GLAA calls for additional funding, staff for Office of Human Rights

Testimony of Tyrone Hanley
On behalf of GLAA

Before the
Committee on Government Affairs
Brandon Todd, Chairman
Council of the District of Columbia

February 28, 2019
Room 120
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Hello, Chairperson Todd and committee members. My name is Tyrone Hanley, and I am a member of GLAA. GLAA is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, non-profit political organization that defends the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the District of Columbia.

We thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of the Office of Human Rights (or “OHR”). As an LGBTQ organization, GLAA believes a fully funded OHR is critical to ensure the rights of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities are enforced. Despite strong legal protections for the LGBTQ comunity, anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence continue to be issues we are struggling with as a city.

In OHR’s report Qualified and Transgender, it found 48% of employers appeared to prefer at least one less-qualified applicant perceived as cisgender over a more-qualified applicant perceived as transgender. The 2015 DC Trans Needs Assessment report found over 40% of trans people have been denied at least one job due to being perceived as trans. It also found 36% of trans people are unemployed with Black trans people reporting the highest unemployment rate at 55%. Based on these numbers, it should be unsurprising that the report found 46% of transgender people in DC made below $10,000 a year, compared to only 11% of DC residents.Trans people of color, particularly trans women of color, face the greatest economic hardships with 57% making below $10,000 a year.

As reported by the Washington Post earlier this month, hate crimes in DC have doubled since 2016. In 2015, 66 hate crimes were reported. That number jumped to 209 in 2018. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity accounted for nearly half of the city’s total hate crimes in 2018.

We are thankful to have an Office of Human Rights, under the leadership of Mónica Palacio, that is committed to its mission “to eradicate discrimination, increase equal opportunity and protect human rights for persons who live in or visit the District of Columbia.” But we know laws and commitment are not enough. It also takes money and resources.

In the last five years, the DC Council has increased the responsibilities of OHR, including enforcing or implementing aspects of the Fair Criminal Record Screening Amendment Act of 2014, the Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act of 2016, Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016, the Street Harassment Prevention Act of 2018, and Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018.

On top of these mandates, the Mayor has tasked OHR with the responsibility of coordinating the hate crimes response team through the DC Values in Action initiative. We thank the Mayor for her efforts to address the rise in hate crimes in our city. However, we are concerned OHR is coordinating the team without dedicated funding to serve in this role.

While we support laws protecting vulnerable groups and the inclusion of additional protected classes under the Human Rights Act, we believe this must also come with appropriating funds for OHR at the levels necessary to comply with its mandates.

The number of docketed cases has gone up and the backlog of cases continues. Additionally, a series of DC Superior Court decisions (Smith v. D.C. Office of Human Rights, Sparrow v. D.C. Office of Human Rights, and Grove v. Loomis Sayles & Co.) has essentially required OHR to provide more evidence for its findings. This means investigators must spend additional time collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses before they can provide more details when drafting Letters of Determination.

Since investigators can have up to 50 cases on their docket, it is no wonder all cases are not completed in time. The Council should work with OHR on determining how many investigators and support staff are needed in order to end the backlog of cases and ensure the number of cases each investigator has is no more than the industry standard.

Let me be clear. GLAA believes OHR is working as hard as it can to fulfill its mission using the resources it has available. We cannot expect OHR to do more with less. We must demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive and welcoming city by appropriating OHR funds at a level that does not put a strain on its staff and resources.

Given the available data on anti-trans discrimination in DC, it is highly likely that the number of cases that come before OHR do not accurately reflect all incidents of unlawful discrimination in our city. As such, we must make sure OHR has the funds to adequately educate people of their rights and obligations, and respond to complaints in a timely manner.

In order to address these challenges, we are asking the Mayor and the Council to support additional funding over FY19 levels for OHR to hire additional staff, including additional investigators and a full-time staff person to coordinate the hate crimes response team, and expand its public education and outreach.

We thank the committee for its time and look forward to working with you.

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