A former Dallas City Council member, in an interview for a seat on DART’s board of directors, said Tuesday that “the conduct of homosexuality” is “contrary to the word of God.” What does that have to do with public transit in the Dallas region?
Let’s back up for a second.
Last week the Dallas Voice reported that former four-term Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill had been nominated to an open seat on DART’s board of directors. The city of Dallas appoints eight members of DART’s board. The people in these volunteer positions are critical to shaping policy at the agency, which is facing declining ridership, revamping its bus service, rethinking a downtown subway line, and pushing ahead with an ill-advised suburban line to DFW Airport, all while generally trying to improve itself in a region that’s never known efficient public transit.
In other words, it’s an important position. Jones Hill was nominated by three council members representing southern Dallas: Tennell Atkins, Casey Thomas, and Carolyn King Arnold.
But Jones Hill’s track record on transit planning is suspect. When she was last nominated, in 2017, she didn’t make it on. And as the Dallas Voice writes, there are other reasons why she isn’t fit for a seat on the board:
During her time in office, she opposed anything the LGBT community did. She complained about HIV billboards in her district, although her district included areas that were hard-hit with HIV.
She voted against updating wording on city ordinances that were more inclusive of the trans community.
And she was the only council member to refuse to sign a letter welcoming people to Dallas for Pride weekend each year. She said she wouldn’t be supporting the LGBTQ community because of her beliefs then and she wouldn’t in the future. She has not made a statement changing that statement.
An online petition calling for the council to reject Jones Hill’s nomination had almost 350 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
She was interviewed Tuesday by the Dallas City Council’s transportation committee along with two other candidates for the board, community organizer and recent council candidate Hosanna Yemiru and Carmen Garcia, who leads DART’s outreach programs.
Jones Hill went first. It was up to new Councilwoman Gay Donnell Willis to mention the controversy around the former council member’s nomination.
In 2013, when she was still on the council, Jones Hill emailed a TV reporter about a billboard launched as part of a Dallas County public education campaign on HIV and AIDS. It showed two gay Black men next to the message “Update Your Status.” She wrote that she was concerned that the billboard depicted “African American men who engage in homosexual conduct as acceptable.”
The billboard, which was displayed near Highway 67 and Red Bird Lane, was intended to encourage people in affected communities to get tested for HIV and AIDS. At the time, nearly 50 percent of HIV and AIDS diagnoses in Dallas County were among Black people. Men who have sex with men are, statistically, the demographic that sees the most HIV diagnoses.
Donnell Willis pointed out that DART has campaigns aimed at Dallas’ LGBTQ community. “Dallas is a destination city for the LGBTQ community. It’s a tourism draw and DART wants to encourage that ridership.” (This is also a city that flew a rainbow edition of its flag during Pride Month, with a city charter that prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.) So how would Jones Hill respond to those kinds of communications from the agency whose board she wants to serve on?
Jones Hill said that, in 2013, she was not critical of the county’s HIV and AIDS awareness campaign. She said she was instead critical of the placement of the sign in southern Dallas. “That community did not embrace that conduct,” she said.
Jones Hill went on:
“Every one of us as human beings, including me, at some time engage in some conduct that is contradictory to God’s word. Every one of us at some time. Some of the things, some of the actions, some of those things. Let me name some of them. Gossip. Lying. Adultery. And the practice, the conduct of homosexuality. Those things are contrary to the word of God.
Because those things are contrary to the word of God, I do not affirm them. I never have and I never will. But that does not speak to the person. That speaks to the conduct. I can affirm a person without affirming their conduct. I understand, I am very clear that not everyone believes what I believe.
I’m perfectly fine with that because every individual has an absolute right to live his or her life out in the manner that he or she believes is best. Everybody. As a result I do not proselytize. I do not ask people to believe what I believe.”
She continued: “I do not judge because that is not my place. I treat people as individual people. It doesn’t matter to me what lifestyle you choose as long as you don’t walk up in my house and demand that I affirm it. While I do not affirm that conduct, I also will not allow anyone to say what I believe or what I do or to disparage my belief or faith.”
Council Member Omar Narvaez, who chairs the transportation committee and is one of two openly gay members of the Dallas City Council, said later in the meeting that he thought all three nominees were “excellent as far as their dedication and willingness to serve. I couldn’t say that any of them would do a poor job.”
But he found Jones Hill’s comments disqualifying, and said he would not support her nomination.
“We have a distinct and hard job to make sure we have a separation of church and state. Some of those comments were probably harmful and hurtful in the past, and harmful and hurtful today.” It’s been a fight to bring “inclusivity and respect” to city government, he said.
The transportation committee ultimately voted 6-1 to recommend Yemiru for the open seat on DART’s board of directors. The full City Council will still get to vote on all three nominees, including Jones Hill and Garcia.