Jon Nelson

By Jon Nelson  |  Fairness Fort Worth

I read with interest the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle’s commentary contrasting the Atlanta outcome with Fort Worth’s after raids at gay bars in each city. He concludes that “Factors contributing to the non-resolution of the Fort Worth police raid may include a less-than-robust defense of bar patrons by the Rainbow Lounge ownership at the time of the bust, and the less aggressive approach Fort Worth gay leaders employed to bring the city and the police department to account.”

The headline contrasts the $1 million settlement with none in Fort Worth. Although the Rev. Sprinkle doesn’t mention this as a contrast, I’ll deal with it anyway. The Atlanta suit was filed by a private attorney on behalf of 19 patrons of the club and no such lawsuit has yet been filed in Fort Worth .The LGBT community formed Fairness Fort Worth at the outset and stepped forward to represent the community. The injustice experienced was against the patrons and not the bar owner nor any employees of the bar. This contrasts sharply with the facts in Atlanta where the police targeted both the bar and its patrons.

The Rev. Sprinkle’s one striking contrast is his belief that the Fort Worth Police Department has never issued an apology and Atlanta has. I have attended at least three meeting where Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has publicly apologized; the last one was in front of the Rainbow Lounge at a news conference held on Nov. 5, 2009.

The Rev. Sprinkle writes that there has been a “non-resolution” of the raid on the Rainbow lounge. Let me share with you what has happened since the raid and, in the words of the Rev. Sprinkle, “You be the judge”:

Right after the raid, about 450 of us showed up at City Council on July 14, 2009, most as supporters of Fairness Fort Worth, and voiced our outrage and anger. As a result, the city manager, at the direction of the City Council, appointed the Diversity Task Force, made up of city employees and private citizens, both straight and gay. The following task force recommendations have been now been adopted by the City of Fort Worth:

1. Diversity training for city employees: The Human Resources Department, after working with Resource Center Dallas and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance to develop an appropriate curriculum, began in May to provide four-hour training classes for city employees. The department has been training approximately 100 employees per month during the past seven months.

2. Diversity training for elected and appointed officials: Mayor Mike Moncrief and Councilman Joel Burns participated in the first training class for city employees. Other elected and appointed officials are welcome to participate in any of the training classes.

3. Job notices: The Human Resources Department has incorporated appropriate non-discrimination language into all job notices and application forms.

4. Letter from police chief: Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has posted a letter on the Police Department’s website expressing his support for a diverse police force that welcomes qualified applicants regardless of various characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

5. Non-discrimination ordinance: The City Council on Nov. 10, 2009, adopted an ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of transgender, gender identity, or gender expression.

6. Federal legislation: The City Council on Jan. 26, 2010, adopted the city’s 2010 federal legislative program, which supports passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). City Council members and staff visited Washington, D.C., in March to brief Fort Worth’s congressional representatives and staff on the city’s legislative priorities. In June, the Diversity Task Force’s 14 citizen members sent a letter to each member of Fort Worth’s congressional delegation urging them to support ENDA. Nevertheless, this federal legislation is still pending in committees.

7. Public events: The Public Events Department has agreed to assist local organizations that wish to use parades, festivals and other public events to promote Fort Worth as an inclusive community. For example, the Will Rogers Memorial Center will host the Cowtown Rodeo in March 2011.

8. Business incentives: On June 22, the City Council adopted an updated tax abatement policy. The new policy requires each business applying for city incentives to indicate in its application whether that business provides all benefits to its employees “on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.”

9. Marketing and outreach: The Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, in collaboration with the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, has undertaken an LGBT-specific marketing campaign to attract more LGBT visitors to Fort Worth. The Bureau has helped to produce “Visit my GLBT DFW,” a guide for visitors to Dallas and Fort Worth, and is distributing this publication at Fort Worth’s three visitors’ centers. The Bureau has created a unique link for the GLBT Chamber to the Bureau’s new booking engine, whereby both organizations will be able to track any room nights generated by their joint efforts. The Bureau has become a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association and has begun to list local GLBT events on IGLTA’s website.

