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Gay-Rights Rivalry: As Dallas Celebrates Higher HRC Score, Fort Worth Aims To Get Back On Top


Anyone who's lived in the D-FW Metroplex knows there's sometimes a fierce rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth — and in recent years this has extended to the realm of LGBT equality. 

Following the infamous police raid on the Rainbow Lounge gay bar in 2009 (above), Fort Worth advanced several LGBT initiatives that resulted in the smaller, more conservative city receiving a higher score than Dallas on the Human Rights Campaign's first two editions of the Municipal Equality Index. 

But this year, Dallas jumped back on top, receiving a 91 on the MEI compared to Fort Worth's 83.  

One thing that hurt Fort Worth's score this year was the unexplained disappearance of LGBT issues from the city's official federal legislative agenda, even though they'd been included following the Rainbow Lounge raid. 

HendersonOn Tuesday night, the Fort Worth City Council rectified that problem, unanimously approving a resolution placing support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on its legislative agenda for this year. Given that ENDA seems largely dead, we're assuming the resolution will mean support for a comprehensive federal civil rights bill — which would roughly mirror Fort Worth's existing nondiscrimination ordinance. 

From The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The federal legislative agenda came up for a council vote on Dec. 9, but [City Councilwoman Ann] Zadeh made the motion to delay approving it after David Mack Henderson (right), president of Fairness Fort Worth, told her that legislation seeking nondiscrimination laws for the LGBT community was not on the agenda.

“We are just asking for what we already had,” Henderson said.

“We had been frustrated that it fell of the radar, though I’m told that it wasn’t intentional. Still, any constituency wants to know that they matter, and we do. Fort Worth and other major cities in Texas are best represented with legislative packets that put our best foot forward and are progressive both for our citizens and for economic development.”

Zadeh said she would like to see the nondiscrimination legislation added the city’s agenda for the Texas legislative session, which begins next week.

KingstonMeanwhile, on the other side of the Metroplex, Dallas was celebrating a 10-point increase in its MEI score this week, which allowed it to jump both Fort Worth and San Antonio and put Big D second behind only Austin (100) in Texas. 

In March, the City Council passed a resolution supporting equal rights for city employees, citizens and visitors and committing to address any unequal treatment of LGBT people. The city’s Human Resources department updated its plan to play for transgender psychotherapy and hormone replacement.

In May, the city updated its Family Medical Leave Act ordinance to allow care of a “designated care recipient” as a reason to utilize it. In June, the Dallas Public Library sponsored LGBT programs and a designated book section, which brought the city points for the “visibility” of its LGBT efforts.

City Council members on the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee Monday praised city employees for prioritizing the work.

“Staff has taken the ball and run with it so well,” Philip Kingston (right) said. “When you see an outstanding effort like this, you can tell people really bought into the idea.” 

Dallas County Adding Family Medical Leave For Gay Employees To 'Promote Stronger Families'

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Two years ago, when Dallas County, Texas, added same-sex insurance benefits, the proposal was controversial.

Ditto for the county's 2011 decision to add transgender nondiscrimination protections.

But Dallas County's most recent pro-LGBT proposal, which would extend family medical leave to the partners of gay employees, has generated zero opposition. 

JenkinsThe Dallas County Commissioners Court, which first discussed the family medical leave proposal last month, is expected to approve it later this month or early next month. The measure would get around Texas' same-sex marriage ban by allowing all employees to designate a nonrelative as a designated care recipient — and take unpaid leave to care for that person without risking their jobs. 

From The Dallas Morning News

“A policy like this is important,” said Rafael McDonnell, a local gay rights activist who proposed the change to county leaders. “This allows county employees to never have to make a choice between the families they love and the jobs they are hired to do.” ... 

McDonnell said he approached County Judge Clay Jenkins (right) and Commissioner Elba Garcia about implementing the change at the county level shortly after the city of Dallas passed a similar rule.

“Broadening the categories of loved ones for which employees can use family leave promotes stronger families and a stronger community,” Jenkins said.

The city of Dallas added family medical leave for gay employees last year, but The Morning News notes that same-sex benefits are less common at the county level in Texas, ostensibly due to more conservative voters in suburban areas. Other counties that have extended at least some benefits to gay employees include Bexar County (San Antonio), El Paso County and Travis County (Austin). 

Of course, the issue of equal benefits for government employees will become moot if and when same-sex marriage becomes legal in Texas. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the Texas marriage case on Jan. 9. 

But at the very least, assuming they approve the proposal, Dallas County commissioners will be able to say they were on the right side of history. 

Anti-Gay Pastors Launch Effort To Repeal LGBT Non-discrimination Ordinance In Plano, Texas


Last week we reported that a Houston-based anti-LGBT group planned a petition drive to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance passed by the Plano City Council earlier this month. 

Now, opponents of the ordinance have launched a website, PlanoEqualRights.com, dedicated to gathering signatures to place the ordinance on the ballot.

A group of 80 pastors opposed to the ordinance reportedly held an emergency meeting this week at Plano's Prestonwood Baptist Church, an evangelical megachurch that's also known as "Six Flags Over Jesus." 

