GLAA urges more funding for OHR, faults unfunded mandates

Testimony of Tyrone Hanley
On the behalf of GLAA

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

January 22, 2020
Room 412
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Hello, Chairperson Todd, committee members, and staff. My name is Tyrone Hanley, and I am the GLAA Vice-President of Coalition Building. 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.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of the Office of Human Rights (or “OHR”). As an LGBTQ organization, GLAA believes a well-supported OHR is necessary for protecting the rights of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities. Despite strong legal protections in the District for LGBTQ people, anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence continue to be a problem. The District also continues to underfund OHR.

In 2015, OHR found nearly 50% of employers preferred a less-qualified cisgender applicant over a more-qualified transgender applicant. The DC Trans Needs Assessment found over 40% of trans people have been denied at least one job due to being perceived as transgender, and 36% of trans people are unemployed with Black trans people reporting the highest unemployment rate at 55%. The rampant anti-trans bias contributes to the high rates of poverty in the transgender community. In DC, 46% of transgender people make less than $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 DC hate crime rates remain at record highs, hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity accounted for highest total of hate crimes in 2019.

We are grateful for an Office of Human Rights 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.” OHR is in the process of implementing a pilot program to enable attorneys to assist in drafting complaints and restructuring to help facilitate quicker completion of cases. While OHR seeks these changes, it cannot fulfil its mission alone. The District must invest an appropriate level of money and resources into the agency.

The number of docketed cases has gone up and the backlog of cases continues.
An OHR investigator can have a caseload of 60 – 100 cases even though the industry standard is around 30. Given these high caseloads, it should be no surprise that OHR is unable to meet statutory deadlines for resolving cases.

Additionally, DC Superior Court decisions have effectively required OHR to provide more evidence for its findings. Consequently, investigators must spend more time gathering evidence and conducting interviews to provide more details when drafting Letters of Determination. An average Letter of Determination can be 40 pages long with some as long as 100 pages.

Despite these challenges, the Council continues to expand OHR’s responsibilities and covered protected classes under the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act currently covers 21 protected traits. And, soon, this committee is expected to hold a hearing on the Care for LGBTQ Senior and Seniors with HIV Amendment Act, which creates a seniors LGBTQ/HIV bill of rights under the Human Rights Act.

In addition to its statutory duties, OHR continues to lead the Mayor’s hate crimes response team without dedicated funding to serve in this role.

GLAA does not raise these concerns to oppose new laws or initiatives protecting vulnerable groups. However, we believe DC cannot continue business as usual by giving OHR un- or underfunded mandates. DC must show its commitment to human rights by increasing funding for OHR to a level that allows it to meet all of its mandates.

During the FY21 budget process, GLAA will again be advocating for additional funding 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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