Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Caucus addresses City Council on harassment

There's been a lot of talk lately about the issue of workplace harassment in the Houston Fire Department. Knots that appeared to be nooses, which are seen as a symbol of racial hatred against the African American community because of their historical reference to the days of lynching, appeared twice in fire stations, and racist and sexist graffiti appeared on the lockers of another. The matters are under an internal investigation, and external investigations are being considered.

On Monday, Council Member Melissa Noriega called a special meeting of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee to discuss an evaluation of the workplace conditions for HFD employees. The Caucus, which abhors all types of discrimination and harassment, took the position that if an evaluation is being done, it should include sexual orientation and gender identity in those factors. Council Member Noriega invited the Caucus, and president Kris Banks made the following remarks to the committee:

“Thank you, Madame Chair, and thank you, Council Members. Thank you for taking
up this important issue. I am president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, an
organization that advocates for the rights of and for equal opportunity for the
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or GLBT, community. I come to ask that
the evaluation of the Houston Fire Department being considered today also
include an evaluation of the workplace conditions faced by GLBT fire fighters
and fire department employees.’

“While recent events have brought to the forefront issues of harassment based on race and sex, harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains a serious concern. A survey by Lambda Legal showed that 39 percent of GLBT people reported experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job. It is a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that we are often an invisible minority, meaning that cruel jokes can be made and slurs uttered while members of our community are in the same room. Harassment based on sexual orientation, both real and perceived, and gender identity is a serious threat to the workplace conditions of GLBT employees.’

“Federal and state laws do not address sexual orientation or gender identity in
anti-harassment employment matters, so it is incumbent upon our city leaders to
stand up for those public servants who put their lives on the line for our
citizens and happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. While the City
of Houston is examining issues of harassment, it should specifically look into
whether the Houston Fire Department is a safe place for GLBT employees to work,
both in the evaluation being considered today and in all others in the future.
Our public servants deserve it.”

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