The Houston-based Texas Pastor Council, led by anti-gay bigot Dave Welch (pictured below), reports

WelchDr. Jack Graham, Senior Pastor of Prestonwood opened the meeting with full support of the effort, calling the city’s rapid vote (same night as the first hearing) “doing business in darkness”.  He expressed appreciation for TXPC Executive Director Dave Welch taking the initiative to organize the pastor meeting as well as the stand of the Houston pastors.

Jeff Mateer of Liberty Institute gave a legal analysis of why the Plano ordinance and others like it are a direct offense against First Amendments of religious belief, expression and “free exercise”. Dave Welch then closed the meeting with the “how to” of the referendum petition process.  He explained that since Plano and Houston City Charter requirements for qualifying a referendum are nearly identical, the critical steps of signature gathering and having notarized are likewise the same so they could benefit from our experience.

Of course, the group's petition in Houston was rejected by the city due to invalid signatures, resulting in a lawsuit. According to the Texas Pastor Council, the Plano petition will need 3,822 signatures by Jan. 20 to qualify for the ballot. 

The repeal website, under the banner "Plano Citizens United: Equal Rights For All/Special Rights For None," hilariously contains a typo in the First Amendment (above) and states:

Under Plano's new "Equal Rights Ordinance" (ERO) anything any business owner or employee says or does to another person regarding the person's gender, sexuality, or "identity" may be a CRIME.  Plano now CRIMINALIZES Christians', Jews', Muslims', and others' beliefs about men and women.  City bureaucrats will determine whether citizens' statements and actions are "unjust".  This policy subjects citizens to CRIMINAL SANCTIONS for our beliefs on topics affecting much of human interaction and is a direct threat to our freedoms of both speech and religion!

Meanwhile, the Plano ordinance continues to draw heavy criticism from transgender advocates, due to exemptions for nonprofit organizations as well as for restrooms and similar facilities.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas said in a press release this week:

We, the staff and board of Transgender Education Network of Texas are of mixed reaction in regard to news in Plano, Texas about the passage of a NonDiscrimination ordinance. On the one hand, taking steps towards treating all city employees in a fair and just manner based on merits rather than preconceived ideas and prejudice is an act worthy of respect. On the other hand, implementing provisions into that same ordinance allowing nonprofits to continue practicing bigotry in providing services severely undercuts any advance possibly made. ...

We are left wondering, what is the real intent of Plano's NonDiscrimination ordinance? To look good on paper, but really do nothing or to just disguise better the injustice already being done?  

UPDATE: Check out this hateful flier that opponents of the ordinance have been posting on residents' doors: 


LGBT Advocates Cry Foul After Texas Leases 222 Acres To Anti-Gay Boy Scouts Of America For Nominal Fee


LGBT advocates in El Paso are objecting to the state of Texas' decision to lease a large tract of land to the Boy Scouts of America for a nominal amount.

The Texas Transportation Commission approved a 25-year lease Thursday for 222 acres in El Paso that reportedly will be the site of one of the Boy Scouts' largest urban camps. 

The Boy Scouts of America, based in Irving, Texas, lifted a ban on gay youth last year but retained a ban on gay adult leaders. 

The El Paso Times reports:  

The state is waiving a requirement that it seek fair-market value for the property "for social mitigation purposes."

It's not appropriate to give such public resources to an organization that does not allow gay men to serve as scoutmasters, said Skip Rosenthal, executive director of the group International AIDS Empowerment of El Paso and Las Cruces.

"Our city should be opposing this," Rosenthal said. "We should not be giving government perks to an organization that discriminates against gay men."

Rosenthal is calling on the city of El Paso, which has an ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, to pass a resolution opposing the lease. 

Texas has no state law that prohibits it from entering contracts with organizations that discriminate against gays.

Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry (above), who appoints members of the Transportation Commission, is an Eagle Scout who published a book about the Boy Scouts in 2008 in which he compared homosexuality to alcoholism. 

Of course, the irony of the Boy Scouts' ban on gay adult leaders is that the organization has been covering up sex abuse by Scoutmasters for nearly a century. 

This week, a jury in Connecticut found the Boy Scouts negligent and awarded $7 million to a man who was sexually abused by a Scoutmaster in the 1970s. It was the largest compensatory damages verdict ever against the Boy Scouts. 

The Connecticut Post reports: 

During the trial, the plaintiff's attorneys introduced evidence that the Boy Scouts of America knew for decades before the 1970s that child sexual abuse was widespread in Boy Scout troop activities across the country. Witnesses in the trial said the Boy Scouts maintained thousands of secret cases it called "the Confidential Files," dating to the early 1920s. The files were held in locked cabinets in the Boy Scouts national headquarters in Dallas, according to the attorneys.

Rather than using the information to inform and educate local troop leaders, parents and Scouts about the existence of sexual abuse, the plaintiff claimed, the Boy Scouts hid the information, partly out of concern for protecting the Boy Scouts' all-American image.

