GLAA testifies on DC Office of Human Rights
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DC Human Rights Law

GLAA on Human Rights

GLAA testifies on DC Office of Human Rights

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139

PERFORMANCE OVERSIGHT HEARINGS
OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Subcommittee on Human Rights
Council of the District of Columbia

MARCH 1, 2002

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

My name is Craig Howell. I am pleased to be with you today representing the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization. We will be celebrating our 31st anniversary with a reception at the Hotel Washington on Thursday evening, April 18. Full details are available on our web site, www.glaa.org. Invitations are going out shortly, and I hope all of you can attend.

We continue to be favorably impressed with the progress demonstrated over the last year by the Office of Human Rights (OHR) under its Director, Charles Holman III. Mr. Holman has provided outstanding leadership in many crucial respects. He has made great strides in managing and reducing the OHR caseload, whose size over most of the last decade has discouraged victims of discrimination from pursuing their legitimate rights and interests. In addition, he has been extremely responsive to the concerns and suggestions that we have presented.

We have seen evidence of the quality and professionalism of the OHR staff by their handling of a public accommodations discrimination complaint filed several months ago by one of our own members, Barrett Brick, against Gazuza, a nightclub in Dupont Circle. (We deliberately kept Mr. Brick's identity hidden from Mr. Holman, because his experiences can therefore be considered typical and not the result of any special favors from OHR.)

Mr. Brick was well treated during the intake process, and was soon contacted in a timely matter by the staffer assigned to the case. A mediation session was promptly arranged, and another one was re-scheduled after a representative of Gazuza failed to appear at the originally scheduled mediation session. The matter has now been amicably settled, and Mr. Brick has expressed satisfaction both with the outcome and with the OHR staff's performance at every step.

We have remained in fairly steady communications with Mr. Holman throughout the past year, and are quite pleased with his sensitivity and responsiveness. For example, we arranged a briefing for his staff on the unusual issues presented in complaints filed by transgendered men and women. Mr. Holman and his staff were genuinely interested in learning about the problems facing the transgendered population and about OHR's role in dealing with the often-grotesque indignities inflicted on transgender people.

We have met several times with Mr. Holman over the last year, and those meetings have been mutually educational and productive. Before our most recent meeting, Mr. Holman gave us a proud tour of OHR's new quarters at One Judiciary Square. We are delighted that, for the first time, staff members now have sufficient privacy when they meet with complainants or other members of the public.

On the down side, we still see signs that some D.C. government agencies are not yet complying with the Mayor's Executive Order of August 2000, ordering that all official anti-discrimination policy statements include the full list of categories protected under the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977. Mr. Holman issued a notice to all agencies last August 22 reminding them of their obligations under the Mayor's Executive Order. But compliance problems persist.

Last August, for example, we protested the inadequate anti-discrimination policy statement included in the draft regulations by the DC Housing Authority for the Section 8 program. More recently, on November 30 we protested an inadequate anti-discrimination policy included in a Request for Application issued by the Department of Health. Regrettably, we did not receive replies to our letters from either Housing or Health officials. Although all draft regulations including anti-discrimination statements are supposed to be cleared by OHR before they are released to the public, OHR has not been given the staff and resources needed to enforce this requirement, an oversight we hope will be remedied in the FY 2003 budget.

We also hope the new budget will allow Mr. Holman to expand his staff sufficiently to further reduce the caseload and to carry out a wide variety of initiatives he has in mind to keep a commitment to human rights uppermost in the minds of District residents and agencies. We continue to complain about the embarrassing lack of such commitment in such agencies as the Fire/EMS Department. We want OHR to serve as the conscience of the Administration, even if that means confronting other agency heads and administration officials when necessary and appropriate.

One final note I'd like to add, inspired by the recent report of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on its activities in 2001. According to a summary article by the Associated Press: "The average time to process [an employment discrimination] complaint dropped 34 days last year to 182 days. The average time to resolve a complaint through voluntary mediation was 84 days last year - a decrease of 12 days." Based on Mr. Brick's experience with his complaint against Gazuza, we suspect that OHR is not too far away from an 84-day average for resolving complaints through voluntary mediation. But we still have a ways to go to get down to 182 days -- six months -- as an average for processing all complaints. We believe that the long-term goal for the Office of Human Rights should be to process their complaints within six months. We hope that the Mayor and the Council will provide the budget and staff resources required to reach this goal in the not-so-distant future.

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


[In the subsequent Question & Answer period, Mr. Graham asked how long it took for OHR to process Mr. Brick's complaint. Mr. Howell said it was his understanding that the original complaint was filed in November, and the case was settled amicably in late January or early February. Mr. Graham observed this was better than the EEOC's record of mediating complaints in 84 days on average. Mr. Brick's good experience was repeatedly cited during Mr. Graham's questioning of OHR Director Holman, who testified after Mr. Howell.

[Mr. Graham promised to hold a hearing in the near future on the DC government's compliance, or lack thereof, with the Mayor's August 2000 Executive Order. He asked if GLAA would help his staff prepare for this hearing. Mr. Howell stated the hearing would be an excellent way to focus the attention of various DC government agency heads on the need to heed the Executive Order, and pledged GLAA's full cooperation.]


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