Fort Worth City Council candidates address LGBT issues

04/23/2014 8:29 PM

04/23/2014 8:30 PM

Five of the six candidates running for a seat on the City Council agreed Wednesday night that there are issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that should be tackled by the council, such as anti-discrimination legislation.

Still, the candidates were sometimes stumped by questions brought up at the District 9 candidate forum on LGBT issues hosted by Fairness Fort Worth and the Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats.

When asked about whether the city should provide health insurance for transgender employees that would cover gender reassignment, Ed Lasater, 44, said he could not answer the question.

“I’m for nondiscrimination and equal treatment, but beyond, that I’ve got to tell you, I’m just ignorant of the transgender community, and that is an honest answer,” Lasater said.

In response to the same question, Greg Hughes, 57, said the city should re-evaluate new data and possibly change policies.

Margot Garza, 43, said she has a long history of working with the LGBT community and understands what it is like to be a minority.

“I know that discrimination is alive and well in Fort Worth, and I am not afraid to make some uncomfortable with my presence,” she told the crowd of about 30 at the Four-Day Weekend Theater.

Ann Zadeh, 47, said she would be willing to “lead a charge” to get Fort Worth hospitals to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Quality Index, though she and the other candidates had not been aware of the lack of participation.

Bernie Scheffler, 35, a former legislative aide to state Sen. Wendy Davis, said it was important for the city to advocate for LGBT rights and anti-discrimination laws at the Legislature.

Juan Rangel III, 28, did not attend Wednesday’s forum. He did not file a campaign finance report by the April 10 deadline and has not returned calls from the Star-Telegram seeking comment since he filed for election.

Joel Burns, Fort Worth’s first openly gay council member, has represented District 9 since 2008, succeeding Davis who resigned to run for state Senate. He announced his resignation at the Feb. 11 council meeting to pursue graduate studies.

“Our community is cognizant that for the first time in quite a few years, we won’t have someone at the table who can very quickly step to the plate and represent our perspective,” said moderator David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth.

Burns said the conversations at the council table were often different because he was in the room.

“I do think that having gay and lesbian folks in elected office is important to a constituency being represented and that is the case with any group,” Burns said.

Since about 2009, after the city found itself making national headlines after a law enforcement inspection of a near south side gay bar, the council, led then by former Mayor Mike Moncrief, has tried to be more attuned to the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The council voted to expand the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people and became one of a few Texas cities to offer healthcare benefits to same-sex partners, a policy that was first made available in January of 2011.

“Regardless of where you come from — if you are LGBT, if you are a veteran, or disabled — you bring an added aspect to the conversation when those groups are impacted,” said Burns. “For example, having Danny Scarth on the council, we have had a much more engaged discussion with the disabled community.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t represent the entirety of our district, but we do have additional sensitives.”

Burns and his partner, J.D. Angle, a political consultant working with Davis’ gubernatorial campaign, have been together for more than 20 years.

Burns drew national attention in 2010 for a tearful speech during a city council meeting when he encouraged youths struggling with being gay to stay strong because “life will get so so much better.” He has since participated in anti-bullying panels and campaigns.

The candidates Wednesday said they would learn about and listen to the issues facing the LGBT community in Fort Worth.

Early voting starts April 28 and ends May 6. Election day is May 10.

This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

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