Almost a year since marriage resolution failed, new measure expected to pass at City Hall and create improvements in employment, city outreach
Dallas councilmembers took a step this week in rectifying the relationship with the city’s LGBT community after another pro-equality resolution failed to move forward last June.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Finance, Budget and Audit Committee approved the “Comprehensive Statement of Support” resolution. The measure states the city leadership is “in full favor of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees of the city of Dallas, citizens within the city of Dallas, and visitors to the city of Dallas.”
If approved by the entire council next Wednesday, it would guide city staff and the city’s LGBT Task Force to research areas for improved LGBT equality and report back to the committee quarterly on the progress. Items will then be addressed on an individual basis and voted on.
Members who voted in favor of the new resolution this week were Committee Chair Jerry Allen, who originally pushed for a broad statement of support, Vice Chair Jennifer Gates, Philip Kingston and Tennell Atkins. Sheffie Kadane voted against it because he said he didn’t like that it focused solely on the LGBT community.
Based on recent and past support, the resolution would likely pass the full council with Allen, Gates, Kingston, Atkins, Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Monica Alonzo, Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis and Sandy Greyson supporting the measure. Lee Kleinman confirmed in an email this week to Dallas Voice that he, too, would support the resolution. Rick Callahan said he’d review it for consideration. Kadane and Vonciel Jones Hill oppose the measure. As for Mayor Mike Rawlings, spokesman Sam Merten said he “has not been fully briefed about the issue.”
Medrano, who chairs the city’s LGBT Task Force, said he thinks there’s at least eight councilmembers who will vote in favor of the resolution to ensure its passage.
He said there’s not a timeline for changes to take place, but once the resolution passes, city staff can immediately update policies administratively. Other things needing council approval will be compiled into a list by the Task Force and will be presented to the Finance Committee in a few months.
“Once we get this resolution passed, city staff will have direction from the council to address a lot of these issues we’ve been talking about,” Medrano said. “This resolution will give them direction to go on and correct those inequalities in the city’s policies.”
Resource Center spokesman Rafael McDonnell called the resolution “a step forward” because it allows the city to move forward with inclusive changes with the backing of the council.
“It is a significant step,” McDonnell said. “It is a roadmap to accomplish significant change within the city — change that can be accomplished by staff action, as well as change that will have to go before the council.”
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Cathryn Oakley with the Human Rights Campaign explained the organization’s Municipal Equality Index and how Dallas could improve its score.
Dallas scored an 81 on last year’s second annual MEI, up from a 76 the year before. Oakley, the main author of the MEI, said a few things the city could add this year are equivalent family leave, an ordinance requiring city contractors to offer their employees domestic partner benefits, and trans healthcare, which will be counted as standard points instead of bonus points in the fall’s report.
Fort Worth scored an 89 and 91 on the two MEIs. Openly gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns attended the committee meeting to explain how his city responded to the violent anti-gay police raid on the Rainbow Lounge in 2009. The city worked closely with the police department to heal the relationship with the LGBT community, forming a Diversity Task Force and implementing most of its 21 recommendations.
Burns told Dallas Voice he was proud to share his experience on Fort Worth’s Council with the committee. He said Kadane’s comments about the resolution and nondiscrimination ordinance protecting all citizens instead of focusing on LGBT people show how much those measures are needed.
“This is a good reminder in making sure that all citizens are welcomed and protected,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to have ordinances like this to affect change.”
A resolution supporting marriage equality and workplace protections was slated to go before the council last June, but former Councilwoman Delia Jasso withdrew her signature from a memo, which required the measure be considered. Mayor Mike Rawlings then intervened while out of the country to prevent former Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano from adding it back to the agenda in his absence. Since then, advocates and members of the city’s LGBT Task Force, chaired by Adam Medrano, have discussed ways to move forward with that resolution.
Over the summer, Councilman Allen asked two openly gay city employees, interim Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell and Assistant City Attorney John Rogers, to make a presentation on equality issues and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Jerry also envisioned a broad statement of support in a resolution before taking on particular issues at City Hall. O’Donnell and Rogers addressed his committee in December and again in January on LGBT issues within the city.
O’Donnell said this week that LGBT advocates have created a “laundry list of about 30 items” to change at the city level to improve Dallas as an employer, a place to visit and an advocate for its citizens. That list includes updating the pensions, adding comprehensive transgender healthcare coverage, an LGBT employee resource group, citywide diversity training and outlining state and federal legislation for the city’s lobbyists to support.
“Those will be a work in progress that I think will take many, many weeks and months to accomplish,” O’Donnell said.
While some of the things will be done administratively and others will require council approval, a new position in the city manager’s office will help determine the appropriate processes. The city plans to hire an ethics and diversity officer to oversee strategies, training and promote understanding and inclusion. City spokesman Frank Librio said the application for the job closed last week and interviews begin in March.
LGBT Dallasites’ recent fight for equality at the city level goes back to 2012 when several protests urged Rawlings to sign a petition for “Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.”
Despite coming out in favor of marriage equality personally, Rawlings refused to sign the pledge and later called the resolution last year a “misuse” of the council’s time.
Resource Center’s McDonnell said the true impact of the new resolution has a much larger scope than the one advocates hoped would pass last year. And none of the progress that’s underway now would have happened if Rawlings had signed the pledge two years ago, he said.
“If Mayor Rawlings had signed that pledge two years ago, we might not be here,” McDonnell said. “I think this would have short-circuited the outside movement and there wouldn’t have been such a sustained push and focus that we need to do something.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 21, 2014.