GLAA Corrects the Record on DC Human Rights Legislation
The following letter was published in the July 18, 1997 issue of The Washington Blade.
Thursday, July 10, 1997
The Washington Blade
1408 U Street, NW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20009
It is astonishing that the Blade could write an article about the DC Council's recent enactment of the Human Rights Amendment Act of 1997 and not once mention the role of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA). ("DC Council eyes city's Office of Human Rights," July 4.)
GLAA has been closely monitoring this legislation since its initial version was introduced in 1994. We testified before the Council each time it came under active consideration the only gay and lesbian political group to do so. Our interactions with the Council, the Office of Human Rights (OHR), and other interested parties gave us a fuller appreciation of the enhanced productivity that resulted from the institution of mandatory mediation before OHR launches a formal investigation.
We were delighted last year when Councilmember Kevin Chavous engineered enactment of the mandatory mediation provision of the bill as an emergency measure. Accordingly, we testified in February of this year before Kathy Patterson and her Committee on Government Operations that the Council should rapidly pass the Human Rights Amendment Act on a permanent basis before the emergency legislation expired.
At the same time, we remained adamant from the beginning against the bill's provision to extend from 120 days to one year the length of time in which OHR is required to process a complaint. While anyone filing a discrimination complaint now with OHR will probably have to wait years before OHR reaches a finding, we have argued that the solution is not to surrender to the unconscionable cutbacks in OHR staffing but to grant the agency a sufficient budget to eliminate their case backlog. The Council fortunately agreed with us and deleted that provision from the final legislation.
We at GLAA spearheaded the successful effort to separate OHR from the Minority Business Development Commission. We have also convinced a number of Councilmembers that OHR should be restored to its earlier status as an independent, Cabinet-level agency whose Director has direct access to the Mayor. We have repeatedly testified that the Mayor and Council have to give OHR an adequate budget so that victims of illegal discrimination won't have to resort to expensive court proceedings to find justice.
We have used our Elections Project to educate DC elected officials and their challengers on OHR and other gay-related concerns, and to get their responses "on the record." We have then published those responses on our web site (www.glaa.org) as a public service.
Ursula K. LeGuin once wrote, "Freedom is not a gift given but a choice made." The work that GLAA does to keep our government accountable may not be exciting or glamorous, but it represents the vigilance that is required of citizens who choose freedom. We are committed to doing this work whether or not the Blade chooses to report on it. It would seem only reasonable, however, for the Blade to give GLAA credit when credit is due.
Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC