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Susan Duty

Waco equality update

From the Dallas Voice:

Waco’s LGBT city employees may soon be protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

With four of six members present, the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend to the city manager that the protections be added to the city’s EEO policy.

LGBT activist Carmen Saenz, who addressed the committee, said the proposal will go to the city manger pending the city attorney’s approval in the coming weeks.

There was confusion back in January when Waco resident Susan Duty said she and a few others were trying to add LGBT protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance instead of its EEO policy. Waco doesn’t have a citywide nondiscrimination ordinance.

The initial plan was to go before the committee and have them vote on a recommendation to have the Waco City Council look into an ordinance, which would protect LGBT workers citywide. But that meeting was delayed until April and then July. By then, Duty said she’d found out the committee only deals with city employees, so the ordinance would have to be presented directly to the City Council.

Saenz said despite the mix-up, “this was our original plan.”

See here for the background. Duty may still push for the city ordinance, but this is a nice step forward regardless. Here’s the Waco Trib story:

The policy would allow LGBT employees to take any discrimination complaints that can’t be resolved by their superiors to a specially convened panel that would include a member of the equal employment committee, City Attorney Jennifer Richie said.

The city already officially bars employment discrimination and harassment based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, marital status and disability. But no state or federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against transgender or gay employees.

Carmen Saenz, a Waco psychology worker who presented the proposal to the committee, said the aims of the policy are modest.

“We had no intention of asking for benefits or anything like that,” she said. “All it means is that your sexual orientation is not a factor in hiring you or firing you.”

City Manager Larry Groth could not be reached for comment for this story, but he said in an interview earlier this year that the city does not consider sexual orientation or gender identity in its employment decisions.

Saenz said she knows of no cases of employment discrimination against LBGT workers in Waco city government. Nor has she ever faced 
discrimination living openly as a lesbian for 11 years in Waco.

But she said a written policy would ease the fears of city workers who now feel they have to stay closeted.

“I can guarantee that there are people who work for the city who live in fear of their bosses finding out they are gay,” she said.

[…]

Erma Ballenger, a Baylor University social work lecturer who heads the Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee, supports the policy. She said the city doesn’t need to have hard evidence of discrimination to justify a nondiscrimination policy.

“We’re acknowledging there is no factual data, but there’s no way of collecting that data,” she said.

Committee member Sherry Perkins, who works in corporate human resources, said it just made sense to widen the nondiscrimination policy to assure that everyone is treated equally.

“I think it’s certainly in line with what we’ve been asked to do,” she said.

Seems pretty straightforward to me, and I guarantee it will make a lot of people think a lot more favorably of Waco. Saenz, who as noted before was a high school classmate of mine, had this to say in addition, which she put on that Voice post and sent to me via Facebook:

Every single member of the City of Waco Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee (EEOAC) was thoughtful, respectful, and insightful in their questions and discussion. The City of Waco EEOAC made a powerful statement, at least to me, by their vote. As Waco grows progressively larger and continues to offer new employment opportunities, it is right and fair to extend existing protections to cover all citizens.

I am so grateful to Dr. Paul Derrick, who eloquently and passionately spoke before the EEOAC, all who worked so hard to help make this meeting possible, and for all of the wonderful messages, emails and phone calls since the meeting on Thursday. Thank you for helping to make Waco, Texas a safer, kinder, and welcoming place for me and all other LGBT residents.

A small group of active citizens can make a difference and effect change.

This initiative is a direct result of the Waco Equality Project conducted at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco by Daniel Williams of EqualityTexas.

Daniel Williams and Chuck Smith of Equality Texas, along with Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas have provided guidance, support and resources.

The Social Action Committee and Welcoming Congregation Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco have hosted multiple forums, educating and advocating for LGBT equality.

Without the work, support, and resources of these amazing people and organizations this work would not have occurred. I am grateful for their past and continued support and energy.

May more cities in Texas follow Waco’s lead. Well done, y’all.

Pushing for equality in Waco

Glad to hear it.

A group of Waco residents is seeking a city ordinance to bar public and private employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Advocates of the measure plan to propose it Thursday to the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee and hope to get Waco City Council to consider it in coming months.

The as-yet-unnamed group wants the city to follow the lead of cities including Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, which have passed citywide policies against sexual orientation discrimination.

Spokeswoman Susan Duty said she was disturbed to learn recently that state and federal laws do not bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates, unless they are federal employees.

“It’s perfectly legal for an employer in the state of Texas to fire someone just because they are gay,” said Duty, who described herself as a “straight ally” to gays and lesbians. “Other cities have created ordinances to protect workers, and we wanted a way for responsible LGBT citizens to feel safe in their employment, no matter what it is.”

[…]

Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith said cities such as Houston, San Antonio and El Paso have policies against sexual orientation discrimination within city government.

But Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin go further, with “human rights commissions” that hear complaints against workplace and housing discrimination, including discrimination against LGBT residents. The commissions are allowed to impose fines of up to $500 for discrimination.

Smith said he thinks such fines are infrequent, but the committees also can resolve employment discrimination claims without resorting to fines.

Smith said most corporations already forbid discrimination against LGBT workers by their own internal policies.

“None of these cities saw a huge wave of activity,” he said.

He said ordinances can be written to exempt religious institutions such as schools and universities.

Here’s a copy of the letter that was sent to Waco’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee. What’s extra cool about this is that one of the signers, Carmen Saenz, was a high school classmate of mine. She’s the one who tipped me off about this. The EEOAC’s agenda is here. My understanding is that this item isn’t on there now but will be discussed at a subsequent meeting. Here’s more from the Dallas Voice:

Duty, a straight ally, attended an Equality Texas event a few months ago, learning that the state doesn’t offer protections against anti-LGBT job discrimination. Legislation has been filed for the current legislative session to add the statewide protections.

“When I found out that it was legal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, I was like, that’s ridiculous,” Duty said. “We can’t change it in the state, but we can change it in our city. We can change it in our community.”

Duty then began her research on how to add the employment protections to the city of Waco’s nondiscrimination policy.

[…]

Duty said she’s prepared for opposition and has already prepared to take the issue to City Council, where she expects to have a harder fight. She’s talked to council members who have agreed to sponsor the changes and bring the issue before the council, which would likely happen in February.

Good on you, Susan Duty. We could use many more people like you. Be sure to read that linked article in the excerpt, it’s a great overview of what equality advocates hope to achieve and aim to oppose this session.

One more thing from that Waco Trib story:

Paul Derrick, a supporter of the LGBT advocacy group, said an anti-discrimination policy at least would send the message to gays and lesbians that they are welcome members of the community and workforce.

“It seems to me this is just another civil rights issue,” said Derrick, who was involved in civil rights ordinances and legal battles in Waco in the 1960s and ’70s.

“I think outside Waco, it would have a positive image. It would show that Waco is not stuck in yesteryear, but is moving along with the currents of the larger society.”

I think that’s exactly right. Remember how much positive press the city of Houston got around the world for the election of Mayor Parker? It wasn’t that big a deal to us, but there were an awful lot of people whose reaction was basically “Wait, HOUSTON did that??” They had an image of Houston that wasn’t consistent with who we are, and the news of that election made them rethink it. I doubt Waco will get coverage of that magnitude when they get this done, but it will be noticed and it will be good for them. I wish the people pursuing this the very best of luck with their effort.