GLAA celebrates as new anti-harassment law takes effect
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GLAA on Human Rights

NEWS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Bob Summersgill
(202) 667-5139

GLAA celebrates as new anti-harassment law takes effect


The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization, is celebrating a new anti-harassment law that took effect on October 1, 2002.

The new statute, which explicitly defines harassment in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and credit as acts of illegal discrimination, was passed by the Council and signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams earlier this year. It became effective on October 1 upon completion of the mandatory 30-day Congressional review period. No efforts were made on Capitol Hill to overturn the legislation, which was originally Bill 14-132 but which will henceforth be known as Act 14-399.

The new law not only defines sexual harassment as a prohibited act of sex discrimination. It also forbids arbitrary harassment of anyone in the District of Columbia on the basis of any of the categories protected by the D.C. Human Rights Law of 1977: race, color, religion, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, familial status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income, and place of residence or business.

The District's landmark 1977 civil rights law, originally enacted in 1973 — one of the strongest and most comprehensive in the country — has been further improved under the new law by its guarantee of direct access to the courts for both residents and D.C. government employees who feel they have been victimized by illegal discrimination.

Direct citizen access to the courts had been impeded by the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel, which had argued in several cases that citizens could not sue the District government for alleged discrimination without first filing a complaint with the chronically-backlogged Office of Human Rights (OHR). Although the courts have consistently rejected that argument, it remained a factor that helped delay the settlement of a suit filed by the mother of the late Tyra Hunter, the transgendered woman who was deliberately denied medical assistance by D.C. firefighter Adrian Williams in a notorious August 1995 incident.

The 1977 law had required D.C. government employees to exhaust their administrative remedies with OHR before filing a discrimination lawsuit in the courts. The new law removes that restriction, granting District government employees the same court access as enjoyed by other D.C. residents.

GLAA President Bob Summersgill lauded the leadership provided by several elected officials and local organizations, singling out Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who introduced the original version of the legislation; Councilmember Jim Graham, who as Chairman of the Council Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs, and Property Management championed the bill through passage; Metro DC PFLAG for their early support; and the ACLU of the National Capital Area (ACLU/NCA), most notably for its leadership in securing equal access to the courts for District government workers.

For further details, please consult the full text of the law at:
http://dccouncil.dc.gov/images/00001/20020614131724.pdf.
Mr. Summersgill's testimony on the bill from last December is on GLAA's website at:
http://www.glaa.org/archive/2001/glaaantiharassmenttestimony1203.shtml.
The ACLU/NCA's testimony from the same hearing is also available at:
http://www.glaa.org/archive/2001/acluantiharassmenttestimony1203.shtml.


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