PDF version of the above document 01/05/99
Testimony on Sex Offenders Registration Legislation
Delivered before the Committee on the Judiciary
JUNE 29, 1999
Councilmember Brazil, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Citizens: My name is Craig Howell. I am President of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian rights organization in the country.
Usually at this point I would say that I am glad to be here, but that is not the case this afternoon. There is no legitimate reason why the gay and lesbian community here or anywhere else should have to be concerned with the kind of legislation that is under your consideration today. Unfortunately, some people in the District Government and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have gone out of their way to incorporate their homophobic prejudices into the bills before you. I am therefore compelled to go out of my way to blow the whistle on their shenanigans, and to demand that the malefactors be publicly identified and disciplined to the full extent of the law.
On December 17, 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice issued the Final Guidelines for the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, popularly known as “Megan’s Law.” These Final Guidelines were printed in the January 5, 1999 edition of the Federal Register. At the outset, under “1. General Purpose and Principles of Interpretation,” the Justice Department included the following unambiguous information:
“The Act’s definitions of covered offense categories are tailored to its general purpose of protecting the public from persons who molest or sexually exploit children and from other sexually violent offenders. Hence, these definitions do not include all offenses that involve a sexual element. For example, offenses consisting of consensual acts between adults are not among the offenses for which registration is required under the Act, and requiring registration for persons convicted of such offenses would not further the Act’s objectives.” [Emphasis added.]
As far as we know, this guideline has been respected in states all over the country except right here in the District of Columbia.
Incredibly, both bills before you today the version introduced at the request of the Mayor and the version proposed by U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis propose making convictions on consensual sodomy charges a “Registration Offense.” The offensive language appears under Section 3, “Definitions,” subsection (13) in the Mayor’s bill, and under Section 3, “Definitions,” subsection (7) in the U.S. Attorney’s bill. In both bills, the language is: “...or sodomy or sodomy on a minor...” Both bills list sexual crimes against minors and forcible sexual crimes separately; therefore, the intention of including “sodomy” by itself is to require registration of anyone convicted of a consensual sodomy charge.
While the District of Columbia repealed the ban on consensual sodomy in 1993, many other states retain such obnoxious laws on their books and enforce them with arrests, convictions, and imprisonment. So even though the registration requirements of the proposed D.C. legislation would not extend to convictions handed down before it actually becomes law, these requirements would extend to anyone convicted of consensual sodomy afterwards.
We are outraged that consensual sodomy has been included in both bills as a registration offense, in deliberate and open defiance of the U.S. Justice Department’s explicit instructions. Somebody, or bodies, had to go out of their way to get that language in. This was not an innocent mistake; it was an act of overt homophobic hostility. We want the guilty parties identified publicly, not just internally and we want appropriate disciplinary actions invoked against them.
We are not surprised to read that in Ms. Lewis’ May 21 letter to this Committee that her staff has been working with the Office of Corporation Counsel in devising the legislation to implement the Federal requirements of Megan’s Law.
As we have testified before this Committee more than once, the Office of the Corporation Counsel has been a hotbed of homophobia at least since the times of the Kelly Administration. It first came to our attention when that Office not once but twice submitted grotesquely anti-gay briefs to D.C. courts in connection with the same-sex marriage cases. The Corporation Counsel Office’s handling of the Tyra Hunter case over the last four years shows that homophobia remains a firmly entrenched part of its corporate culture.
It is time to start naming names publicly and moving the responsible culprits away from positions where they could try to inflict further damage.
In conclusion, we ask this Committee to strike the reference to “sodomy” in the definitions section of whatever bill is finally adopted. We further ask the Corporation Counsel’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s office to identify publicly and to discipline those responsible for inserting that language in the first place. No more cover-ups and no more excuses! The word must go out: abusing your official duties to indulge your homophobic or other anti-social prejudices will ruin your career!
Thank you. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.