By BLAKE URSCH
Lubbock ain’t what it used to be.
Gone are the days when patrons leaving the city’s gay bars had to rush to their cars to avoid being jumped. Gone are the days when gay rights groups met in secret with blinds drawn and bodyguards at the door.
If you ask members of the gay community what it’s like to live in Lubbock, many would say the city has gradually become more accepting. But on paper, at least according to some, there’s still work to do.
The Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, recently released rankings of 353 cities around the country in terms of LGBT equality. The cities, including 22 in Texas, were graded on a scale of zero to 100.
Lubbock scored zero.
“The community as a whole — the actual living citizens that make up the city of Lubbock — has come a long way and does not warrant this,” said Tony Thornton, president of the Lubbock chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
‘We include everyone’
The HRC’s Municipal Equality Index rates cities on six broad categories: non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and overall relationship with the LGBT community.
Each city started with a score of zero and was awarded points for meeting certain criteria.
For example. Waco, which scored a 24, earned three points for city leadership pushing pro-equality legislation. Lubbock scored zero for everything.
Liz Halloran, spokesperson for the HRC, said the report was compiled through independent research conducted from the organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Workers on the MEI team contacted local city officials and gathered the data they needed, she said.
Lubbock city leaders, however, are dismissing the survey for being less-than-thorough.
Mayor Glen Robertson said no one from the HRC contacted his office, the city managers’ office or the head of human resources. The holes in their research, he said, makes the entire report “completely bogus.”
“This survey is not, in my opinion, designed to get facts. This survey is designed to create problems that aren’t there,” he said.
The report alleges Lubbock has no ordinances in place that protect against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Robertson said these issues are covered by federal and state laws.
In August, A-J Media reported Texas is not one of the 18 states with laws on the books specifically barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are six cities in Texas that offer this type of protection, but Lubbock isn’t one of them.
The survey also awards points for things such as city leaders adopting a public position on LGBT equality and for police departments with an LGBT liaison or task force.
Mayor Pro Tem Karen Gibson criticized the report for singling out the gay community when there are other minority groups also worthy of the city’s attention.
“It’s not that we don’t include anyone. We include everyone,” Gibson said. “Are they wanting us to reach out to the gay and lesbian community specifically? Because in my opinion, that is discrimination. We don’t reach out to Asians or reach out to blacks, we reach out to everyone.”
On paper, Thornton said, the city of Lubbock probably deserves a zero for its efforts to include the gay community.
But the reality of living here as a gay man in the 21st century, he said, is manageable.
“I think ‘easy’ is a little too loose. I think ‘manageable’ is proper — more manageable than 30 yeas ago, less manageable than Austin or Dallas,” said Thornton, who is himself gay.
The people of Lubbock have come a long way, he said; Texas Tech now hosts an annual drag show fundraiser in a city where drag queens once only ventured out in public on Halloween.
“We’re fine. We have places we go, people we’re with,” said Katie Miller, president of Tech’s Gay Straight Alliance.
Miller and her partner, Summer Hawkins, both said, overall, the city has been hospitable. Out in public together, the worst Hawkins said they’ve experienced is a few stares.
“People are generally more accepting here than I’d have guessed,” Hawkins said.
Betty Dotts, the founder of Lubbock PFLAG, remembers a time when life was very different. Before the group’s first meeting in the early 1990s, Dotts was warned to keep the meeting place a secret for fear that local police would target group members by taking down license plates. She had one of the larger members of the group guard the door.
Thornton attributes the softening of the city’s attitude toward the LGBT community to saturation in the media. Gays and lesbians now feature prominently on TV programs, and their presence on-screen makes the general public more comfortable interacting with them in real life, he said.
But that’s not to say everything is perfect. Discrimination still occurs in some local churches, where preachers denounce homosexuality as a sin, Thornton said.
Hawkins has experienced this firsthand. At a group meeting for one of the local Christian churches she attends, an administrator told the group that it was impossible to be gay and Christian at the same time.
Hawkins said this bothered her, and she sent an email to the administrator explaining that she was gay. She never heard back and stopped attending the group meetings.
“I think around here you can be out, it’s just letting yourself take that risk,” she said.
What lies ahead
Thornton said the questions raised by the HRC survey are institutional problems that must be addressed. In particular, he noted the importance of a dialogue between the LGBT community and law enforcement in terms of how to handle police calls involving LGBT subjects.
Domestic violence cases involving two men or two women, for example, are handled differently than those involving heterosexual couples, he said.
“It’s just two men bashing each other, or it’s two women having a cat fight. You know, they don’t treat it like a straight relationship,” Thornton said.
Equality in Lubbock, from Robertson’s perspective, doesn’t seem to be a problem. In his two-plus years as mayor, he’s heard few complaints from the LGBT community.
“I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen any problem. That doesn’t mean we don’t have it, but if we do, nobody’s being vocal about it,” he said. “Typically, if somebody’s being treated differently because of their gender or sexual orientation, they speak up, and I have heard nothing.”
Equality is not a problem, Robertson said, so it’s not a priority.
Thornton hopes to make it one.
“I think the city needs lots of work from the perspective of policy and administration in these areas,” he said. “And I want to work with the city. I want to work with the mayor and the City Council and the HR directors to fix this.”
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