10. City vendors: The Law Department has incorporated language into city contracts so as to state explicitly that failure to comply with the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances constitutes a contract violation.

11. Comprehensive Plan: The Planning and Development Department has cited the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted by the City Council on February 9.

12. Equal access to employee benefits: The fiscal year 2011 budget, recommended by the city manager on Aug. 10 and adopted by the City Council on Sept. 21, provides benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. Current employees and new hires may now elect to add a domestic partner to their health insurance coverage, effective Jan. 1, 2011, with the employee paying 100 percent of the domestic partner’s premium. In addition, all employees may designate a domestic partner as a survivor to receive monthly pension benefits.

13. LGBT support group: The Human Resources Department on Sept. 30 issued an “ACToday” notice offering to assist interested City employees in the formation of support groups.

14. Educational campaign. City staff has worked with the city’s Diversity Advisory Committee and local LGBT groups to develop and implement an educational campaign to increase awareness of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances. The city launched the campaign in late August by placing an advertisement in the 2010 International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies conference program. Similar ads have appeared in the Dallas Voice and the Fort Worth Weekly, and another ad will appear in the 2011 Stock Show program. The campaign has also gained visibility at four public events: Jazz Fest on Sept. 10 and 11, the Harambee Festival on Oct. 2, the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Parade on Oct. 3, and Musicarte on Oct. 8 and 9. City staff, along with volunteers from the Human Relations Commission and the Diversity Task Force, shared information about the city’s anti-discrimination efforts and distributed diversity-related promotional items to reinforce that message.

15. Family leave: The city manager in August approved an amendment to the city’s Personnel Rules and Regulations (PRR), granting family leave benefits to employees with domestic partners. The City Manager will soon be recording this and other recent PRR amendments with the City Secretary. The family leave benefits will become effective Jan. 1, 2011.

16. Communication: City staff has prepared a proposed Administrative Regulation on social media policy for review by department heads, and for approval by the city manager in November. By December, the city manager intends to use social media accordingly in order to communicate more effectively with the LGBT community.

17. Health care: City staff has been working with a Fairness Fort Worth task force to assist local hospitals in complying with the provisions of federal healthcare regulations as they pertain to the recognition of family members.

18. Implementation: The City Manager’s Office has agreed to hold quarterly meetings of the Diversity Task Force during 2010, and thereafter to convene the Task Force as necessary, in order to monitor the implementation of Task Force recommendations.

19. Treatments for gender identity disorder: The Ad Hoc Committee on Healthcare Benefits has recommended further study about the feasibility of providing this coverage. The city manager has agreed to consider the results of such research and to make a pertinent recommendation to the City Council. Accordingly, the Human Resources Department and the Health Benefits Advisory Committee will reconsider this issue and report back to the Diversity Task Force no later than March 2011, in advance of the fiscal year 2012 budget preparation cycle.

20. State legislation: The City Council’s Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on October 12 endorsed the city’s state legislative program, which supports legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, transgender, gender identity, or gender expression, consistent with city ordinances.

Does this sound like “non-resolution” to you? I cannot think of one city which as accomplished more in less time in this area than Fort Worth. However, in my opinion, were the police officers sufficiently punished? No, but is that all we are going to focus on?

I write this response because of language like, “We guess the mayor of Fort Worth has more control over the courts, the press, and the gay establishment in North Texas than the mayor of Atlanta.”

As an example of factual inaccuracy, apparently the mayor of Atlanta “allowed” trials against patrons and bar employees to take place where none will in Fort Worth. But more importantly, the Rev. Sprinkle’s comments leaves the impression that the “gay establishment” is in the mayor’s back pocket and that somehow he was pulling the strings.

Frankly, that’s insulting as I am a member of the Diversity Task Force, Fairness Fort Worth and the City’s Ad Hoc Committee on Healthcare Benefits and I, along with many others, have spent long hours pushing for the reforms as set forth above. And one more point, maybe as important as the others: We, as members of the LGBT community, have opened up lines of communication with the straight community which didn’t exist before and are seen as people who care about Fort Worth, are willing to work together when possible and who just happen to be gay. So, is this “non-resolution”? You be the judge.