District 14 candidate says position would address ‘lack of sensitivity’ after Mayor Rawlings calls marriage resolution a ‘misuse’ of council time


DÉJÀ VU  | Protesters gathered in City Hall Plaza in January 2012 after Mayor Mike Rawlings refused to sign a marriage equality pledge. Rawlings again drew the ire of the LGBT community last week when he called a marriage equality resolution a ‘misuse’ of council time. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

In the wake of another LGBT public relations dustup for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, one council candidate is proposing that City Hall add an LGBT liaison position for the mayor’s and council offices.

Last week, Rawlings made national news and prompted widespread criticism on LGBT news sites when he said that even though he personally supports marriage equality, it would be a “misuse” of the council’s time to consider a resolution in support of it.

Last year, Rawlings sparked similar backlash when he refused to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

Following Rawlings comments last week, District 14 City Council candidate Bobby Abtahi contacted Dallas Voice to propose adding an LGBT liaison who would be available to the mayor and council members.

“There’s a lack of sensitivity to the needs of the community,” Abtahi said.

Gay former Councilman Chris Luna also suggested the idea of an LGBT liaison recently, in part because the city hasn’t had an out gay council member for six years. Dallas received a score of 76 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index last year.

Abtahi suggested the LGBT liaison position would be part-time, taken on by someone already working at City Hall.

He pointed to Chris Heinbaugh, chief of staff for former Mayor Tom Leppert, as an example of how the position would work. Although Heinbaugh was not officially an LGBT liaison, Abtahi called him the de facto link between the community and the mayor who was available to the council as well.
Abtahi said he is concerned about the image of the city as a good place for corporate relocation.

“We have to be out there promoting ourselves as a place to move,” he said. “You have to dispel the myths.

Folks from out of state may see us for something we’re not.”

He suggested the liaison should be someone already in a high position at City Hall and willing to hold a dual role.

“The dialogue was insensitive and disturbing,” Abtahi said of the mayor’s comments about the marriage equality resolution. “He’s on your side, but there was something missing.”

Jim Rogers, one of the other six candidates in District 14, agreed a liaison might be a good idea and thinks one of the problems at City Hall is a lack of training.

“There used to be a significant training budget,” he said. “Now there’s almost none.”

He said personally as a member of the council, he’d like to have his own “kitchen cabinet.” He said as a straight man, he wouldn’t be as aware of LGBT issues as members of the community.

“Those of us on City Council, we create whatever structures we need to keep up on issues,” he said.

Rogers said he’d ask a number of people whose opinions he respects highly and meet with them regularly and be responsive to what they say.

District 14 candidate Philip Kingston said depending on the details, the LGBT liaison may be a good idea.

“If it’s a Band-Aid because of a short-term public relations problem the mayor has with the LGBT community, no,” Kingston said.

But if it is someone whose responsibilities are to communicate with the LGBT community and that person has the ear of the council and the mayor, he said it could be workable.

Kingston said the LGBT community is uniquely vulnerable because there are no federal laws against discrimination.

“But if it’s to burnish one person’s credentials, not interested,” he said of the liaison position.

Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center Dallas, said she thinks a liaison position is a “good idea,” but wondered how it would be structured. She also questioned whether it would be equitable to other minority communities.

“I think any decision like that shouldn’t be made in a vacuum,” she said. “I think Chris Heinbaugh was helpful to Mayor Leppert in terms of keeping issues on the table, being able to connect the mayor’s office to sources of information that could be helpful, remembering and including our community.”

Heinbaugh was in the mayor’s office from 2007, when Dallas last had a gay council member, until Rawlings took office in 2011.

Cox said having a “proverbial seat at the table” is important.

“I think there was better communication back-and-forth between the LGBT community and the mayor’s office and council, because Chris [Heinbaugh] had knowledge,” she said. “And let’s face it, we all work with allies and appreciate them, but a constant presence of an LGBT person is different than if there isn’t one.”

Last year, after the city of San Antonio received a rating of 48 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, Mayor Julian Castro named his senior policy advisor, Adam Greenup, as his LGBT liaison.

That quickly added a few bonus points to the city’s score.

But in a recent battle with Stonewall Democrats, Castro decided not to fill out the organization’s questionnaire and the group didn’t give the mayor its endorsement in the upcoming election. “But we do have a point of communication that we didn’t have before,” said Dan Graney, president of Stonewall San Antonio.

He said his group’s relationship with Greenup is working well in getting a new human rights ordinance through the council. Currently, San Antonio has no employment nondiscrimination ordinance in place.

Kingston said liaisons can only be effective if elected officials listen to their advice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 10, 2013.