Committee on Government Operations
Oversight Performance Hearing on the Office of Human Rights
Friday, February 25, 2000
Good afternoon, Mrs. Patterson. I am Rick Rosendall, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. On April 27 we will be celebrating our 29th anniversary as non-partisan advocates for the rights of gay men and lesbians here in the District of Columbia. Our celebration will be held at the Doyle Washington Hotel on Dupont Circle, and we will be sending you your invitation in the next few weeks.
First, we want to thank this committee for its leadership in getting the Office of Human Rights established as an independent Office. We hope that the new permanent director will be chosen soon and will be committed to making trouble throughout the D.C. government wherever our Human Rights Law is not being reflected. As we have been saying for years, the new director should enjoy Cabinet-level status.
Incomplete Nondiscrimination policies
The need for our watchdog efforts with regard to enforcement of the D.C. Human Rights Law has been sadly evident. On three separate occasions in the last six months we have had to tell District agencies to include all the protected categories (of which there are fifteen) in their nondiscrimination policies. In July, it was proposed HMO regulations from the Department of Insurance and Securities Regulation. In October, it was welfare-to-work rules from the Department of Human Services. Last month, it was proposed substance abuse program regulations from the Department of Health. In each instance, we noticed that sexual orientation and other protected categories in the law were omitted from statements of nondiscrimination.
When we have pointed out these omissions to administrators, with help from Councilmembers including Jack Evans and Sharon Ambrose, they have usually responded favorably and agreed to correct the error. I have attached copies of our correspondence to my testimony. We have not yet heard back from the Department of Health. In any case, it is rather ridiculous that we should have to keep doing this. Too many people are not getting the message.
Allow me to read Section 1-2501 of the D.C. Human Rights Law: "It is the intent of the Council of the District of Columbia, in enacting this chapter, to secure an end in the District of Columbia to discrimination for any reason other than that of individual merit, including, but not limited to, discrimination by reason of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income, and place of residence or business."
The failure by District agencies to include all of these categories is not only a recent one. Three years ago, Councilmember Carol Schwartz informed then-school-chief Julius Becton that the Notice of Nondiscrimination published in the D.C. Public Schools newsletter did not comply with the provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Law. Mrs. Schwartz specifically pointed out that our law goes considerably further than federal law, and she quoted the relevant portions of the law. I have included a copy of that letter as well. DCPS still only includes federally protected categories, even though we've been complaining about this for years and are always assured the problem will be fixed.
Based on all these recent lapses throughout the D.C. government, it is clear that the Office of Human Rights should undertake a comprehensive review of all agency anti-discrimination policies to ensure their adequacy. We are going to ask the Mayor to issue an Executive Order mandating that all agency nondiscrimination policies include the full list of protected classes.
Training and Supervision
Commitment to respecting and enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Law throughout the government needs to go beyond merely reciting the litany in nondiscrimination statements. There needs to be training for D.C. government staff, particularly in areas like the Metropolitan Police Department, Fire and EMS, and the D.C. Public Schools, to ensure that they will treat their gay colleagues and the general public with respect. To be more than lip service, this training must be followed up by supervisors and evaluation standards that make it clear that violations of the Human Rights Law will not be tolerated.
As you know, the Office of Human Rights has long had a persistent case backlog. Their budget needs to be increased so that they can eliminate the backlog. Frankly, the Financial Control Board is to blame for imposing arbitrary employment caps that have prevented adequate staffing. We urge you to join us in pressing the Control Board to remove those harmful caps.
Thank you. I will be happy to answer any questions.
[At the hearing, we learned that Charles Holman was the Director-designate of OHR, but that he had not yet been formally nominated. Councilmember Patterson indicated that there are no longer employment caps on OHR, but only budgetary caps.]