MAKING A POINT | Jim Lane listens as Betsy Price responds to a question during the Fort Worth mayoral runoff forum on LGBT issues Wednesday at Four Day Weekend Theater. The two candidates both pledged support during the event for the city’s various LGBT initiatives. (Robert Camina/Special Contributor)

Candidates pledge support for LGBT initiatives, but differ in their approach to running the city

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor

Fort Worth mayoral candidates Jim Lane and Betsy Price both pledged support for LGBT initiatives undertaken in the city over the last two years, and both declared a commitment to treating all people fairly, when they spoke Wednesday night, June 1, at an LGBT community forum.

But the forum also showed subtle differences in the two candidates’ familiarity with LGBT issues, and not-so-subtle differences in their leadership styles and ideas on how to run the city.

The forum, sponsored by Fairness Fort Worth and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, was the first of its kind in Fort Worth, marking the first time that mayoral candidates had participated in a forum focusing on LGBT issues. About 75 people attended the event, held at the Four Day Weekend Theater in Sundance Square.

Price, touting her 10 years as Tarrant County’s tax assessor/collector, promised to bring to the city the same business sense that she used, she said, to increase efficiency and therefore cut costs and lower taxes at the county.

“I believe we need to be running the city like a business,” Price said.

Lane, however, said that being a successful mayor is less about “business sense” and more about coalition building. He said the 12 years he spent on the Fort Worth City Council gives him the experience necessary to work with council members and citizens to build the necessary coalitions and get the job done.

“I understand how things work at City Hall,” Lane said.

Lane also noted repeatedly that he was on the Fort Worth Council when the city added sexual orientation protections to its nondiscrimination ordinance, and that he voted in favor of that amendment, which he said “had national implications.” He also, throughout the evening, named LGBT community leaders that he knows personally, saying that he would ask for their input on LGBT issues.

Price, for her part, said that as a 60-year-old woman, she has, herself, been on the receiving end of discrimination and that she knows “what it’s like to have to fight it out with the men” to receive fair and equal treatment.

Although Tarrant County has no statutes or policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, Price said that she worked diligently throughout her tenure as tax assessor/collector to increase diversity within her office. She said that when she first took office, employees were all “Caucasian men,” and by the time she left to run for mayor, the office reflected the diversity of the county as a whole.

Both candidates declared that their answers and positions on LGBT issues would remain consistent, regardless of the audience to which they were speaking. But after the forum, an audience member gave Dallas Voice a transcript of an April 26 forum with all five original mayoral candidates, in which Price suggested the LGBT protections in the nondiscrimination ordinance were unnecessary — a very different answer from the one she gave this week.

“I haven’t studied this intensely, but I really, I don’t like the idea that the city is in this business at all,” Price said of the ordinance during the April 26 forum. This week, however, Price and Lane both said the ordinance, complete with LGBT protections, should be maintained. Both candidates stressed that they believe everyone should be given equal and fair treatment.

Lane’s answer this week was consistent with his reply at the April 26 event, where he said, “If you believe in the Constitution and you will not accept discrimination, then you would have voted with the Council the way they did [in 2009 by adding gender identity and expression protections], and I would have done that.”

Both candidates said they support maintaining the LGBT liaison position Police Chief Jeff Halstead created in 2009 in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid. Lane said he knows liaison Officer Sara Straten well and would “absolutely maintain” that position, while Price called Straten’s position — and other community liaison officer positions — “crucial to the gains we’ve made as a city. They all must be maintained.”

The two agreed on the necessity of continuing to promote Fort Worth as a tourist and convention destination, and both said they believe the city should reach out specifically to LGBT tourists and conventions.

They also agreed that LGBT-owned businesses should be given the same considerations that other minority-owned businesses get in awarding city contracts.

The question of whether the candidates believe the city should advertise in the LGBT press became an issue following Richard Clough’s publication of his “Texans for Faith and Family voters’ guide.”

Lane did not respond to Clough’s questionnaire, but the published voters’ guide indicated that Price opposed city advertising in the LGBT press.

On Wednesday, however, Price said that Clough’s voters guide misrepresented her response on that question, repeating what she told Dallas Voice a week earlier.

