GLAA follows up on compliance with Mayor's Order on Human Rights Act
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DC Human Rights Law

GLAA on Human Rights

GLAA follows up on government 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
OCTOBER 21, 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, founded in the spring of 1971. I am proud to say that this month marks the 29th anniversary of my own involvement with GLAA.

One of the highest priorities for GLAA generally, and for myself personally, has long been the enforcement of the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977. This remains one of the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights laws in the country to this day, affording protections against arbitrary and anti-social discrimination far beyond what is provided under federal statutes. The District's law forbids bias in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and credit not only on the basis of the federally protected categories -- race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, and disability -- but also on the basis of sexual orientation, personal appearance, marital status, matriculation, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, and place of residence or business.

In recent years, however, we at GLAA have encountered a puzzling and frustrating unfamiliarity with this landmark legislation on the part of the District government itself, as evidenced by a disheartening number of official anti-discrimination statements that omitted many if not most protected categories.

Responding to our concerns, Mayor Williams issued Mayor's Order 2000-131 in August 2000. This directive ordered all government agencies to include the full list of protected categories in their anti-discrimination policy statements, including both those intended to notify the general public and those intended to notify District government employees.

The publication and dissemination of comprehensive anti-discrimination statements plays an important role in strengthening the social contract and community bonds within the District of Columbia. On the one hand, they alert D.C. residents that they have a right to expect service untainted by personal bias whenever they have to deal with our public servants. By the same token, they serve notice on our government employees that they have a duty to treat everyone they come in contact with equitably and impartially. Washington, D.C. has a long, proud record serving as a haven for the victims of hate and prejudice and welcoming the contributions of one and all. The D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 codifies traditional D.C. values, reflecting a thorough-going commitment to human rights and personal dignity, and should be publicized and trumpeted at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, as this committee well understands, Mayor's Order 2000-131 did not immediately solve the problem of inadequate anti-discrimination policy statements. For one thing, the Administration failed to ensure that all agencies were aware of its existence. When we at GLAA complained about the continuing flow of inadequate D.C. government regulations and publications, you, Mr. Graham, took the initiative to convene an oversight hearing on July 12, which proved to be highly useful and illuminating. You very wisely decided to continue that hearing until today to give the Office of Human Rights (OHR) and its new Interim Director, Ms. Nadine Wilburn, time to take further steps to bring the full sweep of D.C. government agencies into compliance with the Mayor's Order and to develop a system for monitoring continuing compliance with the directive in the future.

We at GLAA are also pleased that you invited every D.C. government agency to send a witness to today's continuation hearing so that each one can affirm that they are now in compliance with the Mayor's Order or so that they can provide you a deadline for when they expect to come into full compliance. Your invitation should serve notice throughout our government that this is a subject that deserves every agency's serious attention and commitment. I hope there will be few if any laggards in our government who will not cooperate with this committee. If there are, they must be dealt with promptly and firmly, even if that requires the Mayor's own personal intervention.

We want to take this opportunity to publicly thank the leadership that has been provided on this, as on other issues, in the last few months by Ms. Wilburn. Although she was brought in to head up OHR this past June under the most undesirable circumstances imaginable, she has acquitted herself wonderfully. Several of us from GLAA met with her earlier this month. She seemed to be reading our minds, anticipating if not already implementing a number of steps we were going to urge upon her. We look forward to working constructively with her for a good long time to come.

I want to offer this committee a few lessons that we've learned just in the past few months that help illustrate the nuances of the challenge facing us as we try to shepherd the D.C. government into line.

Just a few days ago, I received in the mail the Spring 2003 Schedule of Classes at UDC. This is a 24-page-long document with loads of detailed information not only about UDC's courses but also about every UDC policy imaginable--excepting only any kind of non-discrimination policy statement. A course catalogue is precisely the kind of publication that needs to include a comprehensive non-discrimination policy as it affects students, teachers, and staffers, and yet none may be found. If memory serves, previous catalogues had included such statements, although sometimes they were incomplete.

As an historical aside, similar catalogues distributed by the D.C. Public Schools used to include a non-discrimination policy that only listed federally protected categories. Year after year, we would complain about this oversight both to the Superintendent's office and to School Board members, and year after year we were promised the problem would be corrected in the very next catalogue. Eventually, after too long a wait, it was.

So, part of the challenge is to make sure that documents aimed at the general public describing D.C. government services publish some kind of anti-discrimination policy in the first place -- preferably a comprehensive one.

Another problem surfaced in the D.C. Register of September 20, which published a document from the Department of Human Services, "Request for Application (RFA) for the FY 2003 Fatherhood Initiative for Low-Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF] Program."

Section VI, "General Provisions," included the following provision: "Nondiscrimination in the Delivery of Services. In accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-352), as amended, no person shall, on the grounds of race, color, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any program activity receiving Adult Basic Education grant funds."

