By John Wright

Move comes in wake of effort to oust gay Teen Court coordinator

MCKINNEY —Two weeks after the job of Teen Court coordinator Justin Nichols was threatened because he’s gay, Collin County commissioners were urged Tuesday, April 15 to enact an employment policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A county official said Wednesday, April 16 that commissioners didn’t discuss or act on the proposal because it wasn’t on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Dawnetta Miller, co-founder of the Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, was one of three CCGLA representatives who addressed the Commissioners Court.

"What’s gone on with Justin certainly has made the community stand up and take notice, the general community as well as our own community, but these are things we’ve been working on for five years anyway," Miller said Wednesday.

Nichols, who’s served as the county’s Teen Court coordinator since 2006, is vying to become the first-ever openly gay member of the Plano City Council in the May 10 municipal election.

Nichols has said that a Dallas Voice article about his candidacy in March prompted County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland to propose firing him because he’s gay. The article also reportedly prompted circulation of an anonymous e-mail suggesting Nichols, who oversees about 200 Teen Court volunteers, is unfit to work with youth.

Since then, Hoagland reportedly has backed off his proposal, which had been tentatively placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting but was later removed.

Neither Nichols nor Hoagland responded to requests for comment by press time.

"Now that they decided to make this an issue, we certainly will educate them and offer ourselves as a resource," said Miller, who also serves as vice chair of the board for the statewide gay-rights group Equality Texas. "The good thing is that it has angered enough pro-equality people in Collin County. We’ve had more people volunteer. We’ve actually had more allies coming forward, so there’s always a positive."

Tim Wyatt, a public information officer for the county, said Wednesday that Miller and others mistakenly thought the county’s equal opportunity employment policy was on the agenda for the meeting.

Wyatt said the confusion stemmed from the fact that commissioners were scheduled to vote on a separate policy under which the county would begin tracking the demographics of employees according to things like race and gender.

The data would then be compared to the county’s population.

"Somehow the two have been incorrectly connected to each other," Wyatt said of the policies. "Justin Nichols and [the policy that was on the agenda] are apples and oranges."

The policy on the agenda, requested by Sheriff Terry Box, is necessary for the county to be eligible for certain law enforcement grants, Wyatt said.

However, commissioners opted to delay a vote on the policy because some feared it could create a quota system.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Commissioner Hoagland said during Tuesday’s meeting: "I think we need to hire the most qualified person for the job, irregardless of race."

Wyatt said the county already has an equal employment opportunity policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, ancestry, veteran status or physical or mentaldisability. The policy doesn’t include sexual orientation.

Wyatt also disputed a recent report in the McKinney Courier Telegram saying County Administrator Bill Bilyeu has described the county’s policy on gay employees as "Don’t ask, don’t tell."

"He [Bilyeu] said that he told the reporter that he’s never asked an applicant about his or her sexual orientation, and no one has brought it up to him in an interview," Wyatt said. "Apparently, that was interpreted as the county having a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy."


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2008.
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