CAROLINE SAVOIE. |. Contributing Writer

(Photos by Caroline Savoie)

Four days after the community-led nonprofit DEI Community Project held a Pride event in Rowlett, dozens of residents took to the Rowlett City Hall on Tuesday, July 2, before the Rowlett City Council meeting to oppose the council’s decision to disband its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion commission.

The 2023 passage of Texas Senate Bill 17 banned DEI offices, programs, training and more at public universities in Texas. Subsequently, officials in North Texas cities like Frisco and Rowlett have disbanded similar DEI initiatives of their own, a spokesperson for GLAAD said.

After the demonstration, six people spoke against the decision at the city council meeting during citizens’ input.

Ramero Luna, co-founder and executive director of Somos Tejas, spoke first. “We cannot allow the harmful legislation that has been passed at the state level to impact communities of color at a local level,” he said. “These programs make me feel at home in a community. Programs such as DEI make it so we’re intentional about diversity.”

Mandi Delossantos, deputy director of Texas’ League of United Latin American Citizens, urged the council to open up the conversation about a DEI commission again. “When we walked in here we made a pledge for liberty and justice for all,” she said. “When I look at the city’s sponsored events on their calendar, I don’t see diversity there. I don’t see cultures celebrated there. This is what the DEIC is for.”

Missy Tidwell, co-founder and treasurer for DEI Community Project who has lived in Rowlett for 36 years, simply said, “Do better.” And Susan Urrutia, co-founder of DEI Community Project, said the city abandoned the charge to make Rowlett the place to live, work and play for all. “I speak to you tonight to rebut what was said on May 7,” Urrutia said. “Claims that I, as chair of and on behalf of the commission, was uncooperative, disrespectful and responsible for the vote to disband are unfounded and untruthful.”

She said it is not up to the DEI Community Project to assume the responsibility to keep DEI alive in Rowlett and serve the many people who value it.

Amanda McLaughlin, a trans woman and Garland resident, said that because of programs like DEI that supported her, she gained the confidence to speak out. “That’s what DEI does,” she said. “It uplifts people.”

She, too, asked the council to revisit the decision to disband the DEIC.

Equality Texas, GLAAD, Somos Tejas, The League of United Latin American Citizens  #4871’s Rainbow Council, Resource Center, Lambda Legal and the DEI Community Project held the demonstration on Tuesday in response to the city’s decision.

“Together, we are denouncing the city of Rowlett’s erasure of DEI initiatives as it continues to setback its residents,” a spokesperson for the organizers said. “This removal implemented by state and now city officials is dangerous to a city’s success and limits opportunities for a more empathetic and understanding society.”

Gordy Carmona, community engagement and advocacy strategist for Equality Texas’ North Texas division, said the organizations got together to strategize before they knew that resident-led DEI Community Project was trying to continue efforts.

“This decision isn’t going unnoticed; people have an eye on the city,” Carmona said. “We want to hold leaders accountable. We’re not turning a blind eye.”

They said the rally was necessary to let marginalized residents know that their voices and needs won’t be overlooked in Rowlett.

“[The decision to disband the DEI commission] is not just affecting one group of people, like the council thinks,” Carmona said. “They think it’s only affecting LGBTQ people or Black and brown people, but it affects more people than that. DEI allows marginalized groups to feel the support of the city.”