GLAA testifies on genetic information bill
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GLAA testifies on genetic information bill

Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013


Submitted to the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs and Property Management
July 7, 2004

[Note: Bob Summersgill presented copies of this testimony at the hearing on July 7, but was prevented from giving his oral presentation due to a terrorist threat that required the evacuation of the Wilson Building. The hearing may be rescheduled.]

Chairman Graham and Subcommittee members:

Good afternoon, I am Bob Summersgill, the treasurer of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.

GLAA supports this bill, but we have three concerns related to this legislation. This bill will add "genetic information" to the list of categories already covered as area under which discrimination is not permitted. We have no objection to this addition, although two of the definitions can be made broader and stronger. According to the definitions in Bill 15-52, genetic characteristic and genetic test deal only with "disease, disorder, or syndrome".

"(l-l) 'Genetic characteristic' means the presence of any gene, chromosome, protein, or certain metabolites that indicate or confirm that an individual has a mutation or other genotype that is scientifically or medically believed to cause a disease, disorder, or syndrome, or is associated with a statistically significant risk of developing a disease, disorder, or syndrome."

"(l-3) "Genetic test" means a laboratory test of human chromosomes, genes, gene products, or genetic characteristics that is used to identify the presence or absence of inherited or congenital alterations in genetic material that are associated with disease or illness.".

In every other category in the Human Rights Act, save disability, everyone is covered. Race includes people of every race, religion covers every religion, or no religion, etc.

If we are to add genetic information to the list, it should cover all genetic information and not those that specifically relate to disease or illness. Otherwise there is the potential -- if only future potential -- for wiggle room to get around other areas of the Human Rights Act.

Should a genetic basis of sexual orientation ever be identified -- or even the Xq28 marker for sexual orientation already found -- a discriminating employer could argue that their actions are legally permitted based on the genetic test and not that person's sexual orientation. Same for skin color, handedness, eye shape, or countless other genetic characteristics.

An amendment to paragraph 1-1 could replace "that is" with "including those that are" or similar language that will separate the first part of the sentence from the second to include all genotypes but specifically include those associated with disease or illness. A similar amendment should be made to paragraph 1-3, "Genetic test".

Second, this bill adds "genetic information" only to the employment area of the Human Rights Act. This creates a disconnect with the housing, education and public accommodation sections of the law. Additionally, by only making the change to the employment section, the D.C. government is potentially exempted.

While the housing and education sections of the law only have hypothetical application in this area as might be found in science fiction movies such as Gattaca, the various sections of the law should be consistent unless there is a good reason for them to be different. We find no basis for exclusion of "genetic information" in these areas.

Public Accommodation is not in the realm of science fiction in that is the area under which insurance companies are covered. If this law is to have any importance, insurance companies need to be included.

Six additional sections of the law need to be amended in the same manner as the employment provision by adding the phrase "genetic information" after the phrase "disability,". Those sections are:

2-1401.01 Intent of Council
2-1402.21 Housing
2-1402.31 Public Accommodations
2-1402.41 Education
2-1402.71 Phohibitions
2-1402.73 Application to the District Government

Third, this bill will create a disjunction with the Bias-Related Crimes Act of 1989 which currently has the same list of categories as the Human Rights Act. The Bias-Related Crimes Act should be amended either in this bill or through additional legislation. Sections 22-3701(1), 22-3704(a) and 22-3704(b) can be amended in the same fashion as the current bill amends the Human Rights Act.

Additionally, in a related legislative need, the definition of "marital status" in the Human Rights Act needs to be expanded.

"'Marital status' means the state of being married, single, divorced, separated, or widowed and including the usual conditions associated therewith, including pregnancy or parenthood."

Missing from the list is "domestic partnered." Now that the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 has been implemented, a significant number of people no longer are covered by any of the listed marital statuses. We should be up date this list to include the recently implemented status of domestic partnered. As this bill changes the list of categories in the Human Rights Act and adds definitions, amending the definition of marital status is germane to the bill.

Thank you for your consideration of these issues.

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