Anti-Gay Group That Botched Houston Petition Aims To Put Plano LGBT Protections On Ballot: VIDEO


The anti-gay group that led a botched petition drive against Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance now plans a similar effort in Plano, Texas — where the City Council passed LGBT protections this week. 

The Houston Pastor Council's petition to repeal the Houston ordinance was rejected by the city due to invalid signatures, prompting a lawsuit

Plano is more than 250 miles from Houston, but that's not stopping the Pastor Council, according to Houston Public Media:  

Director Dave Welch (above) says the group will work with pastors in the area to try to repeal the ordinance. He says law places unnecessary restrictions on businesses.

“There’s no evidence of any discrimination at all,” Welch says. “These categories are vague and undefined and place criminal penalties on something [businesses] can’t even defend themselves over.” ... 

The Pastor Council plans to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn Plano’s new law. A similar move in Houston has led to an ongoing legal battle over the Equal Rights Ordinance, which has yet to be enforced. 

To put the Plano ordinance on the ballot, the group would need to gather approximately 3,800 signatures before Jan. 17, city spokesman Scott Stoler told Towleroad. 

"We have not heard anything specific about an organized effort to repeal the ordinance," Stoler said Friday. 

Jmateer_webMeanwhile, state legislators have introduced "license to discriminate" bills to undermine local nondiscrimination ordinances in Texas, and the anti-gay Liberty Institute, based in Plano, reportedly is trolling for plaintiffs to challenge the ordinance. 

The Liberty Institute's Jeff Mateer (right) appeared on the Family Research Council's Washington Watch radio program on Friday. 

"In order to bring a legal challenge, you need a plaintiff, and so we're looking for people who are impacted by it," Mateer said. "And these would be, for instance, small business, folks who are bakers and photographers and florists, who this law now tells them you have to violate your religious beliefs. If someone wants to have a same-sex commitment ceremony in your facility, then the law says you're compelled to host them, you're compelled to bake their cake, you're compelled to provide their flowers, you're compelled to be their photographer." 

Note that the FRC and other hate groups are still referring to the Plano law as a "Bathroom Ordinance," even though it specifically exempts restrooms and similar facilities from its public accommodations provision. 

The restroom exemption has drawn criticism from transgender advocates, so it'll be interesting to see whether LGBT groups can unite in defense of the ordinance given its obvious flaws. 

In any case, Stoler also confirmed that the city will begin offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees in January. In fact, Plano has even put together an informational video about the benefits. Watch it and weep below, Houston Pastor Council and Liberty Institute.

Also, listen to Mateer's interview with FRC, and watch his nauseating testimony against the ordinance, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Anti-Gay Group That Botched Houston Petition Aims To Put Plano LGBT Protections On Ballot: VIDEO" »

Gay-Friendly Corporations Refuse To Come Out Against 'License To Discriminate' Bills In Texas


Eight companies with perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index have contributed money to the campaign of Texas Republican Sen. Donna Campbell (above right), the author of legislation that seeks to enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constituion. 

But none of these otherwise gay-friendly companies have come out in opposition to SJR 10, which Campbell filed early last month.

The Texas Observer reports: 

“SJR 10 is one of thousands of bills filed, we will weigh in and comment on bills when and if they are scheduled for hearing,” said Mona Taylor, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based AT&T Inc., which contributed $5,000 to Campbell’s campaign through its PAC this year.

Other companies with perfect HRC scores that have contributed to Campbell’s campaign in the last year include General Motors Co. ($2,500), Citigroup Inc. ($1,500), UnitedHealth Group Inc. ($,1000), the Raytheon Co. ($1,000), Merck & Co. ($1,000), Genentech Inc. ($750) and Astellas Pharma Inc. ($500).

On Monday, Plano added itself to the list of cities in Texas that have passed ordinances banning anti-LGBT discrimination. Two days later, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas (above left), filed a House version of Campbell's "license to discriminate" bill — and another lawmaker is threatening to introduce a similar measure, The Observer reports. 
Experts say the legislation would severely limit cities' ability to enforce nondiscrimination ordinances, since any business owner could claim an exemption if they have "a sincerely held religious belief." But the unintended consequences of the constitutional amendment could be far worse, according to Equality Texas' Daniel Williams.
Texas already has a statute, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that provides strong protections for religious freedom. But the proposed amendments would supplant the RFRA and go much further, overriding the statute's exceptions for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws, according to The Observer

“A church or a synagogue or a mosque could conceivably be built anywhere with no concern to traffic flow or how much parking is available or building codes,” Williams said. “There are butchers that butcher in accordance with very specific religious laws, and they’re able to do that, but the city and the state enforce environmental protections that ensure we don’t wind up with giant ponds of blood in residential neighborhoods. If you take away the ability of cities to enforce those, it’s going to have an enormous negative impact on the quality of life for everyone in that area.”

Williams said Campbell has introduced similar measures in three previous legislative sessions. Given the senator's penchant for seeking to enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constitution, the companies' campaign contributions could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement of the legislation — at least until they publicly state otherwise. 


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