LGBTQ advocates worried about chamber’s tweet, employment language changes in Mansfield

Organizations that advocate for the LGBTQ community are questioning why the Mansfield Chamber of Commerce posted a tweet late Friday afternoon about Target donating money to an educational organization that promotes a “gay lifestyle.”

The tweet linked to an article from the American Family Association, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group. The AFA urged people to boycott Target over its support of an educational organization that promotes LGTBQ education.

According to the Resource Center, a Dallas-based advocacy organization and the Mansfield Equality Coalition, the tweet was taken down, and the account was closed.

Lori Williams, the Chamber’s president and CEO, did not return calls from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Katie Hays, founding pastor at the Galileo Church and coordinator of the Mansfield Equality Coalition, which supports the LGBTQ community, questioned why the chamber sent out the tweet.

She said the tweet was the latest in a series of events last week that began after she attended a Mansfield school board meeting on Oct. 22 and questioned why the district hadn’t implemented policies protecting LGBTQ students and employees.

Hays pointed out during the meeting that the city of Mansfield updated its equal employment opportunity policy language to include protections for the LGBTQ community. But she discovered that the language was removed from the city’s website shortly after she spoke at the school board meeting.

Donald Williams, associate superintendent of communications and marketing, sent an email to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram stating that the district has protections in place for all employees and students.

The policies for students and employees prohibit discrimination and retaliation of any kind.

“The safety and well-being of our students and staff members are our top priority. Mansfield ISD does not condone harassment or discrimination of any kind toward anyone. The district will continue its efforts to ensure that all of our students and employees are not only protected from harassment and discrimination, but that they also feel they are in a safe and welcoming environment,” Williams wrote.

Williams also said that the school board will meet with the coalition. He wrote that the school board policy on gender-based discrimination and harassment of students addresses sexual orientation and gender identity. The employee policy prohibits discrimination and coercion based on sexual orientation.

Hays said she and others from the coalition started attending school board meetings in 2018 after Stacy Bailey, a popular art teacher who is gay, was suspended. Bailey, who was on paid administrative leave after a parent complained that she showed photos of her fiancee to students, was reinstated in August of 2018 and is teaching at Mansfield’s Lake Ridge High School.

But things took a turn Wednesday when Hays said she got a call from the city’s personnel director, Shelley Everhart, questioning why she misrepresented the city at the school board meeting.

Everhart wrote in an email to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that “what was posted last week, as the city rolled out a new website, was erroneously posted. The city policy that is posted on our website is the current authorized policy, which has been in (existence) for many years. Our city (attorneys) have advised us that our current authorized policy follows all federal, state, and local laws.”

Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for the Resource Center, said he reached out to Everhart on July 31 to ask that the city of Mansfield include protection language in its employment policy, and was told to call back in October because of work on the budget and open enrollment for employees.

McDonnell described checking the city’s website earlier this month and finding the protections language adding sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity to the employment policy.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said.

But he learned later the wording was removed from the website.

“I was bowled over shocked,” he said.

“It’s one thing when you have this (not including LGBTQ language) with the school board. Then, you have the shenanigans with the city and this (deleted tweet) happens with the Chamber president. This sounds like a pattern that needs to be broken,” McDonnell said.

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With my guide dog Barbara, I keep tabs on growth, economic development and other issues in Northeast Tarrant cities and other communities near Fort Worth. I’ve been a reporter at the Star-Telegram for 34 years.