Gay Rights Effort May Be Tabled
Fort Worth Star-Telegram,
November 25, 1998
By Kristin N. Sullivan, Star-Telegram Staff Writer
FORT WORTH On a recent Tuesday morning, Cheryl Surber stood
before the City Council and passionately urged members to kill an effort to have sexual
orientation covered by the citys anti- discrimination ordinances.
Such an ordinance, Surber said, would force Fort Worth employers to ask all employees,
"Are you a homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, transsexual, transvestite,
pedophile, rapist or celibate?"
Mayor Kenneth Barr frowned as the speakers allotted three minutes ran out.
"Mrs. Surber," he said, "if you would conclude your remarks. Just conclude
them right now."
Similar exchanges between speakers and the council have occurred almost each week since
late October, when the council-appointed Human Relations Commission proposed adding gays
and lesbians to the groups protected by anti- discrimination ordinances.
The tensions underscore how uncomfortable the issue is for a council that, as Mayor Pro
Tem Chuck Silcox said at a recent retreat, "has an avoiding, stalling,
hiding-in-the-bushes approach to this."
Barr is scheduled to meet Monday with Monte Elliott, chairman of the Human Relations
Commission, to discuss the commissions recommendation.
The commission hasnt forwarded a written recommendation to the council,
commission manager Vanessa Ruiz Boling said. Commissioners could consider a written
statement at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 8, she said. The commission
accepts and investigates complaints of ethnic and gender discrimination.
But regardless of the commissions recommendation, the issue may die without a
public City Council debate, much as it did in 1992 during the tenure of Mayor Kay Granger,
now the Republican U.S. representative for Fort Worth and parts of Johnson and Parker
"I guess Im just trying to be pragmatic," Barr told his council
colleagues at the Nov. 21 retreat. He said that if its not going to pass, council
members should consider whether to put the community through the trauma of a public debate
on sexual orientation.
A survey compiled by the Human Relations Commission staff found ordinances barring
discrimination against gays and lesbians in Austin, Dallas and Houston. Many other cities,
including Arlington, do not include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination ordinances.
Barr has emphasized that he doesnt consider discrimination against gays and
lesbians to be an issue in Fort Worth, and he said that any instances can be addressed
through existing laws.
"This isnt even a shadow of the race relations problem that still exists in
our community today," the mayor said. "And I dont want to divert the
attention of our Human Relations Commission from those problems to address something that
I dont believe to be a problem in our community."
Barr appears to be allied with at least three other council members on the issue.
Silcox, and Councilmen Clyde Picht and Jeff Wentworth have indicated that they would not
favor placing the commission recommendation on the councils agenda for public
Councilmen Ralph McCloud and Frank Moss and Councilwoman Cathy Hirt, however, have said
they favor public debate on whether city policies should address discrimination against
gays and lesbians.
Hirt pointed to a commission survey showing that many major Tarrant County employers
including American Airlines, Bell Helicopter Textron, Alcon Laboratories and Texas
Christian University bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"We appointed the Human Relations Commission to tell us where we are lacking in
policies that could deter discrimination," she said. "If in fact it werent
a problem, then why do these other organizations feel compelled to create policies to
Councilwoman Becky Haskin and Councilman Jim Lane, however, argue that the city should
not approve any ordinance at odds with Texas law, which considers sodomy a crime, although
it is rarely enforced. And Lane, an attorney, said the city should stay out of the debate
until courts resolve whether a state can outlaw gay sex.
In Houston, a male couple arrested by police who entered a private residence in
September were fined for "deviant homosexual" conduct, according to police.
Attorneys for the men have said they plan to challenge the state law.
And last week, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the states anti- sodomy law
as a violation of the right to privacy.
Lane said: "I think were probably going to be forced into a public debate on
it. But to me it is still a conflict in my mind for us to create an ordinance and
Im still not convinced it is a problem that it is in conflict with state
[Home] [News] [Texas]