A Dallas City Council committee approved a “Comprehensive Statement of Support” on Tuesday that would allow staff to address various issues affecting the city’s LGBT employees and residents.
The Budget, Finance & Audit Committee voted 4-1 to approve the LGBT equality resolution, which now goes to the full City Council. Those voting in favor of the resolution were Committee Chair Jerry Allen, Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins, Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates and Councilman Philip Kingston. Anti-gay Councilman Sheffie Kadane voted against the resolution.
The resolution doesn’t call for specific action but would direct staff to work on several areas, including disparate treatment of LGBT employees when it comes to pensions and benefits; improving the city’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index; and lobbying for pro-equality state and federal legislation.
If the resolution is approved by the full council, any specific measures would come back to the committee to sign off on individually.
“This is a vision. It simply sets a vision,” interim assistant city manager Theresa O’Donnell told the committee. “I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion and disagreement about the individual points.”
The vote came almost eight months after the City Council failed to take up another LGBT equality resolution authored by Councilman Scott Griggs. Amid the controversy over last year’s resolution, Allen agreed to take up LGBT initiatives in his committee, which has now been briefed on the subject at three consecutive meetings. Unlike the previous resolution, the current one doesn’t include same-sex marriage.
The decision to put forward the resolution approved Tuesday was a last-minute one, according to O’Donnell, who has been working on the proposal with the city’s LGBT Task Force. O’Donnell initially planned to request the committee’s permission to draft a resolution, which would then be presented to the full council. But LGBT Task Force members and some council members decided they wanted to take concrete action at Tuesday’s meeting.
Atkins and Gates initially appeared reluctant to vote on the resolution, since they had received it only minutes before the meeting.
“We can move it forward, but there’s got to be an understanding that it will come back to this committee and re-vet it back out,” Atkins said. “We’re not passing a resolution saying this is what we’re going to do. This is just a process.”
Gates said she was concerned about spending money to improve the city’s score on the Municipal Equality Index, when there could be indexes related to other minority groups on which it scores lower.
Kingston, a strong LGBT ally, assured Atkins and Gates that the text in the resolution was no different from what was on the slides in O’Donnell’s PowerPoint presentation to the committee.
“I don’t think you’re going to wind up having been committed by this vote to a position that later you’re not OK with,” Kingston said.
After voting against the measure, Kadane said he thought the words “gay” and “lesbian” should have been removed from the resolution.
“It should affect all of the citizens of Dallas, and not just the gay and lesbian groups, and that’s where I’m opposed to it,” Kadane said.
Allen, the committee chair, responded and appeared to address Kadane’s anti-gay religious views.
“The second greatest commandment is love your neighbor as yourself,” Allen said. “We’re all neighbors, and that’s really what this is about.”
At the end of the discussion, several audience members who said they were against the resolution requested an opportunity to address the committee, but Allen wouldn’t allow it. The audience members could be seen huddling with Kadane after the meeting.
Before voting on the resolution, committee members heard from Cathryn Oakley, legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. Oakley is the author of HRC’s Municipal Equality Index, which last year ranked 291 cities nationwide according to LGBT-friendliness. Dallas received an 81 out of 100 on the MEI, below Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio.
Also addressing the committee was openly gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, who recounted how his city addressed LGBT issues following the Rainbow Lounge raid in 2009 — on its way to earning a score of 91 on the MEI in 2013.
“I would not advise that the city of Dallas go about it the same way the city of Fort Worth did,” Burns said, referring to the raid of the gay bar by Fort Worth police and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
But Burns said following the raid, Fort Worth formed an LGBT Task Force that made 19 recommendations that have since been approved by the City Council, including mandatory diversity training for all employees — which Dallas doesn’t currently do.
“It isn’t crazy stuff,” Burns said of the training. “It isn’t how to wave a rainbow flag. It is basic decency in the way you treat people.”
Burns told the committee the LGBT initiatives have made Fort Worth more competitive in attracting employees and businesses.
Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance and a member of Dallas’ LGBT Task Force, also addressed the committee,
“We think it’s important that you know that the LGBT Task Force supports not only the staff presentation but also its recommended actions,” Fink said. “We wholeheartedly support their approach today.”
Several other LGBT advocates also attended the meeting, including Nell Gaither of Trans Pride Initiative, Omar Narvaez of Lambda Legal, Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center, Jeff Strater of HRC’s DFW Steering Committee and North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce President Tony Vedda.
The two pages of the resolution are below.