Price said she believes that because of the current budget situation, the city shouldn’t advertise in any niche publications because it is too expensive. But, she added, if the city advertises in any publication targeting a specific readership, the city should advertise in all such publications, including the LGBT press.

Both candidates said that when it comes to employment ads, the city should advertise wherever necessary to attract the most qualified applicants.

Price and Lane both said that if confronted with a Texas law nullifying LGBT protections and benefits enacted at the city level, they would consult with attorneys to find ways around the prohibition.

Lane said the first thing he would do would be call gay attorney Jon Nelson to help find away to fight such a law.

“I’d hope the Texas Legislature wouldn’t be that stupid,” Lane said, but after pausing, he added, “I take that back. They might be. I’d do everything I knew to do to get out of that.”

Price, chuckling at Lane’s remark, said, “I would hope that the people of Texas would rise up against such a law. I would consult with attorneys to see if we couldn’t get around it.”

The candidates agreed that current diversity training on LGBT issues mandated for all city employees should continue, and both said they would attend such classes if elected as mayor, even though elected officials are not required to attend.

The two took different tacks, however, in answering a question on whether city health benefits should cover gender reassignment surgery for transgender employees.

Lane said that although he has studied the issue a bit, he still doesn’t completely understand all the specifics. He did note, however, that “a very smart lawyer” had recently compared gender variance issues to post traumatic stress syndrome, saying that when Vietnam veterans first began complaining of PTSD, no one took those complaints seriously because no one understood the syndrome. Now, however, such diagnoses are more common and better understood, and no one questions the necessity of treatment.

Similarly, few people really understand transsexualism now, but there will come a day when people do understand the necessity of such treatments, Lane continued.

Price, too, said that while she needs to study the issue further, for her the question of whether city health benefits should cover such treatments comes down to a question of “fiscal responsibility.” She said she expects city staff currently studying the issue to “have a recommendation shortly.”

Price noted that when her daughter underwent fertility treatments to have a child, her insurance considered the procedures to be elective and did not cover the costs.

Some LGBT advocates in Fort Worth have been critical of the city’s police and firefighters associations for not playing a more active role in trying to secure pension benefits for LGBT officers and firefighters and their domestic partners.

When Lane was questioned Wednesday night about his ties to those associations, he offered a lengthy explanation of how pension negotiations work, saying that the process allowed no undue influence, regardless of the fact that those associations have endorsed him and contributed heavily to his mayoral campaign.

He also said that it would be no more difficult for him to negotiate with the associations on pension issues than it would be for Price to deal with Chesapeake Energy on issues of oil and gas drilling in the city. Chesapeake has endorsed Price in the race.

Price, however, noted that the police and firefighter associations never spoke to other candidates before endorsing Lane, whereas Chesapeake interviewed all five of the candidates. And, she added, while the police and firefighter associations had donated heavily to Lane’s campaign, Chesapeake has never made donations to her campaign.

Price, for her part, has come under fire from some in the LGBT community for her ties to the Republican Party. She said Wednesday night that while she “makes no bones” about being a conservative Republican, she supports fairness and equality for everyone and has been endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike. And, she added, partisan politics have no place in city elections. “If we start getting into partisan politics in our city races and in running our city, we’re going to end up with the same kind of mess we have now in Austin and Washington, D.C.,” Price said.

Much of the LGBT community’s current active role in city politics began after the June, 2009, raid on the Rainbow Lounge by Fort Worth police officers and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Both Price and Lane agreed that the raid never should have happened in the first place.

“There’s just no excuse for what happened that night at the Rainbow Lounge,” Lane said, adding, “Isn’t it a shame that it took something like that for educated people to be willing to sit down and talk about these issues?”

Price said the raid was “an extremely unfortunate incident,” but added that it served as a catalyst for change and that the city has “made tremendous strides forward” since.

“I hope that in 10 years, our children and our grandchildren will look back at this and wonder how something like the raid could have happened, and why we had so many problems” with equal treatment for everyone, Price said.

The runoff that will determine whether Price or Lane will succeed Mike Moncrief as mayor of Fort Worth is June 18. Early voting begins Monday, June 6.