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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.

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