GLAA details govt non-compliance with Mayor's Order on Human Rights Act
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DC Human Rights Law

GLAA on Human Rights

GLAA details government non-compliance with Mayor's Order on Human Rights Act

P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013


Before the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs,
and Property Management
JULY 12, 2002

Chairman Graham, Members of the Council, and Fellow Citizens:

Good morning. My name is Craig Howell. I am a former President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization. GLAA recently celebrated its 31st anniversary, and I am proud to say that I have been associated with GLAA for about 28 of those years. One of my major interests has always been the enforcement of the D.C. Human Rights Law, one of the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights laws in the nation.

I am delighted that you, Mr. Graham, took the initiative to convene this oversight hearing, and we all hope it will play a useful role in getting the notoriously recalcitrant D.C. government to pay attention both to its own civil rights laws and to the Mayor's Orders.

A little bit of background might be in order to explain the events and philosophy behind the original issuance of Mayor's Order 2000-131 by Mayor Williams in August 2000.

When the Human Rights Act was first enacted back in the 1970s, its opening section defined its vast sweep of protection: "It is the intent of the Council of the District of 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, physical handicap, source of income, and place of residence or business."

Yet for many years few if any city agencies reflected the full coverage of this local law in their own anti-discrimination policy statements. Instead, nearly all agencies limited the "laundry list" included in these statements to those categories protected under federal civil rights laws--race, religion, sex, age, and so on. These laundry lists overlooked all the additional classes protected under our own law. GAA (as we were then called) complained about this to Mayor Walter Washington, who ignored us. But Mayor Marion Barry had pledged himself during the 1978 campaign to repair this policy, which he did through a Mayor's Order in February 1980.

This Mayor's Order enjoyed a long and fruitful life in the 1980s and much of the 1990s. But several cases of inadequate government anti-discrimination policy statements came to light in the first year of the Williams Administration, making it obvious to us that it was time for a new Mayor's Order. Mayor Williams responded to GLAA's efforts with Mayor's Order 2000-131 in August 2000, ordering all government agencies to include all categories protected under the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 in their anti-discrimination policies, and to clear the language of their proposed anti-discrimination regulations with OHR.

Let me note the language of Section 4: "Effective Date: This Order shall become effective immediately." What part of "immediately" does the District government not understand? The bizarre proposition we first heard advanced by the Administration this week -- that the Order was not officially effective until it was published in the D.C. Register, which did not occur until last Friday, July 5 -- is flatly contradicted by the Order's own unambiguous language.

Unfortunately, inadequate anti-discrimination statements continued to surface even after issuance of this Mayor's Order, making it clear that agencies were either unaware of or ignoring its existence. In August 2001 then-OHR Director Holman issued a statement reminding all agencies of the Executive Order and their need to clear their policy statements with his office. But still the problem persists, most recently with inadequate language in statements from the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Housing Authority.

At least some blame must be attached to the Office of the Corporation Counsel (OCC), since all proposed regulations must be cleared by them before being published in the Register. Unfortunately, OCC's own record in respecting the Human Rights Act over the last decade has been abysmal, as we have documented more than once before this subcommittee. Councilmember David Catania sent a letter to the OCC on July 16, 2001, criticizing their failure to enforce Executive Order 2000-131; a copy of that letter is attached to my testimony. To quote from the Councilmember's letter: "Two vital issues remain. First, the Office of the Corporation Counsel needs to find a remedy for past violations of this Executive Order. Second, a structure needs to be put in place to ensure that this problem does not repeat itself in the future. I look forward to your response on how both objectives will be accomplished." Not surprisingly, the Corporation Counsel's office never bothered to reply to Mr. Catania.

I would like to cite some relatively recent examples where we found that various DC government agencies were not following EO 2000-131.

In March of this year, the Metropolitan Police Department drafted a copy of a proposed order on Biased Policing, a copy of which was sent to us for our review. We noticed the inadequacies of the definition of biased policing incorporated into this draft order: "Section III. Definition. Biased policing is the practice of singling out or treating differently any person on the basis or race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. Such policing occurs when law enforcement inappropriately considers any of these listed factors in deciding with whom and how to intervene in an enforcement capacity." While we are naturally pleased by the draft order's inclusion of the term "gender identity," we are concerned that the order omits a number of other categories protected by DC law (including "personal appearance," a term that has always been used to prohibit discrimination on the basis of, among other things, what we nowadays call "gender identity.") We are not aware whether this problem has been corrected, or whether MPD has submitted its draft order to OHR for its review.

We found another example of a poorly worded anti-discrimination policy in the draft regulations for a housing voucher program published in the May 3 D.C. Register by the D.C. Housing Authority. As we pointed out in our comments dated May 23, the proposed policy omits the following protected categories: age, marital status, personal appearance, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income, and place of residence or business. Obviously the proposed language was not first vetted with OHR.

The D.C. Housing Authority, by the way, presents a peculiar case study indeed. DCHA also included an inadequate anti-discrimination statement in proposed regulations published in the Register last August 10 regarding the Section 8 voucher program. In that case, the following categories were left out: marital status, personal appearance, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, and place of residence or business. It also included two redundancies: "religion" and "creed," and "handicap" and "disability." Yet DCHA included a perfect anti-discrimination policy in a set of final regulations published March 15 of this year covering Chapter 74 of Title 14 DCMR, "Reasonable Accommodation Policies and Procedures." Truly, at DCHA, the right hand knoweth not what the left hand doeth.

But at least I am happy to report that the final version of DCHA's regulations for the HCV/HOAP program, published in the June 21 Register, includes a comprehensive anti-discrimination statement at its conclusion. But just as a curiosity, the redundant categories "religion" and "creed" both appear.

The February 22 issue of the Register included an inadequate statement in final regulations from the Child and Family Services Agency regarding "Licensing of Independent Living Programs for Adolescents and Young Adults." In providing a "Statement of Residents' Rights and Responsibilities," these regulations declared that all residents of youth facilities have "the right to be free from discrimination, including the right to equal access to services regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or gender." Again, a number of protected categories have been overlooked.

We do not mean to imply that DC government agencies never get it right. To cite one recent example, the Citizen Complaint Review Board published proposed regulations for its own operations and those of its companion Office of Citizen Complaint Review in the May 31 Register. In defining the Office's jurisdiction, the regulations included a complete list of categories protected from discriminatory treatment by the Metropolitan Police Department. (We have no way of knowing, however, whether OHR was given a chance to review this language, or whether CCRB just happened to get it right anyway--which they could have done by looking at the law creating the new system of citizen complaint review.)

Please note that all these examples refer to regulations published in the Register. But the scope of Mayor's Order 2000-131 goes far beyond regulations to include all sorts of other materials, whether published internally or aimed at the general public. To quote from the Order, it covers "job postings, equal employment opportunity notices, general orders, departmental directives, special instructions, and materials processed through the Administrative Issuance System." We at GLAA have no way of monitoring these other materials. We stumbled across an inadequate anti-discrimination statement in a D.C. government contract not long ago, but usually such items fly beneath our radar.

We hope that the hiring of a compliance officer within OHR, as authorized in its FY 2003 budget thanks to the initiative of former Director Charles Holman, will eventually provide an avenue for aggressively seeking out and checking such materials throughout the District government, and ensuring that they all are up to snuff. It is especially important that policy statements meant to be read by the general public include the complete list of protected categories, precisely because most people don't realize that the D.C. Human Rights Law is so much broader than the federal civil rights laws.

Thank you. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Additional notes by Craig Howell after the hearing:

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