Opponents of city’s diversity initiatives speaking during council meeting, even though issue wasn’t on the agenda
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
FORT WORTH — A crowd of about 200 people opposing recent diversity initiatives implemented by the city of Fort Worth packed Cowtown’s City Council chambers on Tuesday, July 13, even though nothing related to the initiatives was on the council’s agenda.
Five individuals representing the opponents spoke during the portion of the meeting allotted for citizen comments, while four representatives from Fairness Fort Worth spoke in support of the city’s efforts to improve relations with its LGBT community.
The diversity initiatives grew out of recommendations forwarded to the council by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force and approved by City Manager Dale Fisler late last year. The task force — comprising 16 city employees and 16 LGBT community representatives, all appointed by Fisler — was formed last summer in the wake of the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by officers with the Fort Worth Police Department and agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
The recommendations suggested by the task force included improved diversity training for all city employees, domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian city employees, coverage of gender reassignment surgery for transgender employees in transition, promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism, and lobbying for passage of state and federal laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment.
The task force also recommended that the council amend the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
Most of the recommendations involved procedural changes that could be implemented by the city manager without a vote by the council.
The council did vote, 6-3, on Nov. 11 last year to add specific gender identity protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance.
The vote came after a marathon hearing during which numerous people spoke in favor of and against the amendment.
However city staff are still studying the feasibility of offering domestic partner benefits and adding coverage for gender reassignment surgery.
A spokesman in the office of Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said this week that the resurgence of opposition may have been tied to the one-year anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge raid. This week’s meeting was the council’s first since the June 28 anniversary date.
But Thomas Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said his organization believes Diversity Task Force opponents had intended to speak during time set aside for public comments on the proposed budget for the city’s Crime Control and Prevention District budget. That budget includes funds to pay for diversity training for police officers and for officer recruitment efforts within the LGBT community, he said.
However, the council voted to delay the public hearing on that budget for two weeks.
“They were there because they felt like they got shut out of the process [of the Diversity Task Force] last year,” Anable, who was a member of the task force, said on Wednesday, after the council meeting. “Every meeting that the task force had was open to the public, and nobody showed up.”
Anable said he believes the move to bring the opponents to the Tuesday night council meeting this week was led by Richard Clough, a failed candidate for Tarrant County judge who is an associate minister with Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
“They said last November when the task force’s report was presented to the council, and when the council voted on the transgender ordinance, they said then that they had been left out and that they would be back,” Anable said. “I think, with the CCPD budget on the agenda this week, they saw an opportunity to try and make a sneak attack.”
Anable said Fairness Fort Worth learned on Monday of e-mails that had been circulated over the weekend among conservative and evangelical Christian churches, calling on evangelical Christians to pack the council chambers at Tuesday’s meeting.
But instead of sending out a calling for the LGBT community and its allies to attend also, Anable said his organization chose to organize a small, but visible, contingent to attend as a show of support for the city’s initiatives, with specific community leaders signing up to speak.
“We didn’t want a big catfight,” Anable said.
“We just wanted to have people there to show support, with just a few speaking. We wanted to give a calm and dignified response.”
Anable said after the meeting he feels confident that the city council will not reverse the progress it has made so far on diversity issues — a confidence that was reinforced by Mayor Mike Moncrief’s statements both before and after the citizen comment session.
Moncrief opened the comment session with an admonition to both sides to “be respectful” and with a pledge that the city would not go backward.
“I am very pleased with the progress we have had to date,” the mayor said. It has certainly reflected the diversity of our city. And it reflects this city’s belief that no one should be discriminated against, no matter who they are. And that is not going to change.
That is important for all of us, whether its an ordinance or not, that should be an ordinance in life. No one should be discriminated against.”
The five men who spoke against the Diversity Task Force and the city’s diversity initiatives all criticized city officials for “promoting a homosexual agenda” against the wishes of what they said is a majority of the city’s residents.
Clough, who stood at the podium flanked by supporters wearing paper badges printed with the word “Truth,” began by accusing Mayor Mike Moncrief and the council of “intentionally hiding the implementation of a homosexual agenda.”
The accusation prompted an angry rebuttal for the mayor, who threatened to have Clough removed from the council chambers if he continued with “personal attacks.”
The two men argued briefly, with Clough continuing to speak over the mayor’s admonishments and with Moncrief at one point turning off the microphone at the podium where Clough stood.
“We have a way of doing business here, and that is not to come in here and personally attack anybody. We don’t attack you, nor does anyone on our staff. We don’t expect you to come in here and attack us,” Moncrief said. “If you want to talk about the diversity task force, that is all well and good. But don’t expect to come in here and get away with personal attacks.”
When Moncrief allowed Clough to continue, the minister accused the mayor of refusing to meet with him, although some council members had met with him. Clough said that “every voice was not heard” on the Diversity Task Force’s recommendations, adding that the council was going against the wishes of the majority of the city’s citizens who had, he said, voted against same-sex marriage in 2004 by a 77 percent majority.
