Houston women challenge
sexism of Parks director
Women in Houston are growing increasingly critical of George Lanier's leadership in the City's Parks
and Recreation Department.
Women challenging that leadership have included a Chicana women's rights group, a former City
Parks and Recreation employee and, most recently, women athletes in the City's recreation programs.
LasMujeres Unidas, a Chicana women's rights group, collected nearly 5,000 signatures last year on
behalf of three Chicana artists who were commissioned by the City's Parks and Recreation Department
to paint a mural in Moody Park. A disagreement ensued between the artists and Lanier over whether the
mural was to be a permanent or temporary installation.
Artist Yolanda Castellon maintained that the real issue was the theme of the mural. "Lanier turned
down our first sketches because they were too one-sided'. They only showed the struggle of women.
He said they didn't represent the people." [See Breakthrough March 7976.]
In another case, Beth Kendrick, an employee in the City's Parks and Recreation Department filed an
EFOC suit against Lanier and the City, charging sex discrimination in the department's hiring policies. Now
women in the City's soccer and basketball teams are charging Lanier's "indifferent and uninspired"
leadership for the lack of attention given the City's recreation program. [Both stories follow.]
Together, all of these women have called into question the influence of Lanier's self-proclaimed
chauvinism on the direction of the parks and recreation program. It was Lanier, after all, who not only
requested to have the Confucius statue with the sexist inscription placed in a city park, but offered to build
a pagoda around it.
By Janice Blue and Jan Cunningham
"I'm a male chauvinist pig and
I usually don't compliment a
woman, but this little gal is really
as good as a man."
"This was his way of introducing my supervisor, Ann Lower
(then the assistant director of the
department), to more than a
thousand children attending the
opening of the Fun Company (a
summerCity Parks program) back
in 1975," said Beth Kendrick, a
former employee of the City's
Parks and Recreation Department, of George Lanier.
"I was appalled. I kept thinking of the impression he made on
the children and wondered why
he chose to demean her."
Kendrick was then a new
employee in the Fun Company
program. She worked the next
summer in the performing arts
"It was common to hear him
walk around the office bragging
about his chauvinism and making
sexist remarks and jokes," she
"Numerous times I wanted to
confront him," Kendrick says,
"but people told me to forget it
— to overlook it. 'That's just
George!' they kept saying."
In the summer of 1976, Kendrick was going back to school
and applied for a part-time job in
one of the parks. She was told by
the department's personnel office that the only jobs available
were "men's jobs".
Beth Kendrick reported the
situation to Dr. Nikki Van Hightower, the City Women's Advocate, in early September and Van
Hightower took the complaint to
A heated meeting ensued.
According to Van Hightower,
Lanier informed her that, regardless of the law, there were
jobs that he considered to be
male jobs, that these were jobs
that he felt women would not
want, that he had male work
crews that would not work with
women and further, that there
were no restroom or locker
facilities for women and he was
not going to use his budget to
provide these facilities just so
women could be employed.
Van Hightower told Lanier that
there were no jobs in the city that
were "male jobs", that any jobs
should be open to females and
further, that he should not take it
upon himself to decide what jobs
females would or would not want.
She maintained that "facilities
should be provided for females as
Well as males and if there were
men who could not bear the
thought of working with women,
that was their problem — not the
problem of women."
Lanier replied, "Well, I'm just
a male chauvinist pig!"
Van Hightower said, "As far
as I am concerned, this statement
puts the whole matter into perspective!"
The next day (Sept. 10), the
City Women's Advocate reported
this meeting to the Mayor's
Office in a memo. A copy was
sent to Lanier, who fired off a
reply to Van Hightower, denying
all sex discrimination charges
within his department.
He called their conversation
about alleged discrimination in
the Parks Department "at most,
Lanier began, "My dear Dr.
Van Hightower There is no
discrimination nor are there
'male only' jobs in the Parks
Department, and I said that to
you. A check of the hiring record
will indeed verify this. Your
emotional outburst at my light-
hearted remark of 'male chauvinism' was judged to be a knee
jerk reaction on your part.
"Had I known at the time of
your sensitive feelings for those
words, I would not have used
them. On my part, the incident
was closed and was dismissed as
a bad joke to one who is overly
aroused and does not have a
sense of humor."
Neither Van Hightower nor
Beth Kendrick regarded his attitude as humorous.
