She doesn’t live here, but Gay Santa Fe Realtor Mark Banham couldn’t resist the opportunity to profile and celebrate his close friend of 36 years, Mica England, who helped make LGBTQ civil rights history by standing up for her right to serve on the Dallas police force.
Mica England is an unassuming hero. She never achieved the icon status of Harvey Milk or Edie Windsor, yet she performed a pivotal role in the fight for employment non-discrimination and the rights of gays and lesbians.
While she didn’t realize her dream of working in law enforcement, she may have done more for LGBTQ members of America’s police forces than anyone in modern history.
Almost 30 years ago, Mica found herself thrust into the spotlight when she sued the State of Texas, in a lawsuit that eventually helped change the state’s law on police hiring policies. It also had the sodomy laws in 34 counties struck down over a decade before the United States Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas nullified all sodomy laws nationally.
Returning in Triumph
Last month, Mica, a longtime New Yorker turned transplanted Floridian, returned to the Texas, this time to attend the official opening of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum where she was recognized as an “upstander” for her part in defending the powerless and standing up for injustice.
Before being honored by the museum, Mica also had the opportunity to “return to the scene of the crime” and address officials of the same police department that deemed her application for employment ineligible based upon her sexuality.
Mica joined Dallas’ Police Chief Renee Hall at an officer’s meeting, with about 20 deputy chiefs. She expected to observe quietly, but instead was asked to share her story, which many in the room had never heard.
“It was satisfying. It wasn’t a feeling of relief exactly. It was a sense of validating my lawsuit, to see the power of that change,” says Mica, no longer the shy introvert who made change three decades ago.
“Afterward Chief Hall said, ‘Thank you Ms. England for sharing your story. It’s great to put a face with the name and understand why we have the policies we do today.’ I really felt like I had come full circle.”
The Significance of Question 14
Mica’s story began 400 miles away from Dallas in the northern Oklahoma town of Oologah, where she grew up with dreams of becoming a police officer. Law enforcement was in Mica’s DNA. Her father was a Master Sergeant, and her great grandfather a sheriff.
In 1987, Mica set her sights on the more progressive city of Dallas where her brother was a member of the city’s vibrant gay community.
She was open about being a lesbian with the Dallas Police Department recruiter, but hesitated during her interview when she came to question #14, which asked if she ever committed a deviant sex act.
Mica recounted the experience in 2017 to LGBTQ history project The Dallas Way.
Question number 14 was “have you ever committed a deviant sex act.” I know being gay or lesbian is not deviant, so I answered no. When I was taking the polygraph, the officer asked me about being deviant and gay. I lied, so I did not pass the polygraph and was disqualified. If you are disqualified, you can reapply in one year. I waited two years.
But two years later, in 1989, Mica took the week off from her job as a chef in a popular Tulsa restaurant to make the trek down to Dallas to reapply. She was once again faced with question #14.
This time, she told the recruiter that she disagreed that being gay was deviant. What followed was a barrage of personal sexual questions and insults from the recruiter who informed her that it was department policy not to hire homosexuals. A day later after attempting to file a formal complaint against the recruiting officers, she was told “We don’t hire gays.”
A Cause Worth Fighting For
In 1989, Mica moved to Dallas, this time to pursue a lawsuit against the DPD. The State’s argument against hiring gay and lesbian officers was that it was in direct conflict with Texas’ law that made sodomy a crime. Eventually in 1993, she won her case in trial court and at the appellate level clearing the way for sodomy laws to become nullified in 34 Texas counties.
But those years were not without their fair share of personal suffering and indignities. While building her case, she suffered financially and regularly had her character attacked.
”A woman actually called me a pervert!” She told the Tribune. “To compare me to a child molester!”
Events after her court victories were also disturbing. “At home, on my private phone number that nobody was supposed to know, I was getting calls, death threats,” she recounted to Dallas Voice. And though she was eligible to reapply after winning her case, she declined after an officer made a veiled threat at her safety.
“One day, I was walking down the hall at the police department headquarters, and a male officer was standing there. As I walked past, he said to me, ‘Do you know what friendly fire is?’”
Time to Move On
As Dan Savage promised many a struggling queer youth, for Mica, it got better.
After deciding not to join the police force, Mica walked knowing she’d helped make the path easier for others, and began focusing on her thriving career as a chef. In 1996, she moved to New York City where she put her culinary passion to work as a house manager and private chef for some of the city’s more upscale clients.
In 1994, The New York Times reported that Mica settled her lawsuit with the city of Dallas for $73,000. “I should have gotten a lot more money,” she said. “But I accomplished what I wanted to. I changed the state law and the police hiring policy.”
In 2011, the family she was working for asked her to relocate with them to Sarasota, Florida. She’s been with them now for about nine years.
Finding a Family
Mica’s personal life has also flourished. Five years ago, she met Lori, a kindergarten teacher from upstate New York, who then relocated to Florida. “She’s such an incredible teacher. She was voted teacher of the year in just her second year at her current school,” Mica says of Lori. The pair wed two years ago in upstate New York, with Lori’s two grown children, a 24-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter.
Also, a member of Mica’s family of choice is Santa Fe’s Mark Banham, who’s been fixture in her life since they met in the 1980s in Tulsa, where both lived at the time. “We quickly became friends and have stayed friends for a very long time,” she says. “When we would go out, I remember going to his house and waiting on him to get ready with his hair,” Mica jokes.
A Chef Who Loves Southwest Cuisine
These days when they get together, it’s usually in Santa Fe.
“I love the art, the energy, the spirit, the gay community and the food,” Mica says, adding that her favorite local restaurants include Cowgirl, Coyote Café and Geronimo.
“I also love doing the Gallery Walk on Canyon Road, visiting all the galleries and any form of outdoor sculpture,” she added. “I loved the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, hiking around Mark’s place with him and his dog Maddie. And at Christmas I enjoy putting out all the farolitos,” she says. “I love everything about this city… if only it were near an ocean.”
So, will Mark, who has been so successful at luring so many folks to relocate to Santa Fe, be able to convince his longtime friend to make his home part of Mica and Lori’s next chapter? Time will tell. But from the sound of things, he could be half-way there.