City diversity officer reports a year of progress to city council committee, with several issues currently under study


Cheryl Orr


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Progress on LGBT equality in the city in 2014 was among the first issues of the new year addressed by Dallas City Council. Dallas Ethics and Diversity Officer Cheryl Orr made a presentation to the Budget, Audit and Finance Committee on Monday, Jan. 5.

Councilman Jerry Allen, who chairs the committee, thanked the LGBT Task Force for its work and practical recommendations, and spotlighted the passage of a resolution in March instructing city staff to review all policies and ordinances to make sure LGBT employees were being treated equally.

Councilman Philip Kingston, who is a committee member and was a sponsor of the resolution, complimented city staff for their work updating policies. He said people working at City Hall understood what the council’s intent was.

“People bought into the idea,” he said.

Orr noted the controversy over an equality ordinance in Plano and compared that to the Dallas resolution that has been implemented without contentiousness.

Other highlights in 2014 included the expansion of family leave benefits so that LGBT employees, as well as single employees, could request time off to take care of a spouse or another designated person. Dallas County is now working on a similar policy for county employees.

The marshall’s office rewrote its no harassment policy toward LGBT detainees, Orr said. The city also improved its Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index score by 10 points.

Voters added sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the city charter in 2014. That amendment got more votes than any of the other ballot proposition and won in all but eight precincts.

Another milestone is that the city hired Orr as a diversity officer and included LGBT issues among her responsibilities.

The two negatives for the year were lack of progress equalizing benefits for LGBT employees with the city pension and the police and fire pension funds.

Cheryl Richards, Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, told the committee the city is actively working to bring LGBT conventions and meetings to Dallas.

Over the past two years, 33 LGBT conventions and meetings have been held in Dallas with a $37 million impact on the city. One of the largest LGBT conventions — Out & Equal — returns to Dallas in October.

Dallas Human Resources Director Molly Carroll filled out the city’s MEI survey for Human Rights Campaign Metropolitan Equality Index. She told the committee that the 10 point increase included two points for the change to the family leave policy and three points for the city’s relationship with the LGBT community. Bonus points were given for the community’s visibility.

Committee member Tennell Atkins wanted to know how to earn 100 percent. Austin is the only city in Texas with a perfect score. Dallas rates the state’s second best score.

Orr said points were lost for having no domestic partner registry or human rights commission.

LGBT Task Force member Nell Gaither said points were also lost for the city’s trans health benefits.

Councilman Tennell Atkins asked about a partner registry. Orr said that’s more of a county function and the city would have to reinvent the concept. Members of the LGBT Task Force who attended said that if the Supreme Court acts this session, the idea will be moot by the end of its term in June.

Councilman Adam Medrano, who is not on the committee but attended the briefing, said it was an honor to chair the LGBT Task Force and thanked the committee for its support on LGBT issues.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 9, 2015.