As a transgender man, Bertinand Gardner is grateful to live in Fort Worth, where he feels safe expressing his gender identity. But he believes the city needs to step up its inclusion efforts.
Fort Worth markets itself as an LGBTQ-friendly city, but Gardner, the community outreach and marketing manager for LGBTQ SAVES, said that designation doesn’t match what he sees in his everyday life and work. LGBTQ SAVES is a nonprofit organization based in Fort Worth that serves LGBTQ youth.
“Maybe (Fort Worth) is trans friendly, but it’s not explicitly trans friendly,” Gardner said. “I don’t expect a sign on every door, but when we’re in a state that has proven to be hostile to trans people and then to still struggle to find resources, that’s an issue.”
In November, the city scored 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, which measures cities’ inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents. This is the sixth consecutive year that Fort Worth has scored 100 points, which is considered a perfect score.
Scores of other Texas cities
Austin: 100 points
Dallas: 100 points
San Antonio: 100 points
Arlington: 100 points
Houston: 76 points
El Paso: 63 points
But to Gardner and LGBTQ SAVES founder Sharon Herrera, that scoring isn’t as perfect as it appears.
The Municipal Equality Index is based on five broad categories:
- Non-discrimination laws
- Municipality as employer
- Municipal services
- Law enforcement
- Leadership on LGBTQ+ equality.
Those five categories are broken down into various subcategories, plus “flex points,” which essentially count as bonus points.
Fort Worth was able to score 100 by counting the flex points categories it scored in, rounding the city out to seemingly perfect inclusivity.
But the two categories explicitly mentioning transgender people — “Transgender-Inclusive Healthcare Benefits” and “City Provides Services to the Transgender Community” — each scored a zero. That scoring illustrates a sad reality for transgender people in Fort Worth, Gardner said.
“If we want to say we’re a trans-friendly city, we need to be able to be more explicit in what we’re offering trans people,” he said. “It should be easy for them to find resources, and it’s unfortunately not in Fort Worth.”
Finding transgender resources in Fort Worth
About 65-70% of the youth LGBTQ SAVES serves are openly identifying as transgender, Gardner said. Many others are still exploring their gender identity.
When looking for resources to point them to, Gardner doesn’t have Fort Worth options. Most of the transgender people he knows go to a center in Dallas for hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy and general counseling, he said. Some transgender youth also frequently visit one doctor in Benbrook who offers transgender services, Gardner said.
Personally, Gardner has also struggled to medically transition within the city limits. When he first began looking for medical resources, Planned Parenthood stood out as an obvious option because the organization helps with hormone replacement therapy. But Gardner had to travel to the Planned Parenthood location in Arlington because he was told neither of Fort Worth’s two locations offered that service.
“I feel relatively safe here, but I also don’t know where to go,” Gardner said. “Most of the services that I get to transition are not located in Fort Worth, and that makes it a little bit difficult to function as trans.”
Gardner said there are also little to no options for LGBTQ-friendly housing in Fort Worth, especially for transgender youth. For the transgender homeless youth that LGBTQ SAVES services, Herrera and Gardner try to find gender-affirming housing options, which often ends in them having to “ship those kids to Dallas.”
When transgender people look for gender-affirming resources in Fort Worth, they’ll likely find conflicting information, Gardner said. Many organizations label themselves as LGBTQ friendly and gender affirming, but once transgender people show up at their door, they don’t feel welcome or affirmed.
City policies regarding transgender people
Mayor Mattie Parker sees Fort Worth as a city that people from all walks of life can call home and belong. The score of 100 is a result of many leaders focused on leading with inclusive policies for many years, the mayor said in an email statement .
In 2000, Fort Worth became the first Texas city to adopt an ordinance protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that ordinance expanded to include gender identity and expression in 2009.
“Each year, with the help of our excellent Diversity and Inclusion Department team, we look at opportunities to improve so that Fort Worth can truly be a city where every person who lives, works, or visits can be confident that they are receiving equitable protections and services,” Parker said.
Each year before publishing cities’ scores on the Municipal Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign sends its preliminary research and suggested scores to each city’s mayor and their team, said Colin Kutney, the organization’s associate director of State and Municipal Programs.
Angela Rush, Civil Rights Enforcement assistant director in the city’s Diversity and Inclusion department, said she reviews the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index every year before it’s published. This year, she had no concerns, questions or suggested changes to send back to the Human Rights Campaign.
Regarding the category “Transgender-Inclusive Healthcare Benefits,” Rush said, all of the services Fort Worth offers are inclusive to everybody, but they may not include specific terminology targeting specific communities such as transgender people.
“We don’t single people out,” Rush said. “We have an anti-discrimination policy, and we follow it as a city.”
With the Municipal Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign wants to see funds set aside for transgender people and their benefits, which Rush said Fort Worth doesn’t have.
Dianna Giordano, who became Fort Worth’s Human Resources director in June, said the department recently began working with its insurance broker to implement more specific transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits. The benefits, which Giordano said would include everything from hormone treatment to gender reassignment, could be included in the city’s 2022 insurance package for employees.
Next year, Fort Worth’s Human Resources department will continue re-evaluating its policies to ensure maximum inclusivity, Giordano said.
“We want to make sure that individuals understand all the rights that we extend to all members include everybody,” she said. “So some of the terminology might change just to make sure that some of those categories are called out so people feel included.”
Rush said if Fort Worth residents, transgender or not, feels they are not being treated equally, they should bring their complaints or concerns to her department. Anyone concerned can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Enforcement office.
“There’s always room for improvement, and we’re always looking for ways to improve in providing services to all of our residents,” Rush said. “We welcome any discussion. We welcome any concerns and are open to addressing them.”
How to be more inclusive to transgender people
Gardner suggested the city of Fort Worth could do something as simple as updating its website to explicitly state its policies regarding transgender employees or residents. Fort Worth’s website does explicitly state its anti-discrimination policy, but Gardner said it would be helpful to see additional, welcoming language beyond technical, policy-driven statements.
For example, the city could address whether it would support a transgender person using a public bathroom that matches their gender identity, Gardner said. Or it could explicitly support transgender people’s preferred pronouns.
Cisgender people underestimate how empowering and affirming something that simple can be to a transgender person, Gardner said.
In addition to working for LGBTQ SAVES, he also works full time at Texas Wesleyan University, a private Methodist college in Fort Worth. Before applying, he was afraid because he’s not religious, and he had been told his entire life by religious people that LGBTQ people go to hell.
But once he did take the leap to apply, he saw several explicit policies and outlines regarding transgender people in the university’s employee handbook. Wesleyan also stated its support for transgender people and their gender identity, Gardner said.
Fort Worth needs more than the bare minimum effort of a nondiscrimination policy, said Herrera, the LGBTQ SAVES founder. This score of 100 on the Municipal Equality Index makes it seem as if Fort Worth is doing more than it actually is, especially regarding the transgender community.
It’s a great marketing tool for the city, she said.
“There’s a lot of people moving here because of jobs and real estate. They want to lure people to the city, they want to put the city on the map just like any other large city,” Herrera said. “It’s very important that we appear to be inclusive — yet we’re not. It’s all appearance. It’s all window dressing.”
Gardner is happy that Fort Worth has accomplished this rating for six consecutive years and acknowledged that the city is on the right track, but hopes to see even more growth.
“I’ve seen some really good movement happening in the city, I’ve seen a lot of groups coming out to support LGBTQ people,” Gardner said. “But I definitely think as a city, we could be doing better.”
Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.