Lela Mays seeks advice from around the community when working with LGBT defendants
in her drug court.

Former city councilwoman Hill has an extensive anti-LGBT record, but Mays’ record means she’s more than a protest vote

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

When it comes to the candidates for judge in the 283rd district criminal court, members of the LGBT community have an opportunity to vote against a candidate that, as a Dallas city councilwoman, repeatedly voted against them. And at the same time, they have the chance to vote for a candidate who is a solid ally.

Lela Mays supports the LGBT community and has the support of Stonewall Democrats in her bid to become judge for the 283rd district criminal court. She’s currently a criminal district court magistrate.

Her opponent is former Dallas City Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill. During her eight years on the council, Hill refused to sign an annual letter welcoming people to Dallas for Pride and was a staunch opponent of anything LGBT-positive.

Mays runs a drug treatment court and, she said, accesses resources from throughout the community to help people who come before her. She addresses underlying issues, understanding and caring for LGBT and HIV issues that may be involved.

On the other hand, Hill has opposed the LGBT community at every turn and, based on her history on the city council, couldn’t be trusted to issue fair rulings for LGBT defendants that might come before her court.

“There are some acts God doesn’t bless,” Hill once told Dallas Voice to explain why her signature wouldn’t appear on a letter welcoming people to Dallas for the city’s annual Pride celebration.

In another incident, Hill criticized a billboard in her South Dallas district encouraging people to be tested for HIV. The ad portrayed two black men. Hill told Fox 4 at the time she objected to presenting African-American men who are gay as acceptable.

She said engaging in such conduct presents health risks.

Before the federal marriage equality decision equalized benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex couples across the country, the Dallas City Council voted to offer equal pension benefits to same-sex couples that were married. At the time, many Texas couples had already married out-of-state, and the city would have been following federal law governing pensions. Hill voted against the proposal.

In 2014, Dallas council members passed an equality resolution directing city staff to evaluate and fix the inequities for LGBT employees in city employment. Hill voted against it.

Now she’s looking for support in her bid to become a judge.

Mays has served on the bench as a magistrate for 18 years. She said she’s come to understand the LGBT community as she’s ordered treatment rather than prison time, especially for first-time offenders.

“LGBT people have to be honest about issues they’re dealing with,” she said.

Mays said she has learned from her experiences. A recent case involved a trans woman who needed a court order to be placed in a female group. Mays said she understood that would be the best treatment option.

“I’ve learned a lot from past mistakes,” Mays said, adding that she knows who to rely on for advice to make the best treatment options available.

Attorney Katie Sprinkle, who is transgender, agreed. She said Mays invited her to her office to learn about trans issues and what resources trans people coming before her court might need. Mays didn’t just listen, but she then had Sprinkle speak to her probation officers, caseworkers and staff.

“She doesn’t fall back on ‘one size fits all,’” Sprinkle said, calling Mays “thoughtful.”

As a criminal court judge, Mays said she would bring her experience with mental health issues and drug treatment to the bench with her, and she urged voters to look at each candidate’s history and what they have accomplished for the community.

Mays said her history includes working with Prism Health, Parkland Hospital, Dallas Can Academy, Resource Center Food Pantry and other agencies to address literacy, hunger, health and more for defendants in her court. Drug problems have underlying causes, she explained.

Dallas Stonewall Democrats Vice President Brandon Vance said he’s regularly asked by people who to vote for. Mays is the one candidate he consistently recommends.

“She has a heart for justice,” Vance said. “She’s doing the good work.”

Mays, he said, understands the needs of the LGBT community and the disservice that’s been done to the community over the years, and he added, “She’s a stark contrast to Vonciel.”