Citizen group’s mission, membership still unclear, but District 1 rep says idea is to be proactive instead of reactive
District 1 Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso has created a citizen task force on LGBT issues, the first such group in the city’s history.
But it was unclear this week who is on the task force or what specific issues it will seek to address.
Jasso, elected to represent Oak Cliff’s heavily gay District 1 in June, first announced the task force in September. She said the group has 13 members and has met only once.
Jasso said she established the task force as "a mechanism that would allow for good dialogue" on LGBT issues, especially given that the city doesn’t currently have any openly gay councilmembers.
"The more I thought about what was happening in Fort Worth after the Rainbow Lounge incident, the more I thought, you know, we really need to be proactive instead of reactive," Jasso said during an interview at her City Hall office on Friday, Nov. 20. "What I wanted to do was to find out what really were the issues. The group is still sort of forming. I’m still hoping we can make it bigger, to make sure we have everybody’s issues at the table."
Jasso said those interested in joining the task force should contact her office at 214-670-4052.
"I want to hear from as many different points of view as we can to really make this a successful task force," Jasso said. "I would definitely like to see it grow."
Jasso said she would provide a complete list of the 13 existing task force members as soon as it becomes available. She said the task force is made up largely of LGBT leaders she met during her campaign, as well as people they knew.
Jasso indicated that the task force may initially focus on enhancing or expanding LGBT diversity training that’s provided to the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire-Rescue. The Police Department, which is hiring about 200 new recruits each year, has conducted LGBT diversity training since the 1990s, but Fire-Rescue added the training only a few years ago.
Another possible focus of the task force, according to Jasso, is strengthening the city’s ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. More than 40 complaints have been filed under the ordinance since it took effect in 2002, but none has ever been prosecuted by the city.
Some LGBT leaders have suggested creating a standing human rights commission to handle nondiscrimination complaints, as other cities have done. The complaints are currently investigated by the Fair Housing Office before being turned over to the City Attorney’s Office.
Jasso said it will be up to task force members whether they want to pursue creating a standing city commission. While any councilmember can establish a task force, a commission would require approval from a majority of the council.
"Usually commissions begin with a task force," Jasso said. "If there’s no reason to create a commission because we’ve addressed the policies and the issues, then that’s optimal, that’s ideal. … I think once we get into the policy issues, I’m hopeful that we find Dallas has been very proactive."
Damien Duckett, chairman of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s political action committee, confirmed this week that he’s a member of the task force. Duckett said the 13 members were selected from a group of about 35 who were vetted by himself and Paul Tran.
Duckett said task force members have actually met twice.
They had a preliminary meeting several weeks ago, followed by another meeting last week when they had dinner with City Manager Mary Suhm.
Duckett said based upon the meeting with Suhm, the task force likely will shift strategies for achieving some of its goals, but he declined to elaborate.
"We’re not ready at this time to announce them [the goals] or to make them public, because we’re still wanting to add to that list, I think, and also to make more comprehensive the changes we’d like to see affected," Duckett said.
"Until we’ve had our next meeting, which will be in January, I think we’ll hold off in making those public."
Based on interviews with Jasso, Duckett and others, the goals of the task force could also include making the city’s nondiscrimination ordinances and polices fully inclusive of transgender people; converting DPD’s LGBT community liaison officer assignment from part-time to full time; requiring or encouraging city contractors to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies or to offer domestic partner benefits; and giving greater consideration to LGBT-owned businesses in the city contracting process.
Suhm, who’s over the daily operations of the city, said this week she supports the concept of the LGBT task force.
"I think it’s good for constituent groups to stay in contact with their councilmembers and with the staff and come talk about issues and concerns," Suhm said.
"I don’t think that necessarily means that there’s something wrong. We do our jobs better if we’re communicating with the people that we work for."
Chris Heinbaugh, openly gay chief of staff for Mayor Tom Leppert, said while he hasn’t had an opportunity to discuss the task force in detail with Jasso, it sounds like a good idea.
"It’s not bad to kind of step back and do a gut check so to speak and say, ‘All right, are we doing all that we can be doing, and the things we have done, are they working?’" Heinbaugh said.
Jesse Garcia, president of the local LGBT chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, also confirmed this week that he’s a member of the task force. Garcia said he wasn’t initially on the panel but agreed to join because he wanted to make sure it was sufficiently diverse.
"If there’s an incident that comes up where the city can be involved, this is a good avenue for addressing it," Garcia said."Why wait for something like what happened in Fort Worth? We should have something like this already in place."
POSSIBLE TASK FORCE ISSUES
Members of the LGBT task force created by Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso are keeping quiet about what issues they’ll seek to address, but here are some possibilities:
• LGBT diversity training: Dallas Police Department recruits have undergone diversity training on LGBT issues since the 1990s, and Dallas Fire-Rescue began the training a few years ago. The task force likely will seek to bolster these diversity training programs and/or expand them to include additional city employees.
• Fully inclusive nondiscrimination clauses: A 2002 ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation citywide in employment, housing and public accommodations. "Gender identity and expression" are not included directly in the ordinance, but instead appear under the definition of "sexual orientation." Also, a nondiscrimination policy that applies to city employees, passed in 1995, includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression.
• Enforcement of nondiscrimination ordinance: As of Sept. 12 of this year, a total of 42 complaints had been filed in seven years under the 2002 nondiscrimination ordinance, but none has ever been prosecuted. The task force may seek to strengthen the ordinance or change the way complaints are handled, in addition to looking at ways to increase awareness about the ordinance in the LGBT community. The task force may also pursue creation of a standing human rights commission charged with investigating nondiscrimination complaints.
• LGBT concerns in city contracting: The city has an ordinance requiring contractors who do more than $10,000 worth of business with the city to have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, but it’s unclear to what degree the ordinance has been enforced. The city doesn’t currently require contractors to offer DP benefits to their employees, and even major contractors aren’t asked whether or not they do. The task force may also look at ways to give additional consideration to LGBT-owned businesses in the contracting process.
• Full-time police liaison: The Dallas Police Department’s LGBT community liaison officer, Laura Martin, currently is assigned to a full-time bicycle patrol at White Rock Lake. The task force may try to increase the amount of time Martin can devote to her liaison duties.
• Crime in Oak Lawn: The Cedar Springs/Wycliff Target Area Action Grid, a roughly 1-square-mile area that encompasses the city’s largest gay entertainment district, recorded the fourth-most violent crimes of any area of the city during the first nine months of this year. Both crime prevention advocates and city council members have said they feel one of the keys to reducing crime in the area is increasing police presence.
• HIV/AIDS funding: Earlier this year, the City Council eliminated $325,000 in funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and education. LGBT advocates unsuccessfully lobbied the council to reinstate the funding, which had been in place for decades.
— John Wright
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27, 2009.