GLAA's Agenda: 1996

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
of Washington, DC

AGENDA: 1996

an election-year guide to gay and lesbian issues
in the Nation's Capital

Last revised: July 1, 1996


I. Families
II. Human Rights
III. AIDS and Public Health
IV. Public Safety
V. Public Education and Youth
VI. Self-Government


In each election year since 1990, the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. (GLAA) has published an Agenda providing background information on the key issues affecting the gay and lesbian community in our nation's capital. The GLAA Agenda is published in conjunction with our Elections Project, which has been a central item to GLAA since we were formed in 1971. Under our Elections Project, GLAA sends a questionnaire to all candidates whose names appear on the ballot for the District's primary and general elections for Mayor, City Council, and Board of Education. GLAA does not endorse candidates in partisan races but does rate every candidate on the basis of their written responses to our questionnaire, combined with our assessment of his or her past record on behalf of their gay and lesbian constituents. GLAA also routinely offers to brief all candidates on the issues we have raised before they answer our questionnaire — a service we believe no other political group in Washington offers. The GLAA Agenda thus serves as a briefing paper for the candidates, as well as a general information and background sheet for the media and the public at large.

The last two years have probably been the most trying ones for the District of Columbia since the advent of home rule in 1973. Much of the District's problem in general is directly due to the unprecedented interference exercised by the current Congress over purely local concerns, interventions typically motivated by the Radical Right's attempts to impose their political will on the District of Columbia regardless of the wishes of the people or the elected officials of Washington. Because the Radical Right bears such a strong animosity towards the gay and lesbian residents of the District, Congressional manipulations have been disproportionately directed against us.

At the same time, however, we must acknowledge that the District's own officials have caused many of the woes now besetting both the community at large and the gay and lesbian community in particular. The District government's legendary incompetence and insensitivity have affected us as much as any other part of the community. In particular, the refusal of our elected officials to "bite the bullet" and make tough budget decisions has paved the way for the establishment of an utterly unaccountable Financial Control Board that is supposed to make those decisions for us. While we deplore this throwback to the antediluvian times when Congress and the President ruled the District through three appointed Commissioners, we find it difficult to demand full budget autonomy when, for example, the District government has been so notoriously slow in channeling federal funds to local providers of AIDS services or when the District's Mayors and Councilmembers have done nothing to prevent the reëmergence of a huge backlog of anti-discrimination complaints. The enormous growth in the number of District employees in recent years does not seem to stem from any desire to provide better services for our citizens but instead from the common political goal of building a firm machine for the reëlection of the incumbents. The taxes needed to sustain this bloated bureaucracy, combined with the inability or unwillingness of too many of our city bureaucrats to deliver public services effectively, have contributed to the District's major loss of population in recent years and to the drastic erosion of the city's business and tax base.

Given the very real crisis facing the people of the District of Columbia, we are appalled by the frequent invocation of "the race card" and similar divisive tactics, both by local officials and by right-wing demagogues on and off Capitol Hill. The seeming rise to prominence of the Nation of Islam — notorious for its grotesque anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and all-round paranoia — is a sign of a widespread refusal by our public leaders to address and confront bigotry in whatever form it takes. Like our nation, our city cannot afford to waste a single individual on account of prejudice, and men and women of good will cannot afford to be silent in response to hatemongering. In particular, those serving in a position of public trust should foster a climate of mutual respect, and appeal to the best in their constituents rather than the worst.

The problems afflicting the District of Columbia must be resolved with the participation and commitment of all our citizens. "Leaders" who refuse to acknowledge, much less seriously address, those problems, or who would rather resort to demagoguery, are a luxury we can no longer afford.

Richard J. Rosendall
July 1, 1996

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Part I. Families

A. Legalization of Same-Sex Marriages

GLAA first testified in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriages in 1975; we are gratified that the issue is now reaching maturity before the general public, as it is likely that within the next few years Hawaii will legalize such marriages. An increasing number of both political and religious leaders have come to realize that, in the words of Georgetown University Law School Professor William Eskridge, Jr., "The civilizing influence of family values, with or without children, may ultimately be the best argument for same-sex marriages." Recognizing such unions may be, as Professor Eskridge puts it, "in the interest of civilizing gays and civilizing America." GLAA will oppose efforts by Congress or anyone else to stop the District of Columbia from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Domestic partnership laws are well and good, but they provide at best only limited practical benefits; domestic partnership laws cannot, for example, grant spousal pension rights for survivors, or allow spousal immunity protection in court actions, or allow couples to file income taxes jointly. Accordingly, we hope that eventually the District will itself allow same-sex marriages to be performed.

