. I see him privately supporting us and not publicly supporting us and, to me, that’s unacceptable,” Kirven said. “So until I get both private and public support from the mayor, my goal will be to try to find a candidate to get him replaced as mayor, somebody who can support LGBT families.”

Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said she asked City Council members to put their weight behind statewide employment nondiscrimination months ago. While she said she thinks the council could gain support for employment nondiscrimination, she said marriage equality could also pass, adding that she hopes Rawlings will support both.

“I think the council can take great leadership in joining other cities when the legislative session begins,” Fink said. “I think the employment nondiscrimination in Texas is realistic and very doable.”

Cathryn Oakley, legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy for the Human Rights Campaign, said the organization informally tracks pro-LGBT resolutions, including the more recent ones in support of marriage equality in Austin and Eureka Springs, Ark. She said they show state governments that “there is lot of momentum for doing these things and it’s time for you guys to take action.”

“It’s wonderful and it’s a great way for a city to show their commitment for LGBT equality and also to put pressure on the state government to do better,” Oakley said.

“Public opinion has shifted, and it is absolutely timely to have the city to be making this kind of statement at the same time that the Supreme Court is thinking about it as well,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 21, 2012.