He criticized the city for spending money to send lobbyists to Washington, D.C., to promote passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and for promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism.
“Who are you promoting it to? Queer liberation [possibly a reference to the now-defunct direct action group Queer LiberAction]? To NAMBLA — the North American Man-Boy Love Association? Or are you just promoting it to the gay chambers?” Clough said.
Clough also criticized the addition of gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, suggesting that council members “ask the ladies do they want a man who suffers from gender identity disorder coming in on them in the bathroom. … If they gays want to promote something, let them spend their own money to promote it.”
Clough said the city “has no business promoting the homosexual lifestyle, just like it has no business promoting the heterosexual lifestyle.”
He said that while the city should “stand against hatred or discrimination or abuse of any kind,” the media and the LGBT community have “distorted the facts” surrounding the Rainbow Lounge raid and are using that to “promote the homosexual agenda.”
“Homosexuality can be divisive. That’s not my intent,” Clough said. “My intent is to have all voices heard and find a solution that is best for all.”
Robert Hayes said the city’s leadership “should serve the people of the city, serve the masses, and not cater to the wishes of the few.” He said that the raid at the Rainbow Lounge was a situation that should have been investigated by police department officials, and “not a situation to make sweeping changes in the city.”
“Do we set up a task force if we find the city has an unusually large number of employees coming down with the flu? Do we set one up to discuss who can live in what area of town? Then my question is, why did we set up a task force for diversity when it appears we only had a question of the use of force and the appropriate degree of force that was used?” Hayes said.
The Rev. Perfeto Esquibel, pastor of Christian Worship Center of Fort Worth, complained that the task force “seems to be made up of only one certain interest group rather than a combination of people with different opinions about gay civil rights.”
Esquibel also said it is “a slap in the face” to racial and ethnic minorities to call LGBT people a minority. He said the task force and the city’s diversity initiatives are part of a “gay rights agenda” being pushed by a “minute” number of people, and that most Fort Worth residents are Christians who believe that “the Bible is the word of God, and it’s what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based on.”
John Carlson, a Fort Worth businessman and husband of Texas Eagle Forum President Pat Carlson, told the council he believed it was irresponsible to spend city dollars on diversity initiatives when the city is facing a budget shortfall.
“This diversity will expand benefits and increase spending. Taxpayers do not want increased spending or taxes,” Carlson said.
He said that as a businessman who provides insurance to his employees, he knows that health insurance costs increase every year. Providing coverage to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees would increase the city’s costs, he said, because gays and lesbians engage in ‘undeniably risky behavior. … If that lifestyle were a pack of cigarettes, it would require a surgeon general’s warning.”
Carlson said, “If you insure domestic partners, what if they have more than one partner? … Why not insure boyfriends or girlfriends? … Where does this coverage end? It just goes on.”
Scott Graham, who described himself as a businessman and former police officer, said he had conducted his own investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid.
He repeated allegations that patrons in the bar that night sexually harassed and groped officers (those allegations were found to be either false or grossly exaggerated during official investigations), and accused witnesses and LGBT community leaders of “gross misrepresentations” of the raid and of “mak[ing] things up as they went along.”
Graham said, “Government was created by God to protect His definition of family,” and then asked for — and received — permission to “pray and speak a blessing over our city.”
The Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, was the first of four speakers to speak in support of the Diversity Task Force and its recommendations. Noting that she is a member of Fairness Fort Worth and one of the people who leads the city’s new diversity training, West said that the training makes clear that it’s purpose is not to address religious issues or question anyone’s religious beliefs.
The training, she said, is designed to give “a perspective of the GLBT community. … Is there a homosexual agenda? I have heard a lot of talk about it, and you [task force opponents] talk a lot more about it than we [LGBT people] ever do.
“We teach that everyone is your customer. We say treat everyone with respect. Treat people with dignity. We teach about not demeaning people, not making people unwanted,” West said. “If that is a homosexual agenda, then it needs to be spread around.”
Steve Dutton, a task force member, and Lisa Thomas, a member of the task force, the city’s Human Rights Commission and Fairness Fort Worth, also spoke during the council meeting. But said the diveristy initiatives are a question of equal treatment, not religious beliefs.
To close the public comment session, Moncrief said he believes there is “respect in this city. There is room for all of us.
“We are trying to work through something very difficult. We weren’t pleased to be in the national spotlight for what happened or didn’t happen. But it was and is up to us to find out what happened. Obviously, somebody did something. TABC certainly felt somebody did something they shouldn’t have, because they fired the two agents that were involved.”
He added, “Don’t feel like we were not listening, because we were. We are. I hope you all feel like you have been heard tonight. … What’s in the Bible or what isn’t in the Bible, that’s not our job. Our job is to maintain the quality of life in our city, and that’s what this [diversity] training is all about.”
To watch complete video of the Fort Worth City Council meeting, go online to FortWorthGov.org.