B. Adoption

Thanks to a recent court decision, unmarried couples may now adopt children jointly in the District. GLAA opposes efforts in Congress to outlaw or restrict such adoptions. The true victims of such posturing would be the children who would otherwise enjoy the benefit of having not one but two legally and financially responsible parents. We believe that the overriding criterion in adoption and custody cases should continue to be the best interests of the child — not the best interests of the politicians and other outside, alien parties.

C. Domestic Partnership

GLAA was instrumental in the codification of the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992, which provides for the registration of domestic partners, along with certain benefits, in the District of Columbia. However, the Act has never been funded since its inception because of Congressional decree. GLAA will continue to support the implementation of the domestic partnership law. If Congressional efforts to repeal the 1992 Act ever succeed, GLAA will lobby the City Council to reënact it.

D. Human Remains Legislation

GLAA supports recently enacted legislation that would recognize the right of all persons to determine for themselves who shall be responsible for the disposition of their bodily remains after death. Under the previous law, the legally defined next of kin would automatically be given the remains, even if the deceased had already expressed other intentions in a will or other document. The new law can be improved if, in cases where there is no written document naming the responsible party, the rights of a surviving domestic partner are given the same precedence as spouses in determining the rights of survivors to dispose of the remains.

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Part II. Human Rights

A. Administration of the Human Rights Law

GLAA has been critical of cutbacks in enforcement of the Human Rights Act of 1977, the District's landmark anti-discrimination law. Since 1990 the number of investigators assigned to anti-discrimination complaints has plunged from 14 to just 3; as a direct result, anyone filing a complaint of illegal discrimination today with the District government can expect to wait for 3 to 4 years before a finding of probable cause can be issued. Among other steps GLAA recommends to address this problem are:

  • An increase in the number of investigators assigned to enforcement of the Human Rights Law.

  • A return to true independence for the Office of Human Rights, which has suffered greatly by its submergence in the present Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development. The Office of Human Rights should once again become an independent, Cabinet-level agency whose Director has direct access to the Mayor; the lack of such access is one of the major shortcomings of the agency's current submergence.

  • Implementation of mandatory mediation at the Office of Human Rights before an investigation is launched into a complaint.

  • Codification of the current policy that grants an automatic priority to complaints involving allegations of HIV- or AIDS-related discrimination.

    B. Ending Discrimination by the Boy Scouts of America

    The local chapter of the Boys Scouts of America (BSA) is being sued because of the national group's rigid policies barring gays from joining either as scouts or as leaders. BSA leaders have claimed an exemption from the District's Human Rights Law on the grounds that BSA is a private club. In fact, since its inception BSA has been heavily supported by government agencies at the municipal, state, and federal levels throughout the country, and has always advertised that membership is open to "all boys" — hardly the earmarks of a "private club." The national leadership of BSA is cynically exploiting homophobia to advance its own exclusionary agenda; such bigotry cannot be tolerated under our laws.

    C. Ending District Government Attacks on the Human Rights Law

    The District Government itself has launched several attacks in recent years on the integrity of the Human Rights Law by advancing extremely narrow interpretations of its meaning and scope. In the Boy Scouts case cited above, for example, the Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development originally accepted BSA's claim that it is a private club — completely overturning earlier rulings on the definition of private clubs handed down in the Big Brothers anti-gay discrimination case. Fortunately, a storm of protests by GLAA and others prompted the intervention of the Corporation Counsel, who has reversed the Department's original interpretation. But the Corporation Counsel's office has argued elsewhere that the District government is exempt from having to comply with the Human Rights Law in the delivery of public services. Equally ominous is the recent argument that the Human Rights Law does not bar harassment of public school students but only bans discrimination in admission policies; if upheld by the courts, this interpretation would open the door for all kinds of legalized harassment. The Human Rights Law of 1977 explicitly carries the admonition that it is to be interpreted broadly and liberally; the recent pattern of legal arguments advanced in the name of the D.C. government is incompatible with this guideline.

    D. Repeal the Armstrong Amendment

    This antiquated and embarrassing relic of the 1980's — imposed by Congress even though nobody in the District wanted it then or now — exempts religiously-affiliated educational institutions from compliance with the District's civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against lesbians and gay men. The District's elected officials should move to repeal this pointless and obnoxious law without further delay.