This obviously inadequate statement was issued by an agency that was already certified as being in substantially full compliance with the Mayor's Order. Anti-discrimination policies are often buried deep in the bowels of the bureaucracy, and it is difficult to say with certainty that any agency has excavated them all and cleaned them up. So, neither OHR nor this committee can afford to be lulled into complacency by certificates of compliance. Keep your eyes open.

This particular statement was obviously inspired by requirements in a federally-funded program. Such requirements will naturally confine themselves to federal law. That is not enough when District law goes beyond the mandates of national law. So, OHR and individual agencies should make a comprehensive, systematic check of all anti-discrimination policies published for federally funded programs.

Finally, this policy statement at hand illustrates another problem, the slap-dash nature of many anti-discrimination policy statements. The list in the Human Services Department's RFA is not even complete from a federal perspective, because it omits disability and age. On the other hand, it includes a unique supposedly protected category, "political opinion"; who knows where that term comes from or what it means. Evidently, somebody threw together this statement off the top of his or her head, and nobody ever bothered to check it. This is how "boilerplate" language is born and persists for years thereafter.

I spoke with Mr. Keith Cross of DHS several weeks ago when this RFA first appeared in the Register. He assured me he was aware of the Mayor's Order and would take immediate steps to correct the problem. More specifically, he promised to distribute copies of the corrected policy statement at a Department briefing for potential contractors on October 10. Several people have been told that this was in fact done, but Mr. Cross has not sent me a copy of his correction, so I have not yet been able to verify that claim.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing the government witnesses who will follow me. I may want to offer some comments after they are done, at least in writing, as I realize time is short today with another hearing scheduled here at noon.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

[Craig Howell adds the following addendum from the hearing:

[Today's hearing was a resounding and heartening success, as many DC agencies responded with enthusiasm and initiative to boast about what they've done to comply not just with the letter but the spirit of the Mayor's Order.

[Besides Nadine Wilburn of OHR, representatives of 17 different agencies testified, as follows: Dept. of Public Works; Taxicab Commission; Chief Financial Officer; Corp Counsel; Libraries; DCRA; Corrections; Employment Services; Health; Mental Health; Human Services; Parks & Recreation; MPD; Personnel; Office of Property Management; Zoning; and the Office of Contracting & Procurement. It wasn't all lower-level flunkies, either; several agency chiefs testified in person, including David Clark, head of DCRA. Ms. Wilburn presented Chairman Graham with two enormous hard-bound folders filled with documents submitted by agencies showing their compliance with the Mayor's Order. She cheerfully offered me my own set, but I declined, saying I could check her own office's copies if I care to.

[Representatives of the Dept. of Insurance & Securities and the Office on Aging were on the witness list, but did not appear.

[Among the MIA: Fire/EMS (surprise, surprise); Public Schools; UDC (which I criticized today for not having any kind of non-discrimination policy in their Spring 2003 Course Catalogue; Office of Citizen Complaint Review (which I had praised at the July 12 hearing for being ahead of most other agencies); Housing; Economic Development. In all, Ms. Wilburn indicated that about half the agencies are not yet in compliance, but she's in contact with most of them and says they are making progress towards compliance.

[One lively issue was what to do when federally funded programs demand all grant recipients, including DC agencies, publish posters and notices of federal anti-discrimination law. Employment Services indicated they had not previously publicized DC law in such cases but would do so now; the undercurrent was they weren't sure federal law allows them to publicize local laws that are broader than federal law. Other agencies in similar circumstances had no problems publicizing both local and national law; some have issued two posters--one federally oriented, one locally oriented--while others have put out just one poster listing all protected categories. Ms. Wilburn told me afterwards, and Jim Graham said the same several times, that nothing should stop DC agencies with federal grants from publicizing the requirements of the District's Human Rights Law.

[MPD said they had started doing what the Mayor's Order requires back in 1998 after the settlement with the Department of Justice on the complaint filed by Latino police officers. Since then, MPD has included the full list of protected categories in all its documents and public notices, including those on its web site. The Department's official newsletter is publicizing the Mayor's Order, and it's also being mentioned at roll calls. Chairman Graham was curious about special training on sexual orientation issues for 60 new police hired from Puerto Rico, where the culture is not as advanced on gay matters as DC is. MPD has started training for those new hires, and is including specific discussion on dealing with the gay community. Jim wanted to know who is doing such training; the MPD rep said she'd get that info to him (presumably it was Karen Pettapiece).

[Jim's questioning throughout the hearing was very informed and useful. He praised those agencies that did a thorough job in training managers and employees of DC human rights law protection, or that stressed the need for contractors to comply with our law, or that threatened to revoke permits for private businesses caught violating the act. He nudged agencies that were not so imaginative to emulate those other agencies. He urged the Office of Contracting and Procurement to try to get prime contractors to monitor the compliance of their subcontractors with the Human Rights Law.

[Nadine Wilburn says she has chosen someone to serve as OHR's new Compliance Officer, among whose duties will be monitoring agency compliance with the Mayor's Order. The new hire should come on board next month.]

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