Mike Eastland

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

ARLINGTON — The North Central Texas Council of Governments added sexual orientation and gender identity to its employee nondiscrimination policy, making it the 10th local agency to do so in recent years.

The agency employs more than 300 employees and works with local governments from 16 counties to collaborate on common goals and regional development, Executive Director Mike Eastman said.

As executive director, Eastman handles the human resources policy changes and decided to add the protections based on the agency’s inclusive practices in late July. He said he spent the last two months briefing executive committees on the changes to the discrimination policy, which is now listed on the agency’s website and will be added to the employee handbook. “It just really puts on paper what we’ve always tried to practice,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Representatives with Resource Center Dallas and Fairness Fort Worth approached Eastman last fall to discuss adding the protections. RCD’s Rafael McDonnell said Eastman was very receptive to making the changes. He said he hopes the inclusion of LGBT protections helps the organizations start conversations with other cities and other counties that are a part of NCTCOG that may not necessarily be open to a dialogue about LGBT issues.

“We’re certainly able to start that conversation with open and out employees at NCTCOG,” McDonnell said. “Hopefully that’ll open the door for conversations with other cities and counties.”

NCTCOG also operates a police training academy that trains roughly 40-90 recruits a year from its 16 counties that send new hires to the academy. Eastman said diversity training is already a part of the academy, so the nondiscrimination policy would not affect training.

Eastman said he approached adding the protections from a legal perspective so employees of all backgrounds and diversity would be covered by the agency electing to include them.

“It’s been our practice.  It just wasn’t an official policy,” Eastman said. “Anytime you see something written on paper it makes it a little more official.”

Jon Nelson with Fairness Fort Worth said the addition was important because it demonstrates a level of safety to LGBT employees that the federal and state government do not offer them.

“It makes the employees feel secure,” Nelson said. “In this day and age, it’s also encouraging for employers because they’re going to get qualified people to apply for jobs that they might not have before.”

The North Texas Tollway Authority added LGBT protections to its nondiscrimination policy in April. Other agencies that have updated their policies recently are Dallas County, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas County Community College District, DFW International Airport, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Tarrant County College District, Fort Worth Independent School District and the city of Fort Worth.

Nelson said the number of agencies and companies that have elected to add LGBT protections is increasing because positive growth comes from being more inclusive. He said he expects many more area agencies to follow suit in the near future. “The question used to be if companies and governments were going to deal fairly with their employees,” Nelson said. “It’s no longer a question of if; it’s now a question of when.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 10, 2012.