    E. Official Proclamations

    Official proclamations marking dates, events, or individual contributions of importance to lesbians and gay men should be continued. At the same time, elected public officials should refrain from issuing proclamations or resolutions saluting individuals or organizations that preach any sort of bigotry, such as the Nation of Islam or the Boy Scouts of America. Good works in some areas do not convey a license to inflict harm in others.

    F. Abortion Rights

    GLAA reaffirms its long-standing defense of abortion rights, including District government funding of abortions for needy women. Congressional bans on such funding violate both fundamental home rule principles and the Constitutional rights of the poor.

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    Part III. AIDS and Public Health

    There is little need for any discussion of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia without a commitment from our public officials regarding the timely payment of funds for services rendered by the diverse array of AIDS services providers in our city. Over the past year several providers have closed their doors, perhaps forever, due to the City's inability to pay its bills on time. The failure of our financial management system has affected not only DC appropriated monies, but also federal monies coming from programs such as the Ryan White CARE Act and the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) programs. Most of the governmental money spent on AIDS in the District is allocated for the immediate needs of serving very ill and dying people.

    GLAA also believes that the needs of people with HIV/AIDS must remain paramount and we support and champion efforts which empower and give voice to all people living with this disease: gay, lesbian, bisexual, non-gay, people of color, white, young, old, male and female. Diversity is our strength and our challenge, and only together can we effectively fight this disease.

    A. Financial Management

    GLAA supports the designation of a third party to act as a fiscal agent for federal AIDS money (Ryan White, HOPWA and others), such as the one recently adopted by the Financial Control Board. Under the new system, an independent third party, which has no financial ties to the District government, will draw down federal money from accounts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among others, to pay AIDS service providers directly. The District's Agency for HIV/AIDS will continue to certify that vouchers are submitted accurately and are eligible for payment, and will also continue to set other programmatic objectives and standards. We feel that this system will result in swifter payment to AIDS service providers who are due federal reimbursement. GLAA also remains committed to pursuing such a system for locally appropriated dollars should the District renege on current commitments to bring payments of local money up to date.

    B. Medical Care

    GLAA is committed to preserving a guarantee of full Medicaid coverage for people with HIV/AIDS. Over 50 percent of adults and over 70 percent of children nationally with AIDS rely on Medicaid for their health insurance. In current debates in Congress there has been talk of taking away the federal guarantee of coverage for disabled persons, and letting individual states decide who is to be covered; GLAA rejects that approach as it potentially could mean a disaster for people with AIDS. We expect our local officials to be no less committed to protecting Medicaid coverage for people with AIDS. Due to a limited pool of federal money available for the Ryan White program, we have focused on spending our federal money on people who are in "late stage" with the disease, but there remain many unmet treatment needs for people who are simply HIV positive or in the early stages of AIDS. We need to refocus our efforts and extend our commitments, especially with local money, to helping people at all stages of this disease.

    C. Drug Assistance — Food and Nutritional Support

    Now that new life-prolonging drugs are available, we must continue our commitment to spending Ryan White Title II money on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) which helps pay for drugs for people with no or inadequate insurance coverage.

    Likewise, we all must remain committed to funding (with both federal and District money) home delivered meals, other nutritional support such as food banks, and also clean drinking water for people with HIV/AIDS.

    D. DC Appropriated Money

    Regardless of the state of our city's financial management system, the District must continue its commitment to spending locally appropriated money on a wide range of prevention and care services. Much of our federal funding stream is dependent upon the "maintenance of effort" which DC demonstrates towards local AIDS programs. The District's current financial problems should not be allowed to force a cutback in funding for AIDS programs — GLAA believes that funding for the care and treatment of people with AIDS must continue to rise in proportion to the caseload, which shows no signs of abating.

    E. Prevention

    Prevention saves lives and saves money. For this reason GLAA supports condom availability programs in the schools and in prison facilities. Condoms, when properly used, have been proven to help prevent the transmission of HIV from one person to another. If we are all truly serious about stopping the spread of AIDS, support for condom availability programs is important.

    Likewise, GLAA worked for the enactment of legislation permitting the operation of clean needle exchange programs run by AIDS services providers to help stop the transmission of HIV among intravenous drug users. Contrary to ill-informed opinion, these programs have not in any way led to increased IV drug use in communities where these programs exist.

    F. Other Health Issues of Concern to Lesbians and Gay Men

    There are many other medical issues of concern to our community. Lesbians are at particular risk of not having breast and cervical cancer diagnosed early — based on lack of access to and sensitivity of medical providers to lesbian sexuality issues. The city needs to make sure that its health centers are staffed with people who are aware of and sensitive to such issues. The needs of women with HIV/AIDS are also often ignored. City agencies which dispense birth control or barriers for disease prevention need also to provide dental dams and/or other barriers for safe lesbian sexuality.

