State agency, Dallas organization agree to 24 sessions in 11 cities in wake of Rainbow Lounge raid
AUSTIN — In response to the Rainbow Lounge raid, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced Thursday, Oct. 29 that the agency has hired Resource Center Dallas to provide LGBT diversity training to all of its roughly 700 employees throughout the state.
The training, set to begin next week with two sessions in Grand Prairie, will reportedly make TABC the first state agency in Texas to undertake such an initiative.
According to a contract obtained by Dallas Voice, TABC will pay Resource Center $14,212 to conduct a total of 24 two-hour sessions in 11 locations — from Austin to Amarillo to McAllen — over the next seven months. The training will reach 300 certified peace officers and approximately 400 civilians, TABC said.
“It’s an opportunity to really educate and have an open discussion with them about our community so they can learn to have a more inclusive workplace and to have solid relations with the LGBT community,” said Cece Cox, an associate executive director at the Resource Center who will help facilitate the training. “That’s what this is about, trust between TABC and the LGBT community — and awareness. I think understanding each other is the key to avoiding unfortunate incidents. It can’t eliminate them, but it sure can put a dent in it.”
TABC Administrator Alan Steen said the training is “all about treating people with respect and helping employees and businesses to be successful.”
“We have been taking steps over the past few months to open up the lines of communication between our agency and the GLBT community in North Texas,” Steen said in a statement. “This diversity training is another step toward developing closer relationships between our agency and GLBT communities across the state. It is also my intent to send a message to our own employees that we consider every one of them to be a valuable part of the TABC family.”
Carolyn Beck, TABC’s director of communications and governmental relations, said employees already undergo in-house diversity training that covers sexual orientation, but the contract with Resource Center represents the first time the agency has brought in outside experts.
Beck also said she expects to be named TABC’s official LGBT community liaison in the coming weeks. She said a formal announcement about the liaison position likely will coincide with the agency’s mid-November release of a use-of-force report, the culmination of its second and final internal affairs investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid.
TABC fired two agents and their supervisor in August after releasing its first Rainbow Lounge investigation, which dealt with policy violations. The use-of-force report is expected to address whether the agents were responsible for injuries sustained by Chad Gibson, a Rainbow Lounge patron who was hospitalized following the raid.
Steen, who heads the agency, has publicly apologized on two separate occasions for the raid, which occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion and made national headlines.
Although Beck is straight, she said she considers herself a strong LGBT ally and volunteered for the liaison position shortly after the raid. Beck also currently is a volunteer at Out Youth, Austin’s nonprofit serving LGBT youth.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a member of the GLBT community who is high up in the agency and who has the ear of the administrator, but I still think that although I can’t relate directly to a lot of things that the GLBT community faces, I think I at least know what I don’t know, and I’m doing my best to learn more, and I’m open to everything,” Beck said. “Hopefully folks will be comfortable enough with me so that I can be effective in that role.”
Beck said TABC is also considering adding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to it employment nondiscrimination policies, which would be another first among state agencies.
She added that it’s unclear whether TABC will renew the training contract with Resource Center Dallas in future years.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, said it’s the first training of its kind that he’s aware on the state level.
“There has been some sporadic training here and there, but not a systemic training like that,” Scott said, adding that he hopes to eventually share statistics showing the benefits of the TABC training with legislators and other leaders in Austin. “I think this is a great step.”
Cox said that in addition to Resource Center staff members, the training sessions will call upon LGBT leaders and volunteers from the areas of the state where they take place.
“They [TABC] indicated to us that they wanted to build relationships, so we’ll be bringing other people to the table,” Cox said. “I think they’re sincerely working to create better relations with the LGBT community.”
Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for the Resource Center, said including local LGBT leaders will also address criticism that a Dallas-based agency has been chosen to conduct training throughout the state.
“We don’t presume to know what GLBT life is like in El Paso or McAllen or Corpus Christi,” McDonnell said. “The people who live there do.”
In addition to Cox and McDonnell, the training will be facilitated by Henry Ramirez, the Resource Center’s director of programs.
The Resource Center currently provides LGBT diversity training to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, and assists with training at the Dallas Police Department.
Resource Center has also provided LGBT diversity training to numerous local school districts, universities and corporations. And the organization is expected to participate in LGBT diversity training planned for employees of the Fort Worth Police Department, whose officers conducted the Rainbow Lounge raid along with the TABC agents.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 30, 2009.