Beth Kendrick and the Women's Equity Action League filed
an EEOC suit against Lanier and
the City Parks and Recreation
Department, charging sex discrimination in their hiring practices.
Van Hightower made it clear in
the memo that she was addressing "males in management authority". Lanier was not singled
out, although the timing of
the memo might seem to implicate him.
Lanier insists the Kendrick
incident was a combination of
"miscommunications and misinterpreting intent." He stated this
in a letter dated Oct. 12.
Lanier's explanation was that a
low ratio of males employed in
the recreation area, coupled with
a need expressed by some community leaders to staff more
parks with men, may have been
interpreted as a request to hire
In his letter, Lanier talked
about a visit from a neighborhood
leader who proposed a solution to
the park problems in his area. He
requested that "the females presently at the site be supplemented with males so that order
and security can be re-established at the park."
Lanier emphasized that "replacing females was not an alternative," but that the department
hoped to achieve "a balanced
male-female staff" at park sites.
The Kendrick suit is pending.
George Lanier's official title as
a City of Houston employee is
Director of Parks and Recreation.
To women involved in the
City's recreation program it appears that Lanier's overriding
interest is the parks department.
"Recreation is left to fend for
itself," said Marion Coleman, a
sponsor and coordinator of women's basketball and Softball
Coleman and others point to
the outdated equipment and inadequate facilities offered by the
City to athletes in the recreation
program as evidence of Lanier's
"one-sided" operation of the
On the other hand, they make
note of the fact that Lanier
is trying to persuade the City to
purchase the Sharpstown Coun-
try Club and Golf Course. Lanier
himself has acknowledged that
the City could not afford the
asking price ($6 million) but he
said he was hopeful "private
donations" could be solicited.
The City already owns five
public golf courses, three of
which are so poorly maintained
that club house facilities are
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman
for two women's soccer teams in
the city had to go before City
Council recently in order to get
the use of city fields for their
"Both teams were sharing one
practice field and even then a
men's rugby team shoved us off
the field each time," said Odelia
Mendez, one of the soccer league
Her teammate, Karen Soren-
son, took the issue before City
Council,pointing out to them a 60
percent growth of women's soccer over the last year.
The women's teams were
given an hour a week on Monday
and Wednesday evenings. The
men were given a proportionate
share. They have 80 teams, 24 of
which request field time. The
women's soccer league has eight
teams, two of which request
The men's rugby team acquired a new, lighted field yet the
women claim they continue to
practice on the soccer field
during the times assigned to their
"No one is doing anything
about it," says Mendez. "The
men get what they want. We
have to take what we can."
"That a women's soccer
league exists at all is no credit to
the City," says Becky Pitner, a
player in the women's league. "It
was formed by the women themselves and is run by the City
Soccer Association which has
nothing to do with the City's
Women in the basketball
league voice another set of
Eight women's teams paid the
City $200 apiece to play in the
City's basketball league. In return the City provides them with
a league schedule, a place to play
The City placed the league in
Pershing Junior High School, "A
small and poorly maintained
facility" which the City rents
from HISD for $60 a night. The
teams play one game per week
and each game lasts one hour.
The officials assigned to the
City are paid $7.50 per game.
"They were totally unqualified," says Merryl Leatherman, a
player in the women's basketball
Leatherman and Coleman discovered that the officials assigned by the City to referee
women's games have had no
training, have taken no tests and
were members of no official
refereeing body. For a $5 fee they
received a striped shirt and a
The women's teams wrote the
City demanding the removal of
the officials and it was only when
one team threatened to withdraw
from the league that the City
finally removed one of the referees.
Leatherman and Coleman persisted in taking up this case with
the personnel department in the
City's Parks and Recreation Department when the remaining
unqualified official continued to
turn up to referee games.
"We were told nothing further
could be done," Coleman said. A
week later this official told her
"just go to the City and try to get
my shirt removed."
None of the women's basketball teams are allowed to use city
facilities for their practice sessions. Some teams rent space
from the Downtown YWCA.
Others go to the Magnolia
"In the end," Odelia Mendez
says, "it's the women (at the Yj
who have been the most helpful."
The City Women's Advocate
says she receives a number of
calls in her office from women
complaining about the poor facilities in the recreation department
and the harrassment from other
Dr. Nikki Van Hightower says,
"I have received the distinct
impression that the recreation
programs in this city are geared
for men — not women,"
Houston Breakthrough • February 1977 • Page 3