    The number of attempted and completed suicides in this country is disproportionately high among lesbian and gay teens. We demand that the Department of Human Services implement the recommendations of the Sullivan report on teen suicide and ensure that city agencies which provide social and medical services to teens are aware of and practice sensitivity to lesbian and gay youth issues. Drug-resistant TB has begun to spread in this area and needs to be aggressively stamped out before it becomes more entrenched within the population of people with HIV/AIDS and their medical care providers. Programs focusing on alcoholism which are run by or paid for by the city also need to incorporate gay and lesbian concerns in this field.

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    Part IV. Public Safety

    A. Establish an Effective Civilian Complaint Review System

    The Council acted very rashly in early 1995 when it abolished the Civilian Complaint Review Board without providing for any successor mechanism for effectively handling complaints of police abuse. GLAA reaffirms its strong support for civilian review of complaints of excessive force or abusive language against members of the Metropolitan Police Department. The original system broke down in large part because of inadequate staffing and budgetary resources, combined with stout resistance from police unions and management alike to the entire principle of civilian oversight. Remedial legislation has been introduced in the Council at the behest of the ACLU and others; however, GLAA opposes proposals that would compromise the principle of civilian review by including police representatives on the new board.

    B. Improving Relations between the Police and the Lesbian/Gay Community

    GLAA commends the excellent work done in recent years by Gay Men & Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) to improve relations between the MPD and the District's gay and lesbian community. To continue this trend, the MPD must continue to conduct sensitivity training led by gay men and lesbians for both new and veteran police, with payments to these trainers comparable to rates paid other trainers. Such training helps police to respond effectively when gay people are crime victims or witnesses or when same-sex couples are involved in cases of domestic violence.

    C. Learning the Lessons of the Tyra Hunter Case

    Last year a transgendered citizen, Tyra Hunter, died following a traffic accident when certain rescue workers from the D.C. Fire Department allegedly withheld proper and timely emergency treatment from her because of their own prejudices. The Fire Department's mishandling of this case has undermined the entire community's confidence in the Department's fairness and competence. GLAA is gratified to learn that Fire Department Chief Otis Latin has apparently committed himself to developing and implementing an enhanced community relations and sensitivity training program, including strong recognition of gay and lesbian community concerns, for all Department personnel. The Council should be agreeable to funding the costs of this long-overdue reform, which should help reduce the chances for a repeat demonstration of insensitivity in future cases involving lesbians, gay men, or transgendered persons.

    D. Legislative Oversight on Bias-Related Crimes Act

    Passage of the Bias-Related Crimes Act of 1990 was one of the great legislative achievements affecting the gay and lesbian community in recent years. GLAA believes that the Council needs to be vigilant in exercising its oversight responsibilities to ensure that the MPD is training all its members to recognize, respond to, and document bias-related crimes.

    E. No Congressional Takeover of Metropolitan Police Department

    Earlier this year, Carl Rowan, Jr. launched a trial balloon to turn over effective daily control of our Metropolitan Police Department to a Congressionally-controlled commission under the guidance of Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The scheme collapsed when Senator Hatch told Mr. Rowan and his followers that no such plan could advance without much broader public support. GLAA would strongly oppose any surrender of the District's police force to Congressional control, even if pro-gay leaders on Capitol Hill were in command. Giving up such a vital component of home rule into the homophobic hands of Senator Hatch — who has spoken out against allowing public school students to form gay/straight alliances — would be unconscionable.

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    Part V. Public Education & Youth

    A. No Vouchers for Private Sectarian Schools

    D.C. voters rejected the concept of taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools in a 1981 referendum by a decisive margin of 9-to-1. Nevertheless, under the spurious banner of "populism," several Congressional leaders have tried to ram a voucher program aiding sectarian and other private schools down the throats of District citizens. GLAA opposes public subsidies for private schools, in part because most private schools are run by religious denominations violently hostile to lesbians and gay men. Private school vouchers imposed by Congress would be another wanton violation of home rule principles and would ultimately be struck down by the courts as patently unconstitutional.

