GLAA testimony on confirmation of Steven Jumper as director of the department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development
September 28, 1995
I have come here to urge the Council to reject the confirmation of Steven Jumper as Director of the Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development. GLAA's position is not rooted in any deep personal animosity towards Mr. Jumper, but is rather based on two fundamental propositions:
First, we remain convinced, as we have told this committee more than once, that establishment of a single Department unifying the Office of Human Rights with the Minority Business Development Commission was a mistake and that OHR should regain its separate status as quickly as possible; and second, that until OHR can be liberated, the combined Department should be directed by someone whose background and commitment is primarily in the field of human rights enforcement; Mr. Jumper fails to pass this test.
In our March 31 testimony on the Department's FY 1996 budget request, we "served notice here and now that if a permanent chief of a still-united Department is nominated, GLAA will fight to have the Council reject that nominee and to insist that the Department be broken up." We have returned this morning to fulfill that pledge.
As we demonstrated in our March statement, the present unified Department has had a long history of downplaying human rights enforcement. In 1990, the agency had 12 full-time investigators handling anti-discrimination complaints. By the end of last year, that number was down to five. By no coincidence, the backlog of unresolved human rights complaints balooned under the Department's mismanagement, while the average number of days needed to close the typical complaint soared to 562 days. And as we pointed out in March, we are pleased that Mr. Jumper plans to use federal EEOC funds to hire additional investigators, and that he is undertaking reforms in the intake process to screen out complaints that have no real merit. But while we applaud these and other progressive initiatives proposed by Mr. Jumper, we do not believe that all the Department really needs is a good administrator. Rather, we believe it is essential that the person in charge of human rights enforcement have a well-rounded background in this area and to have a profound sense of mission and commitment to the overriding priority of the DC Human Rights Law.
By his own statement to this committee approximately one year ago, Mr. Jumper does not have the kind of background in anti-discrimination law required to be in charge of this crucial governmental function. As you know, he was brought in to head up the Department in June 1994 by Mayor Kelly with the explicit understanding that the Department would soon be divided again and that Mr. Jumper would remain in charge of minority business development. To our deep regret (and, we suspect, to Mr. Jumper's private regret as well), this promise was not kept. Through no fault of his own, Mr. Jumper now stands nominated for a position which he has publicly admitted he is not qualified to fill.
The need for someone fully versed and committed in human rights law is painfully evident by the shocking deterioration of the District government's public stance on interpretation of the DC Human Rights Law. In particular, we refer to the District government's incredibly homophobic legal briefs filed in the recent court suit regarding legalization of same-sex marriages. Not only did these briefs -- filed not once, but twice, despite the enraged protests of the DC gay and lesbian community -- invoke religious and moralistic rhetoric typical of the New Right; these briefs added injury to insult by baldly claiming that the District government is exempt from its own anti-discrimination laws! The advent of the new Barry Administration has not yet improved our government's indefensible position on this matter, for the very same argument was put forward in a suit filed by a lesbian prisoner complaining that she was being mistreated in our prisons solely because of her sexual orientation. Whoever is in charge of human rights enforcement in our city must not be afraid to tread on bureaucratic toes to publicly protest such inexcusable behavior by other parts of the DC government.
Mr. Jumper has unfortunately continued the District's trend towards a crabbed interpretation of the Human Rights Law by his recent decisions upholding the right of the Boy Scounts of America to exclude any and all participation by gay people, either as Scouts or as leaders. His decisions are incompatible with earlier decisions that the Cosmos Club has to admit woman and that the Big Brothers organization cannot exclude gays from serving as Big Brothers if the mother of the Little Brother does not object. Like a number of other progressive jurisdictions, the District's anti-discrimination law allows discrimination only by clubs that are "distinctly private." Without going into a convoluted legal analysis of the proper meaning of this term, let us just say that the Boy Scounts have long advertised that they are open to "all boys" and that the BSA has a long record of involving governmental support from public agencies such as schools and police and fire departments. BSA's current policy is dictated by a handful of far-right fanatics who have taken over its national Board to advance their own politics of exclusion and stigmatization -- in direct violation of the original intent of the founders of the Boy Scounts organization.
In a meeting earlier this month with the Human Rights Commission, Mr. Jumper conceded that he could see sound legal arguments on both sides of the Boy Scounts dispute. What he could not grasp -- despite prodding from the Commission -- was that in such circumstances, he was obligated to push for the broadest interpretation of the law, i.e., one that advanced principles on nondiscrimination. The language of the law itself forcibly demands the broadest possible interpretation.
But Mr. Jumper just doesn't get it. Let him head up minority business development -- only.
Thank you for your attention.
Copyright © 1995, 1996 by Gay and Lesbian Activists
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