Dallas Makes Strides On LGBT "Equality Index." It's Just Not Clear How.
Update at 1:22 p.m.: John Wright reports that the Human Rights Campaign has lowered Dallas' score from 85 to 81 after realizing the city doesn't have an "equal benefits ordinance." We've included HRC's full explanation for Dallas increased score at the end of the post.
Original post Good news everyone! According to the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index, Dallas city government is 9 points more LGBT friendly than it was last year, up from 76 points to 85. Mayor Mike Rawlings came up a point shy but has followed through on his vow last year to raise the city's score by 10 points.
To celebrate the achievement, it's worth taking a look back at the tremendous strides the city has made over the past 12 months. Like that time Rawlings refused to back a marriage-equality resolution, which was torpedoed in spectacular fashion by Councilwoman Delia Jasso. And how the city never formed a human rights commission, gave LGBT employees equivalent family leave or addressed the various other deficiencies outlined in the 2012 report.
Come to think of it, aside from that "It Gets Better" video put together by city staff, Dallas hasn't taken any concrete steps to advance equality.
So what gives? The Dallas Voice reports that the city's extra points were "for items the city didn't receive credit for last year" like an equal-benefits ordinance governing city contractors and services available to LGBT seniors and youth.
Former Voice Editor John Wright doesn't buy it. In a piece for Lone Star Q, he picks apart Dallas' case for a higher score.
Dallas, he notes, went from receiving zero points for "Leadership's Public Position on LGBT Equality" in 2012 to three points in 2013. HRC defines that category as follows:
City leadership is rated (on a scale of 0 - 5 points) on its public statements on matters of equality, particularly where the city leadership pushes for equality in the face of substantial adversity. For example, a city would be awarded points if the city council passed a resolution in support of marriage equality -- while this is not something the city can legislate, it is a powerful statement of the city's principles nonetheless.
As for the four extra bonus points the city received for an "Equal Benefits Ordinance," here's what Wright has to say.
[A]n equal benefits ordinance would require city contractors -- the private companies that do work for the city -- to offer domestic partner benefits to their gay employees. But guess what? Dallas doesn't have such an ordinance. I covered the city's LGBT policies and practices for seven years, and it simply doesn't exist. There have been discussions over the years about trying to pass an equal benefits ordinance, but conventional wisdom is that it might not hold up in court. Not even Austin, which received a 100 on this year's MEI, has passed such an ordinance.
Further fueling Wright's skepticism is the Voice's report that an early draft of the 2013 MEI gave Dallas a score of 78, prompting the city's LGBT Task Force to establish a committee to lobby for an increase.
Even without the extra points, Dallas' score would have been solid, putting it in the top 25 percent of cities nationwide. The extra points just give the city the sheen of progress which, maybe by next year, it will deserve.
Here's the full explanation from HRC spokesman Paul Guequierre:
Dallas received 3 out of 5 points in the category called "Leadership's Public Position on Equality". It is important to note that leadership is not just referring to the Mayor, but to the leadership of the city as a whole. A marriage equality resolution is an example of, but is not limited to, the types of statements considered in this section. Declaring that the city wants to improve its MEI score, and forming a task force for that purpose, is itself evidence of the city's commitment to making itself a more equal place. The city's participation in Pride activities is also reflected here. The Mayor's objection to the marriage equality resolution is reflected by the city receiving only 3 of 5 points in this category. This section of the MEI is addressing the city leadership as a whole, and the city was engaged in matters of equality in what was, on balance, a positive way. It could have done more, and that's why it didn't receive full credit in this section.
Dallas received credit this year for a contractor non-discrimination ordinance based on Chapter 15B-3 of the Dallas Code, the Equal Opportunity Clause, which forbids city contractors to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (gender identity is included in the definition of sexual orientation) in employment. This section goes on to read that employers may not discriminate "in rates of pay or other forms of compensation", which led the MEI to give credit in the equal benefits category. However, the section also reads "nothing in the equal opportunity clause requires that employee benefits be provided to an employee for the benefit of the employee's domestic partner". This prompted us to review the ordinance and revise the points awarded. An updated scorecard is now available at http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/MEI_dallasTX_2013.pdf.