Gays denounce govt. action in Tyra Hunter case
Jan. 27, 1998

> Rick Rosendall, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, (202) 667-5139
> Sharen Shaw Johnson, Gay Men & Lesbians Opposing Violence, (202) 737-4569
> Jessica Xavier, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, (202) 986-1360
> Darren Buckner, District of Columbia Coalition of Black Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals, Inc., (202) 797-2036


Fire and Police Departments exempt from D.C. human rights ordinance, city's attorneys claim in court papers

City also admitted for first time that Fire Department personnel withheld care from injured transgendered person

Press conference set for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at
D.C. Fire Department Headquarters
1923 Vermont Ave. N.W.
(subsequently moved to 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 800, due to inclement weather)

WASHINGTON, DC - Four major gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered activist groups will demand Wednesday that the city rescind the "morally bankrupt" position it has taken in court papers filed by city attorneys in a civil suit (Civil Action No. 96-1338, D.C. Superior Court) brought in connection with the Aug. 7, 1995 death of Tyra Hunter.

A D.C. Fire Department fire fighter was providing emergency services at the scene of an auto accident when he discovered that Hunter was transgendered. Witnesses have said the fire fighter, making derisive comments about Hunter, halted treatment of the injured accident victim for several minutes. D.C. Fire Department officials previously has denied that care was withheld.

In responding to a $10 million civil suit filed by Ms. Hunter's mother, Margie Hunter, the D.C. Corporation Counsel confirmed treatment stopped for several minutes. But it also argued that the city isn't financially liable because city departments — including fire and police — are exempt from the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977.

Said Rick Rosendall, president of Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance: "They're claiming that the ordinance applies only to actions taking place in public accommodations - and that Ms. Hunter was treated on the street, not in a public accommodation. They're claiming the Fire Department doesn't have a 'public accommodation,' so it's exempt.

"They've given the law a very crabbed, hairsplitting interpretation to try to get themselves off the hook," Rosendall said. "It's outrageous to suggest the Human Rights Act is about bricks and mortar."

Further, activists noted, former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly signed mayoral order 94-132 on May 19, 1994, stating, "Offices and agencies of the District government are covered by the prohibitions of the Human Rights Act. There are no exceptions. No office or agency of the District government may engage in any prohibited activity, including denial of full and equal enjoyment of its services, facilities, privileges or advantages to any person in violation of the Human Rights Act."

Said Sharen Shaw Johnson, executive director, Gay Men & Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV): "The most charitable interpretation is that the city's legal argument against Tyra Hunter's mother was a desperate attempt to save money. There is fiscal responsibility - and there is moral responsibility. This plainly is a time for the latter."

"This incident was an egregious assault on the dignity of a gravely injured human being," Johnson said. "The implications - that we give fire and police personnel a 'free ride' to ignore the human rights of the people they've sworn to protect - are so alarming that it calls for a clear, quick and forceful response by the city. It should withdrawr this irresponsible legal argument at once. It's vital that D.C. take immediate steps to help repair the trust it's already begun to erode."

Jessica Xavier of Gays & Lesbians Against Defamation (GLAAD), pointed out the appropriateness of focusing media attention on the city's new legal arguments. She credited media focus on circumstances surrounding Tyra Hunter's death with prompting the mayor's office to order reopening the city's first, inconclusive investigation into the incident.

"It's absurd for the government to suggest it's exempt from its own human rights law," Xavier said. "All District citizens are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity by those we pay to protect us. Clearly, by what the government now acknowledges, Tyra Hunter was not treated with that respect."

Also joining in demanding the city rescind its most recent legal arguments in the Tyra Hunter case: the District of Columbia Coalition of Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals, Inc.

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