After adding trans protections this week, county’s public hospital plans to participate in Healthcare Equality Index, assess community’s needs


POLICY COVERS BATHROOMS  | Dr. Roberto De la Cruz, an openly gay Parkland board member, said he hopes the new policy will make people like transgender woman Paula Witherspoon — cited last year for using a women’s restroom — feel comfortable when visiting the hospital.

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Parkland’s Board of Managers voted unanimously this week to add gender identity and expression to the hospital’s Equal Opportunity Employment and harassment polices.

Parkland is among several agencies to include LGBT protections in their employment policies recently. Southern Methodist University added gender identity in December. The North Texas Tollway Authority and the North Central Texas Council of Governments also added the protections last year.

Protecting patients and visitors to the hospital became an issue in April when trans woman Paula Witherspoon was ticketed for using a woman’s restroom while accompanying her husband to the hospital. A woman saw her come out of the restroom and complained to police.

Witherspoon hired gay Dallas attorney John Loza to fight the ticket. He said the ticket was dismissed Friday, Jan. 25.

Concerns were raised about visitors not being included in the harassment and retaliation policy. The policy provided by the hospital states that in addition to employees, the hospital “will not tolerate harassment of or retaliation against a patient or vendor by any employee.” Spokeswoman Melissa Grych said visitors are also included as an “extension of the patient.”

Dr. Roberto De la Cruz, a gay Parkland board member, said he discussed adding the trans protections to the employment policy with Resource Center

Dallas officials several months before the incident involving Witherspoon, but the encounter was a good reminder to change the harassment policy as well.

“With this, I hope that she feels that she is welcome to use the facilities of the hospital at any level, as a companion to her partner or as a patient herself,” he said.

The city of Dallas has a nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, but other governmental entities are exempt. Parkland falls under county government.

The hospital doesn’t have a policy governing restroom use, but De la Cruz said a task force was created two months ago to work on projects that address LGBT issues. They’re working to ensure that single-use unisex bathrooms located around the hospital are clearly marked, as well as providing educational resources for staff so they understand that gender identity is protected under policy.

“It’s obviously a symptom of her (Witherspoon) feeling uncomfortable in the hospital and we hope to take that away for her or anybody,” he said.

Parkland, which added domestic partner benefits in 2011, will also become the first in North Texas to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s voluntary Healthcare Equality Index in February. Only Legacy Community Health Services and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, both in Houston, have participated in the index.

De la Cruz said the recent policy changes have helped Parkland be more inclusive, but participating in the HRC index will provide training and feedback on other ways the hospital can improve.

“The whole process is a learning process and we’re happy to continue learning,” he said.

Paul Guequierre, HRC deputy press secretary, said hospitals that decide to participate show a dedication to equality.

“By participating, at the very least it shows a desire to work towards LGBT equality in the healthcare setting,” he said. “Just by participating, it’s a great first step.”

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell said he hopes Parkland’s participation will set a precedent for other hospitals in North Texas to partake in the report and also examine how their policies could be more inclusive.

“I hope that other hospitals will take a look at what Parkland has done and emulate it,” he said.

In addition to participating in the HEI, the hospital’s population medicine division is in the planning stages of an LGBT community health assessment for the county. De la Cruz said the county releases an annual health assessment but health issues that affect the LGBT community are not addressed in it because it’s not among traditionally studied populations.

“That, I think, is sort of the crown jewel to actually look at the health needs of the community,” De la Cruz said.

He said the assessment may take a few years to plan in order to find the health issues relevant to the county’s LGBT community and outline possible solutions to meet the health needs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 25, 2013.