    B. No Government-Endorsed Prayers at Public Schools

    GLAA joined the local ACLU, People for the American Way, and other plaintiffs in a suit earlier this year challenging the acceptability of a proposed initiative to authorize government-endorsed, "student-initiated" prayers in public schools. Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin threw out the initiative because it was patently unconstitutional. GLAA strongly supports the principle of church/state separation; those who want to tear down the wall of separation usually intend to deny equal rights under the law to lesbians and gay men as well. GLAA also recognizes that the proposed school prayer initiative, if enacted, would subject religious minorities to government-backed harassment if they declined to participate in public prayers, violating a 1979 law barring initiatives that would erode protections for minorities safeguarded by the Human Rights Law.

    C. No Abolition of the District's Elected School Board

    Proposals have come forward both from Congress and from other elected District officials that our elected School Board should either be abolished or else have its power drastically curtailed. We have little confidence that the Mayor or City Council could control our public schools any better than our School Board has; we believe separate elections for a Board whose sole focus is our public schools are appropriate. Needless to say, surrendering control of our schools to any kind of Congressionally-appointed body would take us back to the pre-home rule days of unadorned colonialism.

    D. Involvement in Selection of Future School Superintendents

    Gay men and lesbians have been allowed to participate in the past on the periphery of the process leading to the School Board's choice of a new Schools Superintendent; however, the Board has reneged on promises to allow a representative of our community to sit in during the Board's interviews with finalists. Other community groups have been accorded this privilege, and GLAA believes that our community should be afforded the same opportunity the next time a new Superintendent must be selected.

    E. Equal Access Act

    Homophobes in Utah attracted national attention when the State Legislature passed a law banning all non-curriculum-related clubs in public high schools, thereby abolishing a slew of clubs ranging from chess clubs to Bible study groups. This absurd law was passed because students in Utah had established a number of gay/straight alliances; under the federal Equal Access Act enacted nearly a decade ago, schools must either allow any non-curriculum related clubs or else ban all of them. Other strategies are also being advanced to circumvent the Equal Access Act, all of them designed to suppress free speech in our public schools. GLAA is gratified to know that there have been a number of gay-supportive clubs formed over the years in District public schools and expects our elected officials to uphold their right to exist.

    F. Censorship

    Fairfax County has received much unwelcome attention in the past few years because of efforts by Religious Right activists to bar gay and lesbian publications such as The Washington Blade from public libraries. Efforts to bar gay and lesbian books from public and school libraries are also widespread across the country. The Religious Right has also targeted a host of school textbooks and curriculum materials that fail to reflect their own hostility against lesbians and gay men. Such frontal assaults on the First Amendment must be resisted by all government officials.

    G. Hancock Amendment

    Representative Hancock and others on Capitol Hill are pushing for amendments to various pieces of legislation barring federal funding for any school system that promotes understanding and acceptance of homosexuality ("no promo homo"). This constitutes an unbridled effort at a federal takeover of local school systems to appease the Religious Right. We expect the District's elected officials to fight the Hancock Amendment in all its guises; should such a law ever be passed, we would expect them to forego federal funding rather than sacrifice

    the District's commitment to equal treatment of all students regardless of sexual orientation. The people of the District of Columbia must not allow our common enemies to drive wedges among us.

    H. Funding for Social Services for Gay & Lesbian Youth

    The District government should do all in its power to assist the activities of SMYAL and similar groups in training educators and social workers on issues affecting gay and lesbian youth. Teen suicide issues and services for gay and lesbian street kids are among the topics where mainstream service agencies are often found wanting. Homophobia kills, and young people are often the most vulnerable.

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    Part VI. Self-government

    Gay men and lesbians have long recognized the importance of home rule for the residents of the District of Columbia. The right to self-government was a central motive behind the American Revolution and has remained a fundamental axiom of the American way of life ever since. No other democratic nation in the world denies the citizens of its own national capital the right to self-determination.

    A. Statehood

    GLAA expects all D.C. elected officials to stand firmly and clearly for the right of our citizens to enjoy the benefits of statehood. Statehood would free District citizens from arbitrary Congressional interference in local affairs, interference commonly directed against gay men and lesbians. At the same time, we believe that the advantages and disadvantages of retrocession to Maryland should be actively explored in view of the admittedly dim prospects for achieving statehood anytime soon.

    B. Expanded Home Rule

    In the absence of statehood, District officials should press for enactment of Congressional legislation extending home rule powers in such areas as budget autonomy and the appointment of judges and public prosecutors. All public officials should fight for the integrity of District laws when they fall under attack from Capitol Hill, the White House, or the federal judiciary. Gay men and lesbians face tremendous animosity from a variety of powerful forces, whose passion for inflicting harm on us routinely involves trampling on home rule principles. We expect our elected officials to stand up loudly and firmly in defense of laws and policies that protect the District's gay and lesbian community.

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